Jim Schulman wrote:
My posting this topic appears to have drawn the ire of the Pre-Gebelin Tarot History blogger, who regards the premise I am working on as S.H.I.T.
. The real point of the invective appears to be that everything that is of interest in the tarot is completely determined by it being invented by 15th century Italian Roman Catholics for card playing.
First, it's not you. Seriously. You are just the currently-enthusiastic newbie posting the same old S.H.I.T. that generations have posted before you. (The most prominent, knowledgeable, articulate and influential of the occult apologists is Robert V. O'Neill.) I would use a suitable quote from anyone who is following that deeply rutted road.
Second, the "real point of the invective" is that occultist apologetics, when combined with arrogance and ignorance, results in S.H.I.T. (Syncretic History and Iconography of Tarot.) But if you wish to discuss it, there is another problem that must be addressed: your lack of reading comprehension. I don't know what else could prompt you to write something this oblivious: "The real point of the invective appears to be that everything that is of interest in the tarot is completely determined by it being invented by 15th century Italian Roman Catholics for card playing". I wrote exactly the opposite, explicitly stated: Tarot historians "seek to understand the early history of Tarot in terms of that early history, and to understand the modern folklore on its own terms." So you are either intentionally lying about what I wrote, or you can't read with comprehension.
Do I need to write shorter sentences?
Would enumerated lists help? In my view there are two largely distinct topics.
Topic 1: Early (pre-Gebelin) Tarot history.
Topic 2. Modern (18th-century and later) Tarot history.
(Both are broad, and there is some overlap. As an aside, there are other big topics as well. Most people (other than playing-card historians) ignore the fact that modern Tarot history has two equally vital sides. The 18th century saw not only the invention of occult Tarot by a handful of folks in France. There was also a HUGE development in the world of playing-cards. Modern decks, both regular cards and Tarot, were developed and became nearly universal. Abandoning the medieval Christian allegory, made possible by large indices on the trump cards, allowed arbitrary substitutions to be made and helped spread the game of Tarot to its largest international popularity. Among the most popular decks were ones that had genre scenes, and animals, but they also carried heraldry, geography, advertising, and so on. While a few fortune-tellers began to spread the use of Etteilla decks for that purpose, hundreds of thousands of people throughout most of Europe were playing the game.)
The S.H.I.T. approach is to merge the two. That is the "S" in the acronym, signifying either Syncretic or Synergistic -- that is, crediting the Renaissance magi (or Ancient Egyptians, or Knights Templar, or Jewish mysticism, Sufis, alchemists, etc.) with inventing occult Tarot centuries before occult Tarot was actually invented. Or, that same merging but inverted, as you suggested --by studying occult Tarot we can figure out what Tarot meant originally.
Blurring the two subjects is your game, not mine. In your world, "everything that is of interest in the tarot" is from the same source, "not as a card game, but as an oracle, spiritual discipline, or hidden wisdom". That's your statement, your belief. The dramatic duality of Tarot eludes you -- you are only interested in Topic 2, and you want to impose it on Topic 1, as have generations of earlier occultists, New Age occult apologists, and casual enthusiasts. The historians' approach is to recognize both topics as legitimate. Should I write that in all caps, for emphasis?
BOTH TOPICS ARE LEGITIMATE!
That was spelled out in the post which you failed to understand. It was stated in general terms and in some detail.
pre-Gébelin wrote:[Playing-card historians] seek to understand the early history of Tarot in terms of that early history, and to understand the modern folklore on its own terms.
Two topics, different contexts. You obviously missed that sentence, or misunderstood it to mean, "playing-card historians seek to impose the Renaissance purpose and meaning of Tarot on the occultists", or something equally odd. Or perhaps this is "Opposite Day"?
pre-Gébelin wrote:Modern Tarot folklore was NOT created in the Italian Renaissance, any more than in ancient Egypt. These blunders, fantasies, superstitions, and scams were created by French Freemasons and fortune-tellers during the Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment. That fanciful rejection of the Age of Reason is the source of these confections. Modern Tarot folklore was vastly elaborated and developed during even later periods, and these are the formative environments that must be studied to learn about occult Tarot.
Two topics, different contexts. This isn't that hard.
If you object to my negative characterization of the Romantic era, let me add that it produced some wonderful art and literature, as well as the charming fantasies of occult Tarot and the broader fictions of Freemasonry. All these are delightful, but none should taken as non-fiction accounts of anything. My invective is directed at the pseudo-historians who take such inventions as historical fact, or as the evidence from which we should manufacture our own view of history. History was kind enough to leave us genuine facts -- we need not rely on Romantic-era figments and speculation.
Jim Schulman wrote:The Pre-Gebelin blog appears to regard the current, Post-gebelin, non-historical interest in the Tarot as not just misinformed, but as a plague.
The first detailed account of modern, esoteric Tarot history was in chapters 5 and 6 Michael Dummett's 1980 book, The Game of Tarot
. The most detailed account of modern, esoteric Tarot history was co-author by Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis, and Michael Dummett. These three men are preeminent playing-card historians. I own and have read all three books. Once again you seem to have read the opposite of what I wrote:
pre-Gébelin wrote:These studies have been pursued in extensive detail, once again owing to Michael Dummett, and it would be worthwhile to add to those researches by emphasizing the social context.
Does that sound like the description of a plague? Perhaps that was too long a sentence? Perhaps it needs to be broken down for you?
1. Occult Tarot is a perfectly legitimate topic.
2. Occult Tarot can be and has been the subject of serious studies.
3. The foremost playing-card historian initiated such studies.
4. He and other playing-card historians wrote books on the subject.
5. There is more to be done.
The plague is not interest in occult Tarot.
The plague is apparently in the education system which failed you so badly.
FYI, I own and have read many of the books of the occultists themselves, from the essays of Monde Primitif
through Levi, Papus, Wirth, Waite, Regardie, Crowley, and many others, as well as accounts from people like Robert Wang and Lon DuQuette. I've spent well over a decade studying that side of Tarot history.
The fact that my blog focuses on the one tiny area of Tarot in which I feel competent to make a contribution, the iconography of pre-Gebelin Tarot, is both an indication of personal focus and a measure of humility. It is my minuscule area of expertise -- forgive me the crime of being a specialist, but it is announced at the very top of my blog. I am primarily concerned with early Tarot, specifically with its iconography.
Jim Schulman wrote:Given this frame of reference, the blogger's comments on the lack of merit of my interests are true. But this frame of reference itself is more about drama-queening as the brave scholar in a sea of hostile ignorance rather than any actual harm coming to anyone or anything from those with the temerity to use tarot cards to tell fortunes.
You misunderstand what I wrote, and my comments are true regardless of your frame of reference or mine. You have dismissed playing-card history without bothering to learn anything about it first, or to offer any rationale for your rejection.
[P.S. The Standard Model of Tarot history developed by playing-card historians is not well known, much less accepted in the world of online Tarot fora. Most of the more enthusiastic enthusiasts ignore it, dismiss it, or openly reject it wherever it conflicts with their New Age inventions. That is a fact, immediately apparent by reading a few thousand "history" posts in places like Aeclectic or here. Regarding the dramatics of being interested in early Tarot history amid a hostile sea of ignoranti
, it was less than a week ago that one of the least dramatic online voices wrote to me that, "we're like John the Baptist, shouting in the wilderness, nobody's listening". This seems to be just one more area where you have an opinion, Jim, but little knowledge and no understanding.]
Jim Schulman wrote:Most tarot fortune tellers find the actual history of the tarot uncongenial, so they make up framing myths for their activities. Since I am not the heroic scholar in a sea of ignorance, but an ordinary sociologist, I regard this fortune telling activity and myth making as an integral part of the history of the tarot. The blindingly obvious key element of this activity is that it is based on tarot cards as opposed to skat cards, tiddlywinks or other pastimes.
Jim Schulman wrote:Since Gebelin gives even less evidence than I do of knowing the details of actual tarot history, his choice of these cards is based on something other than knowledge of its history. Instead, it must be based on the imagery of the decks he saw; along with perhaps the stories told to him by fortunetellers using tarot cards.
Oops. I thought you were assuming the role of a sociologist? How could you possibly miss the pervasive social forces which Tony C. and the Comte de Mellet embodied and imposed on Tarot? Egyptian symbolism was not
in "the imagery of the decks", and fortune-tellers deal with practical questions of love, work, etc. Conversely, there were very large social movements afoot in late 18th-century France, and among Freemasons in particular, and some of them are clearly reflected in what they wrote about Tarot.
You make a poor sociologist -- keep your day job. Better yet, read a book or two. I suggest starting with A Wicked Pack of Cards
, followed by The Game of Tarot
. A simplified summary can be found in chapters 4 and 5 of A Cultural History of Tarot
. In fact, despite its significant weaknesses, that might be a more gentle introduction to the subject for you.
Jim Schulman wrote:You can strain against this as much as you like, but it is ultimately the imagery itself that underlies the continued interest in the cards.
Not exactly. You were right the first time, when you wrote that "people are fascinated by the Tarot... as an oracle, spiritual discipline, or hidden wisdom." Your argument
is that these things derive directly from the images on the cards. The argument of the playing-card historians is that these things derive via a long and extremely indirect route from the images.
1. The original meaning had to be almost completely forgotten. That took centuries.
2. Some motivated persons had to invent new meanings, to adopt Tarot as ancient evidence supporting their larger (mostly fictional) worldview.
3. The fortune-telling caught on and spread quickly.
4. The newly-minted esoteric folklore was crap, and languished for most of a century.
5. A more compelling writer had to rework the esoteric folklore in the mid 19th century.
6. Occult societies had to develop in the late 19th century, to promote this esoteric folklore.
That is the path that occult Tarot took. The "oracle, spiritual discipline, or hidden wisdom" did not come from the images on the cards, but from 120 years or so of imposition and promotion, most of it strikingly not
related to the images. I don't have to strain to make my case, because it's not my case. It is the history of occult Tarot, written by people vastly more knowledgeable and based on a wealth of documented facts. You, like every other Tarot enthusiast, are free to make up anything you want... and I'm free to "call shenanigans" when you do.
Jim Schulman wrote:The origin of these images does indeed lie in the culture of the Italian Renaissance, and they were indeed used to play cards. However, the images that were used are not strongly determined or constrained by the card playing rules or activity. Instead, they are largely decorative elements taken from the general culture of the time. And this leaves the question open of why the designs were conserved, even as their meanings were lost, reinterpreted and distorted by subsequent cardmakers and players, mythologized by occultists, and carefully restored by Pre-gebelin bloggers.
Read Dummett. Basic questions, like "why were these cards added to the deck?" and "why were these patterns maintained over and over" are answered there. Some of the questions you've attached yourself to, like "why didn't they use numbers on the cards?" are answered there. As with generations before you, you insist on making things up rather than reading what more serious people have already figured out.
As for the "decorative" bit, if they were merely decorative rather than meaningful elements of the culture, then they tell you nothing. Your proposed project fails before it begins. Second, you contradict yourself when you say that these elements later had meaning, or lost meaning, or had their meanings changed, or had their meanings allegorized, or whatever. Were they decoration or were they demonstrably meaningful?
This question can be answered, based on evidence. In fact, the images were rather strongly determined by cultural conventions, well into the 17th century. Those conventions are the only objective basis for assessing their meaning. If we look at what the occultists imposed, we can track down sources for those ideas as well, and that has largely been done.
Jim Schulman wrote:We share roughly 50% of our DNA with archaic bacteria, simply because over a billion years of time, and endlessly changing environments, these genes continued to work well. Why then should the continued appeal of the tarot images, over a mere five hundred years, be so hard to believe?
Who, exactly, finds their appeal hard to believe?
You seem to say anything that comes into your head, switching sides randomly, and indulging the most flagrant forms of projection. Are you a Republican, by any chance? You should run for office.
Jim Schulman wrote:Clearly, this conservation of the images has different reasons in different eras, and different motives for different actors.
So now you do recognize different eras? You seem to be like Mitt Romney, taking two or three positions on every question. Your earlier position, that we should look to the occultists to understand pre-occult Tarot, is folly -- to put it euphemistically. Your current position, in this single sentence at least, is in accord with the way historians look at history. Time passes; things change. If you accept that, then you have moved a long way from your earlier post. You are now agreeing with my view, with the historians' position.
Jim Schulman wrote:Card makers often simply copied existing blocks, which was sufficient in highly restricted markets. There are frequent new designs from scratch, many are quite creative and innovative, but most new designs were conservative. Moreover, it is usually the conservative decks that acted as the starting point for the next generation of new designs. That is, the graph of tarot designs is mostly a single trunk with small offshoots, and has few branches that propagated on their own (the German Tarocks and the modern French gaming tarots being the exceptions). Even the sea of newly minted current occult and art decks have this structure: with the boring Waite/Crowley trunk line dominating, and the many amazingly creative one-offs garnering few imitators.
Maybe I'm in the wrong forum and should toddle off. But maybe there is more to Tarot history than just a highly precise, but also highly restricted, antiquarianism.
By "antiquarianism", do you mean "fact-based history"? If so, if you are calling me out on that basis, then you are correct. Technically, I am in the wrong forum -- facts don't count on the Unicorn Terrace. However, if you are in any way sincerely interested in Tarot history, you should read the small handful of fact-based books on the subject.