Re: The Tower

In the case of the tower of Fiorentina's deck, there is a interesting tower:
Possedettero anche il Castello di Vincigliata, (detto La Torre), con molti terreni circostanti. Il castello era stato smantellato dai Pisani capitanati da John Hawkwood ed era ridotto ad un cumulo di rovine: gli Alessandri lo tennero fino al 1827.
Ginevra degli Alessandri and Giovanni Medici married in 1453. The Castello di Vincigliata, aka La Torre (the tower), is a old propiety of Alessandri family.

John Hawkwood, the great condottiero florentine, destroyed the tower.
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When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: The Tower

In my previous post I stuck to ordinary Christian symbolism. The "Marseille" design and its prototypes might have produced, or been produced by, more erudite interpretations, discussed in humanist circles in the 16th-18th centuries. Here are a few possibilities.


(1, alchemy.) One is suggested by a 16th century alchemical illustration, which seems to have been well enough known that William Blake used it in his depiction of the element Air in his "Book of Urizen," 1794. In this way of seeing the Noblet falling figure, he is rising from the water as vapor rather than, or as well as, falling as condensation. The alchemical figure may also have been an inspiration for some of Bosch's upside-down men in his "Garden of Earthly Delights," central panel, c. 1504 (details below)


The figures in the alchemical illustrations are usually in a container; the person on the card is not. However he may derive from a more general tradition, like the Bosch images, souls in an altered state, or the Blake image, floating upside-down. On the card, they touch the plants and the earth, as though seeing the world in a new way. Here is what Jodorowsky says (p. 222):
The figures are not in the middle of falling, quite the contrary. Their hair is yellow, the color of illumination, and they are touching the plants growing out of the ground with their hands. In reality, they are honoring the potential of the Earth. They have their heads at the bottom like The Hanged man of Arcanum XII because they are seeing the world in a new way. The intellect, the mind, is looking directly at Nature. One of the feet of one of the figures is pointed toward the sky; his steps are leading him to the mind.

The two imps of Arcanum XV have become humanized and have realized their ascent...
I see no reason why such thoughts, influenced then by alchemical illustrations, shouldn't have occurred to people in the mid-18th century as well.

(2, phallus; and 3, spinal column.) Another interpretation, suggested by Daimonax (, is an association between the smoke or flame coming out of the tower with the serpent coming out of the basket on Dionysian sarcophagi.


Clement of Alexandria said that what was in the basket on the tray represented the "virilia of Dionysus" (Exhortation to the Greeks 2.15, The object poking out of the basket on the Bateleur's table is thus a precursor to the tower of the Maison-Dieu. On the sarcophagi, the snake is then a symbol for the phallus of the god. In case one supposes that identifying snakes and phalli was too Freudian for the 17th century, I post on the right the Florentine Minchiate Devil card. From this perspective, sexual energy activated in the previous stage of the Devil card is now expressed as the fecundating power of the god, exploding heavenward.

On one level, this is the release of instinctual power. Thus Jodorowsky says of the card (p. 224)
The phallic connotation of the tower also makes it a symbol of the male sex organ and all the questions connected to ejaculation.
Such a perspective on the Tower would not have to await a Freud.

On a higher plane than the instinctual is the Hindu doctrine of the Kundalini as a serpent rising through the spinal column. This idea was certainly known to educated Europeans by the 18th century, and possibly by the 17th. The top of the tower would then be the head--and the "crown chakra"--which as the seat of the ego has been knocked off kilter by the energy coming up from below. Jodorowsky says, somewhat melodramatically (p. 223),
The diabolic androgynous being of Arcanum XV has become a flame that has climbed up the entire spinal column and opened the coronary nervous center to launch itself into the cosmos.
Jodorowky is not trying to be historical here, but I see no reason why similar thoughts would not have occurred to tarot interpreters and designers of the 17th-18th centuries.

(4, Dionysus and Pentheus.) There might be an association, suggested by Daimonax (, to Euripides' famous play The Bacchae, where Dionysus's cousin Pentheus, not recognizing Dionysus, unknowingly locks him up, thinking him merely a priest of Dionysus, whose cult Pentheus suppresses because he does not believe Dionysus to be a god. Dionysus in disguise then calls on the "sacred lord of earthquakes" to destroy the palace, and adds, "Let fiery lightning strike right now, burn Pentheus' palace, consume it all." ( ... -text).pdf). The palace appears to disintegrate and burn, and Dionysus walks out the prison door. This event is possibly paralleled on the card by the man on the steps--although the man is not shown walking. Dionysus then leads Pentheus to go into the mountains and climb a tree from which to view the secret rites of the Maenads. They discover him, and he dies at their hands--although not by falling; his death testifies to the power of the god against his detractors.

This interpretation, since there are several mis-correspondences between the card and the story (it's only a tower, not a palace, and the men don't take the positions on the card), is not specific enough to refer uniquely to Dionysus. It is simply one more instance (of which the Bible is full) of a god's punishment by natural calamity of those who do not honor him. However it is unlike many of them in that it also contains the element of freeing oneself, of bursting illusory fetters, such as bound the imps of the Devil card, and stepping out of his prison, just the kind of liberation of which Jodorowsky speaks.

(5, Dionysus and Ariadne at Argos.) Daimonax has applied Dionysus' next adventure, in which he tries to establish his cult in Argos, to the Devil card. I think it fits the Maison-Dieu imagery better. In the assault on Argos, its ruler Perseus kills Ariadne (here with a battalion of women) with his spear and throws a near-dead Dionysus into a lake (Apollodorus, Library 2.3; Pausanias, Guide to Greece, several places; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 25.10. See ... ml#Perseus). Near Argos is just such a lake, described by Pausanias as being an entrance to Hades, one that Hercules also used. Dionysus did go to Hades, according to many ancient accounts, to rescue his mother Semele ( ... Underworld). So perhaps Dionysus used the lake on this occasion, to rescue his wife as well as his mother. On this view Ariadne would be the one lying on the steps of the tower, and Dionysus the one falling into the water of the Noblet card. From this perspective the card represents a defeat requiring a metaphorical journey to the underworld and back. The Star and Moon cards, on this interpretation, are in the lands of the dead, as I have already spelled out in other posts. It is not clear what the Devil card would be, however--perhaps his return from India, corresponding to a stage of initiation in which the initiates are in shackles.

(6, Cambyses and Prexaspes.) In his Histories, Book III, Herodotus tells of a King of Persia, Cambyses, and his confidante Prexaspes. The King, after conquering Egypt, killed the sacred Apis bull, aiming at the heart but piercing the thigh instead, after which it died slowly. Then Cambyses went mad. He had a vision of his younger brother taking power in his absence. So he had Prexaspes secretly kill the brother. Then he himself killed his sister, whom he had forced to live as his wife (all up to this point at ... ng/54.html). Then word came that the younger brother had assumed the throne. The King, not in his right mind, mortally wounded himself with his own sword, in the same place on his body that he had killed the bull ( ... ng/63.html). Back in Persia, the confidante Prexaspes was ordered by the new rulers to vouch for the legitimacy of the king's successor, an impostor posing as the brother. Ordered to speak out his endorsement from a high tower, he denounced the imposture, confessed his murder of the brother, and jumped from the tower to his death ( ... ng/67.html).

Here we have two deaths, Cambyses' and the confidante's. Of the two, it is the one who jumped who has the greater possibility of redemption. As far as imagery relating to this story in the Noblet and other "Marseille I" designs, there might be Egyptian-Pharoah-style hats that have fallen off the two figures. In the "Marseille II," the water next to the tower might be a reference to the Nile, or perhaps Babylon. And of course there are the tower, the falling figure, and the figure on the ground.

I have not seen this association to the card anywhere in the literature. However the story was readily available in tarot circles. In fact, according to WorldCat, its first translator into Italian was Matteo Boiardo, late 15th century Ferrara, printed in 1533. He is otherwise known, of course, for composing a poem suggesting a unique tarot-style deck of cards. The first Latin translation of Herodotus's Histories was published in 1499 Venice.

[Added by mikeh the next day: Later, in 1781, de Gebelin used Herodotus's Histories in his interpretation of the Maison-Dieu card. Book 2, Chapter 121 (, has the story of two brothers who rob the Pharaoh's treasure chamber, using a hidden entrance, a movable stone installed by their father, who built the chamber. On their first trip, they carry out a large quantity of gold. But on their second try, one is caught in a a net trap and has to be beheaded by the other, so as to hide his identity; the other escapes with the gold and goes on to have more adventures, eventually marrying the Pharaoh's daughter. De Gebelin ( ... _de_Plutus) says that the card depicts the two brothers on their successful trip: "Ils voloient le Prince, & puis ils se jettoient de la Tour en bas: c'est ainsi qu'ils sont représentés ici," i.e. "They robbed the prince, and then they threw themselves from the tower, it is thus that they are represented here." But Herodotus says only, "So when he [the father] was dead, his sons got to work at once: coming to the palace by night, they readily found and managed the stone in the building, and took away much of the treasure." The implication is that they simply went out the hidden entrance with their loot. Nobody jumps.]

(7, obelisk; and 8, lighthouse.) The tower might have been compared to an obelisk, an object familiar to anyone who visited Rome or saw any of the numerous engravings done of the ones there. Most of them would have been the first object around to receive the rays of the sun, which its top would then reflect back and downwards. (The obelisk at St. Peter's, of course, would have been upstaged by the dome of the basilica, thus showing the greater power of Christianity.) They signal the coming end of night. As such the tower of trump XVI could be compared to the towers on the Moon card. As such, too, it could be compared to a lighthouse shining to lead our way, a comparison that Jodorowsky indeed makes (p. 224). In that context he re-imagines the little globes around the tower as well, not as fires of destruction but as configurations of energy leading us forward, just as star-constellations guide the sailor.

Re: Judgment begins with the House of God

"Et pource que a la mageste reale appartient a avoir pluseurs maisons et en chascune edifier et ordonner diverses mensions, ainsi le dit nostr sauveur Jhesucrist [John 14:2]: ‘En la maison Dieu mon pere a pluseurs mensions et habitiations’. Pour quoy est a entendre que selon la verite et doctrine de la saincte scripture il est quatre manieres de maisons, c’est assavoir la maison de dehors et la maison de dedens, la maison dessus et la maison dessoubz. La maison par dehors peult ester dicte la maison de saincte esglise; c’este la congregacion et assemble de tous bons crestiens, en laquelle chascun se doit occupier et excerciter en bonnes oevres et vertueses et acquerir merite pour la vie pardurable. En ceste maison le souvrain roy de gloire gouverne et adresse ceulx qui veulent bine labourer. La maison par dedens peult estere appellee nostre conscience, en laquelle Dieu se delicate habiter et demourer paisiblement et secretement ... La maison basse peult ester dicte la maison de jugement et de tourment. Ce la prison et la charter du du souverain prince qui est la charter d’enfer ... La maison dessus est la maison du roy souverain de paradis, en laquelle l’empereur souverain honoure ses amis et les coronne glorieusement."
end quote from Jean Saulnier Livre de la maison de conscience after 1413, for Cartherine d’Alencon.
Jean Saulnier was regent of the University of Paris from 1413 to 1421, died in 1430.

We see in Saulnier's biblical (mis)quote, John 14:2: ‘En la maison Dieu mon pere a pluseurs mensions...' an example of the use of archaic French (In the house of God my father there are many mansions...). Saulnier (following St. Bernard of Clairvaux) describes the four allegorical 'ways' of a house: the exterior, the interior, the above and the below. The exterior is the house of the holy Church, in which the good exercise the virtues and acquire merit for the life to come. The interior is called our conscience, in which God resides delicately, quietly and in secret. Below is the house of judgement and torment, the prison of the sovereign prince of hell. Above is the house of the sovereign King of paradise, in which the sovereign Emperor honours his friends.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: The Tower

We see in Saulnier's biblical (mis)quote, John 14:2: ‘En la maison Dieu mon pere a pluseurs mensions...
Very interesting, thanks Steve.

Since ancient times, exist two fires of hell. One burns out. Another inside. The fire is burning inside is the prohibition of view, of participate, the glory of God... The House of God...
(143.11 KiB) Downloaded 1651 times
Minchiate Etruria + Masaccio, 1426. Chiesa del Carmine, Firenze.
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: The Tower

mikeh wrote: (1, alchemy.) One is suggested by a 16th century alchemical illustration, which seems to have been well enough known that William Blake used it in his depiction of the element Air in his "Book of Urizen,"
I'm dubious about that one. It's similar, but Blake excelled at twisting the human figure into his own positions. Unless he referenced it somewhere I don't think anyone can assume he used this illustration as the basis of his picture. Blake did sometimes reference alchemy and symbolism, but your assumption that this illustration was "well enough known" is a castle in the air of projection, albeit an interesting one.

There is way, way too much assumption and fantastical associations, without basis in documentation regarding tarot history. Yes, even on this forum.

Lots of things look similar. I have an artist friend who just drew a tarot card using a girl he knows as his model. She looks very much like singer Marianne Faithfull. Years in the future, someone might assume that a photograph or picture of the singer was the reference point. Not the case.

I won't even go into how ludicrous I find the Bosch association. We know very little about Bosch, so even to say the figures in any of his paintings "might" have been tied into this alchemical association is stepping on iffy ground with me. Someone is going to read that and start saying that Bosch actually did indeed use alchemy as his inspiration. His inspiration might have been a child hanging from a tree who reminded him of the crucifixion. No one knows. Because alchemy was popular as a subject within certain circles does not mean it was well known or particularly referenced by an artist.

Conjecture and speculation are fun to use when you are interested in a subject, but they are just that. I got rid of Robert Place's book on Tarot history because he often made such associative leaps. Painted as being an authority on Tarot, I found him an authority on subjective reasoning and his own pet theories on history. He's a great artist, but not so great a historian due to his fondness for presenting his personal conjecture as fact.

Curiosity is a wonderful attribute of humans, but curiosity can lead to a kind of historical absolutism that becomes dogmatic. I find this uncomfortably prevalent in tarot.

Don't get carried away with your particular "truth" you know?

Just saying.........

Re: The Tower

The remark on Blake is my own; I offer no historian on my side. But it seems to me that Blake's designation of the illustration as "Air" fits the alchemical illustration of Distillation on conceptual as well as visual grounds.

On Bosch and alchemy, I did make an error. In this case, I was drawing on a a respected art historian's views; my error was that I neglected to cite my source. The alchemical image I posted of Distillation, as well as its association with Bosch, comes from Laurinda Dixon's book Bosch (2003; image on p. 256). She is Professor of Art at Syracuse University. Her book is full of alchemical parallels to Bosch's work. Her alchemical interpretation of Bosch has been included in at least one art history anthology. (I noticed it just recently, but I wasn't researching Bosch and don't remember it now.) I used material from her book (not alchemiclly related) on the "Bateleur" thread here, but cited her that time. Again, I apologize for not citing my source; I try hard to include citations, and I am embarrassed at this lapse. I meant to be saying that Jodorowsky's apparently dogmatic interpretation might have a historical basis, in a way that the card may have been actually understood in some alchemically-minded and/or Bosch-loving circles; but then I left out my historian! I recommend her book. I hope my bringing in this material was not an exercise in dogmatism, but rather of what I called "possibilities"--and not free association-type possibilities, either, but ones for which historical evidence can be given, at least as interpreted by historians. And I would never want to be dogmatic, except about not being dogmatic. My Maison-Dieu has many mansions (not to mention mensiones, mensions, maisons, habitations, and rooms).

My view, substantiated in the "Anonymous Discourse" and elsewhere, is that the tarot trumps are "hieroglyphs" (see ... ostcount=1). In the 15th-17th centuries, that word meant various things, but mainly, and roughly: imagery the meaning of which is intentionally obscure, an enigma hidden from the many to be understood by the few. My documentation (up to the mid-15th century) is at ... stcount=43 and the post following.

SteveM: thanks for correcting my medieval French earlier. And thanks for your last very relevant quote more recently. The Vulgate has "mensiones," which he translated as "mensions et habitiations’ and later called "maisons." I guess you're free to do what you want with a sentence that doesn't make much sense as it stands.

My only question is: is the house of conscience still a maison Dieu? I don't see the phrase "Maison Dieu" applied to the four "mensiones ou habitations" (Vulgate "mensiones"), just the one that is the subject-phrase (Vulgate "domus Patris"). Would each of them be called a "Maison Dieu", too? All I see for them is "maison" (and in the Vulgate, "mension" or whatever the singular of "mensiones" is), without the "Dieu." So there's a bit of a leap. But perhaps I am being too picky. It seems like a reasonable assumption that each of the little maisons within the big maison Dieu would also be a maison Dieu; but he never says so in so many words. In any case, the idea of the (little) maison Dieu as a House of Conscience (as well as a hospice or poorhouse, where one could get an attack of conscience), is, I think, also suggested in the 1515 Schoen Horoscope, as I elaborated earlier; so I wonder if maybe the card already had that title in early 16th century France.

Re: The Tower

I'll not interfere and perhaps it's already known (?) or part of the discussion, but I remember that "Maison Dieu" or "Mansion Dieu" was used for the 9th astrological house (= Sagitarius Equivalent) in geomantic concepts and concepts of 12-sided-die (Dodecahedron).

Re: The Tower

Looking at some astrology sites for traditional associations to the houses, I see that the 9th house is associated with voyages and the clergy. Hence Sagitarius and Maison-Dieu in the sense of a church or church-run place, like a hospice. In the Schoen Horoscope, the 9th house depicts the Pope, as it should if the houses correspond to tarot cards. The 6th house is the house of illness and health, mainly, among other things: hence a man in his sick bed, or Maison-Dieu in the sense of a hospice or hospital. The Dodocohedron in Plato's Timaeus is the solid whose appearance most nearly approaches a sphere, i.e. the universe; I don't know, perhaps that has something to do with religion and voyages (i.e. the stars for guidance).

Re: The Tower

Well, the development of this "house" expression happens somehow in the jungle of Geomancy and Dodecahedron-magic. Around 1550 a few things happen, but they've some earlier routes.
The "House of God" seems to have a late appearance in Tarot, the greater Dodecahedron fascination seems to start around 1550 ... ... Dodecaeder

There was an association of Apollo/Artemis to Sagitarius (Manilius) and another of Jupiter (general astrology)

The Dodecahedron had an older Celtic-French past (no joke) ... Druid's are involved. This might have influenced some younger French interests.


for instance here ...

It's a problem for the search engines, that there are different words in use for this object.

Re: The Tower

The Dodecahedron? ...... Oh nooooo ...... :fool


I think Cadla is right. Sometimes we fly with fantasy and forget the documents. Without documents, no history.

But sometimes the fantasy is good ... It is the reason to, after, we want look some documents.

In any case, for the moment (may be ++), I suspect we must work on the connection meteorites - bethel - house of God, which have highlighted Robert Meanling and Andrea Vitali. I think the general meaning of this triumph is related to the punishment of God (lightning, hell, Job's meteorites).

We need find french documents of the seventeenth century with the term "Maison Dieu".
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

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