The purpose of this thread (wherever it is) is to discuss the imagery of the Sola-Busca pip cards. My unicorns have the theory that the choices in imagery were in large measure influenced by Neopythagorean philosophy, and especially the Theology of Arithmetic, in the Renaissance attributed to Iamblicus, although most of its ideas derive from an earlier time, the first century before and after the beginning of the Common Era.
I know that Neopythagreanism has been thought by many to be a key to interpreting the tarot in general (i.e. "The Pythagorean Tarot" among others); I want to stick to the SB pips and to historical considerations, that is, texts and images that would have been available in its own time, and so available to influence the SB pips; but also texts and images composed after its time that might have been a result of similar influence, or of the SB itself.
From the latter considerations, one subsidiary question is whether the Sola-Busca pips' designs are pat of a cartomantic tradition, i.e. fortune-telling. I will begin to discuss this question at the end of this post. But first I want to look at the Theology, followed by a look at the SB Aces. In later posts I will go up the numbers, one by one, asking the same questions.
The Theology of Arithmetic presented teachings deriving from early Pythagoreanism, combining it with the reigning philosophy of that time and place, Middle Platonism, and also natural science and medicine as then understood. It presented this material in a special way, in terms of numbers, in particular the numbers from one to ten. This work was not, to my knowledge, translated into Latin, and only recently into English. On the popularity of the text in the Renaissance, see Calenza, Renaissance Quarterly 1999, at http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-57815615/pythagoras-renaissance-case-marsilio.html. The title there is "Arithmetic in Theological Matters." (Added Nov. 29, 2010: For more on the accessibility of this text during the Renaissance, see my investigation at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=613.) The SB designer need not have known this work directly; selected quotes from each chapter would have been sufficient. Also important, to other SB designs, are Macrobius's Commentary on the Dream of Scipio and certain works by Plato and perhaps Aristotle.
THE NEOPYTHAGOREAN MONAD
In this post I am going to discuss the Aces, which I see as a reflection of the Neopythagorean Monad, as discussed by the Theology. In what follows, "Monad" can sometimes, I think, be understood as "unit". Here are the parts of the text that I find most relevant to the SB Aces:
Every compound of plurality or every subdivision is given form by the monad, for decad is one and the chiliad is one, and again one-tenth is one and one-thousandth is one, and so on for all its subdivisions ad infinitum.
In each of these cases there is the same monad in terms of form, yet different monads in respect of quantity, because it produces itself out of itself, as well as producing them, juas as if it were the principle of the universe and the nature of things, and because it maintains everything and forbids whatever it is present in to change, it alone of all numbers resembles the Providence which preserves everything, and is most particularly suited both to reflect the principle of God and to be likened to him, in so far as it is closest to him.
It is in fact the form of forms, since it is creation thanks to its creativity and intellect thanks to its intelligence; this is adequately demonstrated in the mutual opposition of oblongs and squares [translator's note: Nichomachus, Introduction to Arithmetic II.19, argues that the whole universe is skillfully contrived by harmonizing the opposition of the sequences of square and oblong numbers.]
Nichomachus says that God coincides with the monad, since he is seminally everything that exists...Just as without the monad there is in general no composition of anything, so also without it there is no knowledge of anything whatever, since it is a pure light;...sun-like and ruling,... it resembles God, and especially because it has the power of making things cohere and combine, even when they are composed of many ingredients and are very different from one another...By number, he made this universe harmonious and unified out of things which are likewise opposed. ...In respect of its knowledge it is sameness and unvarying. Just so, the Monad, which even if differentiated in the different kinds of thing has conceptually encompassed everything within itself, is as it were a creative principle and resembles God, and does not alter from its own principle, and forbids anything else to alter, but is truly unchanging and is the Fate Atropos. (Theology of Arithmetic, trans. Waterfield, pp. 36-38)
The author, citing the first century Alexandrian philosopher Nichomachus, compares the properties of the Monad to God and finds that their properties "coincide," or perhaps "resemble" each other. Now the question is, can this text help us to understand the SB Aces?
THE SB ACES OF BATONS AND SWORDS
The SB Aces of Batons and Swords each have two figures, as opposed to Coins and Cups, which have three (I will get to them later). In Batons, we have two identical cherubs facing each other and working together to hold up a club much bigger than they are. (my source for these images is (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Sola-Busca_gallery.) In Swords, we have two different-looking figures holding up one sword, looking away from each other. Moreover, the figure on our right is decidedly effeminate. If one didn't look closely, one would think it was a woman with a broad feathered hat. The figure's ample blouse suggests breasts underneath. Even looking closely, I am not sure what the feather-like thing on top is. Besides a feather, it could be an artificial cobra, in the manner of Egyptian headdresses.
It seems to me that Batons represents the union of sames, and Swords the union of differents. In Plato's Timaeus (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timaeus_(dialogue)), "Same" and "different" are two out of three basic categories there (after the four elements); the third is "being."
For the Theology, harmony is characterized as a combination of "same" and "different." The components may all be musical tones (or whatever is in harmony); but in music, harmony can be analyzed down to units in specific proportions, e.g. 2:1 (the octave), 3:2 (the fifth) 4:3 (the fourth), etc. (see "Interval" entry at wikipedia). In these two Aces, we see an emphasis on "same" in Batons and "different" in Swords; yet in each the result is a unified design. For even though the charubs of Batons are essentially "the same," yet they accidentally different, in that one is on the right facing left, and the other on the left facing right. And although the two figures in Swords are essentially different, yet they also have attributes in common, in that both are human figures on either side of a sword, facing away from the blade. Thus each Ace is in microcosm a philosophical image of one aspect of God, as that in which all opposites and sames are combined harmoniously.
There is another way in which the Ace of Swords reflects a specific "unity of opposites" and humans as a microcosm of God: the Theology says that the Monad is both male and female at once" (p. 38), because it produces everything out of itself with no recourse to anything else. It is called "androgyne." Thus we have what I see as the male and female appearances of the two figures on the Ace of Swords.
These two cards, Batons and Swords, also symbolize God in another way, more connected to Christianity. In the lower part of these cards, we have a red mass, a black mass, and a somewhat whitish mass. These are the colors of the main stages of the alchemical work. They are also, I will argue later in this post, in connection with the Ace of Coins, symbols for the persons of the Trinity.
Other aspects of the Theology selections that I have quoted relate to Aces of Swords and Batons in later decks, notably the "Marseille" style. The green club of the Ace of Batons there (above) suggests the creative power of the Monad and, by analogy, God. I am not sure about the crowned sword of the Ace of Swords. If God and the Monad are creative and intelligent, perhaps the crown on the Ace of Swords relates to God's intelligence. I would have thought that the sword represents destruction; but the Theology's God does not destroy. it "forbids whatever it is present in to change." What is present in it is the eternal archetypes, apparently.
THE "ETTEILLA" WORD LISTS
The Pythagorean/Platonic idea of a Monadic God as the "form of forms," makes it the source of all perfections, the archetypes in their purest form. Such a conception is found, oddly or not, in the word lists that Papus (La Tarot Divinatoire, 1909) attributed to Etteilla (who published 1770-1791). I do not know where in Etteilla's work Papus may have found these lists. I am using the translations provided by James Revak at http://www.villarevak.org/td/td_1.htm.
Batons deals with the origins of things, the creative aspect of God as conceived by the Theology--although to be sure not only there:
ACE OF BATONS UPRIGHT: Birth, Beginning.—Nativity, Origin, Creation.—Source, Principle, Primacy, New.—Extraction, Race, Family, Station [in Life], House, Lineage, Posterity, Circumstance, Cause, Reason, First, First Fruits.
The Upright Swords, however, suggests more the Judeo-Christian god:
ACE OF SWORDS, UPRIGHT: Extreme, Big, Excessive.—Extravagant, Fierce, Carried Away.—Exceedingly, Passionately, Inordinately.—Vehemence, Animosity, Momentum, Excessiveness, Wrath, Fury, Rage.—Extremity, Bounds, Border, Limits.—Last Breath, Utmost Extremity.
These epithets could perhaps fit the God of the Old Testament at his most angry and destructive, one who reappears in the Book of Revelation. It is not the Theology conception, which emphasizes preservation and deals only mainly with the archetypal world, not the physical one.
Papus also gives "Etteilla" lists for Coins and Cups. Again, there seems to be an emphasis on the divine. Here is the list for the Ace of Coins:
COINS, UPRIGHT: Perfect Contentment, Felicity, Happiness, Rapture, Enchantment, Ecstasy, Marvel, Complete Satisfaction, Complete Joy, Inexpressible Pleasure, Color Red, Perfect Medicine, Solar Medicine, Pure, Accomplishment.
This list suggests both the sun and life spent dwelling in the divine. Etteilla has another list for the "Reversed" appearance of the card: that one pertains more to the specific suit, that of money.
Finally, most of the "Etteilla" Ace of Cups words reflect the Eternal, as described by the Theology, (although not only there):
ACE OF CUPS, UPRIGHT: Abundance, Fertility, Production, Robustness, Stability, Steadiness, Constancy, Perseverance, Continuation, Permanency, Duration, Regularity, Persistence, Confidence, Courage.
The Reverseds are the opposite of these. In the above, words like "Abundance," "Fertility," and Production" might also go in a different category, relating more to Batons, as pertaining to creativity. And "courage" seems to fit Swords.
The question remains, how do these lists for Coins and Cups relate to the corresponding SB cards? Well, let's see.
THE SOLA-BUSCA ACES OF CUPS AND COINS
The SB Ace of Cups and Coins, I think, also relate to the Monad as God. But here Christianity shows its influence, as it does in the "Etteilla" Swords. Specifically, I think that both cards depict the Christian Trinity, as opposed to the philosophical God of the SB Swords and Batons.
Cups (below) has three cherubs on a cup: three on one, so to speak. Why else three, except to signify the Trinity? Admittedly, using cherubs to represent the Trinity is rather perverse; but many of the SB images are rather perverse. One of the cherubs is pouring water from a pitcher, like numerous cherubs on fountains. The other two are "angel musicians" as depicted on numerous Renaissance altarpieces. I see no relationship between these conventional poses and the Trinity; it is only the number of cherubs that is significant, and the more specific symbolism of the cherubs in Coins, which I will discuss in a moment.
There is also the motto "Trahor Fatis" painted on the cup. I will talk about that motto in relation to the Ace of Coins, where it also appears. In Cups, it has no particular function that I can see, and the motto was not part of the original engravings; perhaps it is a motto favored by the patron who commissioned the painted deck (as Zucker,Illustrated Bartsch vol. 24 part 3, p. 81, suggests).
So now let us look at the three cherubs' counterparts in Coins.
Tarotpedia (http://www.tarotpedia.com./wiki/Ace_of_Coins_Sola-Busca) points out that the cherub on the left, holding his head in its hand, is in a characteristic pose signifying melancholy (for example in Durer's engraving with that title). and thus also the alchemical stage of the nigredo, Latin for blackening. Above this cherub is a banner, not part of the engraving but painted later; it reads, "Trahor Fatis"-- "I am drawn by Fate." Tarotpedia goes on to say that there is a comet above this cherub, traditionally a bad omen. I don't think we can conclude that it is a comet, because there is no tail, here or on the other cards where this motto and the star-like image appears (Postumo, Trump 2; Catone, trump 13). Zucker (pp. 66, 107) says it is simply a star. The motto might just mean that the cherub is ruled by Fate, whether good or ill, as opposed to its own will. There might be a reference to the Theology's Atropos, the Fate who chooses the time and manner of death.
It seems to me that this cherub also represents the Father of the Trinity, in particular, the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Jehovah was identified with Saturn, the god associated with lead, blackness, and melancholy. Moreover, after Adam and Eve's sin, all humanity was condemned by God to suffer death without a return to Paradise; "Sheol" was the soul's destination, a dismal place like the Hades of the Greeks (although there was also the "bosom of Abraham" as temporary quarters for the righteous; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol); such is the lot of those bound by Fate, until the advent of Jesus.
The center cherub triumphantly carries a coin that is bigger than it is. Around the coin is painted the motto,"Servir. Chi persevera infin otiene"--"To serve. If you persist you obtain [your goal] in the end." Tarotpedia interprets the ox skull as connoting hard, persistent work, thus relating to the motto. The coin is probably golden, and hence signifies the rubedo in alchemy.
It seems to me that this cherub also signifies the Son of the Trinity. It is because of the crucifixion that humanity can now, through faith and good works, rise above Fate and return to Paradise. That is the main goal which persistence and hard work attain. Even in alchemy, the rubedo was associated with the Son. For example George Ripley's Cantilena ends with the elevation of the "ruddy son" and his mother (Fabricius, Alchemy, p. 134f, also Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, p. 283). An English cleric, Ripley was in Italy 1457-1477, according to Wikipedia.
Tarotpedia says that the cherub on the right probably represents the albedo in alchemy, which occurs between the nigredo at he beginning and the rubedo at the end. Since there is white space above this cherub and the other two cherubs represent the two other major stages of the alchemical work, this hypothesis is reasonable.
It seems to me that this cherub also represents the Holy Spirit. For one thing, it was conventionally represented by a dove, which is white. For another, Jesus was conventionally shown praying when he received the Holy Spirit at his baptism, just as the cherub is on the card.
Another example that supports my hypothesis is the early-15th century "Ripley Scrowle." Tarotpedia applies one version of the particular image I have in mind to the Three of Swords (http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Three_of ... Sola-Busca). I think it fits here as well. The image on Tarotpedia is in color (or was, as it seems now, when I look, to have disappeared entirely), and it says XVII century. I have not so far confirmed that dating; their reference, to Adam MacLean's site (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/rscroll.html) is to an image that appears there in black and white and undated. A similar one in black and white is from 1715 (http://hdelboy.club.fr/gravures.html; search "Ripley Scrowle," and the image is "IV" in the series). There is also a 15th century image (http://hdelboy.club.fr/gravures.html, clicking on "IV" of the "Erskine Roll"), which is more primitive, shown in green and white below, to the left of the other one. What interests me is not the three circles at the bottom, which Tarotpedia focuses on for the Threes, but the three at the top; I have reproduced these details in the second pair of images below. In the 15th century image, two of the circles are white, one black. By 1715 the two white ones are further differentiated (as they are on MacLean's image); I suspect that the meaning was the same in the 15th century: what we see is a black circle for the Father, a white one for the Holy Spirit, and a third circle (white in the version below, but light-colored on levity.com) with a dot in it, the symbol of the sun, for the Son.
And here is a section of Ripley's poem accompanying the illustration:
Many a name he hath full sure
And all is but one Nature
Thou must part him in three
And then knit him as the Trinity
And make them all but one
Lo here is the Philosophers Stone.
I think that Coins provides us with the most specific correspondence between the "Etteilla" list and the corresponding SB card. Namely, the large coin held by the center cherub, the one representing Jesus, connotes the "sunny" (i.e. happy) attributes of the person whose life, after death and some of the time on earth, is spent with Jesus. Moreover, the "Etteilla" word "redness" might correspond to rubedo stage of alchemy; and it certainly corresponds to Jesus as the rising sun of the second coming.
Other early Aces of Cups and Coins reflect the Christian God even better than the Sola-Busca: in Cups, the baptismal font or communion cup; in Coins, the single yellow circle reminiscent of the sun, with vines growing out of it, reminiscent of the sun's power to stimulate vegetative growth.
(Added Nov. 29, 2010: Since writing the above, I have found evidence that my "Trinitarian" interpretation is not an insertion of Christianity into what is otherwise an application of Neopythagoreanism, but in fact, at least to Renaissance humanist eyes, a Pythagorean view itself. Nicholas of Cusa, in his 1440 On Learned Ignorance, Book I Chapter 7, says (http://my.pclink.com/~allchin/1814/retrial/cusa2.pdf, p. 13)
.But Pythagoras, a very famous man of undeniable authority in his own time, added that this Oneness is trine.
In footnote 39, the translator gives as Cusa's probable source John of Salisbury's De Septem Septenis VII (PL 199.961C). This text, as far as I can determine, is only available in Latin. I managed to locate it on-line using my local library's First Search search engine (from WorldCat). It is in volume 5 of Joannis Saresberiensis' Opera Omnia, p. 233.
Deus est unitas: ab unitate gignitur unitatis aequalite procedit. Hinc igitur Augustinus: Omne recte intuenti perspicuum est; quare a sanctae scripturae docturibus patri assignatur unitas, Filius aequalitas, Spiritui Sancto connexio; et licet ab unitate gignatur aequalitas, ab utroque connexio procedat: unum tamen et idem sunt. Haec est illa trium unitas: quam solam adorandam esse docuit Pythagoras. ....
I will not attempt to translate this passage. But it is clear that Cusa is saying something similar when he says that
The translator adds in footnote 43 that by "union" he is translating Cusa's "conexio" and "unio," which Cusa uses interchangeably. All that is missing is the notion that the second and third persons "proceed" from the first. That the One "generates" Equality is the subject of Cusa's Chapter 8. That Union "proceeds" from Unity and Equality is the subject of his Chapter 9.But since oneness is eternal, equality eternal, and union also eternal, oneness, equality, and union are one. And this is that trine Oneness which Pythagoras, the first philosopher of all and the glory of Italy and of Greece, affirmed to be worthy of worship.
Can this doctrine be derived from any Pythagorean writing? In fact "equality" is declared a property of the Dyad in the Theology of Arithmetic. Cusa and Salisbury are simply appropriating it for the second person of the Trinity. "Union"--the combination the Monad and the Dyad--is a property of the Triad, which they are appropriating for the third person of the Trinity. What Cusa is doing is attempting to show that since all three, Unity, Equality, and Union are are eternal, are all descriptive of the one God, a proof of the Trinity derived from "Pythagoras." Whether the Theology is the source, or some summary of the relevant portions (only its first three chapters) I do not know. I also do not know what Salisbury is referring to in citing Augustine. There are no scholarly notes to the Septem Septenis as published (in 1848).
In this case, there might be an alternative interpretation of the Ace of Swords. That is, the two figures on each side of the sword, different in appearance but doing the same thing on the same level, might represent "the Equal," and so the second person of the Trinity, the one who came not to bring peace, but the sword. The two identical putti on the Ace of Batons, however, are still "the Same." In Chapter Nine (http://my.pclink.com/~allchin/1814/retrial/cusa2.pdf, p. 15), Cusa goes on to identify "union" with "the same."
And although equality of oneness is begotten from oneness and although union proceeds from both [of these], nevertheless oneness, equality of oneness, and the union proceeding from both are one and the same thing--as if we were to speak of [one and] the same thing as this, it, the same. The fact of our saying "it" is related to a first thing; but our saying "the same" unites and conjoins the related thing to the first thing. Assume, then, that from the pronoun "it" there were formed the word "itness," so that we could speak of oneness, itness, and sameness: itness would bear a relation to oneness, but sameness would designate the union of itness and oneness.[In this case, the names "Oneness," "Itness," and "Sameness"] would nearly enough befit the Trinity.
With "the Same" as the third person of the Trinity, the raising of the baton over the empty cuirass and helmet then signify the overcoming of the strife brought by Christ, in the peace of the Holy Spirit. the SB Ace of Batons in that way is similar to the "Venus Victrix" of Zoppo's Parchment Book, done somewhat earlier, probably in Venice, the vanquishing of Mars by Venus, of war by love, as in the image on the right below (discussed in more detail at viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530&p=8743&hilit=Venus+Zoppo#p8743),
Admittedly this interpretation of the card, as "Equality" as opposed to "Difference," is rather obscure. But it might have been just the thing, in a noble Venetian drawing room, to add the proper elevated tone to what might have otherwise looked like a rather plebian game of cards. End of addition.)
THE SB VS. WAITE-SMITH ACES
It is well known that Waite and Smith borrowed ideas both from "Etteilla" and from the Sola-Busca. How Waite (1910) borrowed from the "Etteilla" word-lists (Papus, La Tarot Divinatoire 1909) is shown on James Revak's site, http://www.villarevak.org/td/td_1.htm. In the case of the SB Aces, Waite borrows mostly from the Marseille style, in as much as all of the Waite-Smith Aces have a hand coming out of a cloud--the hand of God, we are to assume (see below). Only in the Ace of Cups do I see the SB, in that all three persons of the Trinity are represented: the hand of the Father, the cup and Omega of the Son, and the dove of the Holy Spirit.
RELATION TO THE BATELEUR AND CARTOMANCY
The Theology's reflections on the Monad may also say something about trump number one. I don't know about the Sola Busca trumps, but I do see an association to the more traditional trump of the Bateleur. Like the Monad, he is the "creative intelligence" that is source of the archetypes, in that he has representatives of the four suits on his table, which are the four elements and also the first ten numbers, out of which the whole 78 may perhaps be constructed. Also, some writers have associated the Bateleur with the sun, which is the Monad's planet.
Finally, I want to say something about cartomancy. Given that the Etteilla cartomantic interpretations are reflective of aspects of perfection and God, one may wonder whether the SB pips are themselves part of a cartomantic tradition. Etteilla emphasized that he did not make up the tradition he was describing; rather, he learned it from one or more Italians. (He may, however, have invented the term "cartomancy.") Moreover, Pythagoras at the time of the SB was traditionally associated with prophecy. Besides the ancient texts about him, there was in Venice e.g. the "Wheel of Pythagoras," in which, starting from personal information such as name or birthdate, the cartomancer looked on a wheel for letter-number correspondences and computed a number between 1 and 30 answering "yes" or "no" to the querent's question (Heninger, Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics, p. 238; in "The Sevens" I posted an image of the wheel). Huson in Mystical Tarot gives other examples, some with cards, from the half century before to the half century after 1500 in Venice and elsewhere; see his section on sortilege (pp. 43-51, in Google Books).
However, the Aces aren't the best examples of correspondences between the SB imagery and the "Etteilla" word-lists. The only consistent correspondence is the very general one between the SB as reflecting attributes of the Neopythagorean God of the Theology and the "Etteilla" lists also reflecting attributes of God or the divine; but in "Etteilla" (unlike SB Batons and Swords) the conception is more Christian than Neopythagorean. However SB Coins and Cups also reflect the Christian God, although in a different way than Etteilla's lists (which have nothing to do with the Trinity per se). The only more specific correspondence I see is in the Ace of Coins: the golden coin held by the central cherub is the most conspicuous part of the card, corresponding to the sunny (i.e. happy) attributes in the "Etteilla" list, which also includes the "redness" of the alchemical rubedo.