Re: Neoplatonism and tarot, is there a relationship?

I don't see anything exclusively "neoplatonic" in the images of the trumps or the various sequences. Simply because the structure of the sequence represents the medieval world-view will mean that it has things in common with the deeply influential Platonic philosophy, as it was absorbed and adapted by Christian (and so-called Christians like Boethius) thinkers for over a thousand years.

What "Neoplatonism" means to Tarotists nowadays is a way to rescue the claim that there was an esoteric teaching intended in the Tarot, from the beginning. Robert Place expresses the ramifications of considering Tarot to be Neoplatonic: "... the term Neoplatonism can be used to refer to most of the Western mystical traditions. Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabalah, Sufi mysticism, and Christian mysticism can all be considered Neoplatonism." (The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, p. 85)

There you go - EVERYTHING "interesting" - heresy, esotericism, eastern philosophies, and the biggie, Kabbalah - can now be brought in the interpretation of Tarot again! One result is Psykee's book, which is 95 percent concerned with the subjects of Robert Place's definition, and 5 percent or less on the actual history of the earliest Tarot in its time and place.

Marco's definition that the sequence expresses orthodox Roman Catholic teachings - "exoteric" - is much more accurate (although some images, like the Hanged Man, are completely secular and have no necessary relation to the Church - but would have been immediately recognizable to the Catholics of the time and place, and associated with historical examples of traitors like Judas to Brutus, as well as more immediate examples of their time).


Re: Neoplatonism and tarot, is there a relationship?

Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:What "Neoplatonism" means to Tarotists nowadays is a way to rescue the claim that there was an esoteric teaching intended in the Tarot, from the beginning. Robert Place expresses the ramifications of considering Tarot to be Neoplatonic: "... the term Neoplatonism can be used to refer to most of the Western mystical traditions. Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabalah, Sufi mysticism, and Christian mysticism can all be considered Neoplatonism." (The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, p. 85)
Yes. This is similar to the common ruse of saying ‘Christians borrowed their stuff from everybody else’ as a way of saying that even if there are Christian images in the tarot they may not be intrinsically Christian.


What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: Neoplatonism and tarot, is there a relationship?

robert wrote:Do we agree that there is a relationship between Neoplatonism and tarot?
Of course there is, it is so impregnated in the culture it would be hard not to be; even if it is only indirectly through the influence of such in Christianity. And of course, as a underlying influence of kabbalah, sufism and the theology of christian mysticism it does allow many parallels to be drawn ~ without implying a direct relationship or influence between them; there would be nothing particularly ahistorical in such however, it was a very 'syncretic' period in many ways (and the parallels rooted in a common philosophy has of course led to the synthesis in the course of its history - history after all is not merely about origins, but about evolution and development, and whatever direct or indirect relationship there 'was', there certainly 'is').
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: Neoplatonism and tarot, is there a relationship?

* Christianity itself was strongly impregnated by Alexandrian Neoplatonism till the third century.
Origenes is a good example of it.
That happened because some apostles found very difficult to explain Christian belief in a different context,outside hebraic land.
So they tried to find connections with Alexandrian Neoplatonism,to find a common belief,because this was Neoplatonism,a syncretism.
Gospel of John is an excellent example of this.

-Plato literally structured the build of the philosophy building of Catholicism.
Alberto Magno is a good example of it and his disciple Tomas de Aquino continued this line of thought in the Middle Age.

- Marsilio Ficino translated many Neoplatonist texts by order of Cosme de Médici.
Renaissance was very strongly infused by Plato.

-So the Christianity at the time when tarot born in Italy was fully impregnated by Neoplatonism.
Se you that thanks for Ficino,the Corpus Hermeticum was one of the more read at that time.
The Universe is like a Mamushka.

Re: Neoplatonism and tarot, is there a relationship?

Ross, I see that you mentioned my book Origins in the context of off-handedly dismissing Neoplatonic influence on the Tarot names, hierarchy and meanings. At the same time, you note that only a small part of my book addresses the earliest decks and possible places of origin. My first two chapters examine the earliest card order that we have documentation for and the Venetian/Eastern Christian/Islamic history that this hierarchy is tied to.

It would seem that a cabal of tarot history experts has deemed that the Venetian order (a.k.a Eastern order) of the triumphs can't possibly be the right and original order simply because it doesn't match the experts' presumptions of an exoteric/moral system they have projected upon the images and their hierarchy. It seems that the position of Justice is primary to the circular argument that the Eastern order was not original because the Venetian, Greek Christian and Sufi placement of that archetype is obviously 'wrong', i.e. does not agree with the presumed and projected worldview of this forum's experts.

Obviously, it is quite possible that the exoteric, 'Milan' worldview was simply not the one in play during 13-15th century Venice, Constantinople and Alexandria. Origins clearly presents facts regarding all of this that do not deserve to be offhandedly ignored by a scholar of history.
Dai Leon

Neoplatonic Tarot? Start with O'Neill.

Hi, Robert,

Just a couple points: 1) remember O'Neill, and 2) what does Tarot mean?
robert wrote:In the Catholicism and tarot thread, Eugim suggested a connection between neoplatonism and tarot, which seems to have become rather a standard understanding of tarot development, especially since Robert Place's book.
I think that this has been the common refuge (as noted by Ross) of historically-oriented esotericists since Alfred Douglas (1972). It was developed in considerable detail by Robert V. O'Neill (1986), who credits Douglas and has said that he long used the Douglas-Sheridan deck for meditation. Bob's book remains the best example of interpretation in terms of Neoplatonic mysticism. So any discussion of the question must at least begin with his extensive research and analysis, the same way that any discussion of Tarot history must begin with Dummett.

O'Neill worked hard on the problem, examining all the traditional esoteric and exoteric explanations and systems. He could not discover any coherent design to the trump cycle. Tarot Symbolism is therefore most notable as a fairly exhaustive catalog of negative results, rejecting every theory put forth in the previous two centuries, written by someone trained as a research scientist, someone who has used the trumps for personal meditation for most of his adult life, someone personally committed to finding esoteric meaning in the trumps. That's kind of a big deal.

Although O’Neill rejected any grand synthesis or systematic integration of the assorted elements, anything which might be called a controlling didactic design to the trump cycle, he did present a framework for considering this eclectic hodge-podge as something more than a mere grab bag of esoteric images. It might be compared to a preacher’s sketchy notes for a long and rambling sermon, using examples taken from diverse areas. In a 2001 TarotL post, he described it as such: “I don’t see [early Tarot] as a grand synthesis. I see it more like a sermon. There is a basic Neoplatonic mystical story and illustrations/examples inserted—from Petrarch, Catholicism, Catharism(?), Alchemy, Astrology, Neopythagoreanism, Hermeticism, QBLH(?), etc.—attempting to assert that there is only one truth and all paths are the same. So it is a hodge-podge.”

The trump cycle might be better compared to snapshots from a long journey, pictures that are selected and assembled to remind one of the most moving experiences encountered in a wide ranging adventure. In the same post, O’Neill wrote: “Imagine you have taken a long journey and didn’t keep a diary but took snapshots. Afterwards, you select 21 images to represent the most significant experience you had at each of the 21 locations—hoping that each image would elicit the same kind of ‘feelings’ you had at that place. That is the kind of hodge-podge/synthesis I see in the Tarot.” In Tarot Symbolism he explained the purpose of such a design. “The Tarot is a guide to the mystic, not a system of theology. The purpose is to inform the mystic that the states he experiences at various stages of his journey are well-known. The cards are guideposts showing the mystic that he is not lost and his current state, no matter how strange it may seem, is normal and to be expected.” As such, it is in the tradition of ars memoria, a mnemonic structure, and the penultimate chapter of Tarot Symbolism is titled "The Art of Memory".

So, ex hypothesi, the content of the trumps is an esoteric sampler, and the purpose is to guide the mystic on his journey. Therefore, it must have been created by a mystic steeped in Renaissance esotericism. O’Neill explains his concept of a disjointed esoteric design by reference to a syncretic Renaissance mindset, referring to the writings of late fifteenth-century intellectuals like Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Ficino, whom O’Neill describes as the epitome of the “Renaissance Magus”, “reflected the mindset of the Renaissance intellectual, the mindset shared by the Tarot designers.” O’Neill prefaces his last chapter, “Final Interpretation of the Cards”, by saying that “the intention is to view the cards the way the original designers might have. To do this, we will place ourselves into the mindset of the Renaissance and suggest what the Renaissance Magus might have seen in the cards.” Thus, his historical theory encompasses not only the intended design, meaning, and purpose of the trump cycle, but also identifies in general terms the designer of Tarot. Tarot is thus a mystical Baedeker, essentially Neoplatonic, and its essence is the so-called “Fool´s Journey” interpretation as an historical theory of Tarot’s design, meaning, and purpose. As such, his essay on the Fool's Journey at might be considered a supplemental chapter to Tarot Symbolism.

This gets back to the "how do we advance" question: ALWAYS we begin by looking to those who have gone before. We can only see farther than them if we stand on their shoulders. (Apologies to Newton.)
robert wrote:Do we agree that there is a relationship between Neoplatonism and tarot?
I'm not sure what you are suggesting we agree with. You are asking about the appropriateness of a very broad label to a very diverse body of artifacts, so the question borders on the meaningless. What do you mean by Neoplatonism? Some people would say that any medieval hierarchy owes some debt to the Neoplatonists, and the trumps are by definition a hierarchy. Otherwise they would not serve as trumps in a card game. Some say empty things like "everything" was influenced by Neoplatonism, so Tarot must be Neoplatonic. To avoid such embarrassment, you have to obey the First Commandment of The Reformed Church of JK: Be specific.

There is one aspect of the trump cycle that is directly related to mystical hierarchies, beyond simply being a hierarchy of trumps. However, as with the rest of the meaning of the trump cycle, I wasn't looking for it and the label only became appropriate after finding the meaning which justified it. (If you can't explain the trump cycle then you obviously can't meaningfully categorize it -- you don't know what it is!) IMO, "Neoplatonic" is a label that can be meaningfully applied to one aspect of one section of the trump cycle.

More generally, I use labels like "Stoic-Christian", "secular", "mainstream Christian", "Triumph of Death", "De Casibus narrative" or "Triumph of Fortune", "Roman Catholic", and so on all the time. But before I started using any of those labels, I figured out what the hell Tarot means. Labels come last, to categorize and summarize the more detailed findings.

For example, if we accept Moakley's analysis then the proper labels might include things like "Carnivalesque parody of Petrarch's Trionfi". If we accept Shephard's analysis, then "astrological cosmograph" would be a good label. If we don't accept that analysis, then that would not be a good way to label it. So the first question is, can you explain the trump cycle? Your question begs the more fundamental question -- what does Tarot mean?

BTW, Psykees -- rather than attacking an anonymous "cabal" for claims that no one ever actually made, if you feel the need to attack someone you might want to 1) name them and 2) quote what they actually wrote, then 3) dispute them with evidence and argument.

Playing-card historians are extremely unlikely to have said what you suggest, to focus exclusively on one deck, or region, or ordering. From the historical point of view, which you evidently fail to grasp, each historical revisioning is an interesting artifact in its own right. Art historians aren't looking for the "true" Tarot with the secret teachings of the ages or any nonsense like that. Every standard pattern and each novelty deck has its own story and, although we all have favorite decks, most of us seem to be interested in the broad assortment of designs that are Tarot. So rather than attacking anonymous bad guys who haunt your imagination, can you say anything interesting about any historical deck?

Best regards,
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.