mjhurst wrote:Hi, Robert,
Just a couple points: 1) remember O'Neill, and 2) what does Tarot mean?
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.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.
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 tarot.com 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.)
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.robert wrote:Do we agree that there is a relationship between Neoplatonism and tarot?
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?
Brilliant - my brain exploded.