Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

Andrea Vitali has an essay recently in English, "I won. Played Tarot" ( ... 32&lng=ENG). In it he documents Mozart's passion for tarot. He mentions in passing Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute":
Mozart, come ogni altra persona del tempo, era affascinato dai tarocchi, tanto da dedicare a loro, da buon massone, un'opera dal carattere iniziatico, cioè il Flauto Magico (1).

(Mozart, like every other person of the time, was fascinated by the Tarot; he was so charmed that he even dedicated to it, as a good freemason, a work of initiatory character: The Magic Flute (1).
Andrea's footnote 1 merely documents the place and date of the opera, and the rest of the essay is concerned to document the composer's passion for Tarot, with nothing more about The Magic Flute. For an explanation of how the opera was dedicated to these cards, we will have to wait for another essay.

Meanwhile, Andrea's suggestion stimulates me to look further. On the Internet I find this, from an essay by Stephen W. Seifert, Executive Director of Opera Colorado ( Please ignore the term "mediaevel" (since tarot is from the early Renaissance), and consider these remarks in relation to the Marseille, or perhaps Besancon, decks of Mozart's time.
One author claims to have found another key to understanding The Magic Flute. Mozart and Schikaneder both played cards. The deck they used was a version of the mediaeval tarot deck. .

The overture and 21 following musical numbers make a total of 22 different musical depictions. The mediaeval tarot deck contained 22 Major Arcana cards, reflecting the physical and spiritual forces at work on humans and culminating in the card called "The World," which is a balance of all necessary elements, light and dark.

In this view, The Magic Flute puts on the stage living versions of each of these physical and spiritual forces, ending with the last musical number in which order and balance are restored to the realms of Sarastro and the Queen of the Night.

The number of scenes actually exceeds the number of musical sections. In addition, the last numbered musical section prodigiously includes Pamina's attempted suicide, the passage of the final tests by Tamino and Pamina, Papageno's attempted suicide, his discovery of Papagena, the final assault on the kingdom of the sun by the forces of the Queen of the Night, and the final chorus hailing beauty and wisdom.

In other words, it might be argued that for this Tarot theory to have any currency one must wink at a few items. But keep in mind that the composer and librettist created the numbering of the musical sections and that the last lengthy musical section does begin with the Three Boys announcing what will be the result of all the ensuing action, thus tying all of it to the culminating Tarot card "The World":

Soon, heralding the morning, the sun will shine forth on its golden path. Soon superstition will vanish, soon the wise man will triumph. Oh, sweet repose, descend, return to the hearts of men; then earth will be a realm of heaven, and mortals will be like gods.
Other articles on the Internet describe Mozart's enthusiasm for tarot: ... 74341.html, available in GoogleTranslate; and ... 8JkfJ6hrZw (click on "Podcasts" and scroll down to "Mozart the Gamer"). No doubt he played not only in 1780 (the time Andrea documents) but later, and not only Mozart, but his librettist Schickaneder (some think Giesecke). In Schikaneder's summer house, where the opera was supposedly created, they would have done more than just work.

Seibert does not say, that I can find, what author proposed the idea that the Magic Flute and Tarot were connected. But he goes on to say that the first song, in the original score, was number 2, making the Overture number 1. That and the artificial length of musical interlude number 22 (or number 2 in the conventional numbering) may thus point to a deliberate attempt to give the work 22 musical divisions.

I looked for confirmation for what Seibert says about the 22 musical sections. According to Michael Freyhan in The Authentic Magic Flute Libretto, p. 1, the autograph is online at http://digital-b.staatsbibliothek-berli ... loete.html. That url gave me the index; when I put in "Mozart" and scrolled down, the autograph there had no section number for the first song that I could see. Perhaps it is on a page they didn't show.

Another source is Mozart's own Vezeichnüß aller meiner Werke Vom Monath Febrario 1784 bis Monath... (Catalog of all my works from the Month of February 1784 to ...), quoted in translation by Peter Branscombe in Die Zauberflöte, p. 78). It says, in the part for 1791:
In July
Die Zauberflöte. --performed the 30th September.
---------------a German Opera in 2 Acts. By eman.
Schickaneder. consisting of 22 pieces...
Then he goes on to name the principal singers and their parts, as well as to give a few bars of music. After that follows the entry for La clemenza di Tito, dated 5 September, the eve of its premier. Then comes:
the 28th September.
to the opera die Zuberflöte - a Priests' March and the Overture.
Branscombe observes:
These entries repay careful examination. '22 pieces' is correct, if one includes the overture as no. 1 (as Mozart did); and the Priests' march which, though composed only at a very late stage, was planned from the beginning, as the libretto makes clear. Mozart's indication of a total of twenty-two musical numbers does not necessarily exclude the problematical duet for Tamino and Papegeno (see pp. 57-8 and 207-8), which could havbe been removed to make way for another number, or if a late addition to the score could have been numbered, say, 11 1/2.
The part about 22 numbers, come what may, is verified enough for me.

It is not hard to see the cards in the opera. Here is my take on the sequence. The first scene shows a dragon killed by Magic wielded by three ladies. Next comes the Foolish Papageno. We are then introduced to the Queen of the Night, a combined Popess (or Juno)/Empress, who tells us of her deceased husband's successor Sarastro, a Pope (or Jupiter)/Emperor. Then the young hero Tamino (an Emperor to be) falls in Love with the picture of the Queen's daughter Pamina (an Empress to be). Later he will have the Choice of Hercules, to rebuff her in the initiatory trials. Tamino and Papageno are given their magical musical instruments and sent off to rescue Pamina from Sarastro.

Soon we are greeted by the spectacle of Sarastro's entrance on a Chariot: The libretto gives the description:
Ein Zug von Gefolge; zuletzt fährt Sarastro auf einem Triumphwagen heraus, der von sechs Löwen gezogen wird.

(Sarastro - in a triumphal carriage drawn by six lions - makes his entrance with his retinue.

(German from ... .+Auftritt); English from ... to_English).

A portrayal of this scene is in an early engraving reproduced by Branscombe, his Photo 10. I took a photo of his photo, which can be seen below:


It looks to me like a combination of the Pope (minus his papal insignia) and the Chariot cards. The wheels even are shown sideways, an odd feature of the Marseille card. A very-tarot like image of the Sun is on Sarastro's chest. This is not Mozart, of course; it just shows that others could recognize the tarot allusions.

Sarastro exhorts our hero to practice virtue, and Act One ends. As the action develops, the virtue of Fortitude is mentioned explicitly as something Tamino and Papageno will need. Temperance is also suggested in the trials by the temptations of wine and women. Justice tempered with mercy is the attribute of Sarastro.

The Priest leading them in the trials is called the Speaker. He is a fitting equivalent of the Hermit, the one carrying the lantern, in this light-centered opera. In the trials, one rises up, the other fails, as on the Wheel of Fortune card. Papageno is not only threatened with Death, but, deprived of what is revealed to be his lovely counterpart Papagena, he even starts to Hang himself, Judas-like.

Sorastro's assistant Monostatos and the Queen of the Night take the stage acting like the bisexual Devil,moving to strike against Sarastro and Tamino and deliver Pamina to be Monostatos's bride. Meanwhile the trials continue, with the candidates now being Tamino and Pamina, who must risk Death in joint trials of water (as in the jars on the Star card and the pool on the Moon card) and fire (like the Sun on the Sun card, beneath which are two young people).

Monostatos and the Queen make a sneak attack, but are defeated in a burst of thunder (hence lightning) and storm, like the figures on the Maison-Dieu card--a storm which metaphorically emanates from the Sun. Sarastro says,
Die Strahlen den Sonne vertreiben die Nacht,
Vernichten [the autograph has "Zernichten"] der Heuchler erschliche Mache!

(The rays of the sun drive away the night,
Annihilate the surreptitious power of dissemblers!).(Frehan p. 262)

Triumphant thanks to the magical power of the flute, Tamino and Pamina are raised up in the Temple of the Sun. Sarastro's Judgment on them is favorable, and Papageno, thanks to his glockenspiel's apparent powers, receives his bride (Magic in the last trick!) All is happiness and light at the end, as the World card suggests.

Why is any of this of interest to tarot researchers? Well, it suggests that the cards weren't seen merely as a game, but that their allegorical content was appreciated as well, at least in some circles, not only the individual cards but the whole, as an initiatory sequence of "singing cards" (with apologies to Aretino). It shows one way in which that sequence would have been interpreted allegorically at that time.

This thread will be continued.

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

My thread has not met with much response, or even views. Well, perhaps if I change its title (from "Mozart and Tarot") and perspective...

Another thing about the Magic Flute is the setting. Ancient Egypt is not named explicitly, but the place is full of palm trees, temples, even a pyramid or two. We also have the worship of Isis and Osiris, and in fact an initiation into their cult. This is even more apparent in the autograph libretto than in the first printed edition. Where at the end of the trials, the first edition has "The happiness of initiation is granted to us", the autograph has "The happiness of Isis is granted to us!" (Gewaehret ist uns Isis Glueck!). And the chorus responds, in the first edition, "You are purified, bright and clear!", but in the autograph, "The initiation of Isis is now yours!" (Der Isis Weihe ist nun dein!) (Freyhan pp. 254, 253).

Viennese Masonry did not, so far as I can determine, make explicit allusions to Isis and Osiris in their rites: the myth was Hiram and Boaz,as in most places. But there was the 1784 essay "Ueber die Mysterien der Aegyptier" by Ignaz von Dorn, a Mozart subscriber at the time, to whom Mozart dedicated a cantata (Chailley, Magic Flute, Masonic Opera, p. 16). The essay compared the Egyptians to the Masons.

It is possible that Mozart and his friends knew about de Gebelin or Etteilla. But I see no reference to them in works about Mozart and the opera, and in any case neither talks about the tarot sequence in terms of an "initiation of Isis". The source is Sethos. an anonymous work claiming to be the translation of a Greek manuscript from the time of Marcus Aurelius. It had been the basis for another of Mozart's operas, Thamos, composed in 1773. On p. 125 of Sethos (at ... TNBAAAAcAA), it states, in all caps, that the initiation of Isis is through the elements, as it is in the opera:

Here the author is clearly drawing on Apuleius's account in The Golden Ass, which is in the explicit context of the 2nd century Roman cult of Isis
Accessi confinium mortis et calcato Proserpinae limine per omnia vectua elementa remeavi, nocte media vidi solem candido coruscantem luminae, deos infernos et deos superos, accessi coram et adoravi de proxumo...

(I approached the boundary of death, and treading on Proserpine's threshold, I was carried through all the elements, after which I returned. At dead of night I saw the sun flashing with bright effulgence. I approached close to the gods below and the gods above and worshipped them face to face...)
In relation to the Tarot, I have a new point. If Mozart et al could interpret the Tarot in terms of "mysteries of Isis", based on a tedious fantasy account (mixed with references to actual ancient fantasy-source)s, then someone like Ercole d'Este could have easily done the same, in 15th century Italy, when access of the sources was fresh and unadulterated by modern nonsense, as was the tarot itself. Ercole participated, Huck tells us, in a theatrical production called Iside in 1443. Later Mateo Boiardo, of tarot fame, translated The Golden Ass into the vernacular ((, surely at Ercole's request. Around this same time, the 1480s, Ercole had a fresco series done about the "Cupid and Psyche" tale that appears in this book (which also has an apparent initiation in it, and I think also parallels the tarot sequence). It would not be surprising if the Estensi saw the tarot in terms of Isis and Osiris, in roughtly the same way as those in 1790 Vienna.

And not only Isis and Osiris, but Dionysus as well, since the Greeks considered Osiris and Dionysus the same god with similar "mysteries". After the death of Ercole, Alfonso's project of surrounding himself with of art works on Dionysian themes started as early as March 1505, as I have documented. Shortly afterwords, the word "tarocchi" (with perhaps not that exact spelling) ppears in this same city for the first time known, a word of uncertain origin but similar to the Greek "tarachos", meaning the opposite of calm, and "Tharopes", the first leader of the Dionysian mysteries as recounted in Poggio's translation of Diodorus. A similar word occurred in the works of the Macaronic poets that Alfonso had met in Piedmont and brought to court for his wife Lucrezia's pleasure: "tarochus", meaning--I think, from the context of its use--"crazy", which is how the Dionysian rites were considered by some. I have documented these points (other than the "tarochus", which is documented elsewhere, but with the translation "idiot") in the first two of a four part essay starting at, with a discussion of "Cupid and Psyche" at the very end of the fourth.

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

I read.
Speaking of Isis- the Catholic ritual of Extreme Unction or Last Rites consists of annointing with Holy oil the 5 external senses (eyes/ears/nostrils/lips and hands) whilst on the table altar is a lit candle for fire, Bowl of Holy water, a dish of salt for earth and incense for air....How Egyptian is that! If it was the Pope, he would get 7 priests around his bed- today it is far more rushed for Joe Citizen- no elements- just the oil.
I have just dug out my CD of the Magic Flute and will be interested to see if I can hear Tarot.
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

Huck wrote:A German text interprets for "Sorastris" Zarathustra (Zoroaster) ... ... te&f=false

Recently it was discussed ...
Telescope de Zorotstre
The author had some connection to Vienna and Austria. ... tm#riddles
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: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

In a letter to his father, Mozart writes that on February 19, 1786 during the Carnival in Vienna, while dressed and masquerading as Zoroaster, he handed out a sheets of paper on which were written eight riddles and fourteen proverbs titled 'Excerpts from the Fragments of Zoroaster'.
... :-) ... "8 riddles and 14 proverbs" (together 22) sounds a little bit like 5x14-theory.

Interestingly the same page offers two Zoroaster-inspired men before Mozart:
Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau (September 25, 1683 - September 12, 1764 CE) was born in Dijon, France and was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. Rameau was a secretive man and even his wife knew little about his early life.

Rameau is one of the first modern French composer to break tradition and not write write an opera based on the classical mythology of Greece and Rome. Instead he based his composition on Zoroaster and the principles of Zoroastrianism as it was understood in Europe at that time. He composed the opera Zoroastre (French for Zoroaster and described below) that was first performed on December 5, 1749. The libretto (the text of the opera) was written by Louis de Cahusac. Since Anquetil du Perron, the French scholar who visited India and brought back books of the Avesta did not return to France until 1762, we must look elsewhere for he source of his motivation and information.

We are told that Cahusac, the librettist for Zoroastre, was a leading French Mason and many of his works celebrate the ideals of the European movement, Enlightenment, in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority. The historical Zoroaster and the themes of the battle between good and evil symbolized by light and darkness were themes highly regarded in Masonic circles. The Masons were also involved in an ideological battle with the Catholic Church, and we also know that Rameau collaborated with Voltaire - a well-known critic of the Church. (Zoroastre ia said to have inspired Mozart to compose The Magic Flute in 1791, another reputed allegory for Masonic ideals.) We wonder, however, if Cahusac, Rameau and Mozart were not directly inspired by Zoroaster and his philosophy.

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

Excellent, Steve and Huck. I had read about the 8 riddles and 14 proverbs, which Mozart distributed at Carnival in the name of Zoroaster, but it didn't occur to me that their sum was 22. So the question arises, did Mozart know of a tradition in which Zoroaster was connected to the tarot? Steve once pointed out the parallel between one of the Chaldean Oracles and the Vieville Sun card (post 3 at The Oracles were attributed to Zoroaster from Plethon on, as his only surviving work. Steve's observation led me to speculate that the tarot sequence as a whole might have been interpreted by some in terms of the Oracles, possibly starting as early as the 6 second-artist cards of the PMB, prompted by Filelfo in Milan (or Ficino in Florence, if Huck's speculation is right that they were wedding gifts from Lorenzo). (My argument is in the "Plethon" thread on Aeclectic; I have since made it more readable at The 8 riddles and 14 proverbs seem to me evidence that such an interpretation was indeed made, and would have been widely known--by a small percentage of tarot players--once the Oracles as a whole were published, as they were in several languages by the 17th century.

I will look at the libretto for Rameau's Zoroastre, something I hadn't known about (or maybe watch the DVD, which my local library has, although I don't know if I can take 227 minutes; I would attach significance to the "22" here, except that I'm not sure this DVD was out then). I see that Mozart was in Paris for 4 months 1463-64, 2 months in 1466, and 6 months in 1778 (Hildesheimer, Mozart pp. 376-385). I've requested Thamos, too.

Interesting observations, Lorredan. Since Austria was a Catholic country, the connection between an Egyptian-like death (and rebirth in the next world) ceremony and the four elements would have not only been known but accepted as part of Christian tradition.

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

It's said, that "Der Stein der Weisen oder die Zauberinsel" (1790) was a forerunner of "die Zauberflöte" and shows parallels. It has two acts, and the first has 20 scenes and a final, and the second 22 scenes and a final. Mozart contributed a few parts.
German description with some humor: ... eadid=1716
Here is something in English

The play was lost and was detected and got a first new realization in 1996.

Diese Entdeckung war unter anderem deshalb eine Sensation, weil die Oper mehrere wichtige Parallelen zur ein Jahr später uraufgeführten Zauberflöte von Mozart aufweist. Auch der Stein der Weisen enthält Motive aus Christoph Martin Wielands Märchensammlung Dschinnistan, und seine fünf Komponisten waren alle an der Zauberflöte beteiligt, als Komponist, Librettist, Dirigent der Uraufführung oder Sänger in der Uraufführung. Außerdem finden sich viele sehr frappierende musikalische Ähnlichkeiten zwischen jenen Teilen des Stein der Weisen die nicht von Mozart komponiert wurden und der Zauberflöte. Diese Parallelen werden von Martin Pearlman in der „Discussion Disc“ seiner Aufnahme auf Basis der Recherchen von David Buch näher erläutert.
This was more the work of a group of componists, but all participated in some way in the Zauberflöte one year later (1791).

Another work of influence had been "Oberon" in 1789 (also not by Mozart, but by Wranitzky). The whole series is called "fairy tail operas". Of some importance is the author Wieland ...
... who had written a work "Dschinnistan" (1786), which took influence on these fairy tales comedy operas.
Die Sammlung enthält insgesamt 19 Märchen, von denen aber lediglich zwölf von Wieland selbst stammen, nämlich Nadir und Nadine, Adis und Dahy, Neangir und seine Brüder, Argentine und ihre Schwestern, Der Stein der Weisen, Timander und Melissa, Himmelblau und Lupine, Der goldene Zweig, Die Salamandrin und die Bildsäule, Alboflede, Pertharin und Ferrandine, Der eiserne Armleuchter und Der Greif vom Gebirge Kaf. Weitere vier Stücke stammen von Wielands Freund Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedel, nämlich Der Zweikampf, Das Labyrinth, Die klugen Knaben und Die Prinzessin mit der langen Nase. Wielands Schwiegersohn August Jacob Liebeskind hat Der Korb sowie Lulu oder die Zauberflöte beigesteuert. Der Palast der Wahrheit schließlich wird als Gemeinschaftswerk Wielands mit einem unbekannten Co-Autor angesehen, vermutlich handelt es sich hierbei um Caroline von Wolzogen.
There are 19 stories in Dschinnistan, but only 12 are of Wieland, to which belongs one called "Der Stein der Weisen". A work "Lulu oder die Zauberflöte" was from Wieland's son-in-law August Jacob Liebeskind.

Here's something in English:
Most of the fairytale elements including the magic flute itself came from “Lulu, oder die Zauberflöte” in Christoph Martin Wieland’s recent fairytale collection Dschinnistan.,1, ... las13_1011

Some Freemasonry material: ... flute.html

Liebeskind was pastor and home teacher of the children of Johann Gottfried Herder. He wrote various fairy tales. Whatever it means, but his personal Zauberflöte got him the hand of Wieland's daughter in 1788. His "Palmblätter", 1st volume (1786) starts with the story of a boy shepherd playing Flöte.

Born 1758 (2 years later than Mozart), he died early 1793 (two years later than Mozart).

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

Legend has it that the Queen of Saba (Sheba) asked Solomon 22 Riddles.
Samson used riddles.
Riddles were a common Eastern device of polite conversation.
The Bible is full of prophetic riddles as well and is often the basis for working out anti-types as presage of who or what is to come.
It was a part of format of sermons as well-for it showed how erudite you were when you could decipher the answer.
Why not TAROT?
PS The Pope issued an edict in the 1780's that prevented catholics becoming Freemasons on the threat of excommunication for apostasy.
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Mozart, Tarot, Isis, and Ercole d'Este

Lorredan: If the Queen of Sheba had 22 riddles, per legend, it probably had to do with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, not the tarot. I find no evidence that Mozart was interested in Hebrew. He was very interested in tarot playing.

About the Pope's edict: certainly membership went down, but many ignored it in Austria. It wasn't considered his business, and the Emperor gave it his protection--until he died and the new emperor eventually made it illegal. All the evidence points to Mozart remaining a member. It wasn't illegal in his lifetime. But regardless of whether he or his collaborators or supporters remained members or not, its ideas were still very influential on them and on the Magic Flute. I find no critical study, at least since Chailley, that denies this. Mozart, even though Catholic, was no lover of the Church's authoritarianism.

Huck: Wieland's fairy tale was an influence on the early part of the Magic Flute, but not the later part, most studies agree. There is nothing in it about Isis and Osiris and trials of initiation. And the abductor of the princess remains evil in Weiland's version, too, while in the opera he turns out to be good.

I had forgotten about the other singspiel, "The Philosopher's Stone." Thanks, Huck. I will have to look at its libretto before I can say anything. I can't tell enough from your link, even using GoogleTranslate along with the German (a language I did indeed once study). Fortunately it's at my local library, in English and German and with a critical study.