Tarot through History

Our immediate consideration here is to talk about the cards in their history so that, as intimated elsewhere, the speculations and reveries that have been perpetuated and compounded in the schools of occult science can be disposed of once and for all.

At the beginning of this step, let it be known that there are many sets or sequences of ancient cards that are only part of our interest. Papus' Tarot Of The Bohemians, revising the incomplete rendering, has some valuable details in this regard, and it will serve the general reader's intent, except for omitting dates and other evidence of the archaeological context.

I do not propose to extend it in any way that can be considered considerable in the present position, but such additions are ideal and so is a separate style of presentation as well.

There are, first of all, those of Baldini among the ancient cards mentioned in connection with the Tarot, which are the celebrated collection credited by tradition to Andrea Mantegna, although this view is now widely denied. Their origin is estimated to be around 1470, and it is assumed that in Europe there are no more than four sets. Probably similarly unusual is a duplication or duplication alluded to in 1485. Fifty numbers, divided into five denaries or sequences of ten cards each, form a full set. There appears to be no record that they were used, whether by chance or talent, for the purposes of a game; they could scarcely have lent themselves to divination or some sort of fortune-telling; although it would be more than idle to impute to their apparent emblematic designs a profound symbolic significance.

The first denary embodies Conditions of Life, as follows: 

(1) TheBeggar, (2) the Knave, (3) the Artisan, (4) the Merchant, (5) the Noble, (6) the Knight, (7) the Doge, (8) the King, (9) the Emperor, (10) the Pope. 

The second contains the Muses and their Divine Leader: 

(11) Calliope, (12) Urania, (13) Terpsichore, (14) Erato, (15) Polyhymnia, (16) Thalia, (17) Melpomene, (18) Euterpe, (19) Clio, (20) Apollo. 

The third combines part of the Liberal Arts and Sciences with other departments of human learning, as follows: 

(21) Grammar, (22) Logic, (23) Rhetoric, (24) Geometry, (25) Arithmetic, (26) Music, (27) Poetry, (28) Philosophy, (29) Astrology, (30) Theology. 

The fourth denary completes the Liberal Arts and enumerates the Virtues: 

(31) Astronomy, (32) Chronology, (S3) Cosmology, (34) Temperance, (35) Prudence, (36) Strength, (37) Justice, (38) Charity, (39) Hope, (40) Faith.

The fifth and last denary presents the System of the Heavens: 

(41) Moon, (42) Mercury, (43) Venus, (44) Sun, (45) Mars, (46) Jupiter, (47) Saturn, (48) Eighth Sphere, (49) Primtim Mobile, (50) First Cause.

We must refrain from suggesting, for instance, that the Conditions of Life refer to the Trumps Major, the Muses to Pentacles, the Arts and Sciences to Cups, the Virtues, etc., to Scepters, and the Conditions of Life to Swords. The fantastic attempts to derive full Tarot sequences from these denaries. A method of mental contortion may do this sort of thing, but it has no place in reality. Around the same time, it is not probable that such, and even striking, analogies should not be displayed on individual cards. The respective court cards of the Minor Arcana are indicated by the Baldini King, Knight and Knave. For the Mantegna and Trumps Major of every Tarot pack, the Ruler, Pope, Temperance, Power, Fairness, Moon and Sun are popular.

The Beggar and the Fool, Venus and the Star, Mars and the Chariot, Saturn and the Hermit, even Jupiter, or, alternatively, the First Cause, were all bound to the world's Tarot card through Predisposition. The beggar is essentially nude, and the analogy is that two dogs are present, one of which seems to be flying on his legs. In a canopied chariot, the Mars card shows a sword-bearing knight, to whom, however, no horses are tied. Of note, there is little doubt as to whether the Baldini cards belong to the end of the fifteenth century, as the Tarot was recognized much before that time in Europe.

But in the Mantegna set, the most important characteristics of the Trumps Major are absent, and I do not agree that the ordered sequence in the latter case gave birth to the others, as indicated. Romain Merlin retained this opinion and, at the end of the fourteenth century, positively assigned the Baldini cards.

If it is accepted that, with the exception of unintentionally and sporadically, the emblematic or allegorical pictures of Baldini have only a shadowy and irregular link with Tarot cards, and, whatever their most possible date, that no originating purpose can be given, it follows that we are still searching not only for an origin in location and time for the objects we are dealing with, but for a specific event.

It is now well known that in 1393, when Charles VI of France was in mental ill-health, the painter Charles Gringonneur, who for no cause I can trace was named an occultist and kabalist by one indifferent English scholar, designed and illuminated some kind of cards for the diversion of Charles VI of France, and the question arises whether anything can be ascertained of their existence. The only explanation available is that there are seventeen cards drawn and illuminated on paper in Paris, in the Bibliotheque du Roi. They are very beautiful, antique and priceless; the figures have a background of gold, and are framed in a silver border; but they are accompanied by no inscription and no number.

However, it is clear that they have Tarot Trumps Major, whose list is as follows '. Wheel of Fortune, Temperance, Fortitude, Justice, Moon, Light, Chariot, Hermit, Hanged Man, Burial, Tower and Final Judgment, Idiot, Tyrant, Pope, Lovers, Four Tarot Cards are also sold at Musee Carrer, Venice, and five more elsewhere, making nine in total. They contain two pages, three Kings and two Queens, or Knaves, thereby demonstrating the Arcane Minor. Both these sets were associated with the set created by Gringonneur, but the ascription was contested as far back as 1848, and even those who are eager to make the antiquity of the Tarot plain are not evidently put forward at the present time. They are all known to be of Italian descent and others, at least certainly, of Venetian origin.

In this way, we at least have our necessary point of departure in terms of location. It has already been stated with authority that the old and true type, which is the parent of all others, is the Venetian Tarots; but I conclude that the Major and Minor Arcana's full sets belong to far later times. It is assumed that the pack was comprised of seventy-eight cards.

Notwithstanding, however, the preference shown for the Venetian Tarot, it is understood that the time between 1413 and 1418 must be assigned to certain portions of a Minchiate or Florentine collection. They were once in Countess Gonzaga's custody, in Milan. There were ninety-seven cards in a full Minchiate pack and it is considered, widely speaking, as a later invention in terms of these vestiges. Forty-one Trumps Major were present, the additional numbers either borrowed or mirrored from the emblematic Baldini set. The Knights were creatures of the Centaur type in the court cards of the Minor Arcana, while the Knaves were often warriors and sometimes slaves. The dominance of Christian medieval beliefs and the complete lack of any Oriental suggestion is another difference. However, the question persists whether any Tarot cards contain Eastern traces.

We come, all right, to the Bolognese Tarot, often referred to as Venice and complete with the Trumps Major, but numbers 20 and 21 have been transposed. The 2, 3, 4, and 5 small cards in the Minor Arcana are omitted, resulting in sixty-two cards in total. In the representation of the Last Judgment, the termination of the Trumps Major is curious, and a little arresting as a point of symbolism; but this is all that it seems necessary to note about the Bologna pack, except that it is said to have been invented or, more correctly, modified as a Tarot, by an exiled Prince of Pisa resident in the city around the beginning of the fifteenth century.

The reason for which they were used is shown tolerably by the fact that St. Bernardin of Sienna preached against playing cards and other means of gambling in 1423. The importation of cards into England was banned forty years later, the time being that of King Edward IV. This is our country's first certain record of the issue.

It is difficult to consult perfect illustrations of the above-mentioned collections, but it is not difficult to comply with detailed and outlined explanations. If the writer is not always an occultist, I may add that accounts originating from that source are typically incomplete, ambiguous and concerned with factors that cloud the vital problems. Some opinions that have been shared on the Mantegna codex give an example in point, whether I can continue to dignify card sequences with such a word. In occult reverie, as we have seen, it has been ruled that Apollo and the Nine Muses equate with Pentacles, but the comparison is not obtained in a working state of research; and reverie must verge on nightmare until we can associate the suit of Cups with Astronomy, Chronology and Cosmology. The Baldini characters depicting these themes are, like the Tarot, emblems of their time and not symbols.

To finish, I note that there has been a willingness among experts to suggest that the Trumps Major was not initially related to the numbered suits. I do not wish to give a personal view; I am not a specialist in the history of games of chance, and I dislike the profanum vulgus of divinatory devices; but I venture to intimate, under all reserves, that if subsequent study can explain such a leaning, it would be so much the better for the Greater Arcana, save for the good old art of fortune-telling and its tamperings with so-called fate.

As far as what is appropriate for the historical aspects of the Tarot cards is concerned, I will now take up the speculative side of the topic and create the merit test. I noted in my preface to The Tarot Of The Bohemians that the first writer to make the truth of the cards known was the archaeologist Court de Gebelin, who, just before the French Revolution, spent many years writing his Monde Primitif, which stretched to nine-quarter volumes. Before the science of the subject existed, he was a learned man of his age, a high-grade Mason, a member of the historical Lodge of the Philalethes, and a virtuoso with a strong and lifelong curiosity in the debate on universal antiques. His memorials and dissertations, compiled under the title I have cited, are worth possessing even on this day. By an accident of things, when it was very uncommon in Paris, he became acquainted with the Tarot, and at once conceived that it was the remains of an Egyptian text. He made inquiries about it and confirmed that Spain, Italy, Germany and the South of France were in circulation over a large portion of Europe. It was used, after the usual manner of playing cards, as a game of chance or skill; and he further determined how the game was played. But it was also in use for the greater reason of divination or fortune-telling, and he found the meaning assigned to the cards with the aid of a learned acquaintance, along with the method of organization introduced for this purpose. In a word, he made a distinct contribution to our interpretation, and he is indeed a reference point, but it is just on the issue of truth and not on the cherished theory that pure Egyptian theology is found in the Tarot. He established, however, the view that is prevalent to this day throughout the occult schools that the origin of the cards was lost in the mystery and wonder, the strange night of the gods, the unknown tongue and the undeciphered hieroglyphics that symbolized Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century.

So one of France's distinctive literati dreamed, and one can almost understand and sympathize, for the nation of the Delta and the Nile was beginning to loom largely in the concern of educated thought, and omne ignotum pro Mgyptiaco was the way many minds appeared to delude. It was excusable enough then, but the hysteria persisted and now spreads from mouth to mouth inside the charmed circle of the occult sciences. There is no reason for this. Let us see, then, the proof generated by M. In favor of his study, Court de Gebelin, and, if I can deal equally, it shall be outlined in his own terms as far as possible.

I The characters and arrangement of the game are explicitly allegorical; (2) the allegories are in line with the civil, metaphysical and religious doctrine of ancient Egypt; (3) no High Priestess would be included among the Greater Arcana if the cards were modern; (4) the character in question bears the horns of Isis; (5) the card known as the Emperor has a scepter ending in a trip (7) the seventeenth card, or Star, is the dog-star, Sirius, consecrated to Isis and symbolizing the year's opening; (8) the game played with the Tarot is based on the sacred number seven, which in Egypt was of great importance; (9) the word Tarot is pure Egyptian, in which the language Tar = path or path, and Ro = king or royal, thus signifying the Royal Road of Life; (10) Alternatively, it is taken from A = doctrine; Rosh = Mercury — Thoth, and Article T; in short, Tarosh; and so the Tarot is the Book of Thoth, or the Mercury Doctrine Deck.

Such is the evidence, it is understood that I have set aside some casual remarks for which there is no form of excuse. These, thus, are ten pillars supporting the thesis building, and they are pillars of sand the same. Of definition, the Tarot is allegorical, that is to say, meaning, but all countries, nations and times are Catholic allegory and symbol; they are not more Egyptian than Mexican; they are from Europe and Cathay, from Tibet beyond the Himalayas and from the London gutters.

The cards correspond to many kinds of ideas and things as an allegory and symbol; they are universal and not specific; and the fact that they do not respond specifically and peculiarly to Egyptian doctrine, religious, philosophical or civil, is clear from the failure of the Court de Gebelin to go further than the statement.

Among the Trumps Major, the appearance of a High Priestess is more conveniently explained as the memorial of any common superstition, such as the worship of Diana, whose persistence has been traced by Leland with such striking results in modern Italy. We must also note in any cult the universality of the horns, not to mention that of Tibet. As an example of Egyptian symbolism, the triple cross is preposterous; it is the cross of the patriarchal see, both Greek and Latin, of Venice, of Jerusalem, for instance, and it is the method of signing used by the Orthodox Rite priests and laity to this day.

As other occult authors have told us that they are Hebrew Jods, I pass over the idle allusion to the tears of Isis; as far as the seventeenth card is concerned, it is the star Sirius or another, as predisposition pleases; the number seven was definitely important in Egypt and any treatise on numerical mysticism would prove that the same assertion applies everywhere, even though we chose to disregard the seven Christian sacraments.

Lastly, as far as the etymology of the term Tarot is concerned, it is sufficient to remember that it was given before the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and when the Egyptian language was not recognized.

Court de Gebelin's work was not permitted to sit undisturbed in the mind of the century, appealing solely by means of a quarto volume to the learned. In Paris, as the core of France and all things French in the world, the Tarot cards created an opening. The suggestion that divination by cards had the unforeseen warrants of ancient secret science behind it, and that the origin of the entire topic was in the wonder and mystery of Egypt, represented almost a religious honor thereon; cartomancy came from the purlieus of mystic rituals into fashion and assumed almost pontifical vestures for the moment.

The illiterate yet zealous explorer, Alliette, was the first to take on the role of bateleur, magician and juggler; the second, as a kind of High Priestess, full of knowledge and discoveries, was Mile. Lenormand, but she belongs to a later period; while Julia Orsini, who is more referring to a queen of cups in the tatters of clairvoyance, finally came. When fate itself was shuffling and cutting cards for the game of global revolution, or for such courts and courtiers as those of Louis XVIII, Charles IX and Louis Philippe, I am not concerned with these persons as tellers of fortune. The transliteration of his name, Alliette, however, under the occult classification of Etteilla, the perruquier took himself with great seriousness and posed more as a priest of occult sciences than as an ordinary specialist in l'art de tirer les cartes. There are people still now, including Dr. Papus, who have managed to rescue some component of his bizarre scheme from oblivion.

In 1782, Le Monde Primitif's lengthy and heterogeneous tale had come to the end of its plot, and in 1783 Etteilla's tracts had started to flood from the newspapers, testifying that he had already spent thirty, nay, almost forty years researching Egyptian sorcery, and that he had discovered the final keys. In fact, they were the Keys of the Tarot, which was the Book of Philosophy and the Book of Thoth, but at the same time it was originally written in the Temple of Fire by the seventeen Magi, on the borders of the Levant, about three leagues from Memphis. It included the theory of the cosmos, and it was extended to astrology, alchemy, and fortune-telling by the Cartomancist, without the least pause or reserve as to the fact that he was performing a trade.

There is really no doubt in my mind that he found it legitimate as a metier, and that he was the first one to persuade himself of his scheme. But the thing we have to note is that the antiquity of the Tarot was usually trumpeted out in this way. Etteilla's little books are positive indications that he did not even know his own language; that even those who think of him tenderly confess that he spoiled his symbolism when he created a reformed Tarot in the course of time; and that he had only the Court de Gebelin as his universal authority with regard to ancient times.

The Carthomancists succeeded one another in the manner I have alluded to, and there were, of course, competing followers of these less than the least mysteries; but the scholarship of the subject, if it can be said to have came into being, rested for more than sixty years at all in the quarto of the Court de Gebelin. There is very little doubt under his authority that anyone who became acquainted with the issue of Tarot cards, by theory or experience, by casual or special interest, acknowledged their Egyptian character. It is said that persons are usually taken for their own worth, and the unsolicited general mind definitely accepts archaeological arguments in the sense of their own bravery and of those who bring them out, pursuing as it does the line of least resistance. The French writer Duchesne was the first who seemed to rethink the topic of some presumptive titles at a trial, but I am obliged to move it on with a mere guide, as well as some fascinating study by Singer in England on the general subject of playing-cards. The latter thought that the oldest European form of card-playing was the old Venetian game called Trappola, that it was of Arab origin, and that the fifty-two cards used for the purpose originated from that area. I do not realize why any meaning was ever added to this vision.

Another English writer, W, followed Duchesne and Singer. A. Chatto, who checked the information available and the storm of uncertainty that had already emerged on the subject. This was in 1848, and his work still has a kind of normal force, but it remains an indifferent and even a bad result despite any allowance for a certain righteousness due to the individual mind. However, it was typical of the coming middle night of the nineteenth century in its manner. Chatto dismissed the Egyptian theory, but as he was in so little distress over it, if the latter had any solid ground under his hypothesis, he would hardly be held to displace Court de Gebelin.

The general issue was taken up in 1854 by another French scholar, Boiteau, who maintained the oriental roots of Tarot cards, but without trying to prove it. I'm not sure, but I think he's the first writer who certainly associated them with the Gipsies; the original Gipsy home for him, though, was in India, and thus Egypt did not join his estimation.

Eliphas Levi emerged in 1860, a brilliant and sublime awakening for whom it is difficult to embrace and with whom it is much more impossible to dispense. Of all the western voices which have declared or represented the science called supernatural and the doctrine called mystical, there was never a mouth proclaiming such great things. I believe that, fundamentally speaking, he cared about the phenomenal aspect as much and as little as I do, but he clarified the phenomenon with the confidence of one who, if used in a correct purpose, openly treated charlatanry as a fantastic means to an end. As a man of considerable wisdom, he never was, and as a revealer to all secrets without having been received into some, he came to his own and his own received him, even at his proper valuation. I do not believe that there has ever been an example of a writer with greater talents, after their peculiar type, who has put them to such indifferent uses. After all, for the second time in the flesh, he was just Etteilla, endowed in his transmutation with a mouth of gold and a larger understanding of chance. Despite this, he has written in every language the most detailed, brilliant, enchanting History Of Magic that has ever been drawn into prose.

He took into his heart of hearts the Tarot and de Gebelin hypothesis, and all occult France and all esoteric Britain, Martinists, half-instructed Kabalists, schools of soi disant theosophy, there, here and everywhere, accepted his judgment on it with the same confidence as his interpretations of those great Kabalist classics he had skimmed rather than read. For him, the Tarot was not only the most perfect instrument of divination and the keystone of mystic study, but it was the primitive book, the ancient Magi's single book, the miraculous volume that influenced all the ancient holy writings. However, Levi was satisfied with approving the creation of the Court de Gebelin in his first job and reproducing the seventh Trump Major with a few Egyptian elements. He was not occupied by the issue of Tarot transmission via the Gipsies, until J. It was proposed in his dissertation on certain wandering tribes by A. Vaillant, a bizarre writer with considerable knowledge of the Romani people. The two writers nearly correlated and thereafter mirrored one another. It remained for Romain Merlin, in 1869, to find out what should have been clear, namely that before the arrival of the Gipsies in or around 1417, cards of some sort were recognized in Europe. However, since this was their arrival at Luneburg, and since their presence can be traced previously, the correction loses a significant part of its strength; it is safer, therefore, to say that the evidence for the use of the Tarot by Romani tribes was not suggested until after the year 1840; the fact that some Gipsies were found using cards before this period is quite clear on the hypothesis not that they brought the tarot to the West but that they discovered the tarot in Europe and added them to their trade.

Now we have shown that there is no confirmation of the Egyptian roots of the Tarot cards. Reaching in other ways, cards of some kind were invented in China around the year A once progressed on native authority. D. A. 1120. In his zeal, Court de Gebelin claimed that he had traced them to a Chinese inscription of great antiquity that was said to refer to the subsidence of the Deluge waters. Seventy-seven compartments contained the characters of the inscription, and this forms the comparison. India also had tablets, either cards or otherwise, and similar slender parallels were indicated by these. But the presence, for instance, of ten suits or types, each of twelve numbers, and the portrayal of Vishnu's avatars, as a fish, a tortoise, a boar, a lion, a monkey, a hatchet, an umbrella, or a bow, as a pig, a boodh, and as a horse in good, will not allow us to render our own Trumps Major, nor do crowns and harps—nor even the presence of possible coins as a synonym of deniers and perhaps as an equivalent of pentacles—do much to elucidate the Lesser Arcana.

If every language and person and environment and time had their cards, if they also philosophized, divined and gambled with them, the truth would be sufficiently fascinating, but if they were Tarot cards, they would only demonstrate the common propensity of man to do the same things in more or less the same way.

I end, thus, the history of this topic by repeating that before the fourteenth century, when the first stories about cards were heard, it had no history. They may have existed for centuries, but this period would be early enough if only people were meant to try their luck at gambling or their luck at seeing the future; on the other hand, if they contain the deep insights of the Secret Doctrine, then the fourteenth century is early enough again, or at least as much as we can get in this respect.