View Full Version : Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot
One of the intriguing questions in Tarot history is the idea of an 'Ur-Tarot", from which all other tarots are derived. There can be no doubt that there was a first time that trumps were added to the deck of regular playing cards, thus allowing for the game of triumphs. Who created this first tarot, where and when it occurred, are questions that have not been completely resolved. What we do know is that there is much evidence from the mid-15th century for the first appearance and spread of tarot decks in Italy. The signifying feature of these decks being the trumps, the related question of the order of these trumps also comes to the fore, (since order determines how tricks are taken in the game).
There are three main 'families' of trump orders, which show some significant variations within portions of the sequence, and significant invariances in other portions. From this evidence we can conclude that whatever the earliest pattern of the trumps may have been, the makers of tarot decks saw fit to change that order to suit their own tastes, but within certain limits. The reasons for these changes may have been influenced by iconography, occult significances, ease of game play, or some other factors. But the singular thread among all these changes is the fact of change itself. The trumps were not understood, at least in the early stages, to have an immutable order or immutable imagery.
Centuries later, the French occultists began to impute occult significance to the trumps and their sequence, continuing in the tradition of the mutability of tarot, albeit more focused on the change of the symbolism and its meaning rather than alteration of the sequence itself. To the present day, this imputation of occult significance has continued. And in the last few decades, the types of symbolism used in the tarot trumps has exploded to include all manner of decks, depicting a bewildering array of genre subjects, mystical themes, dragons, fairies, Norsemen, etc. The modern creators of tarot have followed in the footsteps of their forbears by adapting the tarot to their own purposes; adhering to the traditional iconography more or less as they see fit.
But whether it is an adaptation of the Tarot de Marseilles, such as the Crowley-Harris deck, the addition of a whole suit as in the Deva tarot, the use of concocted alien forms as in the Terrestrial Tarot, or the redaction of a classic deck such as the Camoin TdM, all modern tarot creators are doing precisely the same thing that was done in Italy at the dawn of tarot in the 15th century; they are adapting a set of conventions and changing them for a certain purpose. It may be only for looks, like a stained glass tarot, or for esoteric purposes, like the Magickal tarot, or paying homage to earlier decks such as the Medieval Scapini. None of these modern creations are different, in essence, from the earliest adaptations of the tarot in Bologna, Ferrara, or Milan. Such regional variants were similar in iconography with one another, but not in sequence. And slowly the iconography itself diverged - a hanged man with bags of coins, or not; a Hermit with an hourglass that morphed into a lantern, or the multitude of names for the XVI trump - the Blasted Tower, the Arrow, the Fire, etc. The only constant here is change.
On the one hand, this is an argument for the legitimacy of any and all variants of the tarot, whether stylistic or philosophical, or both. For the tarot has never had an inviolable form, either in sequence or iconography. On the other hand, it is an argument against the importance of whatever intended meaning the Ur-Tarot might have had, if there was any. For if we presume that some brilliant genius intended the Tarot to encode the Qabalah, neo-Platonism, the Celtic alphabet, or the metaphysics of the Cathars, exactly what would that signify other than the intentions of one person or persons who had a brilliant idea? If the Tarot really came from Egypt, would it entail that all other non-Egyptian tarots were illegitimate? Hardly. For whatever the intended meaning of the Ur-Tarot was, it does not seem to have been either fully understood, or accepted, or both, by those copyists in Italy who created their regional variants so early in Tarot history.
One might even argue that the existence of so many variants so early in its history, indicates that the brilliant idea of adding trumps to a deck was perhaps not fully understood by its originator, thus the form was not set in stone. As others picked up the idea, the fluidity of the concept allowed them to change it to suit this or that purpose, be it occult or mundane. But even if the Ur-Tarot only had the mundane purpose of playing a card game, and nothing more, it would not immediately make all esoteric tarots invalid, either. For the power of symbolism, even simple curves and straight lines, catalyzes the human mind to search for a meaning and an order, regardless if one were ever intended.
The creation of the Ur-Tarot is much like the invention of the laser. No one had a clue to what purposes a laser could be put when it was invented, and certainly the originator of Tarot had no clue how far this idea would be taken. But so long as one has a set of four suits, and a fifth set of special trump cards with iconic images on them in a certain order, one can have a Tarot deck.
Is there an authentic Ur-Tarot? There must have been. Is the intention of that Ur-Tarot the only 'authentic' intention tarot can have? Of course not. But it seems important to the historians of tarot to prove one way or the other what that intention was. If and when they do, and the purpose proves to be mundane, it is no argument against the usefulness and power of an esoteric perspective on the tarot. And conversely, if the Ur-Tarot turns out to have been the work of a neo-Platonic mastermind, it does not vitiate the use of these cards to play a trick-taking game.
By looking at the tarot as a set of cards whose meanings have been fluid from its very inception, we do away with the need for proving that the tarot came from this or that sector, with this or that agenda, in order to bolster the arguments for card playing versus esotericism or vice versa. The fact is that the tarot has always been in flux, because at its core are symbols, which are malleable to our heart's content. We do know one thing for sure, early players of the game, regardless of what they thought the images of the cards meant, knew that they were also useful for playing that game. And almost certainly, very early in its history, those images also sparked the imagination of many, who shuffled them around and changed their appearance and made their game more interesting, as well as possibly embedding hidden information in them.
It seems wise to strike a balance here. Rather than make claims unsubstantiated by evidence, those who believe in the occult significance of tarot should take heart in the fact that the sequence is a skeleton that they can hang their metaphysics on without embarrassment. Whether it was intended to be an esoteric tool is hardly relevant any longer. It is one now. And the historians should admit that their own evidence shows the tarot underwent transformations right from the start, and that esoteric meaning given to images and numbers is a game far older than the tarot itself. We can admit, also without embarrassment, that some metaphysical speculation may have played a role in the early development of tarot, without undermining the primary evidence that for all their possible meanings, the cards were used to play a game.
To my mind, the originator of the tarot created better than he or she knew. But the mere fact that the extra suit had a number of allegorical images strikes me as at least prima facie evidence that something more than playing cards was intended here. If the idea was simply to take tricks, another numbered suit, perhaps with Roman numerals and a new signifier like 'crowns', could have easily been introduced in order to play the game of Tarot. One need not have Virtues, Popes and Emperors and the like in order to take tricks. But this is speculation, for which I proffer no historical evidence. And this brings us back to the earlier point. Who made the Ur-Tarot, and why? Whether we ever discover the answer to that, all the descendants of tarot will still retain their legitimacy and their power. And you can use them to map the universe, tell fortunes, or play a wicked game of cards.
The earliest deck - a quasi Ur-Tarot - which with Tarot similar games were played, was likely a common playing card deck, from which some cards were defined as "trumps". Likely these predefined trumps were the cards at Ober and Unter position, and their iconography was that of soldiers or marshals, possibly soldier with horse (Ober) and soldier without horse (Unter).
The military outfit likely indicated the trump function, the ability, to conquer other cards by
force inside a trick.
A game-family with this game structure is known from the border of the older Bohemia, in the North with a game called "Deutscher Schafkopf" and in the West known with "Bayerischer Schafkopf", in English language countries known as "Sheephead". The existence of this game name reaches only till c. 1700, but the connected game strcture should be much older.
Bohemia is suspected to have had a very early and stronger distribution of playing cards. This suspicion is partly based on the not totally sure report of F. Hübsch ...
... who in the year 1849 wrote about early Bohemian trade, second on the condition, that Bohemia and also the somehow connected city Nürnberg as only few places in Europe, hadn't been involved in the first big wave of the plague 1348-50 and third to the condition, that Bohemia ad been the home location of the German Emperor Charles IV (1346-1378).
According Hübsch playing cards had evidence in Bohemia since 1340. Hübsch speaks also of Polish nobility, which played with playing cards before 1340. Independently from Hübsch indeed two early reports (in essence also insecure documents) about playing cards could be found, one speaks of card playing prohibition against knights by the master of the German knight order Werner of Orseln (1324-30)
Werner von Orseln (http://forum.tarothistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=514&p=10414&hilit=orseln#p10414)
and another of a lightning accident 1303 in Brieg, where 3 card players were killed during a game (the knight order master had its residence in Marienburg, nowadays Northern Poland, and Brieg is located in Southern Poland).
Brieg 1303 (http://forum.tarothistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=528&p=7325&hilit=brieg#p7325)
A usual Bohemian trading way went from Prague to Breslau to Brieg to Kiew, which in 13th century had been a very high populated city (maybe 100.000 inhabitants), which suffered strongly when conquered by the Mongols.
If the idea is right, that Mongols brought playing cards from China (where they were known at least since 12th century), the trading way from the Kiew region (in 14th century ruled by the Golden Horde) to Prague naturally went through Poland, so anyway, this way would have been independent of any Mamluk playing card tradition.
In 1377 Johannes of Rheinfelden reported as one of the first of the playing card invasion in his city Freiburg im Breisgau (near Strasbourg).
Between usual card decks with 4x13 structure he also reports the existence of a very valuable deck with 60 cards, 4 suits with 15 cards each, from these 10 number cards connected to professions and 5 court cards: King, Ober and Unter, a Queen and a Maid, so actually a deck with 60 figures.
A comparable deck to these luxury cards survived through the Habsburg court, the Hofämterspiel, This has 48 figures, from which 24 figures might be considered as court cards - King, Queen, 2 Marshalls (Ober and Unter), Maid and Fool in 4 suits and the 4 suits connected to nations: Germany, France, Hungary and Bohemia. This luxury deck likely was made for the young Bohemian king Ladislaus posthumus in 1455.
From this condition it might be concluded, that the 60-cards-deck from Johannes of Rheinfelden ALSO had been made in Bohemia.
The year 1377, in which Johannes reports the playing card invasion to his home town was naturally preceded by the year 1376, and in this year a large Bohemian delegation inclusive Emperor and his oldest son Wenzel went from Prague to Aachen (Aix-de-chapelle, city of Charlemain), the crowning city or German Kings and Emperors. Wenzel was crowned as German king, and, likely made for the crowning celebrations, a larger number of playing cards (likely) left Bohemia and were distributed in German parts outside of Bohemia.
That's this part of the story. Then we have another part, which refers not to a usual playing card deck, but to a deck, which was called Ludus Triumphorum in the year 1449, although it should have existed at least in 1425.
The Michelino deck, (likely) with 60 cards, and as it is only known by description, we cannot see it. It uses birds as suits and it has 16 trumps, 4 kings and (probably) 40 number cards.
Well, I write "likely" and "probably", as description sometimes forget to make themselves very clear. So it's a possibility, that the author simply forgot to mention other court cards or forgot to tell, that the numbers were reduced.
In the given situation it is not totally clear, if was a deck with 4x15 structure (as the 60-cards-deck of Johannes of Rheinfelden) or if it should be described as 4x11+16.
As it has to be assumed, that trumps were already known (Schafkopf-structure; Ober and Unter = Trumps), one might conclude, that such a deck also should be described as 4x11+8 and not as 4x13. But this actually is "too complicated", and everybody talks of 4x13 decks (just as everybody knows, that trump-definitions belong to the game rules - software - and not to the deck structure - hardware). Similar there is reason to assume that the Michelino deck had been recognized as 4x15 deck... but, as the 16 gods are quite other motifs, and we see, that this harmless difference later led to the game structure 4x14+22 (a real hardware change), it's just an open question, how it was seen in c. 1425.
Filippo Maria Visconti (commissioner of the Michelino deck) knew playing cards since his youth ... being of high birth we likely have to assume, that he got some nice decks.
In 1395 (Filippo Maria Visconti 3 years old) there was intensive diplomatic exchange between Prague (capital of Bohemia and the Empire) and Milan. Giangaleazzo, ruler of Milan, bought for much money the duke title from Wenzel, King of the Roman Empire.
This was easy earned money, and it was followed later by many similar deals between Emperors and Italian rulers, but in 1395 it caused a scandal, which formed the reason, why Wenzel lost the throne in the year 1400.
Nonetheless this should have been the opportunity, when some Bohemian playing cards went from Prague to Milan. So - with some plausibility - Filippo Maria Visonti knew the 60-cards-playing-card-deck of Johannes. He imitated it with the Michelino deck, but a lot of things were different.
This should be - more or less - what we could know for the current moment about the "first generation Ur-Tarot".
Rather than make claims unsubstantiated by evidence, those who believe in the occult significance of tarot should take heart in the fact that the sequence is a skeleton that they can hang their metaphysics on without embarrassment. Whether it was intended to be an esoteric tool is hardly relevant any longer. It is one now. And the historians should admit that their own evidence shows the tarot underwent transformations right from the start, and that esoteric meaning given to images and numbers is a game far older than the tarot itself.
How absolutely sensible you are. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could be so sensible? However, people tend to cling tenaciously to their stories and want others to agree with them - including this story of yours - which I quite like.
BTW, the term "Ur" is used in a lot if different ways. I see that Huck looks for the Ur-Tarot in early playing cards that might have been used for a trump-type game, with or without special cards. Long ago (on TarotL) we used the term in its meaning of "a mythical, primeval origin" to talk about a set of archetypally-related images or ideas (hundreds, if not thousands of years old) that might not have had a card form. You seem to be referring to a first set of cards with a special pictorial Trump suit - probably in Northern Italy.
Thank you Huck, that was an excellent synopsis. I have long admired your tenacious work in the area of card history.
And yes Mary, I was using the term Ur-Tarot to denote the prototype or first tarot deck of cards, with pictorial trumps, which appeared as far as we know in Northern Italy in the 15th century.
Thank you Huck, that was an excellent synopsis. I have long admired your tenacious work in the area of card history.
And yes Mary, I was using the term Ur-Tarot to denote the prototype or first tarot deck of cards, with pictorial trumps, which appeared as far as we know in Northern Italy in the 15th century.
It isn't easy to fix this form of U-Tarot.
First: The word "Tarot" wasn't in use in 15th century. But decks with pictures similar to Tarot cards were in use in 15th century. These seem to be addressed as Ludus Triumphorum, Trionfi cards and other similar expressions.
But from the case of the well documented Michelino deck we know, that this type of expression could also be used for decks as different to Tarot as the Michelino deck: 60 cards, birds as suits, the trumps are Roman gods. You wouldn't recognize "Tarot", if you could see this. But from explanation it's clear: A game with some similarities to later Tarot game rules.
We've two types of documents: written documents and playing cards dated to 15th century.
If a deck was called Trionfi deck in a written document, we can't assume with 100% security, that the document talks about an object with cards similar to Tarot cards. Actually the objects might have been rather different.
If we have playing card documents (with some security, that they really were made during 15th century), we can see, if these cards or decks have Tarot character. A good part of surviving cards have Tarot character, but another, not too small part, has it not (Sola-Busca Tarocchi, Boiardo Tarocchi poem, Goldschmidt and Guildhall cards, Mantegna Tarocchi [with great doubts, if these had playing card character], Michelino deck, Cary-Yale-Tarocchi in parts].
A further problem is, that all decks from 15th century are not complete in the sense, that they NOT precisely have 22 special cards.
From the situation have developed two major lines to interpret the situation:
Ross assumes an "Ur-Tarot" with 22 cards similar to Tarot motifs (a deck with before the first appearance of the Trionfi word family, which is now "before September 1440".
Me and some others meanwhile prefer an evolutionary model, in which it was experimented with decks with different game structure, 60 cards/19 trumps like the Michelino deck, Karnöffel/Imperatori structures with possibly 8 trumps, 5x16 decks (as assumed for Cary-Yale), 5x14-decks as assumed for the version of the first painter of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck, decks with 16 trumps without knowledge about the structure of the pips (as in the Charles VI deck), decks with 20 special cards and finally the real Tarot structure 4x14+22. The evolutionary model developed from the earlier 5x14-theory, but was modified into a model, which considered a larger Chess influence.
If Ross would be right, the question for the Ur-Tarot would have been answered. If the evolutionary model would be right, the question for the Ur-Tarot somehow becomes an idle game. Then there were lots of variants and finally a winner of the most used variation. Calling this late version then "Ur-Taot" makes not much sense.
The first use of the 4x14+22 structure appears in the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, apparently something with much distance to "common Tarot". It's dated for good reasons (which, however, failed to get larger acceptance) to January 1487.
For the current moment we've reached, that lots of new documents (Trionfi and playing cards) appear, especially through the work of Franco Pratesi. This is still marching on, and it's appropriate to wait a little bit, if the situation stabilizes ... one can only build good hypotheses, if one has a state of full information.
It was long a debated point, when mass production of cheap Trionfi cards started. Through new documents (Esch report 2007, which became known to us in October 2011) it has become clear, that at least since 1463/64 mass production was a factor of the development. Perhaps further information will be reached, when Esch's source might be studied. But this is a gigantic archive and there's momentary no practical solution to do this.
We're just very happy, that the cooperation between us and Italian researchers has been intensified and that - as part of this cooperation - in short time lots of new results were gotten. Definitely we have reached a new level with far better chances.
Thank you Huck for clarifying the two main possibilities: an Ur-Tarot proper - i.e., a 4x14 +22 structure that was in existence as a precursor to future tarots; and an evolutionary scenario where the card games slowly changed into a structure that became stabilized later as 4x14 + 22 as the most popular for whatever reasons.
I cannot offer any hard evidence, but it seems from some of the material you have presented that the evolutionary model makes more sense. There seems to be no doubt that card games have evolved over time, (and continue to do so to some extent), and I don't think anyone believes that Tarot/Trionfi was somehow created in a vacuum. Obviously decks of four suits existed prior to the tarot as we know it.
But within the evolutionary model, there must have been a point of 'punctuated equilibrium' where someone decided that a 4x14 + 22 structure was appropriate. This would be the ur-tarot with a lower-case 'u'. Not so much the grand precursor of all tarots created by a lone genius, but a refinement of existing games that managed to catch on and become very popular. I think in this sense it still is applicable to use the term 'ur-tarot', but a better one might be substituted, such as the original 78-card deck (implying a 22+56 structure).
Playing cards, allegorical imagery, and numbers all preceded the tarot proper. It was simply a matter of synthesizing these elements into a usable and popular form. But the evolutionary model naturally suggests the question - why use a 22+56 structure? Why not 60 cards, or 70, or some other number? I think this is where the esotericists jump in with all their fantastical theories. 22 was settled on because of Hebrew letters, or the Latin Alphabet (minus the letter 'I'), and so on. While the answers might not have any historical evidence, the questions are genuine - why exactly 22 trumps? (or 21 and an 'excuse'); why an additional face card in the four suits?
These questions then lead on to the imagery - why a female pope? and so on. And the imagery that is used may help answer the question of trump numbers and sequences - was 22 used because it took exactly that many cards to tell a story? to show a hierarchy? to illustrate a doctrine?
I know those are all big questions, and I'm not trying to answer them here. But I do feel that it's possible the answers provided by designers of tarot evolved over time, and this is why the structure and imagery of the cards changed over time. Which gets me back to my initial post - the constant in the tarot is change. Even if there were a lone genius that designed the 78 card deck structure and images, the reasons were soon lost, or misunderstood, or improved on ... in short, they changed. This is part of the reason that the esoteric theories are hard to root out; because there was enough fluctuation in tarot design to allow people to infer numerous things that they have little evidence for. The situation is not true for the 'Mantegna' designs, where you have 5 groups of 10 cards per suit, with very obvious meanings in most cases. The didactic purpose of such a deck must have been clear to the viewer. Such a purpose, if there was one, in the trionfi decks was probably not as clear, which allowed it to be shuffled around by individual designers, who certainly didn't feel that the tarot structure was set in stone.
why exactly 22 trumps? (or 21 and an 'excuse'); why an additional face card in the four suits?
21 like the number 14 is a multiple of 7. Antoine Court de Gebelin may be rightly discredited today for his Egyptian origin theory but I think he may have had something when he stated the connection between the structure of Tarot and the number 7. In Tarot games, there are seven cards of the highest point value; the 4 kings and 3 tarot trumps or trump honors. It does appear that the creator of the Tarot may have had some fixation with this number.
Here's some more Tarot math.
According to Dummett & McLeod, the original, as opposed to the now standard, point values of the court cards were
This sums to 10 which probably by coincidence is the number of pip cards in each conventional suit.
Here's where I'm going to speculate on what the point values were of one of the original Visconti Tarots, the variant one with 6 court cards per conventional suit.
Instead of 4,3,2,1 as above; it might be likely that the point values for that game may have been 6,5,4,3,2,1 which would equal 21, the same number of proper trumps (not the fool) I'm speculating here because I don't think any game rules survive for that variant Visconti deck so I can't be certain of the point values of its court cards.
If you take all 19 of the counting cards in the 78 card deck and sum the total according to the original method of counting points, the total would be 52 the same number of cards in conventional playing card decks. I've discovered the number 52 embedded in the Tarot!
Yes! Tarot has some interesting numbers there.
. . . I was using the term Ur-Tarot to denote the prototype or first tarot deck of cards, with pictorial trumps, which appeared as far as we know in Northern Italy in the 15th century.I realize that the conventional wisdom in the history forum insists on an Italian origin, yet there is for me a very compelling reason why this is really highly unlikely: only north of the Alps was there unanimity concerning trump order, showing that there is where the solid, oldest tradition lay. How people can miss the fact that the iconography and style of art in the Tarot de Marseille is much older than the oldest extant copies of it, I do not know.
In my own researches, utterly dismissed by the movers and shakers of these history threads (whose researches I value, it's just that I hate to see all their efforts expended either south of the Alps or in Bohemia), it has become obvious that there are details in the symbolism of the TdM that absolutely no other deck of tarot reproduces that are absolutely essential to the underlying symbolism—which is unmistakably the bardic, that is, Christian Gnostic (albeit non-dualistic) version of Qabbalah, not to be confused with the later so-called Christian Kabbalah. Two of the most important examples are the mother's arm entering the card V LePape from the right (presenting her sons to the pontiff), and the way the shield-eagle's tail feathers embrace III L'Imperatrice about the middle: these two cards represent the two pillars Boaz and Jachin, respectively, this because the bardic numbers associated with B and I (the only two runes that retain their tree-names, by the way) were 5 and 3 (respectively).
It is more than obvious to me that the Marseilles-Lyons region is the place to look for the birthplace of tarot, but the Ur deck itself we almost already have, that is with the proviso that investigation by this forum's (erstwhile?) Le Pendu showed that the original (I do not see how it could be other than TdM) probably did not have numbers and titles on its trumps because they were too well known, it being the standard block-printed deck. Just thought you might profit from knowing there is a dissenting voice on the matter.
PS. That trumps are based on bardic tree-letters, preserved in the Irish tree-alphabet (but permeating most ancient alphabets' symbolism in terms of letter-shapes, and letter-names where these exist), is easily shown to be the case, but because the argument involves taking them one-by-one, almost no-one in this forum is willing to even consider the possibility. Knowing what I know, this is quite frustrating. (It is the reason I don't post here a whole lot any more.) That the 40 and 16 match the ten Sefirot and four letters of the Name reverberating through the four worlds (in addition to 22 trumps being the number of Hebrew letters) is what led people to interpret them as Kabbalistic in the first place, and no other adequate explanation of this structure has surfaced to my knowledge (Huck's theories notwithstanding).
No one had a clue to what purposes a laser could be put when it was invented, and certainly the originator of Tarot had no clue how far this idea would be taken.I think (or, to be more accurate, I am as certain as one can be regarding anything temporal) the originator(s) had a very clear idea of the esoteric meaning of the images. (This I can say with some authority, since the images could not be as they are had the originator/s not a clear idea of the system of understanding they were embodying in them, that is, in the original tarot, TdM). What they may not have imagined (although they may have, for they were much more astute than the historians want to give them credit for being) was that a thousand other decks would be designed all of which would miss much of the original point.But so long as one has a set of four suits, and a fifth set of special trump cards with iconic images on them in a certain order, one can have a Tarot deck.Here you put your finger on why there needs to be two different words for tarot. Because the tarot can only mean TdM (says the evidence, IMO), whereas yes, there is an entire world of card decks inspired by tarot, that is, whose creators saw in the structure of the tarot an opportunity to express their own ideas. And there is nothing, of course, intrinsically wrong with this; it is just that it is a pity that the original meaning, since it is so profound, has thus been 'lost in the mix', not to mention denigrated and denied ever to have existed by those who have taken control of the investigations into 'its' origin (meaning that of what they think preceded it), for no other reason than that these latter cannot imagine that the oldest extant decks are not the earliest ones to have existed, an attitude I personally find obtuse.
Is there an authentic Ur-Tarot? There must have been. Is the intention of that Ur-Tarot the only 'authentic' intention tarot can have? Of course not.Again, you brush up against the situation of our needing two different words. The esoteric meaning of the original tarot (TdM) is so profound that no other deck could possibly have as profound a meaning, and I say this, again, with some authority (however oblivious to my oft-stated reasons for saying so the 'historians' insist on remaining). But of course there is the vast sea of other tarots, that goes without saying; and the esoteric meanings people see in them must have value, else they would abandon them. So we need two words: 'tarot' in the sense of the original, utterly amazing model of reality set forth in the incomparable TdM, and 'tarot' in the sense of the decks an imperfect understanding of TdM inspired others to devise. (Of course to the 'historians', with their decided anti-French-origin attitude, all this is nonsense, but that cannot be helped, more's the pity.)
. . . if the Ur-Tarot turns out to have been the work of a neo-Platonic mastermind, it does not vitiate the use of these cards to play a trick-taking game.The irony of my viewpoint has always been that I believe the original deck was meant to be a game, this being the way its originator(s) planned to have it survive!, as the originator(s) were well aware—from the history of the region that spawned the cards, Provence-Languedoc, where 'heresy' and religio-philosophical dissent had been bloodily and ruthlessly crushed by French military might and the original Inquisition—of the vicissitudes of oppression and the stifling of ideas.
The fact is that the tarot has always been in flux, because at its core are symbols, which are malleable to our heart's content.This is the main point, I think, where you and I disagree (that is, that they could possibly be improved).And almost certainly, very early in its history, those images also sparked the imagination of many, who shuffled them around and changed their appearance and made their game more interesting, as well as possibly embedding hidden information in them.That certainly describes their 'development' south of the Alps. But north of the Alps, some force—I would say the compelling power of the TdM images themselves, coupled with a somewhat widespread (at least early on) understanding of those images (that is, of at least part of the esoteric meaning behind them)—stifled such development until a very long time after their inception.
It seems wise to strike a balance here. Rather than make claims unsubstantiated by evidence, those who believe in the occult significance of tarot should take heart in the fact that the sequence is a skeleton that they can hang their metaphysics on without embarrassment. Whether it was intended to be an esoteric tool is hardly relevant any longer. It is one now.Though I 'get' the note of rationality you are trying to adopt here, I do not see how anyone can say it is not relevant. And what you say here clarifies why my ideas are such anathema to the 'historians': I present not simply my own metaphysics (though they have become my own) in some attempt to 'hang them on' the cards, but a carefull, symbol-by-symbol exposition of why a Gnostic bardic rationale is the only possible explanation for all such details being in the same deck.And the historians should admit that their own evidence shows the tarot underwent transformations right from the start . . .
We can admit, also without embarrassment, that some metaphysical speculation may have played a role in the early development of tarot . . . Yes, again, south of the Alps.To my mind, the originator of the tarot created better than he or she knew.That, of course, I can't go along with: I think they knew quite well.But the mere fact that the extra suit had a number of allegorical images strikes me as at least prima facie evidence that something more than playing cards was intended here. If the idea was simply to take tricks, another numbered suit, perhaps with Roman numerals and a new signifier like 'crowns', could have easily been introduced in order to play the game of Tarot. One need not have Virtues, Popes and Emperors and the like in order to take tricks.Amen!But this is speculation, for which I proffer no historical evidence.Yes you do: the very existence of the turmps; but the historians often sound as if they think the cards themselves cannot possibly BE evidence, so I understand why you say this.