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Join Date: 24 Jul 2003
Location: California, U.S.A.
Posts: 316

Hi, Robert,

You seem to misunderstand virtually all suggestions you have been given by people like Mary and Huck and Ross et al., and to misunderstand virtually all criticism of your approach to "history". That suggests that you have a concept of "history" which is at odds with some others. Unfortunately, that topic has been ruled out-of-bounds by the moderators. This makes discussion of your thesis difficult and limited.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
And so scholars like O'Neill are just displaying their level of ignorance?
He was quite clear in his conclusions about a direct Cathar association with Tarot. I posted one of the key passages expressing his conclusion. That was, however, only one part of his study.

He then went on to consider a very different, vastly more general hypothesis, that someone --virtually anyone other than strictly-orthodox Roman Catholics -- may have been involved in the design or re-design of some Tarot decks. This very general hypothesis is almost certainly correct, at least in those general terms. I even offered a detailed example supporting that conclusion via specifics.

O'Neill also explored the idea that such design may have been the product of an identifiable heterodox group, perhaps a confraternity. The idea that Tarot was the product of a craft guild or religious confraternity is extremely plausible, given the fact that they were responsible for so much of the pop culture of the day. A card game with a moral/religious theme would be the kind of thing that some artists' or woodcutters' guild might have produced, even printed up in quantity, to celebrate Carnival. In that way, even card games during the Carnival period would still remind the revelers of the upcoming Lent, just as innumerable works of contemptu mundi art and literature constantly reminded people of their impending death.

Admittedly, O'Neill takes his speculation in a decidedly cultic direction, suggesting confraternities as proto-Masonic organizations dominated by mystics and occultists, but even in that regard he produces evidence and arguments from historical scholars. Unavoidably, the subject of methods arises again and again. (I would apologize to the moderators, but they are the ones in the wrong here. Arguments about evidence are inherently arguments about methods.)

The point here is that the distinctive and radical features which identify Cathar beliefs and practices were not present in these other groups. The later groups were not Cathars, which is why they are not called "Cathars". These later groups were more or less heterodox in various ways, and some of that may in fact be represented in the design of various decks. In the same way, the Florentine changes in the standard Tarot subjects and ordering classicized it rather dramatically. Some variations, notably Sola Busca and Boiardo/Viti deck, changed it completely. None of these changes, however, support any Cathar connection. It was a very odd and radical sect, which is part of the reason why it was important to hunt them down and exterminate them.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
In the first part of the book about the history, I have presented facts about the people and events of the Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition, including information about Cathar beliefs. Other than the fact that you don't like my interpretation of the cards and their possible associations to history, where do you find my presentation of history as inaccurate?
What I said was that your presentation of your ostensible thesis, "How the Story of the Cathars Was Concealed in the Tarot of Marseilles", was not substantiated in any way. Your discussion of the Cathars was almost entirely irrelevant to your thesis. There are no facts or arguments presented that would make it seem plausible that these rabid iconoclasts would have had anything to do with devotional or educational images. This argument has been pointed out to you repeatedly in this thread and you have simply rejected the facts.

Likewise, your discussion of the Tarot trumps offered absolutely nothing that suggested Cathar influence. You point to Christian subjects, like bodily resurrection, and argue (sometimes very unpersuasively) that Cathars talked about them too.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
As far as references and documentation are concerned, Namadev has presented evidence of a passage in a Cathar bible which refers to their understanding of the reserrection. This shows that there was an interpretation of the image of Revelation, presented in the Judgement card, which was different from a more widely accepted orthodox view. Therefore, we can see that "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck" it's not ALWAYS a duck.
But you are standing in the middle of a duck marsh!

You are ignoring the fact that, at the time and place where Tarot was invented, Roman Catholicism was pervasive and real Cathar beliefs and practices were virtually unknown. Yes, the descendants of Cathars were in the general area, but there is no reason to believe that they continued the Cathar sect, nor that they were associated with Tarot. On the one had, Roman Catholics were the dominant culture, Judgment was normally associated with Roman Catholic beliefs, and Judgment was depicted routinely in books and on church walls. On the other hand, Cathars were probably non-existant, they never once in their history depicted bodily resurrection, at least as far as anyone knows, and they are notorious for rejecting both the subject being depicted and the very concept of religious images.

How perverse is it to claim that this is a Cathar image rather than Roman Catholic?

Perverse, adj.
1. Showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable.
2. Contrary to the accepted or expected standard or practice.
Originally Posted by Swiryn
As far as some of the errors regarding the history of the tarot is concerned, we have already pointed some of them out. This may reveal my lack of expertise as a tarot scholar (something I have never pretended to be), but it does not diminish the larger concept of the Cathar-tarot connction.
As I pointed out, it reveals that you don't bother to read even the sources which you quote. This is getting into the forbidden topic of methods, but it is a crucial problem: you just don't pay attention.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
The fact that you are so intently focused on the fact that Belibaste was not a "card maker" shows your scope of interest in this matter, which is limited to the importance of dates regarding the origins of the tarot, but has not much to do with the rest of the idea. The fact that I wasn't "stunned" by this is just an indication of where our interests differ.
It is an indication that you still have no grasp of either subject, the history of the Cathars or the history of playing cards and Tarot. Given the fact that Cathar history and Tarot history are your ostensible areas of expertise -- you just published a book combining the two -- this is a measure of your overall competence to be lecturing people like Ross and Mary and Huck.

This alleged finding of yours would have moved the introduction of playing cards into Europe back by over a half century! And not just the casual introduction of a few packs of "Saracen cards" but the actual manufacture of playing cards. In terms of Cathar history, this alleged finding of yours would have established a crucial bit of esoteric folklore as historical fact. And if the Cathar/Tarot connection was given any credence, then the fact that Cathars were making cards 130 years before our first good evidence of Tarot might suggest that there was a long period during which Tarot was some sort of underground cult phenomenon. Perhaps they were precisely such a teaching tool, the heretical flash cards of Margaret Starbird and Dan Brown, and only a century later were they integrated with the standard deck to make the carte da trionfi that we have records of.

Is that a big deal? As big as they get! And it didn't even interest you enough to check it out. That is hugely revealing but, again, that gets back to methods and scholarship.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
My theory is simple - That some of the events, personalities and religious messages of the Cathar persecution could have been incorporated into the tarot. I did not say that the Cathars or neo-Cathars "invented" the tarot, as was suggested by someone previously, but only that they may have found it as a tool to "disguise" their messages. This probably evolved over time, as the tarot was brought from Italy (where it may have already begun to assume a heretical theme) to France, where it was altered to present a more "Cathar" story. "The subject matter of the trumps" is one which can be seen through the eyes of a heretic - in a different way than an orthodox Christian may see the images.
Any subject whatsoever can be read into the cards. So what? As Cynthia Giles put it:

Certainly the synthetic process is not in itself a bad thing. But it’s all too easy to create seemingly rich and significant explanations of occult systems by building up layers of reference and allusion – without actually having sorted the worthwhile information from the worthless, and without ever showing whether the bits and pieces really do fit together in a meaningful way. … Tarot is particularly afflicted by such “synthesism” because it can be related, by even the moderately resourceful, to practically everything under the sun.
In your case it was not necessary to be even moderately resourceful, because the heretical Tarot thesis has been developed many times over the years.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
I never said that they were supposed to be placed in any "meaningful sequence". To demand that a theory can only make sense if it passes this qualification is simply incorrect.
You claimed to have "solved the riddle of Tarot". Michael Dummett coined that term and described it, and that is the way I have used it. If an obscure writer (like myself) uses the term in a particular fashion, it matters little. But when the most prominent writer in your chosen field of expertise uses a term in a specific way, that freights the word with meaning. Dummett, whether you know it or not, is the most prominent writer in the field of Tarot history. Moreover, you have repeatedly in this thread and in your book chided others for not presenting a sufficiently unified interpretation. And yet in your book you offer nothing but a random hodge-podge, some historical figures or events, some doctrinal notions, some allegorical, and here you say you've never claimed otherwise. You seem to want it both ways.

Originally Posted by Swiryn
But the cards can be read as a story. The first part about the events of the Albigensian war and then leading into the spiritual messages at the end of the deck.

The fact is that there was a large amount of anti-papal sentiment in the Middle Ages, along with many different groups of "heretics" living thoughout Europe (and especially in Italy and France/Languedoc) This is evident on a spiritual level, as seen by the popularity of not only the Cathars, but the Spiritual Franciscans and the Umiliati, and also on a political level, as seen in families such as the Visconti, who had a long history of tension between themselves and Rome. To what extent this may have played in the creation of the tarot, we may never know. But it would be naive to dismiss it as an unreasonable possiblity. The idea is not mine, but has been suggested by others in the past.

What I have tried to add to this investigation is to show that the images of the cards can actually be seen within this context. The iconography is not always clear, and it doesn't seem unreasonable that in many cases, some of the images can have more than one reference, or be taken on more than one level (i.e. spritual and hisrorical). My attempt to interpret these images is simply that - my interpretation. Your insistence that I come up with some absolute proof before this is worthy of discussion is (sorry, I couldn't think of any other way to put it) lame.
Again you misrepresent what others have said and then attack them based on your false characterization. No one has asked you for proof. Period.

You have been asked for evidence connecting Cathars and Tarot. That is not an unreasonable request, given the book you wrote:

Robert Swiryn’s ground-breaking book, The Secret of the Tarot, is the incredible story of how the Cathars, a group of thirteenth century religious heretics targeted for destruction by the Roman Catholic Church and the King of France, managed to preserve their history and spiritual messages in the images of the Tarot of Marseilles.

Thoroughly researched and brilliantly written, The Secret of the Tarot explores the ruthless Albigensian Crusade, as it reveals the story of a people who refused to let their legacy be lost. A thought-provoking look at the high Middle Ages and a riveting new perspective on the meaning of the cards, this book could forever change the way you look at history and the tarot
That is what you are selling, 13th-century Cathars and Tarot de Marseille. It seems reasonable to ask for the evidence, and that the evidence should directly relate to subject matter distinctive to the 13th-century Cathars, not the very different "Spiritual Franciscans and the Umiliati".

Maybe you could write another book, "How Mildly Heterodox Christian Beliefs Were Revealed in Tarot".

Best regards,

Sapientis est ordinare. (Aquinas)
Qui bene distinguit, bene docet. (Horace)

Last edited by mjhurst; 10-01-2011 at 06:32.
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