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mythologically speaking...what does gnosticism have to do with tarot?

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mythologically speaking...what does gnosticism have to do with tarot?


Look, last week a wonderful colleague informed me that I am a "gnostic" because I said I am more interested in the "experience" of spirituality than having beliefs or lacking them. But today I am interested in looking at beliefs....

My singularly irreligious and volontarily a-spiritual parents have suddenly a bookclub dinner on Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code and want to know if I "know anything about the Holy Grail" and ...the Knight's Templar. ...and ... Gnossis, and ... how the holy grail was considered a metaphor for Mary Madgalene, bearer of the true issue of Christ, and Merovingian Kings... and how all the deep secrets of this are encoded in the tarot... She wanted to know if anything was historically accurate.

Aparently the book is a murder mystery that skirts about through 2000 years of mysticism, of which I know precisely squawt or, even more precisely -- 'jack squawt".

But it seemed terrible to pass by the opportunity to say something impressive sounding, so I told Mom, that regardless of the accuracy of any of these mouthwatering ideas refered to in the book, it is a historical and proven fact that there are people who have these ideas.

Ah, perhaps my question (still to come) might better belong in a mythology forum...

But what is the question?? Firemaiden, will you please get to the point!!
  • -- absolutely without any regard for what is known to be historically accurate, and entirely without prejudice for their truth or untruth, I am interested to know (unless to know would require my death)

    a)-- what are the heretical ideas that are considered to be hidden within the 22 trumps of the Marseille, and what does this have to do with gnosticism?

    b) -- how are these ideas seen to be reflected in the images of the tarot

    c) -- what, if anything, does gnosticism have to do with tarot? ?
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If you can download and read .PDF files here is a page of interesting links by tarot historian Christine Payne-Towler, including an essay entitled the "Gnostic Tarot". I printed most of these and promptly "filed" them As I read it quickly it looks quite relevant? I don't know if she actually wrote her book. Might be a start though...

http://www.astroprofile.com/tarotinfo.htm

Macavity
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O, yes- Christine wrote these words alright! and she just informs me that now she's a member here. She has been having computer difficulties so she may not be able to respond immediately. Welcome, Christine!

-John
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The short essay if you can get it


called Tarot Trumps and the Holy Grail by Margaret Starbird makes for a fast read and summaries of such information, as well. Mostly regarding Mary Magdalene stories and coming to France...

I may be wrong, but the stories might have even circulated among Giotto in Sienna circa 1300 and he made have painted on this subject.

The highlight of the small book for me is the shortness and pretty modern cards that she used for the illustrations. I believe she did write this as a thesis for her university studies.

She uses very pretty reproduction designs of the "Charles VI" cards from David Innes' collection and Tarot book. The 23 reproductions were done in the 1980s and Tarotgarden.com shows samples of the line drawing and color version. Some cards appear in a Dover Book collection of historical playing card samples, David Inne's "Tarot" book and Margaret Starbird's texts.

I'm only letting you know so if you pick up books and wander into this subject area, there are probably many passionate proponents of such things...and in the twentieth century, they ended up writing about the poor mad king Charles VI and his beloved spouse trying to distract him with playing cards...which some people had written as tarot cards..

Mari

P.S. If you ever want to know too much about the Charles VI cards from tarot fans who like the Italian side of the historical decks, the actual old deck is pictured in Christine Oleson's Art of the Tarot and one historic catalogue. A hopefully nice reproduction might come out from Lo Scarabeo in 2004.
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Thank you John Meador and Macavity for pointing me to Christine Payne Towler's collection of essays, which I am now knee deep in. I see emphatic support from her for the idea of an albigensian origin to the tarot. I do hope she comes to join us here.

Mari, thank you for the recommendation for Margaret Starbird's book. It sounds intriguing. I shall look it up. Meanwhile I have found an interesting article by Margaret Starbird Mary Magdalene: the Grail bearer

What has left me reeling was the observation that the word sangraal - could be interpreted as san graal - holy grail, or sang raal -- royal blood... fun stuff.
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I've just bought a load of Margaret Starbird's books: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, the Goddess in the Gospels, and the Tarot Trumps and the Holy Grail...

Historically speaking, I'm not sure I'd go for the Holy Grail/Gnostic link with Tarot, but mythically and spiritually speaking these systems tie in so well together, probably because all of them work within the same 'archetypes' or themes.

Kiama
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Here's a creative writing link


The author writes rather well about some esoteric subjects, including the gnostic slant--it's a poetic interpretation:

http://thetarotist.crosswinds.net/writings/hp.html

She uses the Rider Waite.

I do admire poetic slants, even if I don't have similar belief structures.

Best wishes,

Mari H.
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Thanks for the link Mari, I'll check it out.

Kiama, I just bought the Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and am enjoying it greatly. I see that she makes precisely the distinction I made above, that whether or not there is historical accuracy to the claims that Mary Magdalene was herself the holy grail - blood royal, bearer of the blood of the kings of israel, it is indeed a fact that these ideas were held, and repressed.

The oral tradition can certainly have made it into the tarot. My next question is .... how is this " heresy" represented, or thought to be represented in the cards.?
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Gnostic/MM Tarot


Hello and thank you for the welcomes!

Taking a fly-on-the-wall point of view of all the _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_ inspired doucmentaries, books, arguments and counterarguments, it seems like the spirit of the Feminine Deity is rising in our times! This matches with the times wherein Tarot first appeared, though the movers and shakers would never have found themselves talking about "the Goddess" per se...

Clues to a Gnostic spiritual alignment in the era of Tarot would point towards the adoration of the Soul of the World, a vision of Nature as divine and feminine, much like the image of The World in the Marseilles-style cards. Increased contact with the Moslem and Eastern Orthodox world from the 1100's onwards brought the writings of the Alexandrian Philosophers and Hermetists back to the West where they could provide an alternative to the Genesis narrative given in the Bible. That's where the concept of Nature as Feminine Divine, the Soul of the World, (Gnostic) Sophia and the (Jewish) Shekhina began to seed western thinking. "She" began to take on some qualities of a "fourth term" for the Trinity, grounding some of the energy that the Church refused to embrace. Naturally, officialdom became hostile to this stream of mysticism and considered it heretical, which then sent these movements "underground". The Church rightly recognized that devotion to the Divine Feminine easily steps-down into adoration to some *particular* Feminine incarnation (Mother Mary, MM), and this was, for Catholicism, an apostasy.

The book has not yet been written that would summarize the magical, religious, literary, cultural, and esoteric themes centering on the Soul of the World in Europe, but we find the idea strongly expressed in works of Alchemy, theurgy and visionary theology. Astrologers, magicians, and other esoterists found uses for the World Soul in their explanations of how Macrocosmic forces carried their power into the Microcosm. Raphael Patai gives MM a chapter in his excellent _The Jewish Alchemists_, demonstrating that "Maria the Jewess" was thought to have brought Alchemy to Europe and invented many of the tools and vessels now used in the distillation arts. The Eastern Orthodox churches and Moslems never ceased venerating a Divine Feminine figure under the name of St. Sophia. She is truly everywhere, but Tarot researchers are just beginning to identify which veil to lift.

One thing that is true and cannot be denied: the people present for the first few centuries of Tarot *did* believe that MM had come to Marseilles, did celebrate her festival of arrival in Europe, and did have a special feeling for the Black Madonnas connected with the MM Cult. For those people, there was some ~content~ there. Moderns can quibble over the factuality of that myth, but for those contemporary with the first Tarots, it was not controversial to have that belief, though the Church might express disapproval. It is for this reason that I presently see MM as another Sophia figure for the people of the Middle Ages, a viewpoint that is misunderstood by factual historians as being a *false historical belief* rather than what it was -- a great longing to have a Feminine reference for the Unmanifest Divine.


Ultimately, I would say the state of the research is "preliminary". We need to fill in the backstory on the Eastern influences upon the place/time of Tarot's appearance before we can do justice to this topic. I have opinions, and have collected a bunch of references, but it is my style to wish I had a "team" to work in, so I dogpaddle around in it, along with all the other stuff that makes the earliest Tarot so interesting.... Meanwhile we can still be asking questions like these -- who is the Priestess? and who Prudence? Why are the Emperor and the Hierophant so low on the totem pole? Who made the four suits into "elements"? Who assembled these disparate elements into the pack of Trumps? Why did the Trumps finally fall into Marseilles order? I think all of these questions could lead to clues to the Gnostic subtext of the Tarot.

blessings, Christine

www.tarotuniversity.com
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refuting Gnostic/MM Tarot


Regarding the flap around The da Vinci Code, it is good to remember that I wrote those chapters for my book in 1997-8, I was closer to the current excited state of excited discovery than I am now. The intervening time has injected some "grounding" into the heady sentiments which surround these issues.

In point of fact, There is no way that serious scholars can prove that "Mary Magdalen came to Europe after Christ was crucified". No matter how one stretches, squeezes, or twirls the evidence, it does not make a continuous thread between the Crucifixion and the legend of MM in Europe. Many elements that make up the legend are true enough, but they do not "add up" well enough to prove anything. As a very spiritually-attuned, critically-minded scientist friend of mine says [this is Bob O'Neill], the Catholic Church made a lot of money off of that legend, which immediately raises suspicion among the hard-headed. He also reminds me that the Eastern Orthodox Church also has a legend of MM's travels and long life after the Crucifixion, including her ministry among the Eastern Europeans, and a gravesite. But they never made her into a carnival side-show or a source of income for the priesthood! He says, "watch the money, then go in the opposite direction!"

My ordaining Bishop, Dr. Lewis Keizer, (http://hometemple.org) also strives to dispel the mythos around MM, not so much because he takes a stand on ~her~ one way or the other, but because of the confusion of ideas that pulls the concept of 'the Grail' into so many distorted shapes. He resents the settling of this powerful, numinous, esoteric concept onto a person or a physical object, because he feels that "the Grail" would be the << energy of blessing and illumination>> that Christ infused into the communion cup and established for his followers, which energy is still available to us today. For Dr. Keizer, there is no "special mojo" that can be sent through the generations because of "having the same DNA as Christ", since the reason for Jesus' illumination was not materially-based (any more than was Buddha's or Lao Tzu's, for example). Nevertheless, Keizer does not feel that even a 'drop' of LIGHT from the Grail Revelation has been lost, and any heartful soul can connect with it again, should they choose to move beyond the worldly "forms" and seek it in their own Inner Sanctum. He would also wish me to add that any "new" information added to the discovery of the member's list of the Priory of Sion -- all the tantalizing stuff that has been thrown onto that fire since the 1930's -- is spurious and opportunistic. (There was an article published in issue #51 of Gnosis Magazine which documents the modern manipulations of that theme. See "The Priory of Sion Hoax" by Robert Richardson.)

My beef with the Catholic stance (the anti-MM approach of the modern clergy as well as the Middle Ages exploitation of her legend) is that in every case, ~people feel they have to make her into a reformed prostitute~ before her story can be "interesting" to Christians. Personally, this drives me crazy! I mean, the Jesus Commission has made it clear that Master Jesus was an Initiate of the Egyptian Mysteries, as is evident from the vocabulary that he used in the few quotes of his we can *for sure* attribute to him. Therefore, we have to understand his exorcisms and the act of "removing seven devils" from MM in that light. (Haskins says this is a conflation of other people's stories onto MM, by the way.)

Being an intelligent, educated, self-made businesswoman myself, it is hard to miss the huge patriarchal overlay that continuously presses down upon MM, not only in her own times, but forever afterwards. No wonder she is having to "break out" through channeled manuscripts and visionary revelations! Not a door is open to her in any of the Churches that grew up in the footprints of this Apostle to the Apostles. It's a sad commentary on the state of humanity, but so common as to be invisible, like the air.


As to the Albigensian connection, there has been concerted work by Bob O'Neill (of _Tarot Symbolism_ fame) to refute, deny, and cancel Margaret Starbird's work outright. I consider his outlook on this subject to be representative of his "dinosaur" subpersonality, in that his pose of objective scientism sometimes gets in the way of him letting in what is actually there. Nevertheless, there is value in his article on the subject, which can be seen at www.tarot.com (follow the link "about tarot" to the Library). He also shares an article about the Confraternities, which appears to be his way of admitting-while-not-admitting that there *might have been* enclaves of Gnostics harbored amongst the Cathars (read: secret societies) (but not, repeat not, the Albigensians!)
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