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The Meanings of the Minors: Who First Created Them?

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Question The Meanings of the Minors: Who First Created Them?


When the Tarot first began to be used for anything other than gaming, it was unillustrated Minors/pips... the 4 of Pentacles didn't havethat misery lookin old man clutching those coins for all he's worth, but just 4 coins. Riveting stuff. I was just wondering: In the changeover from gaming to divination, who was the first person to gve the Minors meanings? How on Earth did they get meanings from them at all???!!! Somebody somewhere must've applied meanings for the first time to the rather horrible looking cards, and somehow those meanings have been passed down to us, although they probably have differed... Who? When? Where? How? And... If one person did do this, then it kinda spoils the theory that secret knowledge is hidden in the cards by their creators...

I guess what I'm asking is where do we get our Minor Arcana meanings from? The Majors I'm not worried about: They've actually got pictures, and anybody can come along and pretty much see similar things in them... But the Minors back ages ago... How could anybody get meainings from them? Did they just sit down one day and randomly associate certain words and life events with certain cards?

"Ah! Now, lemme see... Fights... Plenty of those in real life. Now, which card to put them on? I know! The card with 5 Swords on it.. Oh... But now I have this card with 5 Staves on it left over... Ah, I'll make that one mean Fighting as well! BUT with a very subtle difference... That'll have 'em all fooled...."

Sorry for the ramble, but can anybody enlighten me here...?

Kiama
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Kiama (love your tag line, btw) -

Interesting question! I can't wait to read the responses. It's a question I've wondered about too.

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I think you are tredding on 'what's the origin of tarot" ground. Its a very dangerous place to be, fist fights can ensue lo

As for me, to quote an old beer commercial, why ask why? All I know is that its worked for hundreds of years and noone really knows the true answer. So I immerse myself in learning withthe cards,and limit my ideas of how they,and their definitions, came to be to daydreams.

Like what if aliens really DID give them to us lol

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Hi, Kiama, I have the answer to your question!

Actually, I don't, but James Revak does, and if you click here and here, you can read two long scholarly articles by him which will tell you all (or more than) you ever wanted to know. He basically starts with Etteilla, the first modern well-known cartomancer who published meanings for Tarot cards, and shows how Mathers and Waite based many of their meanings on Etteilla for their Golden Dawn system, and how Waite basically borrowed from both Etteilla and Mathers in developing his meanings for the Rider-Waite deck. It's really very interesting.

BTW, when you say "horrible looking cards," referring to antique non-illustrated decks, them's fightin' words to the many folks here who prefer reading with those decks and don't find them horrible at all! (My favorite deck right now is the Gill, which is sort-of semi-illustrated.)

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Wow, Kiama,

That is a hard one! I regret still not having read the Nigel Pennick book about games, maybe there is a hint in that one too. He mentioned an Indian game in which Swords, Cups, Disc and Club appear.

I remember that 2 of my friends who do readings with simple playing cards differ in the meaning of Clubs and Spade. For Krystyna Clubs are the "bad" cards whereas for Duska the Spades are the "negative" cards.

When I do readings with playing cards I use a 78 French Tarot set which is usually used for French tarot and I translate Spades, Clubs, etc. just in "normal" Tarot symbols, eg 10 Diamonds are the same for me as 10 of pentacles.

Oh, that was a rambling post, a bit off-topic, I think.
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Quote:
Originally posted by Lee
BTW, when you say "horrible looking cards," referring to antique non-illustrated decks, them's fightin' words to the many folks here who prefer reading with those decks and don't find them horrible at all! (My favorite deck right now is the Gill, which is sort-of semi-illustrated.)

-- Lee
Thaks for the links Lee: I'm preparing myself to read them later! I know that 'them's fighting words'... Sorry.. But compared to the kind of decks around today, where we have beautifully illustrated Minors, the decks of old were pretty plain and monotonous... I sometimes makes you wonder how anybody got meanings from them...

I'm also beginnng to rebel against the guy who first wrote down those meanings... Here I am reading the cards by what he said they mean... What if he's wrong? Can he actually be wrong? And why on Earth did he make the 5 of Swords and 5 of Wands so damn similar!!!!?? Its bit confusing...

Liliana: You've got a good point, and I actually asked myself why should I ask why, when I wrote this thread.. I don't know why I should ask why... I just wanna know. Although I will never use the history or origins of Tarot when I study the cards themselves or do readings, and although the history of Tarot will not affect the way I read the cards, I still wanna know... Its a whole new section of Tarot just ripe for studying and questioning... It really interests me to see how Tarot began and evolved to what we have today... It kinda puts me in awe of it all actually! Tarot's GREAT

Catlin: There is alot of theory about Tarot having some of its origins in India, although I'm not up to scratch on that theory at all, so somebody else could probably talk about it better than me. Hey, that would be a cool thread: All the Tarot History theories discussed!

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I was recommended a book 'The Tarot: History, Mystery and Lore' by Cynthia Giles. I haven't finished reading it yet, but it seems to give quite a balanced account of different theories. I say 'seems to' as having read about the fist fights I have a vision of someone jumping up and down and screaming 'that's a ***** useless book you silly woman'.

What I particularly like is the way it gives references to its sources and other books. It also has an interesting account of all the Golden Dawn infighting e.g. W.B.Yeats on Crowley:

'I have had a bad time of it lately. I told you I was putting McGregor out of the Kabbala. Well last week he sent a mad person - whom we had refused to initiate - to take possession of the rooms and papers of the Society'

('mad person' = Crowley)

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Hi Aerin,

I am also reading the Giles book you mentioned. I think it is pretty interesting and I nearly laughed myself silly at the quote referring to the "mad person".

I wish I had met Crowley.
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Kiama really posts two questions about the pips here. On the one hand, there is:

'How could anybody get meanings from them? Did they just sit down one day and randomly associate certain words and life events with certain cards?'

To any one working with numerals and their various correlations and manifestations in Nature and thought, the meanings are certainly not random - though two different people can focus on different aspects of those numerals. Also, as each of those numbers becomes understood through the colourings of the element, the 'meaning' becomes even more defined. One only has to look at, for example, Cornelius Agrippa to see that numbers can certainly acquire shades of esoteric meaning, which the reader could therefore quite easily apply in other fields.

Also, if you consider the I Ching, it is certainly easy to see how certain 'simple' patterns can acquire meaning outside of pictorial representation.

The second question, which seeks to address who may first have given meaning to pips is, I think, more difficult to properly answer, and any historically supported answer will need to have some kind of documentary evidence.

The proposal of linking the pips with either ancient Indian or, through the appelation as 'naipes' to Arabic sources still does not tell us, even assuming such 'correctness', why and how this was done - unless one invokes an answer similar to the first question mentioned above.

I too would be interested in reading other answers.
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I agree w/jmd about associations w/numbers. While they are partially culturally bound, I find there are also universal associations...

For example, in Cantonese (Chinese dialect), 4 is unlucky b/c it sounds like the word for death. This relates to Western notions of 4 meaning completion, rest etc.

Of course there are differences, but even looking at stuff as seemingly disparate as fairy tales, alchemy, or religion through different cultures/times, you'll begin to find common threads...

A nice article I always keep w/me is in the 2002 Llewyn (sp!) tarot calendar which details the associations we have w/numbers. I've forgotten the author, but if anyone's interested, I'll go find the name. Also, pls pm me as I don't have the time to frequent aeclectic as much as i used to
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