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Is there a canonical non-woowoo history of the tarot?

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MikeH  MikeH is offline
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Ross wrote,
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Witches were burned at the stake. Even if it was only a few dozen a year in a particular locality, that would have been enough to induce caution.
You're letting your imagination run away with you here, Mike. The facts are that out of 285 cases of hechiceria(withcracft) of the Inquisition Tribunal of Toledo between 1530 and 1815 studied by Estopanan, there is not a single case of being relaxed to the secular arm (which means for burning).
Thanks for the clarification about Spain, Ross. I didn't mean for that particular remark, about burnings, to apply to Spain in particular. It was a general statement about witches. Fortune-telling was associated with witchcraft. It was right in the standard manual for Inquisitors, written by Bernard Gui, who has a chapter on "sorcerers and fortune-tellers". Witches were, sometimes, burned at the stake. It was a possible charge and outcome, a charge applied in Spain, if not, for that offense, the penalty. for which they had bigger fish to fry (pardon the expression. I mean, "relax to the secular arm"--what a phrase!). Still, the threat is enough to frighten people; they knew about the famous cases, like Joan of Arc, who certainly wasn't offered the chance to do penance and go on a pilgrimage.

If the Spanish Inquisition didn't in fact burn people whose only crime was cartomancy, that probably helps account for our knowledge of that trade there: the risk wasn't as great there as in other places (assuming that "Judaizing" was really the crime the lady you mention was burned for, and not just the charge that they wanted to publicize). Even then, wearing a yellow cross on one's garment is pretty bad in a culture that attaches great importance to honor, enough of a deterrent that the practice would be kept quiet.

Also, it strikes me that the literati wouldn't have written about cartomancy, even in stories about witches, out of fear that their favorite game implements might end up being banned.

But my main concern was Northern Italy, which was Dummett's focus. What I wrote was, if you continue reading:
Quote:
In general, for a century and a half, cartomancy mostly appears in association with witchcraft (http://www.academia.edu/6477311/Brie..._of_cartomancy). Witches were burned at the stake. Even if it was only a few dozen a year in a particular locality, that would have been enough to induce caution. The Lombard Inquisition, which became active in the 1440s, conveniently destroyed its records in 1787, everywhere except in Modena/Reggio Emelia, where the Estense had largely neutralized its power (citation available). From the Lombard Inquisition’s jurisdiction (Northern Italy except the city of Venice, but not Tuscany), most of what is left are the memoirs of individual Inquisitors, who boasted of the hundreds they personally sent to their deaths (citation available).
One of my sources (out of three, all published since 2000) is Michael M. Tavuzzi's 2007 Renaissance inquisitors: Dominican inquisitors and inquisitorial districts in Northern Italy, 1474-1527. One quote is from a 1586 account of Inquisitors in the district of Vercelli, Ivrea, Novara, and Como in the 1460s (pp. 149-150)
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"friar Niccolo Constantini da Biella ... an inquisitor who was extremely severe with the witches and by whom over 300 were consigned to the secular arm, ...friar Lorenzo Soleri, equally terrifying to the witches." Tavuzzi adds: "Analogous remarks could well be made on the four inquisitors drawn from the Congregation of Lombardy" who worked from the 1470s to the mid 1520s.
We don't know whether any of these "witches" practiced card-reading, because the records were destroyed. We know that one in Venice (which had its own Inquisition) did involve the use of the Devil card in a ritual. That's not cartomancy, but it doesn't matter. Divination with such cards is also demonic and sorcery. The rest is the fear factor. Some nobles did what they could to divert the Inquisitors elsewhere (the politically unimportant areas), but it didn't always work. Some invited them in, like Giovan Francesco Pico in 1523, who wrote a defense afterwards (the Stryx).

Gregory, thanks for reminding me that what was asked for was a book or two. Well, yes, the books associated with Dummett are reliably non-woo-woo and also quite good, as long as you read them critically, as he would want you to. I think the most advanced methodologically is Il Mondo e l'Angelo, 1993, very hard to get. I have translated numerous key passages elsewhere on the Web. For 1770-1870, Wicked Pack does a good job of separating fact from fiction about the French cartomancers. There are also the first two volumes of Kaplan. And O'Neill, Tarot Symbolism. These are all from the late 1970s to early 1990s. I don't know of anything recent that's solid, but it's hard to tell from the selections on the Web.
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Originally Posted by Teheuti View Post
I think the point is that no book is "canonical," nor is there a single, authoritative source. As Mike pointed out even Dummett and Kaplan (the best so far) have their flaws, plus new evidence and perspectives appear with some frequency. Currently you'll have to go elsewhere on the net to find people reporting on the latest findings and discussing theories based on those findings.
Do you update your own time line when something comes up ? I use that from time to time...
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Dwtw

Mike, thanks for all that info. So what the OP is looking for probably does not exist; there are plenty of 'non-woowoo' books but none of them canonical, as the field is still full of so much active research. There may not emerge a 'canon' for another decade or two, or even more.

Also thanks for that translated quote from Dummett:

"If there was occult symbolism in the first version of the tarot deck, it thus cannot be what the occultists of the nineteenth century pretended to find; the most likely hypothesis is that it was astrological symbolism. As we have already noted, we should not be surprised if it were shown that it was present, so well hidden, however, as to justify the fact that its presence was forgotten so quickly, as long as it is admitted that its presence had no affect at all on the use for which the cards were designed and adopted."

There is a lot in that quote to ponder. So if there is symbolism it was probably astrological, but hidden pretty well so that people didn't even recognize it later, and in any event it did not affect the play of the game Tarot. To me that leaves open the possibility that the middle ground can be found between the woo-woo and the more academic attitude. That in fact there was a sort of 'occult' symbolism, but the cards were still used for a game, not as an 'occult encyclopedia'.

No one doubts there is some allegorical symbolism in the imagery, so it is really a matter of determining the depth and kind of symbolism used, none of which prevented the cards from just being a game at first. If the face cards of a poker deck were proven to represent specific Holy Roman Emperors and Empresses, it wouldn't change the fact that the deck is used to play poker... but I have veered off topic.



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MikeH  MikeH is offline
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That's a good summary, RLG.

To be absolutely fair to Dummett, I should probably also quote the rest of the paragraph, of which I gave the beginning:
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...Rimane comunque il fatto che non abbiamo alcuna prova dell’esistenza di tale simbolismo occulto. Ai nostri occhi, i trionfi del mazzo dei tarocchi possono, di primo acchito, sembrare misteriosi, ma solo perché non abbiamo più familiarità con il gusto iconografico del Rinascimento. Il significato dei soggetti raffigurati nei trionfi sarà discusso solo dopo che sarà stata fornita la descrizione delle carte da tarocchi popolari che ci sono pervenute; si vedrà allora che quasi tutti rappresentano simboli comunemente noti nell’Italia del Rinascimento e che [141] non avevano alcun legame con l’occulto. È certo che, prima della seconda metà del Settecento, a nessuno venne in mente di usare i tarocchi per la divinazione; quale che fosse significato esoterico attribuito alle carte al momento della loro prima invenzione, è certo che, prima di quel secolo, l’unico uso dei tarocchi fu quello di strumento di gioco.

(...But the fact remains that we have no evidence of such occult symbolism. In our eyes, the triumphs of the tarot deck may, at first glance, seem mysterious, but only because we do not have more familiarity with the taste of Renaissance iconography. The meaning of the subjects in the triumphs will be discussed only after a description of the popular tarot cards that have come down to us has been given; then you will see that almost all represent symbols commonly known in Renaissance and [end of141] having no connection with the occult. It is certain that before the second half of the eighteenth century, no one had in mind using tarot cards for divination; whatever esoteric meaning was attributed to the cards at the time of their first invention, it is certain that before this century, the only use of tarot cards was as a tool in games.)
And with that, the chapter ends. So the part about astrological symbolism is a conjecture, not something he wants to persuade us is true. He makes many conjectures in this book. About the lack of evidence for it, or other hidden symbolism: In general, we don't have evidence of any kind of symbolism in art works of the time, much less ones of such a utilitarian nature. People didn't write about it. But it was there nonetheless, in abundance. This would especially be true if the hidden symbolism had some connection to a magical use. To find out the subtle symbolism in say, the Primavera of Botticelli, it takes some digging. (I mean, besides that it is of the Three Graces, Venus, and Mercury, to which the more knowledgeable would have added Flora and Zephyr; might it, for example, have been conceived as a talisman to promote the fertility of the couple for whom it was a wedding present, and who put it in their bedroom?). As to the symbolism's being forgotten, he is basing that on Lollio's Invective, taking what he says at face value: in essence, Lollio asks, rhetorically, "Who knows what these cards mean?'. But it is a satirical piece in which the defender of the game, Imperiali, is likely just Lollio himself, since there is no record of such a person. Lollio knows the surface meanings well enough, and his question may well be to get one thinking about other meanings, not ridicule the idea.

Another problem is that if astrological imagery is possible but cartomancy isn't, we have to ask, what was the main purpose of astrological imagery? I'd say it was to cast horoscopes. And what is the main purpose of horoscopes? If there is astrological symbolism in the cards, they are made to order for predicting the future in the usual astrological way. Of all the types of hidden symbolism Dummett could have picked, the astrological is the most straightforward for divinatory use.

For what it's worth, Decker has tried to make a case for astrological symbolism in his book, based on a rather obscure section of a rather obscure (although occasionally cited, by Ficino) astrological treatise, that of Manilius; I don't find Decker's case very persuasive. I think a historical case can be made for the Sefer Yetzirah, but not in the Golden Dawn's way or system. Even then, I don't see much significance to it as of yet. I'd say more but either I would be off topic or would have to refer to something I have written on another Forum.
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I'd like to recommend two books that I am now reading:

_The Duke and the Stars: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan_ by Monica Azzolini (Harvard University Press).

and

_Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance_ by Mary Quinlan-McGrath (University of Chicago Press).

Unfortunately most of the personal records of Filippo Maria Visconti were destroyed after his death, but the papers of the Sforzas, who followed, include lots of references to the astrology of the time. It's also clear that Bianca Maria Visconti (wife of Francisco Sforza) valued astrological counsel highly, and that astrological symbolism was a part of everyday life, understood by all in the courts. The majority of astrologers who worked for the Sforzas were also physicians, as astrology was taught as a significant aspect of the healing arts as well as a signifier of the turns of political and personal fortune (especially relevant to the nobility as they were the major game players in political decisions). Indications are that many (if not most) marriages, contracts, battles and sometimes journeys were astrologically timed.

The Quinlan-McGrath book points out the effect that astrological imagery was believed to have on the human body through its use in art and architecture (something about which I became very aware on visiting the city government chambers in Siena).
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MikeH  MikeH is offline
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I read that book on the Sforza and astrology, Mary. Wait until you get to the part on Ludovico Maria Sforza's total reliance on his astrologer! It was a reliance against all sense that surely contributed to the loss of Milan's independence and Ludovico's imprisonment for the rest of his life, which wasn't long. Also, according to the translator's introduction to Ariosto's Five Cantos, Ercole d'Este would borrow that astrologer from time to time. Perhaps that explains Ercole's military disaster in initiating the "Salt War" with Venice. There is no doubting the influence of astrology in the Italian Renaissance.

There is also Borso's Schifanoia Palace, devoted not only to the planets but also the 36 decans. The calendrical program, as Warburg recognized long ago, was shaped by the same Manilius Astronomica that Decker uses, a text that had been found by the Florentine library-scourer Pogio in 1417. The Sala di Venti in the Palacio Te of Mantua is reported to have also been shaped by that non-traditional text. See Kristin Lippincott's excellent article at http://www.kristenlippincott.com/ass...conography.pdf (a reference for which I thank "Phaeded" on THF). Another text that Lipincott sees influencing the Schifanoia is Apuleius's On the God of Socrates, which happens to be another text that Decker sees influencing the tarot sequence.
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Originally Posted by MikeH View Post
There is also Borso's Schifanoia Palace, devoted not only to the planets but also the 36 decans.
While the public room with the frescos of the decans is quite magnificient, when I was there, I was personally struck far more by the next room, which was his private office (as private as anything got in those grand rooms that led from one into another). Only a few of the frescos remain, and I don't remember precisely what they were - I believe the Virtues - but there was a sense that everything had been designed to work precisely on Borso himself. There was a feeling of concentration and focus to that room. The info card at the door even alluded to it, which I read after I had sensed it for myself. I was struck by the fact that someone would officially mention the effect that the room had, even without much of the art remaining. What books and articles can never really capture is the overwhelming visceral effect, that you know was carefully planned, of the art and architecture on the senses.
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While the public room with the frescos of the decans is quite magnificient, when I was there, I was personally struck far more by the next room, which was his private office (as private as anything got in those grand rooms that led from one into another). Only a few of the frescos remain, and I don't remember precisely what they were - I believe the Virtues - but there was a sense that everything had been designed to work precisely on Borso himself. There was a feeling of concentration and focus to that room. The info card at the door even alluded to it, which I read after I had sensed it for myself. I was struck by the fact that someone would officially mention the effect that the room had, even without much of the art remaining. What books and articles can never really capture is the overwhelming visceral effect, that you know was carefully planned, of the art and architecture on the senses.
Good point, Mary. For the originator of that thesis about Borso being in place of the missing "Justice", see Charles M. Rosenberg, "The Iconography of the Sala degli Stucchi in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara", Art Bulletin, vol. 61, no. 3 (September 1979), pp. 377-384. This is available with a free account at JSTOR.

It's a bold and persuasive theory, which addresses something everybody notices - "Why is there no 'Justice'?" - but nobody bothered to think about. Once you see it, you can't disagree that it makes sense.

Sorry to go off-topic.
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I'll take that off-topic and raise it... the room sounds intriguing, but I can't seem to find a picture of it. Can anyone help with that?
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The room is hard to photograph as a whole. It is long and narrow with very high ceilings. We weren't allowed to take pictures. There are some photos of the frescos and a diagram of the room in the pdf of the article Ross mentions: http://www.staff.amu.edu.pl/~platon/...%20Ferrara.pdf
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