Semiotics and the Tarot


Just a pointer for later on:

Here is a list of Dr. Inna Semetsky's articles about the tarot from the perspective of a semioticist:

2003, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée
Memories of the Past, Memories of the Future: Semiotics and the Tarot
Monash University, Melbourne

Trickster's Way: Vol. 1, Issue 3
What evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow

Trickster's Way: Volume 2, Issue 3 July 15, 2003

The Magician’s Autopoietic Action, or Eros Contained and Uncontained

Paper given at the CLCS Research seminar (Monash University), 17th September, 2003
An Unconscious Subject of Deleuze and Guattari (PDF)
This is a much abbreviated version of an article entitled “The complexity of individuation” forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies (Kluwer Publishing).


Thank you Eberhard, this will make for some interesting reading. I was disappointed that the second and third links you posted didn't work for me, and the last (pdf file) required a password and won't show me the file :(


For those in the Melbourne region, Inna will be one of the people on the panel at the next Tarot Café (6th December)...

Both Inna's Masters and her PhD were on Tarot, from quite a psychological perspective - rather than a spiritual one. Unfortunately, her last talk, given last month at the Jungian Society, coincided with Tarot Café, and thus I could not attend.

Inna will also be one of the presenters at the forthcoming (2005) International Melbourne Conference on the Tarot...

Her papers are academic and wonderful.


I also had trouble with a couple of the links.

Thanks for posting these. It's good to see that someone has applied a semiotic approach to tarot. Personally, I've never been convinced by some aspects of post-structuralism (particularly the whole Lacanian psychoanalytic approach) particularly when it's applied to visual "texts" but these papers are very interesting.

There's a lot here to talk about.


Now the second link works, but not the third. This work intrigues me greatly, being sort of a bridge between my tarot interests and previous academic interests (french literature -- lit crit)

It is also interesting to see that she seems to support a french origin for the tarot... if I am not mistaken...


Thank you Eberhard! Got it now.


A (still) open question

Sometimes the semiotic approach is refreshing, because it allows you to just look at what is there, ignoring all the historical implications for a moment. However, I still wonder how comes that the tarot evolved only in the Western culture? If it is a map of the collective unconsciousness--and I do believe so--why then is it so different from what evolved in other cultures like the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean with their bagua (8 trigrams), the yijing (hexagrams), and their 5 elements? Does this mean that there is a predisposition in the Western mind set--including the Near East--towards this focus, this set of symbols, together with the astrological and alchemical ones? I would assume that the collective unconsciousness would cover more than one cultural set of symbols, rather all of them. The Indians and Tibetans also developed a rich iconography of their own, however I never came to a conclusion that there is a corresponding or comparable set of symbols there.

Major Tom

Quoting from Memories of the Past, Memories of the Future: Semiotics and the Tarot
Inna Semetsky

"The Tarot deck, then, may be considered a symbolic lexicon used by the universal intelligence, the mind of the Universe, or the Nous of the ancients — the Hermetic wisdom of the world, according to which the divine powers of human intellect are implicit in the "man's mens" (Yates 1966: 147). As this paper attempted to demonstrate, this noetic intelligence, which encompasses memories of both the past and the future, is accessible to human reason by means of Tarot readings."

Wow! :eek:

A tarot deck speaks the Word of God?

No wonder fundamental Christians have a problem with tarot. :laugh:


You bring interesting questions here Eberhard...

Let me just take one of these for the moment, and address it as is, without reference to some of the other important points.

Let us assume that the Tarot is, as claimed by some, a map of the 'collective unconscious' - whatever this may refer to (what I mean by this is that this is the topic of a potentially quite detailed discussion in its own right, and which I do not really want to enter here).

As a map, it is not the territory. As a map, it is but one of an innumerable possible ones. In that sense, it could be expected that different maps for the same territory emerge in different cultural settings. That the Tarot emerges in one setting does not take away from its universality, but that, rather, it is a map which, if accurate, contains signposts peculiar to particular standardised semiotic markers... and can hence be culturally specific in its emergence.

Nonetheless, if an accurate map, it may be adopted too by those in other cultures in which symbolic language is also highly developed (and I do not know of any in which this is not the case) - and so we see its adaptation and adoption in various other cultural settings, as the West has also simultaneously adopted Hindu symbolic forms (be they Chakras, God/dess forms, or myriad other symbols), Chinese (I-Ching, Mah-Jong, etc), and others...

Tarot, as Tarot, nonetheless has a grounding within European culture, and its peculiar semiotic structures... and thus its keys for unveiling its secrets found within not only the unfolding of the unconscious, but in the specific ways in which it will do so in its cultural cradle.

It may reflect accurately any territory, without thereby being the 'collective unconscious'.