July - December 2017
"Egypt in the Tarot"
This essay is in three parts, all focusing on aspects of Paul Christian's presentations of the tarot. Part 1 starts with biographical information: born Jean-Baptiste Pitois, his first literary efforts were translations from German, English, and Italian, then French and Church history. In the 1850s he came to know Eliphas Levi and then wrote on astrology, tarot, and magic. The tarot for him exists in a cosmic framework defined by a "Rose Cross" that combines Kabbalah and astrology in a way that also has some relation to ancient Egypt, notably the 60 "decans" and the astrological ceiling of Dendera.
Part 2 explores the "Egyptian initiation" that Christian presents, of which 22 frescoes on the walls of alleged halls under the Great Pyramid.interpret the tarot. He claimed Iamblichus as his source, a claim shown to be false. Others have suggested pre-existent manuscripts and even similar fresco series in Naples or its vicinity, for none of which there is any evidence. Yet there is evidence that an "Egyptian" interpretation of the tarot existed before de Gebelin (1781) and influenced the look of some of the Tarot of Marseille cards.
Part 3 goes into this last question in more detail, going card by card. What a historical study of the changes in the cards over time suggests is that while Egypt has nothing to do with the tarot as a sequence of allegorical images, details so seem to be added to the cards inspired by Greek and Roman writings about Egypt that became known and translated starting only decades after the first record of the sequence in Italy.. This influence became more pronounced over time.
January - June 2017:
"The Esches on Playing Card Imports to Rome to 1480"
Arnold and Doris Esch have made a specialty of studying the extant records of playing card imports to Rome in the 15th century, including tarot decks, mostly proving to be from Florence. Here I give the Italian original and an English translation of one of their articles, I think from "Ludica" in 2016, giving data from 1466-1480 and a summary of their findings before then.
"Moakley's 1966 'The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo', Texts and Updates".
Gertrude Moakley's work has long been out of print and difficult to get, unless by using Interlibrary Loan. In this blog I have transcribed the text in full, chapter by chapter, together with my own commentary with which I try to update what she says in light of more recent evidence. This was not a hard job because over time the evidence has largely confirmed her early discoveries and conclusions."Translations of Franco Pratesi Essays Originally in Italian", essays covering "Holland" and "Perugia and Nearby Cities".
These two bring the total number of essays by Franco that I've translated to 29. See first entry in next section for more about this series..
Between July 28, 2015 and December 22, 2016:
"Translations of Franco Pratesi Essays Originally in Italian". http://pratesitranslations.blogspot.com/
Franco Pratesi has been writing on tarot history since 1986, with an impressive list of publications and now web-essays, most uploaded to his website http://www.naibi.net/. Recently he has been writing only in Italian, even when publishing in the London-based journal The Playing Card. So I have been translating his essays into Italian, including two in the above-named journal, April 2015 and January 2016, the rest online. In many cases I have written my own reflections on his essay, chiefly about the logic of his reasoning or conclusion in the light of other considerations. In one, about the Cary-Yale tarot deck, he and I collaborated: see entry for Jan. 17, 2016. His part is in Italian and mine, a couple of pages only, in English. He also posted a 2nd "note" as he calls it, on the same subject, on Feb. 12, 2016. In each case, I have put a translation and my response to it here (as well as on two public tarot forums). Other translations will be added as time allows. As of Dec. 22, 2016, there are 27 of these translations."Alain Bougearel's 'tarot arithmologique du nombre pentagonal 22 = 1+4+7+10'", http://tarotarithmologique.blogspot.com/.
Here I offer my translation of Mr. Bougereal's stimulating and careful essay arguing for a division of the 22 subjects of the tarot into 4 successive groups of 1, 4, 7, and 10 subjects, as suggested by the arithmological properties of the pentagonal number 22, according to the "arithmetic" (really, number theory) texts of the time, based on Nichomachus of Gerasa's Hellenistic-era Pythagorean-inspired Introduction to Arithmetic. After the translation I offer my own defense of Bougereal's thesis, showing how the Pythagorean significance of those four numbers fits the actual groups of cards, in all 3 of the 15th-16th century orders. Moreover, such Pythagorean considerations are consistent with outlook of the times, in which other Pythagorean analyses of tarot and playing cards were made. At the end I give Bougereal's French version as revised by the author."An Empress in Palermo for the 'Alessandro Sforza' tarot", http://palermoempress.blogspot.com/.
Here I discuss and partially defend the analysis of a recently discovered Empress card in Palermo, which seems to suggest an earlier provenance for the "Catania" cards of which it is a hitherto missing card."The Rothschild Cards and Giovanni dal Ponte" http://rothschildcards.blogspot.com/
Dal Ponte is a suspected card-maker and known producer of wedding chests in Florence before his death in 1437. Here I defend the position, maintained by two art historians but denied by two tarot researchers, that the Rothschild cards could reasonably be of his design."Errors in post-1927 editions of Wirth's Tarot des Imagiers",
Oswald Wirth is best known for designing a tarot deck, originally for Papus and an improved version to accompany is major work on the tarot, known in English as "Tarot of the Magicians", recently reprinted with an introduction by Mary K. Greer. In the Conclusion I noticed a few passages that did not make sense, so I obtained a print-out of the original, as well as a copy of the 1966 French reissue, All the reprints had errors when compared with the original, as well as omitting many of the illustrations and misnumbering the items in a major one. This blog-essay corrects the errors of omission and commission, as well as comparing the various versions of his cards. Unlike most of my blogs, this one begins at the bottom."The Christian Basis of the Tarot", http://tarotchristianbasis.blogspot.com/
This is a work in process, so far only realized with the Tower card, in which I survey various pre-19th century, versions of the card and its title, as well as its classic 20th century interpretations by Waite, Wirth, and the Golden Dawn."Jewish-Christian Interaction in Italy before 1500", .http://jewishchristianinteractions.blogspot.com/
I begin with a general survey of Jewish settlements and learning in Italy before 1440; Jews had long-standing settlements in Sicily, southern Italy, Rome, Lucca, Pisa, Ferrara, the suburbs of Milan, and the Adriatic coast before the 15th century. Starting at the beginning of the 15th century, Jews were allowed to study medicine at Padua , resulting in an influx of Jewish scholars, including Yohanan Alemanno, who influenced the hermeticist Lodovico Lazzarelli. In 1430 Jews were invited to Florence; talmudic influence is noticeable in the famous "Ghiberti doors" of the 1430s. and later there is a friendship between Pico della Mirandola and Alemanno. Finally, the Kabbalah-influenced Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull is translated into Hebrew, stimulating Llullian Kabbalah among Italians.I have also made extensive additions to another blog, "Etteilla's Trumps as Interpreted by him and his followers", in the section "An Etteilla Timeline", http://etteillastrumps.blogspot.com/2012/05/blank.html. This expanded timeline is the result of a collaboration with several others, notably "Kwaw" and "huck" on Aeclectic Tarot Forum..
Between Oct. 21, 2012, and July 28, 2015
"Platonism and the Tarot: From Renaissance Milan to 18th Century France", http://platonismandtarot.blogspot.com/
This is an expansion of an earlier essay, "The Astral Journey of the Soul", http://theastraljourneyofthesoul.blogspot.com/, In that essay I was concerned to show how the cards from Death on follow a pattern described at the end of Plutarch's essay "On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon." In the present essay I look at all 22 triumphs (major arcana), relating them to certain works of Plato that were read and discussed in Northern Italy starting in the second quarter of the 15th century. As in the other essay, I focus exclusively on the Milan-based cards, including the Tarot de Marseille."The Renaissance Philosophy of Cartomancy". http://16thcenturycartomancy.blogspot.com/
There was actually nothing written about the philosophy of cartomancy during the Renaissance. To have done so would have entailed serious difficulties with the Church. This essay is an attempt to construct what such a philosophy might have been, from three types of sources: first, ancient writings read then about divination by means of lots, i.e. "sortilege"; second, lot-books and literary products that provide Renaissance narratives of the use of cards to predict the future; and third, philosophical/theurgic writings in the Neoplatonist tradition, both Christian and Jewish, focusing on writers who claimed by esoteric means to predict the future, notably Pico and Allemano. I have two versions of this essay, one short and one about twice as long, two different posts on the same blog."Dummett's Il Mondo e l;Angelo: translations and commentary". http://dummettsmondo.blogspot.com/
This classic 1993 work, probably the noted tarot historian's most interesting one for the general reader, is not easy to access, being both out of print and in Italian only. I have translated numerous passages and summarized others for the purpose of engaging with the issues he raises, in relation to new information and my own reflections. Unlike his other books, it focuses on the deck rather than the games played with it, especially the traditional, non-occultist decks of the 18th century and earlier used primarily for games. For some chapters, I have been content just to quote and summarize. For others, such as his chapter on cartomancy, I have probably written more commentary than he did text."Decker's The Esoteric Tarot: Ancient sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabala", http://4essaysstimulated.blogspot.com/
Ron Decker collaborated with Michael Dummett in two of their books. Here he is on his own. In the first half of the book, he presents ancient texts available in the Renaissance as sources for the tarot, starting with Horapollo's Hieroglyphica, then Neopythagorean number theory, then an ancient astrological treatise, and finally the "Hermetic" works associated with the Roman-era philosopher Apuleius. In the second half he relates the cartomancy of Etteilla to the Kabbalist work Gates of Light. Since this is the type of interpretation I do myself, with some of the same texts, I was eager to read Decker. Some of what he offers works and some doesn't."The Popess of the Tarot and the Double Life of Guglielma", http://popessofthetarot.blogspot.com/
In 1966 Gertrude Moakley proposed that the first Popess of the Tarot was a Visconti relative named Manfreda, acknowledged as Popess-elect by a secret group of followers of a saintly woman named Guglielma who had died a few years before. Moakley's proposal was later endorsed by Dummett. In 2005 Barbara Newman enlarged on Moakley with new information about a Guglielma cult even at the time of the early tarot, one that also celebrated Manfreda, but under cover of another cult. Against her it has been argued, with new evidence, that this "cover story" of 1450 was not new, that this other Guglielma had been an object of devotion for centuries. In this essay, taken from a series of THF posts, I reply with a reformulation of Newman's thesis that I think the new evidence supports."Ross's Chart", http://rossschart.blogspot.com/
This is a relatively short essay taken from a one-post thread by that name on THF, with a few additions. Ross Caldwell has a chart that purports to show that the tarot was invented within a couple of years before 1440. I try to show that the chart shows nothing of the kind, and--following Vitali and Dummett--that at least 20 years before 1440 should be allowed for its time of invention."Ambrogio vs. Bonifacio Bembo", http://ambrogiobembo.blogspot.com/.
It is frequently said that Bonifacio Bembo was the artist responsible for the three early decks associated with Milan, except for 6 cards by a second artist. In 2013 the Brera Gallery published an exhibition catalog giving some of the work to another member of the Bembo family, Ambrogio. In this essay I translate some passages from that book and summarize others, along with scans of their reproductions of Bembo artwork and some photos of my own taken in Cremona."New Material on the Sola-Busca".
The Sola-Busca is a unique tarot deck with enigmatic scenes on the suit cards and Roman heroes on the triumphs. In 2014 the Brera Gallery published an exhibition catalog in which they determined the identity of the artist and suggested names for its owner and its designer. I present their arguments for the owner and the designer and discuss their analysis of the deck, as well as summarizing another point of view expressed recently in Italy that dates the Sola-Busca to a century later. http://newmaterialsolabusca.blogspot.com/"The Stag on the Temperance Card".
Exactly what the sources of the imagery are, and so the meaning, of a puzzling early card, which Decker identified as Temperance, has been hard to pin down. In this short essay I point to a medieval tradition of stag imagery that confirms Decker's identification. http://deerontemperance.blogspot.com/."Latimer's Sermons on the Cards: A Game of Triumphs in Which All Can Win".
This is a detailed exposition of two sermons in 1529 England in which Hugh Latimer, an English priest with Protestant leanings, invokes a game familiar to his parishioners called "truimphs", and which Latimer gives a Christian meaning. In the game he imagines, hearts are trumps; It is not tarot, but rather the adaptation of the game to ordinary cards, one example of a tradition of giving meanings to the suits so as to impart an ethical dimension to the game. Part One of this essay appeared as an Addendum to an essay by Andrea Vitali at http://www.letarot.it/page.aspx?id=465&lng=ENG. The whole essay, with a few changes, is at http://latimerssermons.blogspot.com/."Trionfi Manuscripts and Tarot Productions: Is There a Correlation?"
In the late 14th century, over the course of several decades, Petrarch wrote and published his poem "Il Trionfi" in which each of six triumphs, after the first, overcomes the one before it. The subjects resemble some of those of the game called "Triumphs". Did people perceive a connection, so that interest in one stimulated interest in the other? Was the game inspired at least in part by the poem at all? My essay tracks the manuscript history of the poem, including illuminated vs. non-illuminated versions, in relation to that of the game. http://trionfiandtarot.blogspot.com/Besides the essays above, I made extensive additions to two other blogs already described.
One is "Tarot and the Chaldean Oracles", in which instead of having to plow your way through a rather wordy set of forum posts, you can follow an annotated a slide show that I gave on the subject instead. It is partly at the beginning of the blog and partly later on, so just follow the instructions. http://tarotandchaldean.blogspot.com/
The other extensively revised blog is "Tarot and Kabbalah in the 15th and Early 16th Century", where I have expanded the introduction considerably, proposing a particular history for the Kabbalist "tree" in to what the Christian Kabbalists made of both it and the Sefer Yetzirah, and linking the Tree as known in the Renaissance to the writings of Oswald Wirth and Paul Foster Case . http://latinsefiroth.blogspot.com/
Before Oct 2012:
"The 'Song of the Virtues and Sciences' for Bruzio Visconti", http://songofthevirtues.blogspot.com/
Around the middle of the 14th century a poet named Bartolomeo Bertoli da Bologna wrote a poem on the seven virtues and the seven sciences, dedicated at first to Luchino Visconti, Duke of Milan, and then, after Luchino's death in 13499, his son Bruzio, who ruled Bologna until 1355. The major study of this manuscript is in Italian by Leone Dorez. My essay offers a translation of the first three and a half chapters of Dorez's book, through his discussion of the 7 virtues, with reproductions of the illuminations. Parallels may be seen to the later Cary-Yale tarot as well as--given Bartolomeo's addition of a ruling figure over each group of 7, making 16 in all--to the game of chess.
"Giotto's Virtues and Vices and Petrarch's Triumphi as starting points for the historical tarot," http://giottoandpetrarch.blogspot.com/
This essay is a development from my earlier "From Michelino to Cary-Yale to Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo." Here I look at the Cary-Yale as Petrarch's poem "Triumphi" plus the seven traditional virtues (from manuscripts such as "The Song of the Virtues and Sciences," discussed in another essay) in the form of an educational game. I then show how the famous "Virtues and Vices" series of these 7 virtues paired with 7 vices could have been the basis for an expanded deck, from 16 to 22 special cards, of which the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo, of Milan in the 1450s, although missing two of the cards, is the earliest surviving example."Binary Patterns in Games and Divination Tools," http://binarypatterns.blogspot.com/
This essay is a reflection upon work initiated by "Huck" (Lothar Teickemeier) on the Tarot History Forum on binary thinking in the tarot and other games and divination tools. I start by noting similar thinking in the work of Jacques Halbronn, using his work to help us see the conventional "Marseille" trump cards as 11 "good" cards and 11 "bad cards in 11 binary pairs. However it most likely developed out of a system of 8 binary pairs, which Halbronn shows is the case in geomancy, a popular system of divination in 15th century Italy. Such an array of 2 x 8 also applies to chess, the I Ching, the "game of the gods" designed by Marziano for Filippo Visconti in the 1420s, and to the postulated 16 special cards of the Cary-Yale Tarot designed for Filippo Visctonti later."Palingenio's Zodiacus Vita, 1535 Venice." http://zodiacusvita.blogspot.com/
Palingenio was a poet, monk, and humanist at the court of Ferrara in the 1530s who wrote an immensely long poem called, in English translation, "The Zodiac of Life." The narratorascends through 12 rungs of a mystical ladder culminating in the Godhead. In 1559 the author's body was exhumed and burned as that of a heretic.The work then enjoyed renewed success in German and French translation, being mentioned by Etteilla in one of his books on tarot, 1785. This essay explores parallels between the poem and the tarot and ends with some speculation on how such correspondences could have been transmitted from Ferrara to Paris in 1535 and then kept alive through the 18th century."Etteilla's Third Cahier and its Supplement", http://thirdcahier.blogspot.com/
Despite its name, this is the first published, 1782, of a series of books Etteilla wrote on the tarot, the first ever giving esoteric meanings of the cards as he saw them, meanings which on the whole have been carried on ever since. I post my translation of the text, followed by his later thoughts relating to this Cahier, from the supplement to the 4th Cahier, 1785, and a supplement to this 3rd Cahier, added to the 1782 text at some unknown date, but probably between 1782 and 1785. The original French for this material is on Aeclectic Tarot Forum. The 3rd Cahier in French was posted there by "Corodil" in August 2012; I transcribed the supplements. None of this material has been published since Etteilla's time, on the Internet or in paper, or in translation at any time."Etteilla's Angelology", at http://etteillasangelology.blogspot.com/.
Translation with commentary of Etteila's main discussion of the Kabbalists' "72 spirits around the Throne" in his 1785 Philosophie des Hautes Sciences. About 3000 words
"Etteilla's 'Temple of Fire' at Memphis," at http://templeinmemphis.blogspot.com/
Translation of selected passages, with commentary, from an article written by Etteilla's disciple Hugand in 1789 that uses the "Temple of Fire" diagram appearing in a few Etteilla-related books. From Hugand it is clear that the diagram reflects what Etteilla considered to be the wise structure of ancient Egyptian society. My essay ends with Etteilla's explanation of the signs that are on the borders of the diagram, which relates as well to some symbols that appear in two of the suits in his deck. About 6000 words."Dionysus and the Historical Tarot: 15th-18th Century Cultural Contexts", http://dionysisandtarot.blogspot.com/
Part A, written April 2012, develops the hypothesis that Dionysus became consciously linked to the tarot by 1505 by the d'Este ruling family of Ferrara. Part B, an April 2012 revision of material written in 2008-2011, shows how this interpretation can be carried through all the trumps as tarot imagery developed c. 1500-1760. A has 10 sections, about 25,000 words. B has 22 sections, about 25,000 words. This essay also appears on the LeTarot website, starting at http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=317&lng=ENG."Tarot and the Chaldean Oracles," http://tarotandchaldean.blogspot.com/
The Chaldean Oracles are a group of sayings embedded in the writings of pagan Neoplatonists of the 4th-5th century, which came to the attention of the West largely through Ficino's translation of an edition by Gemistos Plethon of Mistra, Greece. This essay contains my contributions on this subject in an October 2011 thread on Aeclectic Tarot Forum, .Compiled from material there in June 2012, the essay includes quotations and summaries of other participants' contributions to the extent necessary to support my final ideas. 4 sections, about 20,700 words."Tarot and Alchemy: Two Parallel Traditions" http://tarotandalchemy.blogspot.com/
This essay explores the parallels between alchemy and tarot during the period 1420-1680, in images and text, expanding on suggestions by Robert O'Neill in his book Tarot Symbolism.. The present essay was originally a series of posts on a thread "Tarot and Alchemy" on Tarot History Forum in 2010, revised for this blog in June 2012. Nine sections, about 33,600 words."Neopythagoreanism and the Historical Tarot." http://neopythagoreanisminthetrot.blogspot.com/
This essay uses mainly one ancient Neopythagorean text, the Theologumena Arithmeticae or Theology of Arithmetic, a text studied in Renaissance Italy, to interpret the number cards of the Sola-Busca tarot of c. 1491 Ferrara or Venice and connects them with the word-lists of the Etteilla School in France done at the end of the 18th century. The aim is to show the establishment and continuation of a divinatory system involving the numbers One through Ten carried out in terms of four suits. Originally written 2010, slight revisions June 2012. 15 sections, about 46,500 words. The original thread is at http://forum.tarothistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530, for which. I was the initiator and major contributor. ."Etteilla's Trumps as Interpreted by Him and his Followers: Translations and Commentary",
In this essay I make use of two hitherto untranslated texts, the Second Cahier by Etteilla himself and a c. 1838 book of interpretations of Etteilla's cards in the Etteilla tradition, of which I translated portions on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum, much of it for the first time of which I am aware (although the text of the c. 1838 is similar, except for cards 9-15, to what is in the bilingual Little White Book accompanying a current Dusserre deck). I use the Second Cahier for the philosophy behind each of the trumps, and the c. 1838 for how it was applied to fortune-telling early on. I also compare the c. 1838 to the later Little White Books of c. 1910, the modern Grimaud, and the Dusserre, to see how the fortunes predicted have changed over the years. 11 sections, approximately 49,700 words."Tarot Cards as Renaissance Hieroglyphs." http://tarotashieroglyphs.blogspot.com/
This essay is an attempt, first, to understand the ways in which the term "hieroglyph" was understood n 15th century Italy, second, to ascertain the localities of humanists with these understandings, relative to cities in which there are records of tarot decks, and third to determine to what extent, and when, tarot cards could fit under that designation. It is divided into 5 sections and is about 19,500 words."From Michelino to CY to PMB", http://mtocy.blogspot.com/
In this essay I try to construct a plausible development of the tarot in Milan from its beginning in the "Game of the Gods" illuminated by Michelino c. 1425 or earlier, to a type exemplified by the Cary-Yale deck of the 1440s, a type I argue started around 1428, to a type exemplified by the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck of the 1450s, of which 14 surviving cards are by one artist and 6 by another. I wrote a draft of this essay in 2008 but extensively reworked it in June of 2012. It has 2 sections and about 17, 450 words. The material comes originally from the thread "The 5x14 Theory: An Investigation" on THF,"Tarot and Kabbalah in 16th Century Europe", http://latinsefiroth.blogspot.com/
This essay attempts to draw plausible correspondences between the Kabbalah as published in Latin during the early 16th century and the 22 tarot trumps as printed then and in the 17th century. I draw upon characterizations of the 10 sefiroth on the Tree of Life plus the En Sof outside the Tree, primarily in three texts, Pico della Mirandola's Nine Hundred Theses, Ricci's translation of Gikkatilla's Gates of Light, and Reuchlin's On the Kabbalah (1518). I refer occasionally to a fourth text as well, Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1533). This presentation is in the section called "Introduction", about 6500 words, written May 2012. The remaining 12 sections, done in 2008, are a more complete compilation of these authors' characterization of the sefiroth, in about 7700 words"Pico's Influence on Boiardo's Tarot Poem", http://15thcenturytarot.blogspot.com/
Matteo Boiardo sometime after 1460, but in one view January of 1487, wrote a poem imagining a card games with four regular suits, two of virtues and two of vices, and a fifth suit in which legendary women embody virtues and men embody vices. In this essay I hypothesize that the verses about the fifth suit, and the general conception for the poem as a whole, were inspired by the 13th book of the Corpus Hermeticum as summarized in the Theses on "Mercury of Egypt" in Pico della Mirandola's 900 Theses, published 1 December 1486. Pico and Boiardo were cousins. There are 2 sections with about 3600 words in all.."A Bolognese Origin for the 'Tarot of Mantegna'?", http://tarotofmantegna.blogspot.com/
The corresponding thread is http://forum.tarothistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=463"22 Invocations of Dionysus: The Esoteric Tarot Before 1781",
Here I have turned the often circuitous turns and returns of the thread into one continuous, fairly chronological narrative, based on my contributions to the thread but summarizing the objections of the other main participant. About 22,700 words.
This blog was the starting point for three others. I began it in 2008 and continually revised and expanded since then, until June 2011. It starts with a brief history of the tarot from 1420 to 1781, and then goes through each trump in order, taking it through Christian, Greco-Egyptian, Dionysian, alchemical, Neopythagorean, and Kabbalist interpretations. After each trump there follows a discussion of the number cards corresponding to that trump number, from 1 to 10 and then starting over again, 1 to 10 again.