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

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Quote:
Originally Posted by LRichard View Post
That alone should be sufficient indication that making the forum subject fuzzier was not a good idea. However, policing the forum under the old rules must have been a nightmare.
Recalling one thread that kept being bumped around between three subforums (and I felt that one specifically was OK in historical myself) yes indeed it must. I believe there IS no designated mod for that area now - that's how easy it wasn't

But surely to goodness one can have historical discussion and if it is THAT hard - put people who speculate too widely for one's tastes in ignore and not read their posts ? I think the exit of serious historians was down to something else entirely, myself. We still have EXCELLENT people like kwaw posting there.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gregory View Post
I think the exit of serious historians was down to something else entirely, myself.
Yes, you're right. A few woowoo historians more or less wouldn't have caused that.
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Thanks, Huck. I didn't want to MENTION you, or indeed anyone else, but.... It ISN'T the allowing of wild flights of fancy that has so badly castrated the historical area
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Could we please get back to the topic of the thread now instead of discussing the history forum itself?

Thanks.

Sulis - moderator
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Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage by Paul Huson seemed well researched with reliable sources, and I think he's good at clearly separating what we know, what Huson believes we can't know for sure, and what Huson believes likely (along with the sources for why he thinks something is likely.)

His particular focus is on the premise that tarot pips developed as a game from Mamluk cards and that much of the imagery in the majors is derived from mystery and morality plays and other sources Medieval people would have been familiar with. He also presents a timeline of recorded divinatory meanings for each card.

(The 'Mystical' Origins in the title makes it sound, to me, less well researched than it is, but presumably he was referring to mystery plays and other religious mysticism of the Middle Ages rather than the general definition 'Of or having a spiritual reality or import not apparent to the intelligence or senses'.)

Disclaimer: I've done internet research, but this is the only book on the history of the tarot I've read, so I'm unable to compare it to others.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sulis View Post
Could we please get back to the topic of the thread now instead of discussing the history forum itself?

Thanks.

Sulis - moderator
Alright.

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

Yes, it's "there". Only occasionally "here".

As for instance ....





... this, which presents the progress of early Trionfi/Tarot research for the time of the earliest years of Trionfi/Tarot development, just by counting the earliest documents. Relevant references to each entry are "there":

http://trionfi.com/early-trionfi-cards-notes

Such things were once collected and discussed "here" in the good old times, and they are now "history". Nowadays we prefer usually other places, which suit better to our necessary good working atmosphere with less not necessary complications and less interferences.
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WU WEI?


There is most definitely a non-woo methodology for collating the empirical ephemera of Tarot history, championed by one of the great analytic philosophers of our time, Michael Dummet. To his great renown, many assumptions concerning their origin were dispelled by the cold hard facts of documented evidence, carefully scrutinized and soberly evaluated. And, when it came to assessing whether there was any discernable rationale behind the design of the earliest known decks…

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Dummet

I do not even want to take a stand about the theories that have been advanced. The question is whether a theory is needed at all.

I do not mean to deny that some of the subjects, or some of the details of their conventional representation, may have had a symbolic significance obvious to fifteenth-century Italians, or, at least, to educated ones, that escapes us and may be revealed by patient research; that is very likely to be the case. But the question is whether the sequence as a sequence has any special symbolic meaning. I am inclined to think that it did not...



…It may be that those who first devised the Tarot pack had a special purpose in mind in selecting those particular subjects and in arranging them in the order that they did: perhaps they then spelled out, to those capable of reading them, some satirical or symbolic message. If so, it is apparent that, at least by the sixteenth century, the capacity to read this message had been lost. There are many references to tarocchi in sixteenth-century Italian literature, in which their symbolic potentialities were exploited, but always in an obvious way: no hint survives that any more arcane meaning was associated with them.
That, in essence, characterizes the limit imposed upon the historiography of Tarot by a strictly non-woo approach. Without some ‘smoking gun’ materially demonstrating that their design was purposefully implemented according to an intentionally cryptic plan, the best the evidence yields is that ‘no hint survives’ of any such ‘arcane meaning’. Beyond those bounds of credulity, the origins of the tarrochi, and thus Tarot, are set beyond the reach of logical positivism – at least as applied by M.Dummet, and to such degree that he doubted that their sequence had ever possessed any ‘symbolic meaning’ at all, nor that their source imagery required any special hypotheses to explain their adaptation to these cards other than their ubiquity.

Of the variations between the earliest known tarrochi, he delineated three – two of which fell into obscurity, while the other, consisting of the Milanese Visconti-Sforza decks, served as the basis for the later Marseilles pattern decks. Dummet, while not insisting that any of these sequences had lacked a coherent meaning to their architects, posited that any attempt to reconstruct that meaning at least required access to the original deck – one whose identity, whether or not it may be counted among the oldest surviving decks, remains undetermined. Michael J. Hurst has proposed that, in the absence of such an ‘Ur-Tarot’, we might still outline some of its basic features by examining those early decks for the characteristics they share in common. But, barring the discovery of the actual source material explicitly documenting the intended meaning behind its specific sequence of iconic images, the exercise remains conjecture – albeit far less woo-ish than conjuring tales of mysterious gypsies or bird-headed gods.

Yet, whatever their original form, the consensus among historians adhering to a strictly logical-positivist approach of collating and interpreting relevant material evidence is that these tarrochi were introduced for the practical purpose of amusement – for 15th century Italian nobles to entertain themselves by playing with cards decorated with their own heraldic emblems and extended family. No guile or hidden agenda, just the natural urge to alleviate their boredom with a game. As far as “the occult” is concerned, there exists no explicit connection to Tarot until the 1780’s with the publication of Antoine Court de Gebelin’s encyclopedic Le Monde Primitif – over 300 years after the earliest Tarot decks first appeared among the ruling elites of several North Italian city-states. Though his account of their origin eponymously attributing it to ancient Egyptian priests of Thoth lacked any historical evidence, it nonetheless served as the null hypothesis in Tarot History until Michael Dummet decisively demonstrated that it was pure woo. In turn, his analysis of the material evidence has become the null hypothesis.

At least, that’s my understanding of the current distinction generally made between the empirical study of Tarot history and the woo of fanciful myths surrounding the cards’ mysterious beginnings. Where I take issue with it is not in the historiographer’s method of relying upon tangible evidence provided by surviving documents, as that is a necessary baseline for any historical research. It is rather with a flaw in Dummet’s logic concerning the “occult”, dispensing with it as a possible source of symbolic meaning for the early tarrochi without actually demonstrating a comprehension of what it is he’s rejecting. In particular, with respect to the manipulation of numbered letter-symbols within geometric frameworks, there was no apparent effort put into an analysis of how such systems operate. Dummet rejects a logical option without having studied its logic. Naturally, he had to. If one’s filter for objectivity is material proof, one can hardly go down the rabbit hole of a system that, by definition, prizes “hidden” secrets. Similarly, if one can only accept the obvious as credible, hints of the “arcane” will elude detection.

In a sense, it is that age old tension between the exoteric fundamentalist, dealing primarily in the literal, and the esoteric mystic unveiling allegory & symbolism. Neither is illogical or unreasonable insofar as they describe coherent tautologies, however ad hoc. The former are just less easily persuaded by ‘card tricks’ played by the latter. One sees a Fool, the other a cypher. Both fall under the rubric of exegesis.

But which can really see the Eye of Providence?

Without having recognized what that symbol has in common with the “occult” use of Hebrew letters, numbered 0-21, its bearing upon the geometry of Borromean Rings remains hidden. Thus, the emblem upon the chest of the Visconti-Sforza’s Dragon Emperor would offer no hint of the arcana to a 20th century Roman Catholic analytical philosopher who didn’t look into why someone might have had a rationale for eponymously attributing the TdM pattern deck to the mythic Kemet scribe-deity who invented writing. Whether that rationale is woo or not, one cannot very well exclude its’ “message” if one has no idea what that message is. This is not to suggest that an occult history of Tarot become the null hypothesis, but rather to point out that a strictly materialist logical positivism has its limits when dealing with the possibility of encryption within Tarot.

I would hope that such differences in approach did not alienate one another, but instead opened up a discourse from which all parties could benefit.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yygdrasilian View Post
Without having recognized what that symbol has in common with the “occult” use of Hebrew letters, numbered 0-21, its bearing upon the geometry of Borromean Rings remains hidden. Thus, the emblem upon the chest of the Visconti-Sforza’s Dragon Emperor would offer no hint of the arcana to a 20th century Roman Catholic analytical philosopher who didn’t look into why someone might have had a rationale for eponymously attributing the TdM pattern deck to the mythic Kemet scribe-deity who invented writing. Whether that rationale is woo or not, one cannot very well exclude its’ “message” if one has no idea what that message is. This is not to suggest that an occult history of Tarot become the null hypothesis, but rather to point out that a strictly materialist logical positivism has its limits when dealing with the possibility of encryption within Tarot.
You appear to assume that those who call for standards in historical research know nothing about the occult Tarot. That may be true of some. In fact, I pointed out a couple of errors to Dummett arising from his lack of such knowledge, which he acknowledged as errors because I gave him convincing evidence. However many of us have studied the occult Tarot deeply and have a practice based on it. We have no problem keeping those studies separate from historical research, once we accept that it is a specific field with limitations and rules that define the area. The existence of a section called historical research is no condemnation of speculation nor of occult philosophy, rather we claim it is not the right area for teaching occult philosophy, nor for speculation that is not well grounded in primary historical evidence. In historical research all ideas are not equal and the method of determining the usefulness is based on specific constraints on what can be examined and how to examine it.

You can throw a ball over a net in play or you can play regulation volleyball. Both can be fun, but it doesn't make them the same thing.

Added: The objection voiced here has always been to those who want to come onto a volleyball court that's designated for regulation play and complain that we don't follow that new person's personal rules or play without any rules at all. The object seems to be to critique regulation play and make regulation players stand in awe of their alternative approach or of free form hitting of the ball over the net. The fact that there are other "courts" where these non-regulation methods of play are welcomed is ignored.
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Thats a refreshing view.

I recently have been debating 'scientism' ... some good points were made regarding distinctions of appropriate fields of application. The most interesting viewpoint from the scientific camp ( anti-scientism) explained how there are just some fields that science has no business intruding into and no one approach has all the answers. Those into scientism seemed to be suggesting the scientific method had application and validity in every thing and endeavour .

The really interesting scientists (who were not into scientism) were also into metaphysical and spiritual stuff, meditation, Taoism, etc. and didnt have a problem with either side as they realised the distinction.

To me , this is similar to this thing with Tarot ... yes, one can have a strong evidenced based and professional approach to the history of the tarot ... AND appreciate its 'occult' value and the occult 'history' of the deck.

In the study of magick there is an important distinction - all the way through it - known as 'the separation of the planes' - simply; not transferring validity or understanding of one plane into another where it isnt valid.

In our group we practised a series of dramatic rituals , they were very instructive and effective on many levels. Some are based on characters and events from 'history' , at times people would analyse that and say its rubbish ( eg. the setting is .... , which in history was around 1000 ce but the central figure in the rite wasnt born until 1200 - what a load of rubbish! .... NO! History is rubbish ! The dates are wrong, etc )

Two separate fields! The wrong history may have no effect on the impact of the ritual whatsoever. The ritual is immaterial to the real events of history .... I used to call it not ... the history of the Order but - the mythology of the Order.

One method seeks the 'beauty of truth' the other seeks truth in beauty. LIke some of those Taoist scientists, for some, both is achievable.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teheuti View Post
You appear to assume that those who call for standards in historical research know nothing about the occult Tarot. That may be true of some. In fact, I pointed out a couple of errors to Dummett arising from his lack of such knowledge, which he acknowledged as errors because I gave him convincing evidence. However many of us have studied the occult Tarot deeply and have a practice based on it. We have no problem keeping those studies separate from historical research, once we accept that it is a specific field with limitations and rules that define the area. The existence of a section called historical research is no condemnation of speculation nor of occult philosophy, rather we claim it is not the right area for teaching occult philosophy, nor for speculation that is not well grounded in primary historical evidence. In historical research all ideas are not equal and the method of determining the usefulness is based on specific constraints on what can be examined and how to examine it.

You can throw a ball over a net in play or you can play regulation volleyball. Both can be fun, but it doesn't make them the same thing.

Added: The objection voiced here has always been to those who want to come onto a volleyball court that's designated for regulation play and complain that we don't follow that new person's personal rules or play without any rules at all. The object seems to be to critique regulation play and make regulation players stand in awe of their alternative approach or of free form hitting of the ball over the net. The fact that there are other "courts" where these non-regulation methods of play are welcomed is ignored.
I see the issue more akin to the dichotomy between processual and culture-historical archaeologists – or, more simply put, materialism vs. idealism. Neither alone could sufficiently interpret the societal or individual imperatives of the past when examining its remains, yet they’re respective biases filtered data in relevant ways. Post-processualist archaeology thus arose from the recognition that both were better utilized in combination, and that any view of ‘the data’ is always through a ‘cloud of theory’. Each has its uses as a methodology, depending how rigorously their standards are upheld. Together they exemplify the thesis-antithesis-synthesis model of how human knowledge progresses. In this respect, if “historical research” is strictly limited to the materialist/positivist approach, it becomes all too easy to dismiss otherwise valid areas of inquiry as mere “woo”.

What I’ve tried to demonstrate with my own work is how there is a cypher, older than Tarot, from which the Milan pattern appears to have been inspired and later adapted into the Marseilles “standard”. By examining its mathematical, geometric and topological properties one literally comes “to see” how an ancient science, concealed in plain view, has served to inspire many allegories and symbols of antiquity which persist to the present day. However, due to the very nature of its construction, it need not require explicit documentation to be preserved or transmitted. Rather, it provides a method of loci mnemonic with a recursive architecture uniquely suited for the mechanics of game-play and riddle.

I’m not proposing that it take the place of a strictly materialist/positivist methodology to Tarot history (though I would argue that logical positivism is not exclusively synonymous with historical research), or that such methodology be abandoned in favor of waxing philosophical about what “it” means. I just try to draw attention to the fact that it’s there, and that it is a worthy subject of study for any one examining the structural design of these cards. As “woo”, technically, denotes a pseudoscience – as in one intentionally faked for the financial gain of charlatans – the description doesn’t exactly fit this aspect of “the occult”. While there is certainly a tradition of utilizing this cypher to cook up crazy ideas, cults, religions, and currencies, its’ design nonetheless articulates the ‘immortal truth’ of specific mathematical constants and measures of time within a geometric context. Personally, I’m less interested in the woo it has inspired and more fascinated by its ‘mechanics’ which, when utilized in a comparative approach to historical research, offer more than a hint of the arcane when examining tarrochi and the origins of Tarot.
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