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

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RLG  RLG is offline
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Dwtw

I'm always amazed at how tenacious people can be about their pet tarot theory - and this goes for the occultists as well as the historians. But primarily the occultists, who just can't seem to bear the thought that perhaps the tarot was just a game at first, using an extra suit of pictorial cards.

On the other hand, some historians are equally unable to bear the thought that there may have been at least some esoteric intent in the original tarot iconography, despite the fact that much of it is quite obvious and in line with allegorical imagery of the time period.

It seems to me that part of the problem (for either side) is in not recognizing the distinction between what I would call a 'resonance', and a 'solution' (or perhaps 'explanation').

Consider the analogy of a blank crossword puzzle grid. It is certainly the case that one could fill this grid with dozens of actual words that fit together like a crossword should. In fact, this is what the puzzle makers do every time they create one. But if the clues for each word do not match the words you put in the squares, it doesn't matter how well the words fit together - you haven't solved the puzzle. At least you haven't solved the one that the puzzle maker created.

Putting in a lot of words that fit together is a 'resonance' - it fits well within the grid parameters. Putting in a lot of words that fit together AND relate to the given clues is a 'solution' - it fits well because it was what the creator intended.

In the case of the tarot, the reason that occultist theories will never die is because there are plenty of 'resonances' to be found in the numbers and pictures. But that doesn't make them a 'solution' to the meaning of the tarot images and sequence. And frankly, I don't see why it matters so much to people. Just because the tarot was not originally cabalistic, Catharist, bardic, Mithraic or whatever, doesn't prevent it from being that now. Which it is, because it's been transformed by all sorts of creative people into wonderful new forms.

Aside from all that, historical research has its parameters, and those who prefer fanciful theories should not kid themselves that they are presenting 'history' in the academic sense of the term. You need to have facts and evidence. One may be better off just admitting that they see resonances, and enjoying them for what they are.


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Quote:
Originally Posted by RLG View Post
Dwtw

I'm always amazed at how tenacious people can be about their pet tarot theory - and this goes for the occultists as well as the historians. But primarily the occultists, who just can't seem to bear the thought that perhaps the tarot was just a game at first, using an extra suit of pictorial cards.......
There is another 'theory' about the origin of Tarot which seems to be neither occult in nature nor historically valid, but it is believed so firmly by some people that it cannot even be discussed rationally with them. This is the notion that Tarot was invented as a fortune telling deck. Since there was the danger that divination could be associated with witchcraft, the Tarot game was devised as a ruse or blind to shield Tarot users from being suspected of illegal activity.

This 'theory' is held by many Tarot users who are otherwise very much against any sort of occult or esoteric view of Tarot and may even deny that the Golden Dawn had any influence whatsoever on the Waite deck.
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Beliefs and theories without any facts to back them up are not tarot history and certainly don't qualify as research - except here. There used to be plenty of people presenting and exploring the facts, and such material can still be found in the archives.
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Originally Posted by Teheuti View Post
Beliefs and theories without any facts to back them up are not tarot history and certainly don't qualify as research - except here. There used to be plenty of people presenting and exploring the facts, and such material can still be found in the archives.
The divinatory deck theory came to my attention when someone condemned the layering on of Qabalistic and Astrological stuff onto Tarot. I mentioned that fortune tellers layer divinatory meanings onto Tarot and asked how that was any different. The response was horrific, and certain well respected ATers lost my respect, to my sincere regret.
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Originally Posted by LRichard View Post
The divinatory deck theory came to my attention when someone condemned the layering on of Qabalistic and Astrological stuff onto Tarot. I mentioned that fortune tellers layer divinatory meanings onto Tarot and asked how that was any different. The response was horrific, and certain well respected ATers lost my respect, to my sincere regret.
The question was: "Is there a non-woo-woo history of Tarot?" The answer is, yes. There is a rich history based on primary historical evidence (bills of sale, mentions of Il Trionfos and Tarocchi, actual decks). Historical research gathers these bits of evidence and proposes stories that fit the evidence (according to established methods for doing so). Such a history also includes the history of ideas - as in the first evidence of someone associating Tarot and Egypt was in such-and-such a year.

Anyone can believe whatever they want and make up whatever stories they want. If they call it history then it is a fictional history (unless proven otherwise by actual evidence) and, if the story is influential enough, it might even enter into the official lists of the history of ideas about Tarot (where it truly belongs). However, there are rules to true historical research and it is absurd that individuals insist that their theories be recognized without any need to follow the rules. If a theory is not backed by relevant historical research (primary, factual and evidential), it is not historical research (that's why the word research originally appeared in the section title).

We made concerted efforts here to separate personal beliefs and speculations from a practice of historical research that honored the rules of historical research, but all our requests for separate sections were denied by AT. So, this section has essentially been left to the speculators and those who wish to present personal beliefs as history. It seems to be felt that the strength and persistence of personal beliefs should be substituted for research and evidence. It's similar to turning a government over to Global Warming nay-sayers (while discounting 99% of scientists) so as to be 'fair-and-balanced' by giving equal voice to both sides of the question - as if the evidence were equal on both sides - when it clearly is not.
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Originally Posted by LRichard View Post
I think it is possible that there may have been other influences involved in the development of Tarot which are not subject to historical verification, such as unconscious psychological or even magical factors.
It's nice that you think that. I think it, too. And we can speculate about it all we want. There's even a section of AT specifically for this called "Talking Tarot." The problem is when one's *thoughts* are not only substituted for "historical research" but when these thoughts are deemed to BE "historical research." But, I recognize that the "Talking Tarot" section doesn't have the cache earned by the Historical Research section for its serious discussion that can and has influenced and positively changed information published about Tarot history. Of course speculators want to be part of the game!

When "fair-and-balanced" means all ideas are equal and there are no standards or rules of evidence, then it is ludicrous to call it historical research - but people will do what people will do and the serious historians will go elsewhere.
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Thats a process outside of the history forum as well.

One could substitute 'history' for rational, and 'woo-woo' for intuition.

IMO one needs both ... the same as if one wanted to get a general idea about tarot through the ages ... it could be a combination of 'hard history' and the 'woo-woo' .

If one wanted a purely historical idea about ancient Egypt, one might go for an evidenced based author that only reports on what has been found without speculating on it. But to get an overall picture of what influence ancient Egypt has had on esotericists up to the present one should incorporate (as you say) the 'history of the woo-woo'.
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I think non-woo-woo means basically sticking to standard historical methodology and avoiding the Christine Payne-Towler style, which mixes fact and fancy without distinguishing between them.

A history of woo-woo as it relates to Tarot can certainly be within the purview of historical research.

I personally think that broadening the scope of this forum was an error. It dilutes rather than enhances its value, and as has been noted, it caused the more serious Tarot historians to go elsewhere. Moreover, the forum is now misnamed. I'm sure the changes were well-intentioned, but it seems to have had some undesirable consequences.
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I agree, and I'll add that a side effect of the change in the forum causes almost every thread to be derailed at some point in favor of discussions like this one.
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Originally Posted by closrapexa View Post
.....and I'll add that a side effect of the change in the forum causes almost every thread to be derailed at some point in favor of discussions like this one.
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.
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