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

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Since almost every thread in this section seems to become a discussion about what should and shouldn't be allowed to be discussed here, instead of the actual topic of individual threads, which really is not fair on thread starters, the name of this forum is indeed being reviewed.

Now can we please get back to the topic of the thread which is whether or not there is a 'non-woowoo history of the tarot'?
If you want to discuss what people should be allowed discuss here, could you please do that by private message or this thread is very likely to go the way of other threads here and end up being closed.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sulis View Post
Now can we please get back to the topic of the thread which is whether or not there is a 'non-woowoo history of the tarot'?
Yes, there is a non-woooo history of the tarot that can be discerned by going back over older archives and by reading the books mentioned early in this discussion. It is canonical only if/when it meets certain standards (that are anathema here) and with the caveat that new evidence has the potential to change everything we thought we knew (i.e., there is no such thing as a fixed cannon of historical facts).

You might also want to check out http://www.associazioneletarot.it/index.aspx?lng=ENG
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Originally Posted by closrapexa View Post
If you're right, then what is the distinction between this forum and the others? Plus, sorry if I sound confrontational, but are there examples of accepted , peer reviewed historical facts that were ascertained through "wild theories," by which I'm assuming means lacking precedent, connectivity to previous works, not being derived from existing evidence, etc? I mean, wild theory automatically makes me think of Schliemann, but he isn't an example of anything, and didn't actually discover what he said he did...
This forum doesn't talk about the meanings of cards etc.

And back to books - I still like Cynthia Giles. No-one else seems to, so I thought I'd mention her again !
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Originally Posted by gregory View Post
I still like Cynthia Giles. No-one else seems to, so I thought I'd mention her again !
I like her first book especially. The research has been superceded somewhat but it's still an excellent introduction to the layperson who wants a well-written and easy to comprehend overview.
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As far as I know she only wrote the one, which showed up again with a changed title so I ended up with three copies*... (I wanted one in each house and then saw what appeared to be another...) Unless you know something I don't !

ETA oh. Wait. OK found another... AND the book for the St Petersburg is hers. Thanks for the headsup !




*Don't get excited, people, the extra found an excellent and loving home !
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Huck drew my attention to this thread a few days, so I read it. A few observations, mostly related to my view that if there is a “canonical non-woowoo tarot”, nobody would agree on what was in it (as to conclusions as opposed to "brute facts") and it would be so basic as not to be worth the trouble to put it together.

1. This relates to my lack of citations in this post.
It seems to me that this Forum’s structure acts against genuine research. First, the Forum rules require that the reader not be diverted to some other source. They say,
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We work hard to maintain and improve this forum and we'd rather not have our members or traffic diverted to other sources.
But that’s what good research does: it diverts you to other sources. To emphasize the point, the Rules go on::
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Therefore, we don't allow self-promoting, advertising, or soliciting visitors to your own or an affiliated website, forum, mailing list, service, product, workshop, conference, auction, etc, either via posts, threads, signatures, email, or private message.
Most of my research is on another Forum. So unless I copy all that research to this Forum, I can’t cite the research I’ve done without breaking the rule. For me the result is that except for transcribing and translating documents that are mostly too old to be under copyright, or qualify as relatively short quotations, I don’t present historical research on this Forum. The Historical Research section should follow the same rules as print media do.

Secondly, there is no way I know of saving a draft, except on my own computer. The result is that I have to save everything I write to a Word document before posting, since there are very few occasions when I would post something without working on a draft for a few days first, if only to get my citations in place. I suspect that rather than give citations, people just post. The Forum, in other words, encourages unscholarly work in the way it is set up.

There is also the problem of moderators. Nobody on the thread thinks posts are “off topic”, but a moderator does, resulting in “split” threads and much confusion.

2. In A History of the Occult Tarot 1870-1970, p. 325, footnote 39, Decker and Dummett acknowledge Mary Greer’s help in identifying one error in Wicked Pack of Cards (in the index, under “Wicked Pack of Cards, errors in” it is erroneously given as footnote 40). It has to do with “pantacle” and “pentacle”. The full footnote and the paragraph it is to are on the Internet, but the Forum rules prevent me from saying more. Decker and Dummett acknowledge a few other errors in Wicked Pack but do not cite anyone’s help in identifying them.

3. Dummett's contribution is sometimes overrrated. Tarot history as he practiced it is a branch of playing card history. That discipline has been around for a while. If you read Jean Lacroix's chapter on Playing Cards in 1874 (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?i...ew=1up;seq=179), you will see much the same methodology and facts as in Game of Tarot’s first three chapters, although Dummett has far more. For example, Lacroix tells us that in 1822 it was established that playing cards came from China and India, arriving in Muslim lands (India, the chapter heading says) not before the 12th century. In Chapter 4 Dummett takes issue with some of Lacroix’s conclusions, but in a way that was not new. One has only to think of Moakley, 1966, or Hoffman, 1972. The basic underlying point, where I totally agree, is that tarot history is part of playing card history. That's something even Etteilla etc. would agree on.

Dummett’s main contribution to tarot history is his analysis of the tarot triumphs into three main types, which he called A, B, and C, and within them three groups (the first to Pope, the last from Death to the end, as he said in 1980 and reiterated in 1993) Il Mondo e l’Angelo, p. 174). He also recorded an amazing number of different variations in the game of tarot.

A distinctive feature of Dummett’s work was his strong opinions.on cartomancy before Etteilla. He was right to challenge the evidence; but if you look at much of it closely, it is usually a matter of shades of meaning regarding certain pictures and texts; Kaplan, another exemplary tarot historian, is typically on one side of the interpretation, Dummett on the other. I usually find myself halfway in between. I have dealt, in unmentionable places, with many of them. In general:
Most of the early records of cartomancy, in the ordinary sense of fortune-telling, are associated with lot books, presented as an amusing game, just as Etteilla entitled his book on the tarot in 1783. Dummett dismisses that as not cartomancy, as it is not “serious” (Il Mondo e l’Angelo[/i], p. 116). Amusing or not, lot-books and all other books on divination were put on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1559 (verification available). After that, it is a matter of how far the Index could be enforced. 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). So depictions of cartomancy would necessarily have been couched in deniable ambiguity. Anything otherwise, including pre-1559 material, would have been destroyed by families afraid of being disgraced.

As far as esoteric symbolism in the tarot early on, Dummett explicitly stated in several works that it is a realistic possibility. There is his somewhat ambiguous statement in Wicked Pack that seems to some, including me, to acknowledge the likelihood of esoteric symbolism; others see him as engaging in irony. A clearer statement is on the first page of his FMR essay, 1986 (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-cNt-HxE0kS...o/s1600/46.jpg). And in Il Monde e L'Angelo, 1993, he even speculates on the particular kind of esoteric symbolism that there might have been, namely, astrological (p. 141):
Quote:
Se ci fu simbolismo occulto nella prima versione del mazzo dei tarocchi, quindi, non può trattarsi di quello che gli occultisti del XIX secolo pretesero di trovarvi; l’ipotesi più probabile è che si sia trattato di simbolismo astrologico. Come già abbiamo osservato, non ci sorprenderebbe se venisse dimostrato che esso era presente, tanto ben nascosto però da giustificare il fatto che la sua presenza venne dimenticata così in fretta, purché si ammettesse che la sua presenza non incise per nulla sull’uso per il quale furono ideate e adoperate le carte.

(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 the which the cards were designed and adopted.
That use, of course, is the trick-taking game. You will have noticed that he is careful to say “first version of the tarot deck”; for unclear reasons he dismisses the issue of whether “occult symbolism” may have been related to later versions of the deck. He nowhere attempts to summarize what types of “occult symbolism” (which he defines as whatever is not visible on the surface) actually existed in 15th and 16th century Italy, even for the period in question, which for him meant before 1442. That is the great merit of Decker’s recent book, at least the part on the 15th century, whatever its flaws.

Then there is Dummett’s view that “the use for which the cards were designed and adopted” was only one (hence “the”) that of playing a trick-taking game. As to whether that view is generally accepted today among researchers, I can only quote from a 2014 article in a journal published by an organization with which I am affiliated, in the sense of paying membership dues. The article is "The Stag Rider from the so-called ‘tarot of Alessandro Sforza’ at the Museo Civico di Castello Ursino of Catania", by Emilia Maggio. After describing a 10th century game with dice relating to the virtues, and before describing a card game of John of Rheinfelden "combining entertainment with learning about ethics", she says (p. 229):
Quote:
The argument that also the so-called tarot cards were originally designed as an educational game or study aid seems now widely accepted.
I do not know whether what she says is true or not (about what is widely accepted). I only cite it as evidence that Dummett’s view on this matter is not uniformly accepted.

What was Dummett’s view of the “original tarot”? He clearly thought it had 22 special cards added to a regular pack with Queens and sometimes other female courts. As for where and when, in his 1993 book he “conjectures” that the tarot was invented in Milan around 1428 (p. 106: “1428: i tarocchi sono inventati alla corte viscontea”). This is based on what was known then: in part, that the earliest record of tarot was Ferrara 1442; not at all on Filippo’s marriage to Maria of Savoy; and mostly on Filippo’s sponsorship of Marziano’s “deck of the gods”. Current information, that tarot existed in 1440 Florence, is little different from what Dummet had.

4. We should indeed insist in work "grounded in facts”, but it is in the inference from fact to theory and back again that the difficulties lie. Historical research is not all collecting data and making deductive inferences. There is also “induction”, i.e. theory-building. That involves identifying tokens of a proposed type, not excluding counter-examples, accounting, one way or another, for gaps in evidence, and acknowledging ambiguities. That is what is controversial. Just to consider the first part, identifying tokens of a type, Joseph Campbell, after examining a multitude of mythological narratives, identified a unifying “monomyth”: In film schools and Hollywood, that pattern is called “the formula”, to which most films conform. Campbell studied narratives in their historical contexts and generalized. Is that allowed to tarot researchers? If so, I would propose that what Hollywood calls a “formula” is whatYygdrasilian calls a “cipher”. What is necessary is first the particulars and then the generalization. No generalizations without particulars. And the rest of what I enumerated.

There are other issues. For example, it is often stated that the cards are “allegorical”. Is there agreement on what “allegorical” meant in the 15th-17th centuries? See The Cambridge Companion to Allegory, which details how the concept was trivialized in the 18th century..

5. I thought chapters 1, 5, 6 and 7 of Decker's book were worth reading, in that order, and then maybe 4. He is occasionally sloppy in citing ancient texts and totally unconvincing that the “original tarot” was inspired by them. But it still has value for giving texts that make sense as historically relevant overlays to the tarot sequence. The chapters on ancient Pythagorean and Middle Platonic texts, which he then applies to the TdM cards, are both valuable and original, for whenever the relevant part of the TdM was invented. He has identified texts and passages that I at least wasn't aware of. It is up to us to find and fill in the holes that Decker has left. Chapter 4, on Horapollo, is useful for some details on the cards (e.g. the bird on the TdM Star) and possible interpretations in the 15th-18th centuries. The part on Etteilla mostly repeats what is in the books written with Dummett, except Decker’s correlations of the number cards with Gikatilla’s Gates of Light, which is is worthless, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere.
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Mike, thank you so much for all the commentary on prior conversations and the overview of tarot history, to date. You covered a lot of ground. I'm also very appreciative of the translation work you've done here and elsewhere. I'd like to add that Ross Caldwell's work on early cartomancy helps give a fresh perspective on tarot divination. Huck's website has a wealth of material but is a little difficult to navigate.
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Useful stuff - but as a reminder - the OP did say they were looking for a BOOK, I think...

Quote:
Meaning a single authoritative scholarly work that is the standard historical go-to reference for tarot scholars. If there is not, let me know which books you think are otherwise the best.
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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.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeH View Post
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).

All of the cases involving cartomancy that I cite were punished with penance (penticiado), which meant things like wearing a white penitent's robe with a large cross on it for certain amount of time, a specific pilgrimage, etc.

Out of the 283 cases entirely for various witchcraft offenses, 122 people were given penance. 144 of the cases, the majority, were either acquitted (absuelto), inconclusive (inconcluso), or the trial was suspended (suspenso). A further 19 were sent off with a warning (amonestado).

The only case in the whole book where someone was executed as a result of the Inquisition's findings was in Cuenca (205 cases) in 1492-4, where one Blanca, wife of Pedro Cenadilla, was "Relajada por judaizante" - "relaxed to the secular arm as a judaizer". This shows the main worry of the Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century, and it wasn't witchcraft.
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