"tarot History" versus historiography


This thread is going to be mostly about *methods* for researching where cards came from, were originally used, and so on.

It is difficult to draw the line between criticising an historical *method* and putting down people who use that method, ... but let's try.

Ok: Huck and I got onto this tack in the "Bohemian cards" thread.

My argument (I hope Huck's will be repeated below) is that current customs in writing "playing card/Tarot history" certainly produce statistics about numbers of packs, dates, makers and so forth. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that those statistics are presented as if they solved the question of where, how and why cards were used in medieval Europe.

Rather than go over the research essays concerning cards (which may upset individuals wh wrote them), I'll explain the difference by talking about cars.

This is a similar, not identical subject, so there will be differences to essays on tarot. Take that for granted.

OK: - Here's the point:

If you start researching any historical object (such as the tarot) by reference to its present-day form, purpose, and usual techinques - and then start going back down in time, looking for where our *modern* forms originated, you miss a lot. You miss words and terms not known today; you miss passin allusions to forms of use that don't exist today .. you interpret what you do find as if the modern form of the thing were its "default" form and use, rather than the one which simply happened to become dominant. You may write a good genealogy, but you are not really writing history.

The real problem with the "Dummett-de Paulis" style, is that it doesn't recognise the difference, and is outraged by the thought that any difference exists.

Here's our "car" example:
If I drive a Ford car, and I know that Ford invented cars (or think I know), and find that the earliest cars in my native America are Ford cars, I might work very hard to find out where and how Ford cards have been made, the addresses and names of the manufacturers, and how much tax they incurred, and whether people railed against them.... that's all very well.

Even if I nod in the direction of 'foreign' cards like Rolls Royce or Honda, or peculiar cars decorated with plastic grass matting, though, I'm still writing a self-justifying history of FORD cars. I'm not actually writing a history of cars in the wider sense, and I'm not even remotely writing a history of "wheeled Transport"

It's fine to write a genealogy of the games and packs existing today in the west.

The real problem starts, as I say, when people believe that in doing this they are writing a *history of western card-use*.

Its is a flawed method to offer arguments without seriously taking time and effort to determine whether or not what we now have is always the form of the thing, and whether we are writing a "genealogy" or a "history" - because the latter requires a broader historical, geographical and technical investigation before you can put surviving artefacts into their now-gone context.

If someone doe not recognise the difference between a history of Ford cars, and the history of wheeled transport, we've got problems.

You can be sure, then, that is someone mentions other types of wheeled transport which co-existed or preceded cars - such as chariots, or trams, or pony-carts, the hard-nosed investigator of Fords will wave them away with mutters of "irrelevant" and "ridiculous"

They may calmly ask you why you think anyone in their right minds would use a pony-cart after the car was invented, and point out to you that we have piles of American town-halls with records about parking fines since Ford's day - but where are the records of fines for parking chariots, or pony-carts, eh??

It's because the person doesn't really believe other forms of wheeled transport are, in fact 'wheeled transport' that they confuse genealogical researches with historical research.

The history of card-use in Europe is not by definition a genealogy of the forms of card, or of card-games which are most numerous in our present day. Simple as that.

I don't care which kind of history people want to write. I object when they don't define what they are doing accurately. The premises on which one builds determine the structural integrity of the entire edifice.

I think it far better to try, as best one can, to analyse the things which make up what remains to us of an artefact.

Then to be sure you know all the terms in older sources that will relate to what you are studying. let's consider cards again

To really write the history of western cards, I belive you have to consider separately
(i) the history and variety of MATERIALS used.. they may indicate lines of transmission. Not just paper, as we use now, but all the other types of 'token' card to be found: shell, ivory, .. what kind of things are engraved on them... not just recognisable suit signs and so forth.

(ii) the history and variety of IMAGERY.. what antecedents do they have in the west... in older or related (albeit distant) societies and cultures... this can illuminate transmission lines, the agent of transmission, maybe even original forms of use and meaning for our extant figures on card.

(iv) the VOCABULARY: try to generate a Glossary as *inclusive* as possible, because without that, you'll overlook references for sure.
I am certain that "paginas" refers to card-use. And that alone makes it relevant, regardless of what kind of card-use it might have been.

There's more to say, but I'm bored.. and no doubt are you all....



Andy's Playing Cards is a fantastic site for the Genealogy of Cards. Everything that had gone before the actual cards were produced- Art/Myths/Legends/Maps/artifacts/writings/belief/bible/politics/star study/Calenders/Prayer books/Geography... and a thousand other things are all grist to mill of what we have today and call Tarot. Thats what makes Tarot History and it culminates in Tarot cards, not begins with them.
So I am not bored- I am sorry you are, lets hope the boredom passes :D ~Rosanne


If we want to write the history of playing cards in general, I agree that non-tarot playing cards are to be included - I realise this is not the main point, so bear with me a little - and will include the history of Chinese and Mamluk cards used for playing.

If writing the history of cars, then of course they arise out of other considerations and in a social context. The history of horse-drawn carts, for example, will be relevant only to the extant that the first cars appear to be little more than modifications of carts of the period with an engine but poorly mounted - yet still a very first car.

In that sense, the early history of cars will need to certainly take into account the design feature of the earliest of cars in light of the social conditions and understanding of the times at hand and the uses of carts, horse-drawn trams, trains, etc. What it would not warrant is a whole history of the horse-drawn cart going back to ancient Egyptian times as though this was part and parcel of the history of cars per se.

Similarly with tarot: to talk of the social conditions and historical setting, the zeitgeist of the times and the languages used in specific locations, and indeed the images prevalent at the times, the games with which people were engaged, and the likely influence of foreign developments on the creation of tarot is all part of the historical context. What is not warranted, however, are appellations of these images, of other card games, and various (though influential) texts, as 'tarot' - any more than talking of the Pharaoh's chariot for cars.


'histoy of tarot'

The point is that the 'history of tarot' has hardly ever been investigated.

What has been investigated is the history of modern card-games, and the genealogy of modern/current tarot packs, and so forth.

... long section deleted .....

But If you want to know what the original form of tarot was all about, have a good, slow, careful and thorough look at the so-called "Atlas Catala" ... Its not really an Atlas ; its a medieval-style "Almanac" rendered in visual form.






Atlas catala ... this image?

or this one (as part of the complete 6 double pictures):


Viterbo was 1379


Atlas Catala

Yes, that circuit is relevant, but look at all the others, too.

And remember that early sources speak of the "joc Moresche" - which doesn't only relate to Spain, does it? And look at the 'pirate' motifs on some cards, and the black-faced 'sun'... its for the Barbary men, the pirate-navigators who flew the Jolly Roger.

Why did they fly the 'Jolly Roger'? - well, patronised by Roger the Norman King of Sicily.

Back to north africa on the Atlas Catala.... 4 "Governors" (naibs.. I give the plural in this artificial form because easier for westerners to recognise).

What do you see, going east to west: Naib of the Rod, Naib of the Sword, Naib of the gold, and one on camel-back with a whip.

Hmnn why whip, not cup. See "images before 1377" - Pleiades.

So this is possible.

Same frame of reference: How does Rod relate to astronomically-named directions: well East, and Orion. Pretty basic in terms of near-eastern folk astronomy. Next is sword: also easy... the "Lord" (as it were) is Cepheus, and the "master/governor" (as it were) is the wind of the north. Next is Mansa Musa, the perfect embodiment of legends for the far south. Then the rider with whip. Sure enough... the 'whip' is an established motif for the star used to speak about the 'west': Pleaides. Also associated with the figure of the Persian rider. (Yes, I know its labelled a trader.. the maker matches people or types in the real world who perfectly embody the nature of that region's higher 'director'.)

Perhaps I should mention that North Africa at this time was a kind of 'promised land' for the Jews of Europe. It actually did contain representative groups from the four quarters of Islam, too, including a remnant of the originally Persian-Muslim colonists of the south-western Mediterranean.

Anyway, What clinches it for me is that the form "naibyy" which we have recorded uses a collective-plural that is characteristic only of the North African dialect.

Of course, Berbers and other Muslims of North Africa joined Arabs in the second wave of invasion into the Iberian peninsula,.... But ...

... but I'm trying to write shorter posts...



Most people in playing cards research have agreed, that Italian suit signs came from the Mamluk cards or from "Eastern direction". It's an interesting observation, that a catalan atlas - or whatever you think it is - showed figures, that might be playing card motifs in 1375 ... does it now change a world? Well, and the Eastern cards likely didn't contain real persons.

Btw. I've problems to see the atlas clear on the web, and I don't know, which parts belong to it and which not. There are more than 4 figures and I can't detect a "system". It's easier with the round object, but I think, it belongs to something else.


Relationship of Atlas Catala's map to tarot suits

The master-maker of maps "by bussola and qumbas" who made this, I believe always intended it for the king of France; he had fled the escalating pogroms and gone to Majorca, then still under the long governance of Provence-France.

The relationship between the tarot suits and the worldmap within his visual Almanac is the fact that he indicates directions using the same reference-system as the tarot's arcana minor.

Europeans named directions by winds, not by stars as older peoples from other regins of the Muslim world did. A whole body of myth, poetry, etc. had been built up there over millenia about the chief 'directing' stars. THat's what the emblems refer to. Its actually no different from using the stages of plant growth, and te eutochios or sleigh bell to indicate the seasons in a Germanic pack.

What is interesting I think is that he uses they system so correctly, and then Cards begin to spread widely, we are told, within 2 years of the "Atlas" delivery to the French king. But its not an Atalas, and that name keeps people from looking at it as a whole: maps and charts together.

Here are the only copies of the suits I have handy. Tp to bottom here is east to west on the Atlas' worldmap.

Don't know what's available on the web. (During the research I consulted a facsimile edition). Then bought a book called "The Opening of the World" by David Divine which has a double colour spread of the North African quarter.





About the embodiment of the supervising star-type, for the gold suit, I wrote up part of it and that was posted on some site in about 2001 or so.

Its proper title is "THe King of Gold in his historical setting" - but I think it was mounted with a different title. Maybe '...king of pentacles...'

Since then I've noticed a few people speaking about it. Not about it as an original discovery, tho.



All, what I see ... there are more than 4 figures.

The king of gold has a baton, too, and he's just located in a region, where Gold was found

The Atlas gives a little sightseeing, what's going on in the world. A logical way to paint a map, modern designers have similar ideas, filling maps with pictures of buildings and similar things. A "system" is not recognizable, at least not with limited access to the pictures.