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Reading Tarot Cards Revealed

Reading Tarot Cards Revealed

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XX. Judgement or the Angel

XXI. The World the history of the tarot

The first people to have cards of any kind were the Chinese, because they were the first to develop paper. They invented paper around the year 200 and first used it to make cards sometime between 300 and 1000. Cards were related to the creation of dominos, which probably came first. Early Chinese writers used the same name for dominos and cards. Cards were created primarily to play games of chance but they could also be used for divination. As the art of papermaking spread across Asia, various forms of card games developed as well as decks created solely for divination.

In the 1300s the Islamic people of the Middle East introduced a card deck to the Europeans. This deck, called the Mamluk deck, originated in Egypt in the 1200s and is named after the Islamic rulers of that time. The deck had four suits each with 10 pip cards and three all-male royal cards. It was a lot like a modern playing card deck except the suit symbols were cups, scimitars, coins, and polo sticks. The Europeans copied this deck and transformed it by changing the suits to cups, swords, coins, and staffs and at times adding a queen to the royal cards. As the deck spread through Europe, various countries changed the suit symbols, as shown in Table 7.1. Notice that the suits popular today in Britain and America originated in France. Although the other European countries changed the symbols on the cards, the Spanish and the Italians kept the original symbols. Sometime between 1410 and 1430 the Italians added a new fifth suit to this deck to create the Tarot.

The Tarot was created to play a particular card game that is the ancestor of the modern-day card game, bridge. The fifth suit was a natural trump suit that outranked the others, and each card in the suit outranked the one before it. These cards were modeled on a mystical parade in which each character in the parade trumped the one before. The parade was called a triumph and this is where the term trump comes from. In Italy, at first there were variations in the order and number of the these trumps, but after 1500 the French started making Tarot decks and they standardized the order to the one used in the Tarot of Marseilles. Although the Tarot was created for a game, all cards, including the four-suit decks, were also used for divination. Literary evidence attests that the four-suit decks were used for divination by the late 1400s and the Tarot by the early 1500s.28

The first occultist to write about the Tarot was the French author Courte de Gebelin (1719- or 1728-1784), who published his theories in his occult encyclopedia in 1781. He was the first to assert that the Tarot originated in ancient Egypt, that the fifth suit is related to the Hebrew alphabet and astrology, and that Gypsies had something to do with how the Tarot got to Europe. None of these things are true. De Gebelin, however, presented these ideas as theories, and he did not have as much historical information to work with as is available now. Thanks to de Gebelin, the Tarot became popular as a tool for divination and as a book of wisdom. The problem is that a lot of later authors repeated his theories as facts instead of looking at the information that historians were uncovering. In 1909 the occultist Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942), who was a good enough historian to realize that the Tarot came from Renaissance Italy, hired another occultist, the gifted artist Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1946), to design a new deck that emphasized the mystical nature of the images instead of focusing on Hebrew letters. In this deck, which is now published as the Rider-Waite deck but is called the Waite-Smith deck by scholars, Smith added illustrations of people and things to the pip cards to make them easier to use for divination. She also related the four minor suits to four magical tools, to the four elements, and to divinatory qualities.

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table 7.1: A Chart of the Suit Symbols Adopted by Different European Countries (Illustrations by Robert M. Place)

table 7.1: A Chart of the Suit Symbols Adopted by Different European Countries (Illustrations by Robert M. Place)

1 Cups: water; intuition and emotions

2 Swords: air; thoughts and ideas

3 Pentacles (instead of coins): earth; physical senses, health, and wealth

4 Wands (instead of staffs): fire; feelings, work, and energy

The Waite-Smith deck has never been out of print. It is the most popular Tarot in the world today, and it is the deck that Jill was using in the opening story (see Figures 7.1 and 7.2).

interpreting the trumps

The meanings and connections with the four elements for the minor suits in the Waite-Smith Tarot seem to be similar to the interpretations that these suits would have had in the Renaissance. Only with Smith's illustrations it is easier to remember them. For the fifth suit, or major arcana, Smith's designs follow closely the images in the traditional Tarot of Marseilles but she made a few changes to adapt them to some occult ideas. For example, she kept the occultist's astrological connections for the trumps and because of that had Justice, traditionally number eight, change places with Strength, traditionally number 11, so they would correspond to the signs Libra and Leo in their order of correspondences.

When interpreting the trumps, however, it is best to understand as much as possible about the history and symbolism of each card and see them as the artists who created them in the 1400s saw them. All of the images in the Tarot can be found in other places in Renaissance art and the meaning of the cards can be compared with these images. Following is a brief description of the most likely Renaissance meaning for the major arcana.

The Tarot's fifth suit has an unnumbered Fool, which is a wild card that can be played instead of a trump, and 21 numbered trumps, which may have something to do with the 21 possible combinations of two dice. The 21 trumps can easily be divided into three groups of seven cards and when this is done each group has its own character. These three groups of seven, like other examples in Renaissance art, each relate to one of the three parts of the soul that the ancient philosopher Plato (429-347 bce) talked about. It may seem odd that the soul has three parts and that Renaissance artists were concerned with this idea but a deeper look into this helps it make sense.

Figure 7.2 The Waite-Smith eight of cups, 1909 (left), compared to an early Italian eight of cups (1500). (Robert M. Place)

Renaissance means rebirth, and this period was so named because the artists and writers of the Renaissance were trying to revive the art and philosophy of the ancient world. Plato was the most famous philosopher in the ancient world, so it is not surprising that Renaissance artists were interested in his ideas. One of the main themes in Plato's work was that humans have some conflicting ideas or desires. He found three main desires and called them the three parts of the soul:

1 The soul of appetite: The desire for material pleasures and things

2 The soul of will: The desire for fame and glory

3 The soul of reason: The desire for wisdom and spiritual insight

The three sections of the 21 trumps illustrate these three parts of the soul and as the soul parts move upward from the most selfish to the most unselfish and enlightened, so do the cards. This is a mystical ascent to greater wisdom and this is what makes the Tarot an excellent tool for communication with the Higher Self.

In illustrations 7.3 to 7.5 a Fool and the 21 trumps are rendered from various woodcut decks printed in Italy and France from the late 1400s to the 1700s. The trumps are divided into three groups of seven.

Figure 7.3 shows the Fool and the first seven trumps. The Fool is a traveling jester being attacked by a dog because he is a stranger. He is the outsider who will take this mystical journey through the three parts. The soul of appetite represents material desires like greed and lust and that is what we find here. The first trump in this section is the Magician, who is a street performer, the kind who cheats people out of money with his games of chance. The next four cards represent four rulers. There are four because this is the number associated with the physical world with its four directions, seasons, and elements. Notice that they are in male and female pairs: the Emperor and Empress, and the Pope and the female Pope or Papesse. These pairs are like the yin and yang symbols in the I Ching. All of these cards are trumped by the Lovers, which depict Cupid the god of lust. Below Cupid a young man

Figure 7.3 The Fool and the first seven trumps rendered from antique Italian and French decks. Clockwise from top, The Fool (French 1709), The Magician (Italian circa 1500), The Papesse (Italian 1780), The Empress (Italian circa 1500), The Emperor (Italian circa 1500), The Pope (Italian circa 1500), The Lovers (French 1650-1660), and The Chariot (French circa 1650). (Robert M. Place)

Figure 7.3 The Fool and the first seven trumps rendered from antique Italian and French decks. Clockwise from top, The Fool (French 1709), The Magician (Italian circa 1500), The Papesse (Italian 1780), The Empress (Italian circa 1500), The Emperor (Italian circa 1500), The Pope (Italian circa 1500), The Lovers (French 1650-1660), and The Chariot (French circa 1650). (Robert M. Place)

is torn between his love for a woman with flowers in her hair, who represents sensuality, and a woman with a laurel wreath, who represents virtue. The Man chooses virtue and becomes the young warrior in the chariot in the last card, ready to move onto the soul of will.

Figure 7.4 depicts the cards representing the soul of will. The soul of will is the desire for fame and prestige that drives the hero to face death and hardship. Four of the cards in this section relate to death and hardship. The Hermit is an old man, who in the oldest decks was actually Father Time but by 1500 was replaced with the holy hermit, a spiritual hero who attains wisdom through self-denial or hardship. He faces the Wheel of Fortune, which depict the ups and down of fate and the foolishness of chasing worldly pleasures. A little further we find the Hanged Man, who is being punished by being hung by his foot. This was a punishment reserved for traitors. The next card is death, the Grim Reaper. However, by facing hardships and death the hero is also developing virtues. The other three cards spread through this

Figure 7.4 The second set of seven trumps rendered from antique Italian and French decks. Clockwise from top, Justice (Italian circa 1500), Hermit (Italian circa 1500), The Wheel of Fortune (Italian circa 1500), Strength (Italian circa 1500), The Hanged Man (French 1748), Death (Italian circa 1500), and Temperance (French circa 1650). (Robert M. Place)

Figure 7.4 The second set of seven trumps rendered from antique Italian and French decks. Clockwise from top, Justice (Italian circa 1500), Hermit (Italian circa 1500), The Wheel of Fortune (Italian circa 1500), Strength (Italian circa 1500), The Hanged Man (French 1748), Death (Italian circa 1500), and Temperance (French circa 1650). (Robert M. Place)

Figure 7.5 The last seven trumps rendered from antique Italian and French decks. Clockwise from top, The Devil (Italian circa 1500), The Tower (French 1713), The Star (French 1713), The Moon (Italian circa 1500), The Sun (Italian circa 1500), Judgement (Italian circa 1500), and The World (French 1748). (Robert M. Place)

Figure 7.5 The last seven trumps rendered from antique Italian and French decks. Clockwise from top, The Devil (Italian circa 1500), The Tower (French 1713), The Star (French 1713), The Moon (Italian circa 1500), The Sun (Italian circa 1500), Judgement (Italian circa 1500), and The World (French 1748). (Robert M. Place)

section depict three of the four cardinal virtues that Plato considered really important: Justice, Strength, and Temperance. The fourth cardinal virtue, Prudence, which was considered the most important, is discussed below.

Figure 7.5 depicts the last seven trumps that illustrate the soul of reason. Although the desire for fame seems heroic it is still a selfish desire, and in the soul of reason people aim for true balance and un derstanding. They no longer crave excessive pleasures or to prove themselves through suffering. This is the desire for the final virtue Prudence, which represents a higher state of wisdom. It might be surprising that this section starts with the Devil, the master of what is unreasonable. But to attain wisdom it is necessary to start by looking at the problem, selfishness or the devil. The next card shows a proud Tower, symbolizing egotism, getting blown away by a bolt of lightning. Then starts the climb up to heaven. In the sky on the Star card is the same ladder of seven planets that we saw in Figure 5.3. Although this ladder describes the descent of the soul into the body and is the basis of the horoscope, mystics also believed that they could ascend the ladder while in a trance and reach heaven. The next two cards, the Moon and the Sun, are the heavenly rulers of the forces of yin and yang that rule the universe but we are going past even these regal figures. Judgement depicts an angel waking the dead on judgement day. It symbolizes the victory over death. And the final trump is a mandala, a sacred map of the world that depicts Prudence as a beautiful woman standing on the throne of God.29

To understand the World card it will be helpful to look at Figure 7.6, which shows a Christian holy image, or icon, of Christ sitting on his throne in heaven. Notice that Christ's throne is surrounded by four creatures: the lion, the bull, the eagle, and the angel. They are the same creatures that f \

Figure 7.6 A rendering of the Christ in Majesty icon from the cover of a Medieval French Bible. (Robert M. Place)

Figure 7.6 A rendering of the Christ in Majesty icon from the cover of a Medieval French Bible. (Robert M. Place)

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The Illustrated Key To The Tarot

The Illustrated Key To The Tarot

The pathology of the poet says that the undevout astronomer is mad the pathology of the very plain man says that the genius is mad and between these extremes, which stand for ten thousand analogous excesses, the sovereign reason takes the part of a moderator and does what it can. I do not think that there is a pathology of the occult dedications, but about their extravagances no one can question, and it is not less difficult than thankless to act as a moderator regarding them.

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