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Emblems/Symbols, Meditation/Reading and Case-workers

To: alt.tarot,alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick
From: (R Brzustowicz)
Subject: Re: Emblems/Symbols, Meditation/Reading and Case-workers (was Re: Plotinus, evil, ....)
Date: 22 May 1997 21:31:51 GMT

In article , Az0th  wrote:

>: How about this:  there has come to be a genre, with conventions not quite
>: as formalized perhaps as those of the emblem-book genre, which might be
>: called Tarot Book.  This genre consists of (a) a set of emblematic images
>: [subject to various qualifications] and (b) a commentary that ties a
>: (usually large) body of lore to those images and to their arrangement as a
>: set.
>I would like to further qualify this genre as maintaining in its instances
>a substantially single source relationship between specific images and text,
>ignoring for taxonomic purposes the typical division of labor between creator
>and implementor, and specifically excluding secondary commentary material by
>person(s) other than the creator/author, again purely for taxonomic purposes.

In other words, text and emblem set produced as a single project.  This
would include Waite's _Pictorial Key_, Crowley's _Book of Thoth_, and 
Case's _Tarot_, but leave out various books that use (for example) Thoth
cards as illustrations but have text written by someone who had no hand in
producing the cards.

But --

>See a further note below...
>: One continuum on which examples of this genre can be arranged stretches
>: between the use of a "traditional" set of images and the use of a
>: completely new, "oroginal" set of images, with most examples taking an
>: existing set as something of a model and "rectifying" it in one way or
>: another.
>I don't offhand recall an 'occult' commentary on purely traditional tarot,
>but see rather a necessary discontinuity between the traditional images
>and those provided with occult commentary text, even based as they usually
>are on earlier forms. Typical, one is tempted to say primary, commentary
>texts of this genre consist in large part of explanations of the 'rectified'
>imagery, the iconic delta, as it were, from the chosen traditional baseline.

Something like vol II of Knight's _Practical Guide to Qabalistic
Symbolism_ has extensive comments on Tarot Trumps (of several varieties)
but uses the Marseilles images.  It's taxonimically interesting because it
includes a kind of meta-commentary on the ways in which various
"rectified" Tarot sets differ from the Marseilles baseline.

It follows something in the tradition of Levi's _Transcendental Magic_,
which used the Trumps as chapter motifs (twice!) or his _Magical Ritual of
the Sanctum Regnum_.  There are also Mouni Sadhu's book, Ouspensky's
little book, and Tomberg's big book (_Meditations on the Tarot_?).  For
the last two, in some ways, the specifics of the images are often less
important than the general sequence, and the ideas being mapped into it.

I'm not sure where the genre boundaries should be drawn -- but the "pure"
genre might well be (as I think you suggest) emblems+text specifically
generated as a unified work.  Knight's _PG_ would then be quite outside
the genre?
>I wonder. As my initial (perhaps over-ironic) comments to Tyagi indicated,
>I suspect that the system(s) of ideas which have been related in this genre
>to tarot-based imagery can stand well enough on their own merits, traditions,
>and textual formulations as to remove any direct necessity for the relation.

No doubt one doesn't need to have the Tarot to have alchemical,
Kabbalistic, Neoplatonic, or whatever, ideas -- they have all done
quite well for themselves without the Tarot.  But one of the features of
many esoteric traditions is an emphasis on imagery & what is nowadays
sometimes called "the imaginal".  Into that context, the Tarot comes
bearing a definite charge of attractiveness.  Quite a temptation.

>I would agree, however, that any perceived similarity in significance between
>traditional imagery and any given body of lore, be it Grail, Kabbalah, Magic,
>Alchemy, Gnosis or whatever, has been taken as just the warrant you say to
>bring the imagery more closely into conformance with the lore. I'm unaware
>of documentary evidence that the process has ever worked in the reverse,
>except, just possibly, on a personal level. 

I can't think of any examples off hand -- but I'm not willing to suppose
that there aren't at least a few.

One of the problems with commentaries on Tarot (doctrinal or historical)
is that they generally want to get away from the images into the "meaning"
-- and the "true meaning" -- of the card set itself, which usually boils
down to the ideas of the commentator. But the images are the primary data.

>: Yes -- though it *might* be that the modern written text is the functional
>: equivalent of an earlier oral tradition, or, perhaps, set of background
>: conventions.  But what actually exists (or what is actually available to
>: be seen) is the various sets of emblems.  And the larger traditions (eg,
>: conventional planetary images, religious iconography, etc, etc) with which
>: they seem in various ways to be connected.
>Exactly so. And, I'm compelled to add, gaming and the society which enjoyed
>the practice. ;)

That too.

>: The _Mutus Liber_ is an interesting case because it appears when the
>: emblem-book genre is already well established, but it has almost nothing
>: but images. Still, the ML *does* have a context -- other alchemical texts
>: and images, biblical allusions, and so on -- that shouldn't be ignored.
>The cultural surround which informed the emblem books is I believe on the
>whole rather better documented, if not understood, than that which produced
>the tarot. ML and the others are an obvious, well connected part of a tracable
>mystical/alchemical culture. As Dummett has made very clear to me, the tarot
>is, in its earliest years, only connectible to gaming. 

As it is mentioned in writing.  However, that doesn't say anything about
the emblematic/iconic context of the images themselves.  Moakley addresses
that question, in a preliminary way; Dummett & al do not.

>: >: Gertrude Moakley's study of the Tarot is one of the few I'm aware of that
>: >: actually pays attention to this aspect of the images.
>: >
>: >I would very much like to hear of others.
>: So would I.  This was one of the (much-discussed) disappointments of WPC.
>: There is a rumor of the availability on the web of some brief studies of
>: individual cards -- the Chariot and the World, I gather.
>Those are on jk's page,

I was making an ironic reference to just that page.

>and are interesting work. The presence and evolution
>of overtly Christian symbolism in the tarot is one which most pagans would
>be happier to overlook,

but very much what one would expect from the evident time & place of
origin, and the style & content of the images themselves.

>and his treatment of the World in particular is very

What I would like to see is a study something like _Saturn and Melancholy_
with the Tarot as the object of investigation.  Something of the sort
would then lay the groundwork for an investigation of the question -- Why
did the Tarot attract the kind of interest and commentary it did from
commentators who saw in it a repository of esoteric knowledge?  Amd why
did that kind of commentary catch on in the way that it has?

A lot of other things (eg watermarks) have triggered one or two people 
to voluminous esoteric speculation.  Not many of them have received so
much broooding and re-invention.

R Brzustowicz (

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