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Evidence the Tarot is of Hermetic origin

To: alt.magick
From: (James W. Revak)
Subject: Re: Evidence the Tarot is of Hermetic origin
Date: Thu, 26 Oct 2000 16:26:51 GMT

On Thu, 26 Oct 2000 05:19:35 GMT, Prophet 718 

> wrote:
>> Early Tarot developed within the playing-card school of thought.
>Perhaps the small arcana did, but its a trivial point in contrast to
>what the Mantegna prints imply, which is that the majority of the trumps
>in the modern deck are derived from a set of 50 cards which were most
>certainly designed as esoteric emblems.
This is highly unlikely.  Tarot decks first appeared before the
Mantegna prints.

Personally, I think the Majors do have philosophical or esoteric
content.  However, precisely what this content is highly debatable.
Certainly, I don't think that the inventors of Tarot had specific
correspondences between the Majors and Cabala in mind.

Still, if one posits specific correspondences between Tarot and
Cabala, one has to present hard evidence.  Such hard evidence is
lacking.  No occultist, I repeat no occultist, ever wrote that the
inventors of Tarot were influenced by Cabala until the 18th century,
long after the invention of Tarot.  Why?  Because early connections
between Tarot and Cabala were almost certainly nonexistent.
>> Its symbolism is largely ornamental, and NOT mystical in any
>> way.
>The Mantegna prints seem to indicate otherwise.
I agree to the extent that these prints and other sources indicate
that there is some sort of philosophical or esoteric meaning to the
Majors.  However, as I said, determining exactly what this was for the
early users of Tarot is extraordinarily difficult.  No early Tarotists
left records as to what this philosophical or esoteric meaning is.

> While the designers of Trionfi decks borrowed from many
>> traditions, especially Christian traditions, to decorate the
>> cards, the bulk of the combined deck, referred to by occultists
>> as the "Minor Arcana", had nothing whatsoever to do with
>> the "Greek school of thought", nor the Jewish one, since it
>> was a derivation of card suits introduced from Mamluk
>> Egypt.
>The main focus of the Qabalist are the 22 keys; all references to the
>minor arcana in this discussion are moot points
Not true.  Occultists often insist beginning with Lévi that the ten
numeric cards of each suit intended by the inventors of Tarot to
correspond to the ten Sephiroth.  This is almost certainly false
because the suited cards almost certainly came out of an Islamic
culture (Mamluk Egypt).

>These suit signs were Mamluk heraldic devices and
>> were changed only superficially when introduced into Europe
>> in the 14th century. "Tarot" was added to these cards
>> in the 15th century, purely for the purpose of creating
>> a specialized deck of playing cards.
>Combining esoteric emblems with a card game doesn't change the
>significance of the emblems,
>> The "Mantegna deck" is NOT a Tarot or Trionfi deck.
>A good point, which means its 50 emblems cannot simply be written off as
>a card game.
> While
>> comparisons can be made between these, one shouldn't
>> overstate the case for their similarities.
>I would call having 14 of 22 modern trumps represented in the Mantegna
>prints overwhelming evidence of a direct connection between the
>prints and later decks.
This makes little sense.  As I've noted above the earliest Tarot decks
predate Mantegna.

>There were
>> many card games and many decks developed in Renaissance
>> Italy. Trionfi (or Tarocchi, the Italian names for Tarot)
>> is one class of these.
>> As for the Kabbalistic content of Tarot, this is
>> an 18th-century invention, born of the imagination of
>> Antoine Court de Gébelin, the first person to publish
>> "serious" symbolic speculations concerning the meaning
>> of Tarot symbolism.
>The seven sacred planets listed in the Jewish Kabbala are symbolized in
>the Mantegna prints. If its a contest to see who was working with these
>planetary ideas first, I think the Greeks win hands down. 

Don't tell this to the Babylonians or Egyptians.

>I posit that
>the 50 prints shown in the Mantegna deck were reduced to 22 with the
>sole purpose of being aligned with the Hebrew alphabet. 

This makes no sense because, again, Tarot predates Mantegna.

There's are additional problems with insisting on correspondences
between the Hebrew alphabet and 22 "Trumps".  First, there is no hard
evidence or early documentation establishing correspondences between
Tarot and Cabala.  Second, in reality, there are only *21* Trumps.
Yes, occultists often say there are 22 but this would make no sense to
the early users of Tarot.  In reality the Fool is not a Trump; the
role he plays in the game of Tarot is very different from the 21
Trumps.  And let's face it, documentary evidence overwhelmingly
suggests that Tarot was a *game* until the 18th century.  So, the
underlying structure of the nonsuited cards is really 21 and 1, not
22.  Therefore, when occultists arbitrarily lump the nonsuited cards
together and come up with 22 and then insist that the early users of
Tarot related them to the Hebrew alphabet, they are almost certainly

>This set was
>combined with the minor arcana as a game and the esoteric meanings of
>the trump cards were lost until they were later realigned with the
>Hebrew alphabet and the Qabala.

And what is your evidence that they existed in the early days only to
be lost and rediscovered?  Simply saying it is so does not make it so.
Simply lumping the nonsuited cards together, noting that they number
22, and that the Hebrew alphabet coincidentally has 22 letters,
doesn't make it so.  I know of no hard evidence for your position.  Do

>Prophet 718

BTW, none of the above is meant to imply that Tarot cannot be used as
a tool of magic, etc., or that it has not been invested with much
esoteric meaning, especially since the 18th century.  It is just that
much of what we currently think of as part and parcel of Tarot (e.g.,
Cabalistic correspondences, 22 "Trumps", divination, magic, etc.)
truly dates only back to the 18th century.

For a sober presentation concerning what informed Tarot and playing
card historians say about Tarot go to:
JAMES W. REVAK - San Diego, CA, USA -
Villa Revak / A Tarot Web Site:

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