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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: Sun, 29 Oct 2000 17:54:06 GMT

On Sat, 28 Oct 2000 23:29:22 GMT, Prophet 718 

>> 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.
>I'm not trying to establish a link between qabala and the tarot prior
>to the time of Levi, 

Huh?  Much of your post indeed implies that you are trying to do just

>but it is an interesting thought that someone may
>have reduced the fifty cards of the Mantegna prints or some other
>cultural equivalent down to 22 to be aligned with the Qabala. 

There you go: you are suggesting that folks from the very beginning
aligned Tarot with Cabala.  And while this may be interesting, I still
see no hard evidence for this.

>If I had
>been a fifteenth-century qabalist I would have been compelled to do
I have another suggestion which is just as likely if not more so.  If
you had been a 15th-century Cabalist you wouldn't have cared less
about relating Cabala to a mere deck of cards used as an entertaining
game.  And until the 18th century the overwhelming mass of
documentation indicates that this is precisely how folks viewed Tarot:
as an entertaining game.

>The 22 Keys as aligned with the Hebrew letters in the Qabala symbolize
>specific cosmological ideas which sets them apart from the Minor Arcana,
>which are aligned with the ten numbers represented by the sephira on the
>tree of life.

And the Sephiroth do not symbolize specific cosmological ideas?  I
don't think so.  It was via the Sephiroth that the Universe came to
>> >I would call having 14 of 22 modern trumps represented in the
>> >prints overwhelming evidence of a direct connection between the
>> >prints and later decks.

What's so overwhelming?  I don't think it is overwhelming.  The
symbolism used in Mantegna and the early Tarot were found throughout
the culture of the Italian Renaissance.  That they show up in sundry
card games is not at all surprising.
>> >
>> This makes little sense.  As I've noted above the earliest Tarot decks
>> predate Mantegna.
>Do you mean the earliest playing decks, or the earliest tarot decks? It
>appears the term 'tarocchi' is related to the decks that contain some
>symbolism found in modern decks. If this is the case, the first Tarot
>decks appeared mid-fifteenth century at the same time as the Mantegna
>prints. Here is another link relating to the first decks:
To be as precise as possible, Tarot was invented between approximately
1420 and 1440.  Mantegna was created between about approximately 1460
and 1465.  Therefore, Tarot probably predates Mantegna.  See such well
documented sources as: Kaplan, _Encylopedia of Tarot_, v. 1 & 2;
Dummett, _The Game of Tarot_; and Dummett, _The Visconti-Sforza Tarot

>> >
>> >The seven sacred planets listed in the Jewish Kabbala are symbolized
>> >the Mantegna prints. If its a contest to see who was working with
>> >planetary ideas first, I think the Greeks win hands down.
>> Don't tell this to the Babylonians or Egyptians.
>My statement was made out of speculation as to whether the Greek or
>Hebrew culture produced esoteric symbols related to the planets,
>> >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.

You can posit this, but do you have evidence?  It is possible, but do
you have hard evidence?  I don't think so.

>> This makes no sense because, again, Tarot predates Mantegna.
>Please elaborate. From the evidence I've seen, the Visconti deck is the
>oldest tarot deck and the Mantegna prints appeared at virtually the same
>time, maybe 20 years before or after either way, for either one.
Not quite.  See above.
>> 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.
>If I associate symbols with cosmological components like planets or
>constellations, it is Qabala by another name.
Not really--unless your definition of Cabala is *extremely*
generalized.  Cabala implies a body of diverse but fairly specific
doctrines and philosophy, including the Sephiroth and
mystical/philosophical meanings attached to the Hebrew alphabet.

>  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.
>Now you're arguing applications. To the Qabalist a card without a number
>is most significant card of all.

To a Cabalist the most appropriate and logical way to symbolize the 22
Hebrew letters would be to have 22 numbered true Trumps, which Tarot
typically lacks.  Frankly, it's a no-brainer.

> In reality the Fool is not a Trump; the
>> role he plays in the game of Tarot is very different from the 21
>> Trumps.
>The Fool could have a different function from other cards due to the 22
>cards being adapted from an esoteric format to that of a game.
True, but there is no evidence of this being done until the 18th
century.  Beginning in the 18th-century occultists, using Tarot as an
esoteric "book", consider the Fool differently and assign him to what
would ultimately be called the Major Arcana.  However, this was *not*
the case prior to the 18th century.

> 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
>> wrong.
>> >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.
What specifically is your hard evidence that the Trumps were aligned
with the Hebrew alphabet and Cabala to begin with?  I don't think
there is any.

>> 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 am providing another link which shows a deck remarkably similar to the
>Mantegna prints which are based upon it, or something similar. Notable
>is the fact many of the symbols have been altered to reflect a different
> philosophical cosmology, but there are still 50 of them total. 

So.  Allegorical and/or educational games using well-known symbols
were not unusual during the Renaissance.  That such decks exist does
not imply that the early Tarot was Cabalistic unless, again, you're
using the term in an extremely generalized manner.

>stated in a paragraph above, this is exactly what I would have done:
>adapted them to other systems of ideas.  This deck dates to the
>seventeenth-century, two hundred years after the Mantegna prints were
>created; it deck serves as crucial evidence of the Mantegna deck
>amounting to more than a one-time fluke creation, 

I agree.  Allegorical card games were not unusual during the
Renaissance.  Perhaps even Tarot was considered such an allegorical
game by its creators.  But this does *not* make it Cabalistic.

>and also indicates
>there were decks either based upon, or derived from the same source as
>the Mantegna prints. 

Maybe, but hard evidence is lacking.

>The link:
>Prophet 718

I think that Tarot probably had esoteric content from the very
beginning.  It *may* even be a sort of cosmograph which bears some
resemblance to other allegorical games, like the Mantegna prints.  

It would be hard for Tarot *not* to have esoteric content, given that
esotericism and its symbolism was much studied in Renaissance Italy.
But specific Cabalistic correspondences?  I don't think so.  When
Renaissance magi and philosophers discuss Cabala in great detail and
at great length, Tarot is *never* mentioned.  Why?  Most likely they
believed that Tarot was not particularly Cabalistic and was not
invented with Cabalistic correspondences in mind.  If Tarot had been a
profoundly Cabalistic work from the beginning, as later occultists
claimed, in all likelihood someone would have discussed this during
the Renaissance.  If, on the other hand, you want to argue for a
connection between Cabalism and the early Tarot, you also have to
explain why *no* Cabalists prior to the 18th century ever mention
Tarot.  The silence is deafening.
JAMES W. REVAK - San Diego, CA, USA -
Villa Revak / A Tarot Web Site:

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