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Tarot Definitions and Philosophy

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.tarot,alt.divination,alt.occult,talk.philosophy.misc
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Re: Tarot Definitions and Philosophy
Date: 12 Jan 1998 15:31:51 -0800

49980104 aa2 Hail Satan!

# >#>...'how much can a deck be changed before it can no longer be
# >#> said to be (even a nontraditional) "tarot" deck?'.

"Bob O'Neill"  regarding structure:
# ...the argument can certainly be raised that the deck called 
# "tarot" in France had 4 suits and 78 cards beginning sometime
# between 1482 and 1536.  So that has a fair claim on the definition 
# of "tarot."  

a very important point.  likely we will be able to ascertain no
ABSOLUTE definitions (this being dependent upon the views of the 
one making the distinction), yet any 'prototypical' decks such 
as you are pointing out would be very important standards for 

I'm beginning to understand a kind of taxonomy where tarot
definition is concerned through discussion with you and others:

one of the criteria levelled upon it is the structure of the
object of discussion: the material of its composition (cards,
of paper, containing images, etc.) and the specific arrangement
of the cards themselves (#, divisions, symbolic components, etc.).

another set of criteria seems to center on functional or purposive
qualities: composite and/or emblematic symbol constructs used for
divination and meditation, archetypal representations designed
to facilitate an encounter with the unconscious, implicative
graphic devices that portray a psychological and spiritual
allegory of personal maturation, etc.

# ...there are decks that I call "Tarot" that deviated from this 
# formula along the way. could change a lot of the 
# suited cards and I would still call it Tarot.

yes, it seems very difficult to draw a specific dividing line
between 'non-tarot' and 'tarot' on the basis of qualities, 
and yet we seem to be able to arrive at assessments of
individual decks.  perhaps, therefore, a COMBINATION of
contributing and valuable factors inspire the identification,
without which their CUMULATIVE absence would necessitate the 
'non-tarot' assessment.

the question then becomes which factors locatable from a 
traditional or a core modern tarot deck (e.g. Smith-Waite, 
Harris-Crowley, perhaps earlier) should be considered as
contributing toward disqualification when cumulatively absent.

I hear us talking about many here: Suits, possibly 4 of them;
Numbers, possibly 1-10 and of variable graphic quality; Courts, 
probably limited in number; Trumps, their qualities proving
a subset of criteria of their own -- of symbolic style, perhaps
with traditional predecessors, possibly associated with other
occult attributive themes, possibly of archetypal quality, etc.

without identifying any single category of the above I think
they can be roughly stated as comprising basic and important
elements of a traditional tarot deck.  it would be interesting
to compare sets of qualities which different readers and 
occultists find imperative.

# >why put a time constraint on it?  you appear here (in an
# >admitted Straw Man :>) to be deriving your definition for
# >'tarot' from an 'older is more [authentic]' perspective.  
# >what is the justification for this?

explaining 'more authentic':
# ...closer to the intent of the designers.

I'm still unsure why you choose this standard (design) over
more conceptual and less historically-based alternatives.
again, why locate the standard as relates to time?  couldn't
what could or should be called 'tarot' vary over the years?
if so, what is the logical extent of variation possible
before a deck stops being 'tarot'?  perhaps you think that
such a discernment is impossible.  if so, I'm largely
inclined to agree, though I don't know why the time-standard
necessarily therefore becomes the default.  this reminds me
very strongly of discussions I've had with people about what
constitutes a 'viable religious tradition'. ;>

# >... do you want to relate to the game of tarocci?
# I don't make a distinction between tarot and tarocchi - tarocchi is 
# the Italian word for Tarot - not something different.  I don't 
# understand the distinction you are making between game decks and
# Tarot - the Tarot deck was used to play a game and still is.

VERY interesting.  I am unfamiliar with the precise details of
how tarocci is related to or identifiable with tarot.  I understand
you to be saying that a person could take a deck of cards sold 
from a local occult shop and easily use these to play the game.
this conforms to the testimonies of a couple Italians I have 
known, but I've never heard anyone with an extensive knowledge 
of occult decks render the same verdict.  in reviewing Douglas' 
description of the game it does seem to be the case, inclusive 
of a role for the Fool (0).

my comments were mostly based on my exposure to modern *American*
playing card decks (which omit the Higher Cards and limit the
Courts to three, sometimes including a 'Joker').  I have little
exposure to other types of decks beyond that used for Pinochle
or games like Uno, Old Maid, Nuclear War, Risk, Illuminati, 
Rook and Grass.

# The deck of cards did not change when court de Gebelin discovered 
# (or rediscovered) the symbolic significance of the systems. It 
# was a Tarot deck before and a Tarot deck after. There has always 
# been a game played with the cards and there is still is.  There 
# has always been a symbolic system on the Trumps, and there still 
# is.  People's awareness of the significance of the symbols is the 
# only thing that changed - or being more radical, maybe we should 
# say that it became possible to discuss openly something that had
# been realized from the beginning.

lovely.  I would like to repost my email to Usenet and archive 
it for further study.   (I'll follow this request up in private email)

# >...are you convinced that the European prototypes are the 
# >limitations of what should be called 'tarot'?  if so, why?
# Yes, I am convinced of that - We started out to define "Tarot", 
# didn't we?

yes, but not the game (which was a particular usage of the cards).
instead I was talking about the divinatory tool (regardless of its 
identity and original structure as an Italian game).

# Well, the Europeans invented a symbolic system, placed it on cards, 
# and called it "Tarot".  There are other symbolic systems and other 
# divinatory systems, but they are not named "Tarot".

actually there are some which go by the name 'tarot', but they 
don't attempt to retain the standards you have mentioned.  the
"Osho Neo-Tarot" (cards 1-60, no divisions) is an example, as
are a few other decks I have occasionally classed as 'tarouche'
(Morgan deck if memory serves, which is mostly batch of weird
pictures of a kid named Morgan -- it's been awhile since I saw
this one, but I did like it).  new 'tarot' decks (centered not
on the historical structure but on the arcane function, 
varying the structure to suit other criteria -- inclusive of
the one I've developing) would be yet another example.

I'm not saying there are easy solutions, just that a quick
reference to prototypical standards doesn't seem necessarily
the only or best solution, and if you'd select it, then it does
seem important to explain why (which you have, apparently based
on your preference for the Italian deck originals).

#> aren't the Higher Cards usually supposed to have an archetypal 
#> significance?  if they do not, could we rule out those which 
#> don't have them as tarot decks?
# I'd rather say "symbolic significance", but yes, that is what 
# I meant.  The confusion in my mind is how MANY changes into a 
# new symbolic system would disqualify a deck?  

# many changes in the traditional symbols before the deck 
# is no longer a Tarot deck?? I don't know the answer.

it seems to me that this 'number of changes' becomes a subjective
assessment very quickly, thus my suggestion for discovering any
essentials whose cumulative absence disqualifies.  if we come up
with differentiated criteria (essentials which MUST be maintained
as compared to important items which should not in aggregate
be absent), then this would assist in the general definition.

re the Higher Cards: 
# ># Cannot specify the names or the ordering of the cards.

# >no specific names or sequence of these names is identifiable
# >as 'restriction for tarot' and yet is ANY number of cards
# >acceptable in this categority?
# ...the exact name of the cards cannot be equal to a definition
# of Tarot.

# ...we cannot use the exact ordering of the cards as a definition.

agreed, naming and sequencing conventions are unreliable.  it
seems to me that total quantity, proportion to the rest of the
deck, and appearance would be useful criteria for assessing
Higher Cards, however.

# it tarot?? ...yes... it retains the 15th century symbols 
# on the trumps.

given your standard of historical origin this is understandable.

# How about the Lenthall Deck - no trump symbols at all, but the 
# cards have divinatory meanings on them - so does their use in 
# divination make them Tarot?  I say no because the symbolism is 
# not there.

so we have 

	* Esoteric Decks, roughly and fairly subjectively 
	                  divided into two categories: 

		= divinatory cards (which I am 
		  calling 'cartouche'), 
		= tarot cards (for which we are 
		  providing some approximate specificity 
		  of definition), and 

	* Game Decks, which may or may not have the 
		      same structure as the esoteric decks.

this would seem to provide a foundation for further classification.

# And how about the Tarot of Etteilla - the first of the French 
# Occult decks? ...
# 78 cards, 15 recognizable traditional images, names mostly changed,
# ordering changed - an esoteric deck (definitely not for playing a 
# game) - lots of astrological signs scattered through the suit 
# cards.  Is that a Tarot deck??  In my opinion, yes (but that is 
# pushing it to the extremes).

yes, because of the number of changes, the cumulative quantity
of variation from the standards chosen (whatever these may be, 
either of structural -- historical or modern -- criteria or
that of functionality) will determine the qualification.  your
assessment of Ettiella is valuable provided that we understand
the standard you are using and the criteria of assessing 
cumulative qualities thereafter.

# Where would you draw the line???  I am still confused.

I don't think that being able to draw distinct lines is 
necessary in identifying elements of tarot.  what strikes me 
as more important is identifying standards from which 
evaluations CAN be made, and then providing such evaluations 
using common notions of essential qualities as they have 
appeared within historical and popular decks in 
identification with esoteric decks (rather than game decks,
even if there is overlap between these)

from these types of descriptions general discernments CAN
be made (admittedly subjective but based on solid and 
rational methods) which would allow discussion about
the specifics of structure and function without needless
quibbling based on misunderstanding.  it would be
a kind of 'tarot science' in the sense of identifying 
terminology and values without the prerequisite of 
arriving at a basic and rigidly defined set of 
requirements for what constitutes "tarot"'.  

I think this would have limited application -- to those 
who enjoy talking about the obscene and arcane details of 
tarotic design and history. :>

blessed beast!
nagasiva --;
(emailed replies may be posted);; 408/2-666-SLUG
  join the esoteric syncretism in alt.magick.tyagi; 

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