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Author Topic: Defining what's tarot, and what's a non-tarot cartomancy deck/system  (Read 7341 times)
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« Reply #10: November 08, 2009, 05:19:56 pm »

The new thread was a great idea. Smiley And it really isn't too much information, because I think we can do one of two things: either state respective immutable positions on the tarot, for greater understanding, or see if our positions are mutable, and whether it's worth exploring where the boundaries of the tarot may lie.  Personally, I'm up for either, or both.  I do hope you (and others, here!) are interested in figuring out what makes a tarot, tarot.
It seemed like something that a divination SIG on a forum with scholarly inclinations really oughta have - and to the best of my recollection, we don't.

In considering your post, and what I wanted to say in reply, I noticed that (despite your earlier comment on wanting a definition that accounted for the older decks and their variability), you keep circling back to phrasings like "with symbols designed for divination" and "can use the deck for pathworking", which don't really accommodate those older decks.  That made me wonder if we're looking for a single answer to the question, or if we should divide it into esoteric and mundane.

Some specific points from your post:

Consider: we have Renaissance Italian decks was no fixed number of majors, and no fixed idea--many had city architectural sites within them.  We have French 18th century decks that aside from the majors are to all intents and purposes simply playing cards.  When do the elements start defining the minors, and the archetypes start defining the majors?  The mid-to-late 19th century.  I'm feeling as though if we remove the 19th century's take, we're back to a point where there's no good reason to have 78 cards, or 4 suits, or court cards.
By roughly 1600, the number of majors seems to have stabilized to 22 (except in the case of the Minchiate of Florence, which became its own distinct "line" of cards/games); I haven't run across any indications of decks with more or fewer than four suits, or whose suits lacked court cards.  I'm guessing that the Italian decks you're speaking of here were earlier?  But that's still quite a while before the 19th century.  Also, when you say "no fixed idea", is that in contrast to allegorical significances in contemporary and/or earlier decks, or to modern symbolic cohesiveness?

I'm wondering why you imply that the French 18th century decks (Tarot de Marseille family?  Or do you have others in mind?) were unique in being "to all intents and purposes simply playing cards"?

And, while the correspondences of the elements with the suits does indeed begin with Lévi in the mid-1800s, I'm doubtful about dating "archetypes defining the majors" to the 19th C.  If you mean "archetype" in the Jungian sense, Jung didn't coin his usage until the early 20th (see "archetype" in OEtymD - not that the naming is necessary to the concept, but the concept seems to me to be present in the allegorical references that arise in the tarot trumps pretty much from its beginning.

If tradition is our guide, then tradition shows us a pre-19th century definition of tarot much broader than the one that's used, today.  If we don't use the past as a definition of what the tarot physically is, then what are we to use?
Quoting this bit simply to agree with it.

The catch point for us all, I suspect, is what each of us who really thinks about it means by those structures.  If we accept the Renaissance Italian and 18th century French decks, then the tarot can include 1) minors that are just pips, 2) majors that include local landmarks which "mean" nothing for divination purposes.  What I'm getting at is that neither is conducive to divination, because what we now call tarot decks were before the 19th century not used for divination.  So do we limit ourselves to an historical starting point for defining tarot tradition with the 19th century?  And if so, must we use card attributions derived from the GD and other contemporary systems?
I don't consider conducivity to divination a necessary quality in what makes a deck a tarot deck - though it's relevant to what makes a tarot deck (or any other pack of cards) a cartomancy deck.

That said, there are quite a few references to pre-19th-C use of tarot cards for fortune-telling.  (Which begs the question of whether fortune-telling and divination are synonymous, or two different things, or are not identical but have overlap in greater or lesser degree - possibly worthy, or even necessary, of discussion, but a whole topic in itself.)

And, tarot not only used but designed for divination predates the 19th C, with Etteilla's deck.  That'd be a nitpick if it were just about the dozen give-or-take years by which it predates that century-turn, but it predates the founding of the GD by a century, so it's one way in which card attributions aren't limited to the GD and its contemporaries.  Etteilla, and his contemporary Court de Gebelin, mean that there's a strong case for placing the historical starting point of the esoteric tradition of tarot (or, the modern esoteric tradition, if one counts the allegorical and cosmographic components of medieval tarot as esoteric) in the 1780s.

(On another tangent, that of the mundane, card-playing tradition of tarot:  while in English-speaking countries "tarot" virtually always refers to the esoteric tradition, in many other European countries the card games are still played.)

If not, what's to stop us from calling a tarot an attribution system with 5 suits, as in the Chinese medical system?  Okay: here's a non-physical tarot in my non-physical hands that's just like that.  What stops it from being a tarot?  It's got 8 majors for the 8 Immortals, and the suits employ cards based on the I Ching tetragram combinations.  (I'm just winging the creation of this, so please don't be offended by my non-existent deck's superficiality.)  There are even court cards, based on revered figures of Chinese bureaucracy and mythos.  (The Chinese are kind of...unusual in their love of well-oiled bureaucratic machines.  At least, to us.)  It looks to me as though this is a tarot deck.  But with 5 suits, is it?
A pretty problem!  I would say that it's not a tarot deck, but not because it has five suits; it's because - aside from you, its creator, taking inspiration from traditional tarot structure to organize it into majors + minors in suits with court cards - what you're organizing is not derived from the tarot tradition, in any way or from any point in that tradition's history.  (OTOH, it's more tarot-inspired than any non-tarot cartomancy deck I can think of.)


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