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Author Topic: Defining what's tarot, and what's a non-tarot cartomancy deck/system  (Read 7340 times)
Last Login:November 08, 2009, 10:01:39 pm
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Religion: Witch. non-practicing Gardnerian. Shamanistic.
Posts: 123

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« Reply #8: November 06, 2009, 10:14:23 am »

I note, though, that all of the decks you cite as examples of difference (with the exception of Javan, which I'm unfamiliar with, and couldn't find any references to) are 78-card decks, and are very clearly variants of tarot.  They're excellent examples of just how much room for variation there is within the scope of tarot - but they don't affect the point I and others are making, that not all cartomancy decks are tarot.

I just don't think we've defined yet what could be the limits of the tarot, and thanks to this discussion, which has got me considering it, I'm wondering whether there truly are any beyond "structured card deck with symbols designed for divination."

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.

I'm not suggesting this would be anybody's preferred type of deck.  I'm not the kind of person who would go around telling people what they should do--quite the opposite.  So when people tell me what a tarot deck must have, I ask myself, why?  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?  I'm not arguing, here: just asking.

When an artist decides to apply a different theme/storyline to the major arcana, to add cards to the majors, to re-order the majors, to rename the suits, etc, they're creating variations on the broader theme that is tarot - in all those cases, they're starting with pre-existing tarot structures and making changes to that.  When an artist chooses to devise a deck that doesn't rely on existing tarotic structures, it's not tarot.

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?

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?

(Possibly another criterion for whether a deck is tarot or not might be whether it can be used to play a trick-taking game of the sort for which tarot cards were traditionally used.  I don't think it'd be necessary for it to be a game that's interesting/entertaining to play, for a deck whose primary purpose is divination, but it should have viable game mechanics.)

I seem to recall reading a GD paper (in Regardie's GD stuff published by Llewellyn, back when Llewellyn published real information Wink ) about a game you could play using the tarot.  I admit though that for me, one of the deciding factors on what makes a deck "real" is if I can use the cards for pathworking.  One reason I tend to gravitate towards self-enclosed tarot universes, and find RW clones so boring.  Though I also admit I have far too many of the latter, because I'm a sucker for good art and symbols. Smiley

This is probably more detailed info than you needed, Balakirev, but I got to thinking that this convo was an excellent springboard for a conversation about defining tarot.  In fact, I think I won't hit post, I think I'll copy this and paste it to a new thread.

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.


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