The First Book of Tarot & More!
We started e-mailing out a newsletter, which eventually was named the Tarocks Tribune. These newsletters were extensive from the beginning, so we decided to make them more accessibly by sharing them here. This is our ninth. To read them all, click on the Tribune category near the top of our blog page.
The continuation of the quest… or ‘about the history and the eventual origin of Tarot
Welcome to the second edition of the Tarocks Tribune!
Lifting the veil, a secret revealed - The recurring theme of the Tarocks Tribune, for now. We shared this with you in our first edition. In case you missed it, all our newsletters will find a home for continued perusal on our Tarocks website.
During our continuous research on the backgrounds and history of the tarot we meet with countless theories and articles that are confident in having found the ultimate answer to the origin of the tarot. As we wrote already several times, we simply cannot say which article proves to be the most authoritive or which theory is to be believed.
However, Every once in while we come across rare works that offer interesting insights and knowledge concerning the afore mentioned. Many of these books were published between 1870-1930, a period in which many famous occultists all over the world compiled their vast knowledge in voluminous and well documented books that are even today invaluable sources of reference. It is to be noted that because of their credibility – or outspoken non-credibility, some of these works form the fundament of later theories.
One of the more credible scholars was Lewis Spence (1874-1955). He wrote An Encyclopedia of Occultism, published in 1920 by C. Routledge and Sons, London.
In this invaluable reference, one of the first of its kind on the subject, Lewis Spence organized a truly vast amount of information into 2.500 dictionary style entries. These entries encompass not only both familiar terms as abracadabra, poltergeist, shemhamporash and more arcane topics as bottle imps, magic darts and tinker’s talk, but of course also Tarot. It is this entry that you will find hereafter. It is interesting that it describes the important role of the Gypsies in the spreading of tarot cards, just when we decided to add the Buckland Gypsy Fortune Telling cards to our archive…
Here is what today's tribune covers:
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Before we get started, we want to invite you to browse through our ever growing store. We now have more than 100 decks online and ready for purchase!
Tarot, Tarots, Tarocchi... More than just words
Tarot, or Tarots, is the French name for a species of playing cards, originally used for the purpose of divination, and are still employed by fortune-tellers today. Tarot cards, however, form part of an ordinary pack in certain countries southern Europe, whence the name of tarocchi given to a Italian game. The derivation of the word is Uncertain One suggestion is that these cards were so called because they were tarotées on the back; that is marked with plain or dotted lines crossing diagonally. Confirmation of this theory•may be found in the German form of the word: a tarock-karte being a card chequered on the back. Not improbably, however, there is here a confusion between cause and effect
De l'Hoste Ranking, who dismisses as "obviously worthless" the explanations of Count de Gébelin, Vaillant and Mathers, refers the name to the Hungarian Gipsy tar, a pack of cards, and thence to the Hindustani Taru. The figures on these cards are emblematic, and are believed by many to embody the esoteric religion of ancient Egypt and India, but on this subject there is much difference of opinion.
"The tarot pack most in. use," observes Ranking," consists of seventy-eight cards, of which twenty-two are more properly known as the tarots and are considered as the ‘keys’ of the tarot; these correspond with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, or, according to Falconnier and to Margiotta, with the 'alphabet of the Magi.' The suits are. Four:. wands, sceptres, or clubsanswering to diamonds; cups, chalices, or goblets, answering to hearts ; swords, answering to spades; money, circles or pentacles, answering to clubs. Each suit consists of fourteen cards, the ace, and nine others, and four court cards: king, queen, knight, and knave. The four aces form the keys of their respective suits." As already indicated, the twenty-two "keys of the tarot “, which consist of various emblematic figures, are assumed to be hieroglyphic symbols of the occult meanings of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; or, alternatively, the ‘alphabet of the Magi’. Immense antiquity is claimed for these symbols, observes Ranking. “Alliette (or by transposition) Etteilla, a French mystic of the beginning of the nineteenth century, ascribed their origin to Hermes Trismegistus, under .the name of The Book of Thoth, or The Golden Book of Hermes. Others have sought to identify the tarot with the sibylline leaves. Raymond Lully (1235—1315) is said to have based his great work, Ars Generalis sive Magna, on the application of the occult philosophy contained in the tarot.
The Bible of the Gypsys
The idea that the tarot was introduced into Europe by the Gypsies appears to have been first broached by Vaillant, who had lived for many years among the Gypsies, by whom he was instructed in their traditional lore. Much of the information thus obtained is incorporated in Les Romes, histoire vraie des vrais Bohémiens (c. 1853), La Bible des Bohémiens (1860), and La Clef Magique de la Fiction et du Fait (1863). Vaillant's theory has been fully accepted by a French writer, "Papus," who published in 1889 Le Tarot des Bohémiens: Le Plus Ancien Livre du Monde;describing•it as "la clef absolue de la science occulte." "The Gypsies possess a Bible," he asserts; yes, this card game called the Tarot which the Gypsies possess is the ‘Bible of Bibles’. It is a marvellous book, as Count de Gébelin and especially Vaillant have realized. Under the names of Tarot, Thora, Rota, this game has formed successively the basis of the synthetic teaching of all the ancient peoples."
Although it may not be possible to accept this dictum in its entirety, it is of interest to note that Ranking concludes that these and all other playing-cards were introduced into Europe by the Gypsies. I would submit, he says, writing in 1908, ‘that from internal evidence we may deduce that the tarots were introduced by a race speaking an Indian dialect; that the form of the Pope (as portrayed in the tarots) shows they had been long in a country where the orthodox Eastern Church predominated; and the form of head-dress of the king, together with the of the shape of the eagle on the shield, shows that this was governed Russian Grand Dukes, who had not yet assumed the Imperial insignia. This seems to me confirmatory of the widespread belief that it is to the Gypsies we are indebted knowledge of playing-cards. It will be seen. that conclusion is based upon independent judgment. As early, however, as 1865 - two years after the appearance Vaillant's last book - E. S. Taylor supported the same hypothesis in his History of Playing Cards. Willshire. (Descriptive Catalogues of Cards in the British Museum, 1877) controverts Taylor's conclusion, on the ground that "whether the Zingari be of Egyptian or Indian origin, they did not appear in Europe before 1417, when cards had been known for some time. But this objection is nullified by the fact that the presence of Gypsies, in Europe is now placed at a date considerably anterior to 1417. There was, for example, a well-established feudum Acinganorum, or Gypsy barony, in the island of Corfu in the fourteenth century.
To examine in detail the various emblematic figures of the tarot would demand a disproportionate amount of space. Ranking's reference to the Pope and the King points to two of these twenty-two figures. The others are: the Female Pope, the Queen, Osiris Triumphant, The Wheel of Fortune, Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Strength, Marriage, The Philosopher, The Juggler, Death, The Devil, The Fool, The Lightning-stuck Tower, The Sun, The Moon, The Star, The Universe, The Last Judgment. There is great diversity of opinion, even among "initiates," as to the meaning of these symbols. They are very fully discussed in the work of Papus already cited; to which the reader is specially referred. On the whole, there is much to be said in favour of the theory that the origin of the tarot is traceable to the esoteric philosophy of the schools of ancient Egypt and Chaldea, by whatever means it has found its way into Europe.
In addition to the works already cited, see Le Monde Primitif, by Count de Gébelin, Vol. VIll., Paris, 1781; Les Origines des Cartes a Jouer, by Merlin, Paris, 1869; The Tarot, by Mathers; London, 1888; L'Art de Tirer les Cartes, by Magus, Paris, 1895; Le walladisme, by Margistta, Grenoble, 1895; Magie, by Bourgeat, Paris, 1895, Les XXIl. Lames Hermétiques du Tarot, by Falconnier, Paris, 1896; A. E. Waite, Key to the Tarot, 1910; and J. W. Brodie-Innes, The Tarot Cards, in the "Occult Review" for February, 1919.
Finally we like to keep you up to date in regard to the special clothbound limited edition physical book which we hope will see the light in November of this year (lifting the veil….). Production is on its way and we hope to show you images of the work involved. Then, we will also reveal which book it is, what will be in it and why we think that everyone collecting tarot cards should have a copy in her or his library,
Keep following us and you will be among the first who can purchase this special edition…
The following decks have been added to the archive since the last newsletter. Just click on the name of the deck to be taken directly to its page:
1. Cagliostro Tarot Deck
2. Tarot Maçonnique
3. Oracle Dessuart
4. The Royal Fez Moroccan Tarot Deck
5. The Buckland Gypsy Fortune Telling Deck
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Finally, we hope again that this newsletter as well as the information provided on Tarocks will satisfy your expectations. In case you have any suggestions or discover any inconsistencies, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
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