By Christine Payne-Towler
ArkLetter 85, March 22, 2012
This month we are circling around a topic that has always demanded my closest attention. The question is, "At what point in history would the numbers on the Trumps of Tarot have first become affiliated with the general Doctrine of Correspondences, which is the bedrock for European esotericism?"
Anyone who has read my work through the years has watched me approach this question from multiple angles, from write-ups on ancient alpha-numeric conventions to technical descriptions of contemporary magic, from highlighting the interconnectedness of Cabbalistic and Pythagorean philosophy to detailing the alchemical healing matrix of ancient astrology. It has all been directed towards the goal of opening modern minds to the esoteric synthesis that was current when Tarot was still young and fresh in Europe's experience. Following that theme, this article will offer some perspective on the cultural developments that led to the theosophy of Jacob Boehme and the magical Christians of the 1600's, whose worldview we are showcasing in The Tarot of the Holy Light.
For some context on the Doctrine of Correspondences, a nice short exposition can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_correspondences . This was one of the first magical constructs I became curious about when in noticed in the mid-1970's that every Tarot I could get my hands on seemed to bear a different canon of astrological referents on the Trump cards (and on the pips too in some cases). Having been from the start inclined to take my Continental Tarot teachers seriously (primarily Levi, Papus, Wirth and Sadhu), I looked past the various superficial divergences to find the shared bedrock of their communal ideas. This approach led me right into the darkest heart of modern occult controversies, at first regarding Tarot correspondences, but eventually regarding the whole historical Doctrine and the way that it was used across the centuries. While shadowboxing with both deliberate misdirection and accidental ignorance, it has slowly became clear that among modern Tarotists, the phrase "Doctrine of Correspondences" is habitually used in an ironic fashion, as if it were long past common knowledge that the term has been deconstructed into meaninglessness (or into a hundred different fractal shards of itself) by now.
The Bedrock of Western Esotericism
It is true that a heroic effort has been made to cover over and deface the remarkable consistency that characterizes this Doctrine across the Renaissance and Reformation. Luckily the effort has not succeeded, since this Doctrine stands on some of the firmest bedrock available to western esotericism -- the ancient teachings of astronomy. In the last 50 years, an increasing stream of specialized researchers has done yeoman duty to clarify this misunderstanding. Upon closer examination it becomes obvious that this Doctrine is not only older than originally surmised, but also considerably more sturdy and widespread, having survived fundamentally unaltered from Antiquity right up into the 20th century before it started to come under attack and become temporarily obscured. Christopher Lehrich, theorist of the magical paradigm and exegete of Cornelius Agrippa, is one who has taken great pains to demonstrate that the very vocabulary of magic presuppose expertise in spelling, reading, calculating and symbolizing with spiritually-scientific clarity. Contrary to modern belief, the traditional magus would probably be quite confused and uncomfortable with the anything-goes spirit of contemporary magical applications!
The more I read and research, the more firm I am in the position that the appearance of the full Tarot pack of 78 cards happened very intentionally -- this was not an arbitrary or whimsical development. Those Europeans who responded to the Mamluk pack, first by adding in a set of Queens, and then by creating a set of 22 extra cards, consciously intended to open out the playing-card idea into a whole new dimension both of meanings and of applications. The fact that it took these particular cards to make the pack seem complete, is because the resulting outline of 78 discreet "pockets" is the best possible holder for a body of information that was already demonstrating that exact shape and dimension.
Certain themes repeat over and over through the imagination of humanity, wherever and whenever we find ourselves. The numbers and letters of the world's sacred alphabets, linked as they are to both astronomical features of the deathless sky and psycho/spiritual qualities of human consciousness, furnished Europe with a perfect body of alchemical correspondences. In the sequence of the 22 letters of the "magical alphabet" (most often Hebrew), we find a matrix of numerological and astrological values that ties together multiple mystery traditions of antiquity. And in truth, if any human teaching qualifies as The Perennial Tradition, that would be the super-ancient discipline of astrology!
A full accounting of the influences that came to bear on the creation of the Trumps is still making its way into focus. There has been so much lost into the mists of history, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This is why I constantly default back to Tarot's extremely canny mathematical construction, which allows the 78-card pack to play host to a number of traditional symbol-sets. Even without a formal manual, this interior structure gives testimony of the world-view that created the Tarot out of the "loose parts" of the indigenous European magical matrix.
In particular the ancient Hebrew treatise called Sefer Yetzirah donated the perfect framework of astro-alpha-numeric mysticism, first for Hebrew culture, then for the Western world's astrological, Masonic and alchemical communities. By grafting the traditional letter-associations to the Trump numbers, the Tarot pack shines transcendent light into the obscure and seemingly random events of daily life. Through its inherent design, the 78 cards embrace all the celestial constants -- the 12 Zodiacal Signs (often called Houses in the Middle Ages and Renaissance), the 10 Pythagorean Numbers, the 7 visible Planets, and the array of traditional elements (air, fire, water and earth).
Once this spectrum of pure potentials is 'dealt out' traditionally into the 78 'pockets' of the complete pack, the resulting meaning-mesh spans the same Three Worlds referred to by Dante; celestial, psychological and material. Since the same astro-mathematics can be found at the roots of all the Abrahamic religions, embedded in all their different alphabets, this allows the Tarot to serve as a multicultural esoteric computer without having recourse to calculations, complicated tables and exacting measurements. For present experimentation, one can use any Marseille-style pack of 78 cards as an appropriate exemplar for the historical "realm" in which this discussion takes place.
The Poly-lingual Influence of Troubadour Culture
Certain of Tarot's forefathers had their cultural roots in the Troubadour movement, which took hold after the destruction of the Templars and the waning of the old courtly culture. This phase of Tarot pre-history is marked by Europe's first awakening to the language, literature and culture of non-Christian lands. Suddenly the Christians of Europe become self-conscious in the glare of contrast supplied by exposure (especially in Italy and Spain) to the Holy Land, North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and the world beyond. The broadening effects of travel and learning foreign languages created a whole new class of people in Europe -- namely, those who could raise their thinking beyond the circumscribed limits of Catholic teachings. << See http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2007/06/body_as_cosmos.html >> This is also the era in which the first fully formed graphs and scientific-style charts appeared in European manuscripts, when numeracy and literacy really takes off in Europe. The resulting enhancement in logic and structured thought is one of the benefits of the cultural encounter between East and West.
One visionary who opened up new vistas to his era's imagination was the 10th century's expert on Revelations, Joachin di Fiori. Fiori's inter-religious studies crystallized in his heart a prophecy of a coming Age of the Holy Spirit, a longed-for time when all the separate denominations and religious faiths would come together as one with Love as their constant. To evoke this new dispensation, Fiori commandeered all the resources of religious esotericism in the paradoxical act of demonstrating that true spirituality stems from direct communion with (and even immersion in) Spirit, as mediated through Nature. Fiori taught the necessity of becoming a Fool for God, leaving behind all worldly occupations and advancements in order to free one's heart and mind for direct contact with the Divine. To penetrate behind the veil of official translations (which are always edited in ways that serve the translator), he traveled to the Holy Land, learning Hebrew and Aramaic (besides the scholarly languages of Greek and Latin). He was passionate to understand the Old Testament, in order to discourse with people from all spiritual traditions. Fiori's liberating inclusiveness, which the Church failed to effectively censor, later inspired the longstanding European non-religious heresy known as the Brethren of the Free Spirit. << http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joachim_of_Fiore >> We might consider Fiori an early articulator of the Religion of the World, which plays such a prominent part in the visualization of the Tarot Trumps.
Another forefather of Tarot can be found in Raymond Lully, whose recombinant wheels and alphanumeric focus set created the perfect pre-condition for Tarot's later appearance. His harnessing of the number-letters into a house-wheel type chart (resembling that of Astrology) taught Europe how to think in moving categories, beyond fixed grids into ever-shifting variables that can make multiple associations easily. Some modern experts in computation theory consider him a pioneer of their discipline. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramon_Llull >>.
In the later years of the 1100's came the great poet, theologian and linguist Dante, the West's visionary traveler between the Three Worlds. His esoteric gift asserted itself in the deft interweaving of Classical and vernacular languages, crafted with such lucidity that he is widely considered the father of the Italian tongue. Dante's literary journey through the timeless, invisible levels of creation (from heaven to hell, and every level in between, arrayed in three levels with seven divisions each) did more to help the common man visualize the spirit world than all the previous theological treatises combined. << http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Dante_Alighieri>>
Another alphanumeric mystic among the visionaries of the late middle Ages was the holy Saint Frances of Assisi. Assisi's radical theological critique challenged Renaissance spiritual materialism, thus riveting the attention of the poor and powerless. He attached his teaching mission to the symbolic letter Tav (as a symbol of Christ and the Cross). This provides part of our logic for putting the THL Fool on the final letter of the alphabet (see a short but lovely synopsis of this view here http://www.sjconvent.org/).
So, by the beginning of the 1200's, we can already see the habit of thought that will organize the invisible world alphabetically and hierarchically, using ranks derived from the rungs of the "ladder of lights" first taught by ancient astrology. Each century produced certain individuals who labored to carry the Wisdom Tradition forward, some of them working within ecclesiastical channels. Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa and Jerome Cardan are four such emissaries who come to mind here.
The capstone of this effort came in the 1500's when William Postel, devoted student of Lully and Fiori, took the giant step of making mastering Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkic, Syriac and other Semitic languages. Postel personally brought the Zohar, the Sefer Yetzirah and the Bahir into print, first in Hebrew and then in Latin translation, in order to make these resources more widely available in Europe. The section called Works in the Wikipedia article on Postel, demonstrates the inter-religious insight that Postel possessed in great measure. <<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillaume_Postel>> But he also made some discoveries that made him unpopular with the Clergy who were his contemporaries. (The Inquisition investigated him for heresy, but under close examination his devotion to the visions of his friend Mother Johanna was judged to be a form of insanity, as was his blatant advocacy of reincarnation.) Postel's last 11 years were spent under house arrest at his monastery, in hopes of quelling his influence. Nevertheless, Postel's student Gaffarel became the librarian to Cardinal Richelieu.
As an aside, let me remark that his particular progression of polyglot magical philosophers supplied a tremendous stream of inspiration and role modeling to Boehme, Franckenberg and their fellow theosophers of the 1600’s. It would be so interesting to speculate the degree to which the Protestant Theosophers had been exposed to the locally produced Tarots, or if so, which one? Might they have been able to play with the pagan-esque Lombardy or the alchemical Vivielle packs? Right now it isn't known whether they took the time to interact with Tarot cards at all, but I would somehow doubt it, since they were mostly Protestants and therefore disapproving of such trifles. Yet when one looks over Boehme's personal artistic catalogue, much less that of the talented visionaries who followed after him, there is an exquisite iconic sensibility that pulses through the combination of loaded words and saturated imagery, each piece is undeniably alive and communicative.
A multipronged discussion unfolding right now over at Aeclectic Tarot forum (http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=171379&page=3) is examining the various developments that happened in Europe in the century before the Etteilla pack emerged. I'm hoping that, if we all keep drilling and refining and sharing, eventually we'll be able to pin down which cards were in whose hands during these magic-saturated times.
Ficino Introduces the Monad
Now that we have set out some context for the astro-alpha-numeric Doctrine of Correspondences, it's time to examine the academic testimony gathered by modern historians on the subject. I'm thrilled to report that there are more and more esotericists who have managed to penetrate the deliberate fog of obscurity that has hovered over this numinous, shape-shifty, "imaginal" ground of inter-religious and inter-disciplinary esotericism from which Tarot sprung. This should help us more concretely enter into the thinking of those who built into the Tarot Trumps a path of ascent up the Ladder of Lights that returns the fallen soul to Heaven.
In several instances below, I will refer to a wonderful volume by Gyorgy E. Szonyi, entitled John Dee's Occultism: Magical Exaltation Through Powerful Signs ( SUNY, 2004). I choose Szonyi as my contact at this point because a) he makes a thorough exposition of the so-called Doctrine of Exaltation, and b) he does an excellent job of reviewing the history of magic across Europe, right up to and during Boehme's lifetime (which overlapped with that of Dee).
This longstanding ideal of exaltation is anchored in the idea of making contact higher consciousness in the person of an Angel, in particular one's own unique "holy guardian angel". By no means did this theme first come up in the 20th century, or even in mid-1500! The Monas Hieroglyphica that cemented Dee's reputation actually refers to a symbol that a number of magi had been discussing and investigating for at least a century already before Dee took it up as his rallying-cry. All who contemplated it believed that this powerful sign served as a summary of everything elevated about the human design, providing a key to unlock those of our human potentials that are "made in the image of God". The Monas offers a map of sorts, around which the energy-body of the magus can be organized, for his quest to penetrate the astral plane.
Renaissance Europe first heard the word in the translation of the Hermetic Tractates made by Ficino for his patron Lorenzo d'Medici. The idea of a universal key to human development proved so psychologically "sticky" and attractive that even a century later we find a number of European magi doodling with their own versions of the Monad. Boehme called the achievement of this level of self-organization "the Tincture", and he assures us that the aura of a person who has been illuminated in this way will be forever after changed, in a way that is visible to other illuminati.
Speaking of Ficino, let me just quote to you a few lines from Syzonyi's recounting of Ficino's impact on the history of magic. While you read this, remember that the whole occult milieu right to the cusp of the 18th century was still grounded in exactly this worldview, due to the line of magicians who followed after Ficino (as mentioned above). What we are reading here is a short description of the contents of Ficino's Three Books on Life , a collection of commentaries on Plato's works that was first released in 1489. Brian Copenhaver says this work is "… the fullest Renaissance exposition of a theory of magic and the most influential such statement written in post-classical times." (cited by Szonyi from Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius in a new English translation with notes and introduction edited by Copenhaver, Brian P.; Cambridge University Press, 1992)
"The first chapter of this famous book again recapitulates some basics of the organic world picture and the correspondences: the celestial powers, the World Soul, the planets, and the demons. Ficino, following Plotinus and the hermetic tradition, asserts that each planet and the houses of the zodiac have their demons and governing angels, which translate the will of the World Soul (Anima mundi) toward the inferior spheres.
"The system of will transfer (in Plotinus, 'emanation') sustains the harmony of the world (chapter 2), a notion which became a central component of the Renaissance world model, primarily due to Ficino and the other Neo-Platonist philosophers. As the miniature model of the cosmos, the human soul is capable of absorbing the strength of the World Soul through the rays of Sol or Jupiter. This is how one becomes of solar or jovial temperament (chapter 4). The point is that all these astral forces can be used for medical purposes in order to improve man's physical and mental functioning (chapter 10).
"In chapter 13 Ficino introduces the concept of talismanic magic, probably borrowed from the Picatrix…" (p. 84)
Pulling out the nouns, and with my own comments [bracketed] we have --
- celestial powers [signs, planets, Sun, Moon, Stars, angels -- this is an astrological scheme at base]
- World Soul and Harmony of the World [representative of the Wisdom Tradition and the number/letter scheme as a whole -- AKA Sophia, Holy Spirit, Divine Feminine archetype of the magical Christians]
- a 'system of will transfer' that 'translates the will of the World Soul toward the inferior spheres" [as above, so below]
- Planets [rulers of the Signs, houses and elements, active agents of change and growth]
- houses of the zodiac [a standard way of referencing the 360 degrees of the year, broken into 12 Signs comprising the Wheel of time]
- demons and governing angels [Shem angels within the decimates; also the angels of the Signs, Planets, Winds and etc.]
- man as miniature model of the cosmos [Adam Kadmon as a role model for the theurgist magus -- an aspiration towards androgyny and the re-assumption of the angelic nature]
- focus on Sol and Jupiter as benefics and healing influences [movement towards evolution, higher consciousness]
- talismanic magic [seals and signatures that bind the lower entities to the exalted will of the magus]
Although I won't reproduce the whole section, a few pages previous in Szonyi one can read a marvelously evocative passage by Ficino on 'Love as a magus' , citing the power of attraction to become enchantment that draws things of like nature together. A few paragraphs beyond the above quote we find mention of "a seven-grade typology of celestial influences according to the seven planets". All of these ideas clustered together form a strong impression of the way a magical practitioner envisioned the magic of correspondences to work for, on and through him or her.
Here with Ficino we are at the edge of the 1500's, and already we see a body of correspondences that a neutral observer could attach to a Marseilles-style pack. Might "the most influential [magical] statement written in post-classical times" seem like an opportune source to refer to when trying to make sense of the Tarot in 1500? Absolutely, easily, because these are standard values that quite naturally leap onto the Tarot unbidden. Imagine what an educated theurgist would think, to learn that s/he could purchase an extra 22 especially illustrated Trumps for his or her playing-card pack. The 7-grade typology is as old as the Planetary Governors, so it is a natural approach to organizing the Trumps within their archetypal three septenary sets, no matter which sequence one might ascribe according to their rank in play. At least some users would also be happy to project the 22-unit magical alphabet onto the Trumps as well, especially after the cards started displaying their Numbers on their faces. 12 Houses of the Zodiac is clear, that is the Royalty of each suit, allowing the Pages to announce the Solstices and Equinoxes. Knowing a little something about astrology further explains the Elements both heavenly and earthly. Astrological convention also provides the population of 'demons and angels' that, through their natural affinity with the Signs, would come to populate the Pythagorean pips pack.
I have a feeling that if I were studying Tarot in this period, and was so fortunate as to acquire a copy of Ficino's book, I'd be tempted to make it my Tarot manual right then and there!
The Pursuit of Exaltation through the Monad
One term practitioners have shared across the generations to indicate this supreme personal goal of Angelic contact is 'the exaltation'. The term is used by astrologers, alchemists, meditators and theurgists. 'Exaltation' points to a timeless moment of magical self-elevation so total and transformative that an opening is made to the realm of the Invisibles. I have previously written about this self-renewing goal of all mystics in the article Theogenesis <<http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2005/12/theogenesis.html>>. I also explored a specific progression of Trumps designed to illustrate this fall-and-regeneration myth in my article about the Lazzarelli Trump set now located at the Vatican <<http://www.tarotarkletters.com/2007/09/tarot-spheres-m.html>>. This historical phenomenon alone -- the artistic and esoteric work of art that Ludovico Lazzarelli made to explain the Mantegna Icons to the Tarot, and explain the Tarot to the Mantegna Icons -- should forever settle the issue of whether Tarot is, or ever was, esoteric. However, we have a grave lack of generalists amongst the current generation of Tarot historians, so it is hard to find even a few who are able to see Tarot in its integral connectedness to magic, occultism, metaphysics and esotericism.
The Monad's symbolization of humanity's innate divine design was distilled in Dee's tiny but powerfully suggestive Monas Hieroglyphica, or Hieroglyphic Monad (first published in 1564). As mentioned above, the term monad or Monas was not coined by Dee, nor did it originate among the magi of the Renaissance, but it commanded utmost respect among the theurgic magi who were striving to climb the magicians' path to transcendence. Both the title and the concept appeared to European thinking with Ficino's translation of the Corpus Hermeticum. The Monad is introduced in the title of Chapter 4, translated as Mercurii ad Tatium Crater, sieve Monas. To pick up Szonyi's remarks p. 166 - 67,
"The very first sentence of the text refers to that magical language/grammar… considered as the main idea behind Dee's Monas:
'Since the craftsman made the whole cosmos by reasoned speech, not by hand, you should conceive of him as present, as always existing, as having made all things as the one and only and as having crafted by his own will the things that are.' (4.1; quoted from Copenhaver 1992, p. 15)
"The passage then speaks about man's exaltation: 'The man became a spectator of god's work. He looked at it in astonishment and recognized its maker.' (4.2) And 'God shared reason among all people.' (4.3). In the conclusion of the chapter, Hames explains the mystery of the unit of oneness, the monad:
'The monad, because it is the beginning and root of all things, is in them all as root and beginning. Because it is a beginning, then, the monad contains every number, is contained by none, and generates every number without being generated by any other number.' (4.10; Copenhaver 1992, p. 17)
"This is exactly how Dee's monad works: it represents oneness but one can derive from it all numbers, all letters, in fact all (alphanumeric) systems of information. Ficino's commentary to this locus emphasizes the exaltio of man catalyzed by numbers: Mox unitatis, & numerorum analogia, ad veram monadem cogitandam, verosque nature numeros nos elevat. Haec Crater." (Ficino 1576, 2:18, 42-43)
In response to this numinous and exciting Hermetic revival, France of the 1500's developed such a lively and creative esoteric culture that it managed to break through the obscurity that usually veils these subjects, to the extent of "outing" itself and sharing the magical paradigm in the public sphere. During this era, the boundaries between magic, art, religion and personal inspiration were blurred by those hardy souls who were willing to culture within themselves the capacity for self-transcendence. The artist took up Hermes' staff and led the way as bard, theurgist, shaman and priest of nature. History didn't allow this movement to last, but during this era, inspired visionaries produced art, literature and music as adjuncts to their magical workings, all pointed towards this aesthetic and spiritual goal of self-transcendence.
Two of Dame Frances Yates' excellent volumes deal with this subject. The first, The French Academies of the Sixteenth Century (Routledge, 1947), addresses the cultural phenomenon from an exoteric point of view. Her mature follow-up, The Occult Philosophy In The Elizabethan Age (Routledge, 1979) addresses the interior magical worldview that carried these artists to their heights of creativity. Between them, these two volumes provide a trustworthy overview of just how pervasive, fundamental and intertwined this whole esoteric stream was with the unfolding of European arts and culture.
In The Occult Philosophy, Yates devotes a chapter to Francesco Giorgi (1466 - 1540), which summarizes his short but immense (and immensely-influential) catalogue. Even to this day Giorgi's writings have never been fully translated into English, despite their signal importance to the times and to the future esoteric movements whose development he informed (Yates specifically points to Rosicrucianism and the works of Robert Fludd.) Yates credits Giorgi with having a complete command of the most sophisticated Hebrew theorizing of the era, comparable with Reuchlin in the Germanic countries, and Cardinal Edigius de Viterbo in Italy.
"…like Pico, [Giorgi] could see the many connections and correspondences between the Hebrew gnostic system and the teachings of the supposed 'Hermes Trismegistus', which were also given a Christian interpretation. These influences were completely integrated into Giorgi's Neo-Platonism in which was included the whole tradition of Pythagoro-Platonic numerology, of world and human harmony, even of Vitruvian theory of architecture, which, for Giorgi had a religious significance connected with the Temple of Solomon. . . The secret of Giorgi's universe was number, for it was built, so he believed, by its Architect as a perfectly proportioned Temple, in accordance with unalterable laws of cosmic geometry." (Occult Philosophy, p. 29-30)
"The word One, or Monas, fall constantly from Giorgi's pen, usually accompanied by a cluster of names of the authorities from whom he derives this concept. As Vasoli puts it, 'Giorgi wishes to be the carrier of a wisdom capable of including Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Frances of Assisi, Plato and the Cabalists, Plotinus and Augustine, in the common understanding of the arcana mundi and of the spiritual destiny of man in the return to the inaccessible One.' " (p. 33)
The point of including these remarks about Giorgi is to reaffirm for the mid 1500’s a vision of the soul’s pilgrimage of restitution or ascension, grounded in an already-mature synthesis of the Cabbalistic and Pythagorean revelations. We see again the preoccupation with the Monas, the Masonic concern with the Sacred Architect and the Temple of Solomon, grounding in the prisci theologia and all the pre-assumptions of the Hermetic magic of the exaltation. The presence of practical occultism alongside Giorgi's involvement with exoteric politics (as a member of the committee that advised Henry VIII about his first divorce, for example), shows that by this time, the Masonic synthesis of inner magical self-cultivation mixed with outer power politics has fully penetrated the courts of Europe.
For perspective, this is the era of the Anonymous Parisian Tarot, on the faces of which we see the heraldic crests of several powerful families who were known to be engaged in both economic and religious disputes. Here again it seems that the vessel of Tarot manages to simultaneously serve visionary and esoteric ideals while also reflecting political struggles at the cultural level. These correspondences cut both ways!
A hint for those who are using the Tarot of the Holy Light; our 5 of Disks offers another representation of the Monas, in this case focusing on the magnetic and fascinating aura of an individual who possesses a high degree of this energy of illumination, called charisma. The brilliance and creativity of shape-shifty Mercury seems to promise endless miracles, though a wise and experienced person knows that a promise in itself guarantees nothing -- will power and sustained application are the "magic" that ultimately transfers potentials into actuals. Yet we want to believe, under the charmed influence of the Monas, that a time-collapsing trans-substantiation is nearly within reach. It is this magical potential that the Renaissance and Reformation magi were reaching for through their contemplation of esoteric symbolism.
Signs of the Completed Reverse Emanation
Another word for theogenesis that Szonyi uses throughout his investigation, is reverse emanation. This phrase refers to using magical means to reverse the Fall and climb back along the path that humanity first descended, to return to the source of the Soul's origins 'on high'. Cabbalists might recognize the idea as a Christian response of the Doctrine of the Tzimtzum << see:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzimtzum >>, in which God creates an arena for time/space to appear by contracting his effulgence, leaving a void for Humanity to grow into. The whole idea of the Tree and all of its parts appears in the wake of this contraction and opening.
At the level of the deep psyche, this is exactly the experience that individual souls must endure in order to prepare themselves for eternal life beyond the flesh envelope. Within the inner consciousness of the magical practitioner, an opening is carved out, to then be populated with the archetypes of the Divine Organism. This invisible body is then fed and cultured, evolved and refined, until it becomes the true center of gravity for the incarnation, and takes over the functions that the body and ego used to perform in self-ignorance. This is the point when an ordinary person would be dubbed an illuminatus, an awakened one.
After reviewing the history of esotericism in the west, placing Dee in context, exposing his working ideas, and then demonstrating their downstream influence on subsequent magical productions, Szonyi culminates his volume on Magical Exaltation by proffering a series of 16th century designs that, one after the other, reveal contemporary geometrical and alchemical symbolism of the exaltation. One example submitted in this summary is from the title page of Jacob Boehme's Signatura rerurm (Amsterdam, 1682) <<link to source through illustration at right>>
Another one of Szonyi's proof-images is Epigram XXI of Michael Maier's Atalanta fugiens (Oppenheim, 1618). <<link to source through illustration at left>>
Interestingly, Maier's figure is also is a central figure in Timothy Hogan's The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual. Both Szonyi's formal and scholarly volume and Hogan's super-condensed little monograph prove invaluable to our investigation of Reformation esotericism, because Dee, Boehme and Meier shared the era along with it's preoccupations, intrigues, and historical resources. Szonyi's meticulous accounting of the literary and magical antecedents of Dee's quest for magical inspiration can be taken as virtually parallel to the esoteric education of Boehme, the primary theorist of the system we are sharing through the Tarot of the Holy Light. The signal exception is that Boehme was raised in Silesia (in Bohemia) a region that preserved and specialized in the life and teachings of Paracelsus. The English Doctor Dee was an interested visitor to this magical realm of the Teutonic philosophers, but Boehme was a permanent resident.
Climbing the Ladder of Lights
In the context of the reverse emanation, we can now fully appreciate the 'Ladder of Lights' model, proving that it is more than just a suggestive poetic allusion. The ancient rulership diagram that governs the relationships among the signs, which illustrates the ancient Doctrine of Essential Dignities, actually looks like a ladder superimposed on the Zodiac, with one step for each of the Planets descending from Saturn's two signs at the top, and completing with the Sun and Moon signs forming a pair on the bottom step. One might also note that the Kabala Tree is also a ladder with three crossbars (the Mother Letters), representing the three original Elements (fire, water, air), with earth as the pediment (Malkuth).
The internal structure of the Mantegna icons and the Tarot Trumps also demonstrate a similar hierarchical worldview, starting with the "earthly man" at the bottom of the sequence and climbing up to the Virgin of the World, who appears among the Lights and Judgment at the peak. I have written up a fairly extensive introduction to the Ladder of Lights in my article called Stoicheon-Somata Tarot. <<http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2007/12/stoicheion-soma.html>> One can also encounter a specifically gnostic treatment of the Descent (and the subsequent visionary technology for ascent) in my article Sophia, Holy Word. <<http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2007/05/sophia_holy_wor.html>> In every case where this myth-of-origins comes up, the immortal soul is seen as trapped in a time/space body at the bottom of the ladder, enmeshed in karmas and forgetful of it's divine origins. The religious (or knightly or poetic or initiatory or visionary or romantic or healing) quest is finally engaged when the soul desires to look up, reach beyond the material world, and challenge itself to return again to its native land and realm of origin.
That being said, between Boehme/Dee/Maier and the time of Etteilla at the end of the 1700's, more than 150 years of development in the magical quest for a language of spirits based on the Doctrine of Correspondences continued to unfold. Not only did the European political situation develop a greater desire for secrecy and intrigue, but also, over the interim a much wider catalogue of spiritual influences were resurrected from ancient literature and tabulated into the number/letter matrix. We should not for a minute imagine that these interdisciplinary and inter-dimensional studies, with all of their mystically evocative power, ever strayed far from the minds of the European magi
Esoteric Signs and Magical Imagery
Luckily for Tarot historians, certain questions relevant to Tarot's development are being answered by the very effort of defining esotericism as an object of study. The implications of those results should eventually be filtering out to the corner of the intellectual playing field that hosts the Tarot scholars. For example (to stay with Szonyi for another moment since he's close at hand), let's view a discussion of the three approaches to reading images according to three different schools of thought employed by the European scholastics of Dee's era. In Syzonyi's words,
"The three traditions are the following: didactic (metaphor, the Aristotelian tradition), revelative (symbolic intuitive, the Platonic tradition), magical (powerful esoteric signs, the hermetic tradition.)
"The didactic metaphor is the expression of an idea, the product of intellectual activity. Its function is decorative and entertaining, it has to improve the poverty of the language, and it possesses a certain explanatory, illustrative power in order to make discursive speech clearer.
"The Platonic tradition, however, attributed a different power to the symbolic image. For the Neo-Platonist the image was a revelation of something higher, that is, a metaphysical truth that could not be expressed by discursive speech. Consequently the image was not considered the product of rational thinking, but of a momentary intuition, which all of a sudden could enlighten the observer. . . .
"An extreme case of the revelatory image is the esoteric sign which has magic power. It does not only symbolize the intuitively perceptible truth but it is a representation of the idea (deity or demon) itself. This is how the medals of the zodiacal decans have healing power in Ficino's De vita colitis comparanda, this is how Faustus can compel Mephistophilis to appear in his magic circle, and this is how Dee and Kelly could call angels by the help of their 'great seal.'. . . " (p. 287, paragraph divisions my own)
What we are anchoring with these remarks is the realization that through the doctrine of correspondences and in light of the central importance of the Sefer Yetzirah, Tarot is an esoteric production. Tarot's purpose-built outline connects it to the catalogue of esoteric signs (through its numbers and their inherent correspondences with planetary, zodiacal and elemental symbols), which are direct representations of the deity or demon being referred to. By definition then, Tarot became a tool for esoteric exploration at the point the Trumps got their numbers.
Having just taken the above ideas onboard, let's visit another excellent exposition on the inherently magical nature of Tarot imagery, found in a penetrating article by one of the founding fathers of the modern academic discipline of Western Esotericism, Wouter J.Hanegraaff: http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeII/Sympdevil.html This article also helps us to bring the Trump series created by Ludovico Lazzarelli into focus for the larger history of Tarot. It astounds me that the community of Tarot historians continues to overlook this amazing revelation that Hanegraaff has left at our doorstep, but here it is when we are ready to understand it.
I continue to hope that issues discussed in this excellent article become more well known in the global Tarot parlors, so we can better appreciate the bold visionary and magical inspiration of our esoteric ancestors. It's time that we all realize the plethora of occult inference and psycho-spiritual self-cultivation teachings that were originally collated and condensed into our so-called playing cards!
The challenge for future Tarot historians will be to gain more sophistication about the bone structure and interior symmetries marking out Tarot as a favorite tool among the western oracles. Modern historians focus too much on the ebb and flow of fashion and style expressed on the faces of the cards, which makes us miss the constants that, like a fossilized footprint, hold the Tarot into its unchangeable form. It has become abundantly clear that we can expect to find a varying mix of window-dressing and pastiche plastering over the innate construction seams of virtually every Tarot deck that has ever appeared. This should not daunt us, confuse us, or make us feel cynical about the creator(s) and their intentions for this esoteric tool.
Every era seems to present social and political problems that forced some of its magi to veil or dissimulate their messages to avoid the possibly fatal consequences attendant upon upsetting Kings, Popes, and political parties. But now several generations of careful but open-minded cultural archeologists have shown the clear light of historical research into these shady realms, we really do have a clearer idea than ever before about how the progression of western esotericism unfolded. Thanks to the growing ranks of intrepid esoteric researchers, we no longer need be intimidated by the vast scale of the challenge of bringing all these layers into focus, the magical artifice as well as the esoteric sincerity. Slowly we are gaining the needed perspective to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Before we leave off with Szonyi, let me quote his closing words, and hope that my reader can glean the sense in which I pass this on:
"I hope to have convincingly shown that cultural symbolization inextricably intertwined with the occult philosophy not only until the time of the Scientific Revolution but that it keeps on to being active. I also hope that John Dee has well served to demonstrate the workings of intellectual syncretism so characteristic for the epistemological techniques of many early modern Europeans. Since these techniques have not disappeared eve after the Cartesian turn, we ought to examine the history of esotericism with the best scholarly means at our disposal.
"At the conclusion of this book I remind my reader once again that while until recently, magically-minded intellectuals like John Dee were examined from the perspective of science history, today we should rather be inclined to assess them in their own right, as representatives of an integral and alternative system of thought. Such an approach to Renaissance magic (and to modern occultism) may hopefully yield an ever more refined understanding." (p. 299)
It is this "intellectual syncretism so characteristic of the epistemological techniques of many early modern Europeans" that I want to highlight here. I used to be looked askance for my insistence that the number-letters are the fundaments of magical practice, whereas now I'm told that "everybody knows that!" Presently I encounter resistance when I point to the intertwined and multimodal amalgam of astrology and sacred geometry and Cabala and alchemy that fused together in the practice of European magic after the Reformation. The idea of an ancient and stable body of terms and correspondences that holds together, which both crosses these disparate disciplines and also transits the generations intact, seems like a myth or a pipe-dream to modern minds, who have been weaned on the dogma that Levi invented all of Tarot esotericism. Yet it seems that that 'the best scholarly means at our disposal' demonstrate that a full praxis of interdisciplinary magic had already built up around the magical alphabet in the era of Dee and Boehme. I hope this realization gives modern researchers firmer footing to stand on for the task of filling in the history of Tarot between Boehme/Dee and Etteilla.
Also, let us not forget these realities when it comes to studying the Tarot magi of two centuries after the Reformation! Frankly, it is dismaying to see how many people's historical thinking has been paralyzed by the book A History of the Occult Tarot by Decker and Dummett. This is not to disparage a work of great usefulness, but only to remind the reader that those authors drew a line in their minds before they decided on the outline for their book, and they did this with the explicit intent of refusing to consider any pre-history of Tarot occultism prior to Levi. I was shocked when I read this -- a stance like this is tantamount to closing the barn door after the horse has fled! By losing track of the vital core assumptions of the traditional magical paradigm, and insisting that the number-letters of magic couldn't possibly have anything to do with the Tarot, we have improperly evaluated the context within which Tarot appeared, and created a distorted impression about the contribution all of the modern Tarot-makers from Etteilla to Waite.
I may or may not understand the self-imposed selective blindness of the modern researchers as they survey the historical trajectory of esoteric history, but it really doesn't matter anymore. The fact that this article had to be written is a signal that it's time for Tarot historians to get over ourselves and allow the bigger picture of Western Esotericism to penetrate our isolated ghetto! Let's stop researching as if Tarot happened in a hermetically sealed bubble with no relationship to the cultural phenomena going on around it, because otherwise we risk missing essential data that impinges on our beloved topic from "outside the Tarot reservation".
The post-modern world of Tarot has yet to make the discovery that the Marseille-style packs continue to embody all the power, meaning, depth and magistracy that the Tarot was first constructed to contain. In fact, no amount of subsequent remodeling or debunking has been able to bleach these qualities out of the original Tarot outline. There is no need to discount the old Tarots in order to acknowledge the post-modern developments in art and esotericism, because from the first, the cultural Tarot was the esoteric Tarot, these themes were all bound up together in the 78-card pack recognized under the aegis of the Mountebank, the World and the Fool.
My Chart of Historical Tarot Trump Correspondences
Historical research that has been completed since this chart was published in 1999 requires that an amendment be offered. I'll explain it here, and will also append these paragraphs to my AAN (AstroAlphaNumeric) chart for the sake of future researchers, until the day I can actually re-create the chart with all amendments integrated.
For the sake of ultimate correctness, the Falconnier pack needs to be taken out of the row labeled 'Old Alexandrian', and given it's own row below the Modern Continental row (see below). These words are from Mary K. Greer, shared me in private correspondence:
"The Falconnier corresponds with the Hebrew letters and Zodiac (planets ala Lévi), but he changes the numerical order of the cards so that the Moon is last and numbered 22, thus changing the numbers and the sequence of the final four cards. Falconnier's original book is available online."
What we learn from this is, the Falconnier creator is demonstrating knowledge of the 3/7/12 model of the Hebrew alphabet , and showing this deck's relatedness to traditional magical applications. However the author doesn't feel "safe" making the pack 100% transparent, so the last four cards were fiddled-with in order to obscure its magical impact (or else elicit further investigation on the part of the user). When I find a standout gaffe in an otherwise correct compilation like this, I attribute it to the routine Masonic teaching strategy. That is, to insert a stumbling block that will distract the superficial student, who can be trusted to never consult the sources and untangle the real facts. This keeps the Tarot deck magically "disarmed" as it enters the marketplace, making it safe so ignorant people can't accidentally hurt themselves with it. This strategy protects the karma of the deck's maker, and it also separates the sheep (who love the flat ground and will generally stay within their allotted space) from the goats (who can be counted on to push beyond the fence line, to rove and to climb in search of a higher vista).
Regarding the correspondences given for Etteilla; these represent his own testimony about the way his Trumps relate back to the Marseilles pack. Etteilla's signal importance in the esoteric transmission is that he demonstrates through this linkage the intact arrival of the Doctrine of Correspondences into his era. He also lobbies very persuasively (as much in his usage of the cards as in his words) for the idea that the Fool comes at the end of the Trump sequence, rather than at the beginning. For these two reasons, he shares the row occupied by the Marseille-style packs of history.
I have no resistance to the idea that Etteilla popularized Tarot and attracted a whole new audience to the deck, which ensured that the turbulence of the French Revolution (with its hidden but very deadly subtext of war between the Revenge Lodges and certain Catholic Orders) didn't undermine the esoteric achievements of the previous two centuries. But I don't see that the "occult bric-a-brac" on the surface of his cards actually adds up to a satisfactory "system" substantial enough to shift Tarot usage away from it's original esoteric design. And, as a matter of fact, history bears me out on this. Traditional Tarot esotericism was able to flow over, under, around and through the Etteilla armature even as Etteilla permanently changed Tarot's aspect and popular profile going forward. Mission accomplished!
To my eye, the surface features of the Etteilla pack serve as a kind of well-capping mechanism, providing a "fresh, new" popular face for Tarot while protecting the traditional esotericism, sealing it in amber (so to speak) during a period when the inherited wealth of philosophy and practice belonging to this esoteric calculator were in grave danger from the outer-world forces grinding through society. Anybody who makes themselves aware of the challenges that faced Louis Claude de Saint-Germain, whose whole intellectual life was lived in the cross-hairs of occult and political upheaval, and who wrote about Tarot a generation before Etteilla, will be much better able to appreciate the line that Etteilla was walking by producing a Masonic-inflected Tarot in the time and place of his heyday.
A translation of Etteilla's own writings on Tarot (including his remarks about the Marseille Trump relationships) has been very generously supplied by MikeH over at the Etteilla Variants link << http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=122602&page=9 >>, explicitly starting in post #84.
"Let me remind the reader that this chart is Astro-alpha-numeric, keyed to the standard values of the Magical Alphabet, and every deck of cards or book mentioned on the chart is being evaluated according to the particular AAN system it demonstrates. This body of knowledge can be found throughout Western Esotericism under the rubric of the Doctrine of Correspondences. I compiled this information using a Marseilles chart as the historical prototype. This fact results in every other pack or book being measured by the Marseille standard. As one can easily see from the historical packs and authors mentioned there, the fundamental doctrine of correspondences associated with Tarot cards are and have always been those of the Sefer Yeti, although we can see slight adjustments, mostly between the planetary letters, from one pack to the nex
A pure-Hebrew form of the Sepher Yetzirah assignments appears first on the chart because that version is the oldest and most well-grounded body of correspondences in history, even though no Tarot showed those correspondences on the faces of the cards until the 20th century (El Gran Tarot Esoterico). It is the mixed Greek/Hebrew correspondences of the Marseille pack that provide the historical baseline for the chart as a whole, because it is this version, ordering, and progression of Trumps that typifies the AAN values of Europe's broadest native Tarot tradition. This is the version to which subsequent packs either defer or depart, at first just a little (Levi, Falconnier), and then later quite a lot (the OGD packs).
Other Corrections to the Chart are as follows:
Gra version row: the names of Henriette and Homer Curtiss need to be added to this line, because their two volume set The Key of Destiny and The Key To The Universe form a full exposition of the correspondences found on El Gran Tarot Esoterico, and in Aryeh Kaplan's breakdown of the Sefer Yetzirah. This pattern is also available for modern use on the Tarot of the Ages and the upcoming Magdalene Legacy Tarot, but any of these variants can easily be projected onto any Marseille-style pack.
Old Alexandrian row: This would explicitly include the Marseille Tarots in their widest variety and the Etteilla packs including Cartomanzia Italiana. Etteilla's students D'Odoucet and Orsini should also be included here. Writers in English who support this lineage directly are Corrine Heline and Margaret Peeke, and indirectly Fred Gettings, Richard Cavendish, and Paul Huson. The question is still open which historical figure chose the Greek planetary letter translations over the classic Hebrew pattern. These correspondences are available for modern use on the Ibis Tarot (although to make it match perfectly, the glyph of the Sun must be ignored on the World card, since it belongs with the final planetary letter Tav, on the final Trump, The Fool).
Falconnier Tarot should have its own row. The modern reprint of this pack is called the Tarot of Saint-Germaine, but that pack has been "corrected" to conform to the Modern Continental pattern as set by Levi.
The Continental row: This row would gain the title Modern, as in 'Modern Continental Tarots'. It would also gain the names of P. Christian, Manly P. Hall, Valentine Tomberg, Mouni Sadhu, the Grand Tarot Belline, Madame Blavatsky, Irene Gad, Elizabeth Haich, Brian Williams (his 'A Renaissance Tarot'), and Hajo Banzhaf. These correspondences are available for use on the Tarot of the Ages. Papus appears to be writing about the Etteilla packs in his Divinatory Tarot, but in fact he presents the Trumps in Marseille order and switches the Fool and the World at the end of the Trumps.
The rest of the rows represent creeping attrition invading the traditional AAN model during the 20th century. I won't be making corrections to the lower part of the chart. My only interest in the modern Tarot 'correspondences' would be to show their intentional departure from the traditional paradigm, as embodied in the uppermost rows. I am not attempting to catalogue Tarot decks beyond the ones that allow for informed use of the Sefer Yetzirah with its 3/7/12 interior logic.
ArkLetter 85, March 22, 2012
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TAROT ARKLETTERS and the TAROT OF THE HOLY LIGHT are published by Christine Payne-Towler and Noreah Press
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