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ATS Newsletters

by author


The Boiardo 15th c Poem
Tarot history in brief

quotations from various people

Functions of Readings
What is Tarot?


Med. on XVIIII

Emily E. Auger

Tarot and Other Meditation Decks

L. Atkinson

Orphalese Software review

S. Arwen

Memory & Instinct

Kathy Berkowitz

Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 1)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 2)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 3)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 4)

Nina L. Braden

Tarot in Literature

David Brice

Birth of Tarot

Colin Browne

Square & Compasses Tarot

Lee A. Bursten

Journeys in Tarot Creation
Vachetta review


Review: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Ross G. Caldwell

Tarot History

Bonnie Cehovet

Tarology - Poetics of Tarot
Review: Secret of Tarot
The Mystereum Tarot

N. Chishty-Mujahid

Concerning Ghisi’s Laberinto

Craig Conley

A House of Tarot Cards

A.B. Crowther

Rachel Pollack interview

Jean-Michel David

On Paneurythmy and Tarot
Tarot's expression of the numinous
Yarker, Tarot & Arcane Schools
Waite-Smith Sun card
The Fool as Wandering Jew
Tarot as Christian Art
Education through Tarot
Tarot: the vatical & the sacral
Fortuna, Ass & Monkey
Steiner and Tarot
1701 Dodal restored!
Enc. Tarot vol I-IV: review
Christ, World & Sin
Caveat Emptor:
       Visual Tarot

Tarot & AlefBeit
Review: Jean Payen Tarot
Tarot and Freemasonry
I-Ching and Pip Cards
Whither directing your course?
Tarot & the Tree of Life
Ovid, Egypt and Tarot
When the Devil isn't the Devil
Four elements and the suits
Court Cards & MBTI
Certification & Codes
Jean Dodal Marseille
Conference FAQs
Golden Dawn
Kabalah & Tarot
Golden Tarot review
Annual spread
Iraqi Museum
Two Brief TdM reviews
Meditations on the Tarot

Enrique Enriquez

The Joy of Wordplay
J-C. Flornoy interview
Embodied Tarot
Indirect Suggestions
Whispering to the Eye

Mark Filipas

History of Egyptian Decks
Lexicon Theory

Jean-Claude Flornoy

in memorium
from Oral Tradition

Roxanne Flornoy

Children and Tarot
from Oral Tradition

Mary Greer

Killing the Thoth Deck
On the Tarot of the Four Worlds
Egypt, Tarot and Mystery School Initiations

William Haigwood

The Sixties: Counterculture Tarot

Alissa Hall

Parlour Tricks

Kris Hadar

The Tarot

Claas Hoffmann

Crowley-Harris 'Thoth' deck

Michael J. Hurst

Tarot Symbolism review

K. Frank Jensen

Century with the Waite-Smith

Shane Kendal

A Poetry of Tarot

Ken J. Killeen

The Metaphysical Bible

Barbara Klaser

Language of Tarot

E. Koretaka

Cardinal Virtues

Dovid Krafchow

Kabbalistic Tarot

Lisa Larson

Perceptions of Spirituality

Suzan E. Lemont

Therapeutic Tarot Work

Eric K. Lerner

Diloggun and Tarot

N. Levine

Tarot of Prague review

C. Liknaitzky

Journey in Ceramics

Joep van Loon

Tarot Wheel

Karen Mahony


S.J. Mangan

Fool, Alef & Orion

Robert Mealing

Petrarch’s Triumphs
Jean Noblet Tarot
Hunting the "true" Marseille Tarot
Cary Sheet

Fern Mercier

Playing the Fool

C. de Mellet

Inquiries into Tarot

Sophie Nusslé

Fantastic Menagerie

Robert V. O'Neill

Tarot Symbolism
Tower Iconology

Michael Owen

Xultun Tarot

Dan Pelletier

Magic Manga Tarot
the Blank Spot

Robert M. Place

The Fool's Journey

Debra Rosenthal

Looking at the Jacques Vieville

Mjr Tom Schick

Tarot Lovers Calendar

Inna Semetsky

Counseling Reading for Spouses
Learning the language of images
Re-Symbolization of Self
Tarot (dis)contents

Diana Sobolewska

'Bateleur's tale'

Russell Sturgess

Jesus's New Testament

N. Swift

Sufism & Tarot

Arthur E. Waite

Symbols of Tarot

On the ‘Original’ Tarot Sequence Ordering and its Iconography

by Jean-Michel David –

In 1947, Gérard Van Rijnberk published in Lyon (France) his now relatively little known yet often referenced and influential Le Tarot: Histoire; Iconographie; Esotérisme. Of course, he claims not so much originality for the bulk that he presents, but rather the careful inclusion of the research and insights that had been significantly mounting by that time, and to which the numerous small details that have since emerged have provided us with such wealth as to make his own book appear like a giant within the stack. More recent works have included, of course, the various works that have usually included Sir Michael Dummett as well as his similarly respected (co-)authors.

A wonderful example of recent discoveries – or perhaps better described as re-discoveries – is included in the current (i.e., April-June 2016; Vol 44, No 4) issue of The Playing Card (the Journal of the International Playing-Card Society [IPCS]). For those amongst us far more interested in tarot than in other card sets, and, similarly, more interested in what tarot presents other than its card-playing aspect, all too numerous articles are, though interesting, a little like reading about the variety of violets and their growth for someone deeply taken by the symbolic value, variety, and uses of roses. Still, this specific issue has Emilia Maggio’s ‘New Insights into the So-called Alessandro Sforza Deck’, that presents the two recently discovered cards and compares these to the existing extent deck, with some important commentary on dates and the ‘Charles VI’ (incorrectly named) deck.

For these occasional papers alone, the IPCS is well worth supporting with membership (and of course, that would not be the sole worthwhile reason).

I’ll return to Van Rijnberk’s book in a short while. Let’s first, however, have a brief look at some aspects brought to our attention by Emilia Maggio’s paper. Firstly, the two cards in question depict the Empress and the Two Batons. Two cards amongst those previously missing from the Sforza deck recently discovered at the Abatellis Palace (Palazzo). What is fascinating includes that which is both obvious and yet iconographically invisible if we are not awake to it: the Empress is clearly reflective of Mary Queen of Heaven. Of course, however, the depicted figure is not meant to represent Mary, but rather and importantly be an earthly reflection, in the depiction of the woman imaged (whomever of the courtly family it may actually be) mirroring those characteristics expected of the position and role.

The two cards do more than this: as mentioned by Emilia, the sandwiched paper forming the cardboard is (as was usual) recycled, bearing dates of 1427 and 1428, clearly indicating and further confirming that this, amongst the earliest known tarot-like cards, can date no earlier.

‘Original’ Order

There are a number of ways in which the earliest order has been determined, not least of which includes the numbering of some early decks as well as the Boiardo poem. Irrespective of these (though taking such into consideration), there will inevitably be variation from locality to locality (and even, I would suggest, group of users or players, or even the same people over time). This is evident in what emerges later as some of the main sequences, even if the order stabilises with what we have come to know as the Marseille order (amongst the most prevalent and common). Still, even there, we can see that much later users (such as is depicted in numerous 20th century decks) sees justification in inverting card order.

The ‘original’ order, if ever there was such, is, I would suggest, based on very simple yet absurdly complexified considerations: the earthly ranks precede muses and allegories that precede sciences, virtues and cosmic elements that precede eschatological and transcendent considerations. In effect, this is similar to what (especially) the Mantegna and Minchiate decks and the like, though in clearer ways, do.

We should nonetheless be careful to consider that with each iteration of decks, insights (or indeed oversights!) can and have lead to alterations in understanding what is intended to be depicted and hence becomes re-drawn to depict the misunderstood precursor. This was likely the case with what became polo sticks in the Mamluk decks (its own precursor likely having nothing to do with polo sticks) and hence as batons or clubs. Similarly, we have seen a significant loss of understanding of the depiction of the Tower (Maison Dieu) from a late medieval representation of a scene from the flight to Egypt to re-‘understanding’ the card as the tower of Babel (virtually inverting its meaning!).

Then, of course, there is the inevitable impact on the ordering from conscious (or intentional) considerations. I personally consider that the stabilising of the order as per the Marseille (fixing the ‘groups’ of cards mentioned above into unique order) was due to what Mark Filipas has called an ‘alphabetic masquerade’.

A problem that can arise is when someone, who sees aspects of the cards somehow reflecting a particular view, assumes that the whole sequence must therefore and somehow be a corruption of their preference. We have seen this throughout tarot’s history, beginning with de Gebelin’s Egyptian views for tarot, to more contemporary similar notions for a variety of various claims. I should not here be read as not valuing the individual insight that each of those proponents have in relation to both the ways in which the imagery can be seen nor, indeed, the new insights that can be unveiled of the spiritual or philosophical world views they see reflected; rather, and more simply, that the vibrancy of the cards will inevitably defy a fixed verbal construct.

One of the aspects that I highly value of Rijnberk’s book is that which is precisely suggested by its subtitle: history, iconography, esotericism. I would suggest that to strive to enter the last of these without deeply allowing an unveiling of the second, itself grounded in an increasing appreciation and understanding of the first, would be a little like striving to enter the sacred (or ‘secret’) meaning of a Kabbalistic treatise without due consideration to, and grounding in, its literal and allegorical dimensions.

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