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Will the real Fool please step up?
Does the Tarot Fool bring up the rear in a long parade of triumphal figures, a warning about what will happen if one fails on the spiritual path? Or does he appear at the beginning, full of trust and hope, setting out on a new adventure?
Is the dog his faithful companion or a wild beast that threatens to tear him apart or ludicrously expose his privates?
What dangers does the Fool face?
When the Fool turns up do you feel excited and ready to venture forth? Or do you fear your decisions are stupid and that others will think you ridiculous?
At the end of the 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn turned the Tarot on its head, depicting the Fool as a small child and putting it at the head of the Hebrew alphabet. The Waite-Smith card, published in 1909, pictured an image that came to epitomize the 1960s San Francisco flower child. How did this happen?
Does the Fool carry the World on his shoulders (or, perhaps, in his knapsack)? There are hints that it is so. The Fool can indicate absolute trust in Spirit or the ravings of a madman or idiot. Learn to cultivate divine nonchalance. Discover what’s needed to take a leap of faith. Explore hidden meanings in the symbols on the RWS Fool.
Over the next couple of years, I plan on teaching what I’ve learned about each of the Major Arcana in a series of webinars, randomly ordered and spaced. I’ve already taught The High Priestess (and will be presenting it again), and I’ve written in depth about the Lovers (see Tarot in Culture, vol. 2). I will be presenting The Fool, live on May 16th, for three hours to a limited number of participants (a recording will not be available). Information available at Thelesis Aura or on Facebook.
Update: Ordering information here for the 250 copy limited edition.
The following announcement by Tali Goodwin and Marcus Katz has stirred quite a controversy. At the end of this announcement you’ll find a link to an article by Tabatha Cicero that adds much to an understanding of issues involved in the publication of these images.
Tali Goodwin of Tarot Professionals and the blog Tarot Speakeasy, through extensive research, has discovered the ORIGINAL Waite-Trinick images that comprised a tarot deck conceptualized by A.E. Waite for the private use of members of his Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. Tali tracked the family of stained glass artist, J. B. Trinick, who had lived in Kendal, England, and found the original color paintings!
Late last year Marcus Katz stumbled across an ebay sale for a set of worn and damaged images that he immediately recognized as part of a mysterious second Waite deck. It had been brought to the attention of tarotists in Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett’s book A History of the Occult Tarot. The illustrations here are from that book. The new discovery was part of a series of several major synchronicities in the story of this rare deck that have taken place over the last two years.
Tali and Marcus were able to view and photograph the beautiful and enigmatic original paintings and have agreed with the owners to bring out a book (in color and b&w) of the major twenty-two images with full commentary prior to Christmas 2011.
The commentary will be based on Waite’s unpublished and extensive commentary on the images, which has led to a complete mapping of Waite’s “secret” correspondences to the Tree of Life. Marcus says that this set of correspondences is so blindingly obvious and “makes sense,” such that he believes we will be astounded. It will be interesting to see if the mapping corresponds with the revised Tree of Life described in Decker and Dummett’s book. Also, this clears up a long-running controversy about whether the Rider-Waite-Smith deck was designed with Golden Dawn Tree of Life Associations in mind. My feeling is that it was, as Waite clearly uses these associations in some of his Order papers, but it’s also clear that he wasn’t really satisfied with them.
Tarot Professionals are hosting a funding drive—live on Indigogo (now available) to ask for assistance towards publication. As they want to make these remarkable images—and the biggest discovery in Tarot this century—available to everyone. I’ll post the information as soon as I get it.
For additional information and another perspective, read Tabatha Cicero on “The Great Symbols of the Paths” at The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn blog.
About John Trinick
Several years ago, Cerulean, on Aeclectic’s tarot forum, posted this information about Trinick:
John Trinick was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 17 August 1890, sailing to England with his parents in 1893 before returning to Australia in 1907. He studied in the art school of the National Gallery of Victoria between 1910 and 1915 and then returned to England in 1919 to continue his studies at the Byam Shaw and Vicat Cole school of Art.
Trinick began to specialise in glass in 1921 when he joined the studios of William Morris Merton and ten years later he opened his own studio in Upper Norwood, London. He rapidly became famous for the quality of his work, exhibiting widely at The Royal Academy, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and in Vitoria, Spain, in addition to providing stained glass windows for several churches, including a complete set of chapel windows for St. Michael’s in 1951. Among his other work was a panel, Opus Sectile, depicting Our Lady of Walsingham in Westminster Cathedral; 11 windows for St. Pius X, London and the entire chapel scheme for Salmerston Grange, Margate.
He was also an accomplished illustrator in watercolour, pencil, pastel and crayon, a collection of Trinick’s watercolour copies of European stained glass windows ws purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it forms part of the V and A archives.
Although the majority of Trinick’s work involved ecclesiastical commissions, he did not limit his exploration of spirituality to Christianity. He actively explored many modes of thinking throughout his life, including Rosicruianism and Freemasonry. He had a strong interest in alchemy and other forms of ancient spirituality. In 1922 he published a book of poetry entitled Dead Sanctuary and, in 1967, at the age of 84, he published a philosophical volume, The Fire Tried Stone, an appraisal of the work of Carl Jung.
John Trinick died in 1974, many of his designs returning to Australia.
Here’s a classic “reclaimed spread” in the form of a five-card-cross that is most often found in French and continental Tarot books. The version I offer here is from Oswald Wirth’s Tarot of the Magicians, with an introduction by me (originally published as Le Tarot, des imagiers du moyen-age, 1926). Wirth claims to have learned it from his teachers, Stanislas de Guaita and Joséphin Péladan (famous 19th century French occultists). It uses only the Major Arcana. Note that the card layout itself will probably be familiar as it has been adapted to many different kinds of readings, some of them focusing on the four elements or directions with the fifth-essence/situation/resolution in the center. The original spread is quite different. Note: This new edition of the book includes a reproduction of Wirth’s original 1889 Major Arcana!
What’s great about the Oswald Wirth version is that it’s based on the premise that your case is being considered in a court of law with the result being advice or direction for achieving success. The Major Arcana cards that turn up are characters in the resulting courtroom drama and should be seen as acting in a manner aligned with the card and presenting its unique attitudes and perspectives. Ham it up; imagine a scene from your favorite legal-eagle TV show.
Ask a specific question, and using only the Major Arcana, shuffle and cut. Then, taking cards from the top of the deck (*see alternate technique below), place them in the positions indicated.
The first two cards are the lawyers and the evidence presented by the two sides.
THE CARD ON THE LEFT is affirmative, showing what is in favor of (“for”) the situation. It points to what it is wise to do and those people or qualities on which one can depend.
THE CARD ON THE RIGHT is negative (the opposing counsel) and represents what is “against” it. It points to hostilities that should be avoided or feared: the fault, enemy, danger or the “pernicious temptation.”
THE CARD ABOVE is the judge who discusses the evidence, weighs the pros and cons, and may arbitrate between the for and against. The judge helps clarify the decision to be made and gives advice as to what’s required.
IN THE CARD BELOW the “sentence,” result or solution is pronounced. Taking into account the synthesis of the fifth card, this “voice” of the oracle offers a look into what comes from the decision. It may contain a “teaching” about what style, attitude or demeanor is ultimately to be aimed for.
THE CENTER CARD is determined by adding the numbers of the first four cards and reducing to 22 or less.** It is a synthesis of what has gone before, and points out what is of prime importance on which everything else depends. Although placed last, Wirth reads it first, since the situation or topic depends on it.
The Fool is considered 0 when adding or 22 when it is the result of the addition. The fifth/center card may be the same as one of the other four.
* Wirth suggests a special way of selecting the first four cards that you can use if you like. Shuffle the Major Arcana and then ask the querent for the first number between 1 and 22 that comes into her head. Count down that many cards and place the final card of the count in position one. Shuffle again and repeat for each of the next three positions.
** A much superior way of obtaining a reduced synthesis, numerologically speaking, is to add all the cards and then subtract 22 from any sum over that. This is the only way to get a true range of card possibilities as your synthesis. (Thanks to Steve Mangan, aka Kwaw, who did the math!)
In a sample interpretation Wirth asks “How should one advise a would-be diviner?” (That is, What advice should be given to a person who wants to become the best tarot reader possible?)
The cards received give an answer that you might find surprising. Please tell us your interpretation in the comments section, but here’s some direction from Wirth. He begins with the center card, stating that it shows what the divination depends on. He then contrasts the “for” (on the left) with the “against” (on the right): “the Emperor puts himself at the service of Strength to whom the Moon is detrimental, being against.” That is, the Emperor opposes (or reigns in) the Moon. Cards in positions three and four offer instruction. The Judge (above) shows what we must do and the Solution (below) shows what will come from doing that. What do you make of these cards?
This is the Radical Wirth Tarot painted by Carol Herzer, a beautiful, 22-card deck currently available in a limited edition, although perhaps not for much longer.
Gertrude Moakley (The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo, 1966) introduced the Tarot world to a possible original source of the Papess card: Maifreda (or Manfreda) Visconti da Pirovano was to be declared Pope in Milan on Easter 1300 in a new age of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Maifreda and others in the sect were, that year, burned at the stake, along with the disinterred body of Guglielma, who had inspired this new movement. Could Maifreda be depicted on the Tarot Popess card?
Maifreda was an Abbess in the Umiliati Order and first cousin to Matteo Visconti, the Ghibelline (anti-pope) ruler of Milan. Maifreda believed the Holy Spirit had manifested on earth in the form of Guglielma (d. 1281), a middle-aged woman with a grown son who claimed to be a daughter of Premysl Otakar,King of Bohemia, and, who on arriving in Milan in 1260, donned a “simple brown habit” and lived the life of a saint. To the Guglielmites, her arrival fulfilled a prophecy of St. Joachim de Fiore that a new age of the Holy Spirit would begin in 1260, “heralding the inauguration of an ecclesia spiritualis in which grace, spiritual knowledge and contemplative gifts would be diffused to all.” Although she vehemently denied it, “rumors of divinity already swirled around Guglielma during her lifetime.” And, “Her words about ‘the body of the Holy Spirit,’ together with her mysterious royal origins, Pentecostal birth, imputed healings and stigmata, coalesced to create a more-than-human mystique in the minds of her friends.” Immediately after her death dozens of portraits were painted and chapels were dedicated to Santa Guglielma. (Visconti-Sforza card on the right – her cross at top left is hard to see.)
Barbara Newman (aka Mona Alice Jean Newman) presented the most complete account in English of the Guglielmites in her From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature, but it is in her more recent paper, “The Heretic Saint: Guglielma of Bohemia, Milan and Brunate,” that we learn important details that make an attribution to Maifreda as Papess much stronger than previously thought (all quotes and information not otherwise attributed are from this article).
Many tarot scholars since Moakley have doubted Maifreda as source, nor do they give much credence to an older assumption that the card depicted Pope Joan (see article by Ross Caldwell). Instead, modern thinking proposes that it was always an allegorical image of Fides (Faith—see Giotto image to right), Sapientia (Wisdom), Ecclesia (Holy Mother Church) or the Papacy itself. Here’s an image from the Vatican itself:
Alternately, she could be Isis (see below with Hermes Trismegistus & Moses by Pinturicchio in the Vatican), the Blessed Virgin Mary or a priestess of Venus (below) —see especially Bob O’Neill’s “Iconology of the Early Papess Cards” and Andrea Vitali’s essay on “The High Priestess.” Even Paul Huson in Mystical Origins of the Tarot finds it difficult to believe the Visconti family would memorialize a family member burned at the stake as a heretic.
Certainly “Faith” and “Holy Mother Church” may be referenced in the Tarot image, but they were probably of a more heretical sort than the orthodox church has ever sanctioned. Andrea Vitali recounts a summary of the trial of Guglielma and her followers in which we find:
“As Christ was true God and true Man, in the same manner, she [Guglielma] claimed herself to be true God and true Man in the female sex, come to save the Jews, the Saracens and the false Christians, in the same way as the true Christians are saved by means of Christ.” [Tying her story in with the final cards of Judgment and the World, we find,] “She too claimed she would arise again with a human body in the female sex before the final resurrection, in order to rise to heaven before the eyes of her disciples, friends and devotees.”
O’Neill objects that “beyond the deck specifically produced for the Visconti about 1450, the local Milanese phenomenon of Guglielmites is unlikely to be the source for the image on earlier decks, for example, the 1442 deck mentioned in an inventory of the Este estate in Ferrara.” But, as Newman’s paper points out, Matteo Visconti’s son, Galeazzo, married the Duke of Ferrara’s sister in 1300 and lived there from 1302-1310, so Ferrara had its own early connection to this saint. Furthermore, Guglielma’s story and veneration were popularized in Ferrara by 1425 through a hagiography (saint’s life) by Antonio Bonfadini, and in Florence through a popular late-15th century religious play by Antonia Pulci—although they garbled her history. (15th century deck on the right is known as the Fournier/Lombardy II.)
Matteo Visconti (first Duke of Milan and first cousin to Maifreda) had as an advisor his good friend, Francesco da Garbagnate—an ardent devotee of Guglielma. Matteo was at the center of his own long battle with the Church, having expelled the Papal Inquisitors in 1311, and being himself excommunicated in 1317, tried for sorcery and heresy in 1321, and having Milan placed under interdict in 1322. Matteo’s grandmother and uncle (archbishop of Milan) had earlier been named heretics. (Pope/Papess? card, left, is from the “Cary Sheet” found at the Sforza Castle, Milan.)
From Newman’s article, we learn that Maifreda’s convent was in Biassono, but she fails to note that Biassono is only five miles from the small town of Concorezzo that in 1299 was home to 1,500 Cathars. (I’ve since been told that this source is wrong and that most of the Concorezzo Cathars were burned as heretics or driven out by 1230). After the Albigensian crusade many small towns around Milan became refugee outposts of this faith, of which Concorezzo was a center, and may have inspired the order of nuns who called themselves the “humble” (umiliati)—[correction: the Cathar influence on other groups is not known.]
The most compelling bit of data making the attribution of the Papess card almost certain is that between 1440 and 1460 Bianca Maria Visconti, wife of Francesco Sforza and duchess of Milan, frequently visited Maddalena Albrizzi, Abbess of monasteries in Como and Brunate, and gave aid and gifts to the Order. (Brunate is just north of Milan with Biassono between them). Even the stones for the Como monastery were donated by Francesco Sforza. The Visconti-Sforza deck (first picture in post) was probably commissioned by or for Bianca Maria. Around 1450 (the same period as the deck) a cycle of frescos were painted in the Church of San Andrea at Brunate that recorded the story of Guglielma:
“How she left the house of her husband, came to Brunate, and lived a solitary life here, wearing a hairshirt and ordinary dress . . . in the company of a crucifix and an image of Our Lady.”
Only one of these frescos, ornately framed, remains today near the original chapel that had been dedicated to Saint Guglielma (see above). It depicts Guglielma with two figures kneeling before her. She appears to be giving a special blessing to a nun. Newman identifies the two as Maifreda and Andrea Saramita (he was the main promulgator of her divinity as the Holy Spirit). Others, more convincingly, claim them as Maddalena Albrizzi (founder of the monastery and candidate for sainthood) and her cousin Pietro Albrici who renovated the church. Even as late as the nineteenth century, Sir Richard Burton, author of The Arabian Nights, noted that “Santa Guglielma, worshipped at Brunate, works many miracles, chiefly healing aches of head.”
It seems reasonable to conclude that Bianca Maria Visconti may have had a special devotion to the woman whom, 150 years after being condemned by the Inquisition, so many Lombards venerated as a saint, and that she honored an earlier family member, Maifreda, who served as Guglielma’s Vicar—hiding her in plain sight as an allegory of Faith.
Let’s ask the question about the source in a slightly different way: Would it have been possible for Bianca Maria Visconti to have not seen this card as Maifreda? Likewise, would it have been possible for a church reformer of the time, familiar with Maifreda and Pope Joan, to have not seen this card as an allegory of Heresy instead of Faith? For instance, a monk wrote in Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis (c. 1450-1480) about La Papessa, “O wretched, it is what the Christian Faith denies.”
I’d be remiss to not mention the very real possibility that the Popess represented St. Clare of the Poor Clares, the female branch of the Franciscans (right).
Or, perhaps she was simply the Church in contradistinction to the State as seen below in which a Popess and Empress represent each of these.
Later Swiss, Germans and Belgians de-sacralized the deck, finding both Pope and Papess objectionable and substituting for them cards like Jupiter & Juno, Bacchus & the Spanish Captain, or the Moors. The Papess, it seems, has always been a mysterious and disturbing force, spreading anxiety instead of the calm assurance one might expect from Faith.
Acknowledgements: Huck Meyer pointed out this picture and Newman’s article at Aeclectic’s tarotforum last year – see discussion. I was then reminded of this material through reading Helen Farley’s fascinating book, A Cultural History of Tarot: From Entertainment to Esotericism. Check out Ross Caldwell’s webpage on the Papessa and Alain Bougearel’s post on Catharism and other heresies of the period here.
The Tarosophist International: The Magazine of Tarosophy is a new journal put out by Tarot Professionals. The Special Annual Edition features the Thoth Deck—Issue Four (1:4). It’s available in hardback and consists of 146 fully illustrated pages with articles by Rachel Pollack, Lon Milo DuQuette, Mary K. Greer, Richard Kaczynski, K. Frank Jensen, Marcus Katz. A must-have for anyone (beginner or expert) who wants to know more about the Thoth deck, Read the rest of this entry »
I am reprinting here a long review by Paul Nagy of the greatest tarot novel of all time, Charles Williams’s The Greater Trumps (1932)—with contributions from Nigel Jackson’s Amazon review (marked in blue). Paul has been reading tarot for over 40 years, is one of the active members of the Raleigh-Durham Tarot Meetup Group, offers tarot teleclasses, and leads a discussion series on the book Meditations on the Tarot. Paul’s introduction to some of the symbolism in this book should make it far more accessible and intriguing to modern readers. Nigel Jackson is the creator of Medieval Enchantment: The Nigel Jackson Tarot and The Rumi Tarot. Paul wishes to also acknowledge the insights of Glen Cavaliero and Michael Huggins whose reviews on Amazon.com contributed to initial drafts of this piece.
Charles Williams (1886-1945) was a novelist, poet, theologian, and member of Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. He wrote seven occult novels—among the best ever written. Read about Charles Williams later in this post. At the very end you will find a list and description of the Trumps as modified by Williams. Now, here’s Paul Nagy:
THE GREATER TRUMPS
Williams’ use of symbolism is near its peak in The Greater Trumps. It is a classic occult mystery play where all the forces of truth and justice are very conventionally established as staid British institutions set against anarchistic gypsy intrigue and in the mysterious figures of the tarot Trumps. The trumps motivate and embody the characters, set the action and redeem the antagonists by being themselves neutral leaves from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that compete for their control.
The “Greater Trumps” are the original set of Tarot, the ur-deck of hyper powerful cards, bequeathed to a minor English civil servant, Lothair Coningsby (a rather dim and pompous fellow), by a deceased distant relative. Lothair’s daughter, the spritely Nancy is engaged to a young man, Henry Lee, whose heritage is Romany. In considering what to do with these very rare, old set of Tarot cards, Lothair Coningsby intends to turn them over to a museum upon his own death. The Lee family has something else in mind. Read the rest of this entry »
Charles San introduced the 1973 Causeway Books edition of Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot with an essay, “How to Read the Cards,” in which he recommended this Major Arcana-only spread. It features an interesting way of selecting the cards and, when I first tried it, the cards themselves suggested a way to give the reading additional definition and depth. Here is the spread with my own modifications. (San did not state where to place each card except that they circle around the Significator.)
- Shuffle the Major Arcana and deal out six cards face down on top of each other. Turn the seventh card face up and place it in the middle of the reading area. This is the Significator and represents a starting point for the reading. Return the other six to the bottom of the deck.
- Deal two cards face down and turn one card up, placing this third card at the 10 o’clock position (relative to the Significator). Do this seven times placing every third card in a counterclockwise circle around the Significator [this order is added by me as a result of the example spread that follows]. You will end up with seven cards circling the card drawn in step 1.
- Optional: if unsatisfied that these cards suffice, deal three more cards from the remaining thirteen, taking the third, tenth and thirteen cards, and place them above the circle.
San says you are to build a vision of the “present place in the ebb and flow of one’s life,” as “the individual cards and the combining of them provides one with the reading.” You can read this spread for yourself or one friend, but if three people are present then “the reading that results concerns all three as part of the society in which they live and work.”
Here is my spread using the Golden Dawn / Whare Ra Majors: Read the rest of this entry »
I experienced a breakthrough regarding tarot when I realized that all the Major Arcana cards are operating somewhere within me at all times. I discovered this from doing a variety of twenty-two card spreads that show where each energy or archetype is operating at the moment. Of course some cards are emphasized or highlighted around particular issues. These are the ones that show up in smaller spreads saying: “Look at me. I’m what’s most important right now regarding your question.” It’s kind of like they’re doing a jig or vibrating more than the others, and thrusting themselves to the front to get your attention. Meanwhile, the others are in the background, quietly doing their own thing or maintaining the status quo.
Sometimes it’s worth seeing the whole picture to understand how each energy or archetype plays its role in relation to the others. There are several ways to do this. Read the rest of this entry »
Some of you may know of the twenty-year long study of the Temple of Luxor by the Egyptologist René Schwaller de Lubicz (see bio). Before that Schwaller was a Theosophist, esotericist and alchemist who worked for many years with Fulcanelli. In the 1920s, René and his wife Isha moved to Switzerland and established Suhalia, a center for research into scientific and alchemical studies. While there he developed a motor that ran on vegetable oil.
According to the above internet biography by Gary Lachman:
“In 1936, on a visit to the tomb of Rameses IX in Alexandria, Schwaller had a kind of revelation. A picture represented the pharaoh as a right-angle triangle with the proportions 3:4:5, his upraised arm adding another unit. Schwaller thought it demonstrated the Pythagorean theorem, centuries before Pythagoras was born. From the picture it was clear to him that the knowledge of the medieval masons had its roots in ancient Egypt. For the next fifteen years, until 1951, Schwaller de Lubicz remained in Egypt, investigating the evidence for what he believed was an ancient system of psychological, cosmological, and spiritual knowledge.”
Although I’ve read several books by Schwaller I never knew that he had created his own tarot deck until sent these cards by Christian Dumolard (who documented the Château des Avenières Tarot mosaics of Assan Dina). Information on Schwaller’s tarot interests can be found in Schwaller de Lubicz by H. Dossier and Emmanuel Dufour-Kowalski. You may want to compare the Schwaller de Lubicz Tarot with that of Falconnier and Wegener (see History of Egyptian Tarot Decks). He was obviously considering some notable differences. Enjoy.