The author is unaware of any treatise before this that has put forth the above statements regarding Tarot origins. That the standard pack of suit cards was invented in the Islamic world and entered into Europe via Italy is well attested. That the 22 cards referred to explicitly as the Trionfi made their first known appearance in Italy during the first half of the 15th century cannot be doubted. That the Eastern Christian world of Byzantium, masters of the art of spiritual and Greek iconography, culturally merged with the Islamic Ottoman Empire in the years preceding the Tarot’s creation is familiar history. That Islamic metaphysics was steeped in Neoplatonic philosophy has been known in the West since medieval times. That the coherent, hierarchical worldview represented by the Trionfi was transferred to Italy through the Islamic world under Greek influence, both Orthodox (be that Greek or Coptic) and Neoplatonic, is an obvious theory worth consideration.
enough, this theory has never been seriously forwarded by Tarot occultists,
card historians, or scholars of comparative religion. While Sufi influences have been mentioned in the odd book, the merging of Eastern Christian and Sufi metaphysics and the transference of resultant cosmological worldviews into Italy via Venice (and subsequently Ferrara) in the form of Tarot Triumphs has not previously been examined. It may not be an overstatement
to say that in the original Tarot we have found the essential seed that
gloriously grew into a tree of Renaissance knowledge and a cornucopia of
enlightenment: truly, the principles of immortality.
In times past, Eastern goods, people, and ideas had to traverse long distances of land to reach the West. In the late medieval age, ship routes extended the old silk roads to include far quicker and more encompassing trading channels. The ports of Acre in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt were depots for caravan routes from the Far East. Whoever controlled trade to and from these ports controlled trade between the entire East and the West. Pisa, Genoa, and Venice spent the 13th century fighting each other to gain dominance in this trade. Pisa was beaten badly in competition early on, leaving Venice to battle with its greatest foe, Genoa.
For much of the 13th
century, Constantinople was allowed to fall into ruins by its Latin rulers.
Popes and Bishops in Rome never succeeded, however, in banishing the Greek
Rite or the holy agency of the Eastern Pope (as the head bishop continued to be called in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria), who we find
represented along with the Popess in the Tarot. The Ecumenical Patriarch
of Constantinople served Greek Christendom as its head Bishop just
as the Bishop of Rome served as Pope for the Latin Rite. Greek Patriarchs
of the Church were allowed to have a female partner – a simple fact that speaks
volumes regarding the origins of the Triumphs. Bishops often had
a lifelong female spiritual assistant – the two holding to varying definitions of celibacy. In modern
day, Eastern Bishops are chosen from the rank of celibate monks. However,
Priests are usually married, and their wives’ retain the traditional
title of Priestess.
Of remarkable import to our study of the Trionfi is Ibn ‘Arabi’s realization that the Semitic science of letters is itself founded upon a more essential body of knowledge. He elucidates:
Preceding the Letters are the Divine Names themselves. They form a science, which like hidden treasure is known solely to the saints, whose intelligences gather understanding from Allah and whose hearts are bound to Allah, being ravished by Allah’s Bliss.
The Sufi science of letters and names was referred to by an Arabic term derived from the Greek word for signs. It formed a type of primordial semiotics – a code not only of the phenomenal, but also, more radically, of the archetypal noumenal. This complex system came to contain a mix of numerological algorithms, alchemical procedures, and emanationist hierarchies. It was elaborated at great length by Ibn ‘Arabi’s school of metaphysics. One of the more popularly described models was comprised of ten levels, each with ten attributes. A hierarchically transformative, dimensional, and energetic representation of ascending movement toward the Principal, embedded in the science of names, is what concerns us here.
Medieval scholars (both East and West) inherited from Ibn ‘Arabi a cosmology of ascent and descent diagrammed as a circle. In this spiritually emergent worldview, we may find the origins of the Tarot Triumphs’ attributes and names. The Circle of Being does not actually close upon itself; rather it proceeds as an open spiral.
Let us now look at all
twenty-two Names of Allah’s corporeal Emanation (the last of which is
actually Incorporeal and represents Perfect Reality) and their associated
Eastern Christian Tarot Arcana names:
It is premised in this book that environmental, societal, cultural, and psychological development occurs through cyclically evolving stages of growth. In psychosocial terms, humans evolve through magical, mythical, rational, and transpersonal or subtly psychic stages of development. While doing so, human consciousness at any level is purposed toward that which is always greater and more integral.
The first half of this chapter addresses fundamental stages of hierarchy broadly recognized by metaphysical traditions thriving during medieval times and largely influenced by Neoplatonism. A six-stage template of personal and social growth or evolution outlining a natural path of spiritual realization was imaged by the original designers of the Tarot. Four Immortal states of realization were additionally depicted, facilitating conscious and corporeal identity with divine states and principles so that immortality could be known and realized. In this way, incorporeal law, such as it may be conceived, was applied to all corporeal realms within one model comprising ten nested spheres or principle-processes of reality.
In the second half
of the chapter we consider historical, intellectual attempts to bridge dualistic
presumptions of separate incorporeal (i.e., divine reality that is ‘above’
and ‘outside’ of manifested reality) and corporeal domains.
These include great syntheses made by metaphysicians in late Pagan and early
Eastern Christian communities. Insights regarding Neoplatonism and Greek
Christian esotericism will serve to elucidate our previous, brief introduction
to Sufi metaphysics. We will attempt to dispel confusion about how an incorporeal
God could possibly be directly contemplated and Triumphantly imaged by anyone
other than the prophets Moses, Elijah, Jesus, or Mohammed.
The Seventh Seal, Stage, or Sphere was from this point on identified in dualistic camps with either Salvation or Evil. In the medieval Tarot, the Devil and Tower represent this stage. As will be reiterated later, however, this stage in Tarot development represents awakening through and beyond chaotic illusion. Divine sacrifice, sacred fire, and the Tower of the Devil are not opposed to the Good.
The Gnostic kingdom of Spirit and Soul also contained the realms of Sophia
and Life. Sophia, meaning wisdom, was marked by the intersection
of gnosis and insight. Through that intersection, divine
Light entered the soul of man. In and of itself, such understanding of gnosis
was genuine and wide ranging. However, it was common in Gnostic myths to
have Sophia in the position of turning her attention away from the divine
realm of the Father, creating a ‘son’ in the realm of darkness,
alienated from Holy Spirit. In such a context, Sophia was often called Whore,
which at the time indicated an excess of eroticism. Her desire
to create without being bound to a partner and to act
without consulting the Father or Pleroma lay at the root of her fall. In
the influential Valentinian versions of the myth, her error was to ascend
to the father, as her erotic passion became un-controllable; eroticism,
immaturity, and evil influences of ‘friends’ compounded to create
Wisdom’s undoing. The Cathars of France believed similarly. This cast
an evil shadow over Eros. Even though such cosmology is superficially similar
to that of the Tarot, it differs radically in its worldview and is not actually
represented in the Triumphs (contrary to the ‘secret interpretations’
of many occult Tarot sects).
This is sublimated through responsible Tempering of magnetic and chemical opposites intensively engaged through the agencies of Emperor and Pope. Which leads to a mature, intelligent revelation that the Questor naturally gives form to through mutual visions and dreams befalling her and those she Loves. Maturation of responsive potency emerges as an effectively transforming current or charge through the stages of Chariot and Fortitude – Right Speech becomes Right Action.
Initiating it all, however, must be alchemical Right View – the essential nature and vital life that composes the Stone of the Philosophers. Congealing and affecting alchemical mercury is the delightful art of the Tarot’s first-stage noble women. Holding true to that potency is a critical matter of Right Resolve. The Tarot’s second-stage noble men exercise that resolve by lending the alchemy prolonged constitution, thereby embodying a vehicle for its further intensification and evolutionary development instead of expending the women’s work in explosions of conflict.
We will come to know
in this chapter the secret processes of alchemy as experienced through tantric
yoga. These processes have been engaged and authenticated within
all of the great traditions. They are based more upon the subtle
intercourse of psyches than the gross conjoining of bodies,
which is not to degrade the importance of physical presence, touch, and
yoga. Let potency build is the key to emerging through the organic,
purely natural hierarchy of Triumphant states.
The seventh stage of the Tarot’s cosmological system is represented by the Devil and Tower Arcana. This is the Underworld stage of Chaos and Generative Flux, which underlies all discriminated comings and goings of the cosmos. Purgatory for most, hell for some, and heaven for a few, the Seventh Stage is the Questor’s alpha and omega. It is the beginning of her immortal transfiguration (through dimensional encapsulation within the Overworld of Eros) and the end of her personal quest. Herein is discovered the true purpose of the Tarot’s twenty-two arcane stations: to assist humankind to transcend death by triumphantly empowering sincere Questors with the insight of transcendentally realized Eros. In this way, the Trionfi themselves serve as sacred agents, informing consciousness of the Principles of Immortality.
Myths regarding the
Dionysus-Perseus-Hercules-Hermes lineage formed a coherent, interchanging
storyline that told of a heroic and spiritual quest for immortality. The
Goddess was a cause of, at all times present in, and indeed utterly indispensable
to that Quest. Broadly, the Quest was for Immortal realization in
a context of Goddess resurrection, commonly symbolized
by Persephone, Dionysus’ mother. Dionysus (and in India, Shiva) was
the first historically recorded incarnation of that perennial Indo-European
shaman who was able to bridge Eros with Gaia via sacrificial
Death and an otherworld renewal (Tartarus) of transformational consciousness
(Chaos), and then share his knowledge of evolution with a community
of initiates via spiritual rituals. In that Way is found the Tarot
Triumphs’ original procession of immortal realization.
Brilliant physicists and other scientists during the past hundred years have contemplated and argued the veracity of varying frameworks purposed toward integrating the most essential and universal theories of natural law. Because scientific study of the physical world has not occurred apart from psycho-socio-cultural development, principles addressed in this book that have advanced social, cultural, and spiritual growth have also affected the material growth of humankind’s physical environments. The Great Principles reviewed in previous chapters can also be found reflected within the evolving course of scientific discovery. From Heraclitus’ ever-changing Chaos to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, a history of rational observation and intuitive insight composing the essential knowledge of science has unfolded in tandem with the history of metaphysical wisdom and whole-body realization of evolving consciousness.
The present work finishes with a consideration of primary principles being established within the new sciences and identifies those with ten essential and unifying principles of cosmic evolution and immortality. These affirm perennial wisdom understanding of unity through eternity. These principles, stages, or domains of world development formed the origins of the Tarot system of Image-Exemplars and divinatory storytelling. (A science version of the Triumphs may readily be imagined based upon this chapter; we will leave that for a forthcoming project, which promises to be of great interest.)
Unification of natural
Law regarding astronomic, planetary, human, organic, molecular, atomic,
and quantum spheres can only be established through common principles,
not objectively identical models, mathematical or else wise. Those
principles must be applicable to all aspects of the world as humans are
able to essentially view it, including psycho-spiritual, socio-cultural,
and environmental-physical. As scientific thought evolves into fourth-stage
intuitively integral understanding, universal principles of hierarchical
emergence, synchronistic contingency, holistic causality, and transformative
chaos are coming into the fore. These are unifying not only the laws of
physics, but also those of the natural world within all levels and complexities
When used in the context of a game that includes minimal storytelling, such as in the traditional game of Tarocchi, the symbolic meanings contained in the Triumphs generally do not come into play. At most, they perhaps assist players in appreciating the hierarchical nature of the Triumphs as they are used to trump other cards and capture tricks. This particular utility of the cards, furthering a method of competitive play in games of chance, enabled their continuous popularity and ensured their survival beyond the late medieval era.
Used in the context of divination, the symbolic meanings, intuitive gestalts, and overall vision contained within each distinctive Triumph define the reading, guidance, and wisdom of a worldview founded upon ancient yet perennial knowledge and authentic spiritual realization.
That wisdom is made available by playing the Tarot, and may be freely drawn upon by every beholder of a traditional spread of Triumphs.
Combined as both a
game and an oracle, the Tarot lends itself to a unique type of social play
and personal edification. When integrated with interactive technology, the
Image-Exemplars can become animated stories combining text with visuals,
sounds with passages, education with seduction, and identity with mystery.
Even beyond the ultimate limits there extends a passageway,
Whereby he comes back among the six realms of existence;
Every Worldly affair is a Triumphant work,
And wherever he goes he finds his home air;
Like a gem he stands out even in the mud,
Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace;
Along the endless road he walks sufficient unto himself,
In whatever associations he is found,
He moves leisurely unattached.
Sifu Jitoku Ki
|Origins of the Tarot
Cosmic Evolution and the Principles of Immortality
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