Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Finally had to learn about tarot cards

Starting with early Dover books…
I found this on Wikipedia.  It is astonishing what stuff people will post with limited usage just because , I guess, reading tarot cards is a business?  Anyhow, all the early ones are for games.

Back when I was a student, the Economy miracle was the catalogue of Dover books.  I mean, you could get things like a great (but O.P.) edition of Dürer's woodblock prints, reduced but still beautiful and large on good paper very reasonably.  But now all sorts of grubby stuff is jealously protected from free use just because it's for fortunetelling.  It was from Dover reprints, though, that I saw how many people were avid to pseudopsychologize from the Tarot; the books flew off the shelves to students.  I thought they were corny, in a class with ouija boards and crystal balls.  The happy cardplayers in the photo I found (above) make their game look better than Old Maid but similar in principle–much easier than learning to play Bridge.  Cribbage, too, is easy fun.
But yesterday, seeing the delightful artwork of a friend who uses the Tarot repertories as a point of departure, I had to wonder what could be meant by a Seven of Cups in designs that also use animals.  The Wikipedia provided all I needed.   I did know, of course, that quantities of pre-scholarly Egyptian stuff and Late Greco-Roman personifications and astrology and numerology bestrew Tarot decks, and, beyond that, followers of Jung found more than fun in them. But I am allergic to Jung, so I hadn't got any closer to Tarot cards than my exposure to my friend's delightful use of them.
Actually, I am very happy to know that the Joker really is the same as the everyday deck's Joker, that the Cups equate to Hearts, that Trumps are Trionfi, and so on.  But the Survival of the Pagan Gods, which I knew from Seznec but also from Panofsky are, like the survivals from Ovid, for instance, and the gradual development of modern languages from Late Latin (and every aspect of the Dark Ages– Dark because for a couple of hundred years they really were obscure) are so profoundly interesting as such that taking them as intellectual playthings bothers me.  I don't want, in any case, to titillate myself with "secrets" of the future or of the past; I am more than content to live each day as if it is my last.  
The great fact is that the Tarot for fortune-telling is actually a phenomenon of the late 19th and 20th century.  The Tarot decks themselves developed only in the Early Renaissance.  The Occult, while always appealing to the Curiosity, the venal sin of idle and lazy minds (not to be confused with scientific curiosity), is as Early Modern as Sherlock Holmes' use of cocaine.
I do find myself interested in putting together all the bits of partial learning and partial understanding that I may have collected in my eight decades.  Surely that is what memory is for?
I need to think more about these questions.