Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why should we bother learning tarot history anyway?

The tarot evolved from cards brought to Italy in the 1300's.

So... who cares? How does that affect me?

The problem with the tarot is that the centuries of lies, myths, and superstitions have done their best to destroy any factual evidence of the tarot's origins, and it is only recently that scientific analysis and the ease of long-distance communication among many sources throughout the world has shed light on what really happened long ago. We can now easily talk to someone on the other side of the world who has a scrap of information that acts like a missing puzzle piece in our quest to find out "the Truth" (note the capital "t").

This may seem basic, but this instant information age we live in is only a decade or so old. Even now many are only slowly coming to the internet, even as the web is 18 years old. Stepping back to the 1960's when all we had were phone lines and snail mail, or worse, in the 1700's, 1800's and early 1900's when we had things like horses and ships to carry mail, there was little to no chance of assembling all of the parts of history together on ANY arcane subject with any great accuracy. Try as we might, the facts were simply too diverse, too widely scattered for us to understand how things originated without being served large doses of opinion, superstition, and outright misinformation. Simply put: for the longest time (literally "centuries") people believed in all kinds of garbage we laugh at today. Unfortunately their beliefs about the tarot are resurging in popularity as more and more faux authors and faux tarot scholars discover the ease and lack of expense in reprinting public domain texts. These "wannabe authorities" print the lies and mistakes people made throughout history in an attempt to make easy money and get laid at cocktail parties.

All of that nonsense stops here (and I will name names--some of them QUITE FAMOUS if I have to). The reason we learn tarot history, even a little, is to protect us from the mistakes, lies, and superstitions of idiots and those too lazy to do any level of actual research. If you are assaulted by an angry xian who says that the tarot is demonic (because they think so--and thus they know more than "God") you can reply that the Church NEVER had any problem with the tarot, and that there is more Christian iconography in the tarot than there are in any other card decks in the world. In fact, there are several flavors of Christian tarot, from saints, to angels, to Jesus decks. But you have to do a little research to know this.

Similarly, if someone tells you that the tarot came from Babylon, Egypt, or Greece, and you have not done ANY research, you will get sucked into the beliefs that the tarot came from Atlantis, and that hieroglyphs are coded tarot messages. This may not sound like much of a damper to your abilities, but when you start trying to force the tarot images into meanings that have nothing to do with their design, you will join the millions of people who have fought and lost the battle of mastering the tarot. This problem has been going on throughout the centuries as people try to make the tarot "cool" by adding useless information to it. Simply by knowing where the tarot came from (um... Italy, then Switzerland, Spain, and France) you can easily understand why the images are there and what they mean. The images of the tarot are simply a reflection of life during that time period. In order to read the cards accurately we must transpose new understandings ("technology," and social advancements such as Democracy) over the archaic images of feudal lords and peasants with barbaric technology.

I cannot strongly enough recommend Robert Place's book on the subject. It is that good--and it is a quick read. It reveals the scoundrels and some of the thieves in the tarot, the historians who tried, and failed, to find the true history of the cards, and how the cards evolved from dice rolls. I don't run around recommending tarot books, so I do hope you will try this one out. At least read the free parts on Amazon and decide for yourself:

The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination

A simple perusal of the tarot's evolution will show you WHY we have the meanings we do today, and how the order of the cards has changed several times, meanings have been purposely altered on the whim of one man's ego and another man's zealotry. Knowing these things deepens your relationship with the cards. It makes you see them for what they are, and not as some "mysterious oracle" the aliens gave us.

Trust me--I do this for a living. And my only concern is to scrub the crap out your head that people keep piling on.

Okay, thanks for reading. More later