Tarot trumps and other sets of emblems or icons of trades, animals, birds, gods, chaps, letters, spheres or ‘elements’, express cycles of archetypal features, including at least the twelve to sixteen main types. Elaborate sets include four transitional or borderline fields, and four cosmology or ‘galactic’ markers, thus a maximum of 24 characters per cycle. This post offers evidence against Gertrude Moakley’s (1966) theory that Bembo and other designers merely copied and elaborated Petrarch’s six Triumphs of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity, into 21 trumps.
Moakley’s conclusion on Tarot trumps origin, is no longer generally supported by Tarot researchers. Some agree that card games came to Europe from China, or via Arabia (Little 2003, citing Farley; Hurley on Pre-Gebelin; strings on LTarot@yahoogroups), and mixed with Crusader chivalry in the process. But apart from traceable stylisation, there is a common cause in myths, rituals, processions, talismans, and game sets. All cultural media express the same archetypal structure or ‘grammar’ of meaning. This post is an extract from the chapter on Tarot cards in the book Mindprint (Furter 2014, Lulu.com, 200 illustrations), adding some text and images.
Tarot decks are typically 56 or 60 or 72, plus about 22 numbered trumps picturing emblems and icons. These have parallels in episodes or situations in myths, seasons and constellations. Yet each cultural medium, including crafts such as games, calendar and divination, equally expresses archetypal inspiration.
Tarot and astrology are academic taboos
Books and esoteric applications based on the Tarot deck have proliferated over 600 years, yet most artists, iconographers, scientists, and even ‘depth’ psychologist Carl Jung, shied away from studying or publishing their findings about this deck. Academic assumptions of the supposed arbitrary and wishful nature of talismans and esoteric crafts, and the necessary admixture of charlatanism in crafts, raised conscious stigmas of talismans as arbitrary and illogical. Yet art, notably rock art and spiritual or religious art, contain and hinge on talismanic elements (Thackeray 2013).
The Tarot deck contains seasonal and decanal elements, like the ‘books of hours’ that once popularised myth cycles, similar to fables, cartoons and movies. The numbered cards and court suites are interchangeable minor cycles, similar to hour decans in calendars (Neugebauer and Parker 1966), but the trumps, triumphs, or exaltations are anchored in eternally recurrent mythical and archetypal clusters of meanings (see the list below).
Tarot books mis-identify seasons, constellations, or ‘signs’
Esotericists continue to graft Tarot trump emblems onto other sets of archetype, and onto zodiac signs, and sometimes on constellations. Yet surprisingly, even astrologers have variously misidentified the constellations that parallel the 22 trumps. One of the reasons for this symbolic confusion, is the quirks in archetype. The four major types could be single or doubled: types 1 and/or 2 Builder, 12 and/or 13 Heart (not relevant to the playing card suite of Hearts), 8 and/or 9 Healer, 5a and/or 5b Priest. And the archetypal number 5 is repeated at its first magnitude (for which the Tarot deck has only one trump, 5 Pope), but doubled at the higher magnitude in base 15/16, as 20 Judgement and 21 World. And only the first seven types are given higher magnitudes, or a second layer, in base15/16, as follows: 0:15, 1:16, 2:17, 3:18, 4:19, 5a:20, 5b:21 (see the typology list below). Thus camouflage of the archetypal identity of Tarot trumps is intrinsic and formidable, but once cracked, they reveal their parallels in myth, ritual, art, calendar, myths and constellations in all cultures.
Type 10 Teacher as Wheel of Life in a Book of Hours
A Wheel of Fortune miniature illustration in a Book of Hours demonstrates autumn or ‘Fall’. Trump 10, Wheel of Fortune, is analogous to constellation Libra, the archetypal host of the autumn equinox, or cosmic balance between the annual ecliptic earth orbit equator, and the daily celestial earth rotation. During Age Aries, autumn was in constellation Libra, up to about BC 80. But in astrology, ‘sign’ Libra always hosts the equinox, as ‘sign’ Aries precesses (moves backward against the seasonal direction) with the spring equinox, irrespective of background constellations. From about BC 80 to AD 2016, the spring equinox and thus ‘sign’ Aries moved backward through constellation Pisces, and recently entered the end of constellation Aquarius (defined by being 90 degrees from both static galactic ‘gates’).
Artworks, including miniatures, and rock art, subconsciously express the same set of archetypal structure in all ages, along with archetypal cosmology. Here is a list of the set of archetypes in a Book of Hours miniature of a Wheel of Fortune (noting some of the known archetypal features).
Type Label; Character (archetypal feature):
1 Builder; A king falling (twist, ruin).
3 Queen; A prince (royal) .
4 King; Noble (royal) praying (more typical of 5).
5 Priest; A knave falling (horizontal).
6 Exile; Princess on top.
And the central courtier, near the axial centre (ingress), directing the wheel (’tree’).
7 Child; A courtier.
8 Healer; A courtier.
10 Teacher; A king blessing (arm up).
11 Womb; A courtier, pregnant, her axis to her midriff (womb).
12 Heart; Priest (of 5 opposite 12), axis to his chest (heart).
13c Head; Written tract (weave, oracle).
14 Mixer; A king near the axial centre (ingress).
15 Maker; Fallen emperor (order), under another (double).
00 Axial centre; Unmarked, as usual.
Midsummer; Central courtier’s shoulder (limb-joint).
Midwinter; Central courtier’s jaw (limb-joint).
The ‘solstice’ axle is near the vertical plane, between axes 13-14, analogous to Leo-Cancer, implying spring and the time-frame in Age Taurus-Aries, long before the work as usual.
Tarot trump numbers are archetypal
Tarot numbering may have been a lucky conscious or subconscious guess that ‘felt right’, or may derive from a spiral divination cards layout format that proved its worth to psychics or artists. Numbering may have been simply recognised as implicit in the designs, or extracted from a complex artwork that contained the types, as usual.
The initial problem that led to this study, and to the book Mindprint, was to identify the designer of the Tarot trumps. That question was answered in the finding that all artists express the standard sequence and spatial structure. The question could now be rephrased into ‘who numbered or reconstructed the sequence and numbering of Tarot trumps’. It could be another poet like Petrarch (see below), an artist like Mantegna (who probably did not design the Tarocchini deck variant that bears his name), a printer in Basel or Marseilles or Germany, or an alchemist or esotericist in the iconographic hothouse of the early Renaissance. If the ‘source’ of the numbering were identified, the name and work would probably just add to very long list of everyone who subconsciously expressed, and still express, archetypal structure. No indication of conscious recognition of the sequence of archetypes could be found, despite diligent search among artworks, built sites, myths, legends, rituals, alphabets and craft sets of all cultures. Nor did any author ever list, or claim to have, a ‘Periodic table’ of archetypes that apply to nature and culture, before 2014.
Type 10 Teacher as Wheel of Life in a Durer engraving
Albrech Durer’s Wheel of Fortune miniature engraving with the angel of Time, a fox, and six iconic birds, demonstrates life cycles, and autumn or ‘Fall’, one of the popular icons associated with seasons and ‘triumph’ cycles. Artworks, including icons and miniature designs, subconsciously express the same set of archetypal structure in all ages, along with some subconscious spatial cosmology. Here is a list of the set of archetypes and cosmic junctures in Durer’s engraving of a Wheel of Fortune (noting some of the known archetypal features).
Type Label; Character (noting archetypal features):
2 Builder; Pheasant (bird, cluster), climbing (twist) on a turning wheel (build/ruin).
3 Queen; Magpie (neck bent), crowned (queen), on top (spring).
4 King; Jay-bird (bird).
5b Priest; Fox (hyperactive), turning (assembly) in reverse? (invert).
5c Basket Tail; Wheel (disc) rear handle (‘tail’, ‘tree’). C-types are off the axial grid, but between specific axes.
6 Exile; Eagle, also expressing 7 (‘double-head’).
7 Child; Eagle, left eye, invisible (‘eyeless’).
7g Gal.Centre; Eagle wing (limb-joint).
9 Healer; Peacock.
10 Teacher; Falcon (hunt-master), claws upward (‘arms’ up). The icon of a wheel, or carousel of animals, often with a canid, is part of the optional features of type 10 Teacher.
11 Womb; Midriff (womb) of Temperance. The features of this type include law (here of life cycles), and tomb (her implied death), and library (here written labels. The original German is translated by the author).
13 Heart; Chest (heart) of Temperance, a virtue (angel). The features of this type include death (here implied by Fate), rounded (wheel), invert (cycle).
14 Mixer; Time (time) angel (angel), turning fate (transform) as a wheel (‘tree’) with birds (bird). Her inner eye, while the outer expresses type 15.
15 Maker; Time turns (churn) fate (order), shown frontal (face), with a fox (canid). Her other eye (doubled) expresses type 14. Some types share an axis in some miniature artworks (Furter 2019; Stoneprint Journal 5; Archetypes in seals, stamps and miniatures).
15g Gal.Gate; ,,,, (juncture, limb joint).
00 Axial centre; Unmarked as usual.
4p Gal.S.Pole; Jay-bird’s foot (limb-joint).
11p Gal.Pole; Time angel’s elbow (limb-joint).
Summer; Pheasant’s wing (limb-joint).
Winter; Wheel hub (juncture).
These polar triangles place the summer marker between axes 15-2, analogous to Gemini-Taurus, thus spring and the cultural time-frame in Age Pisces-Aquarius. This transitional framework is somewhat ‘prophetic’ for the late Age Pisces artist, but a typical subconscious feature of works intended to perpetuate a legacy. Further study of Durer’s icons may reveal more about this work. Parallel features in other media, would in turn reveal more about icons and archetypes (see the global average percentage of known recurrent features in Mindprint 2014, Lulu.com).
Structuralist features of expression are universal, and subconscious to artists, architects, builders, crafters and members of any culture.
Types by trumps, constellations, and functions
Archetypal sequence follows laws of energy and matter that differ from the neatly directional, sequential, cyclic and base10 world that our conscious minds believe us to live in. Here is a table of the set of archetypes, how Tarot trumps express it, and how constellation lore (not ‘signs’) express it (noting known archetypal features in brackets).
Type Label; Trump (archetypal features), Constellation (archetypal features):
1 Builder; Juggler (twist), Taurus Orion (hero)
1:16 Builder; Tower (ruin), Taurus Auriga
2 Builder; Priestess (rain), Taurus Pleiades (rain)
2:17 Builder; Star (rain), Taurus Perseus (twist,hero)
3 Queen; Empress (queen), Aries Andromeda (queen)
3:18 Queen; Moondogs (dragon), Aries Cetus (ovid, dragon, neck)
4 King; Emperor (king), Pisces Pegasus(rect.), Cepheus(king)
4:19 King; SunTwins(sun,twin), Pisces fish/birds (garden)
5 Priest; Pope (ritual), Aquarius (ritual, horizontal)
5a:20 Priest; Judgement(judge), Aquarius waterbearer (bless,judge)
5b:21 Priest; World (ascend), Aquarius Pegasus legs (equid)
6 Exile; Choice (sacrif.), Capricornus (caprid)
7 Child; Chariot (chariot), Sagittarius (centaur)
8 Healer; Strength (strong), Scorpius tail (bent, ‘heal’)
9 Healer; Hermit(trance,bent), Scorpius(strong), Ophiuchus(strong)
10 Teacher; Fortune(wheel,force), Sc.Claw(‘arm’), Bootes(arm), Serp.(snake)
11 Womb; Justice (law), Virgo (womb), star Spica (crops)
12 Heart; HangedMan (invert), Leo retro (felid, invert)
13 Heart; Death (death,weapon), Leo(felid,scythe shape), Regulus(heart)
14 Mixer; Temperance(time,mix), Cancer(carapace), Beehive(transform)
15 Maker; Devil (re-make,rope), Gemini (double)
15:0 Maker; Jester (bag), Gemini (double).
Moakly’s Tarot diffusion scheme
Bembo’s deck of trumps designed for the Sforza-Visconti couple, is the model for later Tarot decks. Gertrude Moakley (1966) saw Bembo’s 22 trumps as elaborated from a game of Triumphs with only six trumps, modelled on processions of religious festivals, and on naughty carnival procession mockery, and on knightly tournament processions, and on Petrarch’s poem of his unrequited love for noble Laura.
[Tarot?] Petrarch’s triumphs:
[10/06?] P1 Love as Cupid v gods and men.
[11/07?] P2 Chastity v Love, as Laura’s ladylike rejection.
[12/08?] P3 Death v Chastity, as Laura dies of Black Death.
[13/08?] P4 Fame v Death, as Laura’s reputation lives on.
[14/09?] P5 Time v Fame, [as Laura’s reputation wanes].
[15:0/10?] P6 Eternity v Time, as Laura’s love in afterlife.
Moakley proposed that Bembo, and the ‘Mantegna’ and Florentine Minchiate decks, had extracted these characters from Petrarch’s poem to become Tarot trumps (Tr):
Tr Character ‘from Petrarch’ (after Moakley 1966):
01 Juggler of Love [money?] ‘Or carnival king’s meal’
02 Priestess of Love [spirituality?]
03 Empress of Love [domain?]
04 Emperor of Love [power?]
05 Pope of Love [religion]
06 Lovers of Love [body]
07 Chariot of Chastity [unmotivated]
08 Justice of Chastity [should be 11]
09 Hermit of Time [out of group sequence]
10 Wheel of Chastity [contradiction]
11 Strength of Chastity [should be 08]
12 Hanged of Death
13 Death of Death
14 Time of Chastity, crutches [duplicates ‘9’]
15 Devil of Death
16 Tower of Death [but Time stars?]
17 Stars of Hermit [time]
18 Moon of Hermit [time]
19 Sun of Hermit [time]
20 Fame of? (Minchiate only), trumpets [‘20’ assumed]
21 World of Hermit, eternal, four creatures [monastic?]
But critics (Little 2003; Hurst, and others) argue that Moakley’s conclusions are flawed, and that her scheme does not demonstrate the canonical sequence. Some commentators use the term ‘conflated’. Zodiac signs and four elements are not in Petrarch’s pattern. The ‘Mantegna’ deck has allegories from other texts. There seems no reason to assign  Chariot to Chastity. A Traitor, and Fire, find no parallel. Tarot trumps are not as ribald as Feast of Fools of Ship of Fools emblems (see the example below). Some Petrarch illustrators placed  Strength’s staff or club with  Cupid, or  Temperance’s cups with  Cupid, or cast the Pope and Papess as pagan Jupiter and Juno, or replace [7?] Chastity with her enemy  Fortune, or reduce [14/9] Time to attendant of  Death, or omit [5:20] Fame, or reduce [15:0] Eternity to a number, or show  Death as an old hag, not a skeleton.
There is now some consensus that Petrarch’s poem, and illustrators, and Tarot cards, were parallel expressions of early Renaissance mytho-poetic conventions. The present study (Furter 2014; 2016) demonstrates that all cultural conventions, including crafts sets, express archetype, and that the Tarot trumps do so in sequence, and by archetypal numbers, and with seven trumps overlapping the first seven numbers as their higher magnitudes in base 15/16 (as in the table above). Critics differ on whether Moakley’s book had any impact on Tarot users, who shared their esoteric fantasies about ‘ancient’ origins, even after evidence of medieval precursors became commonly available on the Internet (Little 2003).
And academic researchers keep their ‘developmental’ fantasies about ‘diffusion’ of ‘ideas’, even after J.G. Frazer demonstrated that all the detailed motifs of myths were present worldwide; and C.G. Jung demonstrated that dreams in all cultures repeat mythic themes; and Claued Levi-Strauss demonstrated underlying structures in behaviour; the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) catalogue numbered clusters of motifs in folk legends; and publication of the recurrent subconscious expression of archetypal structure in the art, rock art, built sites, icons and alphabets of all cultures, in two books, the anthropology journal Expression (see Sources below), four websites, and six magazine editions. The anthropology model is summarised in the recent paper Blueprint (Furter 2019, on www.edmondfurter.wordpress.com).
Tarot trumps 8 Strength and 11 Justice were swopped
Popular archetypal sets typically contain some error, but are also typically revised, which often rectify ‘copyist’ errors. Among Tarot trumps, the sequence error concerns trumps 8 Strength and 11 Justice. In the Tarot Marseilles sequence, trump 8 Strength (type 8 Healer, trance, spiritual strength, or Scorpius), and trump 11 Justice (type 11 Womb, crops, or Virgo) became swopped in one variant. There is no inherent natural ambiguity between these two types (as there are between types 3, 4 and 6, particularly regarding the feature equid, or horse). There is also no ambiguity between their parallel myths or constellations. The variant is probably due to an ‘authoritative’ error in that became copied. Intuitive rectifying of this sequence error, is noted in a short article on Tarot trumps in Stoneprint Journal 4; London stoneprint tour (Lulu.com).
Moakley, in her brief introduction to Papus: Tarot of the Bohemians, translated by Waite (Arcanum Books), noted her dismay at popular ‘occult’ fictions and ‘ancient origins’, but accepted modern myth as worthy of study: “Literal facts about the Tarot cards are probably quite different from the occultist account. But this brings us again to another veiled darkness: the unconscious motives of those who… use symbols only to add to the amusement and excitement of a Carnival game. We may then accept the occultist tradition as a valid myth, a solemn way of stating a truth symbolically with such imaginative force that even its authors at first always mistake it for the literal truth… [The Papus book is] useful to anyone who wants to study as a cultural phenomenon this modern instance of what Robert Graves has called ‘iconotropy’ [iconic chaos v conservation, or diffusion]… despite T.S. Eliot’s remarks about “wild-goose chases after Tarot cards.” Her remark is ironic. If icons were copied and re-copied as Graves and herself thought, then entropy or chaos would soon change them beyond recognition. The study of the cause of universal recurrence, and retention of the essential core content of cluster of meanings, was overdue since the Periodic table brought order to alchemy and chemistry. Natural and cultural sets are equally rooted in archetype.
Layers of expression
Spiritual, religious and cultural craft art is understood in academia to be based on hallucinations that are “construed in trance”, recalled and “no doubt formalised as they were painted.” (Lewis-Williams and Pearce 2012). However ‘formalisation’ of buck bags, sky ropes, flying people, falling buck, half humans, saurian antelope and such surreal features, does not require artists, or their clients or society, to understand these forms. These forms do not necessarily directly represent the implied hallucinations, but are filtered through perception and the media of re-expression. Inspiration may resemble lucid dreams, and may not even be primarily visual. Most healers are not artists, and most artists are not healers.
Archaeologists acknowledge that sacred art is ritualised, but persist, in the words of M Biesele, in explaining art and ritual in terms of “communally held beliefs” being “operationalised… adding to the store of people’s knowledge”, while some motifs in art “do not become the source of many more paintings.” This study could not find cumulative nor dead-end motifs. Mindprint implies the very opposite of these conclusions of random, incidental and vetoed expression. Our collective subconscious and nature, thus archetype, are the sources of the sets of features, their sequence, and axial spacing of the eyes of the characters that express them in art.
Art, rock art, and all cultural media, are not individual or cultural, nor trial and error, nor bounded by a “set of beliefs” built on a supposed store of spiritual “knowledge”. Artistic and mythic structure is not a function of knowledge, but sustained by perpetually renewed inspiration.
Lewis-Williams and Pierce see iconography as “the significance of images for their makers… impossible to study without an iconographic baseline and social context of the imagery.” They call for adducing ethnographic (mythic) and lexical (conscious) meanings, from neuro-psychological and other evidence to guide a theoretical and methodological framework to explain San rock art. Mindprint offers these meanings, frameworks and methods in sixteen limited sets of features, and a simplistic, standard geometric structure, with endless close affinities to nature and culture, and truly endless examples in the cultural record.
The book Mindprint demonstrates 200 in art and cork art, and lists 400 more in an appendix, since extended to built sites, alphabets and hieroglyphs (the last two media are demonstrated in Furter 2019; Blueprint, on http://www.edmondfurter.wordpress.com; and on Academia; and on Researchgate; and on Academia). A dictionary of artistic and iconographic typology and structure is overdue, but no faith or set of “beliefs” are required.
This study is enabled by conceptual unity, as well as the principle of partial and imperfect expression. Where one sequence of icons, symbols, myths or gods may omit, underplay or overplay a type, others fill in, to specific average quotas worldwide. Culture itself functions by disunity, traceable by ‘tacks’ among its artefacts, as Wylie (1989) demonstrated to be valid in archaeology.
Culture is inherently standardised
The main ingredients of the most elusive aspects of culture, being aesthetics, beauty and inspiration, were thought to be indefinable, infinitely mutable, independently created, supported only by high culture, transfused, learned and fragile. They now appear to be highly standardised by subconscious impulse, unlearned, robust, and accessible to any prodigy or peasant anywhere. All it requires is an eye, mind, hand, canvas, and charcoal, or an episode to re-tell, or an occasion to ritualise, or a site to build on.
Cognitive archaeology denies archetypes in rock art, and does not gather or apply visual iconographic data, apart from conscious symbols provided by the available myths of the culture of the painters. Presuming that artists enter trance in expectation of certain experiences, and record largely culturally expected visions, cognitive archaeology expects healers to find what they consciously expect to find, and the science itself does not find what it believes the artists do not expect to find. “San religious beliefs and experience was constrained, or framed, by the individual image-maker’s intellectual and social milieu,” wrote cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams (2012 p78). Science denies that people and cultures participate in a collective or universal subconscious. Yet conscious contact with the symbolic and collective subconscious realm is one of the causes, effects and aims of ritual, and particularly of art.
Popular anthropology fictions
Popular culture consumes spiritual experience as a type of adventure tourism or escapism. Most popular anthropology or ‘ancient mystery’ writers trade in archetypes, without addressing or even mentioning archetypes. Some popular writers start from the premise of an ancient super race (Malkowski 2010. Hancock opus). Some start on the super race or space ‘contact’ premise (Robert Temple; Sirius mystery), then migrate to an academic view (Robert Temple; Netherworld). Most academics start from the opposite premise, of an ancient primitive race blessed by evolution. Some academics migrate to an appreciation of the complexity of primitive cultures (Thackeray 2013). The middle ground where these mutable academic and popular paradigms should meet, remains elusive due to paradigmatic taboos.
Layers and haloes of meaning
Jung noted the formulaic nature of art in his approach of circumscription (finding relevant meanings or ‘signatures’ in dreams) to diagnose and prescribe appropriate myths, on the assumption that outer and inner experience and health determine their own spheres of meaning. Jung scoured peripheral meanings to reveal core meanings, confirmed in this study by the finding that each type includes a halo of related meanings.
Heidegger wrote that “a poet or thinker with his moral legein grants a world for a nation to live… by responding to the logos of earth, sky and gods… The framing-in of a world is a work of the founding physis, carried by mythos and spelled out by poetry… If we think we are interpreters, we steal from ourselves. Interpretations remain translations in different words, not revelations of truth and meaning.” This view applies to the meanings conventionally readable in Camoens, Picasso, Brink, Coetzee and all moralising (in the broad sense of the word) artists. This view is also relevant to the conventional meanings of spiritual texts. The arts translate the universe into a microcosm of the human subtext. The language of art, however, may well extend beyond interpretation, and thus reveal truth and ultimate meaning. The fault of occlusion is not in our art, books or eyes, but in our minds that we cannot understand the full meaning of what is in front of our eyes.
Subconscious expression in the service of spiritual inspiration is unerring, despite ardent search in this study for defective, contradictory or absent types, or misplaced geometric elements. We are hard-wired to see and express scenes in this way, and equally disposed to deny that we do so and to fancy ourselves thinkers of original thoughts and painters of original scenes. Art is our intimate hologram of infinitely varied scenes, populated by myths and legends, hidden in plain sight in galleries, museums and books, locked behind our equally hard-wired conscious paradigms of what history, myth, astronomy, archetypes and art should be.
An artwork is not done until all the figures of the inspiration are positioned in their allotted spaces, in addition to, or perhaps despite the less exacting function of making some immediate conscious sense to the artist and likely viewers. In the context of archetypal expression, the perpetual dictum of ‘art for art’s sake’ acquires new meaning. Whether other people would see it, or understand it, or use it in initiation, seems of lesser importance than its completion. Apparent chaotic overwork in some rock art and abstract art around the world indicates a predominant inspiration and expressive impulse, at the cost of recording or communication on a conscious level.
- Order the book Mindprint by Edmond Furter (2014, 272 pages, 200 illustrations, A4, perfect bound, $16), from Lulu.com on:
- Some Stoneprint Journal editions are also available on Lulu.com
- Order the book Stoneprint, demonstrating collective subconscious expression of archetypal structure in buildings and built sites worldwide, on email from Four Equators Media, via edmondfurter at gmail dot com at $/e250 plus postage from Johannesburg, South Africa.
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