Monday, April 28, 2014

Chapter 6: Astral Archetypes

Decker maintains that one particular part of one astrological text influenced the original designer of the tarot, namely, the part on "lots" in the Astronomica of Manilius. This is a text that Poggio found, documented in a letter to him of 1417 (Decker. p. 38). Decker sees a correspondence between the 12 lots, a variation on the idea of houses, and 12 of the first 14 trumps of the Tarot de Marseille. Unlike Houses, however, these lots are calculated in terms of the positions of the Sun and the Moon in a person's natal horoscopes.

For the other 2 cards, he assigns two of the "cardinal points" of the natal chart, the western horizon, called the "horoscope", and the midheaven. Here is the picture of the cardinal points and their assignments that Goold, the translator, gives in his Introduction:
These are not dependent on the positions of the Sun and Moon, but for Decker they fit two tarot cards. "Horoscopos" (abbreciated "HOR" above) is a term he has already associated with horoscopos = hour-marker and assigned to the Old Man as personified Time. The other, the midheaven, Manilius characterizes as follows (Goold translation, p. 147):
...enthroned on high this post is occupied by Glory (truly a fit warden for heaven's supreme station); so that she may clam all that is pre-eminent, arrogate all distinction, and reign by awarding honours of every kind. Hence comes applause, splendour, and every form of popular favour; hence the power to dispense justice in the courts, to bring the world under the rule of law, to make alliances with foreign nations one one's own terms, and to win fame relative to one's station.
Since this description includes the power to dispense justice. Decker assigns the midheaven to the Justice card, in 8th place.

For the other 12, some of these relate well enough to tarot cards: Others are a strain.
Here is Decker's picture of the 12 lots and their meanings.
This is a modified version of Goold's picture of the Lots, which Manilius also calls athla.
Decker has changed some of the words, but justifying each in the text; sometimes it is a bit of a stretch. Lot 1, relating to Home, has as an alternate name "Fortune", because one calculates it first in order to determine the rest of the circle. Thus Decker says the designer would have seen it as the Wheel of Fortune, a circle pertaining to fortune p. 140). Lot 2 has to do with warfare. Decker assigns it to the chariot, as the symbol of military triumph. Lot 3 has to do with the business of the city, "a kind of warfare, one made of civil engagements"; it "contains ties dependent on trust" and "reveals the size of rewards for devotion" (these are my quotes from Manilius, Goold p. 171). Devotion and trust is associated for Decker with the Pope. Lot 4 has to do with the law-courts, accusers and defendants, and the eloquence required in this and in advocating for legislation. Decker assigns this to the Hanged Man, as the object of legal action. Lot 6 has to do with marriage, so Love. Lot 7 determines the "abundance of means" in an undertaking, and the "duration of one's resources". Decker says this is what determines the end of a process, thus Death. 8 is "grim with Danger dire, if the planets are located in the signs of ill accord". Decker says that periculum also means "risk", hence the Juggler. Then come three that make fair sense: Children (Decker's Parenthood) to the Empress, Character to the Popess, and Health to Temperance. Lot 12 has to do with "the attainment of our ends" in Manilius, whether our efforts will meet with success. Decker says that since it has to do with effort, it would be associated with Strength.

Of these, perhaps six actually fit the card in question. The others seem to me quite strained, too much for us to say whether these Lots have anything to do with the cards. Since five of the six or so that do fit also characterize the standard Renaissance Houses (fortune, marriage, social position, health, family tradition), there are other more conventional possibilities, equally strained. It is hard for me to imagine Manilius as a source. But it could have been a means by which to do divination using the tarot, after it had already been invented.

In this case, Manilius's Lots, like conventional Houses, are incomplete prognosticators. They require to be filled in with planets and zodiacal signs that are in those houses. If cards are assigned to lots/houses, then there are no zodiacal signs left for the interpretation, which in any case is going to be complex, involving either a spread, i.e. 12 places  to put cards assigned to planets and zodiacal signs, or at least two cards, the first indicating the lot and the next the sign or planet associated with that lot. It could be a rather complex procedure; but then astrology was always complex.

For the last seven trumps, Decker refers to another section of the Astronomica, in which Manilius associates the six of the planets (probably meaning to associate all seven) with six out of twelves "temples", which are the same as Houses in standard Renaissance astrology--except that Manilius does not always follow the usual characterizations. The application to the planets is only occasionally strained. For the Devil card, he associates Manilius's Saturn, parents, and "Daemonium", a word that Goold has not found elsewhere. Decker decides that the tarot inventor would have seen it as a devil. (I would think anyone reading Manilius would see Saturn here as an older parent.) For the Tower, what Decker sees is Mars (not mentioned by Manilius, but assigned there by Goold) and Manilius's "House of Toil", which Decker says is the same as suffering. For the Star, Decker has Venus, which Manilius assigns to "Fortune" and marriage. For the Moon, it is Manilius's "brothers", "human mortality" and "Goddess"; this last is close enough for Decker. For the Sun Manilius has "God" and bodily ups and downs; Decker says that good health and God are both associated with the sun. For Judgment he has Mercury, Manilius's "Stilbon" (which Goold p. 157 says means "Glistener", a common name for Mercury) and children; Decker interprets this as "Ascendant" (Mercury as the morning star, I imagine), and people are ascending on the card. For the World he has Manilius's Jupiter, Good Fortune and what Decker says is achievement (Manilius has "consummation", even better).

Decker draws on the "children of the planets" series of illustrations that were popular in the 1460s  to support his assignments. Thus the Devil is associated with Saturn because of Saturn's unwholesome "children", the Tower with Mars, for the ruined towers on the "children" illustrations, the Moon card with the Moon, with its crayfish, etc., the Sun card, which has two "children" whom Decker identifies as wrestlers, with the Sun, whose children include athletes. For the higher two he goes to mythology without referring to the "children" series: Judgment with Mercury (as the conveyer of souls) and children; and the World as Jupiter (the highest god, with a scepter) and Greater Fortune.

The rest of Chapter 6, after Manilius, is devoted to the Picatrix. Like Manilius, this is a text that was used in the design of the Schifanoia in Ferrara; the images of its middle section are derived from the book's descriptions of the decans (the 36 divisions of 10 degrees each in the zodiac). Decker finds that the same correspondences that worked for Manilius also apply to the Picatrix: the prescription for offerings to Saturn includes dead bats and black goats, and the Devil has bat wings and, "possibly, the face and ears of a goat or stag". Saturn's scythe corresponds to the Devil's hook on the card. Mars relates to the Tower, because it has Mars "as a red spirit that looks like a torch of fire". Venus relates to the Star card; one who wishes to conjure her, the Picatrix "should possess two vessels, one for wine and one for perfume". The Moon is the moon, whose talisman has crescents and watery settings, and the Sun is the sun, a talisman for which shows a man "stretching his hand as if he wants to shake the hand of the person next to him". The Angel is Mercury, because the Picatrix "describes a figure with outstretched wings". And the World is Jupiter, because the talisman shows a man sitting on a chair with four legs, each of which is on the neck of a standing winged man. The four winged men would be the four creatures in the corners. And Jupiter was sometimes depicted in a mandorla, e.g. in the "Tarot of Mantegna", which was based on earlier imagery, as Seznec showed.

It seems to me that these resemblances are all rather loose. For example, the Temperance-lady's vessel does not look like a perfume bottle; the Devil card more usually has a pitchfork, while there is a man with a scythe on the Death card. Also, if the soul is ascending to heaven, as he says in the next section, the planets are not in the recognized order. That is not to say, however, that someone might not have made these associations once the tarot was established. Ross Caldwell made a good case once ( that the image of the PMB Fortitude card was related to the image for the 26th degree of Libra in the Astrolabium Planum of Johannes Angelus, 1494 Venice, derived from Petrus de Abano. Abano was the basis for the Schifanoia's astrological images (of the decans), too, as well as Giotto's in the Palazzo della Ragione in Padua, Caldwell says.

I am not knowledgeable enough about astrology to evaluate Decker's proposal except to say that it does not seem a source for the tarot, but rather something after the fact, as a means of prognostication.
It is no better or worse than other systems that have been suggested, such as the Sefer Yetzirah, which makes correlations between the 22 Hebrew letters and 22 astrological entities (planets, zodiac, 3 of the elements). Since the letters form a sequence, the same sequence can be imposed on the cards, however strained the visual or symbolic correspondence may be. The Sefer Yetzirah was not well known in the later 15th century, but enough people knew it for it to be something that was applied.

It is clear to me that astrology relates to three of the cards, the so-called "celestials", in the Cary Sheet (the relevant row of the sheet is above) and the later decks influenced by that document. The CS Star card has on it symbols of Venus (the lady with a star on her shoulder) and Aquarius (as a figure pouring out water from jugs). The four smaller stars at the top could represent the other planets, excluding the Sun and the Moon. The large star on the card might be a religious allegory, the "Morning Star" of Christ transcending fate; but this is not part of astrology. The Moon card has on it, besides the Moon, the crayfish of Cancer, a sign governed by the Moon; it also has a body of water, and the Moon falls under that element. There also seem to be two fish, which might suggest Pisces. The Sun card has on it the Sun. In the TdM this was expanded to have something resembling the Gemini, even though the Gemini are not governed by that planet. As for any other cards, I see no particular astrological influence on the design of any of them. I see no influence in other early decks either. They do show the Sun, the Moon, and a Star, but these were common symbols in many symbol-systems; the symbolism at the bottom of these cards is not astrological.

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