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the high priestess
from my Spanish deck given to me over 20 years ago in Basque Spain. The imagery is straightforward, and the fig seems altogether more appropriate than an apple. The sense of feminine awareness and knowledge is very strong and refreshingly free of guilt or 'sinful' connotations. Note that this card retains the familiar 'pillars' of most High Priestess cards - here they are trees - and the woman guards the way ahead, which seems to lead from the darkness of the forest into the light of the sun. I sometimes wonder what she has in her left hand, concealed behind her back. This deck features a common use of the High Priestess as a significator for female questioners, the Magician being used for males.
The High Priestess from the Waite deck, note the pillars. Here the priestess is more associated with a moon goddess - essentially the symbolism is the same.
The deck was published by Fournier who, I believe, are based in Vittoria - the deck may be available from Amazon (click below)
El Gran Tarot Esoterico
Tarot appears in many forms and there are just as many different
theories about it's origin. There are today more than three hundred
decks commercially available and new ones appear regularly - a Da Vinci
'Code' tarot recently appeared (The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot), joining
the ranks of specialised decks
which include ones which are feminist, faery orientated, angelic,
erotic and even one based on a famous hippy commune. The first wave of
'popular' decks which followed the advent of print technology used to
mass produce playing cards, saw the development of 'new' decks such as
Arthur Waite's and Aleister Crowley's - both of which stemmed from
intellectual interest in the occult and attempted to carry their
creators' philosophies with substantial accompanying texts and
radically redesigned images. The mystery of the earliest tarots remains
a key ingredient in the popularity of the cards, despite the many
'updates' and new approaches, and the idea that they are in some way
associated with, or even a key to, arcane knowledge gives the tarot an
aura and mystique which professional readers trade heavily on. It is
here that many readers foster wrong impressions, as often as not - it
should be pointed out - with the encouragment of their customers.
Astrology largely makes the same mistake. Neither are 'fortune
telling', both become lost in their own mystique.
Playing cards is an ancient pastime and the earliest historical trace is Chinese where games were devised from trading markers and counting systems. Our systems of writing derive from pictograms and the usage of recognisable symbols and images which carry meaning is a fundemental and fascinating part of human development. The earliest cards, from the 15th century, were pieces of original artwork - hand painted and crafted they would have been very expensive commisioned works. The main deck, a number system of four classes of 1-10, each with mulipliers, four 'court' cards which could be held to 'command' greater numbers (10s, 100s, 1000s, 10000s perhaps) and to be so valued, was embellished by an additional 'suit' - the 22 Trumps, or triumphs. Accordingly, a tarot deck was a major undertaking yet their more widespread appearance in the early 17th century, when modern movable type printing and presses made this feasible, is testament to the power of the idea behind them. The game Tarrochina dating from the 15th century is still widely played today as 'Ottocento' or 'Tarrocco Bolognese' (which is not a pasta dish), and features a rationalised 62 card deck. Tarot cards themselves are used for French Tarot, very popular in France where clubs and leagues are found nationwide. Ottocento and French Tarot both closely resemble Bridge and the more complex forms of Whist and the system in Ottocento also has echoes in the widespread card game Euchre. The Trumps themselves are a selection of images from the Tarocchi of Mantegna, some fifty images featured in an early woodcut edition from early 15th century Venice. Just a few years later, an intellectual puzzle, believed to represent mathematical theorem, The Labarinto, featured these same characters arranged variously over 22 sheets, and an English version was printed and published commercially in London in 1610.
It's clear that the nature of the images and symbols were widely understood - they represented various aspects of mythology, including the muses, the gods and their astrological representations in the planets, also the social conditions of humankind, the liberal arts and the cardinal virtues. At a time when Hermetic and Alchemical enquiry were yet to give way to the enlightenment of Science, they emphasise the proto-scientific nature of the ideas that Tarot drew upon as people found the bright, mysterious cards a natural oracular device - a philosophical machine. It is as an oracle that the cards have value - something quite different to fortune telling, as the Greeks clearly understood. Look at the cards as a means of 'seeing' questions and issues in a different light, from a different perspective.
|© Jeremy Rogers 2007, 2015|