Saturday, January 10, 2009

There's Rock in Them Thar Hills

It was my decision to take Tarot history and iconography as a hobby, and it was my decision to attempt to find others with a similar hobby online. What a dolt.

Tarot forums, even those proclaiming themselves devoted to Tarot history or historical research, are inescapably dominated by fuckwits and fortune-tellers. Perhaps it is impossible to have any open forum regarding Tarot which is not overwhelmed by idiots, given that Tarot has such appeal to the simple-minded and superstitious. It is certainly a foolish naivete to expect anything else, and simple stupidity to persist in such folly. The ostensible "good thing" about participating in the online Tarot community is that different people bring different interests, backgrounds, and research abilities to a conversation, facilitating both brainstorming and critical thinking by the group as a whole. However, in practice there is no critical thinking by the group, because a majority of the participants lack any interest in evaluating Tarot lore.

It's as if a feckless miner couldn't distinguish between gold and rock, or couldn't be bothered to do the work. So he just kept digging and accumulating huge piles of rock behind his shack, never separating the gold from the 99.99% that is worthless, while daydreaming about what riches might be in there. Tarot forums would be just that worthless were it not for search engines. Even with Google and other aids, the searchers need to know precisely what they're looking for. In other words, they have to do what most of the posters did not bother to do: sift through mountains of mostly-worthless rubble and engage in critical thinking.

The problem is not the indignity of casting pearls before swine, as I and the handful of other so-called "historians" in the online Tarot community have few genuine pearls to offer. Expectations were never that high for the would-be historians, but they also were not cynically low for the typical posters. My expectation was only that there might be some recognition of the difference between fact and fiction, that's all. When a forum ostensibly about historical research fails to marginalize and condemn blather about the paranormal, or when unsubstantiated opinions from the Ignorati are the central topic of discussion, one can either accept morons as a peer group and post amid the pig shit, or one can leave.

The popularity of fantasy and fraud is revolting, but hardly newsworthy. However, the ceaseless invention of new bullshit, and the dominance of bullshit in Tarot-history discussions, has been a continuing surprise to naive little me. Like Fox Mulder, Tarot's true believers want embrace their delusions. Unable to muster logic or evidence, they defend their beliefs by pointing to other irrational beliefs, and proponents of wildly differing fantasies also support each others fantasies. Known absurdities are thus protected from criticism because a rational assessment of one is taken as an attack on all.

The preference for pyrite over the real thing is always startling, so I guess I'll go back to talking to myself. (That's one of the reasons why the Greys taught us to use blogs.)


  1. Oh dear! You had a particularly bad time that day! I'm a University professor - this made me chuckle. There are people who are interested in your objective stance and appreciate your work, which, incidentally, I'm enjoying very much and hope to see formalized as a book one day. Got any plans?

  2. LOL -- hi, Michael,

    Yes, but the resulting rant and the beLIEve graphic/logo were offsetting entertainments, so it averages out. LOL -- the week or two prior to that post saw Aeclectic's "Historical Research" forum dominated by some 2012 nonsense presented in an intentionally oblique manner by a would-be guru and some "what are your feelings" about Tarot history threads by a fortune-teller who should know the difference between modern folklore and historical evidence. It culminated with a discussion of psychic powers, and at that point I finally understood that just slapping the name "Historical Research" on a forum was not necessarily indicative of anything.

    I'm glad that you are enjoying these excursions. If you checked out the long thread I recommended, you will have noticed that many historical and art-historical associations may be found for even one of the more obscure Tarot trump subjects. (If the thread was too daunting, just look at the posts by Ross Caldwell and myself. That will give you most of the meat of the discussion.) The more commonplace subjects, like Emperor and Pope, Love, Time, Fortune, Virtue, Death, Devil, etc, are extravagantly rich in terms of historical examples for comparison and contrast. The cycle as a whole fits comfortably within a very large family of Stoic-Christian works. (Willard Farnham's 1936 "The Medieval Heritage of Elizabethan Tragedy" and Philippa Tristam's 1976 "Figures of Life and Death in Medieval English Literature" are particularly valuable orientation works.) So even without imposing occult systems or indulging fortune-telling projections, the standard trump cycle is a wonderful, characteristic, and largely neglected work of art. The best books presenting the historical facts of Tarot are those with Michael Dummett's name attached.

    The one thing which is missing from Dummett's accounts is an analysis of the meaning of the trumps. Moakley has given the best (most sober) interpretation so far published, however in my view there are at least two better accounts. One is my own, in terms of a Triumph of Fortune/Death, which I've been presenting online in various forms since 2000, and the other is by Ross Caldwell. I'm hoping that his account will be presented in some detail this year. However, given my authorial limitations, I have no current plans beyond posting here.

    Best regards,