Earlier generations of occultists elevated the Fool and Magician, those lowly entertainers, to an exalted, even god-like status. (It is not that surprising a blunder, as they had the order of the trump hierarchy backwards.) Today, very few Tarot enthusiasts can bring themselves to break with those traditional beliefs. Even Tarotists who don’t know where these stupid ideas originated continue to cling to them. These figures must be something more, something better.
There are degrading depictions of the Fool on some cards. There is the rank of the Magician, the lowest of all the trumps. There are examples of fools and deceivers as people of the lowest status, or beneath/outside the classification of medieval society. There is the obvious symbolism of the Fool representing the cardinal vice of Folly, and his constant use as an illustration of the atheist of Psalms. There is the explicit judgment of the churchmen: Habent spem joculatores? Nullam; tota namque intentione sunt ministri Satanae. (“Do jongleurs have any hope [of salvation]? None, for they are the ministers of Satan.”) They were beneath consideration, so that sermons condemning them were addressed to their audience rather than the performers. There is the pervasive use of Folly as the downfall of mankind and fools as the exemplars, including the influential works by Erasmus and Brandt. There are even examples in which such subjects appear among the lowest figures in ranks-of-mankind groupings, a nearly exact parallel to their use in the trump cycle, and so on.
None of these categories of historical evidence has made much impression on Those Who Know Better, and this print will not make a whit of difference either. Tarotists will continue to seek out exceptions to the general rule. They will argue special cases—there are several—which, when taken out of the larger context, tend to support a preferred interpretation. By elevating the lowest subjects above their station, they will make hash of the overall sequence. However, for those who don’t ignore evidence, this broadsheet is directly to the point of how street magicians were perceived in Renaissance Italy. It is a 16th-century compendium of low-lifes by Girolamo (Hieronymus) Porro, and has a cups-and-balls magician prominently depicted. (There is also a fool, with his dog.) Porro’s print is a direct answer to the question, “what kind of figure was the magician in Renaissance society?”
He was one of these dirtbags.
Porro’s print is meaningful context.