Thursday, December 29, 2011

Professor Sir Michael Dummett

Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett was born on June 27 1925, and has died at age 86. "He was among the most significant British philosophers of the last century and a leading campaigner for racial tolerance and equality." And in his spare time, "he argued that in the Middle Ages the Tarot was used as a set of playing cards and that it only acquired its association with the occult in the 18th century."

For that latter bit we may add to his titles, Troublemaker.

A sober appraisal of Lévi's works on magic could characterise them only as the product of an advanced state of intellectual deliquescence. Nevertheless, he initiated a boom in occultist writing, and almost all his successors acknowledged their debt to him, and may be said to have belonged to his school.
(Dummett, The Game of Tarot, 120.


[...] the most interesting fact about the Tarot pack, namely that it is the subject of the most successful propaganda campaign ever launched: not by a long way the most important, but the most completely successful. An entire false history, and false interpretation, of the Tarot pack was concocted by the occultists; and it is all but universally believed.
(A Wicked Pack of Cards, p.27.)

It is from Lévi's work, above all from the Dogme et rituel, that the whole of the modern occultist movement stems. At first glance, Lévi's success is bewildering: his style is bombastic, the intellectual content is thin, the factual information is inaccurate, and the claims advanced range from the unintelligible through the obscure to the frankly puerile. [...]
It may well be wondered how such preposterous nonsense ever attracted attention at all.
(The Game of Tarot, p.114.)


  1. Sir Michael Dummett was great !
    I worked with him in 1987, when I organized the great Tarot exhibit in the Estense Castle in Ferrara. We exchange a lot of letters to prepare the catalogue and we stay together in Ferrara for some days before, during and after the inauguration of the exhibit.
    After 7 years we meet another time in Rome for another exhibit in Castel Sant'Angelo. Sir Dummett was one of the guest relators of a series of conferences.
    I was very sad when I learnt of his death.
    On some details of the history of the Tarot we was not agreed, but its culture and its logical sense were decisive for my studies on Tarot esotericism.
    Giordano Berti

    1. Before Dummett, historical Tarot was little more than a pack of lies shrouded in a fog of folklore. With a single book he unveiled it, and Tarot became a remarkable artifact providing insight into various aspects of Renaissance society. He brought the subject out of the darkness and into the light: while that might make him Satan ("accuser" or "adversary") to the occultists, he is Lucifer ("bringer of light") to those few who are interested in fact-based history.

      Best regards,