Jun 20, 2012 postscript:
Of course, A Serious Man might take a more expansive view of Tarot.
Jul 5, 2012 postscript:
The S.H.I.T. quoted above is from 1986. That S.H.I.T. continues to dominate much of the “historical research” in online Tarot fora today. Here is a recent example that was not posted to a forum on fortune-telling, psychology, New Age religion, or some other appropriate topic, but to a forum on Tarot history.
People are fascinated by the Tarot, not as a card game, but as an oracle, spiritual discipline, or hidden wisdom. This fascination has been explained by the cards being created by implausible Egyptians or Kabbalists, or plausible Humanists and Neoplatonists. But the proximate reason for the fascination must lie in the cards themselves, not their origin. Maybe it is time for an old fashioned formalist analysis of the deck itself. Once this is done, asking why this formal structure attracts us, and how it was created, might be more easily answered.
If you look at the conclusion (“how it was created”) and the introduction (“not as a card game”) you can see the shorter(1): Tarot was not created as a card game. The author wants desperately to be taken seriously while pursuing a silly goal, arguing against the historical evidence. The writer offers no reason for his rejection of the findings and conclusions of playing-card historians, (collectively, what Ross has dubbed the “Standard Model” of Tarot history), and no indication that he is even familiar with that material or with the iconographic studies of Moakley and Dummett, much less the extensions of their work by Ross and myself. He simply ignores all that and says, let's try something less fact-based, something more speculative and congenial to the “people”.
Of course, by “people” the author of that quote is referring to “stupid people” and “dishonest people”. Some of those who use Tarot for divination do not pretend to have any interest in early Tarot history, or at least do not attempt to manufacture a false connection between the two. Others are the fools and frauds, (matto and bagatto), who created the endless streams of pseudo-historical apologetics for occult inventions.
There is another group interested in Tarot, but it is a very tiny one: historians. This small group of intrepid folk seek to understand the early history of Tarot in terms of that early history, and to understand the modern folklore on its own terms. Modern Tarot folklore was NOT created in the Italian Renaissance, any more than in ancient Egypt. These blunders, fantasies, superstitions, and scams were created by French Freemasons and fortune-tellers during the Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment. That fanciful rejection of the Age of Reason is the source of these confections. Modern Tarot folklore was vastly elaborated and developed during even later periods, and these are the formative environments that must be studied to learn about occult Tarot. These studies have been pursued in extensive detail, once again owing to Michael Dummett, and it would be worthwhile to add to those researches by emphasizing the social context.
However, the most salient point to be made is the absolute rejection of that writer's conclusion. He asserts the same S.H.I.T. as O'Neill: by understanding modern Tarot folklore we can thereby explain “how it was created”. This is fucking retarded. Tarot was created more than three centuries before this modern mythology was added, in a very different milieu, for very different purposes. The historical evidence is clear:
Tarot was created by Roman Catholics in 15th-century Italy to play card games.
That is the only legitimate context for pre-Gébelin Tarot iconography.
✎ 1. Shorter: an Internet tradition of snarky rejoinder. The “shorter” of an argument or position is a sardonic summary with the implication that said argument or position – when stated plainly – is moronic or otherwise contemptible.