Thursday, August 16, 2012

Popess: The Exemplary Mode

Let’s talk about the Popess again.

New Age nitwits and other RFS™ people(1) have for many years made empty claims about Tarot’s Popess and Hanged Man. These cards are PROOF! of something or other. Each idiot seems to have a different notion of what they prove, but they are asserted to be CLEARLY heretical, or OBVIOUSLY alchemical, or whatever. Naturally, no examples of cognate images from an heretical sect or alchemical treatise are ever produced. There is no argument at all beyond emphatic assertion, bringing to mind the elegant Hitchens’ Razor.

Ten generations ago (say, circa 1780) such claims were childish make-believe, and yet as of today some of the sillier children are still making them. Ross points out a post today, coming from the spammer Shit4Brains TarotCard. This person promotes the oldest and most farcical fictions about Tarot and ancient Egypt, and is selling a book of pseudo-history to that effect.

Yes, the Tarot is pre-Christian. Why wouldn't it be? Would Christians invent such a thing? If it were Christian, would it not be a single card rather than a deck? Is La Papesse a Christian concept?

One’s first thought upon reading such things is, what a fucking dolt! An image with Roman Catholic attributes, including the triple tiara invented in the 14th Century, is pre-Christian?! In a 15th-century cycle of images including the pervasive Emperor/Pope pairing which appears in literally thousands of explicitly Christian moral allegories? In a moral allegory that includes conventional subjects like Time, Fortune, Virtues, and Death? In a cycle that culminates with the overthrow of Satan and resurrection to a New World? In a cycle that was invented in Roman Catholic Italy? And this is to be established with nothing more than snarky rhetorical questions?

What a fucking dolt.

To support such a claim, one would need to show two things. First, there would need to be a fairly exact cognate image of a female figure with a triregnum from some pre-Christian work. Second, one would need to make an air-tight case that Christians did not, in practice, actually use a figure with papal attributes for any of their own elaborate allegories.(2) Moreover, he would need to argue that a female figure with papal attributes makes no sense as a Roman Catholic allegory.(3) That latter task is obviously impossible, because personifications were routinely created by taking a female figure and giving them well-known attributes, so a popess would be the immediate choice for any number of Roman Catholic allegories: The Church, the Papacy, Faith, Canon Law, Rome, the Vatican, etc.

This “proving a negative” would be difficult for TarotCard, even if his claim were factually true. However, he must make some attempt to find a counter example, to demonstrate that they don’t exist. Shit4Brains must make an effort to find such usage, because even a single counter example would completely refute his claim. It turns out that he is factually wrong – quelle surprise! – and examples are not difficult to find.

Female Popes by the Dozen

In fact, people have collected and posted dozens of such counter-examples. There are two pages of my own, from 2009, that can offer numerous examples of Christian use of a female figure with papal attributes. (Unfortunately, most of the links to Ross’ old pages are defunct, but both posts contain various examples and links to more.)

Pre-Tarot Images of Pope Joan
A Florentine Allegory of the Lord's Mercy

There are many more counter examples, of course. Shit4Brains is not merely wrong, but absurdly, outrageously, demonstrably wrong. Even the most cursory search for female popes would turn up... well, let’s try. If I Google the keywords allegory female pope, the first result returned is the first of my own pages, listed above. The second result returned is an Aeclectic Tarot thread with more of my posts, giving specific examples with illustrations. On the second page of results we find my second post listed above. So perhaps most of the good, illustrated examples are my own but, nonetheless, they are not hard to find.

I can offer a great many more but... have you read Petrarch’s Trionfi? One of the most repellent things about it is the tedious litany of detailed examples. In each section he has a point to make, and in most sections he makes it with repeated examples and endless gratuitous detail. (This was part of the humanist obsession with classical learning. Demonstrating one’s virtuosity required turning every passage into an encyclopedia entry.) Viris Illustribus is worse, as is his Remediis and his buddy Boccaccio’s Casibus. These are explicit catalogs of moralized examples, either of circumstances in Remediis or of famous lives. Like many other essentially medieval works, they use the exemplary mode of argument, presenting a wealth of examples with the implication that the point made is universal. The exemplary or inductive mode is the exact opposite of pure bullshit, i.e., Shit4Brains’ assertion without a single example. Induction makes an argument based on evidence, and it can be compelling albeit tedious.

Examples are especially powerful when used in rebuttal to a claim that no examples exist. A few years ago I made some wallpaper images for my computer. Two of them were posted to give illustrations of the Magician in context. They exemplify the exemplary mode.

The Bagatto in Context

So, in response to the fatuous claim that there are no Christian popess figures, here are three more of those wallpaper pages. The first two show about four dozen “good girls”, personifications of things like the Church, Faith, True Religion, the Papacy, the Eucharist, the Virgin of Loreto, Canon Law, the Bride of Christ, Divine Providence, Ecclesiastical Authority, Roma Sancta, Divine Mercy, Dame Doctrine, and so on. The third shows about two dozen “bad girls”, and there are only two subjects: Pope Joan and the Roman Catholic Church as seen by Protestants. I have found many more than are shown here, and all of them are clearly Christian.

Tarot’s Popess in Context: Good Girls #1
1. Sequential Context of the Trump Cycle   (Upper-Right)
2. Parallel Context of Different Tarot Decks (Lower-Left)
3. Cultural Context of Cognate Depictions    (Diagonally)
(Right-click and open in new tab.)

Tarot’s Popess in Context: Good Girls #2
1. Sequential Context of the Trump Cycle   (Upper-Right)
2. Parallel Context of Different Tarot Decks (Lower-Left)
3. Cultural Context of Cognate Depictions    (Diagonally)
(Right-click and open in new tab.)

Tarot’s Popess in Context: Bad Girls
1. Sequential Context of the Trump Cycle   (Upper-Right)
2. Parallel Context of Different Tarot Decks (Lower-Left)
3. Cultural Context of Cognate Depictions    (Diagonally)
(Right-click and open in new tab.)

I have yet to find, or have shown to me by toddlers like TarotCard, even one popess image which is non-Christian. As Ross pointed out earlier today, it seems to be an impossible thing, given that the defining characteristics of a female pope are emphatically Christian! There might be an obscure example where some later alchemist borrowed Christian iconography, which they routinely did, that includes a female pope. There might be an obscure example where some heretical group depicted their actual female leader as a popess with the Roman Catholic attributes. There may be some other such quasi-Christian usage. However, even if one of these should turn up, it would almost certainly be a variation on a conventional Christian subject, and would not eliminate the dozens of blatantly Christian female popes. Moreover, these Christian examples are not particularly obscure: they include things like prominent sculptures in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Popess in St. Peter’s

As illustrated above, there are at least two dramatic Popess sculptures in St. Peter’s Basilica. More formally known as the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, this is the greatest church in the Christian world. It is ostensibly the burial site of Saint Peter, founder of the Apostolic tradition of the Roman Catholic religion, i.e., the first pope, to whom Jesus gave the keys which symbolize papal power and authority. For this and many other reasons it is a major pilgrimage site, as well as the location of most papal ceremonies.

St. Peter’s is also an architectural masterpiece created by a succession of Renaissance designers, notably including Michelangelo. The 1630 painting by Viviano Codazzi, which includes the two great bell towers, illustrates the intended design. Behind the facade is the Portico. The Portico (Atrium) appears at the bottom of this floorplan diagram.

Based on a 1908 floorplan showing the current design
with the old basilica outlined in cross-hatched gray.

At each end of the Portico is a vestibule. These are what remains of the ill-fated bell towers. In each vestibule are four statues in niches, the eight numbered dots. The chief Popess of St. Peter’s joins the Seven Cardinal Virtues to complete this group of eight figures. The statues are identified as follows:

South Vestibule:
1. Temperance (1728-1731) by Giuseppe Raffaelli (1696-1731)
2. Justice (1726-1727?) by Giovan Battista de Rossi (d. 1738)
3. Prudence (1725-1728?) by Giuseppe Lironi (1689-1749)
4. Fortitude (1721-1722) by Lorenzo Ottoni (1648-1736)
North Vestibule:
5. Charity (1728-1732) by Bernardino Ludovisi (1693-c.1749)
6. Faith (1728-1732) by Giovan Battista de Rossi (d. 1738)
7. Hope (1728-1738) by Giuseppe Lironi (1689-1749)
8. The Church (1720-1732) by Giuseppe Frascari

Allegory of Ecclesia, St. Peter’s Basilica
Giuseppe Frascari, circa 1730

The location and size can be appreciated in this picture of the facade. A detail from the lower right-hand corner shows the entrance to the north vestibule, revealing two of the statues, Faith and Hope. The Popess is directly across from Hope, in a place of prominence with St. Paul’s Theological Virtues at the entrance to the great church of St Peter in the Vatican, holding Peter’s keys and representing the Church itself, the Bride of Christ. So if some fool asks, “is La Papesse a Christian concept?”, you might answer, “is the Pope Catholic?”

It is worth noting that another Popess in St. Peter’s is also a member of a group of virtues. This second Popess is an allegory of Ecclesiastical Authority, (marked on the floorplan with a red X, above the P in PORTICO). The sixteen figures are placed overhead on either side of the Nave, in the spandrels of arches. When you enter the great hall that is the Nave, the first allegory over your left shoulder is this second Popess. Here is the listing: 1. Ecclesiastical Authority; 2. Divine Justice; 3. Virginity; 4. Obedience; 5. Humility; 6. Patience; 7. Justice; 8. Fortitude 9. Charity; 10. Faith; 11. Innocence; 12. Peace; 13. Clemency; 14. Constancy; 15. Mercy; 16. Fortitude. They can be seen in this 1847 painting, with the popess in the upper-left corner.

So if some fool asks, “is La Papesse a Christian concept?”, you might answer, “is Ecclesiastical Authority a Christian concept?” Is St. Peter’s a Christian church? Or any similar rude rejoinder. Here is a much better picture of the second popess in St. Peter’s.

The Second Popess at St. Peter’s

Ecclesiastical Authority and Divine Justice
In the spandrels of the first arch inside St. Peter’s

The first of these two arrangements of monumental sculptures representing Christian virtues flanks the Portico entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. The second dominates the great hall of the Nave. Each group of virtues is overseen by a female pope, one representing the Church and the other being Ecclesiastical Authority. Each of these popess figures holds the keys of St. Peter in the Church of St. Peter built on the tomb of St. Peter, the Rock on which Jesus established his church. If this does not demonstrate the popess figure as bona fide Christian allegory, what possibly could?

In their anti-Catholic zeal as devout neo-Pagans or, in the case of Shit4Brains, an Egyptophile fool, Tarotists are forced to claim that the Popess is not Christian.

Q.E.D., they are exceptionally dim-witted, delusional, or dishonest.


 ✎ 1. “Some people are really fucking stupid.” George Carlin.
 ✎ 2. The Pagan origins of Christmas provide a perfect example of pre-Christian sources. Solstice observances and celebrations were a pre-Christian reality in various agrarian cultures, and specifically in the region where Christianity grew powerful. In the later Roman Empire this was formalized as part of the popular cult of Sol Invictus. Conversely, Christianity itself had no tradition of observance for either the birth of Jesus on any day of the year, nor for any event on the Winter Solstice. Unable to suppress the Pagan observance, Christians adopted it directly, turning the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti into the Nativity feast of Jesus. (Later, they began celebrating a date for his conception as well – Annunciation – and eventually used that date to justify the date of Christmas!) In contrast, all known "female popes" (the legendary Pope Joan and the various allegorical figures) are from the 13th Century or later, and all are expressly Christian creations.
 ✎ 3. The authentic or intended meaning of a work of art or literature, of course, is not dependent upon ultimate sources but proximate ones, those which informed the author. The meaning of a word or motif in some distant culture, long ago and far away, is unlikely to explain its usage by an author unfamiliar with that foreign sensibility. Hence the pejorative connotation of the term “far-fetched”. A 10th-century bronze Pārvatī is not related to Tarot’s Popess, even if she is depicted with a triregnum headdress.

September 12, 2012 postscript:

Triregnum Trifecta: For 231 years, from Le Monde Primitif in 1781 to The Archeology of Tarot in 2012, the Ignoranti have explained that Tarot has a Popess and, therefore, it must not be Christian. On the other hand, there are at least three popess figures at St. Peter’s. Completing the holy-headdress hat trick is this lovely lady from the Chapel of the Canons.

As these three female popes enshrined at St. Peter’s Basilica demonstrate, allegorical personifications don’t get any more Christian than the Popess.

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