Sunday, September 28, 2008

Occult Collage

The Archeon Tarot, by Timothy Lantz.  Published by U. S. Games Systems, Inc., 2005.

Historical Significance:  Nil
Artistic Appeal:  High
Symbolic Resonance:  Moderate
Evocative Potential: Moderate

What drew me to this deck was the art graphics which are quite unique as far as Tarot decks go.  The style is more along the lines of graphic illustration used in magazines than the more common iconographic line drawings we've come to expect from Tarot cards.  The images are pleasing and sometimes dramatic.  They have an unspecific and nebulous quality typical of such graphics.

Lantz started his work on this deck in 2003.  Of it he says:
Each of the 78 images in the Archeon Tarot relies heavily on the collection of symbols that inhabit my mind.  It is a curious mixture of traditional and non-traditional imagery from varied sources thrown into the blender of my subconscious. There will be things that you recognize, cultural and social conventions, but their interpretations may not always be what you would expect.

Personally, I like the artwork, but not everyone seems to.  The problem for me with this deck is that, although the photoshoped graphics are appealing, they lack depth.  The use of symbols is suggestive and thin without clearly tying symbol to image content. The evocative quality that is so important in divination does not work so well with this deck for me although one might expect it to as the images are certainly more evocative than linear. It could be that I simply haven't used it enough for evocation to develop.

The pamphlet is thin with two to three paragraphs per trump and only a few sentences per pip card.  The meanings described in the pamphlet do not correspond with the images as well as they could.

Overall, I like the artwork but have not found the deck to be very useable.  But, you might have a different experience.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Remains from a Celtoid-Hippy Dark Ages

The Complete Merlin Tarot: Images, Insight and Wisdom from the Age of Merlin

Historical Significance: Low
Artistic Appeal: Moderate
Symbolic Resonance: Moderate
Evocative Potential: Moderate

This was one of my first decks.  It appears to be out of print at this time.  Overall I liked it and used if for quite awhile.  I was drawn to it out of an old interest in the Arthurian tales--after reading Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave (The Arthurian Saga, Book 1), etc.

The trump cards are decently executed color paintings, and better than many decks currently out there.  The images feel very earthy.  They give one a sense of a kind of hippy-Celtic dark ages.  The standard suits are replaced with Birds (Swords), Serpents (Clubs), Fish (Cups), and Beasts (Coins).  The pip cards are simple flat diagrammatic line-drawings on single-color backgrounds.

Complete Merlin Tarot

I liked this deck at the time because it resonated quite well with Mary Stewart's portrayal of Merlin as a type of late druidic, post-Roman prophet, his nebulous prophetic power tied to the old traditions and to the earth.  The symbols are a bit of a mix.  They maintain only a fleeting formal relation to the classic occultist decks.  There is a fair amount of celtic imagery incorporated but not as much or as well thought out as one might expect.  My biggest complaint with using the deck for divination is that the pip cards are so "flat" in their look and feel that they don't really evoke much when reading with them.  One is left to rely on the written explanations.  The accompanying book is somewhat detailed and expands on the themes of the cards fairly well.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spider cartomancy in Central Africa

There is a small body of literature on this subject, mostly written by anthropologists. Anthropologists tend to explore the social, political, and healing implications of divination, but they are also pretty good at providing basic description of practices. This particular practice is usually referred to as "spider divination" but might be seen as a form of cartomancy and has also been referred to as arachnomancy.

African spider divination is interesting to me because it uses a system of leaf-cards marked with symbolic "ideograms." The cards are usually made with tree leaves or raffia palm ribs. The ideograms are traditional symbols with specific meanings. It is interesting that the practice has changed somewhat over the years. Contemporary diviners use a reduced set of about 76 cards, but accounts from the 1960's describe sets of 200-300 cards.

These cards are used in combination with large African pit dwelling spiders. A spider hole is found and the area surrounding it is cleared of grass and debris. Generally, an old pot that has its bottom broken out is used to contain the spider.

After hearing the question, the diviner places a set of leaf-cards along with some other objects in the pot-enclosure based on the client's query. For instance, rocks might be used to represent individual people related to the question. The leaf-cards have predetermined meanings indicated by their ideograms. Other objects, usually sticks, may be added to the mix to indicate specific factors related to the question. One or two cards are placed over the spider hole that may have special pertinence to the query. The rest of the cards are stacked.

Once the cards and objects are placed in the pot-enclosure, the diviner will rub a stone around the rim of the pot and blow into it, saying "come out, come out." The question is chanted under the breath and the stone is tapped on the rim in rhythm with the chanting. Then the pot is covered and left undisturbed, sometimes overnight. Once enough time has passed for the spider to emerge and to rearrange the cards and objects by its movements, the lid is removed. The diviner interprets the answer by the pattern and arrangement of cards and objects. The ideograms on the cards have very specific meaning, but talent and experience in the diviner is required to understand the meaning of how the cards have been rearranged by the spider in relation to the other objects.

This type of divination is found primarily in lower Cameroon. Like most pre-modern traditions there is a lot of variation from place to place. For instance, near the coastal areas, land crabs are sometimes used instead of spiders. Some diviners give less weight to the meanings of the ideograms and more significance to the overall rearrangement.

The most common type of questions have to do with health or witchcraft. Often these two things go hand-in-hand as illness is often thought to be a result of witchcraft. The gradual advancement of the medical model in these areas does not necessarily negate the belief in witchcraft as people are perfectly capable of harboring dual explanations. For instance, even if I accept that malaria is caused by a parasite, I can also believe that the reason I contracted it is because my neighbor has caused a curse on me.

The spider has special significance in myth. They are believed to never lie. That being said, it is interesting that the many and varied mythical stories about Anansi (the spider) in West Africa paint him as a trickster similar to Coyote in North America. For instance, Anansi fooled the sky god into giving rain. There are also stories about him fooling people.

In Cameroon, the spider of myth has a chthonic quality. It lives in the ground and it comes out at night. It is symbolically associated with wisdom, high rank, and the dead. The spider can cross between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The association with rank might have to do with the frequent use of spider divination by the higher social ranks. Historically, the spider appears to have been a creator god in its association with weaving and has also been associated with war as well as beginnings and endings. You'll note on the Cameroon spider mask, the spider is pictured with six legs instead of eight. This is the traditional iconography and is still seen quite frequently in Cameroon.

The classic anthropological work on the subject is Paul Gebauer's Spider Divination in the Cameroons. You can still find used copies around. The link goes to, but there may not be a used copy posted there consistently. Gebauer goes into quite some detail about the leaf-card ideographs and their specific meanings. You'll not find this level of detail anywhere else.

A great on-line source is by another anthropologist, David Zeitlyn: Zeitlyn, D. 1993. Spiders in and out of Court or 'the long legs of the law.' Styles of spider divination in their sociological contexts. Africa 63(2), 219-240. I summarized some of his article here. He also goes into some depth on the social and political role of spider divination in Cameroon as well as the process of becoming and diviner and the details of interpretation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fortune-telling, freedom of religion, and fraud

Fortune-telling-as-fraud has been in the news recently. There is some political push and pull around local anti-fortune-telling ordinances and laws around the country right now. The political pressures are complex and do not always fall into the typical pattern of Left versus Right or religious versus secular. The implications of these laws strike at some fundamentals of the American political identity, including the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. On the other side of the issue is the need to protect citizens from scams and con artists.

First of all, I think we need to acknowledge that there is a basis for concern, not only for out-and-out fraud, but also a concern for our seniors and others simply being taken advantage of.

Take the case of Lola Miller, AKA "Miss Donna." She is alleged to have accepted $500,000 from her client for the service of cleansing a curse that Miller claimed to have divined in the abdomen of the client. The $500,000 curse removal was not helpful, however, in protecting the client from the cancer to which she succumbed three years ago. You can read the full story at the Mercury News. Of course there are other cases of a similar flavor. It's these kind of news items that keep the ordinances in place.

On the opposing side of the issue there are a myriad of very serious issues around fairness, religious bigotry, the nature of religion, and the definition of fraud. But, before we get into that, we should take a closer look at these laws.

According to a recent AP article on the subject, the City of Philadelphia has lately "discovered" a decades-old prohibition against fortune-telling for profit and, despite years of disregard, the State Law was suddenly enforced with a crack down on "psychics, astrologers and tarot card readers." Meanwhile, just last year, Livington Parish, Louisiana newly enacted an anti-fortune-telling law. It's difficult to say how many towns, counties or even states have such laws on the books, and complicating the picture further, one never seems to know what local government entity might choose to enforce the law or when.

There is, apparently, some resistance to such laws. One such law, in Lincoln, Nebraska, was struck down in Federal Court as unconstitutional. According to the same AP article, similar laws in several states are also being challenged in court.

Such laws can have an obvious and direct impact on tarot card readers, psychics, urban shamans, and other soothsayers, but can also impact therapists, clergy and others. For instance, therapists have been know to use techniques such as I-Ching, Tarot and Feng Shui among others that have been identified and targeted under some of these laws. Likewise, some evangelical and Pentecostal churches are known to "prophesy." Even more at risk are the "prosperity gospel" churches that have recently come under scrutiny by the media as well as some law makers.

The legal arguments against these laws are of two sorts. Firstly, the argument goes, that predicting the future is free speech. The government has no ability or right to govern it even if people are charging money for it. Secondly, insofar as divination is a religious practice, it is protected under our constitutional right to freedom of religion. This argument is being made by a Wiccan priest who is challenging the Louisiana law.

Beyond these basic constitutional arguments, there needs to be more attention paid to the issue of fair enforcement and religious bigotry. Regardless what direction you lean toward religious freedom versus protection from fraud, there needs to be objectivity and discipline, especially among prosecutors, with even and fair enforcement of legal principles.

How can we prosecute people like Lola Miller for claiming to lift a curse, when televangelists such as Pat Robertson are allowed to claim to influence the outcome of someone's medical illness by praying to God and taking peoples' money for his "service?" How much money, I wonder, gets paid to preachers and televangelists who present very similar claims to "Miss Donna's." How often do seniors and vulnerable individuals give large sums of money? Is anyone paying attention? Is anyone protecting their "victims?"

If communities are going to pass such laws to protect their vulnerable citizens, the laws and the principles on which they are based must be enforced evenly and fairly across the religious spectrum. To do anything less is a form of blatant religious prejudice as well as an attack on our constitution.

The fact that a few fortune-tellers are unethical does not mean that every Tarot reader or dowser is a con artist any more than every pastor is a fraud just because Oral Roberts fraudulantly claimed he would be struck down by God if he didn't raise ten million dollars.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tarot Symbolism

Tarot Symbolism, by Robert V. O'Neill, Fairway Press: Lima, Ohio, 1986, 392pp.

This book was published by a small press in what was most certainly a limited printing. It does not appear to have been widely distributed but for years was offered by a small mail order book seller specializing in New Age titles.

Interestingly, Dr. O'Neill is a research biologist by trade who is primarily known for his life long work in environmental science with over 200 publications under his belt most of which are in his field. This book, however, appears to be an exception, being well out of the area of his chosen field. In fact, his bio on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory web site does not even see fit to mention his anomalous venture into the Tarot and Renaissance cosmology.

According to the back cover of this book, Dr. O'Neill developed an interest in mysticism during his training for the Catholic priesthood which included several years spent in a religious cloister.

He has a broad knowledge of Western philosophical and mystical traditions that is expressed well in Tarot Symbolism. There are chapters on the Italian Renaissance, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, mystery religions, Hermetic traditions, heretical Christian sects, Kabbalah, alchemy, numerology, and astrology. He summarizes his own purposes in the opening paragraph of his introduction:
The enigmatic images of the Tarot have fascinated authors for two hundred years. Occult writers have done much to elucidate the meaning of the symbols but have accepted fantastic theories of origin. Authors interested in playing-card history have assembled the documentary evidence needed to reconstruct the true origins of the cards but have largely ignored the symbolism or reduced it to trivia. The present work does not fall neatly into either camp. . . . The major onus of the book is to present the symbolic systems of Renaissance Italy and to suggest how these systems might have entered into the design of the Tarot. The book does not offer a definitive interpretation but presents the available data from which such an interpretation might eventually be constructed.
Dr. O'Neill immediately accepts the now widely held conclusion that the Tarot form of playing cards originated in Renaissance Lombardy. In his opening chapter, he summaries and dismisses various theories of origin such as the Tarot being invented in ancient Egypt and the Tarot being brought to Europe by the Gypsies, etc. Other theories such as the Tarot being invented by or at least influenced by Jewish Kabbalists, or similarly by alchemists, he is less dismissive of.

Through the remainder of his book, Dr. O'Neill explores the various influences (see list of chapters above) as they were known to have existed in the Renaissance. He goes into some detail in each area and relates symbolic aspects of each tradition to the images found in Renaissance Tarot decks. His overriding supposition is that the Tarot are an expression of a "Western mystical tradition with philosophic roots in Neoplatonism and religious roots in Gnosticism and the Mystery Religions." However, Tarot Symbolism has value beyond the author's final conclusions as it is a rich source of comparative symbolism and meaning.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Milan under Galeazzo Maria Sforza

A Renaissance Court: Milan under Galleazzo Maria Sforza by Gregory Lubkin, published by University of California Press, Berkley, 1994.

If you want to know more about the Italian court that produced some of the earliest and the most beautiful tarot decks in history, this book is the best place to go for a well rounded view of daily life, politics, intrigue, relationships, philosophy, and just about anything else you might want to know about this Sforza and his court.  This book does not address tarot cards directly but describes in some detail the courtly life.

There is one reference to tarot cards as a form of recreation.  Cards were played by both women and men at the court.  The duke himself is known to have played cards.  In particular, it pleased him to gamble heavily playing triumphi with a tarot deck.  This seemed to have been done especially around Christmas.  Few people at court had enough financial resources to match his wagers, and he was serious enough about gambling that he once commanded that everyone present join him in gambling and was known to offer money to entice people to play.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Knapp Tarot, 1929

This is an important early modern deck designed by J. Augustus Knapp and published 1929.  

Knapp was an illustrator.  The original deck was published under his name only, and usually referred to as the Knapp Tarot.  The title on the front of the box reads: Tarot, Revised Cards, New Art and Copyright, 1929, by J A Knapp, Los Angeles, Calif.  However, it is assumed that even this original deck was a collaboration with Manley P. Hall and, in fact, later revisions and reproductions were sold as the Knapp-Hall Tarot.  Prior to this deck, Knapp had provided illustrations for at least two of Hall's books.  Hall was a prolific speaker and writer on all things esoteric and metaphysical, having authored over 200 books.  Carl Jung was supposed to have been influenced by Hall in his exploration of psychology and alchemy during his later career.

This deck builds on the tradition of occultist tarot decks and can be seen as something like the apex of that trend that started in the 18th century.  The images are reminiscent of the Rider-Waite deck but are different in both style and detail.  This deck combines symbolism from ancient egypt, Cabbala, alchemy, astrology and other systems as was common in occult decks.  It adds a unique element of "mandalas" which here appear as small schematic symbols on the face of each card which the reader is instructed to meditate on to develop their own intuitive insights. Although this concept comes from a Buddhist tradition, the symbols themselves are not Buddhist.

The deck is quite unique.  The colors are beautiful chomolithographic which was state-of-the art printing at that time.  The original deck is full of vibrant purples that for some reason were printed as black in the reproduction version from the 1970's. In general, the colors of the original are more subtle and inviting than the coloration in the reprint version which tends to appear gaudy and flat by comparison. The artwork is finely detailed and reminds me of the old Prince Valiant comics.  The subjects build on the Rider-Waite tradition but are stylistically unique and include elements of Art Deco which characterized the era.

This deck is quite hard to find and is a much desired collectors item.  Even the reproduction version has been long out of print.

I have one Knapp Tarot deck in my collection.  It is in excellent condition.  All the cards are present along with the original two-part purple box with gold lettering.  There are no creases, tears, or other damage.  The gold print on the box is somewhat faded.  The cards have some yellowing typical of paper of this age, with the discoloration being more prominent near the edges.  There are several small brown blemishes on just a few of cards (see pic).  I believe (but can't say with certainty) that these are production defects and not damage.  The original booklet is missing.

Go to the Knapp Tarot on Knapp Tarot

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tarot Timeline

This is my comprehensive timeline of the Tarot and related history.  I put this together over several years mostly for myself to assist in my own research.  It is heavy on the early history and contextual history especially connecting the development of the tarot in relation to the Milanese court.

Topical areas listed here include the following:

  • History of paper making and printing
  • Contextual policital, religious and cultural history
  • History of the Visconti and Sforza rulers of Milan
  • Heretical movements in Northern Italy and Southern France
  • History of metaphysical organizations and beliefs relevant to Tarot
  • Metahistory of Tarot (theories and beliefs about Tarot history)
  • Apperance and development of Tarot, Tarocco and Minchiate decks 

8th Century

Paper is invented in China.


The Sung Dynasty in China. Woodblock printing became much refined and flurished at this time in China.


The Cathar heresy (Albigenses) grew in number at this time in the north of Italy.

circa 1057

The Patarini riot in Milan in protest of the privileges of the Milanese clergy, ultimately resulting in loss of autonomy for the See of Milan in deference to the pontiff. Strife continues between the Patarini and the nobles of Milan for another 15 years.


Pope and emperor come into conflict over who has the authority to invest bishops within the Holy Roman Empire. The dispute foreshadows many more such conflicts in the proceeding centuries.


Emperor Henry IV, is excommunicated by Pope Gregory VII and deposed.


Pope Urban II calls for the first crusade.


Arab merchants introduce papermaking technology from China to Europe.


Chinese legend has it that a member of Emperor Hui Tsung's crowded harem invented the game of playing cards in this year.


In his campaign to restore imperial authority in Italy, Emperor Fredrick I (Barbarossa) lays siege to Milan for seven months. After its surrender, he ordered the city be evacuated and leveled.

c. 1170

Peter Waldo of Lyon founds the Waldenses, a sect opposed to the worldly corruptions of the established church.


Barbarossa is defeated by the Lombard League at Legnano, near Milan. He gives in to their demand for increased autonomy among the city states of northern Italy and is made to kiss the foot of Pope Alexander III.


Pope Lucian III at the Council of Verona, anathematizes the Waldenses as heretics, banning them from the church and denying them the sacraments and any association with other Christians.


The Zohar is published by Moses de Leon. Kabbalism sees it heyday in Spain.


Joachim of Fiore, a Cistercian abbot, submits all his writings to the judgment of the Holy See and dies shortly thereafter. His works, and commentaries on his works, propagate widely, spawning millenarian agitation in reaction to his belief that a new age of the Holy Spirit was due to begin around 1260.


The fourth crusade is fought against the Greek Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Empire.


The Albigensian "Crusade" in southern France extinguishes the Cathar heresy in that region.


Pope Lateran IV condemns Joachim's theology of collectiva et similitudinaria as tritheistic.


Lifetime of Thomas Aquinas who recovered Aristotle to legitimacy by "Christianizing" his pagan philosophy.

1227 1250

Conflict between the pope and Emperor Fredrick II. Two competing factions are formed among the Italian nobility- Guelphs in support of the pope and Ghibellines in support of the emperor.


The Dominican inquisitor, Piero da Verona, is sent to Milan by the Pope with full authority to exterminate the fifteen heretical sects of that city then taken up particularly amongst the aristocracy.


Emperor Fredrick II is excommunicated.


Piero da Verona is assassinated on the road between Como and Milan, his corpse left to be found in the street with his head cloven by a sword. This act is said to have been by design of several Milanese nobles, but with his death, elevated to the level of the Martyrs, the Inquisition redoubled in its terrible efforts.


Pope Innocent IV orders the authorities in Milan to lay siege to the castle of Egidio, Count of Cortenuova, for his crime of protecting heretics, however the Milanese refuse the will of the Holy See for 12 years due to increasing Ghibelline sentiment in that city.


A Milanese noble, Roberto Patta da Giussano, is also accused of harboring heretics. When he confessed in this year, his castle of Gatta is razed, the houses of the heretics are burned and the bones in the cemetery are dug up and burned.


The inquisitor, Rainerio Saccone, admonishes the Milanese public for opposing and deriding the inquisition in the streets, and gave warnings that all who continue to impede the inquisition would be excommunicated.


Pope Alexander IV condemns the teachings of Joachim of Fiore in totality.


Guglielma of Bohemia founds a small millenarian sect in Milan based on the writings and prophecies of Joachim of Fiore.


Upon publicly condemning the popular Milanese podestà, Uberto, for defending heretics, Rainerio Saccone is confronted with an angry crowd and is forced to flee Milan.


Ottone Visconti is elected archbishop of Milan. He is a confirmed Ghibelline.


An alliance of Ghibelline nobles is defeated on the plain of Benevento by the Guelphs in alliance with Charles of Anjou, the campaign being financed by Pope Clement IV.


The first European paper mill is built in Fabriano, Italy. Paper at this time is made by hand from linen rags and scraps. The technology is improved and kept secret among Italian papermakers.


According to Martin Polonus, writing in this year, a woman had been elected pope in 822 under the name of John Anglus, disguised as a man. She is said to have been found out less than three years later, after becoming pregnant. This story became popular but appears to be entirely fictional.


Guglielma dies. Her followers prophesy that she will be resurrected in 1300 and the new age of the Holy Spirit will begin, marked by the dissolution of the old church and the beginning of a new church headed by women popes.


Matteo Visconti rules Milan under the title capitano del popolo. He is a violent Ghibelline.


Marco Polo returns to Venice from the court of Kublai Khan. His memoirs, Descriptions of the World, are written two years later.


Manfreda Visconti is burnt at the stake by the inquisition for heresy after being elected Papess by the Guglielmites of Milan. She is the apparent subject of the Papess trump.


Lifetime of Francesco Petrarch, the Italian poet and humanist, who is said to have suggested the Visconti motto to Gian Galeazzo before his rise to power--A bon droyt. It has been noted that Petrarch made no mention of playing cards in his essay on gambling (Cavendish 1975:11).


Period of the so called Babylonian Captivity in which the papal curia is moved from Rome to Avingon.


Pope John XXII forms a league against the Visconti in Italy.


Milan is put under a papal interdict.


Matteo is called before a tribunal of the Inquisition at Alexandria to answer charges of heresy and crimes against the church. Rather than submit, his son, Marco, is sent there in his stead at the head of an army, but the inquisitors escape and Matteo is excommunicated for heresy along with his sons and his House unto the fourth generation. He dies in the same year, being succeeded by his son, Galeazzo I.


Lucchino Visconti requests that Pope Clement VI investigate abuses by the inquisition. The outcome of the investigation (if any took place) is unknown.


A zealous Franciscan inquisitor is assassinated in Milan in this year.


Bubonic plague in Europe. Approximately one third of the population is left dead.


Petrarch in Milan under patronage of the Viscontis. During this period he travels to Basel and Prague as well as Paris on official Viconti business.


The Catholic Church issues an ordinance forbidding priests from playing dice and other forms of gambling but does not mention cards.


King Charles V of France pronounces an edict prohibiting numerous games but makes no mention of cards.


Appearance of playing cards in Catalonia (Dummett, et al 1996:215).


Venice protects its papermaking industry by banning the export of rags.


A monk named Johannes writes that "a game called a game of cards" came to Brefeld Switzerland in this year.


The game of cards are supposed to have been brought to Viterbo Italy in this year from "the country of the Saracens" according to Giovanni Covelluzzo in his history of the town writen in 1480.


Gian Galeazzo Visconti becomes lord of Milan.


Valencia Visconti, daughter of Gian Galeazzo, marries Louis of Orléans, brother of King Charles VI of France.


Papermaking technology spreads with the first German papermill openning at Nuremburg in this year.


Charles VI commisions the painter Jacquemin Gringonneur to fashion three decks of playing cards "with many colors and devices." However, there is no sure evidence that any of these were Tarot decks as has been claimed by some.


Gian Galeazzo is invested as duke of Milan by the Emperor Wenceslaus. This emperor specifically is a likely subject of the Emperor card.


Early in this century, woodblock printing becomes widespread in Europe.


Gian Galeazzo's hopes of forging a Kingdom of Italy are lost when he succumbs to the plague. Giovanni Maria Visconti succeeds his father.


Giovanni Maria is assassinated and Filippo Maria Visconti becomes Duke of Milan. The Brambilla as well as the Visconti de Modrone packs were probably painted for this duke at some point during his reign (md-5).


A Minchiate pack of 97 cards is thought to have been painted in this year for Filippo Maria by his secretary, Marzia de Tortona.


Roma (Gypsies) first arrive in Western Europe (Dummett, et al 1996:215).


Roma arrive in Italy.


Council of Ferrara. Ancient Neoplatonic manuscripts become newly available in Italy over the following decades.


Venice attempts to protect its playing card industry from plentiful German imports by banning the imports.


Bianca Maria, Filippo's illegitamate daughter, marries Francesco Sforza, a mercenary then in the employ of her father.


First documented referrence to Tarot cards is made in the account books of the d'Este court of Ferrara.


Death of Filippo Maria Visconti without heir and the end of the Visconti dynasty. After his death, the short-lived Ambrosian Republic is declared in Milan. The house of Orléans makes claim to the ducal crown of Milan by right of descent from Valencia Visconti.


Francesco Sforza defeats the Ambrosian Republic and takes for himself the ducal crown of Milan. Though he pleads his case to the emperor on numerous occasions, he never receives the legitamacy of imperial investiture.

c. 1450

Copperplate engraving begins to replace woodblock printing in Germany.

circa 1450-1470

An unnamed Dominican friar in northern Italy denounces Tarot cards and other forms of gaming and gambling but makes no mention of any occult associations with the Tarot. He states in his sermon that "There is nothing in the world so hateful to God as the game of trumps."


Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II.


Johannes Gutenberg prints bibles on his new press.


Earliest reference to Tarot cards in the city of Bologna.


The Florentine Academy is founded, dedicated to Neoplatonic studies [?] (O'Neill 1986:110-11).


Galeazzo Maria Sforza, son and heir of Francesco Sforza, marries Bona of Savoy. It is speculated that the Visconti-Sforza deck was commissioned for this event (md-13).


A card game known as Triumphe is played in France by this year (md-5).


Leonardo DaVinci comes to Milan in the employ of Duke Ludovico Sforza.


Evidence of playing cards being used for divination. [?]


Expulsion of Jews from Spain. Kabbalism grows in Italy in response. Italian Kabbalism grows more exoteric in style than the earlier Spanish tradition and Christian Kabbalism develops in Italy during this period.


Bianca Maria Sforza, sister of the Duke, is married to the Emperor Maximilian. On her way to the lavish ceremony, she is said to have ridden on a chariot of gold. This is another event for which the Visconti-Sforza deck may have been commissioned.


Charles VIII of France invades Italy as an ally of Milan.


Louis XII of France, a descendent of Valencia Visconti, takes Milan by force, making good his ancestral claim to the duchy. The Sforza dynasty never fully recovers, and Milan is ever after a pawn of greater European powers.


Copperplate etching is invented, greatly speeding the process by which an artist can create a plate to be printed.


Jewish Kabbalists choose to begin printing their cannon.


An Italian poem relates Tarrochi cards with a person's fate.


An act of English law under Henry VIII accuses Gypsies of deceiving people with palmistry but makes no mention of cartomancy.


Francis I of France initiates the massacre of Waldenses.


John Northbrooke writes that playing card are the invention of the Devil originally using ancient pagan idolatry that was later transformed by Christians into the familiar royal images of the court cards (Cavendish 1975:15).


Trial records in Venice associates Tarrochi with witchcraft.


London card maker, Dorman Newman, issues a special deck of cards created for the express purpose of divination.

Before 1750

Found in the Library of the University of Bologna, and written no later than this year (Dummett, et al 1996:50), is a document describing how to perform cartomancy with a deck of Bolognese Tarocco cards.


Secret founding of the Order of the Gold and Rosy Cross (Cavendish 1975: 26).


First known appearance of the Tarot style particular to Marseille.


Kabbalism has a revival in the Hasidic movement founded by the Rebbe Ba'al Shem Tov in Poland.


Adventurer, Giacomo Casanova, notes that his slave-mistress in the Russian city of Catarinoff reads fortunes in layouts of playing cards. He is so disturbed by her "seeing" his unfaithfulness in the cards that he throws her cards into the fire.


Jean-Baptiste Alliette publishes his book, Etteila, ou maniere de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes, describing how to tell fortunes with standard playing cards. In passing, he mentions that everyone knows about divining with Tarot cards. He later publishes his corrected version of the Tarot.


Antoine Court de Gébelin pens Le Monde Primitif in which he makes the claim that Tarot cards are of an ancient Egyptian origin.


Immanuel Breitkopt refutes Court de Gébelin's statement that Gypsies brought Tarot cards to Europe with the observation that playing cards were found in Europe before the arrival of the Gypsies. Breitkopt is mostly overlooked by later writers on the subject.


Frenchman Nicholas-Louis Robert invents the first paper making machine.


Lithography is invented by Aloys Senefelder in Bavaria.


Napoleon Bonaparte's ill-fated Egyptian campaign


Invention of color printing by Thomas de la Rue. Its first use is the printing of playing cards.


The German, Friedrich Keller, discovers how to make paper from wood pulp.


In Les Cartes à Jouer et la Cartomancie, Boiteau d'Ambly promotes the theory that the Tarot were the original form of playing cards, that they were devised for the purpose of divination and that they were brought to Europe from India by the Gypsies.


Alphonse Louis Poitevin of France invents photolithography.


In various publications, Alphonse Louis Constant (AKA Eliphas Lévi) claims that the 22 Trumps have their origin in the Tetragrammaton of the Cabala (Cavendish 1975: 31).


The Joker card appears in the United States, used in Poker and Euchre. It has no apparent relation to The Fool.


Romain Merlin critiques the implausibility of Boiteau's theory in his book Origine des Cartes à Jouer, but his work goes mostly unnoticed.


The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is founded in London.


Oswald Wirth publishes his version of the Tarot. His designs also illustrate Le Tarot des Bohémiens by Papus.


The Rosicrucian Order is founded by Josephin Péladan.


American, Ira Rubel, discovers offset lithography.


A. E. Waite, a member ot the Golden Dawn, publishes The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, illustrated with his version of the Tarot. He implicates the Cathar heresy as a plausible origin of the Tarot. Over the following nine decades his pack becomes the most widely distributed version of the Tarot.


Alister Crowley publishes his thoughts on the Tarot in The Book of Thoth. He also prints his own version of the Tarot, rife with sexual symbolism.


Sir Steven Runciman champions the Cathar origin theory of the Tarot in his book, The Medieval Manichee.


Roger Tilley, in Playing Cards, theorizes that the Waldensians were the originators of the Tarot.

Cavendish, Richard
 1975. The Tarot. Crescent Books: New York.

O'Neill, Robert V.1986. Tarot Symolism. Fairway Press: Lima, Ohio.