The Tarot wasn't meant to be understood by minds not ready to receive it. It invites views of the universe and kinds of thinking considered burn-at-the-stake-heretical when the Tarot appeared in circulation, and which will still result in excommunication or worse in certain denominations and cultures. Even now, it is seen as "the devil's work" and associated with magic or paganism.
And then we forget how much Europe in the early second millennium was not a place you would want to be, especially if you were a Jew (the Islamic world, the other principle habitat of the Diaspora, was generally more hospitable and appreciative). Jews in Europe had been subject to outbursts of "ethnic cleansing" beginning with the First Crusade. If we take seriously the historical context of violent religious repression (consider the Cathars) we can see why the Tarot might come with a child-proof cap.
The images of the Tarot are derived from the inner meanings of the Hebrew alphabet as specified by the astrological, alpha-numeric and formative symbolism of the Sepher Yetsira. Each Major trump can be assigned to a Hebrew letter on the basis of the astrological or numerical/formative symbolism of the source text. Nothing else is needed to establish a one-to-one correspondence between the two sets of twenty-two.
See Tarot Natural Order and Tarot Unlocked for summaries of the astrological-formative symbolism of the 22 Major Trumps.
This means that the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are the primary symbolic framework, not the Tarot. The images of the Tarot are derivative signs pointing to the cosmological signifiers of the "alphabet of creation." and are thus based in a Jewish tradition at least two thousand years old, and if we listen the the qabala, much older. The tradition, in legend given by God to Abraham, later called "kabbalah", was always hidden deeply within an orally-transmitted esoteric Jewish heritage.
This tradition produced the Tarot in the late 14th or early 15th century, as a set of pictorial "flashcards" containing the basic symbolism of the Sepher Yetsira's astrological and formative letter correspondences for the Hebrew alphabet. Nine trumps were shuffled in an obvious way to "lock" the keys and two clues were provided for their restoral.
Unfortunately, the finger was mistaken for the Moon.
Before considering the deeper semiotic connections between the three systems of the Hebrew alphabet, astrology and the Tarot, and the reasons for aligning the Tarot rather than the alphabet, a little background on past approaches to the problematic of "attributions" may be useful for context. The idea of an "attribution" arises when the inner semiotic and semantic relationship (by which the "volcano erupts, see below") is not percieved, and a magical system of representation (lists of attributions) is used instead.
For those interested in the Tarot, the first problem is the traditional sources of interpretation, which almost without exception have come from outside the Kabbalah.
The second, and larger, problem is that the Tarot interpreters have rarely understood they were dealing with an alphabet and none the language formed from it.
More than a hundred years of Tarot interpretation has been based on the idea that the planets (and the signs of the zodiac, which with the three elements are the manifestation of the twenty-two fundamental energies in the universe) are signs ("attributions") that can be moved around to fit various "occult" systems, without an understanding of why "the letter of the alphabet is the source of the planet."
The twenty-two Major Arcana are one-to-one iconic representations of the inner meanings of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Tarot is constructed from a symbolic, analogical language based in the astrological cosmology of the qabalistic source text, the Sepher Yetsira/Yetzirah. The Tarot is meant to point to these inner meanings --
which are semantically-accurate representations of Cosmic energy in twenty-two different interrelated dynamic states or structures which function as one ( Autiot-Yassod )
-- and is completely derivative of them.
When the Tarot was circulated in the 13th or 14th centuries, nine trumps were shuffled as a means of "locking" the symbolic key to the inner meanings of the letters of the language of structure and energy. Only the most obvious of the "blinds," meant as a clue (the zodiacal swap of Strength/Leo and Justice/Libra) was removed by Nineteenth-century (French/English) "occult researchers," who were forced to abandon the source text for their own justifications of the positions of the seven planetary trumps that remained out-of-place in relationship to their Hebrew formative letters and astrological symbolism. The Jews were not consulted on this problem.
A century ago, there might have been some excuse for largely ignoring the ancient Hebrew tradition underlying the Tarot, given reasons of poor scholarship, obscure texts, preconceived notions and outright prejudice. After the last fifty years of serious academic research in the area of Jewish mysticism and its relationship to similar Christian and Gnostic trends in late antiquity and the Middle Ages -- when the Tarot was created -- we no longer have that excuse.
One would think a departure from standard usage would require more justification than a return to the sources.
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