The world of tarot cards today is no longer the privilege of a few reclusive occultists. I mean those who had studied numerology, astrology, magic and symbolism. And kept quiet about it. But tarot today? It is a healthy business. Even a fun business.
Well over 1,000 tarot deck designs flood the market today. It was 1,300 in 2011, so maybe approaching 2,000 now. Today’s tarot decks cover many different markets and interest groups: they offer colorful images, graphic narratives, and claim to enhance the development of one’s intuitive powers. They present ancient symbols, astrology, numerology, theology; they can support contemporary styles, cultural identity, and so on.
Back in the day (say, the 1700s), there were many systems of transmission of occult ideas. People explored psychic abilities. Alchemy was attempted. Magic… But, in Europe, these things had required a lot of secrecy. Tarot practitioners, alchemists, astrologers, often claimed sources of obscure or occult origin for their knowledge.
For instance, references to the Logos (meaning “reason,” the “word”) were offered. It migrates from ancient Greek thought, through Plato to Christian theology, to various philosophical systems. The New Testament says:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(John 1:1, NIV)
Actually, that’s a very interesting sentence — whether you look at it as religion or as ancient literature.
During the Middle Ages, it was possible to be imprisoned, tortured, and executed for studying occult systems of any sort. So, we can see there was a reason to practice secrecy. Astrology could get you killed … Even during the Renaissance.
Galileo’s life was at risk by a Catholic court for looking through a telescope. And worse, talking about it. He got his first telescope back in 1609-1610. A little over 400 years ago.
Basically, in 1633 he was found guilty of the heresy of “heliocentricity,” the notion that the earth revolves around the sun. He was ordered not to believe it, speak of it, or defend it. He ended up under house arrest for the rest of his life — 9 years from the sentencing.
Also, with a telescope of 10x magnification, he had discovered the rings of Saturn. And four planets (Io, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa) orbiting Jupiter! And our moon was imperfect on its surface!! (Everything in the sky, closer to God, was supposed to be more perfect. Who knew…) And shadows of the imperfections on the moon’s surface changed shape!! (as the moon’s relationship to the sun was altered continually)…
Among his works, he wrote a book of which I am very fond, called Sidereus Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger). It is about his discoveries using the telescope. Easy to read, eye-opening.
Galileo was lucky. His life was spared, apparently, because he knew someone influential in the Catholic Church hierarchy.
But many others were not that lucky.
It’s in Deuteronomy
10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord […]
(KJV, Deuteronomy 18:9-12)
Today, the Tarot are different. It is rather like a shop: a world of “what you want.” Vendors offer styles of art, selections of mystical symbols; colors; systems of lettering. Symbols and images to support different lifestyles. So now, Tarot serves the interests of segmented social groups. Today’s internet-enabled market segments demand their own decks and get them. As to traditional “ancient” concepts, something like “Authentic Egyptian Tarot”? Or “the royal road of esoteric knowledge”?… The traditional content is no longer as essential.
The Brotherhood of Light
Just as an example: the Los Angeles-based Church of Light (or Brotherhood of Light) assigned an Egyptian origin to the Tarot. A writer named Elbert Benjamine renamed himself C.C. Zain as a nom de plume, and drafted well-thought-out material for the Brotherhood of Light. Something over 200 lessons. He produced organized lectures to create a basic orientation to the Tarot. He started writing chapters for BoL before 1920. Eventually, these also produced a book titled The Sacred Tarot in the 1930s.
The Brotherhood has survived into the 21st century. Unsurprisingly, today the name sounds odd. What about a sisterhood? many would like to know. (For all I know, they can answer these questions.)
And what about the 1,000 tarot decks aimed at segments of users who don’t care about detailed occult information? Or connections to Egyptian wisdom? or to Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah, Gematria, Zohar)? Not for everyone.
As to tarot card publishers… there are many, but about three or four large enterprises. Llewellyn is among the oldest and most respected names in “metaphysical” and spiritual publishing, including Tarot. You want to create your own deck? On their website they have a clear statement of what they seek (and do not seek) in Tarot decks. You can read it here.
Tarot and computer intelligence
Elbert Benjamine/C.C. Zain created a system. His tarot comprised a mathematical engine. This made it the most modern of all decks, oddly enough. Here’s why: the deck is adaptable by neural networks, algorithms, and deep learning systems. It’s a computer before computers existed.
Zain’s work tied together numbers, colors, astrology, Kabbalah, social roles, and astral energy. It was a new way of seeing reality — a way to support the development of intuition in the student. He knew that astral energy vibrates at wavelengths that are not perceived by humans, but he invented a way to take those energies into account. (Via something called the “decave.”) Those nested frequencies act in color spectrums, pico- and femtometer wavelengths, outside the range of the eye. These energies are a matter of physics and photo-optics. Note — not at all the same thing as “seeing ghosts.”
I mention the ghosts thing because I saw that we recently published an article about a device that claims to help in ghost verification. It uses what is called EVP technology – short for Electronic Voice Phenomena. (No, I don’t have an opinion… I don’t really know how it works.) You can read our article here.
Micro, nano, pico, femto…
The smallest object visible to the naked eye is around 50 microns or a little less. That is around 50,000 nanometers, about half the diameter of a human hair. It doesn’t mean there is nothing interesting at smaller wavelengths. An insulin molecule is about 40 nanometers long. We just can’t see it, not even with an optical microscope which gets us to about 400+ nanometers. Light is generally not coherent to our eyes below that level.
In fact, it has to do with “cones” and our receptive biology. Today, we construct images using computer technology and post-optical systems of “seeing.” Electron microscopy, scanning-tunneling microscopes etc.
In any case, and a matter of science, visible light occupies a sliver of the frequency range. Literally, most electromagnetic energy is invisible to us. The quantum particle- and the electrodynamics realms conceal themselves. They hide from ordinary human perception. Nevertheless, they act in what we experience.
Astrology, Mathematics and Ancient Texts
Elbert Benjamine/C.C. Zain, who wrote most of his stuff in the 1920s and 1930s, respected the symbolism found in sacred texts (Bible, Torah, etc.). He included mystical imagery (call it “psychographics”) and emotional intentionality (what imagery makes us feel). Tarot, he seemed to be saying, is destiny. Benjamine / Zain analyzed ancient symbols in relation to emotions and spiritual texts. He used astrology and ancient religions.
The “Lost Deck”
The publisher of the Brotherhood of Light tarot deck abandoned the original black and white deck of cards. That happened apparently sometime in the 1960s or a bit later. I’m not sure, but I’ve seen the original black & white versions for sale for hundreds of dollars. Perhaps the Church of Light felt that the old deck seemed too antiquated and harsh. In any case, a gray and white version replaced it. The new deck projected a more gentle feeling. But, it also felt washed out, and some people complained.
Today, the “Authentic Egyptian Tarot” by the organization presents a fully colored deck. The market expects that. But, say some, the detail in the artwork feels different. (See the Amazon link at the end of this article, or get a copy of the deck to take a closer look.)
Disputes of the origins of Tarot
There is no authoritative history of tarot, or even of the word “tarot.” Ironically, many who would like to explore the mystical side of this, plunge into a narrative of wishes, instead of relying on historical fact. An Egyptian and even a pre-Egyptian history appear — but how historical are they for tarot cards?
There are also references to Kabbalah, which is Jewish mystical teaching. It had been both honored and abused — hijacked into occult doctrines outside of Judaism. Jewish occult content, any esoteric reading of the Torah (the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses), is often referenced without being understood.
But there is hard to find a deeply historical, credible, esoteric textual basis to the Tarot without Kabbalah.
Product of the Renaissance
Naturally, many who follow solid historical evidence reject ideas of mystical power. Especially in something as pedestrian as cards. A few reclusive occultists… maybe. More scientifically, they have traced the word tarot to the 15th C Italian game tarocchi.
Note: no one has found a tarot deck — not even a rudimentary one — from before that period. Perhaps because it doesn’t exist? Which would suggest the tarot is a product of the Italian Renaissance.
Below, if you are curious, there are links to the book, and the current deck, from Brotherhood of Light.
Note: Wharf 21 has no relationship with this organization (Brotherhood of Light, Church of Light). They do not compensate us, nor have we ever contacted anyone there. Links provided for convenience only.
To be continued…