In this entry I am continuing the formal exploration of Tarot
methods with correlatives systems after the ideas of Stephen
Farmer and adapted provisionally by me to Tarot reading methods
Syncretism in the West: Pico’s 900 Theses (1486): The Evolution of Traditional Religious and Philosophical Systems With a Revised Text, English Translation, and Commentary by Stephen A. Farmer, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola (MRTS: Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies) Born to the noble family of the Counts of Mirandola and Concordia near Modena, Pico lived on the edge of two distinct cultural periods, the former rooted in medieval scholasticism, the latter characterized by the humanistic revival of classical thought. Pico’s bright intellectuality and strong curiosity led him to study thoroughly both medieval and classical traditions in the most renowned cultural centers of learning of his time.. His multifaceted interests in all kinds of knowledge, his peculiar life, as well as his precocious death constituted the basis for the rapid flourishing of his fame and for the spreading of his legendary biography also beyond Italian borders.
The myth of the “phoenix of his time”, as the young Count was designated already by his contemporaries, has affected scholarly interpretations of Pico’s intellectual speculation. Throughout the centuries, Pico’s system of thought has been viewed as one of the earlier, more faithful, and most complete expressions of humanism. But his true originality actually becomes in Christianizing the Jewish kabbala and beginning a long line of Christian kabbalaistic speculation and magic.
Of scrupulous significance in this regard is the role played by hermetic theosophy in Pico’s attempt to create an all-inclusive system of comprehension, deliberate to embrace and merge the most diverse philosophical and theological authorities. His plan of launching a concurrent syncretism (concordia) between a variety of religions and philosophical canons was unquestionably based upon scholarly fundamentals of his day.
Pico realized he had found in Jewish kabbala one of the major links between rational and religious systems of thought.
In 1486, while composing his famous 900 Theses, he resorted for the first time to a wide range of Jewish kabbalistic works, which had been translated on his request by the Jewish convert Flavius Mithridates (ca. 1450-1489). Pico plan was to submit and discuss all his Theses (which he had printed at the end of 1486) during a conference to be held in Rome early in 1487. A committee appointed by Pope Innocent VIII stopped Pico’s plans, declaring that six of the theses were suspect and condemning seven others. Most of the condemned Theses deal with Kabbalah. Pico immediately wrote his Apology in order to declare his innocence, but the result of this further attempt was that the Pope eventually denounced all the theses.
In one of the Conclusions condemned by the Church, Pico affirmed that ‘no knowledge gives us more certainty about Christ’s divinity than magic and Kabbalah’. In order to defend this ambiguous claim, Pico made an effort in his Apology to distinguish a good from an evil form of magic, as well as a positive from a negative Kabbalah. According to whom this distinction, the term Kabbalah was employed by the Jews to point out two distinct hidden disciplines, one dealing with a method for combining letters of the Hebrew alphabet (such a device, according to Pico, was not dissimilar from Ramon Llull’s Ars), the second dealing with an investigation of the celestial beings dwelling above the sphere of the Moon; this second discipline was considered by the humanist as the higher form of natural magic. Thus, if investigation of supernal entities could be carried out by means of natural magic, this sort of kabbalistic magic would certainly allow the initiate to penetrate the mysteries of the divinity of Christ. In of the many ways his 900 Theses was a work that never received the explication it deserved and was planned, because it was aborted by the church, suspicious of syncretic systems as corrosive to dogma, and hence, to faith.
Farmer has come a long way in reconstructing the probable systems that Pico would have used to synthesize all knowledge as represented by these Theses arranged historically. Besides being the first full and only modern translation of the 900 Theses, using the special numbering system and a computer analysis of the language, Farmer makes a strong case for a much more original synthesis than has been conjectured by other modern scholars who have tended to look at the 900 Theses in a piecemeal fashion.
According to Farmer, ‘By the time of Pico’s proposed the Vatican debate, the cumulative effects of over 2000 years of syncretistic processes had reached their most extreme levels ever. In the 900 Theses scores of earlier correlative principles of the warring subtraditions of Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew scholasticism, of Greek neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism, and of a wide range of esoteric traditions - Neo-pythagorean numerology, “Chaldean” and “Orphic” magic, pseudo-Hermetic mysticism and Pseudo-Mosaic Cabbalism, each a product of the repeated inbreeding of traditions of a still greater antiquity, emerged to give birth to the abstract concept of cosmological correspondents at the center of Pico’s “new philosophy.” The cumulative pressures of thousands of years of reconciling books in traditions of eventually lead to the elevation of the ultimate syncretic strategy as “the greatest of all” cosmic principles. Exegeses had completed its metamorphosis into cosmology; correspondents now lay at the very essence of reality: “whatever exists in all worlds is contained in each one”’
In order to continue exploring the meaning of the tarot, I wish to present a precise of farmers second chapter, “Syncretism in Premodern Thought,” on correlative systems as especially relevant to his analysis of the 900 Theses, but also generally relevant to all known systems of early textual traditions.
Among these syncretistic strategies, Farmer lists ten:
1. Deductive reconciliations: One neatly ignores apparent inconsistencies and conflicts between authorities and deduces harmonious views from ostensible principles or fundamentals of within their thought.
Tarot: When devising meanings for the cards symbolism a number of eclectic strategies are used. We can derive emotional or metaphoric meaning from the images, by association from experience or from conjecture.
2. Instructive arbitrary equivocation in terms. To argue that apparent conflicts between authorities arises from totally superficial differences in language or emphasis on biographical and historical contexts.
Tarot: the many clashing meanings in tarot symbolism is explained away as a matter of focus of the artist or writer about the meaning of the cards. Actually the plurality of meaning is celebrated as a great strength of good readers.
3. Reading the terms of one tradition through the concepts of another[/color]. This is a variation on Pico’s deductive methods. This technique was used often by late Neoplatonic commentators on Aristotle. By reinterpreting key Aristotelian terms in a platonic fashion, for instance the substance/accident distinction.
Tarot: in comparative tarot assuming an ur-meaning to the classic 78 card divisions, where all the variations of decks, art, theme, symbolism, color scheme, and images cumulatively add to the basic meaning of the classic 78 card divisions.
4. The double-truth. Is an important synthetic ploy invented in all scholastic traditions, Jewish-Christian-Islamic and Buddhist versions are well-known. In its most raw form it is the difference between absolute reality and relative reality. They are both true and are reconcilable by one another. Absolute reality acts as a catalyst in relative reality. In that absolute reality is not changed when it changes relative relationships. Relative reality is true provisionally and is capable of reflecting the absolute without ever being absolute.
Tarot: in tarot all the cards represent reflections in relative reality as aspects of the ineffable absolute reality of the person’s authentic self. Readings are provisional in that the cards symbolism and images may be imperfectly read or understood in their placement. Spreads are by their nature oriented towards a particular moment in time and a certain placement of events as appearing to the self.
5. Letters symbolism, gematria, and anagrammatic methods. Popular derived from kabbalaistic sources, one can completely rewrite a whole traditions using these methods. This included number symbolism that allow for a letter and number substitutions and the qualitative meaning of numbers and series of numbers.
Tarot: the occult use of the tarot has used to these methods to derive deeper meanings to the cards images and symbolism. Actually much more could be done in this area, once the generic aspects of these meanings are embraced without attempting to make them slavishly conform to their historical antecedents.
For instance once we understand the magical meaning of the English alphabet, we will not necessarily have to import Hebrew alphabet meanings and derivations. (However this observation does not preclude the correlations between alphabetic systems)
Likewise our reading of the images themselves can be developed with great amplification as well as associating the images with classical Renaissance derived symbolism.
6. Standard scholastic distinction. More prosaically one can reconcile conflicting authorities by applying standard verbal modifiers to distinguish those signifiers’ real from apparent meanings.
Tarot: in reading the cards, the placement in the layout, can modify the meaning and the relationship of the cards to one another in ways as to give very different emphasis in their interpretation. Likewise with reversals, they orient together and alone as a sort of subtext within the layout. Binary analysis of two cards juxtaposed one against the other, naturally leads to a series of contrasts, oppositions, and similarities which then can be reorganized into a meaning or a story.
7. ]Hierarchical or correlative distinctions. While standard scholastic distinctions typically lead to binary divisions of concepts, such as substance or accident, real or intentional existence, speculative or practical science, and so on. Once these distinctions are organized in correlative series based upon interdependent ranks these could be multiplied in nearly in most fashion limited only by the commentator’s ingenuity for inventing verbal modifiers for some base term.
Tarot: in tarot reading beyond binary readings of the cards there also are triadic readings that seek thesis, antithesis, and synthesis in the relative card positions and with an analysis of the images and symbolism of the cards.
Also within tarot the major arcana usually trumps the minor arcana when it comes to spiritual focus and clarification. The court cards tend to strum from events in the pips to persons in the courts to archetypes in the majors all of which can be modified by the preassigned placement in the layout.[/color]
8. Syncretic syllogisms. Many modern commentators routinely gathered support for old views — and in the process generated new ones — by combining unrelated snippets of sacred text in a systematic fashion. The assumption was that an occult message hidden collectively in these texts, and even” everything knowable,” could be uncovered once these passages were combined in a syllogistic or quasi-syllogistic fashion.
Tarot: one could say that spreads are the grammar of a tarot reading. As such they delimit and predefined how a particular card will be used as either a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb. As we read the cards through our analysis of the symbolism, our discovery of binary oppositions and homologies, are hierarchical interpretation of how the cards interrelate in this reading, we may see strong symbolic logic moving as to various similar conclusions.
9. Allegorization. Developing the symbolic expression of a deeper meaning through a story or scene acted out by human, animal, or mythical characters; the characters and events then are to be understood as representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning.
Tarot: these conclusions may give rise to stories and folktales that relate to the symbolism unfolding and the cards and layout. We may further extrapolate the stories as evidence of universal stories or myths which may reflect upon the spiritual and moral condition of the question sought in the reading. This can also reflect upon political situations and events.
10. Temporal strategies: similar to hierarchical or correlative distinctions except of that the distinguishing characteristics are ranked along a timeline of importance or derivation. One could invoke a formal distinction between topological and archetypal symbologies: with a topological are formally correlative by type and are timeless, whereas the archetypal are accidentally correlative by experience and are timely. One could say that this is a difference without accident because topological distinctions only show up for us in time. Though we can acknowledge their timelessness and even seek to delineate it it will only arise for us meaningfully in time, in our psyches, in our life story.
Tarot: asserting as I do, that the tarot cards as a whole tends to be relative reality at best reflecting aspects of the absolute reality, one can say that the tarot is uniquely situated to reflect on events in the extended now of the person who is question is being replied to. Given this perhaps more attention needs to be paid to how we derive timing to the interpretation of cards and their layouts.