Memories of the Past, Memories of the Future: Semiotics and the Tarot

 

Inna Semetsky

 

 






Introduction

The field of communication phenomena as part of the typology of cultures calls for the identification of specific semiotic systems representing their "languages". In this respect culture is seen as a set of texts described by collective memory (Lotman 1990).

The expression in the title of this paper, memories of the future, seems however to be a contradiction in terms. To resolve the paradox, this paper will address a specific pictorial, that is, extra-linguistic, language expressed in the signs and symbols of Tarot. Tarot images survived through the ages and — although their exact origins are debated — appear to have been in existence, in their modern form, since the fourteenth century.

 

This paper, first, will go through some of the cultural "memory traces" left in history by the Hermetic tradition and revived during the Renaissance (see, e.g., Yates 1964, Faivre 1994, Tomberg 1993). Second, the paper will present Tarot pictures as polysemic representations of the images of collective memory, organized into a semiotic system and constituting a pictorial "text" represented by the cards' layout. As a text, the layout can indeed be "read" and interpreted. The paper will address the spatial-temporal distribution of cards in terms of a symbolic representation of the memory pool called by Carl G. Jung the collective unconscious. In semiotic terms, memory is the capacity to preserve and reproduce information. In this respect, the Tarot deck serves as a lexicon, and each Tarot layout becomes a symbolic text having both a synchronic and diachronic dimension. The paper will conclude by asserting that bits of information — virtually stored in the diachronic depth of the collective memory — are reproduced by means of each synchronic reading, thus re-creating the memories of the past and simultaneously creating, as if anew, the memories of the future. This action of signs is posited as an intelligent communication.

Tarot Myths

It appears that the only factual evidence of the possible origins of Tarot is the collection of seventeen cards now in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, documented in the French Court ledger as dating back to 1392. The collection located at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York contains thirty-five cards from a full deck of seventy-eight, whose origin goes back to the middle of fifteenth century. Yet, the Tarots might have been circulating the world since much earlier times and only surfaced and attracted attention at the time of Renaissance and the revival of Gnosticism. Frances Yates notices that the "great forward movements of the Renaissance ' derive their vigour 'from looking backwards" (Yates 1964: 1) to the Golden Age and the Hermetic writings. The Greek God of communication, the messenger Hermes, has been identified with the Egyptian mystical god Thoth, the latter is said to having "given" his name to a Tarot deck known as the Book of Thoth.

The Egyptian-born Plotinus (250-70 CE) reconstructed an ancient Greek metaphysics by incorporating elements of the Hermetic tradition (see Faivre 1994, Yates 1964) thereby founding the system of Neoplatonism which grew into "one of the strangest chapters and strangest tales" (Deely 2001: 113) in the history of philosophy. For Plotinus, the soul's memories could be either in words or in images. As a form of thought, which transforms beliefs into inner knowledge, or gnosis, the Hermetic tradition survived many centuries into the Christian era. Revived by Marsilo Ficino (1433-1499), Pico della Mirandelo (1463-1494) and Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), it informed the Renaissance, since then being manifested in a plurality of forms including the pictorial representation of this knowledge in the symbols of Tarots. Ficino, who believed in the Egyptian roots of Hermes, has translated the Corpus Hermeticus into Latin. Bruno took the Egyptian revival even further: for him, the mind works solely through archetypal images, the latter indeed reflecting the universe in the human mind. Valentin Tomberg, in his book "Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism" (1993), cites sources as diverse as Plato and St. John on the Cross, Zohar and St. Paul, Bergson and Ouspensky, Dionysus and Leibniz, Augustine and Teihard de Chardin as representatives of ancient Hermetic, mystical, thinking. Faivre (1994) traces the Western esoteric tradition from its ancient and medieval sources to Christian theosophy up to the twentieth century philosophers of science — "the 'gnostics of Princeton and Pasadena' [as] scholarly university physicists" (Faivre 1994: 280) of their respective schools — and indeed refers to Tarot as one of the forms of esoteric knowledge. We may conclude that at a time when writing was a restricted art, the pictorial encoding of mystical knowledge was not only safer but quite possibly representative of the more easily accessible form of communication.

The hypothesis about the origins of Tarot in its present form that appeals to me personally is that it might have been a means of keeping and protecting an esoteric knowledge, which was considered a heresy in the eyes of the medieval Church. Any deviant groups such as Cathars or Jewish Mystics were persecuted to the point of near eradication. As a matter of fact, Jews running away from the Spanish Inquisition were welcomed in the Cathars' communities. As Guirdham (1993) points out, Cathars' degree of tolerance was unusually high in the Middle Ages. Elsewhere in Europe Jews stayed in ghettos and remained there well into the twentieth century in many countries. In France — specifically in the Languedoc — they were not only well tolerated but even achieved positions of eminence and social recognition. Guirdham (1993) suggests that such an atmosphere of tolerance and sophistication provided a supportive environment for the implantation of alternative belief systems, combining elements of both mysticism and practical applications. History seems to have been repeating itself backtracking to times when Jews were running away from Egyptian pharaohs, perhaps even then carrying with them their mystical knowledge trying to preserve and save it.


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Languedoc is in the south of France — indeed where Tarot cards surfaced — and where, as Gad (1994) states, the cabbalists and Cathars had founded centers of development, and which had also been a traditional gathering place for Gypsies. The philosophical school of Cathars, Jewish Cabbalists, and the Gypsies' (of Egyptian descent) fortune-tellers thus gathered in the same place at the same time. It may not be unreasonable to assume, together with Gad (1994), that the survival of the alternative mystical beliefs encoded in the cards' pictorial representations could have been safeguarded by their appearing in the guise of traditional fortune-telling by the Gypsies. There seems to exist a strong correlation between Tarots, even if wearing the mask of fortune telling, and the Cabbala. This connection was uncovered by the French scholar Eliphas Levi in the 19th century, the meanings of the cards per se decoded in a systematic manner in 1889, by a French physician known as Papus. Symbolic, numerical and interpretive correlations between the different cultures, separated by time and space, point to their common hypothetical origin, perhaps dating back to the most famous Hermetic text, the Emerald Tablet.


Tarot Layout: Spatio-Temporal Distribution

The esoteric law of correspondences, articulated in the Emerald Tablet (and incidentally, resembling the non-linear, that is, circular causality posited by the physics of today; see, e.g., Griffin 1986), is the law upon which Tarot rests. In Hermetic terms, this maxim states: that which is above is like that which is below and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of all things. This law of correspondence, as applied to space — as above so below — has its correlate also in temporal terms: that which was is as that which will be, and that which will be is as that which was. That's why there can be a sense of gazing into the future during Tarot readings, or the infamous fortune telling. Certain positions in the cards' layout signify the dimension of time. In its material embodiment, the philosophical time of coexistence splits into its three dimensions that are spatially distributed within one and the same layout. The future, as well as the past, is the present of philosophical time. The hear-and-now quality of readings evokes the present state of the human mind, which nevertheless projects both past and the possible future events according to the cards' positions (Fig. 1). Positions, signifying the future aspect of time, correspond to the specific synthesis of time, or the so-called memory of the future.


Figure 1: Position of Tarot Cards




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In this respect, the pictorial cards are capable of positing that what was always already presupposed (cf. Deely 2001) and what constitutes the informational content of the image on the card. During readings, when the cards are spread in a layout that comprises positions signifying all three aspects of time simultaneously, human perception encompasses both past and future compressed in the "present" quality of a reading. This paradoxical quality of the immaterial mind being incorporated in the tangible form of cards seems to accord with pre-modern science (a.k.a. Enochian physics, see Schueler 1989) that posited the difference between all manifested phenomena as the difference in degree, and not in kind. They differ according to their frequency of expression only. Therefore time is paradoxically a-temporal and, as pertaining to its functioning in a Tarot layout, is essentially expressed in its so-called fine-structured format that unites positions combining past, present and future — like on a hypothetical temporal map displaying in the here-and-now the dynamics of what was before and what will have been after.

The Hermetic tradition posited memory and imagination as blended together: as Faivre (1994) notices, "a part of the teaching of Hermes Trismegitus consisted of 'interiorizing' the world of our mens, from whence the 'arts of memory' cultivated" (Faivre 1994: 13). The layout may be considered a physical, material representation of Memoria, posited by Augustine. To Augustine, a pagan turned Christian, we owe certain important developments in semiotics, which are subject to debates even today, in particular a distinction that he posited between natural and conventional signs, that is, signa data and signa naturalia that affect the philosophical conceptualization of intentionality (see further below). In his Confessions, Augustine describes "the fields and spacious places of memory (campos et lata praetoria memoria), where are the treasures (thesauri) of innumerable images'" (in Yates 1966: 46). Memoria is a realm of images, the paradoxical realm of objective psyche, or the impersonal, collective unconscious, posited by Carl Gustav Jung, and constituted by archetypes, which represent multiple patterns of typical human situations, behaviors and events. Jung described archetypes as the dynamical structures of the psyche that determine the contents of the unconscious. In semiotic terms, archetype is a symbol of transformation, and symbols themselves act as transformers capable of raising unconscious contents to the level of consciousness. As noticed by Noth in his "Handbook of Semiotics", symbols — as Jung defined them — are "the conscious forms given to the unconscious archetypes to which we have no direct access" (Noth 1995: 120). Indirectly, though, they can be communicated by being mediated via the symbolism of Tarot images in the layout.

The Hermetic tradition, by affording Memoria a privileged place, seems to have anticipated the theory of the unconscious, as we know it today. Plotinus, for example, defines soul in terms of its, as yet unknown, memories: "even when one is not conscious that one has something, one holds it to oneself more strongly than if one knew'" (Ennead 4.4.4. in Miles 1999: 79). Soul, for Plotinus, "is and becomes what it remembers" (Ennead 4.4.3. in Miles 1999: 79). As a sign, the very depth of the psyche creates a relation between the sensible and the intelligible, or the connective bridge between the human and the divine that supposedly contains in itself Platonic "reminiscences". Human mind, in Hermeticism, is a direct reflection of the divine "mens" equipped with its full creative potential. Frances Yates (1966) describes the art of memory via its relation to the psyche and affirms that it is the very aim of memory to be able to unite intellect and psyche — within the psyche itself — by means of the organization of significant images.


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The art of memory, as such, goes beyond the aforementioned temporal map and presents also a spatial organization of the psyche. James Hillman contends: "using the terms of today, we might translate this art [of memory] as a method for presenting the organization of the collective unconscious" (Hillman 1972: 179), the archetypal patterns of the latter inscribed in the symbolism of the Tarot cards. Carl Jung, referring to various phenomena that may appear random and senseless if not for their meaningful synchronistic significance, has suggested that it may seem "as if the set of pictures in the Tarot cards were distantly descended from the archetypes of transformation" (Jung CW 9. 81). The collective unconscious encompasses future possibilities, and "[a] purposively interpreted [image], seems like a symbol, seeking to characterize a definite goal with the help of the material at hand, or trace out a line of future psychological development" (Jung CW 6. 720), that is to perform a prospective, prognostic and as if futuristic, function, reaching out as such to the said memories of the future. The here-and-now quality of each reading invokes one's present state of mind that nevertheless may project both past and possible future events according to cards' positions in the layout. An event is defined in contemporary physics as an actualized possibility of this event's objective tendency, or its potentia, to occur. The layout thus presents a spatial-temporal organization of the psyche, or both its structure and dynamics, despite the psyche per se always being posited, rightly or wrongly, in non-spatial terms.


Semiotics and Tarot

Tarot cards have been the subject matter of my research for a decade. Semiotics, as a study of signs and their signification, describes "cartomancy (including taromancy)'as a branch of divination based upon the symbolic meaning attached to individual Tarot cards or modern decks, interpreted according to the subject or purpose of a reading and modified by their position and relation to each other from their specific location in a formal 'layout' or 'spread"' (Sebeok 1994, vol.1: 99-100). Communication, as pertaining to semiotics, is not confined to verbal signs as in the studies of linguistics, but includes the extra-linguistic and non-verbal modes. Semiotics considers pictures, as well as stories consisting of pictures, as belonging to the category of signs. Not only do "pictures have a continuous structure' [but] it [also] induces the reader to' read the picture as if it were a written text" (Posner 1989: 276). Tarot images, as symbols and signs, establish the syntactic structure of a layout in the form of a pictorial "text". They are purposeful and meaningful semantically and are polysemous, that is, change their meanings dynamically depending on the context they are situated in. The corollary is that, being a text communicating messages, the Tarot spread can be read and interpreted thus having a potential transformational effect on the subject of an individual reading functioning as a counselling session. My earlier research in the behavioural sciences (Semetsky 1994) has presented some empirical findings of Tarot being a powerful, as well as empowering, method that could be effective in clinical psychotherapy, career counselling, or marital therapy. The interpretations of the cards' meanings in 15 reading sessions in this pilot study, when one and the same card, however situated in different contexts, acquired different connotations, serve to illustrate the concept of polysemy.

The layout (Fig.1), used as an example of a typical reading, presents ten positions that signify specific connotations as described further below, but is not exhausted by them. Their meanings are only partially arbitrary: in the clinical context of my pilot study (Semetsky 1994) I assigned specific therapeutic correlations to the relatively stable traditional meanings denoted by the layout. As Guiraud pointed out in "Semiology", signification is only relatively codified: "Codification ' is a process: usage renders the sign more precise and extends its convention. '[D]epending on each particular case, signs are more or less motivated" (Guiraud 1975 [1971]: 25). Providing that a semiotic code serves as "the correlation or correspondence between sign repertoires or signs and their meanings" (Noth 1995: 205), each position may be considered, in brief, as "encoding" the following:


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Position 1. The subject's presenting problem, or an area of a particular concern to the subject of the reading.

Position 2. The influence, such as impulses, feelings, traits, or behavioural patterns (not necessarily the subject's own), or some other sign that may strengthen or weaken the problem the subject is concerned with, as per position 1. Quite often, this position signifies some, as yet unperceived, obstacles.

Position 3. Some past unconscious factors that contributed to the present situation. The "roots" of the matter in question which are deeply embedded in the unconscious and may appear, quite often, in the subject's dreams.

Position 4. A significant moment in the subject's history that still affects the situation and whose implications are so strong that they might show up in the subject's future dynamics. Even if the subject did not pay particular attention to it and almost "forgot" it, such a memory comes out in the reading if significant.

Position 5. A potential, or coming into being, future. Perhaps some motivations, even if outside of the subject's conscious intent, have contributed to this development, which thereby shows it presence, even if only as a trace of "the memory of the future".

Position 6. The further development of the situation as it unfolds in the immediate future.

Position 7. The subject's current state of mind comprising thoughts, accompanied by affects, shows up in this position. The subject's own perceptions may be quite overwhelming to him/her, or even obsessional.

Position 8. The subject's immediate environment, that is, home, or support system, family, friends, partners, relatives, business associates, in short people representing significant others for the subject in relation to his/her presenting problem.

Position 9. The subject's hopes and wishes, aspirations and ideals, are shown here. They are often accompanied by fears or anxiety.

Position 10. A possible outcome of the current dynamics as it envelops all contributing and hindering factors represented by cards that will have occupied each position.

We can see that some positions in the spread appear to correspond to what in contemporary philosophy of mind are called the propositional attitudes and which indeed encompass such common semantic categories as beliefs, fears, desires, and hopes. With the total of the seventy-eight cards in a deck, the number of possible combinations and permutations of the cards that "fall out" in each position is huge and tends to infinity if the type of spread is more complex, thereby reflecting the richness and plurality of diverse human experiences. For Jung, there are as many archetypal patterns as there are typical situations in life. Cards serve as signifieds for the aforementioned positions and are interpreted differently depending on where exactly they are located in the layout, that is, in the context of which particular position this or that card is being "read".


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The triadic quality enabled by mediation makes the Tarot system a genuine sign, a Peircean correlate of the representamen-interpretant-object triad. Noth presents a synopsis of a triadic sign tracing its definitions and different terminology from Plato, to Stoics, to Peirce, to Ogden and Richards (Noth 1995: 90-91), and notices that in order to construct a semiotic triangle (Fig. 2) connecting, in general terms, sign-vehicle, sense, and referent, the path of mediation, represented by a dotted line between a sign-vehicle and a referent, must be present.

 



Figure 2: Semiotic Triangle (Noth 1995)

 

The reading, as the means of indirect communication, "fills up" such a dotted line, when a card falls out after a card, until they form a layout in a semiotic process of creating meaningful structures of experience via iconic signs: "sense is the mediator of the referent" (Noth 1995: 89). A pictorial phrase, another one, yet another, unfold into a narrative — the myth of an archetypal journey (Semetsky 1994). What is the informational content embedded in the twenty-two so-called Major Arcana? The first card, numbered zero, is called the Fool portrayed by a youth that signifies innocence, an open mind, and the possibility of multiple life-choices. That's where the journey starts.

This is an experiential journey comprising symbolic lessons that the soul must learn in the school of life during the process of what Jung dubbed individuation of the Self. The Fool may indeed become a Magician, Trump number 1, a symbol of practical wisdom and successful accomplishment of goals. Signs are dynamic: they grow and become other signs. Each subsequent card represents an evolution in human consciousness as a function of experience in a phenomenal world. The High Priestess, Arcanum number two, is a symbol of female intuition and spiritual life. The Empress and the Emperor (cards three and four, respectively) are, in Jungian terms, the archetypes of anima and animus, that is two subpersonalities that may manifest in real life by ways of perception and action which are represented by figures of the opposite sex in each individual psyche. The fifth major card, The Hierophant, is the Jungian archetype of Persona, that is, societal conventions, orthodox belief systems, and conservative politics. And so the journey continues, and the Fool is learning its moral lessons, some of which are expressed in such virtues as courage (card number 8) or temperance (card number 14) until the paradoxically wise Fool becomes a child again. This time it is a Divine Child warming up in the rays of the Sun, card number 19, and ready to be symbolically "reborn", in the guise of Judgment, Arcanum number 20.


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The final card, numbered 21, is called the World, or Universe in some decks, and represents the Jungian archetype of the individuated Self. The culmination of the journey taught the Fool the lesson of accepting responsibility in the world and for the world. The circular shape on the World picture represents a continuum, that is, the never-ending search for meanings in the changing circumstances of experience. The remaining fifty-six minor cards comprise four suits numbered from Ace to 10 and including the four so-called court cards in each suit. The symbolism of four suits is related to four Jungian functions. The numerical growth from Ace to 10 represents the progressive mastery of a problematic situation, even when encountering a temporary defeat that may be connoted by some numbered cards. The dynamics never stops: pictures tell us multiple stories about feeling happy or feeling sad; making plans or breaking promises; winning or losing; experiencing financial difficulties or laying foundations for a marriage; falling in love or getting out of an abusive relationship; starting a new venture or experiencing separation anxiety' The ever expanding and varying multitude of experiential situations and events may always present new challenges: the story of the Fool's journey is an unlimited semiosis indeed.


Information, Communication, and the Emergence of Meaning

At the level of sign-production information, encoded in the pictorial story, is being transmitted vertically due to resonance-like communication following the aforementioned "as above so below" principle. But this Hermetic formula in not strictly mimetical: mimesis turns into semiosis because of the signs' triadic relation. Noth (1995) points out that different sign models, albeit retaining triadicity, do suggest different interpretations of the relata: "the order of the relata in the process of triadic mediation has been interpreted in a different way" (Noth 1995: 89), which means that the sequence of the "dotted line" may shift for as long as it "closes" the triangle. In other words, the 1-2-3 series as Per Fig. 2 and a respective return from 3 to 1 is always a genuine triad, but the correlates of the triad vary. Tarot indeed performs a double function: from the viewpoint of the semiosis in nature, or sign-production, as well as from the viewpoint of the interpreter in the here-and-now of the reading. So in front of our eyes meanings do unfold horizontally, following the spatial-temporal organization according to the type of spread that resembles a cinematic syntax, which may be defined by images organized into a sequence of shots. The motivated meanings in each of the positions, as listed above, may therefore be considered signa data. As for the cards per se, or rather their referents or the archetypes denoted by the cards' imagery, they are universal by definition, thereby signa naturalia.

The question, however, arises — and here I would like to reframe the aforementioned Augustine's classification of signs — as follows: if natural signs are non-intentional and by signifying something beyond themselves make us aware of that category like the much-quoted smoke which signifies fire; and if the unseen emotions behind a facial expression are included in the class of natural signs; and if the same unseen emotions are encoded in the iconic image of a particular card — because it stands for an archetypal pattern denoting, for example, strength (card number 8), or hope (The Star, card number 17), or phobia (The Devil, card number 15), or the unspeakable pain (The Tower, card number 16) — then we arrive at a paradox and have to question again whether the category of natural signs presupposes intentionality and/or involves the idea of intention. In this respect Tarot images not only represent intentional states, but also belong to the category of signs used with communicative intent — not the classical natural unintentional signs, but the natural signs that are communicated with a sort of unconscious intention. If so, the great divide between the sensible and the intelligible, between Logos and Mythos, is indeed moot. This relativity correlates with the ancient Hermetic worldview that posited all manifested phenomena as based on the principle of homology, that is, the only difference between any of them is just the degree of their evolutionary development in space-time. Indeed, mind may very well become embodied in matter — as it so does in case of Tarot readings. The layout per se becomes a visible, material link in a signifying chain of a larger symbolic order. And sure enough, because it represents an instance of a diachronic, ex memoria, unfolding of this signifying chain, this instance being but one synchronic slice represented by a concrete spread, in this discursive enfoldment meaning emerges. When past, present and possible future are combined together we not only observe but also consciously participate in an instant of our own evolution — evolution of knowledge, evolution of consciousness.


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The complex relationships between cards in each position can be inferred from the meaning of each. The static layout of each particular reading can be considered a closed system within a larger open one. This closed system, in semiological terms, represents a synchronic network of paradigmatic relationships, but the emergence of meaning — the whole interpretation, that is — is possible only because of the syntagmatic network of the signifieds and the existence of the temporal chain. In its material form, the Tarot spread may be considered a projection of what a Russian semiotician of the Tartu school, Yuri Lotman, called semiosphere (Lotman 1990), that is, a symbolic analogy to the concept of the biosphere of organic life. The universal field of communication phenomena envisaged by Russian neo-semioticians as part of a typology of cultures called for identification of the specific systems representing their "languages". And a universal field of communication phenomena in nature needs to identify its own system, which would represent the "language" it speaks, albeit in a non- linguistic mode. Lotman saw culture as a set of texts generated by some yet unknown rules, and a non-hereditary collective memory. As for nature, its generative rule is the principle of self-organization that, according to modern-day evolutionary biology, physics and chemistry, is capable of manifesting itself at a physical level; and its collective memory at the level of the psyche is being expressed via Tarot symbolism. Tarot thus functions in the capacity of a meta-language by means of which the non-hereditary, but self-organizing, collective memory speaks to us, and as such, in a metaphoric sense, gives birth to a new "text" after each "conversation".

The text that is being read must be first written — metaphorically, of course. So the emergence of a particular pattern in a spread represents first the process of "writing". An invisible realm acquires visibility and legibility, and in this respect the pictorial text of a layout is the result of ordering of signs in accordance with the seemingly generative, active and self-organizing, grammar. The "writer" — the subject of the reading — speaks by means of projecting the content of the "text" as aspects of his/her sociocultural history and psychological memories appearing in the guise of pictorial cards. Simultaneously, the subject is spoken to by becoming informed about the meaning of this content during a reading. In the process of a reading the subject, similar to cinematic suture, "inserts itself into the symbolic register in the guise of a signifier, and in so doing gains meaning at the expense of being" (Silverman 1984: 200), but — and this is the crucial difference — for the purpose of becoming. The very idea of a psychological change or transformation due to the discovery of meanings is based on the principle of creating a new level of order, not maintaining the existing one. In fact, the new level wouldn't be possible without the future acting upon the present, being pulled into the present by archetypal forces contained in the Memoria. In a larger frame the written text, albeit expressed not in words but in pictures, is itself an interpretive system, within which it acquires the status of a text when its writer — the subject of the reading — perceives it as such. And in a very minimal sense, a reader is a "bilingual" interpreter, whose function is to translate the non-verbal "sounds" of the language of the unconscious into the spoken word. Let us turn again to Augustine (in Clarke 1990: 26-27):


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Whoever, then, is able to understand a word, not only before it is uttered in sound, but also before the images of its sounds are considered in thought — ''is able now to see through this glass and in this enigma some likeness of that Word of whom it is said, "In the beginning was the Word'". For of necessity, ' there is born from the knowledge itself which the memory retains, a word that is altogether of the same kind with that knowledge from which it is born. ' And the true word then comes into being. ' Who would not see how great would be the unlikeness between it and that Word of God, ' and simply equal to Him from whom it is, and with whom it is wonderfully co-eternal


Conclusion

The transformation into the Word, that is, the action of signs from the viewpoint of sign-production, is thereby an intelligent, or more precisely, noetic activity. Moreover, as Faivre (1994) points out in referring to the esoteric tradition, the reality of intelligence is asserted: "Intelligence is an entity or universal interaction of the same nature as electricity or gravity and there must be some existing formula of transformation, analogous to the famous equation of Einstein... in which intelligence would be put into equation with other entities of the physical world. ' If intelligence is a universal property of matter, the universe then represents a terrifying amount of mental potential, and anima mundi must exist" (Firsoff 1963 in Faivre 1994: 281-282; cf. also Semetsky 1998). And an existing being must have its language of expression: Jung's ultimate archetype, anima mundi or the soul of the world, appears to express itself by means of a semiotic communication, in a format of signs and symbols of Tarot. We may use the word intelligence here because it is understood in the semiotic sense in accord with the definition given by Lotman (1990). The dynamic structure of intelligence, according to Lotman, is determined by three functions: the transmission of textual information, the creation of a new information, and memory as a capacity to preserve and reproduce information. The Tarot layout is thereby a text transmitting available information, which is being preserved or virtually stored in the diachronic depths of the collective unconscious, the Memoria. During readings this text is reproduced for the purpose of re-creating this information, to revive in the present moment the memories of the past and the memories of the future, both co-existing in the present.

The information, albeit conserved, is being re-distributed, and contributes in this respect to the appearance of a new "chapter" in the text of life as if being written anew by the subject of his/her reading. The information becomes awake, or active (cf. Bohm 1980) and capable of effecting transformations in the material world, the world of action, inhabited by us, human beings. From our human, subjective perspective, this means to create this text in its novelty, as if anew, to speak the Word, which is thereby indeed coming into being. The Word thus has a potential of recursively becoming a Thing again in the guise of a new object, new knowledge. The Tarot deck, then, may be considered a symbolic lexicon used by the universal intelligence, the mind of the Universe, or the Nous of the ancients — the Hermetic wisdom of the world, according to which the divine powers of human intellect are implicit in the "man's mens" (Yates 1966: 147). As this paper attempted to demonstrate, this noetic intelligence, which encompasses memories of both the past and the future, is accessible to human reason by means of Tarot readings.



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