Sunday, July 4, 2010

Blame Antoine Court de Gébelin

He's the Swiss clergyman who decided in 1781 that a traditional 5-suit deck of 78 cards, that had been used for centuries for playing the game Tarot, was actually a repository of arcane cabalistic symbolism passed down from the ancient Egyptians. The cards were in fact designed for divination (went the theory), with emblematic content that linked them to the underlying principles of the cosmos.

The theory took root, and people invented age-old esoteric techniques of Tarot divination which they were willing to teach to new initiates for a purely nominal fee, and now everyone takes it for granted that we have always been at war with Eastasia using Tarot cards for fortune-telling. Apparently The Waste Land is the first literary appearance of this use of the deck, followed in 1932 by Charles Williams' The Greater Trumps (which is the barking-maddest book of Christian neo-Platonist philosophy in a pulp-fiction plot-line that you're ever likely to encounter unless you read other Charles Williams books).

It could have been worse. Imagine the potential for harm if the fraudsters had picked on the 10 cards of the Rorschach deck instead, and announced that by shuffling them and dealing them and following some elaborate rules for exegesis, one could fathom the customer's psychological state and mental health. We dodged a bullet there.

Anyway, you can see how wires were crossed at the Old Entomologist the other night when Another Kiwi dealt out hands with his new deck of cards.

"A cow pooping coins into a chalice is a reference to wealth from the dairy economy if ever there was one," I said. "I assume that the left-hand card represents the Past since it also contains a giant raspberry, a man with a roll of toilet paper undergoing hypnotherapy, three cotton reels and a novelty tea-pot, which all in all is almost frighteningly accurate.

"So the right-hand card must reflect the Future, and the three-headed lute-playing pigeon from hell predicts that I will get to the Leonard Cohen concert after all, though fish-&-chips may be all there is for dinner that night."

"No," sez AK. "It predicts that you're paying for the next round, since my full house beats your crap hand."
I think he makes the rules up as he goes along.

He may also be in denial, hiding from what the cards foretell for what will happen next time he takes Mrs Cat to the vet for an injection.

UPDATE: Bonus irrelevant Steps in the Evolution of the Disembodied Dog Head
Left: 1507.
Right: 1948.










BONUS² irrelevant Steps in the Evolution of Little Men in Boats





Top: 1507



Bottom: 2002

21 comments:

ckc (not kc) said...

...you know, if I just labelled figures randomly, without a legend, the reviewers (hhhkkhppttoooi!) would laugh (and not in a good way). and how does one get from z4 to 19 without any intermediate steps (they would ask, sarcastically)

[wv "wasinedi"... well, no needier than you, peabrain!]

Smut Clyde said...

how does one get from z4 to 19 without any intermediate steps (they would ask, sarcastically)

They would not need to ask if they had more experience with iKea assembly kits.

Another Kiwi said...

Yes, it is getting increasingly difficult to find vets who make house calls... twice.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The needle in the leg seems to have added the power of the sun to Mrs. Cat's rage.
~

H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

I'm thinking the Rorschach Deck would be unwieldy to shuffle. Art's nice, though.

Substance McGravitas said...

I just don't get the "little men in boats" part. Maybe I should ask my mom.

tigris said...

The world would be a better place if Charles Williams had had a chance to incorporate Oblique Strategies into a work.

Another Kiwi said...

the reviewers Only the third reviewer would be so insensitive

Smut Clyde said...

It's always the third reviewer!

Smut Clyde said...

The fascinating part about this Tarot-cards-are-Egyptian business (for sufficiently broad values of "fascination") is that it's a late flowering of a Renaissance obsession with Egyptian script. They got it into their heads that hieroglyphs were a universal language of visual symbols, and to understand them would undo the Tower-of-Babel proliferation of tongues and recapture the original language of Adam. Dürer tried illustrating the distorted 2nd- or 3rd-hand descriptions of hieroglyphs that were available, and Colonna of the Hypnerotomachia, and of course Athanasius Kircher, so it's as if the episode was designed to appeal to as many of my fixations as possible.

All this ties in with the medieval Art-of-Memory tradition -- the whole Memory Palaces idea -- which was enjoying a late refulgence at the time; if you wanted to shape your mind in desired directions by memorising emblems and sigils, then it made sense to memorise these extra-potent Egyptian symbols. But tl;dw.

mikey said...

Is the man necessarily 'little', or is the boat just a little bigger than it seems?

If I recall, I was learning something about 'perspective' just the other day...

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

The cloaca of that three-headed man-eagle is pretty suggestive!
How does it strum that oud without fingers?

tigris said...

Maybe it's a three-headed man-condor and fashions its own plectra?

Smut Clyde said...

The cloaca of that three-headed man-eagle is pretty suggestive!
It could be worse.

Dear me, comments are all over the place.

Substance McGravitas said...

Wowsers.

mikey said...

Odd.

I distinctly remember leaving a comment here about how the man might very well not be so little when compared to the boat due to the effects of perspective, as I have heard in detail in the explaining voice. Now, not only is that comment not here to have it's praises sung, and to have wise people and Tigris gaze in wonder at it's mathematical symmetry, but there are a large single - digit number of posts apparently gone missing with it.

For the claim is for 13, and the observed total is a mere 4. All the mathematical is leaking out of the punctured symmetry...

ckc (not kc) said...

I see your 13/4 and raise you 16/14

Substance McGravitas said...

Let the record show that I made a mother joke.

mikey said...

Mother Wowsers
Lost her trousers
Eating bread and jam
When Mother Wowsers
Milked her Cow, Sirs
She took it on the Lamb...

Oh, crap. I HOPE I don't have to explain it...

Smut Clyde said...

Let the record show that BBBB is the only one going on about "strumming one's oud".

tigris said...

to have wise people and Tigris gaze

Grrr. Also: mine are all straights.