Friday, October 30, 2020

Two Tarot de Marseille riddles

Over at The Magician's Table, I wonder why the Sun is in Gemini and why the Tower's name is ungrammatical. No answers so far, just questions!

To anyone with the cojones to have this printed on a T-shirt . . .

. . . permission is granted.

Being a Christian is like embracing totalitarianism!

So says Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day People Who Are Definitely Not Mormons, in his concluding remarks at the Church's recent general conference.

Today we often hear about "totalitarianism," or "a boot stamping on a human face, forever." If you really want to embrace totalitarianism, I invite you to turn your heart, mind, and soul totally to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Let that be your totalitarianism.

Now don't panic. He didn't just encourage us to embrace totalitarianism. He used it as a metaphor for being a Christian. Just a harmless metaphor. And if he neglected to mention that actual literal totalitarianism is, like, super-evil, it's probably because he just thought it went without saying, right? Right?

Riiiight . . . If you believe that, I've got a totally authentic salamander letter to sell you. O ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

Looking on the bright side, since being officially disowned by the Church of the Really Long Name That Must Never Be Abbreviated, Mormonism and the term Mormon have now entered the public domain. You no longer need Russell M. Nelson's permission to be a Mormon. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. You're on your own.

Update: It has come to my attention that, according to the official transcript of his talk, President Nelson may actually have said "the new normal" instead of "totalitarianism." I will investigate further and attempt to verify which wording is correct, but in either case the substance of his remarks remains unchanged.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

"Standing prophecies" in the Tarot

Over at The Magician's Table, I discuss how the Rider-Waite Tarot deck accurately predicted the birdemic and (so far) the results of every U.S. presidential election of the 21st century.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

What book is Mormon trampling underfoot?

Every Mormon will be familiar with Tom Lovell's painting Mormon Abridging the Plates, which depicts the prophet Mormon compiling various Nephite records and creating the Book of Mormon.


The prophet sits at his desk, holding a stylus in his right hand and resting his other arm on the book of golden plates he is writing. In keeping with the then-current view that the Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica, Mormon is shown sitting on a jaguar skin, with Aztec-like weaponry (a macuahuitl, a round shield, and a helmet with a crest of quetzal feathers) on the right side of the picture. Various plates and scrolls are shown on the shelves behind him -- plus a scroll on his lap, one on his desk, and -- curiously -- one under his right foot!

Since these are presumably meant to be the sacred records that are Mormon's source material, what can the artist have intended by showing the prophet stepping on one of them?

What this painting most reminds me of is the 17th-century Saint Augustine of Philippe de Champaigne.


There are so many elements in common that I think this must have been a conscious homage on Lovell's part. The saint sits with a desk on the right side of the picture and holy records (the Bible) behind him on the left. He holds a quill in his right hand, rests his left arm on the book he is writing, and looks off to the left. He sits on a golden chair ornamented with a lion's head -- echoed by Lovell's jaguar skin -- and his chasuble is the same color as Mormon's kilt. His miter and crosier are in the background, echoed by Mormon's helmet and macuahuitl. While such symbolic elements as the flash of light labeled veritas and the flaming heart of Jesus would be out of place in Mormon art, Lovell does have a smoking lamp or censer in the place where Champaigne puts the flaming heart.

Augustine, like Mormon, is shown with a book under his right foot. This is helpfully labeled Pelagius -- a contemporary of Augustine's, denounced by him as a heretic -- and is accompanied by two other works labeled with the names of Pelagius's supporters Caelestius and Julian of Eclanum. The scroll labeled Caelestius is even in nearly the same position as the scroll Mormon is stepping on.

In the Champaigne painting, the books underfoot make perfect sense: They represent Augustine stamping out heresy. Whose works, then, is Mormon trampling underfoot? Did Lovell simply copy this element from Champaigne without understanding what it meant, or is there some deeper meaning? (Or, keeping in mind the possibility of a Jungian slip, both?)

Note added: I don't want to give the reader the false impression that I am so well-versed in the art of the French Counter-Reformation that I took one look at Mormon Abridging the Plates and immediately thought of Philippe de Champaigne's Saint Augustine. In fact, my training in art history is limited to a single class on Central Asian Art taken to fulfill a "diversity" requirement, and I couldn't pick Philippe de Champaigne out of a police lineup.  The similarity of the two paintings was brought to my attention by the synchronicity fairies in connection with my post Writing the Book of Thoth.

In that post, I mentioned that the Magician card painted by Bonifacio Bembo (in which the Magician appears to be writing or drawing on a golden table) made me think of Nephi and his successors writing on the golden plates. This made me look up the painting of Mormon (which I erroneously remembered as being by Arnold Friberg rather than Tom Lovell) and look at it carefully for the first time. I noticed the scroll under the prophet's foot but didn't know what to make of it.

In the same post, I mentioned that, 38 years before his more famous Le Tarot des imagiers du Moyen Âge, Oswald Wirth had written another Tarot book called Le Livre de Thot comprenant les 22 arcanes du Tarot. Trying (in vain) to find the text of Le Livre de Thot online, I ended up perusing an article (in French) by Jean-Pierre Garcia called "Oswald Wirth: Le maître à penser de Pierre Plantard," and a link from there (suggesting that Wirth's Hermit card alluded to a particular painting of St. Anthony) led me to Notre Dame de Marceille: Le tableau de Saint Antoine et son histoire, where I discovered the Champaigne painting.

Second note added: Yesterday, apropos of nothing, I suddenly thought of the Richard S. Shaver story "The Tale of the Red Dwarf Who Writes With His Tail, by the Red Dwarf Himself" -- or, to be precise, the Fantastic Adventures cover art associated with that story. (I've never read the story itself, but the title and picture are rather memorable!) I searched for it online and ended up at a site called Pulp Covers.

After writing the present post, I got curious about who Tom Lovell was. He was not, as I had assumed, a Mormon, but was commissioned by the CJCLDS in the 1960s to paint several pictures. He was primarily a painter of pulp magazine covers, and it turns out that the Pulp Covers website has quite a number of his works.

Yet another note added: If you do an image search for Mormon abridging the plates, the main picture that comes up, beside the Tom Lovell painting discussed in this post, is one by Jon McNaughton -- who, unlike, Lovell, is a Mormon.


In this painting, there is no scroll under Mormon's foot -- but, by one of those really weird coincidences, Jon McNaughton also does political paintings, including this one, called The Forgotten Man.


In case there was any doubt, the accompanying artist's statement makes it clear that the document being stepped on is "the U.S. Constitution beneath the foot of Barack Obama" -- the intended meaning of which is not exactly subtle.

Putting a document on the floor and stepping on it symbolizes contempt for that document. Philippe de Champaign knew it, and this other guy who painted a picture of Mormon abridging the plates knows it; Tom Lovell must have known it, too. So what does it mean? Taking into account that Lovell was not a Mormon, is it possible that the scroll represents the Bible, and that putting it under Mormon's foot was a passive-aggressive dig at the Mormon leaders who commissioned the painting?

Rockets and rains of rocks

Last night I had a dream which I had occasion to relate to some online correspondents this afternoon, and I therefore have a written record of it, from which I quote:

We were on a mountain trail, with a wide view of farmland below. . . . I looked up in the sky and saw what I at first took to be a rocket in the distance but soon realized was actually a meteor. Smallish rocks began to rain down from the sky. I could see them striking the farmland below, and then one nearly [sic; I meant narrowly] missed me on the trail. "They're meteorites!" I shouted. "Everyone get out of the way!"

Later this evening, I read a bit in The Golden Thread of World History, a (rather bad) English translation of Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre's Mission des Juifs. Saint-Yves is arguing that the ancients had all sorts of "modern" technology, including rocketry. (Everything in the quote below is, it is my painful duty to inform you, strictly sic erat scriptum. I'll just get that out of the way now to avoid littering the text with sic after sic.)

About 4,000 years before Christ, . . . pyrotechnics were used solely for the defense of the temples and their domains . . . .

When strangers attacked the cities of Persia, says Philstratus, the Magi from the top of the walls stroke the assailants with flames and thunder.

By similar means the priests of Delphi defended their territory against the Gallics and the Persians themselves.

In their reports, Herodotus, Justin, Pausanias, describe actual explosions of mines engulfing Persians or Gallics under rains of stones and projectiles mixed with flames.

Both the dream and the passage in Saint-Yves feature rains of stones or rocks. Saint-Yves presents his "rains of stones" as evidence that the ancients used military "pyrotechnics"; my dream also connects the rain of stones with rocketry, since the meteor appears at first to be "a rocket in the distance."

I had not read anything about ancient weaponry in Saint-Yves before dreaming my dream, nor did I know that he would go on to discuss it. The similarity is therefore either precognitive or the work of the synchronicity fairies.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Slow Joe Crow on the banjo

After posting about how Joe Biden was presaged by a record released in 2009 and by the Dr. Seuss character Slow Joe Crow, I suddenly remembered this:


This is Steve Martin's 2009 bluegrass album The Crow. The cover features a banjo-playing crow, with headgear distinctly reminiscent of Slow Joe Crow or a plague doctor. The back cover reveals that the crow is secretly controlled by hidden machinery under the table.

Incidentally, Martin's cover art also syncs nicely with my recent post (at The Magician's Table) on Etteilla's version of the Magician card:


Notice the hat of the figure on the table. Also notice that the card's name is Maladie -- "sickness" -- tying in with the plague-doctor/birdemic angle.

Update:

More on Biden and banjos:

One of many similar memes

And Biden and the Magician card (Casanova Tarot):

Creepier than Casanova -- no mean accomplishment!


(I don't know why the synchronicity fairies are feeding me all this material on a man doomed to become irrelevant in two weeks' time, but who am I to kick against the pics?)

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Slow Joe Crow

Remember Slow Joe Crow, the anthropomorphized corvid from the Dr. Seuss book Fox in Socks?

Come on, man!

It was the similarity of the word corvid to the official name of the birdemic that led to its being dubbed (by Bruce Charlton and myself) a birdemic. -- and obviously the most germane member of the corvid family is the carrion crow, with the near-perfect scientific name Corvus corone.

Slow Joe Crow popped into my head because his name seemed to combine two prominent features of 2020: the corvid birdemic and the rise and fall of "Sleepy Joe" Biden. On the page shown above, we see Slow Joe Crow flying in from the left, dressed in blue, with his eyes closed as if sleeping, with a downward-sloping curve in the background. Below this picture are three lines alluding respectively to the WHO, the birdemic, and Slow Joe himself.

That page is the second Google image search result for slow joe crow. The first is a logo for a band called Slow Joe Crow: a crow with a crown -- a corvid with a corona! (The logo dates to 2018, before the birdemic.) The third is a link to a currently unavailable tweet, but mousing over the link shows that it originally said "Slow Joe Crow is a friggin' Plague Doctor." (This is a post-birdemic tweet but shows no awareness of or intentional allusion to the corvid/birdemic pun used in my little circle.)


The tweet has reference to the distinctive costume worn by plague doctors in 17th-century Europe -- long overcoat, wide-brimmed hat, and a mask featuring goggles and a beak-like protrusion filled with lavender or other herbs believed to protect the wearer from miasma.

Hats are passé now, as is the miasma theory of disease, but mutatis mutandis, the photo on the left below might as well be captioned "Joe Biden wearing a hat and telling a lie."


Lots of people wear masks these days, but Biden is well known for his aviator sunglasses and for wearing a mask all the time. Also for hiding in his basement den -- speaking of which, how is it possible that I didn't notice this hidden meaning of his logo until just now?

Friday, October 23, 2020

When 2,240-ton cats roamed the earth!

Looks legit, right?

Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre's 1884 book Mission des Juifs was finally translated into English in 2018 by Simha Seraya and Albert Haldane. They released two versions: a simple translation called Mission of the Jews and an annotated one called The Golden Thread of World History. I bought the latter, which as turned out to be a mistake. So far, I would estimate that at least 90% of the footnotes simply implore the reader to read The Urantia Book (published decades after Saint-Yves's death, and therefore textually irrelevant!), and none of them shed any useful light on the text itself. (The translation itself is also amateurish in the extreme, but it's unfortunately the only game in town.)

Among the many confusing passages the translators did not see fit to annotate at all is this one about prehistoric animals:

The mammoths, the ten-meter-tall behemoths, the five-meter-long Brazilian lion, the twenty eight meter-tall felis smilodon, the diornis bird as big as an elephant, the ornitichnithès, a still more colossal bird, judging by its strides of three meters, all those beings who have returned to the invisible are but signatures of their indestructible celestial Species, the symbols of the biological and purely intelligible Powers of the Cosmos.

"Behemoths"? Is that supposed to refer to some specific animal? And since when have there ever been lions of any description in Brazil? And, wait, did you just say a 28-meter-tall Smilodon?

Those less familiar with the metric system might not have an intuitive sense of how completely ridiculous that is, but what we're talking about here is a saber-toothed tiger as tall as a nine-story building, five times the height of a giraffe, 65% taller than Sauroposeidon proteles, the tallest known dinosaur. Sauroposeidon was so tall because of its ridiculously long neck, but a cat's height is measured at the shoulder.

Smilodon populator, the saber-toothed tiger we all know and love, was 1.4 m tall and 2.6 m long. It weighed about 280 kg, and its namesake teeth were 30 cm long. Scaling up, then, this hypothetical S. alveydreii with a height of 28 m (92 ft) would be 52 m (170 ft) long, weigh 2,240 tons (heavier than 20 blue whales), and have canine teeth 6 m (20 ft) long. Forget being taller than a giraffe; this thing would have had teeth the size of giraffes!

I finally just had to look up the original (qv):

Les mammouths, les mastodontes, de dix mètres de haut, le lion du Brésil de cinq mètres de long, le félis smilodon de vingt-huit mètres, le diornis, oiseau grand comme un éléphant, l’ornitichnithès, oiseau plus colossal encore, à en juger par ses enjambées de trois mètres, tous ces êtres rentrés dans l’Invisible ne sont que les signatures de leur Espèce céleste, indestructible, ne sont que les symboles de Puissances biologiques et purement intelligibles du Kosmos.

So the "behemoths" in the English version are mastodons. Why on earth would they change that perfectly clear word to the vague behemoths -- at the same time leaving untranslated such an opaque term as ornitichnithès?

Now, about those crazy measurements.

Were mastodons 10 meters (33 feet) tall? No, of course not. They were 10 feet tall, about the same as a modern elephant. Saint-Yves must have read something in English about mastodons and misunderstood the units being used.

The "lion du Brésil" is a tougher case, as no lions, living or fossil, have ever been discovered in that country or (probably) anywhere else in South America. (It has recently been proposed that some jaguar fossils in Patagonia actually belonged to Panthera atrox, the American lion, but nothing like that had been suggested in Saint-Yves's time, and anyway it's still not Brazil.) The Eurasian cave lion (P. spelaea) grew to five feet at the shoulder, so perhaps Sant-Yves once again read feet as meters (and, in this case, height as length), but I have no idea why he thought such an animal was from Brazil of all places. Smilodon did live in Brazil, and some of the first Smilodon fossils were found in that country, so perhaps Saint-Yves got two quite different extinct felids mixed up in his memory.

And now we come to the gargantuan Smilodon itself -- le félis smilodon de vingt-huit mètres. The text does indeed say twenty-eight meters, but "tall" was added by the translators -- so perhaps what Saint-Yves meant was that the animal was 28 meters long. This would make it a mere 1,250 times as big as a real Smilodon, rather than 8,000 times -- a considerable improvement, but obviously not enough of one! Since 2.8 meters is pretty close to the real length of S. populator, my best guess is that Saint-Yves carelessly omitted a decimal point when he was doing his research and then -- somehow! -- later wrote in his book that "le félis smilodon" was as long as a blue whale without setting off his own BS detector. And Seraya and Haldane faithfully translated it, guessed that the big cat was most likely 28 meters tall rather than long, and proceeded as if that were a perfectly normal thing to write, with no need for an explanatory note. I guess The Urantia Book didn't have anything to say about it.

As for the other two creatures mentioned, le diornis should be Dinornis, the giant moa of New Zealand. It was in a general sense "as big as an elephant" -- a bit taller than an elephant but only one-tenth as heavy. Ornitichnithès should be Ornithichnithes -- a name formerly applied to some tetrapod footprints dating to the Carboniferous, and so obviously not those of a bird! Current opinion is that they were made by a mammal-like reptile of some sort. (The translators have Google, too. Why couldn't they have done this work for me?)

Really, though, who cares if a book about the mission of the Jews gets its paleontology wrong? It's not a science book, right? Well, I think we need to guard against the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. An author who can get so many facts in a single paragraph so wrong -- so insanely wrong! -- who can swallow the idea of a 28-meter tiger without batting an eye -- is likely to prove equally careless and gullible when it comes to things that can't be so easily checked.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Jay-Z in 2009 presages Biden and 2020

Throughout 2020, I've often been reminded of the 2009 music video "Run This Town" -- directed by Anthony Mandler, with Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Kanye West performing. There's no stable YouTube link I can give you, since it keeps getting taken down, but it's not that hard to find and watch should you feel that necessary. Basically, it shows lots of black people wearing 2020-style "face coverings," surging through the streets of burned-out cities, throwing Molotov cocktails, and doing other mostly-peaceful things.


Mandler has been quoted on that site I don't link to (no source is cited) as saying

I showed [Jay] some references from the classic rebellious zones of the world. We live in very orderly society in America, but when you get into Brazil, you get into the Middle East, you get into Africa, you get into Eastern Europe, when you get into places like that, there's a different sort of 'we run this town' [going on]. There's less order and more chaos. So we looked at a lot of those references, new photos and historical photos, to capture that kind of falling-apart feeling.

Back in 2009, you had to do research to create a video like "Run This Town." Watch it now, in 2020, and you might as well be watching a live newscast from Portland or somewhere.


I wrote the above portion of this post last night. I had planned to include a picture of the cover art for the "Run This Town" single and point out its similarity to Biden campaign logos -- another link to 2020. But something interrupted me, I went to bed without finishing the post, and here I am doing it the next day. So, here's the cover art for "Run This Town."


Why three horizontal red lines? Apparently because the single is from the album The Blueprint 3, and that album and all the singles from it (with the single exception of "D.O.A.") feature those three lines -- which signify nothing more interesting than the number three. "Run This Town" is unique, though, in having nothing but those three lines.

Here, in case you've forgotten what they look like, are two of Joe Biden's 2020 campaign logos.


By the way, how clueless is the guy who designed the logo on the left, given that there's also someone named Jo (the Libertarian Party's Jo Jorgensen) running for president in 2020? The one on the right, on the other hand, is rather neat: "Bid 3 N" -- a bid to be elected on 3 November.

So, anyway, a mildly interesting coincidence: A 2009 music video full of unmistakable 2020 imagery is branded with three horizontal red lines -- a branding choice also made by one of the 2020 presidential campaigns.

Checking the other Blueprint 3 singles just now, I found a much funnier coincidence. Here's the cover art for "A Star Is Born."


If the three horizontal red lines represent the letter E, as in the Biden logos, then this says "A star is Bern" -- i.e., Biden's main rival in the primaries, Bernie Sanders!


Now, why, you are wondering, did I bother telling you that I started the post last night and finished it the next day? Because of what happened in between: breakfast.

We get lots of junk mail, and when I eat takeout (as I often do) I am in the habit of using a piece of that junk mail as a makeshift placemat to keep the table clean. This morning I tore a page out of some promotional material from Costco, put my breakfast on it, and ate. Only after I had finished did I notice what was on the paper itself. It startled me enough that I took a photo.


Those three red lines again, exactly like the ones on the Jay-Z records! (They were printed as vertical lines, of course, but I had turned the paper to landscape orientation for placemat purposes.)

Looking at the photo on my phone after I had taken it, I noticed yet another coincidence. I was going to crop the photo to show just the three lines and a small amount of text to show that it was from Costco junk mail, but then I noticed that the photo as I had snapped it fortuitously included four very large Chinese characters: 好市多黑. This is from 好市多黑鑽卡, which is the Chinese name for a Costco Executive Membership Card, but only those four characters made it into the photo. Translate them literally, character for character, and what do you get?


I don't know what the synchronicity fairies are getting at with all this, but they've certainly got my attention!


Note added: 

I just noticed this bit of the photo I posted -- the one with the three red bars and "good city many black":


A right-pointing star, as in the D20 logo, and the words cover story. The intended meaning, of course, is "a report or article connected with the picture on the front of a magazine" -- but it also means "a story someone tells in order to hide the truth."

Second note added:

I don't know how I missed this before, but cover story -- accompanied by a star -- has an additional meaning: the three red bars came from record covers, one of which was "A Star Is Born" (or "Bern," as the case may be).

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Magicians and mini-Magicians

I have a new post up at The Magician's Table discussing the Magician card of the "Grand Etteilla" family of Tarot decks.

Against my better judgment

My curiosity finally got the better of me, and I clicked on the page that made a picture of a group of happy white people in blackface the number two Google image search result for happy white people.

Hoo boy.

It's a Medium article -- also duplicated, without the blackface pic and with a somewhat less confusing title, on HuffPost -- called "Dear White People, Boycotting Netflix Won’t Make You Any Whiter Than You Already Are," subtitled "But, you can try." (Why this article about white people trying to be even whiter is illustrated with a photo of white people trying to be black is anyone's guess. You know, editors!) The author, one Ezinne Ukoha, unfortunately failed to specify preferred pronouns, but I infer from the Twitter handle @nilegirl that Ezinne is a name given to girls along the reedy Nile and will refer to her accordingly.

At first I assumed the article would be about that Netflix kiddie-porn thing that's been in the news recently, which I believe was produced by a woman of color and is therefore totally racist to boycott -- but actually it was written way back in early 2017, when the thing to boycott was apparently a TV series about how white people are bad. (How quaint! Simpler times, people.)

I was afraid that reading the thing would be a waste of my time, but it turns out Ms. Ukoha -- who describes herself as a "Juggling Wordsmith" -- is the kind of writer that only comes around once in a generation. Behold what is almost certainly the single most awesome sentence ever to grace the English language:

First off, the times call for a bold ushering of unabashed throttling towards all the reasons why being Black in America has afforded such anguish at the behest of those who commissioned themselves superior enough to mandate our misery.

Richard Dawkins once wrote that when he finished reading Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, he immediately turned right back to page one and read it again. It was that good. That's how I feel about this sentence. As soon as I had reached the end, I immediately felt compelled to go back and read it again from the beginning. And again. And again. Like all great literature, it is inexhaustible, and repeated rereadings can only deepen one's appreciation.

I know it's offensive to call a black person "articulate," and I would never dream of giving offense here, so I'll just repeat the descriptor Ms. Ukoha herself has chosen: she is, without a doubt, the mother of all Juggling Wordsmiths, throwing her word-hammer, word-anvil, and word-tongs about with all the casual dexterity of a chef tossing a salad.

Later in the article, the Juggling Wordsmith calls out a CNN reporter for one of those hilarious gaffes white people are always committing.

On the same day Dear White People started to trend— CNN’s Chris Cuomo was taken to task for poorly defending his right to report the facts above the threatening clout of "fake news."

"I see being called 'fake news' as the equivalent of the N-word for journalists, the equivalent of calling an Italian any of the ugly words that people have for that ethnicity."

Facepalm! Listen, Chris Cuomo, let me explain something to you. The N-word is like the freaking Holocaust of insults. It has no equivalents. You don't compare anything to it. You--

Oh, wait.

Crap.

Anyway, back to the article. Here's another virtuoso sentence from the Juggling Wordsmith -- not quite as awe-inspiring as the first, but then sequels never are.

Your whiteness doesn’t scream through the streets as we battle the pain of our steps that are commanded by the streams of blood that leave footprints leading to the next victim who dies for the sake of being Black — while being White and right keeps the body count fatefully cohesive.

Dude, she gave White and Black equal capitalization! That's actually kind of cool. Oh, right, it was 2017.

Your whiteness has never protected the Black man who once occupied the Oval Office from the deluge of insults that overwhelmed his official capacity even when he was the very best human draped in the Technicolor of hope and victory.

Checkmate, privilege-deniers. As humans draped in the Technicolor of hope and victory go, Obama was undoubtedly the very best, but a deluge of insults can overwhelm the official capacity of even the best of us! And what a contrast with the white presidents who came before and after him -- George W. Bush and Donald Trump -- who, protected from deluges of insults by their white privilege, were always treated with the utmost respect.

I could go on. Every sentence is so perfect that I just want to quote them all -- but of course that would amount to imperialistically appropriating the labors of a person of color, so I'll stop here and just say read the whole thing.

By the way, if you do a web search rather than an image search for happy white people, the first result is an article called "'If Your Hair Is Relaxed, White People Are Relaxed. If Your Hair Is Nappy, They’re Not Happy': Black Hair as a Site of 'Post-Racial' Social Control in English Schools" -- but this time I'll resist the temptation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two things we've learned in 2020

1. Satan thinks people are stupid. I mean really, really stupid. So jaw-droppingly, unbelievably stupid that I'm having trouble expressing it properly without resorting to profanity.

2. So far, we're not exactly proving him wrong.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Google is a joke -- an offensive ethnic joke

So happy to be white!

You've probably heard about the "happy white woman" thing. Here it is, quantified.

I ran image searches on the following strings (without quotation marks, though using quotation marks doesn't change much!) at Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yandex, and Google and recorded the first 10 results.

happy black man:

  • Bing: 10 happy black men
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 happy black men
  • Yandex: 10 happy black men
  • Google: 10 happy black men

happy Asian man:

  • Bing: 10 happy Asian men
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 happy Asian men
  • Yandex: 10 happy Asian men
  • Google: 10 happy Asian men
happy white man:

  • Bing: 10 happy white men
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 happy white men
  • Yandex: 10 happy white men
  • Google:
    • 7 happy white men
    • 2 happy black men (first two results!)
    • 1 happy black man with a pregnant white woman

happy black people:

  • Bing: 10 groups of happy black people
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 groups of happy black people
  • Yandex:
    • 9 groups of happy black people
    • 1 multiracial group of happy people
  • Google: 10 groups of happy black people

happy Asian people:

  • Bing: 10 groups of happy Asian people
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 groups of happy Asian people
  • Yandex: 10 groups of happy Asian people
  • Google: 10 groups of happy Asian people

happy white people:

  • Bing:
    • 9 groups of happy white people
    • 1 multiracial group of happy people
  • DuckDuckGo:
    • 8 groups of happy white people
    • 2 multiracial groups of happy people
  • Yandex:
    • 6 groups of happy white people
    • 4 multiracial groups of happy people
  • Google:
    • 6 groups of happy white people
    • 3 multiracial groups of happy people
    • 1 group of happy white people in blackface (second result!)

happy black woman:

  • Bing: 10 happy black women
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 happy black women
  • Yandex: 10 happy black women
  • Google: 10 happy black women
happy Asian woman:
  • Bing: 10 happy Asian women
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 happy Asian women
  • Yandex: 10 happy Asian women
  • Google: 10 happy Asian women

happy white woman:

  • Bing: 10 happy white women
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 happy white women
  • Yandex: 10 happy white women
  • Google:
    • 4 search result screenshots
    • 2 happy black men with pregnant white women
    • 1 happy black man with a white woman and a mulatto baby
    • 1 happy white woman with a black baby
    • 1 happy black woman with a white man
    • 1 happy white woman

pregnant black woman:

  • Bing: 10 pregnant black women
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 pregnant black women
  • Yandex:
    • 9 pregnant black women
    • 1 multiracial group of pregnant women
  • Google:
    • 9 pregnant black women
    • 1 pregnant black woman with a white man

pregnant Asian woman:

  • Bing: 10 pregnant Asian women
  • DuckDuckGo: 10 pregnant Asian women
  • Yandex: 10 pregnant Asian women
  • Google: 10 pregnant Asian women

pregnant white woman:

  • Bing: 10 pregnant white women
  • DuckDuckGo:
    • 5 pregnant white women
    • 4 pregnant white women with black men
    • 1 pregnant white woman with a white child
  • Yandex:
    • 4 pregnant white women with black men
    • 3 pregnant black women
    • 2 pregnant white women
    • 1 pregnant black woman with a black man
  • Google:
    • 6 pregnant white women with black men
    • 3 pregnant white women
    • 1 pregnant Asian woman with an Asian man

Draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

New blog: The Magician's Table

Following a suggestion from Bruce Charlton, I have created a new blog, The Magician's Table, for my Tarot-related posts. The significance of the name is explained in my first post there, Writing the Book of Thoth. All future Tarot posts will be there, and all my old Tarot posts will eventually be copied there.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Out of the strong came forth sweetness.

Briton Rivière, Una and the Lion (1880)

In my last post (qv), I hypothesized that the Strength card of the Tarot de Marseille originated when a depiction of Samson -- long-haired, beardless, and labeled with the grammatically feminine title La Fortezza or La Force -- was misinterpreted as being a woman. (Something similar seems to have happened to no less a personage than Jesus Christ in the World card.)


Visconti-Sforza Tarot, Tübinger Hausbuch, P. Madenié Tarot

As can be seen above, the earliest surviving Tarot cards (painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza family) used Hercules rather than Samson as a representation of the virtue of Fortitude. The hero's identity is made clear by his short hair and by the fact that he carries a club. (Hercules first stunned the Nemean lion with his club and then strangled it with his bare hands; when Samson killed his lion, though, "he had nothing in his hand.")

While depictions of Hercules and the Nemean lion typically show the hero using his club or else grappling with the beast after the fashion of a Greek wrestler, Samson is almost universally depicted holding the lion's jaws open. This may seem strange -- wouldn't you want to hold its jaws closed? -- but reflects the biblical language. While Hercules bludgeoned and strangled his adversary, Samson "rent him as he would have rent a kid" (Judges 14:6). Pictures like the one in the Tübinger Hausbuch show him preparing to tear the beast in two.

The woman in the Tarot de Marseille also holds the lion's jaws open with her hands -- a pose specific to Samson, for a specific biblical reason. For me, this is conclusive evidence confirming my earlier speculation. The Strength card of the TdM came into being as a corruption of what was originally a picture of Samson -- the mistake being facilitated by his long hair and by the strangely androgynous faces so common in medieval and Renaissance art.

But when it comes to the development of the Tarot, the oldest cards are not always the truest, and a mistake is not always just a mistake. There is evolution at work here -- perhaps literal memetic evolution by natural selection (where only such mistakes as improve the card are preserved and copied), perhaps something more mysterious.

Hercules and the Nemean lion is just a standard hero-slays-monster story, with nothing particularly interesting about it. Vico, though, sees it is a symbolic representation of razing the forests of Nemea so that the land could be cultivated.

In the Samson story, this connection between killing the lion and providing food becomes more explicit, as Samson returns to the lion's carcass some time later and finds honey in it. This is the basis of his famous riddle:

Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.

I have quoted a version that rhymes -- it's a riddle, it has to rhyme! -- but the King James version says, "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness" (Judges 14:14). The answer, discovered by his enemies through the treachery of his Philistine girlfriend, is "What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?" (v. 18).

The woman in the TdM image cannot be identified as any particular historical or mythological person, but I have illustrated this post with Briton Rivière's Una and the Lion -- a scene from Spenser -- because that is who she (anachronistically) reminds me of. Waite apparently thought likewise; his Strength card includes the Spenserian detail of the lion's licking Una's hand.

It fortuned out of the thickest wood
   A ramping Lyon rushed suddainly,
   Hunting full greedie after saluage blood;
   Soone as the royall virgin he did spy,
   With gaping mouth at her ran greedily,
   To haue attonce deuour'd her tender corse:
   But to the pray when as he drew more ny,
   His bloudie rage asswaged with remorse,
And with the sight amazd, forgat his furious forse.

In stead thereof he kist her wearie feet,
   And lickt her lilly hands with fawning tong,
   As he her wronged innocence did weet.
   O how can beautie maister the most strong,
   And simple truth subdue auenging wrong?
   Whose yeelded pride and proud submission,
   Still dreading death, when she had marked long,
   Her hart gan melt in great compassion,
And drizling teares did shed for pure affection.

And what is this but Samson's riddle completed? Out of the strong came forth sweetness, and out of the sweet came forth strength.

Samson and the Strength card

Rider-Waite Tarot

One of the deepest and most evocative cards in the Tarot is the trump called variously, Fortitude, Force, or Strength -- showing not some powerful warrior or strongman, but rather a peaceful, serene young woman gently and effortlessly controlling a lion.

As I say, an evocative image. Did it originate by mistake? By what I have taken to calling a Jungian slip?

Today I happened to be (virtually) flipping through the Tübinger Hausbuch, a German tome of the mid-15th century, full of medical, astrological, and geomantic lore, and lavishly illustrated. The picture below (left) caught my eye because of its striking similarity to the Strength card.


Tübinger Hausbuch (left); Pierre Madenié Tarot (right)


I have already noted the convention of depicting Samson holding a lion's jaws open and pointed out two examples from West Minster. The West Minster Samsons are, as is usual, bearded -- Nazarites didn't shave, right? -- but the Tübinger Hausbuch shows him beardless and with flowing golden locks, so that -- were it not for the familiarity of the image, and the helpful scroll in the background labeled "Samson der something-or-other," we just might mistake the Hebrew Hercules for a woman!

Could anyone actually make such a mistake in the Middle Ages, though? Surely the story of Samson, and the associated iconography, would be much too familiar to cause any such confusion.

But suppose we decided Samson was the perfect embodiment of the Classical virtue of fortitude and, instead of labeling his image Samson, wrote instead La Fortezza or La Force -- feminine nouns both. Then would a mistake become more plausible?

Monday, October 12, 2020

Trump and Biden contrasted

I don't usually do Bloods-and-Crips electoral politics, but since people keep asking my opinion:

Donald Trump

  • hasn't built the wall,
  • hasn't drained the swamp,
  • hasn't made America great again,
  • hasn't even maintained basic law and order, and...
  • hasn't prevented the totalitarian birdemic takeover.

Joe Biden

  • doesn't even pretend to want to do any of those things.

This is not an endorsement of Trump or of voting. You shouldn't vote, because voting is wrong, and it will -- very obviously! -- make no real difference who wins anyway.

A Pterodactylus and a globe of light

Earlier this month, "G" of the Junior Ganymede posted about an unimaginably bizarre experience he had had. (See also my comments here.) I don't know how large a readership the Junior Ganymede has -- I would guess the figure is in the hundreds or low thousands -- but almost immediately one of the readers posted a comment, beginning, "Something almost identical happened to me about a month ago," and proceeding to relate an experience that was indeed extremely similar to G's.

Or think of Whitley Strieber, publishing Communion -- a "true story" so far beyond the pale, so unremittingly loony, that one would expect it to elicit nervous laughter at best -- only to find himself deluged with hundreds of thousands of letters (now archived at Rice University) from readers saying, "I thought I was the only one!"

More things, Horatio.

I will be posting about some strange experiences of my own -- so strange that I don't even know how to classify them -- on the off chance of discovering that someone else has experienced the same sort of thing.

Early this year -- I believe it was one of the first two Sundays in February -- I was doing some housework in the dining room, which is not really a proper room at all but is separated from the living room by a large bookcase which faces the living room and was, I am told, put there for sound feng shui reasons.

Suddenly, I "saw" a little black reptile crawl very quickly up the back of the bookcase and disappear. I immediately thought -- with a ludicrous degree of taxonomic precision -- "That's a Pterodactlyus antiquus!" What it actually looked like, though, was the 19th-century concept of P. antiquus -- without the head crest that paleontologists now believe it had, for example. If fact, it looked almost exactly as if the drawing below had come to life.



I found this drawing shortly after the experience, by Googling "pterodactylus antiquus," and immediately recognized it as what I had seen. I don't know its exact source, but it's obviously "vintage." I devoured an unconscionable number of dinosaur books as a young child and may well have seen the drawing before -- but if so, it must have been at least 30 years ago. There's no reason it should have popped out of the recesses of my mind in 2020 and come to life! (I should also mention that my personal mental image of Pterodactylus, while also lacking a crest, has always been yellow in color, not black.)

The reader will have noticed the scare-quotes around the word "saw," which I shall now explain. It was very definitely in what is called the mind's eye that I saw it. This was not a visual hallucination, and it was certainly not a flesh-and-blood animal. At the same time, neither was it an example of imagination as I now experience it. What it most closely resembled was the imagination of very early childhood, when mental imagery, while still entirely distinct from eye-mediated vision, is much more literally imagery than it is for adults. The main thing that made it more like seeing than imagining, though, was what I might call its given-ness. Rather than developing organically out of my train of thought, as vivid fantasies normally do, it was abruptly imposed on me after the manner of sense-data, in a way that made it seem as if it in some way belonged to the objective world.

A week or two later -- either St. Valentine's Day or the day after -- I was returning home from a nighttime ramble and saw (in the ordinary sense of the word saw) what I took, for a split second, to be an absolutely gigantic shooting star, easily over a full degree in angular diameter. Then I realized that it was actually much closer, and therefore much smaller, than I had originally thought -- a bit larger than a basketball, perhaps. It was a slightly oblate spheroid in shape and glowed white, about as bright as an ordinary household lamp. It streaked across the sky but then rapidly slowed to a stop just above my house, after which it descended and appeared to land on the roof. (My roof is flat and is surrounded by a low wall, so there was no way to see from the ground if it had really landed or not.)

Unlike the Pterodactylus, this object looked entirely real, and the first thing I did was go up on the roof to look for it. There was nothing, though. I then went back outside and retraced my steps a few times, thinking without much conviction that it must have been the moon reflecting off someone's window or something and that I might be able to replicate the effect.

Finally I gave up, went inside, and asked my wife if she had seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. She hadn't. I asked what she had been doing at 11:00 (the time I had seen the object), and she said she had been upstairs doing a meditation exercise.

"What kind of exercise?" I asked.

"I was visualizing a bottle full of white light."

Spookiness inflation

In the cool of the evening
When everything is getting kind of groovy
You call me up and ask me
Would I like to go with you and see a movie?
First I say no, I've got some plans for tonight
And then I stop and say all right
Love is kind of crazy with a spooky little boy like you

-- Dusty Springfield, "Spooky"

"Crazy"? "Spooky"? Is it just me, or is calling a girl up and inviting her to a movie literally the most normal, ordinary, conventional, so-safe-it's-sorry, not-even-a-little-bit-spooky thing a boy could possibly do?

Cards on the Magician's table?

In my recent post "What's on the Magician's table?" (qv), I mentioned the Marseille-style 1780 deck of Ignaz Krebs and said that it featured a "domino-like object" which I took to be a corruption of what was originally a die or pair of dice.


I don't know how it is that in a post about cards I failed to notice that what it really resembles is not a domino (which would be divided into two parts) but a playing card. I didn't make the connection until, searching for medieval pictures of gamblers to back up my hunch about a dice shaker, I found this picture.


The resemblance of the Krebs object to the cards in this picture is unmistakable, and, whether or not it originated as a miscopied die, I think we must conclude that for Krebs it was a playing card.

Does any other early Tarot have a card or cards on the Magician's table? The case is a tenuous one, but just maybe. Look at the strange parallelograms on the Jacques Viéville card and notice how closely they resemble parts of a deck of cards and a die.


But where's the rest of them? Is it plausible that Viéville would have accidentally printed only one of the three visible faces of the die and the deck of cards? Well, that sort of thing would hardly be unprecedented. Jean Noblet's Magician card, dating from about the same time as Viéville's, is also missing some elements that the block carver apparently just forgot to include. The two cards below are both from Joseph H. Peterson's Noblet facsimile deck. He included two versions of the Magician: an exact replica of the original (left) and a reconstruction restoring the three fingers and half of the wand that Noblet's printer somehow omitted.


Viéville's cards are crude in the extreme -- easily the ugliest Tarot I've ever seen -- and it would not be at all surprising to find that they featured similar careless omissions. At any rate, no other explanation of the parallelograms suggests itself. They certainly look more like sides of three-dimensional objects than like flat objects lying on a table.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Jungian slips

Everyone is familiar with the idea of the Freudian slip, when a slip of the tongue or pen -- despite being a mere error, made unintentionally -- reveals a person's subconscious (or conscious but unexpressed) thoughts. To use one of Freud's own examples, a converted Jew, the houseguest of a woman who turns out to be an anti-Semite, is afraid that his two young sons may thoughtlessly reveal their family's background, and so he tells them, "Go outside and play, Jews" -- unintentionally saying Juden ("Jews") instead of Jungen ("boys").

The more I study the historical development of the Tarot, the more I become convinced that there is such a thing as what we might call a Jungian slip -- another class of revelatory error, where what comes through is not some individual's suppressed fear or preoccupation, but something deeper and more universal, something akin to Jung's world of the archetypes.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Every speed-seeking seed-king needs a heat-seeking laser!

I had a dream that took place partly in something like a video-game arcade, and one of the machines there was continuously repeating this recorded sentence: “Every speed-seeking seed-king needs a heat-seeking laser!”

Later, just outside my house. I somehow “used” this sentence to make myself shoot up into the sky like a rocket. Onlookers, seeing this display of superhuman power, concluded that I was none other than the return of a legendary figure called Avery Gavriel Baneemy. And it was true, I was.

Note added: After posting this, I was surprised to find that Apple's porn-blocker apparently found something inappropriate in it, and that I was no longer able to view my own blog on my phone! After trying in vain to guess the reason (Was "seed-king" some kind of sick gay slang? Was there some pornstar known by the improbably moniker Avery Gavriel?), I finally discovered, by Googling one phrase after another to see what was blocked, that the offending word was seeking. Yes, seeking. If I ever want to place an order for some heat-seeking missiles (or lasers) online, I won't be able to use my iPhone to do it. It also blocks seeks, but not seek. I can only guess that this is intended to target personal ads (you know, "Handsome, single, young man, well respected in his town / Seeks a fine, young lady from a similar background"), which I don't think are usually pornographic, though maybe times have changed.

Earlier this year, when I was trying in vain to find racial demographic data about the birdemic, I discovered that Apple also blocks the word Asian -- presumably because the company sees the entire continent of Asia as being populated by prostitutes who appear in pornographic videos. Why has there not been a Two Minutes Hate about this blatant racial profiling yet?

One of the Magician's cups is a leather dice shaker.

One of the cups on the Magician's table in the Tarot de Marseille -- the one marked A below -- was originally a dice shaker, probably a leather one.


This emerged suddenly as an unarguable intuition after many hours spent picking over the details of the Magician's table in early Tarot decks. I don't expect my own intuitions to carry much weight with anyone else, though, so here is a bit of circumstantial evidence to back me up:

The cup has a strange square shape -- vertical sides, horizontal bottom -- unlike a normal cup. In the Viéville deck it is unambiguously rectangular in shape, including the mouth. Compare the strangely shaped "cup" in Viéville to the backgammon dice cups and the medieval British dice shaker below.


Leather is brown, a color not included in the standard 8-color palette of the Tarot de Marseille (an exception is the François Héri deck of 1718, which uses it only for the Hermit's habit). What color would be used for leather, then? Well, belts and shoes are normally made of leather, so that should give us a clue. Looking at the 12 decks in Historic Tarots gallery at the Tarot of Marseilles Heritage website, 8 out of 12 use the same color (yellow) for the Magician's belt, shoes, and cup; and each of these individual elements is yellow in 10 out of 12 decks.

Incidentally, this syncs up with the Pythagorean Tarot of John Opsopaus, which, without any pretense of restoring the original TdM, patterns the Magician after the December illustration in the Chronograph of 354 and puts a rectangular purgos, or ancient Greek dice-shaker, on the table. (The picture below is from the original card drawn by Opsopaus himself; the published version, done by another artist, has a round purgos.)

As the Beatles said in “Drive My Car”...

B-B-B-B-B-yeah!

One way to avoid trademark infringement is the "Taiwanagram" method, where Mickey Mouse becomes Kicmey. Another, apparently, is changing random letters to B. These photos are of wall decorations at a barber shop in Hemei, Taiwan.

I love this car, but can you turn down the air-conditioning?

Motorcycling in winter can be a bit chilly, too.

But what do you do if the brand name already begins with B? No problem.

British luxury car after a little fender-bender

Thursday, October 8, 2020

What's on the Magician's table?

1. The traditional Marseille layout

Tarot de Marseille decks stick very closely to the following layout for the Bateleur's table.

Based on Wilfried Houdouin's 2017 deck; color coding is my own

The details of each element below are taken from the Historical Tarots Gallery at the Tarot of Marseilles Heritage website. Upper row, from left to right: Pierre Madenié (1709), François Héri (1718), François Chosson (1736), Jean-Baptiste Madenié (1739), François Tourcaty (1745), and Rochus Schär (1750). Lower row: Claude Burdel (1751), Nicolas Conver (1760), Jacques Rochias (1782), Arnoux & Amphoux (1793), Suzanne Bernardin (1839), and Lequart (1890).

A: A cup with a round top, vertical sides, and a square bottom. There is very little variation in the shape. The main body of the cup is consistently yellow, and the mouth is most often red but sometimes other colors.


B: Another cup, with a different shape, wider at the top than at the bottom. It looks as if it may have a lid covering it. The color scheme is fairly consistent: yellow cup with a red mouth or lid.


C: It is not clear whether this object should be classified with the cups (A and B) or with the little round objects (D, E, and F). It is much smaller than the two cups but considerably larger than the little round things. While its basic shape is that of a circle divided into two parts, the concave curve of the dividing line suggests a very small, shallow cup, bowl, or dish. This object is most often the same color as the tabletop.


D: Three circular objects with the central one overlapping the one on the lower right (and sometimes the one on the left as well). So slavishly is this arrangement copied from deck to deck that when we see one with only two circles on this part of the table, it seems positively revolutionary! The objects are generally the color of the table. To me the layout suggests flat coins or discs rather than spherical objects. If they were balls, the lower right one (being in the foreground) would overlap the central one rather than vice versa. (On the other hand, the flat bottoms of cups A and B suggest an artist with little understanding of such things.) 


E: This element ranges from two circles side by side, to two overlapping circles, to a divided circle similar to C. The color is generally the same as the tabletop. The uncertainty as to whether this is one object or two suggests that the shapes were being copied blindly by cardmakers who did not know what they represented. My best guess is that the "original" form was a smaller circle in the northeast overlapping a larger one in the southwest, and that this was sometimes misunderstood as a single object due to the influence of the C object. As with the D objects, the direction of the overlap suggests flat rather than spherical objects.


F: Two more round items, vertically arranged. In most cases, they are touching so as to form a figure like an Arabic numeral 8, but in some decks there is a gap between them. Like the other round objects, they are generally the same color as the tabletop, but sometimes one of them is red.


G: A curved knife and its sheath, both generally the color of the table. The shape and orientation is consistent across decks. In one case the sheath has been transformed into a second knife. The knife has a very distinctive shape -- almost like a miniature scimitar with no cross-guard -- that makes me wonder what its purpose is. It certainly doesn't look much like a typical medieval pen knife, hunting knife, or dagger. The handle also seems much too small for the magician's hands, but perhaps that indicates nothing more than poor draftsmanship.


H: A bag, consistently light blue with a yellow mouth and strap. There are between one and three little round things at the mouth of the bag, which presumably represent some sort of latching mechanism. The bag is decorated with a tassel or something of that nature at the lower left corner. Sometimes one end of the strap appears to go behind the table rather than connecting to the bag.

2. Marseille variants, new and old

We have been looking at some of the oldest and most traditional Marseille decks, mostly from the 18th century, but in modern times the most influential Tarot de Marseille by far has been the 1930 Grimaud deck designed by Paul Marteau. Marteau claimed to be restoring the Nicolas Conver deck (the canonical Tarot de Marseille) but in fact introduced many innovations. Most of these are changes in the color scheme, but some are more substantial. Here is what Marteau's Bateleur has on his table:


If we ignore the colors, this is in line with Conver and the other decks we have examined, with one exception: The F element, realized as two circles in every historical deck we have looked at, has become a pair of dice.

A more recent "restored" Tarot de Marseille, also claiming the mantle of Nicolas Conver, features dice as well. This is the Jodorowsky-Camoin deck of 1997.


Note that Jodorowsky and Camoin have added a third die between the knife and its sheath, and also that the sheath has been given a fantastic new shape in defiance of tradition.

Whence these dice? As far as I am aware, there is only one early deck that unambiguously features dice, but it is one of the earliest: Jean Noblet's deck of c. 1650. Noblet's Tarot is generally very close to the Tarot de Marseille in its iconography, but not so close as to be considered a full member of that tradition. Here is his Bateleur's table:


Notice that Noblet's C element -- realized in the standard Tarot de Marseille as a circle divided into two parts -- appears here as a third and smaller cup. This suggests that what was originally a small cup was distorted over time, by a process of repeated copying without understanding, into the indistinct round object that later became standard.

Isn't it highly probably that some of the other round things on the table in the traditional Tarot de Marseille are also distortions of what were originally distinct objects? Isn't it more likely that indistinctly printed dice would degenerate into circles than that circles would be misinterpreted as dice? Marteau, Jodorowsky, and Camoin seem to have thought so. Noblet has three horizontally arranged dice where the standard Tarot de Marseille has two vertically arranged circles (the F element). Marteau apparently split the difference, keeping just two elements vertically arranged but changing them to dice. Jodorowsky and Camoin put two dice in the same position as Marteau's and add a third between the knife and the sheath, as in Noblet.

Note also that Noblet's D element -- three circles -- is somewhat different. Rather than overlapping, the three circles are more spread out but are connected by two lines. It is not at all clear what sort of object this is intended to represent. The E element -- either two circles or a single divided circle -- is absent.

Also dating to around 1650 is Jacques Viéville's card. The detail below is shown in mirror image in order to facilitate comparison with the TdM.


Here, A is a square cup, B is a round one, and C is apparently a shallow bowl or dish. D is a single round object rather than three, and E is a sort of lozenge divided horizontally into two triangles. Where the F element would be (two circles in TdM, dice in Noblet), we have two rectangular objects, a large one divided in thirds, and a smaller one not so divided. What objects were intended by these abstract geometric shapes is anyone's guess. Despite the early date for this card, it had apparently already been through several generations of ignorant miscopying.

The lozenge shape in Viéville is perhaps historically related to the diagonal lines connecting the circles in Noblet.


A few other not-quite-standard representatives of the greater Marseille tradition also deserve our attention. The 1780 deck of Ignaz Krebs follows Noblet in some ways.


As in Noblet, the D element appears as three non-overlapping circles, and the E element is absent. Instead of Noblet's dice, though, we have between the knife and the sheath a single rectangle with six pip-marks on it. To me this is further confirmation that the "original" design featured dice, since one could imagine dice being incorrectly copied either as circles (as in the mainstream TdM) or as the domino-like object in Krebs.

Jean-Pierre Payen's 1713 deck (a TdM "Type I" deck, as opposed to the mainstream "Type II") has a fairly standard Bateleur (or, rather, "Branchus," that being the anomalous title given to this card) but is interesting because its D element (three round objects) looks more unambiguously like coins rather than balls.

3. Magician's tables before the Tarot de Marseille

The earliest surviving Tarot cards are the Visconti-Sforza cards painted by Bonifacio Bembo. Bembo's magician has objects on his table similar to those in the TdM but not the same. There is a cup (only one), a knife (but no sheath), and two small round objects of uncertain identity.


The large white object which takes the place of the TdM Bateleur's bag has been variously interpreted, but, as I have explained elsewhere, I find Michael Pearce's case that it is a sea sponge to be completely convincing. Dr. Pearce found several pictures by Bembo depicting holy relics, among them the sponge on a stalk of hyssop which was used to give vinegar to the Crucified, and the sponge very closely resemble's the Magician's white object.

Three sponges (on hyssop stalks) by Bonifacio Bembo

This crucial discovery allows Pearce to reveal the true identity of Bembo's "magician": He is a scribe or writer. His "wand" is actually a reed pen (he holds it like a pen, and nibs are visible if you look closely), the knife is a pen knife, and the cup and other yellow objects are receptacles for ink. Sponges were used in the past for erasing and for cleaning pens; in support of this, Pearce shows an illustration from a 15th-century Decameron which depicts a writer with pen, pen knife, inkwell, and sponge.


The Cary sheet (c. 1550), a sheet of uncut Tarot cards from Milan, shows a broadly Marseille-like assortment of objects on the Magician's table, but the image is too unclear for them to be identified with any confidence. There are two long objects that may be a knife and a sheath, a total of six roundish things, and two cups on the table, with a third in the Magician's right hand. This syncs up pretty well with the Noblet card, which also has three cups, a knife and a sheath, and a total of six small objects (three dice and three round things).


While it is not a Tarot card, Hieronymus Bosch's 1502 painting The Conjurer should also be mentioned here, chiefly because of its similarity to the Cary sheet.


Bosch's Conjurer and the Cary sheet Magician wear similar headgear, and the Cary sheet may even show some sort of bag or basket dangling from the Magician's waist or wrist. In both depictions, the cups on the table are apparently inverted, narrow end up. Finally, and to me most evocatively, the roughly egg-shaped object at the northeast end of the table on the Cary sheet closely resembles the little frog at the west end of Bosch's table. (A second frog is emerging from the mouth of one of the spectators.)


See this post for more on echoes of Bosch in the Tarot.

4. Wirth and Waite

No overview of the Magician's table would be complete without mentioning the modern, post-Marseille standard, which I believe originated with Oswald Wirth. Although I find it a bit gauche and uninteresting, I feel I ought to give it a few lines.

It's a pretty obvious move to associate the Magician's objects with the four suits of the Tarot. The Magician holds a wand, and on his table are cups, a knife suggesting the suit of Swords, and round objects that might be coins. Oswald Wirth made this explicit.


All the clutter has been eliminated, and there are now only three objects on the table: a cup (not the simple cups of the TdM Bateleur, but a chalice or goblet as in the suit of Cups), a full-size sword, and a giant "coin" the size of a Frisbee (clearly a symbolic representation of the suit of Coins, not an actual piece of currency). The wand in the Magician's hand has been enlarged considerably, too, making it more like the cudgels and scepters in the suit of Bastons than like an actual magician's wand.

A. E. Waite, in his hugely influential Rider-Waite deck, takes Wirth's idea a step further. Apparently wanting to include a large "wand" suggestive of the suit, but without making his Magician look like a baton-twirling drum major, he put two wands on his card: a small one in the Magician's hand, and a large cudgel on the table. (The giant coin is now a "pentacle," that being Waite's take on this suit.)

Waite lived before subways were common.

All in all, I greatly prefer the traditional Bateleur's evocative hodgepodge of gewgaws to the cut-and-dried symbolism of Wirth and Waite.

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