User:Michael Hurst/Moakley

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Gertrude C. Moakley
1925 Yearbook Photo (age 20)
1925 Yearbook Photo (age 20)
Born February 18, 1905
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Died March 28, 1998
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA
Occupation Librarian, NYPL

B.A. from Barnard College

B.S. from Columbia University
Subject Library Science; the history and iconography of Tarot cards
Notable works The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo

Gertrude Charlotte Moakley (February 18, 1905 - March 28, 1998) was an American librarian at the New York Public Library. Moakley is notable for having written the earliest and most significant account of the iconography of Tarot, a card game which originated in the Italian Renaissance[1]. Today, Tarot is both a popular game in Europe and an object of fascination for occultists, fortune-tellers, and New Age enthusiasts around the world. Although Moakley wrote and spoke on these latter subjects[2], she is remembered for having written one of the few scholarly books about the history of Tarot and the meaning of the allegorical trump cards. Her 1956 article on the subject and her 1966 book were both praised by Erwin Panofsky[3], the foremost art historian of the Warburg School, as well as by Michael Dummett[4], the preeminent scholar of playing-card and Tarot history.

Moakley was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on February 18, 1905, to Arthur Irving Moakley and Josephine Henry (Barrett). She received a B.A. from Barnard College in 1926 and a B.S. from Columbia University School of Library Science in 1928. Moakley then began working as a librarian for the New York Public Library. She lectured on catalog arrangement at New York University, published articles in the NYPL Bulletin and the Journal of Cataloging and Classification. She served as chair of a special committee which revised the Filing Code of the NYPL Circulation Department. She was also chairman of a committee which revised the ALA Rules for Filing Catalog Cards.[5]. She appears in directories of librarians from 1933 through 1970, and she published several books on filing codes. Gertrude Moakley died in Saint Petersburg, Florida, on March 28, 1998.

Moakley and Modern Tarot[edit]

Waite-Smith Death card
Death (by water) from Waite-Smith Tarot deck

The contemporary fascination with Tarot developed in the 1970s, but two decades earlier Moakley was writing and speaking about the subject. She published articles, wrote introductions for two of the most influential books on the subject, and was invited by Eden Gray to appear on the Long John Nebel late-night radio program[nb 1][6]. In 1954 Moakley published an article[7] about T.S. Eliot's use of Tarot motifs in The Waste Land[8] (1922). Eliot referred to Tarot cards in the poem, in this famous passage:

Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,

Has a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor.
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something that he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.

Three of Wands
Three of Wands card from Waite-Smith Tarot deck

In his notes to the poem[nb 2], Eliot refers to the "traditional" Tarot deck. Moakley argued that he was actually alluding to the Waite-Smith Tarot deck. Traditional Tarot decks date back to the Fifteenth Century, while the Waite-Smith deck was created by Arthur Edward Waite little more than a decade before Eliot's poem. This modern deck incorporated many substantial differences from earlier decks. Moakley argued that "the man with three staves", which Eliot insisted was "an authentic member of the Tarot pack", confirms the identity of his deck as Waite-Smith, the only deck at that time to have such a card. Her article has been cited repeatedly in the literature on Eliot's poem[9].

In 1958, Waite's translation of Tarot of the Bohemians, by Gérard Encausse (Papus), was republished with an introduction by Moakley[10]. As background, in the hope that even non-cultist readers might appreciate the book, she summarized some of the notable appropriations of Tarot of the previous fifty years. These included Eliot, Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, and Charles Williams' The Greater Trumps. She also mentioned W.B. Yeats interest in Tarot and the occult, and relevance of Tarot to some of Carl Jung's followers. Moakley argued that understanding Tarot required knowledge of both the literal facts of Tarot history and the mythic musings of artists and occultists. This dual focus is characteristic of the more thoughtful New Age writers who promote Tarot today.

In 1959, Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot was republished with an introduction by Moakley[11]. The reprint was prefaced with a quote from one of Waite's last books, The Holy Grail. It alluded to a relation between Tarot and the Holy Grail, and "certain secret records now existing in Europe...." It connects the suit-signs of Tarot to the so-called Grail Hallows, and thereby to Celtic lore. (Waite[12] and Eliot both borrowed from Weston[nb 3].) Moakley repeatedly mentioned this common theme of 20th-century Tarot enthusiasts, including writers like Eliot as well as occultists and folklorists[13]. This connection was later incorporated into works like Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code.

Moakley's introduction to The Pictorial Key provided some personal insight into Waite's character, his humor, mysticism, and scholarship. Moakley also foreshadowed the emphasis of later writers on the artist of the Waite-Smith deck, Pamela Colman Smith. Several pages of biographical information on Smith were included, indicating the importance of the illustrator to the final product. Moakley's writing reveals a fondness for and understanding of all her subjects, whether occultists like Encausse, scholars like Waite, or artists like Smith.

The Tarocchi Players
The Tarocchi Players from Casa Borromeo, c.1440s

Her introduction closes with an expansion on the theme presented in Tarot of the Bohemians, concerning the value of such things as Tarot. She posed the question, who cares?

If it were not for the poets and psychologists who have taken the Tarot seriously, one might be tempted to question its value. Is it really healthy for us to keep alive the Renaissance habit of turning everything into allegory? It is this habit which has metamorphosed the natural flow of ever-changing life into the separate, almost personified entities Fortune, Time, Death, and the rest. As Alan Watts once remarked, we are taken in by our mythology, and the Tarot symbols are of this kind.

Moakley answered the question by suggesting that art, psychology, and mystic meditation can be valuable adjuncts to rational modern life. She wrote that Waite's Tarot may help "tease the imagination out of its old ruts". "By such a use of the Tarot the poisons of our cultural conditioning might be turned into healing balms, and a barrier into a gateway."

In The Pictorial Key Moakley also contributed a section on the rules for playing the game of Tarot. This brief, 6-page summary of the game begins by describing a 15th-century fresco in the Borromeo Palace in Italy. The painting shows wealthy card players, the kind who enjoyed the gilded Tarot cards of the Visconti-Sforza style, playing the game. This, along with a description of the rules, constitutes a powerful reminder that the modern Tarot of Eliot and Waite is a very different thing than the historical Tarot of 15th-century Milan.

The Visconti-Sforza Tarot[edit]

Triumph of Fame
Petrarchian Triumph of Fame Tapestry at Metropolitan Museum; Flemish, 16th C.

One of the most significant insights[14] Moakley contributed was her recognition that Tarot was primarily a card game, and that the game was called trionfi. This was not conventional wisdom either then, in the 1950s, nor now[15]. Understanding whether the artifact at hand is a deck of cards to play card game, like many others, or an occult manifesto like , or a fortune-telling device like a Ouija board,

Moakley studied a particular historical Tarot deck, usually known as the Visconti-Sforza deck.[nb 4] Moakley's book correctly identified the provenence of the Visconti-Sforza deck, the family for which it was created, and reported on them in some detail. In addition, she investigated the life and work of the Cremonese painter, Bonifacio Bembo, and his relationhship with the Visconti-Sforza family.

[Bembo] claimed that he had been a supporter of Francesco Sforza in the critical year 1447, after the death of the third Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti. This was was when the question first arose as to whether Milan and its subject cities would declare themselves independent or accept Sforza or another noble as their Duke. Sforza became Duke of Milan in 1450, and afterwards Bembo received many commissions from members of the Sforza family, up to the year 1477, when he fades from history.

The deck is still generally attributed to Bembo. Six replacement cards were painted by a different hand, decades after the deck was originally created. These have been attributed to various artists, including Bembo's brother Benedetto.[16])

In addition to being a richly painted and gilded artifact, the Visconti-Sforza deck is one of the earliest surviving Tarot decks, probably made within a decade of the game's invention, and one of the most complete decks from the first half-century of Tarot.[17] Numerous other luxury decks appear to have been modeled on the same pattern, probably from a workshop in Cremona.[nb 5]

The design of the Visconti-Sforza is characteristic of the large majority of all later Tarot decks.

Moakley's book included B&W reproductions of all 74 cards, and identified the subject matter of all surviving trump cards, using period-appropriate names from 15th-century sources. She also correctly identified the suit signs as typical of early Italian decks, being Cups, Coins, Swords, and Staves.

Visconti-Sforza Empress
The Visconti-Sforza Empress card, showing the Borromean Rings motif.

Various heraldic devices and mottoes associated with the Visconti and Sforza families were also identified by Moakley. These elements occur on both the trump cards and on the suit cards. As a Latin-suited deck, Tarot has two "masculine" suits, Swords and Staves, which are linear or phallic in design and ranked normally for game play. The two "feminine" suits, Coins and Cups, have circular elements and were ranked in reverse order. Moakley pointed out that the Visconti symbolism predominated on the feminine suit cards while Sforza symbolism predominated in the masculine suits. This suggested to her that the deck might have been a wedding gift or otherwise commemorative of the Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza marriage, which took place in 1441.

Although the symbolism might have been chosen to reflect the Visconti-Sforza union, the probable date of the deck is later than the wedding itself. One element of the heraldic symbolism is the presence of Borromean Rings. Moakley dates the adoption of the Borromeo Rings to c.1450, suggesting that as the earliest plausible date. Moakley then notes that "the costumes shown on the cards are those of the first half of the fifteenth century, so it is likely that they were not painted much later" than 1450.

Moakley's Interpretation of Tarot[edit]

Moakley searched for some earlier work which might have adequately explained the Tarot trump cycle of images.

At first I barked up all the wrong trees: were they connected with magic? alchemy? witchcraft? Were they some kind of secret code? It gradually became clear to me that they were more related to the literary works of their time than to any of these other things; yet I could not find any such work which told the same story as the tarot cards. At last I found two tapestries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, depicting the Triumph of Fame and the Triumph of Time, as Petrarch had described them in his poem I Trionfi. Here I had the lead at last.[18]

Moakley had identified the original name of Tarot as Trionfi, as in carte da trionfi. This name, Triumphs, suggested several possible lines of interpretation, but Petrarch's Trionfi was by far the most explanatory. Moakley suggests that Petrarch’s triumphs were excerpted, simplified, and rearranged “in the merry mood of Carnival.” Some elements seem straightforward, such as Love followed by the Chariot. In the Visconti-Sforza deck, Love may illustrate a betrothal picture of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti. The Chariot has a female sovereign being pulled by winged horses, and might easily be intended to conflate the conventional Tarot Chariot with Petrarch’s Triumph of Chastity. (Unfortunately for her presentation, Moakley followed the Bertoni sequence, which inverts the order of these two cards.) Death follows eventually, but Fame appears to be completely absent. The triumph of Eternity (the Angel and World) over Time (the Moon and Sun) would complete Petrarch’s triumphs, in something close to their proper order. Among other problems with this analysis, however, in the Visconti-Sforza deck the Hermit card is clearly intended to represent Time, and therefore ruins another part of the sequence.

Carnival and Lent
Bruegel's Battle Between Carnival and Lent, 1559.

Moakley resolves such difficulties with speculations about possible humorous intent. Lack of fit with Petrarch’s design is taken not as a weakness of the theory but as implied satire of that design. The trumps are considered “a ribald take-off” of Petrarch’s story, blended into the context of a playful Carnivalesque procession. “Perhaps because, in the merry mood of Carnival, everything possible was done to make fun of the solemn story.” Unfortunately, there is no apparent rhyme or reason to the various mismatches, and no coherent connection with Petrarch’s design. If it were intended as a satire it fails utterly, since the object of the satire is no longer visible. Yes, there are some of Petrarch’s triumphs present in Tarot, but also some absent, some out of sequence, and many more that are simply out of place, having no reasonable analogy in I Trionfi. As Robert V. O’Neill put it in Tarot Symbolism:

One of the most compelling identifications Moakley provides in support of her theory deals directly to this Carnival/Lent cycle. The Mountebank, lowest of the trumps, is identified as the Carnival King himself, and the singular Fool is interpreted as the personification Lent. She discusses the unique iconography of these cards in the Visconti-Sforza deck, explaining the anomalies in terms of these meanings. And she describes their role in the pageant.

If we imagine the Fool, the representative of Lent, running alongside the procession and calling his warnings to the riders in the cards, we can assume that they talked back to him. Happy bits of repartee would please the crowd and encourage the actors to do even better. Finally the representative of Lent might invite King Carnival to leave the safety of his car and fight like a man. Then we would have a scene such as Breughel shows us in his painting “The Battle between Carnival and Lent”.... (Page 58.)

Durer Large Triumphal Chariot
Durer's Large Triumphal Chariot, 1518-19. "Like the Sun in the heavens, on Earth there is Caesar."

Moakley not only interpreted the trumps, but also the suit cards, and integrated the two interpretations into a single theory of Tarot's meaning. The suit-signs of Tarot are Latin, with Cups, Coins, Swords, and Staves. Moakley's interpretation had four main elements: Each suit-sign represented one of the Cardinal Virtues; the cards of each suit represented a company of knights; these companies of knights, representing the four virtues, were taken to accompany the procession of the trumps; and the primary allegorical meaning of the suit-signs was travestied in a ribald fashion, in keeping with the Carnivalesque nature of the game.

With a little imagination one can see that each of the four ordinary suits in any pack of cards is a company of knights ready for one of the jousts or tourneys which were the favorite sports of medieval Europe. Each knight wears the heraldic device of his own company, but 'differenced' by number, according to his rank. At the head of each company is its King-of-arms, its Queen of Love and Beauty, and its chief Knight. In the tarocchi and minchiate (another variety of tarot cards) there is also a page. With more imagination one can see that each of these four companies of knights is devoted to one of the cardinal virtues and wears its device: the sword representing Justice, the cup of Temperance, the staff or column of Fortitude, and the coin or mirror of Prudence.

In addition to her unusual identification of the Visconti-Sforza Fool as Lent and the Magician as the Carnival King, Moakley came to some other unusual conclusions about individual cards. In some cases these were clearly correct. For instance, Panofsky congratulated her recognition of "the identity of the Hermit with Petrarch's Father Time"[nb 6][19].

The Popess card had been identified as Pope Joan by earlier writers, and this might seem appropriate as a captive of Cupid. Moakley introduced another hypothesis, however, Sister Manfreda of the Guglielmites. Manfreda, cousin to Matteo I Visconti, was selected to be Popess of the sect. So the Popess, according to Moakley, was either a "Ghibelline gibe at the corruption of the Papacy" or a Carnivalesque gibe at a black sheep of the Milanese court. The foundational idea was that these exhalted figures were all captives in the Triumph of Love.

The Triumphal Chariot card in the Visconti-Sforza deck shows a female triumphator and winged horses, a clearly allegorical figure. Moakley identified the charioteer as the bride of Francesco Sforza, Bianca Maria Sforza, depicted on the accompanying Love card. This honorific portrayal of the Triumph of Love itself contrasts with the mockery which Moakley suggests with respect to some of Love's captives. The alternation between the somber Triumphs of Petrarch and its festive and Carnivalesque parody is shown again as the Wheel of Fortune -- an emblem of social inversion like Carnival itself -- seems to replace Chastity, triumphing over Love and leading to Death.

The Hanged Man card is described with numerous examples indicating its actual meaning. Moakley notes the usual historical name of the card, Il Traditore, and the fact that hanging upside down was an actual punishment and a punishment in effigy. These documented findings were diametrically opposed to the stories told by writers such as Waite and Eliot. literally and figuratively reversed the image, turning the subject into


Some aspects of Moakley's understanding of Tarot have proven perfectly sound. Unlike most writers before and since, she approached Tarot as a card game from 15th-century Italy rather than an esoteric manifesto of mysterious origin and transmission. In 1980, Michael Dummett's comprehensive study of Tarot history, The Game of Tarot, confirmed and documented in great detail the correctness of those conclusions[20]. Likewise, the art-historical approach to understanding the subject matter on the cards has proven more productive than occult impositions. This approach included focusing on a specific, very early deck of identifiable provenance[nb 7][21], which enabled the identification of numerous specific Visconti and Sforza emblems on the cards.

Prince Fibbia
Prince Castracani Fibbia (1360-1419) with Tarot cards. The Queen of Batons bears the Fibbia arms.

A few conclusions she presented were mistaken. Perhaps most notably, Moakley discussed the account of Count Leopoldo Cicognara concerning 1) Antonio de Cicognara having painted Tarot cards for Cardinal Asciano Maria Sforza (son of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti) in 1484 and 2) a painting of Prince Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, with an inscription crediting him with the invention of Tarot and discussing specific heraldry on two cards of the Bolognese standard pattern deck[22]. On the basis of earlier researchers she dismissed both of these accounts, noting in the case of the latter that Robert "Steele could find no evidence that such a painting had ever existed, or that cards with these two devices had been made." Subsequent research has left the significance of the first passage of Cicognara's account in dispute. Among the possibilities, at one extreme Leopoldo's story may simply be spurious. At the other extreme, his ancestor Antonio may actually have repaired the very deck Moakley studied, including the addition of six replacement cards. However, the second passage has been confirmed. The painting exists, with the inscription, and Bolognese cards did bear the images described[23]. Fortunately none of her other conclusions depended upon these.

A significant part of Moakley's interpretation involved the suit-signs being related to the allegory of the trumps. This has generally been ignored. The Latin suit-signs as emblems of the virtues echoes a 16th century Bolognese allegorization of the suits by Innocentio Ringhieri[24], and is one of many allegorical readings of suit-signs over the centuries. However, the idea that the suit cards represented allegorical companies in a pageant intended to accompany the trump cards is simply false: The suit cards were standard for many decades prior to the invention of Tarot's trump cards, and were directly adopted from 14th-century Arabic playing cards[25]. Her interpretation of the trump cards, however, has been influential. Even popular Tarot books routinely mention something about Moakley and Petrarch.

In October of 1955, when Moakley was preparing her article on Tarot and Petrarch's Trionfi, she began a correspondence with Erwin Panofsky. (At this time she also began reading some books on iconography, including Panofsky's Meaning in the Visual Arts[26].) Regarding Moakley's central premise, associating the playing cards called trionfi with Petrarch's Trionfi, Panofsky remarked that "you have made some excellent points, and the mighty goddess Etymology is on your side"[27]. Months later, upon reading the completed article, Panofsky wrote that Moakley's "article on the tarot cards, as it now stands, meets all reasonable requirements" as a scholarly contribution to art history[28]. Eleven years later, to the day, after the publication of Moakley's book on the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, Panofsky again congratulated her.

So at long last the child has been born and a very healthy and promising child it is! Knowing so deplorably little about the history of playing cards, I am full of admiration for the thoroughness of your research and for the acuteness with which you have solved so many apparently insurmountable problems of interpretation. It would be presumptuous for me to offer any further suggestions, let alone criticism - except for a tiny little detail which struck me on p. 87, where reference might have been made to the fact that the formula "duce virtute comite Fortuna" is not so much "a corresponding idea" but one of the basic convictions of the Renaissance concerning the relations between Fortune and Virtue.... Otherwise, I find nothing to quarrel with and can only express my admiration and my gratitude for your acknowledgment of some little helpful hints which really and truly would not have deserved to be mentioned.[29]

Petrarch's Triumphs
The six Triumphs of Petrarch; Florentine woodcut, 15th C.

Michael Dummett, like Panofsky, applauded Moakley's "fine book about the Visconti-Sforza pack", acknowledging that she offered "much evidence from Italian art and literature" to support her interpretation[30]. He deemed her iconographic etymology of trionfi cards from Petrarchian Trionfi as plausible[31].

Why, then, were these cards called 'triumphs'? Many have tried to explain the word from the use of the twenty-one triumph cards in play, namely as 'triumphing' over the other cards; and we cannot say for sure that this explanation is incorrect. A brilliant suggestion of Miss Moakley's is, however, more attractive. This is that the name has nothing to do with the use of the cards, but only with what is shown on them, the series of triumph cards representing a sort of triumphal procession. As documented by Burckhardt and Miss Moakley, a favourite entertainment in the courts of Renaissance Italy was the staging of just such triumphal processions, with floats bearing figures either derived from classical mythology or representing abstractions such as Love, Death, etc.: a transformation of the utterly serious triumph of a Roman general or Emperor into an elegant allegorical entertainment. A frequent ingredient in such Renaissance triumphs was the idea underlying Petrarch's poem I Trionfi, in which each successive personified abstraction triumphs over, that is, vanquishes, the last; thus, in the poem, love triumphs over gods and men, chastity over love, death over chastity, fame over death, time over fame and eternity over time.[32]

While Moakley's general thesis, that the trump cards were called carte da trioni because they formed an allegorical hierarchy of triumphs, has received support[nb 8], her explanation of the specifics of the Tarot trump cycle is less well received. Robert V. O'Neill summarized the problem most directly.

The explanation is that the Tarot is not only a simplification of Petrarch’s scheme, but also a spoof, a ribald take-off on the solemnity of the original story in the spirit of the Carnival parade. This explanation is not acceptable simply because it allows too much freedom. Any lack of correspondence can be passed off as part of the joke. Therefore, if the cards match it is taken as positive evidence for the theory, while any discrepancy is dismissed offhand. This is too simplistic.[33]

Nuovo Giuoco Romano
Il Nuovo et Piacevole Giuoco Romano, a 17th C. board game of the Biribissi type, from Padua.

That criticism, that Moakley's interpretation is an ad hoc gloss rather than an explantory analysis, is given a broader application by Dummett. He acknowledges that the trumps are obviously meaningful, and admits the possibility that "those who first devised the Tarot pack had a special purpose in mind in selecting those particular subjects and in arranging them in the order that they did". If they did, however, "it is apparent that, at least by the sixteenth century, the capacity to read this message had been lost. There are many references to tarocchi in sixteenth-century Italian literature, in which their symbolic potentialities were exploited, but always in an obvious way: no hint survives that any more arcane meaning was associated with them." Dummett suggests that the creation of Tarot was much simpler than usually imagined.

They wanted to design a new kind of pack with an additional set of twenty-one picture cards that would play a special, indeed a quite new, role in the game; so they selected for those cards a number of subjects, most of them entirely familiar, that would naturally come to the mind of someone at a fifteenth-century Italian court. It is rather a random selection... But of course, in a pack of cards what is essential is that each card may be instantly identified; so one does not want a large number of rather similar figures, especially before it occurred to anyone to put numerals on the trump cards for ease of identification. Certainly most of the subjects on the Tarot trumps are completely standard ones in mediaeval and Renaissance art; there seems no need of any special hypothesis to explain them.

Given Dummett's familiarity with Moakley's work, this must be taken as an implicit criticism of her interpretation, as well as others. The approach suggested by Dummett is precisely what Renaissance game creators did repeatedly in devising board games and pastimes. Biribissi type board games and è Il nobile et piacevole gioco, intitolato Il passatempo[34] are specific examples of Italian games of the Renaissance which used image collections like that suggested by Dummett. Dummett's alternative constitutes a null hypothesis, a parsimonious default assumption against which any theory of Tarot's meaning must be weighed.

Alternative Interpretations[edit]

Costa's Triumphs of Fame and Death
Petrarchian allegory showing triumphs of Fame and Death, Bentivoglio Chapel, Bologna, late 1480s.

In the 16th century there were two Italian authors who wrote essays on the meaning of Tarot[35]. Both presented the trump cycle as a moral allegory rather than an esoteric manifesto, secret codebook, rituals of initiation, fortune-telling device, representation of some precursor work of art or literature, or one of the various other genre to which the trumps have been assigned by occultists and 20th-century writers. In the 19th century there were some writers who suggested that the meaning of the Tarot trump cards was most closely related to the Dance of Death works of pre-modern art[36]. This is closely related to the moral allegories suggested by the two Renaissance writers. Both approaches to the trumps are similar to Moakley's, given that Petrarch's Trionfi is itself a moral allegory centered around the triumph of Death, and that other variations on Petrarch's were popular artistic theme in cassoni and birth trays.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, occult Tarot was invented. Writers with little knowledge of or interest in the historical facts of Tarot simply made up stories. These stories, extremly diverse and often quite elaborate, were not intended to reveal history so much as to create a detailed and romantic fiction. In the 20th century, countless fortune-tellers, occultists, and New Age writers have offered variations on the themes of 18th- and 19th-century occultists[37]. In addition, a number of new themes were suggested in Alfred Douglas 1972 book[38], speculations which continue to inspire esotericists today[39]. One theme that is worth mentioning is the Fool's Journey. This was established and promoted in the 1960s and 1970s by Eden Gray, and has become a the cornerstone of modern, esoteric Tarot interpretations. Perhaps the most notable advocate of this interpretation was Theodore Roszak, a prominent social critic and author of The Making of a Counter Culture. His 1988 booklet, Fool's Cycle/Full Cycle: Reflections on the Great Trumps of the Tarot, presents a fairly standard example of the interpretation[40].

The basic contours of life—our moments of moral crisis, our rites of passage, the encounter with suffering and death—remain the same, ageless and enduring. That is why the words of an Isaiah, a Homer, a Shakespeare can still speak to us in our contemporary condition.... In the case of the great trumps of the Tarot deck, we do not have simply a miscellaneous collection of evocative images, but a numbered series which has assumed a traditional sequence.... I was convinced that the order of that series possessed a special significance which lent each card within it another shade of meaning.

William M. Seabury[41] and Joseph Campbell[42] suggested a different approach. They asserted that the Tarot trump cards had some connection with Dante Alighieri's masterpiece, Divine Comedy. John Shephard[43] attempted to explain the trumps and their sequence by reference to a medieval astrological concept known as Children of the Planets. Timothy Betts[44] attempted to explain the trumps as a representation of medieval Christian legends about the Last Emperor and eschatological events. The vast majority of 20th-century interpretations explicitly appeal to would-be mystics, fortune-tellers, and enthusiasts whose primary interest in Tarot history and iconography is validation of New Age folklore and esoteric practices[45]. The fact that Moakley's writings were intended to reach a broader audience, and to address more objective historical questions, distinguishes them.


  • "The Waite-Smith Tarot: A Footnote to The Waste Land", Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 1954, v.58, pp. 471-475.
  • "The Tarot Trumps and Petrarch's Trionfi: Some Suggestions on their Relationship", Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 1956, v.60, pp. 55-69.
  • Basic Filing Rules for Medium-sized Libraries: a Compend Filing Code for Catalogs of 120 to 2000 Trays. William-Frederick, 1957. Foreword by Rudolf Flesch.
  • "Introduction". The Tarot of the Bohemians: Absolute Key to Occult Science. Gérard Encausse, (pseudonym Papus); translated by A.E. Waite. Arcanum Books, 1958.
  • "Introduction" and "Note on the Tarot as a Game". The Pictorial Key to the Tarot: Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination. Waite, Arthur Edward (1959). University Books.
  • The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family; An Iconographic and Historical Study. New York Public Library, 1966.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nebel's show was on WOR 710 in New York until 1964, and the program with Gray and Moakley was in May of 1959.
  2. ^ Eliot: "I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the 'crowds of people', and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself."
  3. ^ Eliot: "Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Macmillan). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble."
  4. ^ The Visconti-Sforza deck is also known as the Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo deck. The surviving cards are divided between the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, and a private collection.
  5. ^ A number of later copies are known. In addition, Bianca Maria Visconti sent a letter dated 1452, approximately the time of the Visconti-Sforza deck, to her husband Francesco Sforza, relaying a request from Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, for a deck of Tarot cards of the kind made in Cremona. Pizzagalli, 1988, translated at
  6. ^ In the Visconti-Sforza deck, Father Time or Old Man Time is readily identified by the hourglass he carries.
  7. ^ Some details remain uncertain, even with regard to this famous and well-studied deck, but its authorship and provenance are better established than most decks or standard patterns of playing cards.
  8. ^ Moakley is poorly regarded or ignored by most fortune-tellers, mystics, New Age writers, and other pop-culture Tarot enthusiasts.


  1. ^ Dummett 1980.
  2. ^ Moakley 1954, Papus 1958, Waite 1959.
  3. ^ Panofsky Papers 1956.
  4. ^ Dummett 1980.
  5. ^ Moakley, 1957.
  6. ^ Decker, 2004, 296.
  7. ^ Moakley, 1954.
  8. ^ Eliot, 1922.
  9. ^ Kunst, 1965; Currie, 1975; Creekmore, 1982.
  10. ^ Moakley, 1958.
  11. ^ Moakley, 1959.
  12. ^ Wood, 2000/2001.)
  13. ^ Wood, 1998; Wood, 2000/2001.
  14. ^ Dummett, 1980.
  15. ^ Decker, 1996.
  16. ^ Dummett, 2007
  17. ^ Dummett, 1980.
  18. ^ Moakley, 1966.
  19. ^ Panofsky Letters, Mar. 9, 1956.
  20. ^ Dummett, 1980.
  21. ^ Dummett, 1986.
  22. ^ Moakley, 1966, 28-29.
  23. ^ Dummett, 1980, 66-67.
  24. ^ Kaplan, 1978, 30.
  25. ^ Dummett, 1980, 36ff.
  26. ^ Panofsky letters, Oct. 25, 1955.
  27. ^ Panofsky letters, Nov. 2, 1955.
  28. ^ Panofsky letters, Mar. 9, 1956.
  29. ^ Panofsky letters, Mar. 9, 1967.
  30. ^ Dummett, 1980, 387.
  31. ^ Dummett, 1980, 180.
  32. ^ Dummett, 1980, 87.
  33. ^ O'Neill, 1986, 79-80.
  34. ^ Ghisi, 1603
  35. ^ Caldwell, 2010.
  36. ^ Lacroix, 1835, 1858; DeVinne, 1876.
  37. ^ Giles, 1992.
  38. ^ Douglas, 1972.
  39. ^ Huson, 2004; Place, 2005.
  40. ^ Roszak, 1988.
  41. ^ Seabury, 1952.
  42. ^ Campbell, 1978.
  43. ^ Shephard, 1985.
  44. ^ Betts, 1998.
  45. ^ Jorgensen, 1992; Decker, 2002.


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