An Imagination of Tarot History- Part One

The first note I ever took on the History of Tarot was from Rachel Pollack: “No one knows.”

Being more fascinated by the potential to create future through Tarot Philosophy than in the history of and development of that Philosophy, I was content with the basic truth. No one does know exactly or roughly how the modern Tarot Deck and modern Tarot Philosophy came to be.

Tarot is a deck of cards that is in fact a book, to paraphrase Paul Foster Case, it tells an endless number of stories and has its own narrative arc, its own private and permanent mystery of origin. Tarot Philosophy is the never ending story of life in its many perceived and lived personalities and experience and the deck itself has a story of its path that we may only imagine.

This imagining begins with the advent of the physical card itself. 

The invention of cards as a physical object first appear (possibly) in China sometime prior to 907 B.C.E., which marked the end of the Tang Dynasty [1]. The original cards were made of hemp paper and decorated by the use of ink and woodblock printing. The paper and the printing were both developed under the same dynasty sometime between 650-670 B.C.E. [2]. 

0726191248It is believed by some that the cards were used to play the ‘leaf game’, or yezi ge, a game referenced in some writings, though the rules of play are unknown. The word ‘leaf’ may refer to the cards themselves or maybe yezi ge was originally played using actual organic leaves or it may be a reference to pages (leaves) in a book and was a game played with the book and a set of dice [2]. In any case, these early cards did not contain numbers or suits.

According to game historian David Parlett, playing cards with suits and numbers appear in Europe by way of Egypt, numbered cards originating out of the Mamluk Empire [3] [4], but let’s back up for a moment and consider some travels the playing card may have taken.

When we reference ‘an idea whose time has come’, I suspect we mean that someone or several someones are bound to think of it. When a certain number and type of information, inventions, and set of goals come into focus, new ideas are born because someone or many someones are bound to think them up. 

The invention of the playing card is bound to enter the minds of those in the midst of the necessary technology to press paper. I think it possible, inevitable really, for the playing card to enter the human world at several points, but for fun and for interest I decided I wanted to try to deliver the playing card from China to Egypt.

Enter here: The Kipchaks. The Kipchaks were a nomadic people, a confederation or tribe that occupied/travelled along what was known as the Eurasian Steppe [5] [6] which was once known as Silk Road and now referred to as the Eurasian Land Bridge [7]. 

At the time of 800-900 BCE, there were a number of confederations or tribes along the Eurasian Steppe that were known as Nomadic Empires [7] and while these empires roved, they often conquered non nomadic societies by assimilating to the sedentary culture before overthrowing the society and establishing their own Capital Cities [8]. 

The Kipchaks interest me in this imagining of Tarot History as it is possible that some Kipchaks originated along Chinese borders [5] and because they practice what we might call ‘shamanism’ in our modern language [9], meaning mysticism and practice that involves altered states of consciousness. The Kipchaks are eventually conquered by the Mongols and go a number of directions geographically, politically, and spiritually [5]. 

It is the Kipchak influence in Egypt that we will look at next…











About michelleembree
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