reblogged your photoset and added:

I used to love this deck… until I found out that it was just a deck of trad italian playing cards with some nice pictures added to it.

I genuinely thought they had some deep esoteric meaning stretching back to the myths about the rosicrutian order. But its just some rich guys taking over italian folk traditions. Irish people use playing cards for divination too and knowing the truth makes the deck just so… dissapointingly normal.

Hey, there! Yeah, there are all sorts of disappointing twists and turns when it comes to the deck.

I don’t have the time this morning to locate some links I’ve bookmarked (I think…somewhere), but there are several sites out there that do a decent job of tracing the development of the deck more closely and critically, offering details/images of the various editions, and exploring some of the concerns you’ve mentioned above—for those interested in this sort of thing, that is. I’ll see if I can track something down later if anyone cares for the topic.  Anyway, it’s normalized now, sure, but along the lines of the Rosicrucians (since you mentioned ‘em), I think there is something to be said for a ‘broad’ approach to archetypes and integration of appropriate-yet-semi-neutralized symbolism that would have both appealed to folks like those who belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn ( you know, that mish-mosh of backgrounds and patchwork of beliefs and all that, broadly speaking anyway). I get it; it doesn’t mean it’s a ‘good’ thing, of course, but I understand some aspects of it in theory. [Of course, the levels of appropriation in their practices would simply boggle the minds of some folks today who’re unfamiliar w/it or the period and who’re concerned with the cultural effects of such practices (think Crowley in full Egyptian pharaoh regalia yikes), but that was part of a bigger set of cultural practices and a whole other nest of vipers to sort…and I need to stop rattling-on now. :)] Just speaking as an admirer/non-practitioner in the world of the occult, I can see your point/ how it’d take the esoteric power out of the deck and the legacy of the practice, traditions, to mass produce it, etc…to make it so very general. To be honest, though, my personal interest in the deck’s development has more to do with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s history and members (specifically Yeats) than the deck itself, although I do respect its uses. I may toss some more stuff into the queue on some of the more peculiar (to me anyway) info on the Order for next week. Thanks very much for the perspective; I always appreciate that since my p.o.v. is always limited to that of an outsider no matter how much info I can gather. 

The Marseilles deck, the oldest complete deck there is and the one most subsequent decks are based on, actually IS more than a deck of playing cards. You have the minor arcana which are, indeed, very similar to the a typical suit of playing cards and doesn’t have much in the way of clear divinatory symbolism on top of it, but the major arcana are used for divining and are indeed decorated with esoteric, magical iconography.

The most recent theory on that particular deck’s creation involves the input of Marsilio Ficino, a priest, scholar and neoplatonist (as in, he was interested in hermetics and classical philosophy/magic/science) alive in the 1400s. What seems to have happened is that he (and he wasn’t the only person doing this) took a comparatively mundane but complex style of playing card and adapted them to fit this esoteric symbolism. If you look at even older decks and decks of the period, such as the Visconit-Sforza deck, you can see some of the major arcana intact. You can see how the “Faith” card could have easily been adapted to the “Papess” card. Similarly, there are surviving Minchiate decks that have a much larger, but equally esoteric, collection of trump cards that include the typical major arcana characters, as well as the zodiac, the platonic elements, Catholic “virtue” cards and a couple more I’m forgetting.

Now, where the idea to put these divinatory aspects into a card game (which was already pretty archetypal when you look at it) came from was the Classical world; Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. While the physical tree of evolution of the game seems to stop at 1400s Italy, the idea is much much older and does, indeed, stretch back to occult philosophy.

Saying that they are just playing cards with “pretty pictures” on top is naive. There was literally thousands of years of thought put into their design. Marsilio Ficino was accused of performing magic in 1489, and had a life long interest in absorbing Platonism into the church. His designs for the major arcana very clearly use Platonist and Christian imagery side by side and deal, very much, with magic. Likewise, he translated the Hermetica; an ancient text from 2nd and 3rd century supposedly written by a god-like being called Thrice-Great Hermes/Hermes Trismagistus/Thoth. So if you’re risking your life to pursue magic in a place that will literally burn you, odds are that there’s something to it. What better place to hide that knowledge than in a silly card game?

But anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to find genuine, physical artifacts with magic powers. What’s important about them is the ideas they represent. Because ideas are much more magical than anything physical you can hold.

Hello! Thanks for the response. I will need to parse it a bit later (when I have more free time), but I wanted to go ahead and reblog it in case someone else wants to engage with the discussion through other posts and carry it forward, etc. Gosh, I know so, so, so many folks who integrate what some might view as less (I guess) “traditional” modes of divination daily…although I’m pretty sure that super-long list of divination methods (even if it is a wiki source) at least suggests that, as you say, it’s more about the individual/practice than anything tangible. Anyway, I’m reblogging for those who follow for the occult/esoteric content.