Monday, April 2, 2012

B17 - B19: Stella, Luna, Sole

B17. Stella.

The only variation in the title is that sometimes the reference is to Stelle, Stars (in Aretino's Carte Parlante,  1543, while Piscina's Discorso, c. 1565, uses both singular and plural). What is depicted varies. I do not see Dionysian/Osirian themes in the card until the Cary Sheet of c. 1500.

 In the Osiris myth, this card could represent the goddess and star heralding the rising of the Nile, the return of Osiris. Plutarch, Of Isis and Osiris 38, identifies the star as Sirius and the “water-carrier of Isis”; in section 41 it is Sothis, which he says is the soul of Isis. The goddess in Roman Egypt is at right below; the Cary Sheet card is at left:

The five other stars on the Cary Sheet card (including the one on the figure’s shoulder) would be the five planets of fate. It is the triumph over death and Typhon, god of the drought. The two jugs might represent the two branches of the Nile, the White Nile with its rich earth symbolizing the body, and the Blue Nile coming from Ethiopia symbolizing the spirit (with Ethiopia represented on the right side of the card by a mountain). At Dendera in Egypt, Greco-Roman era zodiacs typically portrayed Aquarius with two jugs, and according to French Egyptologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt in Le Fabuleux Histoire de l'Egypte (pp. 257f, 311), they perhaps did symbolize the two branches of the Nile; but in some cases the "water-carrier" was not Sothis but rather a consort of Khnum, who resided just above the first cataract of the Nile, i.e. at the beginning of the Nile proper. The figure with the jugs was sometimes male, sometimes female, and sometimes both at once. Below, the first image is an actual photo of one of the female jug-carriers at Dendera; the other is of drawings provided by Desroches-Noblecourt (p. 311):
The annotations above are mine, not Desroches-Noblecourt's. In Egypt below the First Cataract, both streams. that from the White Nile and that from the Blue Nile,  must be present in a healthy amount for the land's renewal--a suitable allegory to encourage one to attend both one's body and one's spirit.

Below are two early Marseille-style cards, the Noblet as the original now looks, Flornoy's restoration, and the "Chosson" of a little later.
One jug goes into water and the other onto land, where it makes the land green. In back is a dark blue body of water.  The difference in destinations might suggest the two paths of the "Cave of the Nymphs" of Porphyry, as described by Andrea in his essay on this card. There, one door in the cave is for the immortals and leads to the gods, the other leads back to our world for another reincarnation. Both are for souls that have been on earth; Greco-Roman examples might be Hercules or Dionysus, whose deeds on earth merited him a place with the gods. As Andrea quotes Porphyry
 ... the gate of the cavern facing north is accessible to human beings; the southern regions are not the place of the gods, but of those who return to the gods, and this is why the poet said that this is the path, not of the gods, but of the immortals, an expression which is fit for souls, since they are immortal in themselves or in their essence” (§22-23) 
The southern gate, therefore, is for souls qualified to return to the gods. The other is for souls who must return to our world, the world of human beings.

But since there is no cave on our card, and no doors either, more explanation is needed.

In the Dionysian rite, the big star on the card would be Dionysus, and the little ones, seven of them in the Marseille cards, wold be his protector-nurses, the Hyades, who in the myth are later turned into stars (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.26-29; Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 192; Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 21; Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 143 ff, all at So they help Dionysus triumph over the Titans, i.e. nature, and Juno, the Queen of Heaven from whose breast flowed the Milky Way.

Alternatively, the smaller stars might have been seen from their role in astrology, as instruments of fatte, e.g. the seven planets, the constellations of the zodiac, and other combinations. In that way the big star represents domination over fate, i.e. ascending above the stars. In the Renaissance worldview, heaven was precisely there, above the stars, in the realm of the Primum Mobile, First Moved, where the angels were, where God's plans were actuated, and the realm of the Prima Causa, that of God, the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover.

How does one get above the stars? We left Dionysus descending to hell and returning via the lake. I think it would have been understood by analogy to Dante's journey to Paradise in the Divine Comedy.

Dante in the Purgatorio informs us that he came upon two streams at the very top of Purgatory. A lady beside one of them picking flowers explains the secret of the spring from which they both flow::
As it discharges, open on two sides.Upon this side with virtue it descends,Which takes away all memory of sin;On that, of every good deed done restores it.Here Lethe, as upon the other side Eunoe, it is called...
Drinking from the first, he forgets everything sinful, including even his passion for Beatrice. Drinking from the other, he remembers all his good deeds, and his memory of Beatrice is restored. Thus purified, he can enter Paradise (Purgatorio 28, 130ff. at  The second stream, in that it enables remembering, is much like the spring of Mnemosyne in Pausanias.Dante has taken the word "Eunoe" because it is Greek for "knowledge of good". It also sounds somewhat similar to the Bacchic cry of "Euoi".

But what connects Dante to Dionysus is not that, but Pausanias' description of the oracle of Trophonius. I have already quoted this account for my interpretation of the Hanged Man card as a candidate descending to a lower level through a small hole. But before he does so, In Pausanias, he has to drink from two springs.  (9.39.3, at . One makes one forget one's earthly cares, while the other enables one to remember what will occur in the cave (Description of Greece 9.39.3 at
 He is led by the priests, not at once to the oracle, but to certain springs. Here he must drink what is called the water of forgetfulness, in order that he forget everything he has hitherto thought of. Then he drinks from another water, the water of Memory, that he may remember what he sees below.
 The Orphic Hymn to Mnemosyne, popularized by Ficino, also tells us that the power of Lethe can be broken by Mnemosyne (
Come, blessed power, thy mystic's mem'ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe's fetters break.
We know from Plato's Myth of Er at the end of the Republic that Lethe is a river in the underworld that souls drink from before they reincarnate, so that they will forget everything about the upper world and their former life on earth. Since Lethe is a stream, probably Mnemosyne is, too. Although Pausanias's account of the oracle makes no reference to Dionysus, people in the 15th-18th centuries would have connected the two because of this Orphic Hymn. Orpheus was the continuer of Dionysus according to Diodorus, in the passage I cited about Tharopes.

If the water of Lethe, in Plato's Republic, leads downward, moreover, the other one must lead upwards, as in Dante; that is where the Orphic wants to go. In that way the two streams are similar to the doors in Porphyry's "Cave of the Nymphs". One water, then, brings the soul back to earth in a new birth, symbolized by the green. The other heads to the divine water of the immortals. Drinking of both, as in Dante, leads us upwards beyond fate. And on the moralizing level, it is a new reminder to care for both the body and the spirit.

There may be a suggestion on the cards themselves that the two springs are the sources of the water flowing out of the two jugs. On Conver's versions of the card, 1760 and 1761, someone has scratched out, on the plate, part of one L in the title, as you can see by comparing them (the lower two) with the "Chosson" title (on top).  The result is  to turn "LETOILLE" into something very like "LETOULE",thus sugesting a kind of visual pun. "Toule", according to Flornoy, is Marseille dialect for "spring" (

B18. Luna

The Moon card could simply be one last attack of madness, i.e. lunacy, which Dionysus both inflicts and suffers. But the Moon is one of Dionysus' mothers in Cicero, and Isis' and Osiris' mother in Plutarch. So on the card we might have the dominance of these Moon goddesses. The Moon is also Isis herself in Apuleius, as Andrea notes in his essay on the card ( At the beginning of Book 11 of The Golden Ass, the protagonist Lucius addresses a prayer to the goddess of the Moon (Lindsay translation p. 235), and the goddess Isis rises from the waves. She tells him to go to a ceremony at the port the next day (p. 238):
Tomorrow my priests will offer to me the first fruits of the year's navigation. They will consecrate in my name a new-built ship.  
There he will be delivered from his ass-form and return to his natural human form.

In this regard  Cartari 1647 edition shows Isis holding a ship in her hand; for the relevant quote from Cartari's text (first published 1556) in English and Italian, see Andrea's essay.
 The connection between the Moon is in part that the Moon governs the tides, so important for sailors. Also, it lights the way at night and was regarded as the protector of ships at sea.  In this context, the two towers on the card, present even in the Cary Sheet version (below left) could be lighthouses, which are merely human inventions emulating the moon's function, as Andrea observes. 
On the Marseille-style cards (Conver 1761 is above right), something like rays or raindrops emanate from the Moon. The dogs even catch them in their mouths. De Gebelin in 1781 speculated that they were the "tears of Isis" mentioned by Pausanias, and I tend to agree. (For de Gebelin, see The Pausanias quote, Description of Greece 10.32.18, is at Pausanias writes of a Phoenician he met who said that Egyptians saw the summer rains as the "tears of Isis" mourning for the dead Osiris, which in the highlands gather to become the Nile flood, the revivication of Osiris. Grief serves its own resolution.

The Cary Sheet card (above left) does not have the drops (that deck has them only on the Sun card), nor even the dogs. Instead, what I seem to see are crocodiles around a lake, with a temple and obelisks in the background--an Egyptian scene. One of the crocodiles might be holding something in his jaws. The same is clearly true for the Conver crayfish, the detail of which I have enlarged at top middle; it might also be in the same place in the Noblet, which I have enlarged. What could that something be? Here I think we have to apply Plato's theory of knowledge. All true knowledge, knowledge of the eternal Forms, is the recovery of memories from before we incarnated on earth. The dialectic of ascent out of the world of opinion is also a return through that world to what lay before it. In the Cary Sheet, the forms, like untarnishable jewels, are held in the jaws of the crocodiles. In the Cary Sheet, they are in the jaws of the crayfish. Even though we would like to ascend, nonetheless we must go back over our experience on earth and find the eternal by looking more deeply into the ephemeral. It is like Dionysus descending into the lake to rescue his mother. From what he learns on the surface, he goes back to the womb and before. And in the event that it is not really his mother he is after, but rather Ariadne, who had just died, that, too, is a precious jewel; it is his other half, the recovery of which, in the myth of the androgyne, related by Aristophanes in the Symposium, will make him as he once was.

The crayfish in the Marseille cards is like the crocodiles in the Cary Sheet. It guards the treasure. For the crayfish, I turn again to Porphyry in "On the Cave of the Nymphs". The northern gate is associated with the constellation of Capricorn and the southern one with the constellation of Cancer.
Cancer to the north is the descending path, Capricorn to the south is the rising path.
The crayfish represents the constellation of Cancer, i.e. the world of generation. And not only are there these constellations. There are also dogs: Clement of Alexandria, discussing the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, says:
And some will have it that by the dogs are meant the tropics, which guard and watch the sun’s passage to the south and north. 
So we have the two gates on the card, each with its guard-dog. I think that in Clement's case, the dogs serve to keep the sun from going too far south or north, to keep it inside the Ecliptic. They are safeguards against another Phaeton, who once let the horses of the sun wander everywhere. Nonetheless they are guard-dogs. What, in the context of the Marseille card, do they guard? The only thing there is the towers. Now I have to turn to Plutarch's essay On the Face in the Orb of the Moon ( ... on*/D.html), from which Andrea also takes inspiration.

In section 28 we learn that souls who have ascended from the earth through Hades, which he locates in the space between the Earth and the Moon, end up on the Moon. Here is what he says about this journey to the Moon (243C):
Unjust and licentious souls pay penalties for their offences; but the good souls must in the gentlest part of the air, which they call "the meads of Hades", pass a certain set time sufficient to purge and blow away the pollutions contracted from the body as from an evil odour. Then, as if brought home from banishment abroad, they savour joy most like that of initiates, which attended by glad expectation is mingled with confusion and excitement.
 This "confusion and excitement" is much like the meaning of "tarachas" as understood in the 1497 Greek-Latin Lexicon: perturbation. They are in the vicinity of the moon. I cannot help but think that the madness that for Erasmus was a brief experience of heaven, for Plutarch, as a priest of Apollo, would have been the experience of being on the Moon, mad with divine Lunacy, but not yet to the heights.

 The "gates" are on the Moon and are the ways beyond this state, for the better sort of souls. Andrea has discussed them in detail in his essay on the Moon card ( But I will give a summary here. They are passages through the mountain ranges on the Moon that look to us like the lines of a face. Of these valleys between ranges, Plutarch says (end of section 29)::
The largest of them is called "Hecatê's Recess", where the souls suffer and exact penalties for whatever they have endured or committed after having already become Spirits; and the two long ones are called "the Gates" for through them pass the souls now to the side of the moon that faces heaven and now back to the side that faces earth. The side of the moon towards heaven is named "Elysian plain", the hither side "House of counter-terrestrial Phersephonê".
One gate allows souls to go to the other side of the Moon, to the side facing Heaven. I imagine that in the distance on the Cary Sheet card, flanked by obelisks, is a Temple of the Sun, on Plutarch's Elysian plain. From that place, at the proper time, wise souls will travel to the Sun. The other gate leads back to the earth, as in the case of the two gates in Porphyry's cave. But the descent from the Moon is not like the return to Earth from Hades in Plato's "Myth of Er", which involved the drinking of the waters of Lethe. These souls that return are purified souls. Neither human nor yet immortal, they manage oracles and help the righteous side in times of battle, as the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, were said to do. If they misuse their power, they suffer the penalty in "Hecatê's Recess". Eventually when they have served long enough they leave their "soul" part (i.e. the emotional part) on the moon, just as they left their bodily part on the earth, and they ascend to the Sun.

So the dogs guard the towers, to make sure that no one worthy goes either way, down or further up. Or else they are two initiates, come this far and not knowing what to do next except honor Phersephonê--and also the Sun, which they see either reflected in her face or behind her, as in an eclipse. 

B19. Sole

The Sun, in this essay by Plutarch, was the next destination of the soul after the Moon; it was the place of immortality. of the separation of mind from soul (the "it" that is the third word below). Plutarch says of the souls that tend oracles and offer other assistance to humans (section 30, 4th sentence):
They achieve it, some sooner and some later, once the mind has been separated from the soul. It is separated by love for the image in the sun through which shines forth manifest the desirable and fair and divine and blessed towards which all nature in one way or another yearns, for it must be out of love for the sun that the moon herself goes her rounds and gets into conjunction with him in her yearning to receive from him what is most fructifying.
 The Sun as bringing the power of regeneration to the earth is a scene on some early tarot Sun cards.
 In the Cary Sheet (the reconstruction is by Andy Pollett), the child is the outcome of the regenerating power of the sun. In the Italian card, it is the growth of the trees. And in Vieville, it is the child again, this time on a horse.

The theme of the child in association with the sun also appears also in the PMB card, c. 1465-1475 Milan. In the Cary Yale, c. 1440s, its predecessor is the Charity card, at left below

Vieville's addition of a horse might have been suggested by a line in the Chaldean Oracles, first popularized by Ficino in his translation of an edition prepared by Gemistos Plethon. These "Oracles" are Orphic-like sayings embedded in the writings of the Neoplatonists of the Roman Empire, a combination of Platonism and Zoroastrianism that is also apparent in Plutarch. Here is the line, as it appears in an English translation of 1661 (
But also to see a Horse more glittering than Light.
Or a Boy on [thy] shoulders riding on a Horse,
Fiery or adorned with Gold, or devested,
Or shooting and standing on [thy] shoulders. 
The line is not in Ficino's translation of the Oracles, but was known at that time, as it was in Proclus's In Rem Publicam (1.111.3-11 of Kroll’s 1899 Leipzig edition). This Neoplatonic text was available in the 15th century: according to Hankins (Plato in the Italian Renaissance p. 94) it was in the library of  the humanist Filelfo in Milan. picked up during the years he spent in Greece; after Greece, he had taught in Florence previously and intermittently remained in touch with scholars there and in Rome, teaching in both places at the end of his life (died 1481). The fragment was included in a later edition of the Oracles, published in Venice 1593 and Paris 1599 (per WorldCat) edited by Francesco Pratrizi. In the context of the Oracles, it is a mystical vision of an initiate into the Oracles, receiving illumination from the Sun.

The sun as the source of divine illumination is probably also the explanation for the droplets coming down from the sun, which we see on the Cary Sheet card and in the Marseille-style cards thereafter. Andrea, in his essay on the card, has given us the image of St. Paul being struck down by God on the way to Damascus.
On the left I have put the d'Este Sun card. Although there are no droplets, what we see is a conversation between the philosopher Diogenes, whose residence was said to have been a large barrel with a commanding view of the port of Corinth, and the world-conqueror (and emulator of Dionysus) Alexander the Great. He sees Diogenes and asks if there is any favor he could do him. Diogenes' response is, "Cease to shade me from the sun" (in Diogenes Laertius, 3rd century c.e., Lives of Eminent Philosophers, at One message of this anecdote is the Biblical proverb "All is vanity under the sun", Ecclesiastes 1:12, 17, applying not only to Alexander's ambitions but to philosophers' prating (Ecc. 2:12.7). (Andrea makes this observation in his essay.) Diogenes is the archetypal Cynic. Another message is about the metaphorical sun. Alexander is trying to corrupt Diogenes no matter how noble he thinks he is being. With Alexander comes darkness. Wisdom requires poverty and powerlessness as its very precondition. Alexander's offer would put Diogenes permanently in the shade, removed from the sources of illumination.

 At the end of section 30 of On the Face in the Orb of the Moon (also the end of the book itself), Plutarch brings in the Fates:
Of the three Fates too Atropos enthroned in the sun initiates generation, Clotho in motion on the moon mingles and binds together, and finally upon the earth Lachesis too puts her hand to the task, she who has the largest share in chance.
 Atropos, the one who cuts the thread, for Plutarch  is the one associated with the Sun and generation. For while in being taken back by the sun the soul dies in bliss, pure mind is born there, and the sun generates new souls in the womb of the moon. Clotho, the one who spins the yarn, the stuff of soul, is associated with the Moon, the place of soul-substance. Finally, Lachesis, the one who measures the thread that determines the length of life, is for Plutarch the fate associated with the earth, for "she has the largest share in chance". The imagery of these figures is represented in a Flemish tapestry, c. 1510, illustrating Petrarch's Triumph of 
Death over Chastity; each of the Fates is labeled ( Clotho can be seen holding the spindle.
Some early tarot cards, such as the "Charles VI" and "Beaux-Arts-Rothschild," had it differently: Clotho was on the Sun card. One can find biblical justification for such a placement, e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:3: "What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?" That placement is also supported by what Plutarch says in another essay, "On the Genius of Socrates" (as Ross Caldwell, drawing on notes by Michael J. Hurst, has pointed out to me There Clotho is assigned to the sun. The Vieville Moon card of 1650, on the other hand, fits the Plutarch I have been quoting here, in which Clotho is assigned to the moon.

In Plutarch's other essay, Of Isis and Osiris (sect. 42ff), the Sun is Osiris. In some tarot Sun cards, a man and a woman are shown beneath the sun:
And correspondingly in the Minchiate. I include the Charity card so that you can see, first, its similarity to the Cary-Yale card (both are typical Church images of that virtue) but also for its number: 19 is the same as that of the tarot Sun card, suggesting to me that the Sun replaced Charity in the tarot but kept its original position in Minchiate.

These figures correspond in gender to the Gemini as depicted in the Dendera Zodiac (I take these images from Desroches-Noblecourt p. 331):
A similar male-female depiction also occurs in some Renaissance depictions of that sign, e.g.

In Egyptian mythology they would be Shu and Tefnet, the Sun's first children, although the Renaissance might not have known their names. Notice also the two jugs of Aquarius, common in the Renaissance but not before or after.

In the Dionysian myth, the sun-god Apollo is Dionysus's half-brother, celebrated in the summer at Delphi after a winter honoring Dionysus. In the "Marseille" version of the card, there are two boys, one with his arm around the other. This gesture is present as early as the 1515 "Schoen horoscope," in which various houses are illustrated with images from the tarot trumps (house 5 at right below). It continues in the c. 1600 "Sforza Castle" card (center) and remains with basically the same facial expressions and arm gestures even in the 1672 or later Marseille II design of the "Chosson" card (left) that was copied everywhere in the 18th century.

On Dionysian sarcophagi, there are sometimes two boys with a similar gesture, for example:
This particular sarcophagus seems to have been found in 1956 (, so probably not known in the Renaissance. But there are such boys in other sarcophagi as well, always at the end of a procession (e.g.

I theorize that the Renaissance interpreted the two boys as Castor and Pollux. The immortal Pollux's sacrifice of his immortality for the sake of raising up the mortal Pollux would have been seen as a precursor to Christ's own suffering for the sake of humanity. It is the human version of the goat sacrifice also implied on the sarcophagi and the Renaissance imagery they inspired (i.e. at right below, Cartari 1581's image of Priapus (on the left, which I determine by comparing it with the 1647 image, shown in the section on Ferrara; the one with wings is probably Bacchus; he could be Carpocrates, but I don't see him mentioned in the text, and following).
Perhaps for the purpose of the ritual sacrifice, Renaissance versions of the Gemini show one of them with a sickle much like Priapus's.
Similar to the goat, on the othe hand, is one of the twins on the "Chosson" card (below left), which suggests a tail on the left boy's thigh, left a white space on the card, less conspicuous but still present in the Conver card (below left). The 1999 Camoin-Jodorowsky version of that card makes it unambiguous:
You will also notice what appear to be collars on the “Chosson”, a feature copied by Conver 1761 and most other Marseille II designs. Daimonax points out that this links the pair with the noose-wearing pair on the Devil card. In this way the repetition of two figures suggest a pair going through initiation, whether male and female (like Tamino and Pamina in Mozart's Magic Flute or wise and unwise (like Tamino and Papageno). This starts in the Pope card, which in Chosson (left below) has the suggestion of an unseen figure on the right reaching its arm over the initiates and a knife-like fold; in Conver 1761 the fold is more like a knife in the hand; Camoin-Jodorowsky 1999 make the knife unambiguous (this feature is again pointed out by Daimonax).

In case you still can't see the knife, here is the detail by itself in the middle, with the 1999 version and the 1761 version on either side.
 In all these cases, the Pope seems to be looking at the other, of whom all we see is the arm.It is a subtle foreshadowing of ritual death of the mystery-god or his substitute, for the sake of the other, A similar mystery was enacted every day in the Eucharist, in which the bread was broken to symbolize the breaking of Christ's body, and wine was poured to symbolize his blood.  In the contemplator of the card, a sunukar mystery was enacted, the immortalization of the human through the sacrifice of the divine. It is this mystery that Erasmus's Folly saw as the prelude to divine madness (section 55, p. 205 of 1993 translation). From the "death of the passions"--in Plutarch's terms, the death of the soul--comes "a new life"--in Plutarch's terms, the ascent of the spirit to the Sun.

Alfonso d'Este's court painter Dosso Dossi, whom we know so far from his sensuous Bacchanal paintings, did what I think is a very apt painting of the divine madness of which Plutarch and Erasmus spoke, epitomized by Jesus in the garden, after the Last Supper while he is preparing for the ordeal ahead. I find it a very unusual "Agony in the Garden,"as it is called (Humfrey and Lucco, Dosso Dossi,: Court Painter in Renaissance Italy p. 123).
 It seems to me to suggest ecstasy rather than agony. Done c. 1516, the same time as his lost Bacchanal,  it combines the darkness of the Moon's night with the brightness of the Sun.

Admittedly, the crease in the fabric on the Pope card that might be a knife was not there before "Chosson". Yet I cannot imagine that the idea of the sequence as mystery-initiation started with them. There are too many features that lend itself to that interpretation. In the Lover card, the initiates are the similar male and female figures, in the Chariot the two horses, in the Wheel the figures going up and down, in Death the male and female heads, in the Tower the two human figures, in the Moon the two dogs, and in the Angel the two figures on either side of center. In some cases they are male and female; in others they are red and some other color, light blue or off-white. Red was the color of Seth in Plutarch; the other color would be more heavenly. To these might be added the two jugs of Temperance and the Star, the two arms of Justice, the two figures of Strength, and the two wooden poles of the Hanged Man, one light and one dark. I have mentioned all except the Hermit and the World. The Hermit’s initiatory character is indicated by his lantern and the sun shining in the folds of his robe, as well as Conver’s change in the spelling of his title, from “L’Ermite” to “L’Hermite”, the “H” suggesting an association to Hermes Trismegistus or the god Hermes as guide of souls. Here are the cards, which I have already presented.
The figure in the World card (which I will discuss in the next section) could be the female initiation-master welcoming the successful candidate or candidates; or it could be the two now merged as one, merging with the two-sexed Dionysus.

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