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This blog is more likely to include posts of a political nature - and one that requires sisu on the part of many!

Archives dated prior to March 2008 are entries moved across from either LiveJournal or Octant.

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Reading the Marseille Tarot

It’s way overdue, and the files on my computer have finally made it to printers (at this stage available only from

This is a tarot book that I originally wrote over the course of a year spanning across 2007-2008, and the isbn is registered as 2009. Since then, the most I have done is revise a sentence here and there.

As I mention in the foreword, without Jean-Claude and Roxanne Flornoy re-creating the Jean Noblet tarot from semi-oblivion, I would not have had a deck with the depth this one brings to unveil the connections as I would fully like to. What a loss Jean-Claude’s death from a week and a half ago is to the tarot world – let alone the loss to his friends, family and acquaintances! I do thank him for the gifts he has left us!

To obtain the book… simply on the image below:

> Reading the Marseille Tarot

jmd - JM David - Reading the Marseille Tarot

Why Children Shouldn't have the World at their Fingertips

The following originally appeared in Orion Magazine – well worth a read as a counter-balance to the all too common push towards extreme impulses.

By Lowell Monke*

THOMAS EDISON WAS A GREAT INVENTOR but a lousy prognosticator. When he proclaimed in 1922 that the motion picture would replace textbooks in schools, he began a long string of spectacularly wrong predictions regarding the capacity of various technologies to revolutionise teaching. To date, none of them—from film to television— has lived up to the hype. Even the computer has not been able to show a consistent record of improving education.

“There have been no advances over the past decade that can be confidently attributed to broader access to computers,” said Stanford University professor of education Larry Cuban in 2001, summarising the existing research on educational computing. “The link between test-score improvements and computer availability and use is even more contested.” Recent research, including a University of Munich study of 174,000 students in thirty-one countries, indicates that students who frequently use computers perform worse academically than those who use them rarely or not at all.

Whether or not these assessments are the last word, it is clear that the computer has not fulfilled the promises made for it. Promoters of instructional technology have reverted to a much more modest claim— that the computer is just another tool: “it’s what you do with it that counts.” But this response ignores the ecological impact of technologies. Far from being neutral, they reconstitute all of the relationships in an environment, some for better and some for worse. Computers tend to promote and support certain kinds of learning experiences, and devalue others. As technology critic Neil Postman has observed, “What we need to consider about computers has nothing to do with its efficiency as a teaching tool. We need to know in what ways it is altering our conception of learning.”

Several years ago I participated in a panel discussion on Iowa Public Television that focused on some “best practices” for computers in the classroom. Early in the program, a video showed how a fourth grade class in rural Iowa used computers to produce hypertext book reports on Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White’s classic children’s novel. In the video, students proudly demonstrated their work, which included a computer- generated “spider” jumping across the screen and an animated stick- figure boy swinging from a hayloft rope. Toward the end of the video, a student discussed the important lessons he had learned: always be nice to each other and help one another.

The teacher explained that her students were so enthusiastic about the project that they chose to go to the computer lab rather than outside for recess. While she seemed impressed by this dedication, it underscores the first troubling influence of computers. The medium is so compelling that it lures children away from the kind of activities through which they have always most effectively discovered themselves and their place in the world.

Ironically, students could best learn the lessons implicit in Charlotte’s Web —the need to negotiate relationships, the importance of all members of a community, even the rats—by engaging in the recess they missed. For recess is not just a break from intellectual demands or a chance to let off steam, but also a break from a closely supervised social and physical environment. It is when children are most free to negotiate their own relationships, at arm’s length from adult authority. Yet across the U.S., these opportunities are disappearing. By the year 2000, according to a 2001 report by University of New Orleans associate professor Judith Kieff, more than 40 percent of the elementary and middle schools in the U.S. had entirely eliminated recess. By contrast, U.S. Department of Education statistics indicate that spending on technology in schools increased by more than 300 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Structured learning certainly has its place. But if it crowds out direct, unmediated engagement with the world, it undercuts a child’s education. Children learn the fragility of flowers by touching their petals. They learn to cooperate by organising their own games. The computer cannot simulate the physical and emotional nuances of resolving a dispute during kickball, or the creativity of inventing new rhymes to the rhythm of jumping rope. These full-bodied, often deeply heartfelt experiences educate not just the intellect but also the soul of the child. When children are free to practice on their own, they can test their inner perceptions against the world around them, develop the qualities of care, self-discipline, courage, compassion, generosity, and tolerance— and gradually figure out how to be part of both social and biological communities.

If children do not dip their toes in the waters of unsupervised social activity, they likely will never be able to swim in the sea of civic responsibility. If they have no opportunities to dig in the soil, discover the spiders, bugs, birds, and plants that populate even the smallest unpaved playgrounds, they will be less likely to explore, appreciate, and protect nature as adults.
Computers not only divert students from recess and other unstructured experiences, but also replace those authentic experiences with virtual ones. According to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and others, school-age children spend, on average, around five hours a day in front of screens for recreational purposes. All that screen time is supplemented by the hundreds of impressive computer projects now taking place in schools. Yet these projects—the steady diet of virtual trips to the Antarctic, virtual climbs to the summit of Mount Everest, and trips into cyber-orbit that represent one technological high after another—generate only vicarious thrills. The student doesn’t actually soar above the Earth, doesn’t trek across icy terrain, doesn’t climb a mountain. Increasingly, she isn’t even allowed to climb to the top of the jungle gym.

During the decade that I spent teaching a course called Advanced Computer Technology, I repeatedly found that after engaging in Internet projects, students came back down to the Earth of their immediate surroundings with boredom and disinterest—and a desire to get back online. Having watched Discovery Channel and worked with computer simulations that severely compress both time and space, children are typically disappointed when they first approach a pond or stream: the fish aren’t jumping, the frogs aren’t croaking, the deer aren’t drinking, the otters aren’t playing, and the raccoons (not to mention bears) aren’t fishing. Their electronic experiences have led them to expect to see these things happening—all at once and with no effort on their part. The result is that the child becomes less animated and less capable of appreciating what it means to be alive, what it means to belong in the world as a biological, social being.

WHEN I WAS GROWING UP IN RURAL IOWA, I certainly lacked for many things. I couldn’t tell a bagel from a burrito. But I always and in many ways belonged. For children, belonging is the most important function a community serves. Indeed, that is the message that lies at the heart of Charlotte’s Web. None of us—whether of barnyard or human society— thrives without a sense of belonging. In my case, belonging hinged most decisively on place. I knew our farm—where the snowdrifts would be the morning after a blizzard, where and when the spring runoff would create a temporary stream through the east pasture. I could tell you where I was by the smells alone. Watching a massive thunderstorm build in the west, or discovering a new litter of kittens in the barn, I would be awestruck, mesmerised by mysterious wonders I could not control. One of the few moments I remember from elementary school is watching a huge black- and-yellow garden spider climb out of Lee Anfinson’s pant cuff after we came back from a field trip picking wildflowers. It set the whole class in motion with lively conversation and completely flummoxed our crusty old teacher. Somehow that spider spoke to all of us wide-eyed third graders, and we couldn’t help but speak back.
Though the work of the students in the video doesn’t reflect it, this kind of experience plays a major role in E. B. White’s story. Charlotte’s Web beautifully draws a child’s attention to something that is increasingly rare in schools: the wonder of ordinary processes of nature, which grows mainly through direct contact with the real world. As Hannah Arendt and other observers have noted, we can only learn who we are as human beings by encountering what we are not. Substituting the excitement of virtual connections for the deep fulfilment of firsthand engagement is like mistaking a map of a country for the land itself.
Rather than attempt to compensate for a growing disconnect from nature, schools seem more and more committed to reinforcing it, a problem that began long before the use of computers. Even relying on books too much or too early inhibits the ability of children to develop direct relationships with the subjects they are studying. But because of their power, computers drastically exacerbate this tendency, leading us to believe that vivid images, massive amounts of information, and even online conversations with experts provide an adequate substitute for conversing with the things themselves.

As the computer has amplified our youths’ ability to virtually “go anywhere, at any time,” it has eroded their sense of belonging anywhere, at any time, to anybody, or for any reason. How does a child growing up in Kansas gain a sense of belonging when her school encourages virtual learning about Afghanistan more than firsthand learning about her hometown? How does she relate to the world while spending most of her time engaging with computer-mediated text, images, and sounds that are oddly devoid of place, texture, depth, weight, odour, or taste—empty of life? Can she still cultivate the qualities of responsibility and reverence that are the foundation of belonging to real human or biological communities?

During the years that I worked with young people on Internet tele- collaboration projects, I was constantly frustrated by individuals and even entire groups of students who would suddenly disappear from cyber-conversations related to the projects. My own students indicated that they understood the departures to be a way of controlling relationships that develop online. If they get too intense, too nasty, too boring, too demanding, just stop communicating and the relationship goes away. This avoidance of potentially difficult interaction also surfaced in a group of students in the “Talented and Gifted” class at my school. They preferred discussing cultural diversity with students on the other side of the world through the Internet rather than conversing with the school’s own ESL students, many of whom came from the very same parts of the world as the online correspondents. These bright high school students feared the uncertain consequences of engaging the immigrants face-to-face. Would they want to be friends? Would they ask for favours? Would they embarrass them in front of others? Would these beginning English speakers try to engage them in frustrating conversations? Better to stay online, where they could control when and how they related to strange people—without much of the work and uncertainty involved with creating and maintaining a caring relationship with a community.

To develop normally, any child needs to learn to exert some control over her environment. But the control computers offer children is deceptive, and ultimately dangerous. In the first place, any control children obtain comes at a price: relinquishing the uniquely imaginative and often irrational thought processes that mark childhood. Keep in mind that a computer always has a hidden pedagogue—the programmer—who designed the software and invisibly controls the options available to students at every step of the way. If they try to think “outside the box,” the box either refuses to respond or replies with an error message. The students must first surrender to the computer’s hyper-rational form of “thinking” before they are awarded any control at all.
And then what exactly is awarded? The child pushes a button and the computer draws an X on the screen. The child didn’t draw that X, she essentially “ordered” the computer to do it, and the computer employed an enormous amount of embedded adult skill to complete the task. Most of the time a user forgets this distinction because the machine so quickly and precisely processes commands. But the intensity of the frustration that we experience when the computer suddenly stops following orders (and our tendency to curse at, beg, or sweet talk it) confirms that the subtle difference is not lost on the psyche. This shift toward remote control is akin to taking the child out of the role of actor and turning her into the director. This is a very different way of engaging the world than hitting a ball, building a fort, setting a table, climbing a tree, sorting coins, speaking and listening to another person, acting in a play. In an important sense, the child gains control over a vast array of complex abstract activities by giving up or eroding her capacity to actually do them herself.

The computer environment attracts children exactly because it strips away the very resistance to their will that so frustrates them in their concrete existence. Yet in the real world, it is precisely an object’s resistance to unlimited manipulation that forces a child (or anyone) to acknowledge the physical limitations of the natural world, the limits of one’s power over it, and the need to respect the will of others living in it. To develop normally, a child needs to learn that she cannot force the family cat to sit on her lap, make a rosebud bloom, or hurt a friend and expect to just start over again with everything just as it was before.
We hand even our smallest children enormously powerful machines long before they have the moral capacities to use them properly. Then to assure that our children don’t slip past the electronic fences we erect around them, we rely on yet other technologies or fear of draconian punishments. This is not the way to prepare youth for membership in a democratic society that eschews authoritarian control.

That lesson hit home with particular force when I had to handle a trio of very bright high school students in one of the last computer classes I taught. These otherwise nice young men lobbied me so hard to approve their major project proposal—breaking through the school’s network security—that I finally relented to see if they intended to follow through. When I told them it was up to them, they trotted off to the lab without a second thought and went right to work—until I hauled them back and reasserted my authority. Once the external controls were lifted, these teens possessed no internal controls to take over. This is something those who want to “empower” young children by handing them computers have tended to ignore: that internal moral and ethical development must precede the acquisition of power—political, economic, or technical—if it is to be employed responsibly.

Technology can provide enormous assistance in figuring out how to do things, but it turns mute when it comes to determining what we should do. Without any such moral grounding, the dependence on computers encourages a manipulative, “whatever works” attitude toward others. It also reinforces the exploitative relationship to the environment that has plagued Western society since Descartes first expressed his desire to “seize nature by the throat.” Even sophisticated “environmental” simulations, which show how eco-systems respond to changes, reinforce the mistaken idea that the natural world conforms to our abstract representations of it. Such reductionism reinforces the kind of faulty thinking that is destroying the planet: we can dam riparian systems if models show an “acceptable” level of damage, treat human beings simply as units of productivity to be discarded when inconvenient or useless, and reduce all things, even those living, to mere data. The message of the medium—abstraction, manipulation, control, and power—inevitably influences those who use it.

Our technological age requires a new definition maturity: coming to terms with the proper limits of one’s own power in relation to nature, society, and one’s own desires. Developing those limits may be the most crucial goal of twenty-first-century education. It is not necessary or sensible to teach children to reject computers (although I found that students need just one year of high school to learn enough computer skills to enter the workplace or college). What is necessary is to confront the challenges the technology poses with wisdom and great care. A number of organisations are attempting to do just that. The Alliance for Childhood, for one, has recently published a set of curriculum guidelines that promotes an ecological understanding of the relationship between humans and technology. But that’s just a beginning.

In the preface to his thoughtful book, The Whale and the Reactor, Langdon Winner writes, “I am convinced that any philosophy of technology worth its salt must eventually ask, ‘How can we limit modern technology to match our best sense of who we are and the kind of world we would like to build?’” Unfortunately, our schools too often default to the inverse of that question: “How can we limit human beings to match the best use of what our technology can do and the kind of world it will build?” As a consequence, our children are likely to sustain this process of alienation—in which they treat themselves, other people, and the Earth instrumentally—in a vain attempt to materially fill up lives crippled by internal emptiness. We should not be surprised when they “solve” personal and social problems by turning to drugs, guns, hateful Web logs, or other powerful “tools,” rather than digging deep within themselves or searching out others in the community for strength and support. After all, this is what we have taught them to do.

*Lowell Monke’s article originally appeared in Orion Magazine. Lowell Monke is Associate Professor of Education at Wittenberg University. He is co-author of Breaking Down the Digital Walls: Learning to Teach in a Post-Modem World (SUNY Press, 2001), and numerous articles on the role of technology in children’s lives. For twenty years Lowell taught young people with and about computers in schools in the U. S., South America and Europe. He is a founding member of The Alliance for Childhood and serves on its board of directors. Currently Lowell spends most of his time challenging aspiring teachers to rethink their assumptions about the purpose of education and its role in American society.

A Pencil, a treat...

It’s been a while since my last post, and it seems that so much has occurred since just on a month ago.

I won’t go into details here.

The purpose of this post is to reflect on the wonderful world of writing instruments – in this case a pencil crafted as a functional piece of art: the Pelikan Souverän pencil.

Pelikan Souverän Pencil

Though I really enjoy using a (fountain) pen, it is only on rare occasions that I actually need such: basically on the occasions when some document or other needs to be signed. A pencil, on the other hand, is something I use everyday to annotate reading, make separate notes, or simply jot down points I wish to later follow up on.

The MontBlanc equivalent is certainly really nice (and more expensive). The Pelikan, however, is simply exquisitely beautiful.

'The Daily Bell' does it again!

Perhaps I am far more libertarian than I realise, or perhaps the past ten years under a State government that has seen the erosion of individual liberties fallen far more than anyone could have imagined, or perhaps it is the destructive elements being promulgated by our Australian Federal government over the past few years that is raising concerns about our rapid diminishment of personal freedom…

…in any case, it’s wonderful to to able to read views that reflect similar concerns and are intelligently presented on the Daily Bell. Here is the opening of one of today’s contributions:

The Greatest 21st Century Privilege
Saturday, December 18, 2010 – by Anthony Wile

Despite its growing horrors, the 21st century has proven a profound blessing in the sense that we can see, step by step how tyranny is being implemented around the world and especially in the West. In doing so, we can chart its pathways and intricacies. Some may not consider this in any sense a blessing but we do. To watch the descent of tyranny on the Western world is a startling sight, which plumbs the depths of the human spirit and provides us with spectacles of evil and good, cowardice and courage. It is a great (if sad) time to run a free-market website that reports on libertarian social and economic trends.

I used to wonder how a financial depression took hold and what it would look like. I used to wonder how a society would lose its moral and social underpinnings and lurch toward authoritarianism. I wondered, even, what it would be like in pre-war Germany when the Nazis were coming to power. But the past decade has offered an education in all these concepts. Anyone paying close attention does not need to wonder anymore.

The first decade of the 21st century has been a time of resonant, historical themes, broadly observed. It is a truly historical struggle between those who wish to control and manipulate human societies and those who wish to make human societies, especially Western ones, freer. In the 20th century, one might anticipate going to a ball game or an elaborate black-tie social event, but nothing is more fascinating than watching this great game unfold early in the 21st.

It is not a comfortable experience of course. The forces seeking to shut down civil discourse and stifle dissent seem to come from all sides, and their power is discouraging. Increasingly, they seem to pervert the basic institutions of civil society: schools, media, government and even religion. Each element of perverted society now has an elaborate rationale for why freedom needs to be pruned. The children need to be made safe. Society needs to be made safe. The workplace needs to be secured.

It again calls to mind that which J.G. Bennett wrote in the opening of the first volume of his Dramatic Universe: ‘Freedom can only ever be achieved at the cost of security’, to which I would further add that true security can only ever be achieved with freedom.

Reflections on 'The Secret of the Tarot' by Robert Swiryn

Having received a copy of Robert’s book last week, I took it along whilst camping for a few days.

I have to admit that the subtitle had me a little concerned: ‘How the story of the Cathars was concealed in the Tarot of Marseilles’. This seems to be a claim that periodically raises its head, only to be deemed to be rather unfounded with closer examination. My personal concerns were further raised when, looking through the Bibliography, Robert O’Neill’s Catharism and the Tarot was not listed (though I might as well also note here that this proved to be an omission in the list, as the book is in fact referred to in footnote 82 – an easy enough oversight).

So… what’s my overall impression before getting into more nitty-gritty?

It’s a book that would better have been titled and sub-titled something like:

Catharism in the Tarot: how the story of the Cathars may be seen to be reflected in the Tarot of Marseilles

This would better give, in my personal view, greater weight to the content of the book.

part I

The book itself is divided into two parts, the first of which, about a third of the book, deals more with the story of late Catharism as a recounting of the horrid tales in such wonderful books as Zoe Oldenbourgh’s Massacre at Montségur and Rene Weiss’s The Yellow Cross (amongst others used by Robert Swiryn).

Having read these and other books on the destruction of the Cathars, it certainly leaves one with a bad taste as to the inexcusable activities of the Papacy of the times and, indeed, the horrendous establishment of the Dominicans (fortunately, they appear to have had a change of heart over the centuries since – but forgiveness for those acts, and the confiscation of those lands, remains, for many of us, an ongoing festering wound in the Roman Catholic Church).

Reading this first section also calls to my mind the Cathar tracks we walked (and those longer ones we had planned but never walked) in the Pyrénées; our climb to Montségur; our visit to Montailou on the plateaux high up in the mountains; the numerous small churches that, to my eyes at any rate, call to mind that here was possibly another building that perhaps once was a Cathar building, or at least predominantly frequented by crypto-Cathars (I’ll return to that concept in a little while). As I looked for an image or two to add in this post, it also reminded me that it was pre-digital photography when I last visited! (how times change quickly).

The story is definitely one that needs to be better known outside those of us with a specific interest and/or connection to the area and the spiritual tidings carried through the centuries.

part II

The second part of the book goes through the trumps from the Bateleur through to the Fou, seeking to find a Cathar story reflected therein.

Does Robert manage to do this?

In part, I personally consider that he does – but perhaps not in the full sense that he would like: what he reminds us is that following the progressive destruction of the heretical groups, many found refuge in various parts within regions, including, importantly, the Piedmontese area (not named as such in the book, but rather referred to – and fairly – as the northern Italian area). He also reminds us that this region was not only home to various heresies, but that Cathars therein existed, that connections to the Pyrénées Cathar also existed, and that there were political distances between, for example, the Viscontis and the Papacy.

All in all, it is highly probable that the artists who worked on either the hand-painted decks for the wealthy, or worked on the woodcarvings that eventually became what we now call the ‘Marseille’, may have had amongst their number those who were rather positive towards some of the heresies, or at least towards heretics, and also held rather negative views of the Church and especially its bureaucratic and administrative hierarchy. We should, of course, also recall that, irrespective of the Church’s view of the Cathars, these latter were principally and fundamentally Christian – albeit with dualistic notions.

In his book, Robert painting some characters therein as specific historical figures seems often far-fetched: reminiscent of trying to find instances that can support the model: for example, relating the lion on the Strength card (ie, XI – Force) to Montfort’ heraldic emblem (though I realise that Robert says far more than that when mentioning the card).

Looking through the cards and seeing how they can lead us into the historical period and region certainly provides a means to make this journey, as well as lead into insights into other ways of thinking. In that sense, the book is wonderful. I remain totally unconvinced, however, that the images were ‘altered’ by crypto-Cathars to remind them and maintain a historical record of the period.

a few errors

I would not do justice to this entry if I did not also note a few errors (which are of course inevitable in any book).

I’ve already mentioned the oversight of listing O’Neill’s on Catharism and the Tarot otherwise referred to in footnote 82. The only reason I mention this is to alert the otherwise critical reader that Robert is not only aware of the book, but has used it in the preparation of the manuscript.

On page 18 (and elsewhere), Robert mentions that images of Jesus are ‘clearly missing from the tarot’. I beg to differ. Certainly, in the version of the Marseille he chooses (ie, the Conver which is a TdM-type II deck), the World-card is feminine, seemingly precluding this being a representation of Christ in Majesty. TdM-type-I decks, however, (such as the Dodal), display the central figure as masculine, with a more than likely referent to the image as indeed that of Christ.

When on the same page (and a little later), Robert claims that ‘when the purpose required changes, some images were borrowed from other sources’, I personally find the evidence presented as rather weak (which, of course, could be argued to be precisely what those who made the changes would want!). For example, that there is a third person in the Lovers, or that there are two individuals in the Sun, or that animals (canines?) are on the Moon, can all be very easily accounted for in terms of other factors: if the Lovers depicts marriage, then one of the common images from the period includes the couple and the celebrant; the Sun above ‘Gemini’ is not that strange – especially if taken in the context of a walled paradisiacal garden; and canines below the Moon in the presentation of the overall image as Cancer is similarly acceptable. That there remains questions as to why the two towers in the Moon card, or indeed the two animals, does not really seem to be solved by Robert’s proposals.

Crypto-Cathars undoubtedly existed (after all, if crypto-Jews existed in those regions, it is very likely that other persecuted groups similarly continued). Again, they indeed may very well have had a small influence in the production, and hence design, of either individual or groups of cards. But I cannot see evidence for more than that – so on page 19, when Robert writes that ‘what is important to discover, is whether a preponderance of the evidence will provide enough support for us to reach a reasonable conclusion as to their content and voice’, I have to admit that we’ll have to disagree as to whether the evidence presented leads to the conclusion Robert assumes throughout the book (and of course, ‘assumes’ due to his being lead to that conclusion from the evidence he sees and deems of greater weight and import than I do – I do not in the least mean to imply that he came to his conclusion willy-nilly).

Let’s continue through the book a little and ‘pick’ a few more points.

On p 26-27, Robert claims that Constantine, following his conversion to Christianity, effectively forced ‘his subjects to adopt the new religion’. Perhaps my memory of history has diminished, but this is not something I recall. Not that, of course, this is central to his overall points in the book.

At the bottom of p 28, the implication was that there was no disagreement within the Catholic Church about wealth and the use of beauty. In fact, quite the opposite is the case, with Suger, for example, arguing very much in favour of using ‘excessive’ wealth to lead one to the contemplation of the divine – though his views were strongly opposed by other influential churchmen. Of course, this is a different point to the personal abuses and collections that private individuals (the ‘princes’ of the Church) accumulated.

p 42-43 makes the point, without any evidence to support it, that ‘it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that these four families [of Albi, Toulouse, Carcasonne, and Agen] were in fact [sic] those represented by the four suits of the tarot’. This is the kind of claim that is given way too much weight in all too many places. Would not something a little more humbly proposed be more apt, such as: ‘Could it be that the four families just mentioned were later seen to be reflected in the four suits of the tarot, given that naming court cards was a common-enough practice?’

On p 55, the claim that ‘a monument erected in their memory can still be seen today’ – this is in reference to the burning of over 200 Cathars near Montségur. The implication is that the monument is centuries old. It is not, but is rather a very recent marker. I cannot recall when it was constructed, but sometime within our lifetime is my recollection, and certainly not the long time implied.

Moving on to the final chapter in the first section, titled ‘The Development of the Tarot’, there are a number of points that especially need to be mentioned.

p 65 makes the all too common assumption that the deck created for Charles VI was a tarot (more likely than not, it wasn’t); and similarly makes the assumption that the French word ‘tarot’ derives from the Italian ‘tarocchi’ (very likely, the inverse is the case, with ‘tarocchi’ derived from the French ‘tarot’, itself, in my view, possibly derived from the Italian region by the same name).

On p 68, Swiryn quotes O’Neill who mistakenly says that ‘the totality of the symbolic’ images is ‘only found in 15th century Italy’: the extent decks from the period are not ‘total’, and hence, unless looking outside of tarot, and hence also outside of Italy, the statement is not supported. Of course, what is evident is that in the earliest of similar decks, ie, those painted for the Visconti-Sforza families, we have a near complete tarot-like set of images in which, to agree with Swiryn, the Marseille has its roots.

When in the last paragraph of p 69 Robert wonders why the Hanged Man was ‘left in’, the assumption is that the TdM is already that for which he argues (that the TdM bears Cathar influences). Instead of ‘left in’, the term ‘included’ would have avoided this anachronism.

On p 71, both the view that there are three persons in the Lovers and the inclusion of Queens in the courts as somehow suggestive of ‘the Albigensian story’ seems far fetched. Certainly the role of women in Provence and in Cathar worldview was far higher than in most other parts of Europe of the times, but this need not be a specifically Cathar influence.

p 72 makes the major error of presuming that the Waite-Smith deck pips arise without the influence of the Sola-Busca deck; and further makes the ‘mistake’ that places Pamela Coleman Smith as a member of the GD, rather than as a member of Waite’s own derived order (though this last ‘error’ can be acceptable if read as a more general statement). This kind of error in terms of development of decks into the 20th century is also reflected in the statement that Crowley ‘introduced’ Egyptian symbolism in his ‘Thoth’ deck – which of course he did, but was not the first to so do (far from it!).

I’ll just add a few more minor points from the second part of the book (skipping many other notes of far lesser importance).

In introducing the second section, Robert mentions that ‘the lack of images of Christ or the crucifixion raise questions of a heretical theme’. I have already mentioned a point with regards to whether XXI is, in earlier TdMs, a representation of Christ. Irrespective of this, however, I do not see why omitting such imagery would suggest heresy (in the context of the book, were such included, I could easily see Robert suggest that its inclusion would suggest the same!).

Discussing the Bateleur/Magician, Robert makes the same elemental attributions to the four suits as the Golden Dawn (why do that?) and further claims that these are on the table (or in his hand). I can see how one can make of the implements of the Bateleur the four implements (as was effectively transformed by especially Wirth), but this is interpreting that image, rather than carefully looking at what is there.

On p 121, talking of the ‘removal’ of the Pope card in decks in the 1700s, I suspect Robert meant the Besançon decks, rather than the very early Minchiate mentioned (though that one too had no Pope).

On p 136-137, Robert makes an error I cannot reconcile with the rest of his writing: where did he get the ordering of the virtues (and claiming them to be so ordered in the Marseille!) as first Temperance, then Justice and Strength?

p 147 misrepresents Boethius’s lowering of man-to-animal as presumed transmigration of soul. Yet the context is clear, and no such wheel is implied (even though the depiction of the Wheel itself derives from Boethius). On the next page (and many other places), Robert makes the mistake of confusing the symbol for Christ as chi-rho (a ‘P’ inside an ‘X’) with the initials of Jesus Christos as ‘I’ and ‘X’. Though the point he makes remains, it should not be called ‘chi-rho‘.

On Death, p 167, the point raised about the ‘naming’ of Death on the card as avoided so as to not ‘invoke’ it can certainly be considered, but not in relation to the opening of the Gospel of John. In English it certainly is ‘In the beginning was the Word’, but this is a translation which implies ‘noun’ or ‘name’, whilst the Greek uses ‘Logos’ (a very different concept), and importantly, both the Latin and French use ‘Verb’ (‘Verbum’/’Verbe’) instead of ‘nome’ or ‘name’/’word’. So the point and link suggested is both anachronous and linguistically irrelevant. Better, I would suggest, to have used Genesis and the naming performed by Adam. Except that, of course, this weakens the connection to the Cathars.

On p 195, to talk of the Moon card as though a representation of an eclipse in unjustified, in my view. There is nothing in the imagery that suggests this. Of course, the image can be seen in that light, but that is a forced interpretation, and even contradicts evidence internal to the image. I of course realise that a number of individuals now prefer to view it in this fashion – but that’s a modern view.

I do not understand why Robert uses the Hindo-Arabic number system to justify a point on p 202. ‘XVIII’ is not the same, in reflective stance, as ’18’.

On p 207, the millennial concerns are long past by the time of tarot’s development. And in fact also in terms of the Albigensian crusade.

p 215 should read, with regards to the four fixed signs of the zodiac, as referencing the solstices and equinoxes – not just the latter. And of course, the four evangelists are connected to the four elements via the elemental qualities of the signs to which they are connected – and a further note should be made that to which the four evangelists are connected the signs/living creatures was not as fixed as it has become: it is St Jerome’s version that has become dominant, but not as clearly so at the time.

The chapter on the Fou really should not have the number ‘0’ zero therein mentioned, as it is totally irrelevant to the points made, as well as actually suggesting that its position as 22nd is incorrect! I’m also unsure why Robert remarks that the term ‘Le Fol’ is feminine: it is, instead, masculine (‘la folle’ would be feminine). An on p 222, when Robert mentions that ‘in medieval art the left side is the spiritual side’, I have to disagree.


Despite these and all too many times that I annotated the book with ‘this is going a little far’ or ‘beyond evidence’ or ‘interpretation far-fetched’, the book has quite a number of treasures and insights.

For this alone it is, in my view, well worth reading!

…and I do NOT consider this a review proper, but rather notes to myself, albeit publicly visible.

On a new Palestinian State

The PLO is seeking support for a new Palestinian State. Personally, I don’t see any problem with this, as long as it genuinely seeks for the proposed state to be a workable model. To this end, its surrounding countries need to be willing to cede small regions of their territory to allow for the formation of this State.

An appropriate model that could easily work is for both Jordan and Syria to each cede three administrative zones to allow for the formation of the new State of Palestine. Something like the following, should everyone truly value peace in the area, work:
The new State of Palestine, between Jordan and Syria

It should be called to mind that the north of what is now Jordan already has a predominantly Palestinian population, and Syria has for some time been in favour of the region needing to cede some of its land for the formation of a new State. Jordan’s ‘king’ has also previously called for the establishment of a Palestinian state. What better way than to lead by example!

And to further support this new Palestine, a hill of their choosing within the new State could house the careful re-location of the mosques currently atop the Temple mount.

The ‘new middle east’ would still have its unsurmountable problems: after all, unless the Arab world unfastens itself from the gordian knot-shackles of islam (spread throughout its lands over last centuries by sword, fear and torture), it cannot rise again to its glorious past that witnessed the splendid artistic creativity spreading from the lands of ancient Egypt through to Mesopotamia.

Tarot interview

In case anyone’s interested:

I’ll probably add other comments ‘post-event’ to this very entry…

Interview went well enough… except that the software which recorded it totally corrupted the audio file (hmmm… perhaps there was feedback that showed I have posted against Adobe’s Flash).

… so I guess it’s back to the drawing board!

Australian 'Greens' – what an unfortunate stinking joke

OK – I’ll admit it. I too was conned in the past and in fact in a number of previous State and Federal elections voted, as second or even first preference, Greens. This was before Adam Bandt proved, by both his actions and his involvements, that the various rumours that had been circulating with regards to the infiltration of the Greens by the hard left are unfortunately true.

The Sydney Morning Herald has, amongst other relatively detailed comments, this summary:

The Greens are a fraudulent brand. There are not enough letters of the alphabet to encompass the image fraud this party is perpetrating on the electorate. It is simply not a party preoccupied with the environment.

This does not mean that I reject ALL of the Greens points… but certainly near enough to all. In fact, reading through their various documents, the only support I would give is (which, in any case, is neither a left nor right issue) with regards to marriage laws needing to allow the marriage of any two consenting adults. That the Greens have attempted to paint this issue as somehow their own is political spin at its best worst!

Caveat emptor or rather, in this case, Caveat suffragator!