The field of communication phenomena as part of the typology of cultures calls for
the identification of specific semiotic systems representing their "languages". In this respect
culture is seen as a set of texts described by collective memory (Lotman 1990).
The expression in the title of this paper, memories of the future, seems however to
be a contradiction in terms. To resolve the paradox, this paper will address a specific
pictorial, that is, extra-linguistic, language expressed in the signs and symbols of Tarot. Tarot
images survived through the ages and although their exact origins are debated
appear to have been in existence, in their modern form, since the fourteenth century.
This paper, first, will go through some of the cultural "memory traces" left in history
by the Hermetic tradition and revived during the Renaissance (see, e.g., Yates 1964, Faivre
1994, Tomberg 1993). Second, the paper will present Tarot pictures as polysemic
representations of the images of collective memory, organized into a semiotic system and
constituting a pictorial "text" represented by the cards' layout. As a text, the layout can
indeed be "read" and interpreted. The paper will address the spatial-temporal distribution of
cards in terms of a symbolic representation of the memory pool called by Carl G. Jung the
collective unconscious. In semiotic terms, memory is the capacity to preserve and reproduce
information. In this respect, the Tarot deck serves as a lexicon, and each Tarot layout
becomes a symbolic text having both a synchronic and diachronic dimension. The paper will
conclude by asserting that bits of information virtually stored in the diachronic depth
of the collective memory are reproduced by means of each synchronic reading, thus
re-creating the memories of the past and simultaneously creating, as if anew, the memories of
the future. This action of signs is posited as an intelligent communication.
AS/SA nº 13,
It appears that the only factual evidence of the possible origins of Tarot is the
collection of seventeen cards now in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, documented in the
French Court ledger as dating back to 1392. The collection located at the Pierpont Morgan
Library in New York contains thirty-five cards from a full deck of seventy-eight, whose
origin goes back to the middle of fifteenth century. Yet, the Tarots might have been
circulating the world since much earlier times and only surfaced and attracted attention at the
time of Renaissance and the revival of Gnosticism. Frances Yates notices that the "great
forward movements of the Renaissance ' derive their vigour 'from looking backwards"
(Yates 1964: 1) to the Golden Age and the Hermetic writings. The Greek God of
communication, the messenger Hermes, has been identified with the Egyptian mystical god
Thoth, the latter is said to having "given" his name to a Tarot deck known as the Book of
The Egyptian-born Plotinus (250-70 CE) reconstructed an ancient Greek metaphysics
by incorporating elements of the Hermetic tradition (see Faivre 1994, Yates 1964) thereby
founding the system of Neoplatonism which grew into "one of the strangest chapters and
strangest tales" (Deely 2001: 113) in the history of philosophy. For Plotinus, the soul's
memories could be either in words or in images. As a form of thought, which transforms
beliefs into inner knowledge, or gnosis, the Hermetic tradition survived many centuries into
the Christian era. Revived by Marsilo Ficino (1433-1499), Pico della Mirandelo (1463-1494)
and Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), it informed the Renaissance, since then being manifested in
a plurality of forms including the pictorial representation of this knowledge in the symbols of
Tarots. Ficino, who believed in the Egyptian roots of Hermes, has translated the Corpus
Hermeticus into Latin. Bruno took the Egyptian revival even further: for him, the mind
works solely through archetypal images, the latter indeed reflecting the universe in the human
mind. Valentin Tomberg, in his book "Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian
Hermeticism" (1993), cites sources as diverse as Plato and St. John on the Cross,
Zohar and St. Paul, Bergson and Ouspensky, Dionysus and Leibniz, Augustine
and Teihard de Chardin as representatives of ancient Hermetic, mystical, thinking. Faivre
(1994) traces the Western esoteric tradition from its ancient and medieval sources to Christian
theosophy up to the twentieth century philosophers of science "the 'gnostics of
Princeton and Pasadena' [as] scholarly university physicists" (Faivre 1994: 280) of their
respective schools and indeed refers to Tarot as one of the forms of esoteric
knowledge. We may conclude that at a time when writing was a restricted art,
the pictorial encoding of mystical knowledge was not only safer but quite possibly
representative of the more easily accessible form of communication.
The hypothesis about the origins of Tarot in its present form that appeals to me
personally is that it might have been a means of keeping and protecting an esoteric
knowledge, which was considered a heresy in the eyes of the medieval Church. Any deviant
groups such as Cathars or Jewish Mystics were persecuted to the point of near eradication. As
a matter of fact, Jews running away from the Spanish Inquisition were welcomed in the
Cathars' communities. As Guirdham (1993) points out, Cathars' degree of tolerance was
unusually high in the Middle Ages. Elsewhere in Europe Jews stayed in ghettos and remained
there well into the twentieth century in many countries. In France specifically in the
Languedoc they were not only well tolerated but even achieved positions of eminence
and social recognition. Guirdham (1993) suggests that such an atmosphere of tolerance and
sophistication provided a supportive environment for the implantation of alternative belief
systems, combining elements of both mysticism and practical applications. History seems to
have been repeating itself backtracking to times when Jews were running away from Egyptian
pharaohs, perhaps even then carrying with them their mystical knowledge trying to preserve
and save it.
AS/SA nº 13,
Languedoc is in the south of France indeed where Tarot
cards surfaced and where, as Gad (1994) states, the cabbalists and Cathars had
founded centers of development, and which had also been a traditional gathering place for
Gypsies. The philosophical school of Cathars, Jewish Cabbalists, and the Gypsies' (of
Egyptian descent) fortune-tellers thus gathered in the same place at the same
time. It may not be unreasonable to assume, together with Gad (1994), that the survival of
the alternative mystical beliefs encoded in the cards' pictorial representations could have been
safeguarded by their appearing in the guise of traditional fortune-telling by the Gypsies.
There seems to exist a strong correlation between Tarots, even if wearing the mask of fortune
telling, and the Cabbala. This connection was uncovered by the French scholar Eliphas Levi
in the 19th century, the meanings of the cards per se decoded in a systematic
manner in 1889, by a French physician known as Papus. Symbolic, numerical and
interpretive correlations between the different cultures, separated by time and space, point to
their common hypothetical origin, perhaps dating back to the most famous Hermetic text, the
Tarot Layout: Spatio-Temporal Distribution
The esoteric law of correspondences, articulated in the Emerald Tablet
(and incidentally, resembling the non-linear, that is, circular causality posited by the
physics of today; see, e.g., Griffin 1986), is the law upon which Tarot rests. In Hermetic
terms, this maxim states: that which is above is like that which is below and that which is
below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of all things. This law of
correspondence, as applied to space as above so below has its
correlate also in temporal terms: that which was is as that which will be, and that which will
be is as that which was. That's why there can be a sense of gazing into the future during
Tarot readings, or the infamous fortune telling. Certain positions in the cards' layout signify
the dimension of time. In its material embodiment, the philosophical time of coexistence
splits into its three dimensions that are spatially distributed within one and the same layout.
The future, as well as the past, is the present of philosophical time. The hear-and-now quality
of readings evokes the present state of the human mind, which nevertheless projects both past
and the possible future events according to the cards' positions (Fig. 1). Positions, signifying
the future aspect of time, correspond to the specific synthesis of time, or the so-called
memory of the future.
Figure 1: Position of Tarot Cards
AS/SA nº 13,
In this respect, the pictorial cards are capable of positing that what was always
already presupposed (cf. Deely 2001) and what constitutes the informational content of the
image on the card. During readings, when the cards are spread in a layout that comprises
positions signifying all three aspects of time simultaneously, human perception encompasses
both past and future compressed in the "present" quality of a reading. This paradoxical
quality of the immaterial mind being incorporated in the tangible form of cards seems to
accord with pre-modern science (a.k.a. Enochian physics, see Schueler 1989) that posited the
difference between all manifested phenomena as the difference in degree, and not in kind.
They differ according to their frequency of expression only. Therefore time is paradoxically
a-temporal and, as pertaining to its functioning in a Tarot layout, is essentially expressed in
its so-called fine-structured format that unites positions combining past, present and future
like on a hypothetical temporal map displaying in the here-and-now
the dynamics of what was before and what will have been
The Hermetic tradition posited memory and imagination as blended together: as
Faivre (1994) notices, "a part of the teaching of Hermes Trismegitus consisted of
'interiorizing' the world of our mens, from whence the 'arts of memory'
cultivated" (Faivre 1994: 13). The layout may be considered a physical, material
representation of Memoria, posited by Augustine. To Augustine, a pagan turned
Christian, we owe certain important developments in semiotics, which are subject to debates
even today, in particular a distinction that he posited between natural and conventional signs,
that is, signa data and signa naturalia that affect the philosophical
conceptualization of intentionality (see further below). In his Confessions,
Augustine describes "the fields and spacious places of memory (campos et lata
praetoria memoria), where are the treasures (thesauri) of innumerable
images'" (in Yates 1966: 46). Memoria is a realm of images, the paradoxical
realm of objective psyche, or the impersonal, collective unconscious, posited by Carl Gustav
Jung, and constituted by archetypes, which represent multiple patterns of typical human
situations, behaviors and events. Jung described archetypes as the dynamical structures of the
psyche that determine the contents of the unconscious. In semiotic terms, archetype is a
symbol of transformation, and symbols themselves act as transformers capable of
raising unconscious contents to the level of consciousness. As noticed by Noth in his
"Handbook of Semiotics", symbols as Jung defined them are "the conscious
forms given to the unconscious archetypes to which we have no direct access" (Noth 1995:
120). Indirectly, though, they can be communicated by being mediated via the symbolism of
Tarot images in the layout.
The Hermetic tradition, by affording Memoria a privileged place, seems
to have anticipated the theory of the unconscious, as we know it today. Plotinus, for
example, defines soul in terms of its, as yet unknown, memories: "even when one is not
conscious that one has something, one holds it to oneself more strongly than if one knew'"
(Ennead 4.4.4. in Miles 1999: 79). Soul, for Plotinus, "is and becomes what it
remembers" (Ennead 4.4.3. in Miles 1999: 79). As a sign, the very depth of the
psyche creates a relation between the sensible and the intelligible, or the connective bridge
between the human and the divine that supposedly contains in itself Platonic "reminiscences".
Human mind, in Hermeticism, is a direct reflection of the divine "mens" equipped with its
full creative potential. Frances Yates (1966) describes the art of memory via its relation to
the psyche and affirms that it is the very aim of memory to be able to unite intellect and
psyche within the psyche itself by means of the organization of significant
AS/SA nº 13,
The art of memory, as such, goes beyond the aforementioned temporal map and
presents also a spatial organization of the psyche. James Hillman contends: "using the terms
of today, we might translate this art [of memory] as a method for presenting the organization
of the collective unconscious" (Hillman 1972: 179), the archetypal patterns of the latter
inscribed in the symbolism of the Tarot cards. Carl Jung, referring to various phenomena that
may appear random and senseless if not for their meaningful synchronistic significance, has
suggested that it may seem "as if the set of pictures in the Tarot cards were distantly
descended from the archetypes of transformation" (Jung CW 9. 81). The collective
unconscious encompasses future possibilities, and "[a] purposively interpreted [image], seems
like a symbol, seeking to characterize a definite goal with the help of the material at hand, or
trace out a line of future psychological development" (Jung CW 6. 720), that is to perform a
prospective, prognostic and as if futuristic, function, reaching out as such to the said
memories of the future. The here-and-now quality of each reading invokes one's
present state of mind that nevertheless may project both past and possible future events
according to cards' positions in the layout. An event is defined in contemporary
physics as an actualized possibility of this event's objective tendency, or its potentia,
to occur. The layout thus presents a spatial-temporal organization of the psyche, or
both its structure and dynamics, despite the psyche per se always being posited, rightly
or wrongly, in non-spatial terms.
Semiotics and Tarot
Tarot cards have been the subject matter of my research for a decade. Semiotics, as
a study of signs and their signification, describes "cartomancy (including taromancy)'as a
branch of divination based upon the symbolic meaning attached to individual Tarot cards or
modern decks, interpreted according to the subject or purpose of a reading and modified by
their position and relation to each other from their specific location in a formal 'layout' or
'spread"' (Sebeok 1994, vol.1: 99-100). Communication, as pertaining to semiotics, is not
confined to verbal signs as in the studies of linguistics, but includes the extra-linguistic and
non-verbal modes. Semiotics considers pictures, as well as stories consisting of pictures, as
belonging to the category of signs. Not only do "pictures have a continuous structure' [but]
it [also] induces the reader to' read the picture as if it were a written text" (Posner 1989:
276). Tarot images, as symbols and signs, establish the syntactic structure of a layout in the
form of a pictorial "text". They are purposeful and meaningful semantically and are
polysemous, that is, change their meanings dynamically depending on the context they are
situated in. The corollary is that, being a text communicating messages, the Tarot spread can
be read and interpreted thus having a potential transformational effect on the subject of an
individual reading functioning as a counselling session. My earlier research in the behavioural
sciences (Semetsky 1994) has presented some empirical findings of Tarot being a powerful,
as well as empowering, method that could be effective in clinical psychotherapy, career
counselling, or marital therapy. The interpretations of the cards' meanings in 15 reading
sessions in this pilot study, when one and the same card, however situated in different
contexts, acquired different connotations, serve to illustrate the concept of polysemy.
The layout (Fig.1), used as an example of a typical reading, presents ten positions
that signify specific connotations as described further below, but is not exhausted by them.
Their meanings are only partially arbitrary: in the clinical context of my pilot study
(Semetsky 1994) I assigned specific therapeutic correlations to the relatively stable traditional
meanings denoted by the layout. As Guiraud pointed out in "Semiology", signification is only
relatively codified: "Codification ' is a process: usage renders the sign more precise and
extends its convention. '[D]epending on each particular case, signs are more or
less motivated" (Guiraud 1975 : 25). Providing that a semiotic code serves as
"the correlation or correspondence between sign repertoires or signs and their meanings"
(Noth 1995: 205), each position may be considered, in brief, as "encoding" the
AS/SA nº 13,
Position 1. The subject's presenting problem, or an area of a particular concern to
the subject of the reading.
Position 2. The influence, such as impulses, feelings, traits, or behavioural patterns
(not necessarily the subject's own), or some other sign that may strengthen or
weaken the problem the subject is concerned with, as per position 1. Quite often, this
position signifies some, as yet unperceived, obstacles.
Position 3. Some past unconscious factors that contributed to the present situation.
The "roots" of the matter in question which are deeply embedded in the unconscious and may
appear, quite often, in the subject's dreams.
Position 4. A significant moment in the subject's history that still affects the
situation and whose implications are so strong that they might show up in the subject's future
dynamics. Even if the subject did not pay particular attention to it and almost "forgot" it,
such a memory comes out in the reading if significant.
Position 5. A potential, or coming into being, future. Perhaps some motivations,
even if outside of the subject's conscious intent, have contributed to this development, which
thereby shows it presence, even if only as a trace of "the memory of the future".
Position 6. The further development of the situation as it unfolds in the immediate
Position 7. The subject's current state of mind comprising thoughts, accompanied by
affects, shows up in this position. The subject's own perceptions may be quite overwhelming
to him/her, or even obsessional.
Position 8. The subject's immediate environment, that is, home, or support system,
family, friends, partners, relatives, business associates, in short people representing
significant others for the subject in relation to his/her presenting problem.
Position 9. The subject's hopes and wishes, aspirations and ideals, are shown here.
They are often accompanied by fears or anxiety.
Position 10. A possible outcome of the current dynamics as it envelops all
contributing and hindering factors represented by cards that will have occupied each position.
We can see that some positions in the spread appear to correspond to what in
contemporary philosophy of mind are called the propositional attitudes and which indeed
encompass such common semantic categories as beliefs, fears, desires, and hopes. With the
total of the seventy-eight cards in a deck, the number of possible combinations and
permutations of the cards that "fall out" in each position is huge and tends to infinity if the
type of spread is more complex, thereby reflecting the richness and plurality of diverse
human experiences. For Jung, there are as many archetypal patterns as there are typical
situations in life. Cards serve as signifieds for the aforementioned positions and are
interpreted differently depending on where exactly they are located in the layout, that is, in
the context of which particular position this or that card is being "read".
AS/SA nº 13,
The triadic quality enabled by mediation makes the Tarot system a genuine sign, a
Peircean correlate of the representamen-interpretant-object triad. Noth presents a synopsis of
a triadic sign tracing its definitions and different terminology from Plato, to Stoics, to Peirce,
to Ogden and Richards (Noth 1995: 90-91), and notices that in order to construct a semiotic
triangle (Fig. 2) connecting, in general terms, sign-vehicle, sense, and referent, the path of
mediation, represented by a dotted line between a sign-vehicle and a referent, must be
Figure 2: Semiotic Triangle (Noth 1995)
The reading, as the means of indirect communication, "fills up" such a
dotted line, when a card falls out after a card, until they form a layout in a semiotic process
of creating meaningful structures of experience via iconic signs: "sense is the mediator of the
referent" (Noth 1995: 89). A pictorial phrase, another one, yet another, unfold into a
narrative the myth of an archetypal journey (Semetsky 1994). What is the
informational content embedded in the twenty-two so-called Major Arcana? The first card,
numbered zero, is called the Fool portrayed by a youth that signifies innocence, an open
mind, and the possibility of multiple life-choices. That's where the journey starts.
This is an experiential journey comprising symbolic lessons that the soul must learn
in the school of life during the process of what Jung dubbed individuation of the Self. The
Fool may indeed become a Magician, Trump number 1, a symbol of practical wisdom and
successful accomplishment of goals. Signs are dynamic: they grow and become other signs.
Each subsequent card represents an evolution in human consciousness as a function of
experience in a phenomenal world. The High Priestess, Arcanum number two, is a symbol of
female intuition and spiritual life. The Empress and the Emperor (cards three and four,
respectively) are, in Jungian terms, the archetypes of anima and
animus, that is two subpersonalities that may manifest in real life by ways of
perception and action which are represented by figures of the opposite sex in each individual
psyche. The fifth major card, The Hierophant, is the Jungian archetype of Persona, that is,
societal conventions, orthodox belief systems, and conservative politics. And so the journey
continues, and the Fool is learning its moral lessons, some of which are expressed in such
virtues as courage (card number 8) or temperance (card number 14) until the paradoxically
wise Fool becomes a child again. This time it is a Divine Child warming up in the rays of
the Sun, card number 19, and ready to be symbolically "reborn", in the guise of Judgment,
Arcanum number 20.
AS/SA nº 13,
The final card, numbered 21, is called the World, or Universe in some decks, and
represents the Jungian archetype of the individuated Self. The culmination of the journey
taught the Fool the lesson of accepting responsibility in the world and for the world. The
circular shape on the World picture represents a continuum, that is, the never-ending search
for meanings in the changing circumstances of experience. The remaining fifty-six minor
cards comprise four suits numbered from Ace to 10 and including the four so-called court
cards in each suit. The symbolism of four suits is related to four Jungian functions. The
numerical growth from Ace to 10 represents the progressive mastery of a problematic
situation, even when encountering a temporary defeat that may be connoted by some
numbered cards. The dynamics never stops: pictures tell us multiple stories about feeling
happy or feeling sad; making plans or breaking promises; winning or losing; experiencing
financial difficulties or laying foundations for a marriage; falling in love or getting out of an
abusive relationship; starting a new venture or experiencing separation anxiety' The ever
expanding and varying multitude of experiential situations and events may always present new
challenges: the story of the Fool's journey is an unlimited semiosis indeed.
Information, Communication, and the Emergence of Meaning
At the level of sign-production information, encoded in the pictorial story, is being
transmitted vertically due to resonance-like communication following the aforementioned "as
above so below" principle. But this Hermetic formula in not strictly mimetical: mimesis turns
into semiosis because of the signs' triadic relation. Noth (1995) points out that different sign
models, albeit retaining triadicity, do suggest different interpretations of the relata: "the order
of the relata in the process of triadic mediation has been interpreted in a different way" (Noth
1995: 89), which means that the sequence of the "dotted line" may shift for as long as it
"closes" the triangle. In other words, the 1-2-3 series as Per Fig. 2 and a respective return
from 3 to 1 is always a genuine triad, but the correlates of the triad vary. Tarot indeed
performs a double function: from the viewpoint of the semiosis in nature, or sign-production,
as well as from the viewpoint of the interpreter in the here-and-now of the reading. So in
front of our eyes meanings do unfold horizontally, following the spatial-temporal organization
according to the type of spread that resembles a cinematic syntax, which may be defined by
images organized into a sequence of shots. The motivated meanings in each of the positions,
as listed above, may therefore be considered signa data. As for the cards per se,
or rather their referents or the archetypes denoted by the cards' imagery, they
are universal by definition, thereby signa naturalia.
The question, however, arises and here I would like to reframe the
aforementioned Augustine's classification of signs as follows: if natural signs are
non-intentional and by signifying something beyond themselves make us aware of that
category like the much-quoted smoke which signifies fire; and if the unseen emotions behind
a facial expression are included in the class of natural signs; and if the same unseen emotions
are encoded in the iconic image of a particular card because it stands for an
archetypal pattern denoting, for example, strength (card number 8), or hope (The Star, card
number 17), or phobia (The Devil, card number 15), or the unspeakable pain (The Tower,
card number 16) then we arrive at a paradox and have to question again whether the
category of natural signs presupposes intentionality and/or involves the idea of intention. In
this respect Tarot images not only represent intentional states, but also belong to the category
of signs used with communicative intent not the classical natural unintentional signs,
but the natural signs that are communicated with a sort of unconscious intention. If so, the
great divide between the sensible and the intelligible, between Logos and
Mythos, is indeed moot. This relativity correlates with the ancient Hermetic
worldview that posited all manifested phenomena as based on the principle of homology, that
is, the only difference between any of them is just the degree of their evolutionary
development in space-time. Indeed, mind may very well become embodied in matter
as it so does in case of Tarot readings. The layout per se becomes a visible, material link in a
signifying chain of a larger symbolic order. And sure enough, because it represents an
instance of a diachronic, ex memoria, unfolding of this signifying chain, this
instance being but one synchronic slice represented by a concrete spread, in this discursive
enfoldment meaning emerges. When past, present and possible future are combined together
we not only observe but also consciously participate in an instant of our own evolution
evolution of knowledge, evolution of consciousness.
AS/SA nº 13,
The complex relationships between cards in each position can be inferred from the
meaning of each. The static layout of each particular reading can be considered a closed
system within a larger open one. This closed system, in semiological terms, represents a
synchronic network of paradigmatic relationships, but the emergence of meaning the
whole interpretation, that is is possible only because of the syntagmatic network of
the signifieds and the existence of the temporal chain. In its material form, the Tarot spread
may be considered a projection of what a Russian semiotician of the Tartu school, Yuri
Lotman, called semiosphere (Lotman 1990), that is, a symbolic analogy to the
concept of the biosphere of organic life. The universal field of communication
phenomena envisaged by Russian neo-semioticians as part of a typology of
cultures called for identification of the specific systems representing their
"languages". And a universal field of communication phenomena in nature needs
to identify its own system, which would represent the "language" it speaks, albeit in a non-
linguistic mode. Lotman saw culture as a set of texts generated by some yet unknown rules,
and a non-hereditary collective memory. As for nature, its generative rule is the principle of
self-organization that, according to modern-day evolutionary biology, physics and chemistry,
is capable of manifesting itself at a physical level; and its collective memory at the level of
the psyche is being expressed via Tarot symbolism. Tarot thus functions in the capacity of a
meta-language by means of which the non-hereditary, but self-organizing, collective
memory speaks to us, and as such, in a metaphoric sense, gives birth to a
new "text" after each "conversation".
The text that is being read must be first written metaphorically, of course. So
the emergence of a particular pattern in a spread represents first the process of "writing". An
invisible realm acquires visibility and legibility, and in this respect the pictorial text of a
layout is the result of ordering of signs in accordance with the seemingly generative, active
and self-organizing, grammar. The "writer" the subject of the reading
speaks by means of projecting the content of the "text" as aspects of
his/her sociocultural history and psychological memories appearing in the guise of pictorial
cards. Simultaneously, the subject is spoken to by becoming informed about the
meaning of this content during a reading. In the process of a reading the subject, similar to
cinematic suture, "inserts itself into the symbolic register in the guise of a
signifier, and in so doing gains meaning at the expense of being" (Silverman 1984: 200), but
and this is the crucial difference for the purpose of becoming.
The very idea of a psychological change or transformation due to the discovery of meanings
is based on the principle of creating a new level of order, not maintaining the existing one. In
fact, the new level wouldn't be possible without the future acting upon the present, being
pulled into the present by archetypal forces contained in the Memoria. In a larger
frame the written text, albeit expressed not in words but in pictures, is itself an interpretive
system, within which it acquires the status of a text when its writer the subject of the
reading perceives it as such. And in a very minimal sense, a reader is a "bilingual"
interpreter, whose function is to translate the non-verbal "sounds" of the language of the
unconscious into the spoken word. Let us turn again to Augustine (in Clarke
AS/SA nº 13,
Whoever, then, is able to understand a word, not only before it is uttered in sound,
but also before the images of its sounds are considered in thought ''is able
now to see through this glass and in this enigma some likeness of that Word of whom
it is said, "In the beginning was the Word'". For of necessity, ' there is born from
the knowledge itself which the memory retains, a word that is altogether of the same
kind with that knowledge from which it is born. ' And the true word then comes into
being. ' Who would not see how great would be the unlikeness between it and that
Word of God, ' and simply equal to Him from whom it is, and with whom it is
The transformation into the Word, that is, the action of signs from the viewpoint of
sign-production, is thereby an intelligent, or more precisely, noetic activity. Moreover, as
Faivre (1994) points out in referring to the esoteric tradition, the reality of intelligence is
asserted: "Intelligence is an entity or universal interaction of the same nature as electricity or
gravity and there must be some existing formula of transformation, analogous to
the famous equation of Einstein... in which intelligence would be put into equation with other
entities of the physical world. ' If intelligence is a universal property of matter, the universe
then represents a terrifying amount of mental potential, and anima mundi must
exist" (Firsoff 1963 in Faivre 1994: 281-282; cf. also Semetsky 1998). And an existing being
must have its language of expression: Jung's ultimate archetype, anima mundi or
the soul of the world, appears to express itself by means of a semiotic communication, in a
format of signs and symbols of Tarot. We may use the word intelligence here because it is
understood in the semiotic sense in accord with the definition given by Lotman (1990). The
dynamic structure of intelligence, according to Lotman, is determined by three functions: the
transmission of textual information, the creation of a new information, and
memory as a capacity to preserve and reproduce information. The Tarot layout is
thereby a text transmitting available information, which is being preserved or virtually stored
in the diachronic depths of the collective unconscious, the Memoria. During
readings this text is reproduced for the purpose of re-creating this information, to revive in
the present moment the memories of the past and the memories of the future, both co-existing
in the present.
The information, albeit conserved, is being re-distributed, and contributes in this
respect to the appearance of a new "chapter" in the text of life as if being written anew by
the subject of his/her reading. The information becomes awake, or active (cf. Bohm 1980)
and capable of effecting transformations in the material world, the world of action, inhabited
by us, human beings. From our human, subjective perspective, this means to create this text
in its novelty, as if anew, to speak the Word, which is thereby indeed coming into being. The
Word thus has a potential of recursively becoming a Thing again in the guise of a new object,
new knowledge. The Tarot deck, then, may be considered a symbolic lexicon used by the
universal intelligence, the mind of the Universe, or the Nous of the ancients
the Hermetic wisdom of the world, according to which the divine powers of human
intellect are implicit in the "man's mens" (Yates 1966: 147). As this paper attempted to
demonstrate, this noetic intelligence, which encompasses memories of both the
past and the future, is accessible to human reason by means of Tarot readings.
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