5. The Philosophical and Theological Milieu

Together with the aesthetic and culture influences discussed in section 4, the Tarot makes its appearance in an age characterized by certain religious and philosophical influences, as well.  In addition to the world-historic tradition of Roman Catholic Christianity (which must not be underestimated), a number of more esoteric teachings were very influential— both within the Church and in the lives of those who found themselves more or less at odds with the Church.  While these teachings tend to overlap  (appearing together in a wide variety of ways, over the centuries), we will approach them in the following order:

Prior to the late 18th century (and the advent of “the occult Tarot”), these influences in and on the Tarot seem to have been relatively implicit and unreflective. But beginning in the late 18th century and continuing into the 20th century (and beyond), these influences were not only explicitly reflected upon, but began to be explicitly reflected in the Tarot images, themselves.

Antecedent Philosophical Schools and Mystery Traditions

Here is a skeletal outline of some of the antecedent currents of quazi-religious philosophy feeding into the western esoteric tradition:

  • Ancient Greek Currents Prior to Plato  [See also: Kingsley, Peter]
    • Orphism        (6th Century, BC)
    • Pythagoras   (6th Century, BC)
    • Parmenides  (6th or 5th Century, BC)
    • Empedocles (5th Century, BC)
  • Platonism
    • Plato  (4th Century, BC, Ancient Greece)
    • Plotinus         (3rd Century, Rome)
    • Augustine     (4th Century, North Africa and Italy)
    • Renaissance Neo-Platonism        (15th Century, Italy)
  • Gnosticsm    (A heretical form of Christianity with very dramatic cosmological myths portraying human beings as particles of the Divine light which have become trapped in an evil creation. The details varied from group to group, but the possibility of gnosis— i.e. an immediate, experiential knowledge of God —was always emphasized).
  • Jewish Kabbalah and its off-shoots (Cabala/Qabalah — Coming Soon…)

In the context of Tarot studies, we will pay particular attention to Hermeticism, Platonism, and (in section 7) Kabbalah.

  1. Quick and Dirty Overview of Hermetic Philosophy
  2. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus
  3. Plato, Plotinus, and the Great Chain of Being

–> Next Up:  6. Archetypical Psychology and Spirituality