VISCONTI TAROTS Historic and artistic notes Those who believe that the art of miniature painting disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages couldn’t be more wrong. In Eastern Europe this refined technique continues today, so much so that it is still being taught in art schools. Even if miniature painting is more or less confined to monastic centers, there are a few artists who “modernize” it by producing original works. One of these is Atanas Alexander Atanassov, a brilliant Bulgarian painter to whom Lo Scarabeo has entrusted the difficult task of reproducing what is definitely the most famous deck of miniature cards: the Visconti-Sforza Tarot. Today, the originals are partially housed at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, partially at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, and partially in the private collection of the Colleoni family of Bergamo. This work was realized shortly after 1450 by an unknown Lombard artist, perhaps connected with the school of Francesco Zavattari, on behalf of the new Lord of Milan Francesco Sforza (†1466) who had recently risen to power following his marriage to Bianca Maria Visconti, natural daughter of Duke Filippo Maria (†1447). Unfortunately the deck divided between Bergamo and New York is incomplete, lacking four cards: the Devil, Tower, 3 of Swords, and the Knight of Pentacles. The missing figures were inspired by analogous figures of that time; in particular, the 2
artist based the Devil and the Tower on the socalled “Rosenwald Sheet” (Paris, Musée du Louvre) printed in Bologna at the end of the fifteenth century. Meanings of the Tarot The Tarot was not originally created with a divinatory purpose but was probably an educational game consisting only of the 22 Trionfi (Arcana), initial proof of which dates back to around 1440. The Trionfi were then united with the numerical cards which were already widespread in Italy by at least 1370. This is how the tarot game was born, a noble and charming pastime which requires memory and strategy more than luck. Only at the end of the eighteenth century did the tarot begin to be used for cartomancy. Obviously even the Visconti Tarot can be used for divinatory purposes. Here we have provided a simple method. Before beginning, however, certain things must be known about each card’s divinatory messages, which are summarized later. The Trionfi, esoterically known as the “Major Arcana”, represent desires, ambitions, and needs tied to the past, present, and future. The general meaning of each Trionfo is always the same while a more precise interpretation is provided by adapting the other meanings to the “house” where the Trionfo ends up, or by observing its direction: up or upside-down. Furthermore, its strength may increase or decrease depending on the numerical 3
cards nearby, as if these were a type of “power booster”. The numerical cards refer to situations or attitudes relating to the querient or those close to him or her. These cards can also be positive or negative depending on the “house” they end up in or the cards next to them. The Court Figures, or rather the 16 characters of the four suits, represent physical persons who may act kindly (up) or maliciously (upside-down). It must be pointed out that, in this respect, the meanings of the numerical cards and figure cards begin with positive concepts which gradually worsen in order to demonstrate the variety of attitudes or situations. Therefore, pay close attention when using these meanings. Practical use Separate the Figures and the Numerical Cards from the Trionfi. Choose one of the four suits, keeping in mind that the Wands refer to work, the Pentacles business, Chalices love, and Swords to legal questions or health. Before creating the “spread”, a precise question must be formulated. Then take the deck with the 14 cards of the suit relating to the question. Shuffle them seven times and have the querient cut the deck, turning one half towards him or herself. Shuffle them in the same way seven more times and repeat the “cut”, again turning one part of the deck. Shuffle them two more times in the same 4
manner and then lay the first four cards out on the table in the form of a cross, leaving ample space in the middle. While laying down the cards, state the following out loud: 1) this card speaks of the recent past, 2) this one favors desires, 3) this one opposes desires, 4) this one speaks of the future. Repeat the same operation with the 22 Trionfi, or Major Arcana and, when finished, place the first three next to each other on the table between the cards which have already been chosen, stating out loud: 1) this represents the past, 2) this represents the present, 3) this represents the future. Now interpret the individual cards, developing the analysis starting with the past. If you don’t remember their meaning, use the list of divinatory messages reported later on. You will note that contradictory meanings sometimes exist for the same card. Here it must be stated that one single evaluation method does not exist. During a reading, in fact, other ideas may come to mind which are different from those listed. It’s a good idea, however, that beginners keep to the traditional divinatory messages; only when a certain amount of experience has been gained 5
should they allow themselves to be influenced by personal suggestions which allow them to focus on problems better. Always remember that a card is weak or strong, or more or less positive, depending on the cards nearby. Even their direction can influence the interpretation. For example, a card in a normal position refers to an action or desire on behalf of the Querient. If the card is upside-down, rather, the action or desire comes from the outside and is directed towards the querient. It’s obvious that experience is necessary in order to evaluate all of the possibilities which appear during the “game”. Therefore, it’s best not to get thrown off-balance by ideas which are too original. When confidence in using this “art” has been gained the words will flow spontaneously like a sort of inspiration induced by the tarot figures. Major Arcana 0 - The Fool Odd behavior. Pranks. Strangeness. Madness. I - The Magician Need to convince. Manual skill. Shrewdness. II - The High Priestess Desire to learn. Dedication. Humility. Faith. III - The Empress Love of art. Fruitfulness. Productivity. Vanity. IV - The Emperor Ambition to rule. Firmness. Stubbornness. V - The Hierophant Need for understanding. Attention. Diplomacy. 6
VI - The Lovers Need to choose. Search for affection. Passionateness. VII - The Chariot Desire to progress. Impetuousness. Impulsiveness. Anxiety. VIII - Justice Need for legality. Diligence. Excessive scruples. IX - The Hermit Period of reflection. Patience. Misanthropy. X - The Wheel State of uncertainty. Alternating situations. Chaos. XI - Strength Intense activity. Wasted energy. Incompatibility. XII - The Hanged Man Sense of obligation. Idleness. Fatigue. Illness. XIII - Death Need for drastic change. Fear. XIV - Temperance Desire to change. Adaptability. Healing. XV - The Devil Lack of scruples. Corruption. Dangerous friendships. XVI - The Tower Collapse of assurances. Discouragement. Exile. Imprisonment. XVII - The Stars Hope of tomorrow. Good omens. Fatalism. XVIII - The Moon Dreamy character. Illusions. Adventure. Risk. XIX - The Sun Need for dialogue. Friendship. Scorned help. 7
XX - Justice Desire for renewal. Awakening. Awaiting a verdict. XXI - The World Sense of fulfillment. Happiness. Excessive optimism. Court Cards King of Chalices Blond or graying man. Artist, intellectual, scholar. King of Pentacles Blond or graying man. Merchant or trader. King of Wands Man with dark hair. Entrepreneur or farmer. King of Swords Man with dark hair. Judge, doctor, or lawyer. Queen of Chalices Blond or graying woman. Mother, wife, or lover. Queen of Pentacles Blond or graying woman. Heiress. Professional. Queen of Wands Woman with dark hair. Powerful and reserved. Queen of Swords Woman with dark hair. Widowed or single, melancholy. Knight of Chalices A man or a woman, brilliant and seductive but unfaithful. Knight of Pentacles A man or a woman, offers business advice. 8
Knight of Wands A man or a woman, brings news. Far-off relative. Knight of Swords A man or a woman, energetic, offers collaboration. Knave of Chalices Young blond man or woman. Confidant, artist, or lover. Knave of Pentacles Man or woman from rich family. Student or inventor. Knave of Wands Man or woman from humble origins. Messenger or employee. Knave of Swords Young dark-haired man or woman. Athlete, researcher, or investigator. Numerical Cards Ten of Chalices Happy union. Agreement in the family, between friends, or in society. Ten of Pentacles Economic stability. Inheritance, winnings, or successful business. Ten of Wands Continuous commitment. Excessive fatigue. Dissatisfaction. Ten of Swords Period of affliction. Physical pain. Psychological depression. 9
Nine of Chalices Solved problems. Virtuous action. Relief through trust. Nine of Pentacles Unexpressed potential. New resources to invest. Nine of Wands Calculated risk. Intuition of danger. Pragmatism. Nine of Swords Intellectual or emotional maturity. Patience. Calm. Eight of Chalices Self-control. Moderation. Holding back impulses. Eight of Pentacles New ambitions. Intellectual or professional growth. Eight of Wands Initiative. Continuous commitment. Creative tension. Eight of Swords Defense. Preparation for disagreement. Signs of danger. Seven of Chalices Bizarre projects. Excessive imagination. Nightmares. Seven of Pentacles Charity. Medical or social expenses. Seven of Wands Initial results. Partial success. Search for help Seven of Swords Search for truth. Exposed secrets. Occult practices. 10
Six of Chalices Pleasant memories. Self-analysis. Test of conscience. Six of Pentacles Unscrupulousness. Lack of scruples. Cynicism. Six of Wands Obstacles. Risk of loss. Shaky balance. Six of Swords New physical and mental horizons. Spiritual experiences. Five of Chalices Spirit of sacrifice. Sense of protection. Goodness of heart. Five of Pentacles Worries. Economic uncertainties. Search for gain. Five of Wands Tough competition. Enormous effort. Uncertain victory. Five of Swords Danger of defeat. Remorse. Pain. Severed hope. Four of Chalices Birth of children or animals. New knowledge. Omens. Four of Pentacles Savings. Frugal conduct. Prudence. Four of Wands Alliance. Society. Business agreement. Opportunity. Four of Swords Safe refuge. Supervision. Retreat. Appeal to specialists. 11
Three of Chalices Growth. Healing. End to undertaking. Three of Pentacles Expansion. Development of ideas. Showing off capabilities. Three of Wands Careful preparation. Measuring strengths. Encounters. Three of Swords Wasting of energy. Tiredness. Confusion. Two of Chalices Affinity. Loving passion. Plan of union. Two of Pentacles Publicity. Promotion. Disclosure. Incitement. Two of Wands Balance. Stability. Stage of reorganization. Two of Swords Rivalry. Confrontation. Duel. Bitter opposition. Ace of Chalices Abundance. Emotional fulfillment. Sincerity. Ace of Pentacles Acquisitions. Investments. Good prospects for gain. Ace of Wands Invention. Beginning of an undertaking or activity. Ace of Swords Spirit of conquest. Exaltation of own ego.
The Esoteric Interpretation Divining with the Tarot is very easy. First of all, one must understand what a cartomantic spread or layout is. In order to respond to the querient’s questions, the cartomant must lay out the tarots in a certain sequence. Each position of the sequence corresponds to part of the answer. The reading is carried out through an understanding of the divinatory meaning of the Arcanum which appears in a certain position. As an example, we will describe the cartomantic spread called: “The five layers” Just as the original Visconti arcana were created by superimposing very thin gold leaf on the cards and then embossing, each situation may be analyzed beyond the surface. This cartomantic spread is useful for observing the hidden aspects of things. After the querient has shuffled the cards and cut the deck, lay out 5 cards as shown in the figure.
1) The surface. Gold. As the situation appears to be in its best surroundings, without obscurities. 2) The second layer. Silver. How things change through attention and reflection. 3) The third layer. Bronze. How the mysterious 13
side carrying delusion and deception is brought to light. 4) The final layer. Gold. How the essence of things, good and bad, emerges and the truth is approached. 5) The layer of hope. How the way we would like the situation to be changes the situation itself. The effort to change things. This reading must be interpreted as awareness which is progressively increased with respect to a situation, an event, or a state of mind. Wavering between a negative and positive aspect must in the end lead to clarity without ever neglecting the energy each person may provide in order to change things and to take control of situations he or she is involved in.
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