Tarot and Classic Philosophy

While working on my thesis for the Tarot Masters, I had decided that I would find the origin of wisdom in the Tarot. For this I needed to go back to the time of the creation of the first real Tarot Deck: The early Renaissance (1423). An important feature of the Renaissance was that people would begin referring (again) to the classical Roman and Greek philosophers. What I had forgotten since I left Highschool, was that philosophy in ancient times was mainly practical;  It was about norms and values and finding the answer to the question: “how should I live?” This is where the word “Art of Living” derives from. Actually, this ‘practical’ Philosophy consists partly of a collection of “things my mom used to say” (also called “aphorisms”).  Joep Dohmen  – who has written a some very nice instructive philosophy books – expresses himself far better than I do; His definition of philosophy is:

A coherence of thinking and living living and thinking. Eat as a human being, drink as a human being, participate in social life, learn to deal with ridicule and defamation and tolerate other people”

The ideas of the Greek philosopher Socrates are at the roots of this practical perception of life. After him, a number of thinkers derived similar ‘life models’. For instance: Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoa, the cynics and the skeptics. So many sages have tried to make a theory or concept about how to live that the search for the secret of life can be considered an archetype in itself.

While reading about the work of the ancient Greek philosophers, I saw the Tarot cards emerge in front of me several times. It really got me super excited! I also learned that roughly 2 movements can be distinguished, namely ideas with a “spiritual” or transcendent starting point (including Plato and Zeno) and ideas that are more human-oriented (including Aristotle and Epicurus). Of course, this also explains why in the Renaissance these two “directions” (humanism and alchemy/occultism) continued to flourish. I have already briefly studied the work of a number of classical philosophers wearing my Tarot glasses. But I’m far from done. The nice thing one can spend a lifetime with studying this subject. Tarot is about gaining insights, especially about yourself. About what you want, what you feel, what you think, what you can do and what is important to you. It seems very easy but you have quite a blind spot when it comes to yourself. And even though you can help each other, you still have to work yourself to get these insights, because what is good and important for one person, does not necessarily have to be good and important for someone else. This is something that Socrates was always pointing out to his contemporaries. People were often bothered with this view at that time and still are today. Those who do know what they want, feel or think, also want to impose this on others. Those who don’t know think they want what others have. Some think there is nothing to want. Or that you are not allowed to want anything. “The good life” for some is just enjoyment, for others “living a good life” equals putting aside one’s own needs for others.The philosophers of classical antiquity all tried to describe what “living a good life” meant and they usually could not agree on the extremes and whether there was a “perfect middle”. Each coin has 2 sides. And to be in the middle seems to be very boring, but actually it is the hardest thing to achieve!

It’s interesting to see how the extremes (and achieving the difficult balance) are symbolized in the Tarot. I have written a lot of material about this the past years, which I will share in upcoming posts.

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