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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: (urth) Little, Big: Tarot decks
Date: Thu, 04 May 2000 23:03:39 

mantis wrote:

> Which is why I brought up Tarot before.  As alga mentioned long time past,

When was this posted? I'd like to read it.

> the tarot deck varies in number of cards (there isn't really a "standard"
> except by more or less arbitrary), but it is alway much more than 52.  The
> 52 deck, aka the deck of standard playing cards, forms the basis for the
> JCdeck (not to be confused with "the Crowley Tarot"!!) as it appears in THE
> So you see where I'm heading with this: the old "real" Tarot reflects the
> old order of fairies.  The shifting of numbers, arranged from high to low
> as if a sequence across time, reflects their real dying off.  Through the
> history of the real Tarot deck, from many cards to fewer, we see reflected
> the hidden history of the fairies.
> (Over-reading?  Who, me?)
> The Alice family was given their freakishly short deck (only 52 cards) a
> few generations prior to the big transition.  The fairies, their plan; the
> humans, "learn it, live it, love it."

After my earlier post, I went looking for the passage where Sophie first
guesses that the fairies now number only fifty-two.  I found it,
unsurprisingly, in the section entitled "Fifty-Two" (VI, 1), although
the evidence that the fairies' original numbers were in the hundreds or
more is more inconclusive than I had remembered.  But I also found the
following passage, where Sophie is trying to number the fairies by
putting them in correspondence with the cards of her deck:

	"Or was it only that at that number (with only the Least Trumps, the
plot which they acted out, left uncounted) her deck ran out?"

The clear meaning of this is that fifty-two is not the total number of
cards in the deck, but the number of suit cards in the deck (usually
referred to as the Minor Arcana, as opposed to the Trumps, or Major
Arcana).  This is confirmed by the fact that there are four suits (the
two suits not mentioned in this section are mentioned in "A Geography,"
III, 4) and thirteen cards per suit.

This isn't quite the same as the deck most generally used, which has
fourteen cards per suit (four court cards instead of three), but it's
very close.  So on mantis's theory, only four fairies would have been
lost, which seems much too small. Moreover, while my slight researches
did not turn up any mention of a tarot deck with fifty-two Minor Arcana
(alga?), there were decks with fewer than fifty-two, obtained by
dropping some of the numbered cards.  In the light of this evidence, I'm
afraid mantis's theory reduces to (in the immortal Walt Kelly's words)
"a miserabobble absurdity."

As to why Crowley made the change from fifty-six to fifty-two suit
cards, I have a couple of guesses.  One likely possibility is that
Crowley wanted to bring the cards in line with Edgewood, which has four
floors, seven chimneys, fifty-two doors and 365 stairs (the last section
in the book).  He may also have wanted to show that the fairies did keep
up-to-date to some extent, since the dropping of the fourth court card
is a fairly modern innovation.  Incidentally, Crowley's deck has
twenty-one Trumps instead of the more usual twenty-two, for those
inclined to numerological investigations.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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