CATHARISM AND THE TAROT
O’NEILL, ROBERT V.
Chapter 8 in Tarot Symbolism (O’Neill, 1986) considered the possible contribution of heretic sects to the design of the 15th century Tarot. Since 1986, academic interest in intellectual history in general and esoteric history in particular has produced an entire scholarly library on the late Medieval heretics. The abundance of new studies permits a re-examination of the question and leads to some rather different conclusions than were possible in the book. Interest in Catharism as a source of imagery arises because of the numerous symbols of dualism in the Tarot: pairs of pillars and pitchers, male/female duals, etc. Catharism, known as Albigensianism in southern France, was fundamentally a dualist heresy that inherited many concepts from the ancient Gnostics. Bayley (1912) hypothesized that the watermarks of French papermakers contained heretical symbols. Waite (1911) suggested the watermarks as a source of Tarot symbols, based on Bayley’s 1909 paper “New Light on the Renaissance.”
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