Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot


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Jean Vassel: Some Remarks on the Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

We have previously published the two book reviews by René Guénon on the subject of the Tarot, and some relevant remarks on related topics, and we have noted the paucity of so-called “traditionalist” interpretations of the Tarot, a lacuna which is all the more surprising if we consider the importance attached to the study of symbolism in that school of thought, as evidenced by the numerous works on the subject by its leading proponent. We have equally noted one important exception, that of the study by Jean Vassel, a student of René Guénon, and a contributor to the journal edited by the latter, the Études Traditionnelles.

Concerning this discrete author, biographical and bibliographical details are sorely lacking; all that we have been able to discover is that he was the nephew of the Count Pallu du Bellay, an historian who was a friend of both Guénon and Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, author of an important work on Christian iconography and symbolism. Vassel appears to have been one of the Guénonians most concerned with Christian esotericism.  This is borne out by the dozen articles on subjects connected to Christianity, Antiquity, or to heraldry he wrote for the Études Traditionnelles, though we are unsure if he is also the author of the volume of poetry entitled Reflets et résonances listed in the catalogue of the BNF. Vassel is also listed in André Breton’s survey on magical art, as “a specialist of traditional art.”

The only reference to Vassel’s work in the tarotic literature is, to the best of our knowledge, to be found in Daniel Giraud’s landmark article, Connaissance du Tarot, when he writes that: “The merit of Jean Vassel’s text is that of being Traditional, which is to say impersonal, and having nothing to do with bourgeois traditionalism or outmoded, naïve spiritualism. This very Guénonian rigour offers no hold to the cartomancers or occultist hack-writers in need of mystery and mystification.”

Ostensibly a book review of Gérard van Rijnberk’s Le Tarot, Histoire, iconographie, ésotérisme, the format provides an opportune springboard for Vassel to develop deeper considerations of a structural nature. This remarkable study on the Tarot, in fact, two separate studies, was published in three parts, beginning in the Études Traditionnelles n° 278 of 1949, and is composed of the introductory piece Some Remarks on the Tarot, and the lengthier Historic and “Prophetic” Aspect of the Tarot, which was published in two parts in the following issues. It is the first part which we present here.

Danse Macabre of the chapel of Kermaria an Iskuit, Côtes-d’Armor, Brittany.

Some Remarks on the Tarot

Jean Vassel

In a work published in 1947[1], Gérard Van Rijnberk has undertaken a very thorough study of the Tarot, from the threefold historical, iconographic and “esoteric” points of view. This work, which compiles together a large amount of documentation, is a useful working tool; but to tell the truth, it is very far from having resolved all the questions posed by the very existence of the Tarot. It has, at least, the merit of having demonstrated the fragility or ill-foundedness of a certain number of hypotheses relative to the origins of playing cards and of the Tarot in particular. If it is not at all certain that the packs of playing cards are of exclusively western origin, nothing proves that they are of oriental origin either, and on the contrary, it even appears that the Tarot presents a very characteristic medieval character; which does not mean, naturally, that the traditional realities symbolised by the twenty-two major arcana do not have an origin that is much more ancient. On the contrary, this seems to be indisputable, precisely because of the traditional character of these realities. This explains, moreover, why the “appearance” of the packs of playing cards in western Europe occurred precisely towards the year 1300, that is, at the end of the traditional (and not “historical,” such as is meant by classical education) medieval age; these games constituting effectively a popular and convenient means of transmission of initiatory, or at the very least reserved, knowledge, which otherwise risked being lost; in the same way as folklore, for instance. And one must acknowledge that the medium was the right one since the Tarot has come down to us over six centuries of incomprehension, without notable modification apparently, or rather, with an truly remarkable immutability, and in the manner of a dead language.

Everyone knows that the Tarot is composed of two distinct categories of cards, or “arcana”[2], the minor arcana and the major arcana. The former are composed of four series of cards: Cups, Swords, Coins and Staffs, entirely more suggestive than the four suits which have replaced them in the modern pack of fifty-two playing cards. The relationship of the Cups, the Swords, the Coins and the Staffs with the three orders of medieval society and the “out-castes” is particularly evident. Their circular form, and the rectilinear form of the other two, is no less remarkable, as is the resulting double opposition and double complementarity… Each series is composed of fourteen cards; the ten first bearing from one to ten cups, swords, coins, and staffs; the four others, called the “honours,” are, in each series, the valet, the horseman, the queen and the king, the choice of which does not seem to be arbitrary. One must note here that, in the pack of playing cards derived from the Tarot, each series is composed of thirteen cards only, the horseman having disappeared. In the game of chess, on the other hand, which, even if it does not derive directly from the Tarot, seems nevertheless to have a common origin[3], it is the valet who has disappeared. Furthermore, in the pack of modern playing cards, the Ace plays an exceptional role: it is identified with the honours; and the same is often true of the Ten. Finally, the game of checkers is analogous to a game of cards or of chess without the initial honours.

The second category, composed of twenty-two major arcana, clearly distinct from the fifty-six minor arcana, in a way, forms an autonomous sequence, one that would have been added to the four others. It makes one invincibly think of the “quintessence” of the alchemists and of the celestial or supra-human “nut” of which the minor arcana would constitute the “shell” or the terrestrial support, and it must be examined separately. In this regard, we will note that there are no packs composed of major arcana alone, by definition, in a way, whereas the disappearance of the major arcana is, on the contrary, the chief characteristic of the modern and “profane” packs of fifty-two playing cards. Moreover, this absence appears compensated by the notion of “trumps” which play, to a certain extent, the role of the absent major arcana. In chess, on the contrary, two of the major arcana remain unchanged, mixed with the honours: the Tower or God-House (arcanum XVI) and the Fool (card XXII or O); their presence or their preservation is very characteristic of the feudal conceptions of the high middle ages.[4]

In the second part of his book, entitled “Exoteric Iconography of the Tarot,” Gérard Van Rijnberk examines the literary and emblematic expressions of the twenty-two tarotic images from antiquity. But this painstaking study does not allow him, as might have been expected, to reach any truly interesting conclusions; if only that we do not find many religious, or rather, exclusively Christian, symbols in the Tarot.

In the third part of the work, entitled “Esotericism in the Tarot,” we find a great amount of documents on the significance of the twenty-two major arcana. Unfortunately, this documentation is almost solely of “occultist” origin, which is to say that it is both “mixed” and “suspect” at the same time; here too, the occultists have exerted a de facto “monopoly”, and only interpret according to preconceived ideas. As one might have expected here too, no positive result is reached, and the reader finds himself almost as confused at the end of the work as he was at the beginning. Without doubt, he remains convinced that there is something more or less mysterious at the bottom of this, but the exact nature of this “something” escapes him, just as it escaped Gérard Van Rijnberk, who finally admits as much. If the author had had information or knowledge of a traditional order, notably with respect to the significance of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, hermeticism or alchemy, no doubt he would have been able to shed some light on the issue; but as he only knows esotericism through the deformation imposed upon it by the occultists, his explanations remain necessarily confused or erroneous; and the classification of the cards, such as he then proposes, seems arbitrary and highly debatable.

This last question is nevertheless not without interest, far from it. It is not due to chance, in effect, that the twenty-two tarotic cards succeed each other in an apparently singular sequence, nor that this order, carefully indicated by Roman numerals (except for the Fool), seems to have remained strictly unvaried since its origins. Like others before him, Gérard Van Rijnberk bases the classification he proposes on the following observation: 22 = (7 x 3) + 1, which is true in itself, if not rigorously applicable here; but instead of placing the Fool (arcanum XXII or 0, or more accurately, unnumbered) outside of the three septenaries made possible by its elimination, it is Justice (arcanum VIII) which he plays outside and above the three columns thus determined: to wit, a “positive” column (VII to I, and not I to VII), a “negative” column (IX to XV), and a “neutral” intermediary column (XVI to XXI + 0). It does not seem to us, with all due respect to the author, that this rather arbitrary arrangement of the twenty-two arcana yields a more interesting result than the triple septenaries or the seven triads imagined by others… unless “the dubious position of the last two arcana, and in general, that of a number of other arcanum whose ordinal number in the series is arbitrary, were revised,” according to the suggestion of Gérard Van Rijnberk, a suggestion which he prudently avoids putting into practice.[5]

Perhaps, on the contrary, we may arrive at a more interesting result by means of an entirely different, more natural, classification, one we have nowhere seen indicated. We can, in effect, make three preliminary observations by examining the series of the twenty-two arcana:

  1. The first card, the Juggler (I), and the last, the Fool (0), constitute the beginning and the accomplishment of the “work,” of which the other cards characterise the various stages: the Juggler (I) obviously corresponds to the initial implementation, and the Fool (0) is an evident symbol of the being liberated from all ties to the World (XXI) through the accomplishment of the “work.” The one and the other are therefore, in a manner of speaking, both “out of the series,” though in different ways.[6]
  2. Death (XIII) (which here is not the first death, but the initiatory “second death” which precedes the spiritual “third birth”), constitutes a “break” in the series, and it is manifest that the cards which follow it have a more “celestial” character than the preceding ones.[7]
  3. Cards II, III, IIII and V form a rather singular set, a set which displays a certain symmetry. This symmetry is even suggestive enough to enable us to establish the following arrangement on its basis:

I. The Juggler

——————

II. The Popess                  | III. The Empress | IIII. The Emperor          | V. The Pope

VI. The Lover                    | VII. The Chariot  | VIII. Justice                   | IX. The Hermit

X. The Wheel of Fortune | XI. Force             | XII. The Hanged Man   | XIII. Death

———————————————————————————————————————

XIV. Temperance              | XV. The Devil      | XVI The God-House    | XVII. The Star

XVIII. The Moon                | XVIIII. The Sun    | XX. The Judgment      | XXI. The World

        ↓

0 or XII. The Fool

————————

Examining this table, we cannot but make the following remarks:

  1. The set of the twenty-two major arcana is divided into seven levels or degrees, of which the first and the last are represented by a unique figure, whereas the five others are composed of four cards.
  2. The four cards of each of the five intermediary degrees are arranged two by two around the invisible “axis” which unites the Juggler to the Fool through them.
  3. In each of these five intermediary degrees, there is a clear relation, of both complementarity and of opposition, between the cards of the first and the fourth columns on the one hand, and of those of the second and the third columns on the other: Pope and Popess, Empress and Emperor, Lover and Hermit, Chariot and Justice, Wheel of Fortune and Death, etc.[8] Perhaps the relation between Temperance and the Star may seem less evident: undoubtedly, this is why we find, beneath the Star, a woman holding two vases in her hands, like Temperance. The reader will have no difficulty in establishing for himself the significance of these various correspondences.
  4. The five cards which constitute each of the four columns are not without relations between themselves either, even though these connections are less evident.
  5. Death (XIII) truly constitutes a “break” in the sense that it constitutes the accomplishment of the first three degrees (four, counting the Juggler and the first twelve arcana (thirteen, counting Death). After Death, we find two further higher degrees (three, counting the Fool), represented by eight arcana (nine, counting the Fool). Here too, the reader will be able to draw for himself the necessary deductions. He will notably remark that Death (XIII) corresponds to the accomplishment of the “Lesser Mysteries,” of which the Hanged Man (XII) implies the realisation. He will also note that the Fool (XXII or 0) represents the accomplishment of the “Greater Mysteries,” of which the domination of the created World or the chain of worlds implies the realisation, beyond the Judgment (XX).

It seems unnecessary to insist any further

We do not claim, of course, that the arrangement indicated above is the only one possible; we are even convinced of the contrary. Nevertheless, it has seemed worthy of interest to us, and capable of serving as a point of departure for useful meditations. This is why we have written these notes on a subject as inexhaustible as the truths which our medieval ancestors asked them to bear unto us.

Notes:

[1] Le Tarot. Histoire, iconographie, ésotérisme, Paul Derain, Lyon, 1947.

[2] The use of this term is worth noting.

[3] Regardless of their “external” respective antiquity, it is clear that the Tarot is more “complete” than the game of chess.

[4] Does the Tower not make one think of the “Castle Adventurous” of the Grail? And the Fool of the “knight errant” or the “celestial knight” predestined to accomplish the Grail Quest, in opposition to the Horseman, representing “earthly” chivalry?

[5] Op. cit. p .218.

[6] Perhaps this is to be put in parallel with the particularity noted above, of the Ace and the Ten considered as honours in the modern packs of fifty-two cards.

[7] In the Tarot of Marseille, Death is the only arcanum whose name is not inscribed on the card; no doubt this is not due to chance.

[8] In each degree, the numerical sum of the two dyads thus determined is the same.

Photographic Credit: Danse Macabre of the chapel of Kermaria an Iskuit, Plouha, Côtes-d’Armor, Brittany. © Paolo Ramponi
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René Guénon: Two Book Reviews: Van Rijnberk and Chaboseau on the Tarot

Translator’s Note

The previous two posts contained excerpts from two important twentieth-century works on the Tarot, namely, those by Jean Chaboseau and Gérard Van Rijnberk respectively, and it is not without interest to consider the reception these works have had. One author who wrote incisive and insightful reviews of both books in question was the French writer René Guénon. Guénon’s work, generally and somewhat erroneously labelled as “Traditionalism,” a label he himself rejected, is profound, multifaceted, and controversial if not polemical. Interested readers may pursue this line of inquiry by further reading, referring preferably to the works of the man himself.

It is not without interest to note that one of the subjects dealt with by Guénon in his works is that of sacred symbolism, a topic to which he devoted a large number of articles, compiled into works such as Symbols of Sacred Science. It is therefore all the more surprising that he never dealt with the Tarot in extenso, with the notable exception of the two following book reviews, aside from some brief, scattered allusions throughout his works. Nor do we find, in the works of his followers or emulators anything of the sort either, with one obscure but important exception, to which we shall return in due course.

We thus present these two book reviews, following which we have included a number of excerpts from other works or correspondence further elucidating Guénon’s views on the nature of the Tarot, and on that of a related topic, namely, folklore. The original French texts may be found here. Similar endeavours have been undertaken in Italian, as well as in Spanish, and a list of relevant quotations has likewise been compiled in English. Excerpts from the works of van Rijnberk and Chaboseau have also been published on this blog.

* * *

Two Book Reviews on the Tarot

René Guénon

Gérard van Rijnberk. Le Tarot. Histoire, iconographie, ésotérisme (Paul Derain, Lyon)

This large volume is the result of long and painstaking research on everything that concerns the Tarot, whether closely or remotely, and it behoves us, before all else, to praise the author for all the conscientiousness and impartiality he has brought to the task, and for the care he has taken, contrary to what more often than not happens, to avoid being influenced by the unfounded assertions of the occultists and by the multiple fables they have spread on the subject.

In the first part, he has gathered everything it is possible to find in the books and archival documents on the origins of the Tarot and of playing cards and on the era of their apparition in the different countries of Europe, and it must be said, he has not been able to arrive at a definite conclusion; he has, in a way, cleared the ground by putting paid to certain fantasies, but in sum, the enigma remains intact, and, as it seems improbable that any important documents in this regard have escaped his attention, there is in all likelihood but little hope of ever being able to resolve it, at least on the purely historical terrain.

All that we may affirm is that playing cards became known towards the end of the 13th century, especially in the Mediterranean countries, and that the word “Tarot,” whose etymology is moreover impossible to discover, only began to be employed in the 15th century, even though the the thing itself is surely more ancient still. The hypothesis of an oriental origin, on which some have strongly insisted, is nowhere proven; and we shall add that, in any case, even if it were true that the Arabs here played the role of “transmitters,” it is no less inconceivable, for more reasons than one, that the cards originated in an Islamic milieu, in such a way that the difficulty is simply put off.

In that regard, we do not understand why so many more or less strange explanations for the Arabic word nâib are sought for, when it is perfectly well-known and means nothing more than “replacement,” “substitute,” or “deputy”; whatever the reasons may have been for adopting it to designate a card, it has absolutely nothing in common with nabî, no more than it is derived from a root “indicating a magical or divinatory action.” Let us also note, while we are on the subject of remarks of this order, that the Arabic name for “games of chance” is not qamar, “moon,” but qimâr, and that pagad is certainly not an Arabic word, but that, in Hebrew, bagôd means “deceitful,” which may well be applied to a mountebank.

Furthermore, the introduction of the cards by Gypsies is no more certain than all the rest, and it would appear that, on the contrary, it was in Europe that they learned its use; moreover, contrary to the assertions of Valliant, the Tarot was known in western Europe before the Gypsies arrived there; and in this way, all the occultist “legends” vanish as soon as they are subjected to a serious examination!

In the second part, the author examines everything in the writings and works of art of classical antiquity which seem to him to present some relation to the ideas expressed by the symbolism of the arcana of the Tarot: some similarities are rather clear, but there are others which are less so, or only remotely so. Naturally, these parallels are in any case only very fragmentary, and bear only on certain points in particular; moreover, one must not forget that the use of these symbols never constitutes proof of a historical connection. We will admit to not understanding why, on the subject of these parallels and the ideas to which they refer, Mr Van Rijnberk speaks of the “exotericism of the Tarot,” nor to what exactly he means thereby, and what difference he sees with what he designates on the contrary as his “esotericism of the Tarot.”

The third part, in effect, which he presents as “the result of personal meditations and inspirations,” and to which he attributes an “esoteric” character, contains in reality nothing of a deeper order than what has preceded it, and let us say it frankly, this part is indeed not the best part of the book. As a title to the considerations relating to each of the major arcana, he has placed a sort of motto formed of two Latin words, which has no doubt the pretension to more or less resume the general meaning; and what is rather amusing is that he visibly striven to find, in as many cases as he could, words having for initials the two letters S. I.!* But let us not insist any more on this fantasy of no consequence; and let us note instead the extent of the bibliography and the interest of the reproductions of ancient documents contained in the plates which end the book, and let us add that, despite its erudition, this book is not at all boring and is even a pleasant read.

Note: * The letters ‘S.I.’ refer to Supèrieur Inconnu – Unknown Superior, the alleged ‘hidden’ leaders of the Masonic Rite of Strict Observance, and later, the third of the four degrees of the Martinist Order. – Translator

* * *

Jean Chaboseau. Le Tarot. Essai d’interprétation selon les principes de l’hermétisme (Éditions Niclaus, Paris)

This other book on the Tarot is written from an entirely different point of view than the preceding book, and, although much less voluminous, it has apparently great pretensions, despite its modest qualification of “essay.” We will not contest, moreover, that it may be valid to seek an astrological interpretation, and others yet, on condition to not present any one of them as being exclusive; but is this condition met if we consider hermeticism as “the proper basis of the symbolism of the Tarot”? It is true that we would first of all need to agree on the sense of the words; the author seems to wish to unduly expand the one he assigns to hermeticism, to the extent of englobing almost all the rest, including Kabbalah; and if he marks the relations and differences of hermeticism and of alchemy clearly enough, it is no less true that there is a strong exaggeration to claim, as he does, to identify the former with “Total Knowledge”!

In fact, his commentaries on the cards of the Tarot are moreover not strictly limited to hermeticism, since, all the while taking it as a point of departure, he gives fairly numerous parallels with information drawn from very different traditions; it is not us who will reproach him for it, far from it, but perhaps he did not check sufficiently to ensure if all of them were justified, and in the way in which all this is presented, we sense a little too much the persistence of the “occultist” spirit. It would be best, for example, to stop using the figure of Adda-Nari (that is, Ardha-Nari, androgynous figure of Shiva and of Parvati), which has no relation to the Tarot, except in the bizarre parody Éliphas Lévi has subjected it to.

The intentions of the author are moreover not always as clearly expressed as one might wish, and notably, when he cites our writings, we are not at all certain, given the context, that he understands them in the same way we meant them ourselves…

Mr Chaboseau has also attempted, following a number of others, to “reconstitute” in his own way the figures of the Tarot; naturally, there is no reason to consider one or the other of these “reconstitutions” as being more valid than another; we think it surer to refer simply to the ordinary depictions, which, even if they have become somewhat deformed over time, have nonetheless a greater chance of having, as a whole, kept the original symbolism more faithfully.

In the end, the transmission of the Tarot is something quite comparable to that of “folklore,” even if it does not constitute a simple case in particular of the latter, and the preservation of symbols is assured there in the same way; in such a domain, any innovation due to individual initiative is always dangerous, and like all literary retellings of so-called “folk” tales, it can only distract or obscure the meaning by mixing in more or less fanciful and in any case superfluous “embellishments.” These last remarks, of course, are not aimed at Mr Chaboseau more particularly than his predecessors, and we will willingly concede that the “medieval” style he has adopted for his drawings does not have the unlikeliness of a so-called Egyptian or Hindu Tarot, but this is but a question of degree.

Again, we shall only place ourselves from the point of view of the symbolic value; on a more “practical” order of considerations, do we believe that the psychic influences which are undoubtedly attached to the cards of the Tarot, regardless of their origin and quality, might still find an effective support in all these arbitrary modifications of the traditional figures?

Études Traditionnelles, 1948.

* * *

Excerpts on the Tarot & on Folklore

As to the Tarot, I think that its use is not to be recommended, and that it is even preferable to abstain from it because it seems to easily serve as a vehicle for psychic influences which are not always of the best quality. There are those who wish to find all sorts of things in it, but that is certainly to exaggerate its importance; in any case, it is wholly unknown outside of Europe. Its origin is moreover very obscure, and its connection with the Gypsies is not exactly a recommendation, for they seem to have but an initiation of an inferior order (limited to the domain of certain traditional sciences), and lending themselves thereby to many deviations.

– Letter to Vasile Lovinescu, 6th June, 1936.

As to the Tarot, I will willing admit that it may give valid results in the sense that you speak of; only, its handling is perhaps not devoid of all danger, due to the psychic influences it certainly puts into play. I could say the same of certain other methods, such as geomancy, for instance; but in the case of the Tarot, the matter is further complicated due to the question of its particularly dubious origin… And I have no idea in the slightest as to where one might find out further details, unless from the Gypsies, for it has to be said that, outside of Europe, the Tarot is something that is completely unknown; besides, its symbolism has a specifically Western form.

– Letter to Louis Caudron, 9th March, 1936.

There would be much to say in this respect, in particular on the use of the Tarot where the remains of an undeniable traditional science are to be found, whatever its true origin, but which also has very dark aspects to it; by this, we do not mean to allude to the numerous occultist reveries which it has given rise to and which are negligible for the most part, but to something much more effective which makes its handling genuinely dangerous for whomsoever is not sufficiently secured against the actions of “underground” forces.

– Le Règne de la Quantité et les Signes des Temps, chapter XXXVII.

Another interesting chapter is the that devoted to the symbols of the Tarot, not only because the occultist inventions which this question has given rise to are therein appreciated to their just value, but also because there are allusions to a certain rather dark aspect of the subject, which no one else seems to have noted, and which quite certainly exists in effect; the author, without unduly insisting on the matter, speaks clearly of an “inverted tradition”, which shows that he has at the very least sensed certain truths concerning the “counter-initiation.”

– Review of: Arthur Edward Waite. Shadows of Life and Thought. A retrospective review in the form of memoirs (Selwyn and Blount, London). Études Traditionnelles, 1940.

In that respect, we should say that the very concept of “folklore” such as it is most habitually understood in our time, rests on a radically false idea, the idea that there are “popular creations,” spontaneous products of the popular masses. It is obvious that this conception is closely linked to certain modern prejudices and we shall not repeat what we have already said on other occasions. In reality, when it is a matter of traditional elements in the truest sense of the word, as it almost always is, no matter how deformed, reduced or fragmentary they may be, and of things having a truly symbolic value, even though disguised under a more or less “magical” or “fairylike” appearance, all this is very far from being of popular origin, and is certainly not even of human origin, since tradition is defined exactly, in its very essence, by its supra-human character. What may be popular is only the fact of its “survival,” when these elements belong to disappeared traditional forms, and in this regard, the term “folklore” takes on a meaning fairly close to that of “paganism,” taking into account only the etymology of the latter term, without the polemical and pejorative intention. The people thus preserve without understanding the debris of ancient traditions, going back to a past so remote that it would be impossible to determine exactly when, and which we content ourselves for this reason, to relate to the obscure domain of “prehistory”; it fulfils in this way the function of a sort of more or less “subconscious” collective memory, whose content has manifestly come from elsewhere. What may appear astounding is that, when we reach the bottom of things, we note that what has been preserved contains above all, under a more or less veiled form, a considerable amount of information of a properly esoteric order, which is to say what is precisely the least popular by nature. To this fact there is but one plausible explanation: when a traditional form is on the brink of disappearing, its last representatives may very well willingly commit to this collective memory of which we have spoken, what would otherwise be lost forever; it is, in sum, the only means of saving what might be saved to a certain extent; and, at the same time, the natural incomprehension of the masses is sufficient guarantee that what possessed an esoteric character will not be despoiled of it, but will remain only, as a sort of testimony to the past, for those who, in later times, will be capable of understanding it.

– L’Ésotérisme du Graal, 1951.

There remains to make another important remark: among the very diverse things the “collective unconscious” is supposed to explain, “folklore” must also naturally be counted, and it is one of those cases where the theory may present the semblance of truth. To be more precise, as regards the latter, one should speak of a sort of “collective memory,” which is like a mirror or a reflection, in the human domain, of this “cosmic memory” which corresponds to one of the aspects of the symbolism of the moon. Only, to wish to deduce the very origins of the tradition from the nature of “folklore” is to commit an error similar to the one, common nowadays, which considers as “primitive” what is but the product of a degenerescence. It is obvious, in effect, that “folklore,” being essentially constituted by elements belonging to extinct traditions, inevitably represents a state of degenerescence with respect to the former, but this is moreover the only means by which something might be saved. One must also ask the question as to in which conditions the preservation of these elements was committed to the “collective memory”; as we have already had occasion to mention, we cannot but see the perfectly conscious action of the last representatives of ancient traditional forms on the point of disappearing. What is assuredly certain, is that the collective mentality, forasmuch as there exists something that may be labelled as such, may be properly reduced to a memory, which is expressed, in astrological terms, by saying that it has a lunar nature. In other words, it may fulfil a certain role of preservation, which constitutes “folklore” precisely, but which is totally incapable of producing or elaborating anything at all whatsoever, and especially, anything of a transcendental nature, as anything traditional is by definition.

Symboles de la Science sacrée, chapter V.

 
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