Saturday, June 13, 2015

7 Virtues and 7 Vices, their influence on Tarot

What are the Vices and Virtues and what do they have to do with the Tarot?

Virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Justice, Prudence and Temperance.
We can think of these terms as the outcome of the models of morality conceived by the Greek philosophers of classical antiquity - Plato and Aristotle. It is intriguing to see how the concept of morals were defined and have evolved over the centuries beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing through the Renaissance. What do we consider moral behavior and immoral behavior? In the past, the Virtues were viewed as models for moral conduct as prescribed by the church, and seemed to have found their way into the Tarot sometime in the 14th century. According to the Christian teachings of the church, there are three Theological Virtues or spiritual values that one should practice while going up the right path to God: Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). With faith in God, there is hope for a spiritual afterlife, and with the promise of good deeds by practicing love (Charity) for our neighbors out of a love for God, you are then on the right path. The Cardinal Virtues were more for the common people and consisted of: Fortitude, Justice, Prudence, and Temperance. Sound familiar tarot readers? In the Tarot, Fortitude can be Strength; Prudence can be Judgement, and yes, Justice and Temperance are already there.
Giotto  Justice
Artists have painted and sculpted figures representing the Virtues and Vices since the early Greeks. The Virtues were often depicted as young women and were sometimes accompanied by a religious symbol, or refer to a saint who personified the essence of the meaning. For instance, Justice is often portrayed by a wise-looking woman holding a set of scales balancing two pans and holding a two-edged sword (Gr. Themis). The sword exemplifies the ability to determine truth from lies. 
We can compare the allegorical pictures of Tarot to some of the earliest paintings of the Virtues and Vices made by artists in the Medieval and Early Renaissance period, such as the frescoes of Giotto in Italy((1267-1337). His carefully executed paintings are still visible today in the Scrovegni Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. Michael Howard’s blog on the comparison of Giotto’s paintings to early forms of Tarot is a must read (See Michael Howard Giotto’s “Virtues and Vices” and Petrarch’s “Triumphi” as starting points for the historical tarot). Giotto's paintings are small monochrome frescoes of the 7 Virtues and 7 Vices painted to imitate sculptural bas reliefs around 1305. His art presents somewhat different themes than the traditional list of Vices and Virtues. 
Nikki St Phalle Justice
Tarot Garden, Italy
The gloomy Vices are painted in contrast to the Virtues on the opposite wall of the room. Faith is opposed by Idolatry; Envy is opposite Hope; Charity/Despair;  Strength/Inconstancy; Temperance/Wrath; Justice/Injustice; Prudence/Folly. 

Of course, for us today, there’s the everyday expose of Folly:

“Humanity is a parade of fools, and I am at the front of it, twirling a baton”! 
Dean Koontz (Brother Odd)

 Vices: Pride, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy and Sloth

“The triumph of the Virtues over the Vices was a standard allegorical construction from late antiquity through the Medieval Period.” Matthew Aleksinas (The Tree of Virtues and the Tree of Vices). 

Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness
     So how are we doing today? One afternoon I was standing in the garden talking with a friend and I said, “I’m going in now to watch the daily horror.” And he said, “What’s that?”  - “The news!” I said. No, there is not much that can be considered virtuous in the news at the present time as we are saturated and visually assaulted daily by the mass media on TV, our computers, Smart Phones and Tablets, etc. Our daily news rations are mostly about the Vices: murder, wars, suicide (Death card); corporate croneyism, banking schemes, land grabs (all the opposite of Charity vs Greed) political infighting (the opposite of Temperance); constitutional and judicial power struggles (Justice vs Injustice); the fall of the Tower, (Pride goeth before a fall) and so on. 
     Need I say more? It seems each new generation struggles with these archetypes in their own lives ad infinitum. It’s obvious we need more work on finding the Virtues of this life. That’s where our Tarot readings come in. We need the cues and hints of the Major Arcana to help us find new options and new directions; new ways to look at things, and build up the hope to see ourselves in a different light.