Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis

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Detail of the page from the Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis which has the earliest list of Tarot cards

Also known as the "Steele Sermon"


Anonymous Franciscan or Dominican friar


c.1470 is probably the earliest plausible date. (Steele dated it from 1450 to 1480.)

Ronald Decker wrote: “The manuscript pages have many different watermarks. All of them date from around 1500 and come from places near Ferrara. The order of the Tarot trumps, as given in the manuscript, is the Ferrarese order. The author was definitely a monk. One of the sermons is about the stigmata of St. Francis, so I think it likely that the monk was a Franciscan. I do not know on what basis others have declared the author to have been a Dominican."

The Sermon (In which appears the earliest list of Tarot Trumps)

About whom we complain and on what evidence. Who invented the game? I answer upon the origins of three kinds of games of chance, dice, cards and triumphs. All these St. Thomas and many others agree were invented by the devil and explain it in this manner. For in the early church the Bishop of a community formed parish churches and chapels, so that each community had its bishop and parish priests and chaplains and collected holy relics of the Saints and consecrated the altars and the chalices and the hosts. And all the faithful congregated together at the churches in large numbers to celebrated Christ’s birth. And of such magnitude was their divine praise, that by their songs and organs the air and the whole universe was filled with praises. And from thence the spirits fled to the lower regions where the great Lucifer asked them why so many had fled the light. Thereupon a demon named Azarus arose and explained why they had fled. “But”, he added, “if you have the strength to obey me, I shall overturn them to forswear God and love yourself.” “And what will you do?' Lucifer asked. “I shall set up”, Azarus replied, “in the towns and the encampments and the villages the bishopric of the gambling house, and for bishop a true cheat. On the night of the Nativity more people will come to our church than to God’s. Our parishes will be the tavern, the tavern keeper our priests, the wine cellar our chapel, the cellarman our chaplain. Our sacristy will be the house bank, dice made of animal bones our holy relics, the cards our images, the bench our altar, the playing table our holy paten, the goblet of wine our chalice, a gold coin our host, the dice will be the Missal, whose pages are the cards and triumphs.”

Each of the 21 points of the dice consecrates you to the devil. These 21 points are the steps to hell. Every dice has six faces, six rooms where are these steps, and they signify 21 games of chance named after demons.

For instance in the first room is one point with respect to which is said the diabolical name is ‘the penny’ (As or Ace). And when he calls" the penny," he evokes the devil of wantonness to assist his own destruction. In the second room are a pair of points, denoting two games of which the first is called Scartagus, the next Assobini, two names of spirits. In the third room are three points, of whom the first is called Sozus, or in our (Italian) idiom the very harmful game of cards Scartabella that calls upon the name of their former demons. In which the dealer when ready says, “between anyone”. And then the associate says, “to Sozus, to the devil,” honouring the pledge with his property. And his fellow associate answers, “That to carry your pledge, to take your eye and drag you down the ladder.” The second point is called Azarus (or even better, La Basseta, the card game that brings players low). The third the board game Sequentia. In the fourth room are four points that signify four games. Of which the first is called short Menorettus, which is to the forks before old age. The next is called long Menorettus, which is about guests taking all ones grapevines over time. The third point is called Sbaraglio, that is, all the red. The fourth Sbaraglino, to the feeble body. In the fifth room are five points for five games. Of which the first is called Perdi (Ruin), or conquered. Next is called Sixes or Sevens. The third Buffa Aragiatus, or Ronfa, that is the lost purse (of the funny aragiato). And it is a cruel game, because it leads many men to poverty. The fourth is called the Dismissed Ass, that is, whoever has it is beaten. And is left stripped and light. The fifth, one drawn from the middle. Otherwise in the fifth are the card game Ronfa, the card game Crica (better called ‘Cruca'. For it is called ‘bread’ in the tongue of the Slav; because it is played for bread of the son and the cards dealt out 3x3.) Or the new game of cards Milaneso or 50 (they win the card who reach the sum first). Or the card game Falcinelle (or three-quarters). Fuxo, roll the cards to the beginning. (A card game recently invented. Between our sons and daughters, it flows. And it signifies inconstant money, because just as the blood of men emitted flows away, thus with the game.) In the sixth room are six points signifying six other games. Of whom the first is called Spanish reverse and it is a dice game. Second is ‘thirty by force’. Third, Ochaba the weary hot shot . Fourth the imperial one. Fifth, the spread of ten. Sixth, in which that of no appeal is passed on to one’s companion (or Ace from the middle) And all these things are the names of spirits. And that is the reason men blaspheme much in games of dice, because so many demons are called to his ruin as how many points fall in the turn. And along with all men they may ruin by the game, the belief is the money - signifying the blood and flesh of God, Christ, and the Saints – is lost into the hands of the demons, who divide the money among themselves and distribute despair. (One will have the good point and the associate bad- and yet to him too will come mockery. For as much he wins the more he will put in saying ‘you have to put in to win and the draw is on my side’, and if you do not put back in your associates will mock you. And then you will blaspheme.) And ultimately all are outwardly impoverished, and they will end up for the most part in the forks. Beware therefore the games.

Of the second kind of games we know of as cards I say that if any player thought upon the significance of them, chance he might find hollow. For in the cards there is a fourfold distinction. There is the money that runs off in different directions through the player’s hands. And this signifies the unstable wealth of the player, because you should think, when you enter into the game, to whom your money will go in the hour of misfortune when you lose. There are the cups to signify the poverty that will come to the player, who losing his cup will be required to drink from the barrel. There are the batons. The wood is arid to insinuate the drought of divine grace in the player. Finally come the swords that, because they are generally used to kill, declare the brevity of the player’s life. Truly, no kind of sinner is as desperate as the player. When he is losing and does not have the point, card or the triumph he desires, he strikes the cross in the money, blaspheming God and the saints, throws down the dice in rage saying to himself that “my hand is cut off”. He gets angry easily too with an associate who laughs and immediately the indignity rises until they end up fighting. Oh! Imagine the player, because if you follow in his ways, you will end badly.

Concerning the third game of this kind, known as triumphs. There is nothing in the world pertaining to games as odious to God as this game of triumphs. It appears in fact that it contains every disgrace to the Christian faith, as is laid open by running through it. It is said and believed that triumphs, so called, were named so by their inventor the devil because no other game triumphs over the soul’s destruction as in this one. In which not only are God, the angels, planets and the cardinal virtues disparagingly placed and named, but the true Lights of the World, that is the Pope and Emperor, are also forced [into it], which is absurd, and it is the greatest disgrace to Christians to enter this game. The 21 triumphs are in fact the 21 steps of a ladder that take one to the depths below.

  • Primus dicitur El bagatella (et est omnium inferior): The first is called The bagatella (and is the lowest of all)
  • 2 Imperatrix: Empress
  • 3 Imperator: Emperor
  • 4 La papessa (O miseri quod negat Christiana fides): The Popesse ("O wretches! That which the Christian Faith denies.")^
  • 5 El papa (O pontifex cur, &c. qui debet omni sanctitate polere, et isti ribaldi faciunt ipsorum capitaneum): The pope : (O Pope why, etc., who must rule with complete holiness, also these criminals make of you their chief)
  • 6 La temperantia: The temperance
  • 7 L'amore: Love
  • 8 Lo caro triumphale (vel mundus parvus): The triumphal chariot : or "the little world"
  • 9 La fortezza: The fortitude
  • 10 La rotta (id est regno, regnavi, sum sine regno): The wheel "i.e. I reign, I reigned, I am without kingdom"
  • 11 El gobbo: The hunchback
  • 12 Lo impichato: The hanged man
  • 13 La morte: The death
  • 14 El diavolo: The devil
  • 15 La sagitta: The arrow
  • 16 La stella: The star
  • 17 La luna: The moon
  • 18 El sole: The sun
  • 19 Lo angelo: The angel
  • 20 La iusticia: The justice
  • 21 El mondo (cioe Dio Padre): The world (i.e. God the Father)
  • 0 El Matto sie nulla (nisi velint): The Fool, thus null (unless they wish)


Boccaccio on "Joan, an Englishwoman and Pope"

In "De Claris Mulieribus" (About Famous Women) Boccaccio writes:

Que tamen non verita ascendere Piscatoris cathedram et sacra ministeria omnia, nulli mulierum a christiana religione concessum, tractare agere at aliss exhibere...

"This woman was not afraid to mount the Fisheman's throne, to perform all the sacred offices, and to administer them to others (something that the Christian religion does not permit any woman to do)."

The Steele sermon preacher's comment on the Popesse O miseri quod negat Christiana fides / O wretches! That which the Christian Faith denies bears some resemblance to this passage.

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