Late 18th Century Figures

Court de Gebelin 1725-1784          (Protestant Minister/Advocate; Linguist/Researcher; Occultist)

  • Published the first essay on the Tarot in 1781 in Volume VIII of his Monde primitif…
  • Published a different point of view by le compte de Mellot in the same volume…

Court de Gebelin’s essay opens as follows:

“If one proceeded to announce that there is still nowadays a work of the former Egyptians, one of their books that escaped the flames that devoured their superb libraries, and which contains their purest doctrines on interesting subjects, everyone who heard, undoubtedly, would hasten to study such an invaluable book, such a marvel. If one also said that this book is very widespread in most of Europe, that for a number of centuries it has been in the hands of everyone, the surprise would be certain to increase. Would it not reach its height, if one gave assurances that no one ever suspected that it was Egyptian; that those who possessed it did not value it, that nobody ever sought to decipher a sheet of it; that the fruit of an exquisite wisdom is regarded as a cluster of extravagant figures which do not mean anything by themselves? Would it not be thought that the speaker wanted to amuse himself, and played on the credulity of his listeners?

“This Egyptian book exists. This fact is certainly very true: this Egyptian book, the only survivor of their superb libraries, exists in our day: it is even so common, that no sage condescends to occupy himself with it; nobody before us has ever suspected its famous origin. This book is composed of 77 layers or tables, even of 78, divided into five classes, each of which offer subjects as varied as they are amusing and instructive. This book is in a word the game of Tarots…”

Court de Gebelin goes on to list the trumps and discuss their meanings. He mentions in passing that the number of trumps in the Tarot deck (22) is the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet (Decker, Depaulis, Dummett 62—hereafter simply Decker or Decker, et al). De Gebelin also mentions in passing the possibility that present day Gypsies which he refers to as Bohemians originated in Egypt and brought the Tarot to Europe (65). Both these observations would inspire later speculation that would significantly influence the history of the occult Tarot.

Le compte de Mellot  1727 – 1804  (aka Louis-Raphaël-Lucrèce de Fayolle)

In his essay (which, to repeat, was included in Volume VIII of de Gebelin’s Monde primitif…), Le compte de Mellot discusses the divinatory nature of the cards and also argues for their Egyptian origin. Significantly, he associates the Tarot trumps with the Hebrew alphabet–beginning with trump XXI, The World, which he associates with aleph, the first Hebrew letter, and descending to the unnumbered Fool which he associates with the last Hebrew letter, Tau (71). He also makes reference to “the science of numbers and the values of the letters” which seem to be an indirect reference to Kabbalah (72).

There are similarities and differences in the two essays, but since the latter does not reference the former, Decker, et al, suggest that both de Gebelin and de Mellot may have been influenced by ideas that were then current in the circles in which their research was conducted (67). This suggestion is reinforced by the fact that Etteilla (see below) had included les Taraux in a list of fortune telling methods that he published in 1770 (83) [speaking of which, the first mention of fortune telling using cards of any kind was in 1765 by the explorer Casanova who purchased a Russian slave-girl who employed regular playing cards in this way (74)].

Etteillia 1738-1791            (aka Jean-Baptiste Alliette)

The “TRAITRE” from Etteillia’s Tarot deck….

Etteillia was a seller of seeds who seems, later, to have become involved in the business of printing and card-making and also became interested in using playing cards for divination:

  • In 1770 he published a book, A Way to Entertain Oneself with a Pack of Cards.

Whether or not he had an earlier knowledge of Tarot— dating back to the 1750s and 60s, as he claimed (Decker 78, 83) —perhaps he was inspired by Court de Gebelin’s work to begin writing books on the subject himself:

  • In 1785 he published, A Way to Entertain Oneself with a Pack of Cards called Tarots.
  • In 1786 he published, The Seven Grades of the Philosophical-Hermetic Work.
  • In 1787 he published, Theoretical and Practical Lessons in the Book of Thoth.

Decker, et al, conclude their account of Etteilla by crediting him with many firsts (99). Among other things, he:

  • Popularized fortune telling with playing cards and, later, with Tarot cards…
  • More widely promoted their alleged Egyptian origin…
  • Incorporated Tarot cards into Magical Theory…
  • Invented the word cartonomancie (the forerunner to our cartomancie which was the preference of one of his students).

Mademoiselle Lenormand  (1772–1843) will be included with 19th Century Figures…

Late 18th Century Figures

19th Century Figures

Early 20th Century Figures

Next Up: –> 8. Two Esoteric Schools Worthy of Special Mention