Occult History of the Tarot by Evergreen. The history of the Tarot is hard to reconstruct. Like others before me, I will give it my best shot.
The Fools Prayer
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say–
Who knows how grandly it had rung!
(“The Fool’s Prayer” The Little Book of American Poets: 1787-1900)
Occult History of the Tarot by Evergreen
Occult History of the Tarot by Evergreen, is my best shot at trying to sort out in my own mind the History of the Tarot. Much of Tarot history we read in books today, is slanted towards one Tarot system or the other, or favoring one Deck over the other. Although they did their best at reconstructing the history of what we are passionate about, the Tarot, I can’t help but feel something is missing from it.
As a girl, my adoption mother Clarisse Breton taught me not only the Tarot, but also other important things about it that she felt I needed to know. For example, the “esoteric” history of the Tarot. Naturally, today, I feel the need to prove her out.
Occult historians do not always agree with each other. That is because Tarot is a timeless esoteric wisdom. It is a Dark Enlightenment that came to us by way of perception. So, I hope this article of mine could be as much help to you as it is for me insofar as the reconstruction of the history of the Tarot is concerned.
Solid “occult or esoteric proof” got either destroyed by acts of war and disagreements within the Christian realm. Today, most of what we do know about it comes from Antoine Court de Gebelin who claims having “perceived it.”
What we do know for sure about it though, is that the Occult History of the Tarot begins with the Tarot de Marseille. And even saying that much is contentious in certain circles.
This said, it is very well documented by both the French Royalty and the Vatican itself. The Tarot de Marseille comes from the late 1700’s, at the time of ‘The Enlightenment’. However, its use as such precedes this by some undetermined time.
The Enlightenment took place during the 1700’s. The 18th century was a difficult period for Esoteric (Occultist). It was that time in history when the French Revolution happened.
French Esoterics, like others of that period, questioned the French Royalty and religious orthodoxy. They wanted to bring in what is called “The Enlightenment” (or Dark Enlightenment). The Enlightenment stands for individual liberty and religious tolerance.
What they opposed, was ‘the principle of absolute monarchy’ and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. The Enlightenment was marked by increasing empiricism, scientific rigor, and reductionism, along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy.
It was also the time during which the first Tarot Deck was introduced. Antoine Court de Gebelin may have first created the Tarot de Marseille Deck. However, it is said of this Tarot Deck that there is no documentation in its existence during those days.
Antoine Court de Gebelin
Antoine Court de Gebelin was “the grandfather of much of modern occultism.” He was a former Protestant pastor and a Free Mason. A pioneer in linguistics, his focus was Primitive Language and Hermeneutics of Symbolism. He believed in ‘Enlightenment’ (Dark Enlightenment) and ‘the Golden Age in humankind’s history.’ He said of Tarot, “it is a timeless esoteric wisdom.”
Court de Gebelin wrote an essay in 1781. The title of his article was, “The Primeval world, analyzed and compared to the modern world,” volume vii; 1781. King Louis XVI of France headed the distinguished list of Court de Gebelin’s subscribers.
Even back in 1781, Court de Gebelin had already linked the images in Tarot to the ancient Book of Thoth(1). This goes to say that the French Court of Louis XVI (a Catholic) had endorsed ‘The Dark Enlightenment’; this even though Court de Gebelin did not substantiate his theory of a connection between the Tarot and the Egyptians.
Because he had achieved this by ‘perception’ only, Court de Gebelin could not prove his theory linking the images of the Tarot to the Egyptians. Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information to represent and understand something. Moreover, Court de Gebelin did not use “Champollon’s deciphering of the Egyptian language”.
Nevertheless, Court de Gebelin’s “perception” did cause him to hold the opinion that – the Tarot held the “Secrets of the Egyptians,” Now that is of high interest to many modern Tarot enthusiasts. This indicates that Antoine Court de Gebelin, during his living, had tried to reconstruct the history of Tarot!
The images of the Tarot were brought to Rome
The images of the Tarot were brought to Rome by Court de Gemelin. They were secretly known to Popes. This directly implies that the banishing of the Mystics from Christianity and its Bible had not been entirely successful. That the Catholicity of the late 1700’s still had its Mystics and by extension – the Mystical Qabalah.
Popes in Court de Gemelin’s day had no other choice but to let Court de Gemelin bring his images of the Tarot to Rome. And you can bet that they would have vetted Court de Gemelin for heresy(2). What is of interest here is, that it was the Popes themselves that permitted the images of the Tarot to go forward as “non-heresy”…
But how was that even possible back then? Is it not said today, that the Tarot is not Christian? That it is esoteric or occult; and that esoterism or occultism is not Christian? So why did the Popes back in the days of Court de Gebelin introduce the images of the Tarot to the Court of France? And that is where my adoption mother’s teachings to me kick in!
The French Court of that period (as still do millions of French people today) held John the Baptist in high regards. It was Biblical for them to consider the sect of John the Baptist as “the way”; most especially as that was the example given by the Biblical Jesus (Matthew 3).
Matthew 3! This Bible Scripture linked Christianity to John the Baptist, an Essenian sect member; the Essenian were mystical Qabalists. Not to mention that the Rosicrucian Christians (les Rose-Croix) have links to the Biblical Essenians also.
Dion Fortune, who is “the classic” teacher of Catholic Esoterism, occultism, and Traditional Tarot is correct to have endorsed Aleister Crowley. However, like Crowley and so many others, she held that all traces of the Mystical Qabalah was removed from the Bible. After all, the mystics did get excommunicated. This said, it is to be noted that many had hid within the Catholic Church itself. When Court de Gebelin went to Rome, surely as a Protestant Pastor he had reminded the Popes of Mathew 3.
In turn, the Popes brought the images of the Tarot to be introduced to the Court of France. The proof of this, Compte de Mellet included in Court de Gemelin’s ‘The Primitive Word’: “is responsible for the mystical connection of the Tarot’s 21 trumps and the Fool; with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet” (Mystical and Practical Qabalah). An essay appended to this gave suggestions for “Cartomancy”; is Fortune Telling or Divination using a deck of Cards. Practitioners of Cartomancy are known as cartomancers, Card Readers, or Readers.
The Game of the Tarot
The Game of the Tarot in the French Language is “Du Jeu des Tarots”. “Du jeu des Tarot,” is taken from an essay titled “Du Jeu des Tarot” written by Court de Gebelin himself. However, I feel that the usage of the word “game” (in English) leads the human mind to error.
The English word ‘game’ leads the mind to think that Tarot is just a deck of cards with which to play a card game. True, we can play card games with it. However, I much prefer my mother’s way of saying it. Mom told me, that any card game is a Tarot Spread. While playing any card game with someone, you can use their cards as a Tarot Spread to interpret your opponents Cards for him.
As my mother taught me, “Jeu des Tarot” into Latin – means jocus. Jocus into English means “joke, jest, game — more at joke.” The Court Jester in a plain deck of playing cards tells us “that nothing exists without its folly” (or in American English, nothing exists without kidding around).
Personally, I understand “Jeu des Tarot (the game of the Tarot)” to mean the interplay of each one of the twenty-two Major Arcana Cards with each one of the other Cards in the Tarot Deck. As each one of the 78 Cards in the Tarot Deck is an “intelligence” who is part of a tribe, it is in interaction with each one of the other Cards. Each one of the 78 Cards are in a relationship with each one of the other Cards in a Deck. In other words, it is the Jester Card (the court jester, or Fool Card) that is in a interaction with the other Cards in the Deck. He kids around with them. Is this not what is alluded to when we say that “nothing exists without its folly”?
Folly into French is “folie”. For the French, folie is not necessarily madness. Another word for ‘folie” is enjouement. Enjouement into English is “magical playfulness”. Magical Playfulness means ‘pleasantly humorous or jesting in a magical way.’ To kid around. It is said by some, to be mindful of the details during a Tarot Reading; because the cards can play tricks on you… (not to be mean with you, but to play little jokes on you).
You know what they say! They say, you only kid around when you are well disposed to do so! To be well disposed means to be “well suited”! When I think of the 78 Tarot Intelligences as being “well disposed enough to kid around with one another,” the Joker Card comes readily to mind lol.
My mother’s warning to me comes to mind too. Mom always insisted, that when people start kidding-around, watch out. When people kid around, they are well suited at first; but if one of them gets mad (ill-suited, not well aspected), that is when the fight starts. The energy has changed.
Another way of understanding “the energy” in the Cards, is to look at them from the following perspective. From how they are “aspected”. Ask yourself if their energy is positive, negative, or neutral? The Fool Card is nothing when alone. However, when with another Tarot Card, it becomes aspected. This said, the word “jeu” (game) becomes “the quality of the interpersonal relationship between the Cards.”
The Piquet Tarot Deck
The Piquet Tarot Deck was created by Etteilla. Etteilla (1738-1791) was a French occultist who made his living from doing Tarot Readings for money. He was the first to make Tarot Divination familiar with the French people of the time; this was back in 1785.
Etteilla said that he had learned his Tarot system from an Italian. Etteilla published his Tarot Correspondences to astrology, the four classical elements, and the four humors – as a way to recreate oneself with a deck of cards (a game of cards). The Piquet Deck has 32 cards that are used in gaming, with the addition of an Etteilla Card. The Title of the book Etteilla wrote is “How to Entertain Yourself with the Deck of Cards called Tarot.”
Donald Tyson’s translation
Donald Tyson’s translation of “the Game of Tarots” by Antoine Court de Gebelin, totally crushes Court de Gebelin. Remember that Court de Gebelin had ‘perceived’ that the images of the Tarot are linked to the “Secrets of the Egyptians.” However, Dion Fortune in her “Mystical Qabalah”, agrees with Court de Gebelin. Fortune goes on to say that “the similarities in the numbers between the Trumps and the Hebrew letters may not be accidental at all. They are not antagonistic on the Tree of Life of the Qabalah. “It works”!
Antoine Court de Gebelin may have been the first to create the Tarot de Marseille Deck. However, there is no documentation proving that it even existed back in those days.
About the Golden Dawn Tarot Deck About the Golden Dawn Tarot Deck. It was Marseille inspired. Even saying this “misses the clear distinction between the two,” Joseph Stifel of Joe Tarot. The clear distinction between the Marseille and the Golden Dawn Tarot Decks is that The Marseille is a historical Deck. The Golden Dawn is an occult Deck. I would tend to agree with Jodorowski, that the Marseille is an esoteric Mystic’s Deck.
This Tarot article was taken and adapted from Donald Tyson’s translation of “the Game of Tarot by Antoine Court de Gebelin.”
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(1) Note that Aleister Crowley author of the Book of Thoth, lived from 1875-1947. He was born 194 years after Court de Gebelin’s published article.
(2) Heresy: opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.