Astrology for Initiates, By Christine Payne-Towler
ArkLetter 36 -- March 7, 2008
In the presence of the new translation of Papus' Divinatory Tarot from Aeon Books (2008), I am in bliss. Finally! It seems I have been waiting for this to be translated from my early years as a Tarot reader. It is a gift to us all and I'm extremely grateful to Aeon Books for bringing it forward after all these years...
The first thing one discovers upon commencing to read is the freshness and present-day feel of the language. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the sensation that Papus is writing to a person like me, in terms that feel sensible and contemporary (at least most of the time). All I can think is that the translator, Beryl Stockman, did a great job in making this volume read so smoothly and feel so timeless. The transparency of a translation goes a long way towards making the information it contains accessible, as anybody who owns A. P. Morton's translation of Tarot of the Bohemians can attest!
Etteilla's Tarot - a Steganographic triumph
Indeed, the publication of this book should forever put to rest the illusion that Etteilla's pack is not an esoteric Tarot. The Etteilla pack is actually a manifesto on esoteric Tarot that made an indelible imprint across the 1800's. In its turn, Divinatory Tarot demonstrates how Etteilla's card designs encode a fully-developed occult tradition while at the same time injecting Tarot into places where it had never penetrated before -- the fortune-telling salons of "the ladies". Far from being the quaint and primitive scourings of an inferior mind bent on making the cards into what he was imagining them to be, Etteilla was in fact very savvy to seize upon Tarot as the anchor for his metaphysical compendium. Etteilla made cartomancy into a Trojan Horse by which to smuggle inner-Lodge occult practices and esoteric philosophies (astrology, numerology, cabbala) into the common discourse of the day. It's a great leap forward for Tarot that now we in the English-speaking world can investigate the School of Etteilla in the words of the originator, his best students and the inheritors of his legacy.
It is clear that, without having this book in English in its entirety before us, it has simply not been possible for non-Continentalists to do full justice to the School of Etteilla. One could say that by Papus' time, one hundred years after the Master died, the standard pattern of Etteilla's original inspiration was getting a little smudged and indistinct. A series of reprints had 'adjusted' or added titles, transformed imagery, and even cut the 78 cards down to a foreshortened two-headed pack like those of Mlle Lenormand. The entire explanatory written work on the Etteilla pack had been completed by 1807, leaving several generations without a fresh voice on the subject by the time Papus undertook the project. From the look of things, Papus considered himself to be explicating the inherent order and structure of a multifunctional tool that had become mislaid for lack of self-aware users and subsequently fallen to 'parlor Sybil' status. He wasn't trying to elevate Etteilla as an inventor, either, only to show where Etteilla was picking up the dropped stitches and restoring the work of those who had come before him. As Papus says near the end of Divinatory Tarot, "Although, I have to admit that Etteilla's work was no more than a copy after the style of the Egyptians, as was Steganography by Trithemius. I would say Raymond Lull's theory too was a copy of the Book of Thoth, or to put it more plainly, of the cards called the Tarot."
Nowadays we are in the habit of x-raying remarks like that, using our critical minds to pick apart the words for their exact factuality rather than trying to understand the spirit motivating the writer to say such things. But in the 21st century we also have the benefit of over two centuries of serious Tarot history under our belts, giving us a chance to examine the facts we now have and see if there's a sense in which Papus' remarks have true meaning. Presently, the full spectrum of Tarot's "Systems of Correspondence" has been decoded and laid bare to all, the translation of this book being another instance of that trend. Having this presentation before us allows the full extent of Etteilla's accomplishment to be examined in light of its larger impact on the art. Now we can begin to sound out and fathom the obvious vitality and charisma that has allowed this pack to go forward and inform virtually all subsequent Tarots.
Nor should anybody consider that with this article I am declaring all the mysteries solved that attend upon Etteilla's deck! No, what we are doing here is more akin to drawing the curtain back on a larger enigma, to tantalize and arouse my readers. I'm hoping to demonstrate how essential it is for a Tarot researcher to have some awareness of the doctrines of magic and esotericism that impinge upon and structure the Tarot, both at its inception and in the later use and understanding of its principal adepts. Otherwise, the cards go dull and leaden in our hands, changing from transparent lenses into opaque and cloudy mirrors, showing us only what we ourselves project upon them.
Etteilla highlights occultism explicitly
According to my private translation of the introductory section of the original booklet accompanying the Grimaud Etteilla Tarot (first published in 1783), we are put on notice by Etteilla himself that he has been studying
"the high sciences called occult which he has professed for thirty years without interruption", having been shown the truth the about 'The Book of Thoth' in 1757. He does this "to break the silence which has been kept until the present by following the tracks and supporting the ideas of the Court de Gebelin."
In this way Etteilla makes it clear that he is not making an original claim, nor is he seeking credit for creativity. What Etteilla is trying to do is "demonstrate these truths" that he believes have come down from Antiquity, as declared by his friend the antiquarian scholar. (The "truths" in question, by hindsight, appear to be the linkage of the Hebrew alphabet with the Trumps. In fact it was Etteilla's students who finally completed this revelation, after their teacher died.)
Etteilla's assertion establishes that esotericism (however defined in the Paris of Etteilla's day, but clearly including 'the science of numbers', astrology, cabbala and alchemy) was a field deep enough to absorb decades of attention and profound enough to support scores of students and a brace of scholars. Etteilla is almost never mentioned in Papus' book without reference to the "monumental labors" that he and his student Odoucet underwent to discover and organize these correspondences. The overriding impression is that something very old is being rescued and re-formatted for a new generation. Looking at it all by hindsight, my impression is that Papus' estimation of the contribution of Etteilla is more correct than many have wished to grant.
There's no longer any question that Etteilla was keeping company with the leading lights of the Tarot movement of his day. Delving into the imagery, titles and correspondences reproduced from Etteilla's packs only strengthens this awareness in Papus' testimony. The final certification is delivered by investigating the LWB of the Grimaud Etteilla pack, wherein Masonic and Martinist references abound throughout. Tarot historian Mary Greer attributes these references to the reprinting of the Etteilla pack by Pierre Mongie in 1826, which is indeed the source for Grimaud's reprint, and which gives extra names to some of the pips royals and coin cards. But this again begs the question of where these concepts come from, because the book for the Grande Jue l'Oracle de Dames by Julia Orsini was written right around 1800, and it used similar references in the titles of her Pips (without using those particular ideas as names per se).
- Mary Greer's Tarot timeline at http://www.tarotpassages.com/mkgtimeline.htm;
- Timeline by Yvonne Rathbone at http://home.earthlink.net/~yvonr/tarot/further/tartime.html;
- Here's one from Aeclectic at http://www.tarotforum.net/library/16/2002-10/a-tarot-timeline-20021019.shtml
- Mark Filipas' article is here http://meta-religion.com/Esoterism/Tarot/a_history_of_egyptian_tarot_deck.htm)
- For a more detailed examination of the Illuminist context of the Masonic/Martinist Tarots, see http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2007/01/illuminism_maso.html#more and http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2007/02/masonic_martini.html
Cataloging the influences on Papus' presentation of Divinatory Tarot
For each Trump, Papus is providing us with:
- -The Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Egyptian and Vattan letters/symbol relevant to this Trump
- -Traditional meaning, supplemented by three other concepts; spiritual, moral (alchemical) and physical; these are taken from Christian. The final, physical meaning is considered to be the divinatory indicator.
- -Astrological equivalents and the relevant dates
- -Quotes from Christian's History of Magic about the 22 "Egyptian Arcana". Papus points out that in these chapters "Christian applies the Tarot to onomantic astrology in a rather curious way". (p. 8) These paragraphs are written "from the point of spiritual/alchemical healing". Let us also note for the record that the positive meanings of each Trump are generally to be found associated with the card's reversed appearance, with the more drastic or corrective advice associated with upright appearance.
- -"Some of the divinatory writings resulting from the arduous tasks of Etteilla and his follower d'Odoucet." (p. 8)
For each Suit card Papus is providing us with:
- -Divinatory meanings (keywords) at the top and bottom of each card (referenced to the writings of Etteilla and Odoucet)
- -Timing details, by season and month, by moon quarter, by day of the week, and by clock hour
- - Gender, age, and appearance data relative to whomever this card might refer
- - A short assembly of meaningful letters about which I am entirely in the dark. (Readers? Anybody have a clue?)
- - A few words marking "the correspondence to the philosophical Tarot by Eliphas Levi, this being the linking factor between Divinatory Tarot and my work on the Tarot of the Bohemians." (p. 61)
Here's a quote from Papus on the sources from which he drew the lion's share of these elements, and how he prioritized them:
"If you look exclusively at the period up until 1880, there were four main contemporaries working on the Tarot, namely Etteilla, Odoucet, Eliphas LÃ©vi and Christian. I intend to give an outline of the research carried out by Etteilla and Eliphas Levi. As far as the work of Odoucet and Christian are concerned, a look at the earlier Chapter II will suffice. " (p. 244)
Just scanning over these categories of information given to each card, it is easy to see that Papus has supplied a considerable array of correspondences, going far above and beyond the support needed for simple cartomantic usage. Despite the modest title and his claims to the contrary, Papus is quite systematically arranging a full spectrum of magically-tinged and alchemically-inflected concepts for association with the Etteilla packs, and with his own by extension.
Things I am glad to see in this book:
1) Papus' very charming reconstructed Minor Arcana in full detail, which are only imperfectly reproduced in the modern Papus deck. Seeing all the cards makes it clear that the Papus pack was actually designed to follow in the Etteilla lineage, but in "unscrambled" order, like the Cartomanzia Italiana. (When the core outline is exposed, we see that all the so-called Egyptian Tarots are also, according to their esoteric correspondences, offshoots of the Etteilla family.)
2) Papus' care in reproducing the series of the alphabet correspondences that would have been relevant to his fellow occultists in their various studies. The explicitness with which he makes the letter/number/astro correspondences visible on the faces of these cards shows that Papus is restating what Etteilla's best students, and the pack of Edmond Billaudot, had done before him -- tying the Etteilla trumps back into the Hebrew-based matrix of the traditional Tarot. This is also, in a larger sense, a mark of the esoteric lineage for which Etteilla's pack was created.
3) The Angel seals or sigils on Goulinat's numbered Minor cards, which give us the astrological keys to the Minor Arcanes. These seals directly correspond to the seals on some of the Etteilla pips, demonstrating the underlying astrological pattern for the whole set of 1-10 suit cards. This cements our supposition that Etteilla's entire pack had a hidden esoteric structure (meaning, it's not just the Trumps that we should study for occult influences). I have written more about the astrological pattern in the pips here, but suffice it to say that the existing Etteilla packs we have, starting from the early 1800's and continuous with Papus' tarot 100 years later, follow this same underlying astrological pattern exactly. (This is shown in Papus' pips via the dates and sections of the yearly wheel given to each numbered suit card.) These Angel references seem to have been introduced to the public on Tarot cards for the first time by Etteilla -- according to Papus, this revelation represents an amalgam of the work done by Mlle Lenormand and Etteilla to tie the cards' predictions to specific hours, days, weeks, and seasons of the year. It's still not clear who first created these sigils, though it was Reuchlin who recommended the Shem Angels to the gentiles in print as a precious treasure from the Hebrew Kabala, and the Martinists picked them up at their founding, as part of the ancient magical inheritance from earlier cultures.
The Shem Angels have from Antiquity ruled over fixed regions of the signs around the zodiac. Because of the great stability of these Angels through the centuries, their appearance in the Bible, their acceptance by multiple cultures and their reverential treatment by clergy, rabbis and imams alike, there is room for very little ambiguity about their provenance and correspondences. Nevertheless, it is possible to find Medieval and Renaissance presentations of the set that are characterized by misspellings, or occasional transpositions of order and degree. Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew could unscramble the errors easily, however, because of their well-known origin in three particular verses of the Book of Exodus. This allows these seals and the Angels they reference to serve the double purpose of being useful those who understood the tradition, yet a source of error (and therefore a block to magical efficacy) for those who were accepting erroneous texts on faith, without having the guidance of a Hebrew-speaking teacher.
4) A fresh, nonsexist translation of Paul Christian's Text. Without doing an exhaustive comparison, I did notice a few differences of wording between Stockman's quotes from Christian and the translation by Kirkup and Shaw in my 1969 Citadel 4th English printing of P. Christian's The History and Practice of Magic. These differences didn't affect the meaning in any substantial way, being more about the turn of a phrase rather than the content. What has significance is finding the Christian material at all in this compilation by Papus!
By linking Etteilla's Trumps with Trumps presentations made by P. Christian in the two books of his that reveal astral correspondences to the Tarot Trumps (Red Man of the Tuileries, 1863, and History of Magic, 1870), Papus implies that Etteilla's deck is somehow related to these materials, even though Etteilla was published 80 years before Christian. The text that Christian is offering originates in the 'underground' Fratres Lucis source document, awareness of which characterizes all the Tarots of the 16-1800's.
This strongly implies that Etteilla (and likely others of his circle -- Saint Martin, de Geblin, de Millet, Cagliostro, St. Germain, Mesmer, perhaps all the Philaletheans within the Masonic Lodge of "Les Amis-Reunis", according to Cooper-Oakley, The Count of Saint-Germain, p. 130) were in possession of an inner-Order pre-publication manuscript of the work that Christian was reproducing for the first time to the general public through his books. Note also that when Papus mentioned the four Tarot experts of his times -- Etteilla, Christian, Levi and Odoucet -- he called them "contemporaries". Increasing amounts of evidence suggest that there's meaning in his choice of words here. These people's paths, and certainly their paper trails, crossed in the course of their participation in Masonic/Martinist Tarot studies, which they all shared in common.
Given that this is Papus doing the collation in Divinatory Tarot, the line of transmission for the text published by Christian (or its originating MS) would be quite direct from mid-1700 to the end of the 1800's -- the avenue being Martinism. In his own rebirth of the Martinist lineage (1890-1914), Papus collated teaching materials from the earliest, magical, impulse of the movement (to which Etteilla belonged) to the later, more mystical stage of the movement, embodied in Louis Claude de Saint Martin (to which Levi belonged). Use of the Tarot as an adjunct to their theurgic rituals has been a feature of Martinist practice from the beginning, a practice quite possibly reaching back even to the Paracelsian-influenced alchemists of the Renaissance. For Papus to include Christian's chapters on Tarot in such a context is tantamount to announcing that Papus' own "Etteilla-style" Tarot is purpose-designed as a Martinist tool.
Interestingly enough, the year 1863 is not only the time when The Red Man of the Tuileries came out, it is also the year when Edmond Billaudot (who was Mlle de Lenormand's successor), integrated the Etteilla I pack, the Christian text, and the Tarot de Marseilles into his own hand-drawn pack, the Grand Tarot Belline. Mary Greer says "these include the now 'standard continental' correspondences to the Hebrew letters" (as well as the Masonic-sounding titles of the Grimaud Etteilla). It doesn't seem as if Billaudot ought to be seen as the single discreet source for these Sefir Yetzira-style, 'standard continental' correspondences, however, since the astrological and magical alphabet correspondences given by Christian are the same ones, and emerge in the same year.
According to Greer's own timeline, the first integration of Etteilla and the Marseilles pack was actually made by Etteilla's students when they created the Jeu de la Princesse Tarot (later republished as the Cartomanzia Italiana), which she says was first published as book illustrations in 1843. But there is no need to credit any of Etteilla's students with this as an "invention or new discovery. Close attention reveals that Etteilla is using an ancient set of Angel-correspondences to apportion the heavens to his pips. Meanwhile, the Hebrew alphabet of the Sefir Yetzira is clearly the source for the Trumps correspondences that have come down through history with this lineage, whenever these correspondences were first, fully or finally stated in public. Since Etteilla was on record teaching Kabala, these AAN correspondences would have gotten to his students quickly enough under the rubric of "the science of numbers", at which point the link-back to the Marseilles pack is as easy as lining up the numbers of each letter with the numbers of the Marseilles Trumps.
Paul Huson quotes an assertion made by Decker, Depaulis and Dummett to the effect that Eliphas Levi deduced the "standard continental" Trump correspondences from material found in Athanasius Kircher's work. I am certainly inclined to agree that Kircher has had a major impact on the stream of esotericism that produced the Tarot, and nowhere will one find a stronger booster of Levi than I. However, the graph that Huson reproduces on page 60 of his book Mystical Origins of Tarot only links the Trumps to the letters; it does not account for the arrangement of the Signs and Planets on the Trumps in exact Sefir Yetzira order. The angelic, planetary and elemental correspondences given with Huson's list of letters is of the Christian Cabalist type, is derived from the early Church Fathers, rather than the explicitly Hebrew model that has actually penetrated the Tarot over the last three centuries at least. Somewhere along the line it seems that a decision was made to go with the Hebrew model rather than the Gentile model. Who was it made this decision? Why? I don't think Etteilla did this.
Therefore it remains to be seen whom it was exactly that first placed the signs and planets on the Trumps in Sefir Yetzira order, as they show up in the works by Billaudot and Christian. Mark Filipas makes a very convincing case that the Trumps were created to reflect the Alphabet order from their early ordering in Marseilles form. He singles out the Nicholas Conver pack of 1760 and the Dellarocca Tarrocchino Milanese of 1835 as his exemplars, and his theory is persuasive. I am inclined to believe that it is from these Tarots, and others of the Marseilles lineage, that Etteilla learned the kabalistic number-letters were built into the Trumps and passed this information on to his personal students. But if one cannot make the leap to Filipas' logic, then this date of 1863 marks the moment when two different, supposedly unrelated people "outed" the same set of Sefir Yetzira correspondences in association with the Etteilla/Marseilles splice.
The Three Worlds' keywords and therapeutic attitude, so characteristic of the esoteric worldview, permeate the Fratres Lucis and Illuminist Orders. We see that Etteilla often frames his upright meanings in the phrase 'for purposes of spiritual healing', while simultaneously being willing to put the more strict and severe (though not necessarily negative) interpretations in these paragraphs. Etteilla seems to be making an attempt to blend some of the standard superficial divinatory patter into the mix, to show the relation between outer events and inner causes. In cases where the upright meaning is intense or confrontational towards the querant, the reversed meanings will often show a more optimistic tone. Specifically, "occult" concepts can be seen embedded among the more mundane descriptions. The way Papus is framing Etteilla (though I think this is a natural characteristic of Etteilla's anyway), the card means much the same thing upright and reversed, but the upright aspect of the card is assertive and "yang" while the reversed aspect of the card is more receptive and "yin". This division of meanings puts us on notice about concerns that run deeper than the typical predictive-style, black/white approach taken in the salons. Though it seems a small detail, these priorities result in readers with a more aggressively therapeutic orientation, marking a distinct change of pace from the more usual "parlor Sybil" attitudes of pure cartomancy.
Note the way Christian's Trump writings always close with a paragraph starting "Remember, child of Earth, that...xxx", which is then followed by a firm attitude-adjustment prescription. We see this style again in the title (and assumedly the text) of Odoucet's book The Science of Signs, or Medicine of the Mind, known under the name of card drawing. There's no missing the alchemical tone and the obvious self-cultivation instructions transmitted through this body of 3-plane concepts. In every case, the thrust of the advice given is of the self-responsible, self-improvement type, strongly contrasting to the emotionally vulnerable and victim-y emphasis found on the Sybil and salon packs like those from Mlle Lenormand.
See http://pasteboardmasquerade.com/Esoteric/Worlds/gmnchrt1.html for a chart of these "three worlds" keywords from Mark Filipas.
The positioning of the Fool in Papus' pack introduces yet one more adjustment; the original School of Etteilla (even the Cartomanzia) makes The Fool unambiguously #78, the final card in the pack. Following Christian and Levi, Papus instead places it as #0, between #20 and #21 (see p. 6)
Divinatory Tarot a Snapshot of 1880
It should be obvious now that Papus' presentation is much more than just a compendium of Etteilla's teachings. Nor does Divinatory Tarot limit itself to being merely the cartomancer's instruction book that it impersonates. Like the sections on cartomancy and High Magic Tarot in the excellent Encyclopedia of Occult Sciences edited by Poinsot (Tudor; New York. 1939), Papus' volume is also a compilation of multiple sources that were influential to the Tarot scene in 1880, the year Divinatory Tarot was completed. From these snippets and selections we gain insight about what was considered "proper divinatory usage" of the times.
In an article of this length I will not be trying to comment on the sections of Divinatory Tarot that are about working with the 36-card pack, neither all the different combinations of cards that could appear, nor the various spread patterns that are being related. Many people have been either over-impressed or put off by the sheer bulk of pages devoted to such topics. Still, one should not allow oneself to be discouraged away from learning Etteilla's "parlor Sybil" techniques. There's a lot to be gained from investigating the exoteric applications and cartomantic traditions of these cards, especially for those people who enjoy working with a 36-card pack (like the Mlle. Lenormand packs, the Paracelsus pack, or the pips of the Prager Tarot.) Studying the excellent presentation by James Revak and Elizabeth Hazel about Etteilla's Tarot/Astrology synthesis will lead to better understanding how the face values on the Etteilla cards were meant to be used in his astro/tarot application: http://www.villarevak.org/astro/main.html
But once that is said, it is necessary to remember that a whole other, deeper layer of values provides the structure for the Greek and Egyptian facade of the Etteilla pack. This would not at all be unique to Etteilla's pack, especially if it actually turns out that the Marseilles style of Tarot has from the beginning had an alphabetarian underpinning. There are several early packs that we are still trying to figure out the key to -- consider the Sola Busca, for example. But here's what's different about Etteilla's pack: In the history of Tarot, for a style of cards to survive 400 years with no change and no questioning of its "givens" is not an unheard-of thing. Yet within only 100 years of Etteilla's cards' appearance, Divinatory Tarot pushes aside the superficial astrological markers on the faces of the cards and makes this deeper strata completely explicit; the aspect of Etteilla's teachings that applies to the Hebrew alphabet usages is at this point unquestioningly asserted as a "done deal".
Here is where some of the abiding mysteries of the Etteilla lineage are brought into focus: The blatant AAN (Astro Alpha Numeric) correspondences that Papus affirms for the Trumps are manifestly different than the (incomplete) set Etteilla printed on the faces of his Trumps. Nobody since the first publication of DT has ever contested Papus' assertion that "Etteilla's Empress is Venus, his Emperor is Jupiter" and so on. Why is that so, I wonder?
Meanwhile, what has prevented Tarot historians from noticing that, since these links were first attributed between the Etteilla pack and the Marseilles pack, (early 1800's) the corresponding number/letters and their astro-extensions for the Etteilla/Marseilles synthesis provide the model for those found on the Trumps of both Christian and Billaudot? Each reiteration of the Trumps from this lineage -- Etteilla's, Odoucet's, Christian's, Billaudot's, Levi's, Papus -- they all connect directly, point to point, with alphabet correspondences found in the Sefir Yetzira as the 3/7/12 pattern. One would not expect to see such similarity between supposedly unrelated individuals, individuals whose written works were competing against each other in the Tarot marketplace, unless there was a collective understanding in place about the values that "belong" in those placements. We see no central authority or controlling interest having the power to compel coherence to a pre-set canon, so it must be through voluntary adherence that this structure was upheld. Indeed, as should be obvious by now, we are in the presence of the hallowed Alexandrian Synthesis/Hermetic Cosmos model, a fact that is emphasized again with the addition of d'Alveydre's Vattanian alphabet to Papus' Trumps presentation in Divinatory Tarot (see below).
Let's think about the implications here: If Etteilla's cartomantic astrology were really the final word on his pack's esoteric involvements, Papus would have reported differently about his legacy, and we would all be practicing Tarot with quite a different emphasis in the 21st century. But somewhere during the century between Etteilla and Papus, due to own students and those of his close collaborator Mlle Lenormand, the Hermetic and "Pymander-esque" pastiche that was laid over the Marseilles pack gave way to reveal the Etteilla deck's grounding in the Hebrew Alphabet number-letter mysteries. Gratefully, we who are on the receiving end of this legacy are much the richer for the unveiling!
The Astro-alpha-numeric inheritance and the so-called hermetic cabala
One of the outstanding coincidences of undertaking this study was getting my hands on the book Fulcanelli and the Alchemical Revival; the Man behind the Mystery of the Cathedrals, by Genvieve Dubois (Destiny Books; 2006). The theme of the book itself isn't Tarot per se, but nevertheless Dubois very conveniently ties together an impressive chronology showing the comings and goings of many of Europe's esotericists between the time of Etteilla and the 20th century. The people mentioned here were cross-pollinating among the Illuminist, Masonic, Martinist, Theosophical and Gnostic Orders during and after the French Revolution. It was a small enough number that their names reappear over and over in varying association across the years. The preoccupations capturing the attention of the magical community took on different aspects as the decades passed, but a few predominating threads remained. One very robust thread that we find tying the generations together is the study of Alphabet Mysticism.
It is known that Etteilla had devoutly studied the works of Fabre d'Olivet, whose vast tome The Hebraic Tongue Restored compares all the alphabetic tongues of the ancient world. Olivet demonstrates the interior logic discernable inside every possible two-letter combination, embracing all the seed-thoughts at the root of every known alphabetic language -- Hebrew, Arabic, Coptic, Egyptian, Syriac, Phoenecian, Samaritan, Ethiopic, Chaldaic, etc. This fact alone reminds us that the Western Mystery
Tradition rests upon the endlessly recombinant nature of the alphabetic letter-numbers, which both stand for and spell out the Signs, Planets, and Elements symbolizing the movements of the Hermetic Cosmos (an esoteric rendering of the ancient understanding of the solar system). All alphabets work this way, allowing different tribes to harness the sounds of their spoken language to the unchanging architecture of the Mysteries. Because of the numerical values that ride alongside their sonic and linguistic meanings, these "loaded" letters can be used to calculate and express sophisticated mathematical and astronomical concepts inside the very words used to describe them, a thing which the Hebrews excelled at beyond all others. Once one has gained insight into the methods involved, it can be shown that many names of the Gods, spiritual Powers and Potencies, plus classic concepts from the philosophers of antiquity, have been "built" to carry, along with their pronunciations, a range of important secret values that only those initiated into this dimension of the alphabet would recognize.
This fascination with alphabetics and alphabetically expressed bodies of correspondences goes back to Antiquity, was cultivated by the early Church Fathers, was reanimated again after the Crusades, then burst forth full-fledged in the Renaissance. Therefore the entire model is deeply embedded in the Western Esoteric paradigm, and remains always in waiting for each new generation to rediscover anew should collective memory lapse. In her explication of the Fulcanelli myth, Dubois finds herself mentioning Etteilla and his Tarot within her first three pages, and from there teases out an entire flow-chart of Martinist lodges, affiliations, and political developments as she moves forward in time, following the interest in 'hermetic cabala' that was emerging at the threshold of the 1900's (see below). Remembering that the Martinist stream has from the beginning shown a specific focus on the magic of the letters and their Tarot correspondences (due to the type of spiritual work they were trying to accomplish), we should not be surprised to see our leading lights of the Tarot world associating with, even being synonymous with, the premier magical and theurgic practitioners of their day.
Let us not forget that Paul Christian also included a magical alphabet in his recitation of the Major Arcanes given in the History of Magic. A number of such alphabets are documented by Agrippa, and can be found collected together in the works of Nigel Pennick. In Divinatory Tarot, Papus shares yet another magical cipher, Vattan, an alphabet believed by its redactor, Papus' teacher Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, to be Atlantean in origin. (See http://www.crystalinks.com/styves.html for an excellent article about d'Alveydre, creator of the Archeometre.) By watching out for and registering this tendency towards alphabetic mysticism from generation to generation and pack to pack -- standing as obvious red flags of occultism -- we can become more aware of this long term archeo-AAN project, which by the 1800's had penetrated the inner-Lodge circles of High Masonry, to finally pour through the School of Etteilla into the world. Taking Papus' book The Divinatory Tarot as a high water mark, and looking backwards and forwards from there, we can finally get a sense of the massiveness of the project and its intergenerational participants.
Because of the superficial gloss of cartomancy that Etteilla cast over his pack of cards, the average user might never know that they were working with a "magic deck" that could be opened out into the vast landscape of Western Esotericism. No doubt this was intentional. To this day, one has to have a decent grounding in the esoteric paradigm to fully appreciate the School of Etteilla, because these AAN correspondences for the Trumps were the half the legacy of the Etteilla tradition after the passing of the teacher (the divinatory meanings of the Minor Arcana being the other half). These AAN correspondences were retained and shared by his best students, which is how they got to Papus, even though Etteilla never made them explicit on the faces of his cards.
Let us remember that the alphabetic obsession isn't just about the "so-called Egyptian" connection. Different generations, lodges and individuals focused on different scriptures and spiritual teachings, because evidence of this practice can be gathered across multiple cultures' Mysteries -- Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Druidic, Slavic, Balkan, Persian, Sanskrit. The story pops up wherever there's an alphabetic connection, whether the named language "exists" or not, whether it's spoken in contemporary settings or not, even if it's only a magic script or alphabet-keyed symbol-set like Vattan. This approach to the alphabet first emerged into collective consciousness during the Alexandrian Synthesis, and it keeps being rediscovered and reinvented every few centuries. Lull's discovery of this bedrock model stimulated his imagination so much that he spent the rest of his life spooling out the implications. This is what Trithemius was pointing out (in a very roundabout way) with his two books on alphabetic codes. Athanasius Kircher and Robert Fludd were doing everything within their power to demonstrate their understanding that the number/letter Alphabet is the KEY both to representing *and* to dissembling the Verities, the Arcana. Using the Phoenecian/phoenetic alphabet and its numbers as one's base, one has an infinite tool with which to calculate, encode and then decipher all levels of the Mystery. The Alpha-beta and its astrological correspondences is the lingua franca of magic. Not "an" alphabet, but THE Astro-alpha-beta, wherever it shows its head across the religious-through-magical spectrum.
The Vattan Alphabet and the Archeometer
We can now more fully understand why the collective oeuvre of the School of Etteilla is crowned and capped with Papus' multiple alphabetic references, culled from the AAN tradition of history, both real and invented.
In the decades that Papus was actively writing, studying, collating lineages and creating Orders, the attention of the "glitterati" of the occult community was being captured by an idea called the 'hermetic cabala'. Dubois typifies this period, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, as "occultist ferment". The Hebrew alphabet connection to the Tarot had been forgotten, remembered, and then forgotten again over the previous few centuries. The Egyptophyle craze had ingloriously subsided with Champollion's translation of the mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphs, which lost considerable cachet in the process. A passion for the Greek Hermetica swept in and a flowering of the so-called oral or hermetic cabala followed. This philosophical trend might perhaps be characterized by a kind of mystical etymology exploiting the sonic and alphanumeric links between the Greek/Hellenic mother tongue, her slang and her dialects. References to this initiatic use of common speech can be found under the rubric of "a famous language of signs, forgotten but not lost, called 'la langue verte', the 'green tongue,' or the language of the birds" (Dubois p. 31). This line of inquiry was not entirely fanciful, as is shown in Rene Guenon's masterful book entitled The Esoterism of Dante. Even Guenon's chapter headings incite suspicion that the author is somehow saying things that would be relevant to Tarot, for example: #1 Apparent & Hidden Meanings; #6 The Three Worlds; #7 The Symbolic Numbers; #8 Cosmic cycles.
In this realm as in others, modern scholars tend to lose their footing and fail to apprehend the forest for the trees. This happens due to scholarly resistance to actually using the intuitions as well as the intellect when dealing with the metaphysical paradigm of a historical subject/object of study. This observation extends to the appearance on the Papus trumps of the mysterious and unexplained Vattan alphabet. The best work I have found in print about the Archeometer is by Joscelyn Godwin, in the journal Alexandria, Volume 1 (Phanes Press, 1991), called "The Creation of a Universal System: Saint-Yves d'Alveydre and his Archeometer". Although I might argue in a different place that Godwin has missed some of the significance of Alveydre's synthesis, the salient point for this essay is that Papus was using the Vattan Alphabet from Alveydre's Archeometer to demonstrate the manner in which the Trumps map upon the zodiac to embrace all the signs and planets, modes and aspect of astrological practice. This is absolutely not out of character for Papus, who supplied a series of (admittedly less sophisticated) circular diagrams to assist the student in visualizing the distribution of the Trumps and Pips around the zodiac in his well-known Tarot of the Bohemians (pp 47, 50, and 68 -- Arcanum Books, 1958.) We can also see the underlying synchronicity between Alveydreâs model and that of Papus by comparing the reproduction of Alveydre's notes in Godwin's article (p. 238 of Alexandria 1, ed. David R. Fideler) to Papus' astrological diagrams on pp 20 and 21 of his Astrology for Initiates (Weiser. 1996). In both cases the fundamental teaching is that of the Ladder of Lights, the astrological rulership diagram which I have explained at some length here http://noreah.typepad.com/tarot_arkletters/2007/12/stoicheion-soma.html#more right next to the title Ladder of Lights, 1/3 of the way down the article>>
Astrological Onomancy and Levi's "Philosophical Tarot"
From the fullness of the Papus treatment, then, we can't help but see that Etteilla packs were not meant to be studied solely as cartomantic tools if one was going to fully understand the 'Astrological Onomancy' which he claims is the true and intended use of the cards. Early in his Chapter Three, Papus declares "As I have already pointed out, Tarot is not supposed to be used for any other purpose than astronomical information and representation of the movements of the stars as the source of future events. However, such things belong to the sphere of astrology, and the idea here is to confine ourselves to drawing Tarot spreads governed by chance. "
This book Divinatory Tarot is a perfect example of his dilemma; Papus finds that it nearly impossible to talk about Tarot cartomancy in a way that is 'confined to drawing spreads governed by chance', without referring to the "philosophical" (read: esoteric) aspects at least a little. Superficially, Divinatory Tarot pegs itself to the parlor-sibyl tradition that Etteilla and Mlle. Lenormand's card packs served so fully among the ' ladies' of their era. Even so, a successful interpretation of Etteilla's grand astrological matrix requires a goodly understanding of the astrological paradigm. Using cards to derive the chart might help to shortcut the laborious calculations of astrology, but it does not reduce the labor of interpretation one bit!
Because of Etteilla's unique style of regularly putting the more drastic and difficult meanings on the upright version of the card, a skilled cartomancer who was cognizant of Etteilla's (or Papus') full body of correspondences would have the information to give a very piercing and therapeutic psychological analysis to their querant, whatever the setting -- likely even despite the initial question. This would be possible whether the reader used the full-pack spread or some smaller one, even in the absence of a formal method. It does not surprise me at all to read that Etteilla's pack and his approach marked the paradigmatic "tarot counseling session" for over a hundred years after his death. I'm guessing that he was a gifted intuitive possessing a wealth of esoteric vocabulary from which to derive and explain the nuances of his spiritual prescriptions.
Overall, the apt student of occultism will discover a constant stream of hints and links leading back to the larger (and a largely male) world of metaphysics and esoterica in which Papus as well as Levi, Christian, Odoucet, and Etteilla were personally immersed. Here's another particularly gnomic example of this trend; Etteilla very creatively exploited the numerological practices that he learned from his Hebrew Kabala studies, which is easy to see in his deployment of the numbering system he imposed upon his Tarot. It is for this reason that Papus exclaims near the end of Divinatory Tarot, "I could subject the whole of the Book of Thoth, books 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to huge amounts of calculations, and the code thus obtained would show me the formula and give me all the keys."(p. 247) Exactly how is this remark relevant to the practitioners of the piquet packs that Papus so lovingly documents?
Of course, Papus is writing in French to a French audience who has access to Etteilla's writings in French. We English speakers lack the context and the nuance of this remark, as the full treatment of Etteilla's collected writings still awaits compilation in English. The modern reader will likely not have a clue what exact type of calculations the Book of Thoth is to be subject to, in order to reveal all the keys as described. Perhaps one of the collectors of the School of Etteilla materials will grace us with a faithful reproduction and full explication, of the type that has been done for Agrippa.
Nevertheless, Papus doesn't leave us in doubt as to how the reader can use his book to best effect! As he's introducing his Etteilla-style Minor Arcana, Papus helpfully instructs us that "On the left [margin of each pip card] is the correspondence to the philosophical Tarot as determined by Eliphas Levi, this being the linking factor between Divinatory Tarot and my work on the Tarot of the Bohemians."
In my humble opinion, this is the actual and central reason for the existence of this book, despite its ostensible stance as a tribute to Etteilla and a manual for cartomantic usage. Papus explicitly references his other Tarot book, Tarot of the Bohemians, alongside the works of Levi, as adjuncts to understanding the broader reality of "the philosophical Tarot" for his times. Stepping back to view the whole time-band of Tarot, we can see that "the philosophical Tarot" in this context refers to the Marseilles packs, the whole clutch of Etteilla School packs (including the Jeu de la Princesse Tarot and the Tarot Belline) all distilled into Papus' own tribute deck. Looking forward in time from Papus, we can also see that the whole Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, Brotherhood of Light and Falconnier/St. Germain line of Egyptian-style packs fall right in line with Etteilla's core model as well. It's quite a lineage, all things considered!
One can accuse Papus of using Etteilla as an "excuse" for his own subsequent Tarot creation, and perhaps there would be an element of truth there. But Papus declared himself to be following in the footsteps of his teachers Etteilla and Levi, and nothing I have seen dissuades me from believing him. I see no reason to doubt Papus when he instructs us in how to place these sources together for maximum efficacy. That turns out to be exactly the right approach for getting the most out of the School of Etteilla in practice, as anybody who has studied this lineage across its multiple manifestations can determine for themselves.
To sum up
Etteilla's cards cannot be characterized as a simple stand-alone cartomantic tool, entirely different and completely unrelated to the traditions that had preceded it. Etteilla's pack was quite carefully constructed in order to introduce pre-existing astrological, kabalistic and numerological concepts to the masses in a simplified form, via a tool that could be decoded by initiated users into a formal esoteric Tarot. Etteilla was responding to the already long-established trend (at least since the time of Lull) to present the categories of Astral wisdom -- signs, houses, planets, aspects, elements, modes -- in predigested bites, manipulable as an oracle, in ways that that it would allow the user to bypass all the calculations involved with Astrology itself. Observers of obscure Tarot history will note a similar 'astral Tarot' method given in Practical Astrology, the book that contains the instructions for the Saint-Germain Tarot -- it's called "fatidic astrology" there. The little illustrated pack called the Paracelsus Oracle also represents itself as an astrological tool, though this time through the mediation of the 16 Geomantic sigils doubled into a 32-card pack. In the case of each of these systems, the goal was not to obliterate the esoteric tradition that was informing the card pack (which is astrology in both cases), but to simplify the system enough to whet the appetite of the newbie, the illiterate and the dilettante.
Basing our judgment on the School of Etteilla's persistence after Etteilla himself was gone, there seems to have been a powerful motive among his more advanced (astrological, kabalistic, numerological) students, to make sure that their Teacher wasn't remembered for his cartomantic creation alone. This leaves us to believe that the deck Etteilla created served as a multidimensional bridging tool, both between the Orders and the masses, and between the esoteric disciplines. Etteilla's Tarot did double duty -- it had instant appeal to the masses with its Hermetic and alchemistic illustrations and suggestive cheat-words at each end. Yet it could still carry the full esoteric load for "those who have eyes to see" (those who could recognize the traditional esoteric Tarot behind his cartomantic framework).
Etteilla succeeded in his mission so well that in a hundred years, another wave of Lodge brothers had to be dispatched to wrestle the popular mind away from those 'cartomantic' packs and re-introduce the full-strength, 'philosophical' Tarot upon the world. This is how we must evaluate the writings of Levi, Papus, Wirth and the later Continentalists. Papus has given us a very valuable spotlight on the wave that Etteilla started, but his agenda certainly did not stop there. While reporting on the state of cartomancy in 1880, Papus slips in pivotal esoteric developments that became public subsequent to Etteilla's passing (the planets/signs on the unscrambled Trumps). Papus never explained exactly who authored or authorized these correspondences first, thus maintaining the mystery about when certain esoteric choices were made, and by whom. Contention still exists about the extent to which Etteilla was transmitting pre-existing knowledge and practice. However, focusing on the idea that Etteilla was upending past practice with his "cartomantic" numbering and procedures seems to me to be a side note. It is not Etteilla's scrambled-up astrological cartomancy that is immortalized in every pack of cards published after his! No, it is Etteilla's truly occult understanding of the Tarot that his students, and his inheritors, have picked up and run with across the centuries. The Hebrew Alphabet and astral-Angel assignments of the Continental school as a whole are the legacy of the Etteilla Tarot, in fact. I have a feeling that in the future, when all sides of the Etteilla phenomenon are more fully explicated, we are going to be singing the praises of an infinitely more sophisticated and fascinating creation than we currently behold when we are handling this artifact of Tarot history.
For More Information:
Some articles online that talk about the Etteilla/Papus relationship
very interesting! illustrated Russian Etteilla deck here:
great wheel for Papus pips:
great linked bio of Papus -- connection to d'Alvedre and d'Olivet.
Uri Raz's Tarot site:
great graphics at the bottom of the article:
Books on Archeometre and d'Alveydre:
booksearch on Rene Guenon & the Archeometer and Perrennial Philosophy
english transl of Archeometre?
amazing book resource
March 7, 2008
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