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MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
Posts: 443
A Grand Etteilla in Las Vegas, or What Revak Missed

In another Forum on the Web, which I am not sure I am supposed to mention (in a thread on deciphering the Sola-Busca pips), I relied heavily on a website by James Revak that compared Waite's lists of divinatory meanings to those of the Etteilla School and found much in common between them. For my purposes, what was of interest was that I saw a system of Neopythagorean-based interpretations appearing first in the Sola-Busca pips, then in the Etteilla School, and finally in Waite, who in an unconscious way partially integrated the Etteilla School meanings with the Sola-Busca designs. (I say "unconscious" because I see no Neopythagoreanism in Waite's theories about the tarot.)

A weakness in my dependency on Revak ( was that that I had to assume that his "Etteilla School" attributions really did come from them, as opposed to Papus's imagination of them. Revak didn't use the Etteilla School's writings themselves, but rather Papus's alleged quotations from a 1791 book by one of them, as he explains in his Introduction. Revak gives no indication of having checked Papus's accuracy. I myself am not sure I trust Papus as an accurate historian. So I needed to check his sources.

I couldn't get the 1791 book that Revak says Papus cited, the Dictionnaire synonimique du Livre de Thot. According to WorldCat, it exists in four European libraries, none of them in areas I planned to visit soon. Nor did I see anything resembling the word-lists in any of the books by Etteilla linked by But there is also the Grand Etteilla, which Decker, Depaulis and Dummett date to 1838, “or a trifle earlier”(A Wicked Deck of Cards, p. 147). It is by the Etteilla school, and according to Decker et al it had the word-lists. Since it seems to have been reprinted a few times, it is also possible that Waite would have had a copy. I could find no on-line edition, but it at least it had the virtue of being in a library relatively near me, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. They in fact had two editions, one of ca. 1850 and one undated 19th century but with the right publisher and contents to be the 1838. The library would lend out neither of them, naturally enough.

So I factored Las Vegas into my next vacation (an awful place, but the epicenter of some absolutely stunning state and national parks). I copied the whole book, less a couple of pages that stuck together without my noticing it. It is pretty interesting. Not only does it have all 78 "Etteilla II" designs (not Etteilla's, but added by Blocquel, the publisher, accoding to Decker et al), but also a section on the Rules for playing the game of tarot (according to Decker et al the same as the famous 1659 rules but with Etteilla's names for the cards; if so, that fact is not obvious) and some material on spreads, among other things..

Now at home, I compare what is there to Papus and Waite, as they appear on Revak's site. I find some things of interest.

First, I compared the editor/publisher (Blocquel-Castiaux), place of publication (Lille and Paris), author (Julia Orsini), and contents (including pictures of the "Etteilla II" cards) to the account of the 1838 book in Decker et al. I see that it corresponds closely. Castiaux is merely Blocquel’s father-in-law. And although there is no date of publication, I can get a rough estimate by looking up the books in the "recommended reading" section at the end. It turns out (looking in WorldCat) that three of the books recommended were also published by Blocquel. Comments on WorldCat give 1839 or 1840 as estimates for the latest of them. I have given the documentation in another post here, No. 9 in "Etteilla Timeline and Etteilla card Variants - background." So 1839 or thereabouts is when the book was published, comparing well with Decker’s 1838.

Next, I noticed that the "synonymes" are indeed there, and they do correspond closely to the lists in Papus, at least as far as I have looked, so far only at Batons. The only major discrepancy I saw was in the account of the Ace. Papus has "Naissance" (birth) etc. for the Upright and "Chute" (fall) etc. for the Reverseds, while the Grand Etteilla has just the opposite, in its "synonymes" section. Here is a scan of the passage (p. 139).

Likewise the book’s reproduction of the card has “Chute” on top, indicating the Upright meaning, and “Naissance” at the bottom (at right below)

But looking at the photos of "Etteilla I" cards in Decker et al, I see that Etteilla had "Naissance" for the uprights and "Chute" for the Reverseds, as can be seen by comparing the “Etteilla I” card at left above and the “Etteilla II” at right.

This is one of severl differences between “Etteilla I” (Etteilla’s cards) and “Etteilla II” (the cards that Blocquel published in 1838), but the only one I have found so far that actually changes the sense of the interpretation.. (I expect that this difference has been pointed out before, but I haven’t read everything. I did see on Aeclectic a proposed explanation of why it makes sense for “Chute” to be on top.)

So Papus, citing the 1791 source, avoided the Grand Etteilla's error (or correction of Etteilla) in his section on Etteilla. Waite’s account is the same as Papus’s. So he used either Papus or some other source, possibly the Grand Etteilla, but correcting this obvious departure from Etteilla’s original assignment of keywords.

I found another section in the Grand Etteilla that strongly suggests that Waite did indeed use the Grand Etteilla of 1838 as a main source. In addition to the "synonymes," the book has a large section not quoted at all by Papus, probably because it wasn’t in his 1791 source. This section is called the "explication," with about a page on average for each of the 78 cards. Looking at these "explications," I find many correspondences between passages there and descriptions given by Waite but for which Revak has no correlation to Etteilla. In other words, Waite was even more dependent on the Etteilla School than Revak indicates.

Here, as examples, are the correspondences in the suit of Batons that I noticed not noted by Revak.

KING. Waite’s “may mean news concerning an unexpected heritage to fall in before very long” corresponds to Etteilla’s “Un oncle que vous avez en pays lointain, et qui ne vous a jamais donné de ses nouvelles, a fait une fortune considerable, il vous a fait son heretier, et doit bientot venir vous surprendre.” (An uncle that you have in a distant country, and who has never given you his news, has made a considerable fortune, he has made you his inheritor, and ought soon to be surprising you.)

VALET : Waite’s “evil news” corresponds to Etteilla’s “elle anonce maivaise nouvelle a moins qu'elle soit suivié d'un des No. 17, 39, ou 63 egalement renversés" (it announces bad news, at least when it is followed by 17, 39, or 63 equally reversed).

7: Waite’s optimistic “card of valour” predicting eventual success despite appearances, corresponds to the explication’s “Cette carte vous avertit que vos projets sont sur le point de réussir, et que la maladresse d’un ami avait seule mis des obstacles qui sont heureusement dissipés.” (This card warns you that your projects are about to succeed, and that the clumsiness of a friend had only put the obstacles which are fortunately dissipated.)

6: Waite’s “servants may lose the confidence of their masters” corresponds to the explication’s “Si celui pour qui on consulte est un domestique, le No. 30 lui fait craindre la perte de l’affection de ses maîtres, cependant si ce No. se trouve auprès du No. 42, il aura satisfaction des méchancetés de ses ennemis.” (If the one for whom one consults is a domestic, No. 30 makes him be afraid of the loss of the affection of his masters, however if this No. is with No. 42, he will have satisfaction from the wickedness of his enemies.) And “a young lady may be betrayed by a friend” corresponds to “Si ci’est pour une jeune fille que l’on fait le jeu, cette carte l’avertit de se défier d’une de ses connaissances qui fait l’officieuse, mais que cherche à la tromper depuis huit jours.” (If this is for a girl that one plays the hand, this card warns her to distrust one of her acquaintance who acts official (?), but who tries to deceive her for a week.)

5: Waite’s “Success in financial speculation” corresponds to “Vous serez favorisé dans une spéculation financière.” (You will be favored in a financial speculation.) “Struggle for riches” corresponds to “Vous avez deja échappe aux embuches de vos ennemis; mais ce tarot vous previent lorsqu'il est accompagne du No. 69 renverse, que d’autres vous seront tendues et que vous serez vole la prochaine fois que vous irez au spectacle ou dans une foule, si vous n’y faites attention.” (You have already escaped the pitfalls of your enemies; but this tarot warns you, when it is accompanied by No. 69 Reversed, that others will be pulled at you and that you will be stolen from the next time you go to the show or in a crowd, if you do not pay attention.)

4: Waite’s “unexpected fortune” corresponds to “une fortune inattendue vous arrivera.” (An unexpected fortune will come to you.) Waite’s “A married woman will have beautiful children” corresponds to “Lorsque cette carte renversée est tirée pour une dame mariée, elle lui annonce de beaux enfants.” (When this card reversed is drawn for a married lady, it announces to her beautiful children.)

3: Waite’s “collaboration will favor enterprise” and “able co-operation in business, as if the successful merchant prince were looking from his side towards yours with the view to help you” correspond to “”Si cette carte suit le tarot du consultant (No. 1 ou 8), un homme d’un génie extraordinaire s’associera à ses travaux et les fera prospérer: le bonheur le suivra partout.” (If this card follows the tarot of the consultant (No. 1 or 8), a man of an extraordinary genius will join to his works and will make them prosper: happiness will follow him everywhere.)

ACE: no significant additions to report, but the “explication” for this card follows the “Etteilla II” pattern of putting “Chute” for the upright and “Naissance” for the Reversed. It comments: "Une banqueroute complète, le feu, ou une maladie sérieuse vous sont prédits par ce tarot; la mort vous menace, mais vous y échapperez certainement.” (Complete bankruptcy, a fire, or a serious disease are predicted for you by this tarot; death threatens you, but you will certainly escape it.) And also: “Renversée, cette carte est un signe de naissance; elle annonce à vous et aux vôtres une longue postérité si elle se rencontre avec le No. 11.” (Reversed, this card is a sign of birth; it announces to you and yours a long posterity if it is encountered with No. 11.) Etteilla, of course, would have had Upright and Reversed the other way around. The dramatic difference here offers a good lesson in not taking cartomantic traditions too literally.

It is clear from the foregoing that Waite has consulted the "explications" in Le Grand Etteilla, which Papus does not include, picking those he likes and ignoring Le Grand Etteilla’s cautions that some of them only apply when certain other cards are adjacent. Since the synonyms-lists are the same in the two books (Grand Etteilla and Papus), he probably used the Grand Etteilla in the preparation of his book; whether he used Papus as well is undecided.

I also have sufficient evidence now that the word-lists cited by Papus are indeed those of the Etteilla School. It is not certain that they all come from Etteilla himself, but surely they are in his spirit, since we know that the keywords are his. And he may well have gotten these words, more or less, from Italian fortune tellers who had moved to Paris, as he claimed. Only the words that are more “différentes significations”—alternative meanings--than “synoynms” are more dubiously of Etteilla.

It remains to be seen whether the additional material from the "Explication" adds anything to the interpretations of the Sola-Busca that I have made in the other Forum. I have no idea whether this material is authentic Etteilla or additions made by the Grand Etteilla author without reference to Etteilla or his sources.
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