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MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
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Etteilla timeline 1737-1783

Here is the beginning of my attempt at an Etteilla-specific timeline, giving sources. For entries before 1760, we are dependent upon Etteilla himself. After that, his activities are well documented. I am using three sources. One is the French text of the Little White Book (LWB) accompanying the current B.P. Grimaud Petit Etteilla, published by France Cartes. The booklet is entitled LE NOUVEL ETTEILLA ou MOYEN INFAILLIBLE DE TIRER LES CARTES et de lire dans l’Avenir. No date is given, but the wording in the part I am quoting corresponds to that of a booklet that Decker et al date to 1791, when the Petit Etteilla itself came out. There is a forward signed by Etteilla himself, they say, his last writing, dated 7 August 1791 (Decker et al p. 96).

W. H. Willshire, in A descriptive catalogue of playing and other cards in the British Museum, 1876, p. 166, also describes a booklet in terms exactly fitting the current booklet, from its beginning note “au beau sexe,” to the fair sex, down to the inclusion of a dream-interpretation manual at the end. Moreover, his account of Etteilla uses many of the same words and phrases. He dates the booklet to “the first half of the 19th century.” (For Wilshire, see

The France Cartes version includes an English translation, but it is not always accurate and frequently leaves out important information. So I am giving my own translation, checked against the others (the LWB's, plus portions in Willshire and Decker et al). For those who prefer their French straight, at the end of this post I give links to my scans of the booklet itself.

My other sources are Decker, Dummett, and Depaulis, A Wicked Pack of Cards, 1996, hereafter abbreviated to “DDD,” and Kaplan, Encyclopedia of Tarot vol. 2, 1986.

So here is the timeline.

1738. Jean-Baptiste Alliette born (per burial certificate), by his account on 1 March in Paris (DDD p. 76), son of a caterer (“maitre rotisseur,” DDD p. 77) by the same name.

1748. [Deleted, thanks to Corodil, for catching my error. See entry for 1840.]

1751-1753. From the LWB to the Petit Etteilla. What follows is my fairly literal translation.
In 1750, the art of drawing cards was unknown in France; but in 1751, 1752, and 1753, three elderly people worked at drawing them.

They were right, although having shuffled and cut a deck of 32 cards, they read the cards one by one; and when the Enquirer had drawn a sword, that (these old people alleged) announced sorrow; likewise hearts foretold happiness, diamonds the country [la campagne, mistranslated as “campaigns” in English translation] and clubs money.

Fanaticism cried sacrilege, and in order to save these alleged sorcerers from the devouts, they were locked up, without being listened to, in Bicetre or the Salpetriere.
Greer’s timeline ( quotes Willshire, p. 160, to much the same effect; his source was the same booklet that I am using (similar wording, and on p. 166 he describes the very booklet). As DDD note, the characterization of the suits is the same as de Mellet’s, 1781. The Bicetre is one of the places where the Marquis de Sade later was sent ( The Salpetriere was a prison for prostitutes, the mentally disabled, the criminally insane, and the poor (

1753. Again, the LWB:
Our savant renovated cartomancy by throwing out the art of drawing the cards one by one and replacing it with reading the cards on the table as a whole. Giving the way of reading the significance of the cards, our author wrote up not only the false meanings given each in their own way by the three elderly people but also granted the legitimate meanings, taking that of victory for the 9 of hearts, which was wrongly allocated to the 9 of diamonds by one of the three people, etc.

The art of drawing cards, according to Etteilla, could not be as modern as an invention as French cards. With the backing of ancient manuscript, he thought it came from the 33 sticks of a Greek, who used them in Gaul to pronounce oracles and had taken or naturally had the name Alpha.
So in 1753 comes Atteilla’s first publication, his synopsis of the Art of Drawing the cards [son abrege de l’Art de tirer les cartes]. But it did not meet with success.
Since 1753, ignorance has provided to its [cartomancy’s] proselytes the appearance of several manners of drawing them; but they were rejected, because not following the principles of Egyptian Cartomancy, they did not command the attention of the curious. No truth could be drawn from them.
DDD find no documentation of this alleged work independently of statements derived from Etteilla himself. There is Etteilla’s own statement in the 1785 Philosophie des Hautes Sciences p. 116, where he speaks of 1753 as the date of his first writings (DDD p. 78). For “Alpha” there is the frontispiece to his 1770 book, which is entitled Alpha and shows a man seated in front of cards spread out on a table. The 1773 edition also has a short foreword alluding to this method of divination, calling it “illusion of the ancient Gauls.” There is also a little book that came out in 1797; its editor says that he is simply “transcribing verbatim a short work of some folios which appeared at the end of the year 1771, under the title of Le Petit Etteilla.” DDD say (p. 98):
Etteilla allowed him [the editor] to reprint this ‘petit amusement’, since he had ‘given this method of reading the cards when he was 15 or 16 years old, and having verified it just at 33.’ Researches have failed to discover such a book, and we must note that Etteilla himself never mentions any work printed in 1771 or 1772. But 22 years is exactly Etteilla’s age in 1771, who actually ‘was 15 or 16 years old’ in 1753.
DDD speculate that what follows, the “short work of some folios” is in fact the “Synopsis of Cartomancie” of 1753. The style resembles Etteilla's. In this work
The writer claims to have been inspired by a ‘very old manuscript’ he owns and that ‘card reading does not derive from cards, but from the game of 33 sticks of Alpha(*), name of a Greek refugee in Spain who predicted the future’. The footnote adds: ‘Attributed to the goddess of the forests’.
Fortunately or unfortunately, DDD do not give more of the content of this work allegedly from 1753.

1757. Etteilla publishes again, according to the LWB for the Petit Etteilla:
In the synopsis of 1757, our author does not fail to emphasize again that drawing the cards one by one, so as to explicate them one by one, was an ignorance imitating the manner of finding oracles in the Odyssey of Homer, the verses of Virgil, and the abuse of drawing [?—French “sorte’] from the Saints.
I think the writer means the practice of opening such books at random, putting one’s finger on a line without looking, and finding there the answer to one’s question. DDD do not seem to notice this alleged publication. The booklet continues:
In 1757, finally, our learned professor of cartomancy, instructed by a Piedmontese that the book of the first Egyptians, a book named THOT or TOUT [French for “all], engraved in hieroglyphics and known under the name and the game Tarots, or better THAROH, summarized all the ancient knowledge, and was a serious study; and, in spite of being prevented by royal censors, of the administration of the Book Office [“Librarie”], and of the police in 1782, he brought to the light of day, in 1783, his work on the THAROTH or [/i]Tarots[/i], which he had devoted more than ten consecutive years of study and reflection.
It appears here that his writing of 1757 was simply a restatement of 1753, and that it was only after this publication that he met the Piedmontese, who not only led him to the Tarot but told him that it originated in Egypt. But he wasn’t ready to publish on this subject until 1782

The LWB says also that the oppression that had locked up the three elderly cartomancers in 1753 ended in 1770,
This tyranny lasted until 1770, when Etteilla, who had reflected, studied, and finally recognized that the false art of drawing cards came from the most useful and sublime of all sciences, opposed himself, with as much force as reasoning and skill, to the ignorance of fanaticism.
Other than this reference to 1770 (about which the booklet does not say more), the LWB leaves out a big chunk of time, from 1757 to 1782. Fortunately, DDD have information that fills in some blanks. They find no hard data before 1760. However they do report some hearsay about the 1757 meeting with the elderly Piemontese. An 1859 biography by Millet-Saint-Pierre says that Etteilla met him in Lamballe, Brittany, and his name was Alexis. Even that is suspect, DDD say (p. 272, note 16), because "Alexis Piemontois" was the French pseudonym of a 16th century Italian author, who might have been confused with Atteilla's Piedmontese .

From here on, what is reported has more evidence than Etteilla's own testimony.

1760. First mention of Etteilla in the archives: Jean-Baptiste Alliette owes 600 livres to one Jean Langlois. (DDD p. 77)

1763. Jean-Baptiste Alliette and Jeanne Vattier are sued for a job certificate delivered to a young apprentice. They are said to be seed merchants (“Marchands grainiers”). Other documents from the same source confirm that Etteilla sold seeds at least until 1769. Jeanne Vattier is Etteilla’s wife. (DDD p. 77)

1763-1767.Etteilla has at least one child, Louis-Jean-Baptiste, the only child mentioned in his 1791 death certificate (DDD p. 76). The son is called a “merchant grocer” there.

1767. Etteilla separates from his wife, according to DDD (p. 77, but no documentation). They surmise that he may have begun his card-reading activities then. They observe later that in Philosophie des hautes sciences of 1785, Etteilla discusses whether “one must have a wife, children, or civil life embarrassments in order to advance the high sciences.” Etteilla says:
It is in the company of my Xanthippe, in household embarrassments, among my children, in the distress of business, and other different mortifications that I have endured, that I conceived the hautes Sciences. (p. 140, quoted in DDD p. 79)
So it would appear that Etteilla worked out the main part of his method while married, etc. Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates, who in Xenophon's Symposium was characterized as "the hardest to get along with of all the women there are" ( For more details on the separation, see DDD.

From 1768-69. Alliette engages in print selling, mentioned as such in a 1797 bibliography of current French literature, ‘Alliette, by anagram Etteilla, Print seller in Paris”. In 1768, three thieves steal some books and prints. Alliette's shop was inspected on 11 March 1769 and found to have some of the stolen prints. Alliette was proved innocent of wrongdoing (DDD p. 80).

1770. Etteilla publishes Etteilla, ou maniere de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes par M*** (Etteilla, or a Way to Entertain Oneself with a Pack of Cards by Mr***). It includes both upright and reversed meanings for a deck of 32 cards, as well as engravings of several spreads. There is also a 33rd card, blank, called “Etteilla” At the end he mentions ”les Taraux” in a list of methods of fortune-telling (DDD, p. 83). The book is reviewed in a couple of established journals.

1772.. Giuseppi Balsamo, an adventurer who probably later took the name Count Allesandro Cagliostro, arrives in Paris (McCalman, The Last Alchemist, p. 32:
With creditors pressing, the couple hastily caught a boat to Calais on 15 September 1772.
The visit goes unnoticed except in court records. But the following is relevant to Etteilla. McCalman, p. 32, notes that in exchange for allowing a French nobleman access to his wife,
...Giuseppe was funded to set up a laboratory where he happily tried out the experiments from a sixteenth century book he’d acquired. It was Alesso Piemontese’s Secretes admirables, one of the most comprehensive occult manuals ever written, setting out detailed prescriptions for making paints, inks, medicines, cosmetics, and magical spells.
This author is the same as the Alexis Piemontese that Etteilla’s Alexis had claimed as grandfather. McCalman unfortunately does not cite his source, unless it is Photiedes, Les Vies de Cagliostro, p. 101f, his only reference for this period.

1772. Etteilla publishes Le zodiac mysterieux, ou les oracles d’Etteilla (The mysterious zodiac, or Etteilla’s oracles). It is a collection of astrological predictions. But according to a study by Halbronn in 1993, it was not real astrology (DDD p. 79).

1773. New edition of Etteilla's 1770 book, indicating that he had attained some success. There are two other publications that year suggesting the same. Here is DDD:
Etteilla is alluded to in a small light-hearted pamphlet written by Claude-Nicolas Bricaire de La Dixmerie much about the same time. The writer says in a footnote that ‘the famous card-reader in China [here an amusing metaphor for France] prints his judgements as the author of l’Almanach des Muses prints his’, and adds this ironical comment: ‘The whole of China is divided between these two inspired men.” Another little book, which we may suspect to have been written at Etteilla’s request, Lettre sur l’oracle du jour (1772), gives, under the signature of one ‘Duchesse de ***, a flattering portrait of the fortune-teller. (DDD p. 79)
1775. A print auction catalogue in Paris lists Alliette many times as a buyer (DDD p. 80).[/b]

1776. Alliette’s shop advertises in a directory. It states that he has traveled widely in the Provinces. (DDD p. 81)

1777-c.1780. Etteilla in Strasbourg starting 1777, settling as a “print-seller and bachelor, from Paris, legitimate son of Jean-Baptiste Alliette, burgess and caterer from there, and of Marie-Anne nee Bautray,” according to citizenship records there (he became a citizen of the city). He joins the guild there for printers, print sellers, cardmakers, and book-binders. The guild record for 1781 lists him in “guild members no longer resident.” Etteilla himself verifies his stay in Strasbourg in a 1785 book, where he says that “when in Strasbourg, I was pleased to fix M. Cerbere’s youngest son’s birth chart” (DDD p. 82). He also says that the best tarot cards are made there. But he objects to the cardmaker Jean-Baptiste Benoits’ removal of the “butterfly” on the “hieroglyph called the Star.” (Indeed, if we look at the reproduction of “Benois’” Star card in Kaplan vol. 2, we will see that there is no winged creature. It is one of those decks that have replaced the Pope and Popess with Jupiter and Juno; in it, the 2 of Coins gives Benois’ name, and the place as Strasbourg. Kaplan lists Benois as producing in Strasbourg starting in 1780.)

1779-1780. 1779: Cagliostro introduces his “Egyptian Rite” in Mitau (in what is now Latvia), from material gathered in London (an alleged manuscript by "Cofton," possibly, per McCalman p. 41, a "minor Oxford scholar of eastern religion named George Costard'), Leipzig (from Dom Pernety), etc. Then does the same in St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and elsewhere, healing the sick and conducting seances. Sept. 1780, Cagliostro arrives in Strasbourg, to much publicity, continuing to heal and gain adherents.. His popularity could have influenced Etteilla, especially in Strasbourg. (Source: Roberto Gervaso, Cagliostro, pp. 69, 82, 92; confirmed in McCalman.) Pernety is referred to by Etteilla in his 2nd Cahier of 1785.

1781. Publication of vol. 8 of Le Monde Primitif by Court de Gébelin, claiming an Egyptian origin for Tarot. He clams that the images reflect Egyptian ideas and allegories, and so constitute an “Egyptian Book,” just as Etteilla will two years later. The volume also includes an essay by le Comte de M*** [de Mellet], who goes so far as to call the tarot cards “The Book of Thoth,” just as Etteilla will, consisting of hieroglyphs and describing Thoth’s teachings on cosmogony, i.e. those on the origins of the universe. For de Mellet the cards start with the 21st card and proceed downwards. Etteilla will similarly start his sequence with four of the last five trumps, in his case identifying them with four of the first six days of creation in Genesis. (For de Gebelin and de Mellet, see For Etteilla, see previous posts in this thread.)

1782. 1782. Etteilla applies to the royal censor to publish his new work on the tarot.)(DDD, p. 83).) Of Etteilla’s application, DDD write (p. 83):
The Book Office (‘Librarie’) archives have kept the mention of his original titleCartonomanie [sic] the censor’s misspelling of “cartonomancie”] Egiptienne, ou interprétation de 78 hierogliphes qui sont sur les cartes nommées Tarots (Egyptian Cartonomania, or Interpretation of the 78 hieroglyphs which are on the cards called Tarots. But the manuscript was denied publication. In the right-hand column, someone has written “rayé du 20 novembre 1782’ (canceled 20 November 1782).
This corresponds well to what Etteilla said in his 1787 Lecons theoriques et pratiques du livre de Thot, that
In 1782, upon the report of a rigid censor, we were forbidden to print them [the arguments of the Book of Thoth]; they were printed in 1783, under a vague title, a title which got us a more tolerant censor...
The title that won him acceptance was Maniere de se recreer avec le Jeu de Cartes nommees Tarots. And despite Etteilla’s protests, his word “cartonomancy” was soon replaced by its derivative, the equally new word “cartomancy,” first proposed by one of his students in 1789 (DDD p. 99).

1783. Etteilla has three publications: Maniere de se recreer avec le jeu de cartes nommees tarots: pour servir de troisieme cahier a cet ouvrage (A way to entertain oneself with the pack of cards called tarots: serving as the third book of this work); the “premier cahier,” or first book (or perhaps "notebook"), of the work; and lastly a “Supplement” to the “premier cahier” (DDD p. 84). It is not clear whether it was the “first cahier,” the “third cahier,” or both, that he had submitted in 1782. The 3rd Cahier has an engraving of Prudence as its frontispiece, which will later become Etteilla’s Prudence card. The 1st Cahier has Temperance as its frontispiece, later to become the Temperance card.

I will continue this timeline later.

I have been trying to verify Mary Greer’s timeline entries for Cagliostro in the period before 1783, in particular her claim that he was in Paris in 1771 “with his Egyptian Masonic Rite.” I have so far come up with nothing suggesting he was in Paris prior to 1785, or that he had an Egyptian rite in 1771. [Added Aug. 6: I have since found that he probably was in Paris 1772, in as much as Giuseppi Balsamo is listed in Paris court records for that year. I added a timeline entry accordingly. Also, most sources say that Cagliostro introduced his Egyptian rite in Mitau, 1779; so I have an entry for that year.]

Here are the relevant pages of the LWB to the Petit Etteilla, the title page and 7-17.
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