Sola Busca

John Meador

Why did Waite/Smith single out this deck as an exemplar?
-opinions and speculation requested.


The plates were in the British Museum at the time, and Golden Dawn members had a close connection to some of its curators...



They did not, of course, use the Sola Busca as the examplar for the Atouts of the Tarot.

In my opinion, the Sola Busca is not a Tarot on the grounds of its Atouts differences alone.


jmd said:

They did not, of course, use the Sola Busca as the examplar for the Atouts of the Tarot.

In my opinion, the Sola Busca is not a Tarot on the grounds of its Atouts differences alone.

:) ... would you then say, that an Animal Tarot is not a Tarot ...

But ... actually the old Egyptian had Animal gods ... :)

... and it's not clear, if the Sola Busca-pattern is older than ... for instance the socalled standard deck.


The Mamluk deck also precedes the earliest known Tarot, this does not make it Tarot.

Egyptian god-forms certainly represents some as animal headed, this does not make it Tarot.

Cathedral carvings have numerous similarities, this does not make it, in itself, Tarot.

Other decks - many of them, as your site so wonderfully demonstrates - have similarities and approximations to Tarot, whether in terms of specific iconography (the Visconti-Sforza non-22 Atouts deck, for example) have very close connections and even causal connections to Tarot (eg, being a 'cousin' deck), this does not make it Tarot.

The Sola-Busca has been influential in the designs of the Waite/Colman-Smith deck only in so far as many of the pips have been to some extant copied, and in obvious ways direcly influential (for better or worse). Though the latter can indeed be seen as tarot, the former, in my opinion, is not.

But of course, Huck, I am far more restrictive in my usage of the term 'tarot' than you are, so it becomes a matter of whether this is mere semantic preference or, more importantly, whether there are certain characteristics which are severally and conjointly necessary for a deck to be not only considered so, but in fact Tarot.


Huck: I think you are joking, aren't you?

The deck you show is just a deck for playing games. Yes, it's called Tarot or Tarocchi or whatever. But it has nothing to do with the initiatory Tarot that is so important for Tarot students.

One could never turn lead into gold with that deck, however cute it may be. On the other hand... if one was playing cards for money, I suppose one could win a few bucks. :D


Re: Hi John

Fulgour said:
The most common reason I have found that people cite
the Sola Busca in relation to the Rider Waite Smith deck
is to put forth that "fully illustrated" pips pre-date 1909.
Examples of supposedly derivative illustrations are few.

There is also I think an 1861 Russian 'etteilla' influenced deck with illustrated pips.



Diana said:
Huck: I think you are joking, aren't you?

...oh, no, of course not. The story is like this: all animals had to leave Africa to find a place elsewhere, after the great Meteor struck earth and all dinosaurier died. As everywhere was water, they naturally must have taken their way through Egyptia and to memorize this historical leaving a continent they took some photos, which were forgotten then, but later found somehow by older Egyptians and finally buried in 22 of the many pyramides. For rememberance at this historical action the old Egyptians made 22 stone engravings with Animal figures on the frontside of each temple and 20 at the backside, cause they had an old legend, that 2 of the 22 stayed in Africa, otherwise they wouldn't have had an explanation, that there are still animals in Africa. 22 came to Egyptia, but only 20 left and the 2 - a bull and a cow - became Isis and Osiris, somehow transmuting to more human Tarot cards.
The story was heard - with other connected deeper knowledge - and the engraved pictures were seen by Postel during his stay in the Orient, spying for the French King Francois, and he told about it to a Bavarian printer, but ordered to keep silence about it. The printer told it on the death-bed to his son, who had psychological conflicts about the whole story and spoke to a Lutherian theologian, Johannes Valentin Andrae, who embedded parts of the secret doctrine in various writings, which took influence upon the Rosicrucian's later, but the true tradition lived - of course - in Bavaria till at least Fräulein Sprengel in late 19th century, but it also became known under curious conditions by Johann Gottfied Herder in 1771, when he returned from Strasbourg after meeeting young Goethe there, then 22 years old, and short before he became known to Caroline Flachsland, which rather immediately became his wife. The curious accident, about which are clouds of mystery, did result in two actions, one was the Bavarian try to restore the original Tarot and this became the Bavarian Animal Tarot, the other was, that Herder was very confused about it, saved himself by marrying Caroline, fleeing Bavaria and taking a job in Bückeburg, at a small political independant state near the region, where I was born, as a socalled Hofprediger.
There he decided, that Greek mythology and all, what was southern of the Alps was not so good for northern souls, and wrote a famous essay, which got some basic importance for northern and German cultural development, in the sense, that there are also northern legends and one should leave these stories of southern of the Alps there, where they belong to, that is in Africa. The essay was about the Irish hero FinnMcCool, btw. and the great cultural influence included, that the brothers Grimm started to collect stories of the folk, in the secret aim to detect the roots of the Bavarian Animal Tarot, and wrote their "Grimm's Märchen", which became the base for Cinderella, Donald Duck and other American heroes - and that the Germans got a fever about the Nibelungen and the case inspired Wagner to go to Bavaria and discuss with King Ludwig II the true content of the Bavarian Animal Tarot, which he identified as the true incorporations of the Nibelungen. The whole matter had now a disastrious influence upon the King, who finally drowned in a sea after a Prussian-Bavarian war about the whole case ended with Prussian victory and Wagner in Switzerland. You still can visit the famous castle of the King, Neuschwanstein. The lost war hindered the Bavarian Animal Tarock to become as popular as at least the Rider-Waite-deck, instead of this the German Prussian Skat-Blatt with 32 Cards - for each of the holy 32 ways one, dominated the scene.
But Herder, who caused all this, stayed till 1776 in Bückeburg, and was then called by Goethe to Weimar, Goethe wishing to have information about all the rumours about the strange action in Bavaria. Nobody knows, what these both told each other in all these years in Weimar, but true is, that Goethe's greatest work became Faust I and Faust II, and that is about a magician with unlucky end.

But the deciding action was in 1776, when Herder left to Goethe in Weimar. This - again - had a second result, that is, that one of my personal ancestors, being a Lutheran preacher like Herder, got the job of Herder, that is Hofprediger in Bückeburg.

And so the secret and true story about the Bavarian Animal Tarot wandered through the generations of this mine family with steadily a Caroline marrying somebody till a female descendant of this family, another Caroline, married a Huck and so it comes up to me, who occasionally sees the stories raising out of the marsh like other Westphalian spoekenkiekers saw it all the centuries, and I can tell them with free heart, cause I know, you don't believe me anyway ...

Alright, only 50 % was true, but which 50 % ... :) and reality is usually much more unbelievable than fiction :)


Glad to be able to read this in the 'Historical Research' area :)

John Meador

viri famosi, Sola Busca & Waite/Smith etc.

genesis 6:4
gigantes autem erant super terram in diebus illis postquam enim ingressi sunt filii Dei ad filias hominum illaeque genuerunt isti sunt potentes a saeculo viri famosi
Jerome's Latin Vulgate 405 A.D.

" There are nine or ten of the cards from the Sola Busca deck that Pamela Colman Smith actually redid in her deck. So obviously, she had gone to either the British Museum or the British Library, researched and found that deck, and when she did her own illustrations, she drew heavily on those. It wasn't so much Arthur Edward Waite or the Golden Dawn; I think it was more Pamela Colman Smith and her own intuition that did the deck."

"There was another class, the downfall of which was consequent on the Holy One assembling several legions of superior angels and advising them that He intended to create man. They appear to have replied by quoting the Psalmist when he said: "Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish."

"Thereupon the Holy One stretched forth a finger and burned these blessed legions, after which He called others into His presence and made the same statement, to which they answered on their part: "What is man that Thou art mindful of him and the son of man that Thou visitest him."

"The Lord explained that man should be made in His image and would be superior to those whom He addressed. It does not appear what happened to these legions. There were, moreover, those Sons of God who "saw the daughters of men that they were fair," and they included Aza and Azael, who entered into a dispute with Shekinah on the advisability of creating Adam, seeing that he would end by sinning with his wife, to which Shekinah replied that before they could make accusations of this kind it must be postulated that they would prove more chaste in their own persons.1

"This was the conclusion for the moment, but the children of God had recourse to the daughters of men and "took them wives of all that they chose."

"The result was that Shekinah stripped them of their sanctity and of all part in eternal beatitude, which had been the case also with the rebellious angels belonging to the first category: these are burnt eternally in Sheol.

"When Aza and Azael were cast down, they assumed bodies on earth and were imprisoned therein.2

"It was subsequently-according to this version--that they were seduced by women and are alive at this day, still instructing men in the art of magic, which they had begun to teach soon after their descent. They were chained on certain black mountains, which Laban and Balaam
frequented for instruction in the forbidden art. There were in all five orders of intelligence which seem to have ben cast out of heaven, and some of these were incarnated as men. These were the Giants of Genesis, the Nephilim, the descendants of Amalec, the Intruders of the Talmud, and so forth. It is on record that they destroyed the Temple.

1 Certain codices of the Zohar cause the Shekinah to intimate at this point that Adam will indeed end by sinning with a single woman, but it will prove also with her that 'he will be able to repair the fault, while the lost angels will sin with many women and will be deprived of
all reparation.

2 They belonged to that class who appeared under the form of men, and it was possible therefore for them to exist on earth. They assumed bodies to come down and because of their revolt they could not unclothe to reascend. By their union with women they engendered giants, the "mighty men of old," and "men of renown," mentioned in Gen. vi, 4."
-A.E. Waite's "The Secret Doctrine in Israel", 1913.

"16. The Tower struck by Lightning. Its alternative titles are: Castle of Plutus, God's House and the Tower of Babel. In the last case, the figures falling therefrom are held to be Nimrod and his minister. It is assuredly a card of confusion, and the design corresponds, broadly speaking, to any of the designations except Maison Dieu, unless we are to understand that the House of God has been abandoned and the veil of the temple rent. It is a little surprising that the device has not so far been allocated to the destruction Of Solomon's Temple, when the lightning would symbolize the fire and sword with which that edifice was visited by the King of the Chaldees."
-Being fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Divination by A. E. Waite (1910)

"As regards to Masonry, Babel of course represented a Masonic enterprise and early expositors reaped full benefit from the facts. They remembered that the people, who were of 'one language and one speech' journeyed from the East to the West, like those who have been tried and proved as Master Masons. When they reached an abiding place in the land Shinar, it is affirmed that they dwelt therein as Noachide, being the first characteristic name of Masons. It was here that they built their high tower of confusion. Out of evil comes good, however, and the confusion of tongues gave rise to 'the ancient practice of Masons conversing without the use of speech.'"
-Arthur Edward Waite, A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and of Cognate Instituted Mysteries: Their Rites, Literature and History, Volume I, Page 61, 62

"The Secret Tradition in Goetia was my first considerable work bearing the Rider imprint; but it was preceded in 1910 by a delightful experiment with the so-called Tarot Divinatory cards, otherwise dominated the Book of Thoth in the high fantasia of my old friend Eliphas Levi. Now in those days there was a most imaginative and abnormally psychic artist, named Pamela Coleman Smith, who had drifted into the Golden Dawn and loved its Ceremonies--as transformed by myself--without pretending or indeed, attempting to understand their sub-surface consequence. It seemed to some of us in the circle that there was a draughtswoman among us who, under proper guidance, could produce a Tarot, with an appeal in the world world of art and a suggestion of significance behind the Symbols which would put on them another construction than had evern been dreamed by those who, through many generations, had produced and used them for divinatory purposes. My province was to see that the designs--especially for the important Trumps Major--kept that in the hiddeness which belongs to certain Greater Mysteries, in the Paths of which I was travelling.

I am not of course intimating that the Golden Dawn at that time any deep understanding by inheritance of Tarot Cards; but if I may so say, it was getting to know under my auspices that their Symbols--or some at least among them--were gates which opened on realms of vision beyond occult dreams."
-Shadows of Life and Thought: A Retrospective Review in the Form of Memories by Arthur E. Waite; ISBN 1-56459-242-1; Chapter XX: The Great Symbols of the Tarot, p. 184

Etteilla-style deck with the numeric cards of the Russian deck fully illustrated, 1861:


Could Etteilla also have been aware of the Sola Busca deck?