Etteilla Pattern Tarot

September 30, 2006

It’s very hard to find good information on Etteilla and the tarots styled after him. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Several different decks are currently being published as being the deck that Etteilla designed. Meanwhile even the encyclopedia of tarot gives incorrect information about Etteilla. Not to mention the confusion of terms like Etteilla III.Etteilla is a fairly important figure in tarot history and responsible for a lot of firsts. He created the first tarot deck intended for esoteric use, he wrote the first book on tarot divination, and he’s considered the first professional tarot reader.

On the other hand, much of his work has fallen into obscurity. Most of the work that Etteilla accomplished has been discarded, and most of those following him in the magick revival worked from the pre-Etteilla sources. Levi would criticize Etteilla’s work, and Waite would plagiarize Levi and try to make it look like he had come to that conclusion about Etteilla on his own. But Etteilla was a major influence on Papus and we can even see his influence in Crowley’s deck.

Etteilla himself was never a hair-dresser, as claimed by some sources in an effort to discredit him. Early in life he was a seed merchant, and later a dealer in antique prints. Near the end of his life Etteilla had succeeded in earning a living from occultism.

Etteilla’s first occultic work was his publication of ‘Etteilla, Or a Way to Entertain Yourself With a Deck of Cards’, which was a cartomancy book that gave a system of divination for a modified piquet deck. A piquet deck is a standard deck of cards that omits cards 2-7 in each suit, for a total of 32 cards. Ideally these cards should have an upright position to allow for reversals. Etteilla’s deck added a 33rd card to the deck called ‘Etteilla’. 33 card decks in this style are often sold as ‘Petite Etteilla’ or “Piquet Etteilla’ decks.

Etteilla claimed to have learned his system of cartomancy from an Italian gentleman, however this claim can not be proven and no earlier record of his system has survived. Some feel that Etteilla had created his cartomantic system himself, and made up the story of the Italian gentleman to give his system more credibility. Others believe that it is the only surviving record of an otherwise lost Italian system of cartomancy.

Years later Etteilla would publish his second cartomantic book, ‘How to Entertain Yourself With the Deck of Cards Called Tarot’ which is the first published book on tarot divination.

Prior to Etteilla’s book, Court de Gebelin had published the ninth volume of ‘la Monde Primitif’, which included some fifty pages on the tarot. Within these pages Gebelin had given the theory that the tarot originated in Ancient Egypt, as did the kabbalah, and then went to give a set of correspondences between the Hebrew letters and the tarot trumps.

Etteilla had claimed many of these same ideas and had extrapolated on them. Many believe Etteilla to have been heavily influenced by Gebelin’s work in developing his system of tarot. However Etteilla himself claimed to have been using the tarot more than twenty years before the publication of Gebelin’s book, but there is no proof of this.

More than likely Gebelin had not come to his conclusions about the Egyptian origin of the tarot or its Hebrew correspondences on his own. The ideas probably originated in one of the secret societies of Gebelin’s time, and one way or another Gebelin came across them in his research. It is very possible that Etteilla had also gotten ahold of these same ideas either through a secret society or through someone that was once connected to one rather than from Gebelin.

Along with his book on tarot, Etteilla created the first tarot deck designed for divinatory and esoteric use. This deck would be known as the ‘Grand Etteilla’ to differentiate it from Etteilla’s piquet deck. Prior decks were designed either for game playing or as works of art. However tarot decks had been used for divination for a long time proceeding Etteilla, and by Etteilla’s time they were obviously being used to transmit esoteric information (as evidenced by Gebelin’s book).

Etteilla had worked to make correspondences between the tarot cards, astrology, and the Hebrew letters. He also integrated some of his earlier piquet divinatory system into his tarot. In doing all this though Etteilla had completely redesigned the tarot, reordering the cards, renaming many of the trumps, and changing the designs of many of the cards. Later taroists would, for the most part, ignore Etteilla’s redesign and typically worked with pre-Etteilla decks from the Marseille Family (and these decks, not Etteilla’s served as the primary influence on the tarot decks that came out of the Golden Dawn along with the decks created by Papus and Wirth).

However Etteilla did manage to influence the later decks. The most apparent influence of Etteilla is the inclusion of a divinatory meaning on the cards (specifically the pip cards). This same method was used by Crowley and many of those that came after Crowley. Likewise Etteilla had made great efforts to not only find correspondences to the cards, but figure out how the cards related to each other and how they came together to form the whole. This was his reason for the reordering of the cards, believing that the original Egyptian order differed, with the proof being the relationship between the cards.

Near the end of his life Etteilla had become a professional occultist. He had mastered tarot, cartomancy, and astrology and had sold consultations. He also earned money through his books, and from teaching students. Several of his students would go on to develop their own decks and ideas about the tarot following after Etteilla.

Etteilla’s school of thought on the tarot seems to have almost completely died out in favor of the Golden Dawn, Papus-Wirth, New Age, and Neo-Pagan schools. None of the major tarot publishers are publishing any new Etteilla style tarots. I haven’t found any Etteilla style tarots being published independently. The newest Etteilla style tarot that I can find information on was first published in the early 20th century.

There are however several historical Etteilla style decks that have been preserved, and reproductions of three or four of those decks are currently published. However the information on those decks, even the information being supplied by the publisher, is iffy at best.

Several decks currently claim to be the tarot deck that Etteilla designed. However Etteilla’s original tarot deck has not survived. Only four cards were printed in Etteilla’s book, and these four cards are all that survives of Etteilla’s deck. However Etteilla’s descriptions of the card designs have survived through his books, so we are able to tell if a deck follows Etteilla’s design and how closely it matches Etteilla’s original deck.

As for the three or four decks that are currently being published there is the ‘Grand Etteilla: Egyptian Gypsies Tarot’ by France Cartes, and the ‘Book of Thoth – Etteilla Tarot’ and ‘Esoteric Ancient Tarot’ both by Lo Scarebo. Also Editions Dusserre published ‘Grand Etteilla Deck 19th Century’, although I don’t know if this deck is still in print or if Editions Dusserre is even still in business.

Currently none of these decks are being distributed in North America. Llewellyn recently stopped distribution of the ‘Book of Thoth – Etteilla Tarot’, and many copies of the deck are no doubt still available in brick and mortar occult stores. I’m not sure if Llewellyn ever distributed ‘Esoteric Ancient Tarot’ or when they stopped if they did. Lo Scarebo does not sell directly to North American customers, although the decks can be bought from some of the specialist online tarot stores. The Grand Etteilla was distributed by US Games when it was being published by Grimaud, but Grimaud has since been bought out by France Cartes. The deck can be directly ordered through France Cartes from their website. There are also several American online stores that can get the deck to you without all of the hassles of dealing with France Cartes directly.

The Grand Etteilla: Egyptian Gypsies Tarot deck is a minor variation of an early 19th century Etteilla deck that closely followed Etteilla’s designs with replicas of the four cards published in Etteilla’s book. This version includes English translations alongside the original French along with the entire deck having been restored. Some of the titles in the Grimaud edition differ from the original 19th century deck. I haven’t been able to find much information on Dusserre’s Grand Etteilla deck. It does seem as if the Dusserre deck is a reproduction of the same 19th century deck as the Egyption Gypsies deck, however it uses the original French card titles.

Lo Scarebo’s ‘Book of Thoth – Etteilla Tarot’ is a reproduction of an 1870 deck originally titled ‘Grand Jeu de Oracle des Dames’. Lo Scarebo claims this is the deck designed by Etteilla, but this deck has major deviations from Etteilla’s design, including a trump card called ‘The African Despot’. This deck would be considered an Etteilla III deck.

Lo Scarebo also claims that the Esoteric Ancient Tarot was designed by Etteilla in 1870. Quite a feat considering he had been dead for almost a hundred years by that time. The deck itself is an Etteilla style deck originally published in 1870. I’m not sure how closely this deck follows Etteilla’s design.