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The Tarot

Its Occult Significance, Use in Fortune-Telling, and Method of Play, Etc.

To enter, within the limits of this short treatise, upon any long inquiry into the History of Cards is utterly out of the question; and I shall therefore confine myself to examining briefly into what relates to their most ancient form, the Tarot, or Tarocchi Cards, and to giving, as clearly and concisely as possible, instructions which will enable my readers to utilise them for fortune-telling, to which they are far better adapted, from the greater number and variety of their combinations, than the ordinary cards. I shall also enter somewhat into their occult and Qabalistical significations.

The term "Tarot", or "Tarocchi", is applied to a pack of 78 cards, consisting of four suits of 14 cards each (there being one more court card than in the ordinary packs--the Cavalier, Knight, or Horseman), and 22 symbolical picture-cards answering for trumps. These latter are numbered from 1 to 21 inclusive, the 22nd card being marked Zero, 0. The designs of these trumps are extremely singular, among them being such representations as Death, the Devil, the Last Judgment, &c.

The idea that cards were first "invented' to amuse Charles VI of France is now exploded; and it is worthy of note in this connection that their supposititious "inventor" was Jacques Gringonneur, an Astrologer and Qabalist. Furthermore, cards were known prior to this period among the Indians and the Chinese. Etteilla, indeed, gives in one of his tracts on the Tarot a representation of the mystical arrangement of these cards in the Temple of Ptah at Memphis, and he further says:

"Upon a table or altar, at the height of the breast of the Egyptian Magus (or Hierophant), were on one side a book or assemblage of cards or plates of gold (the Tarot), and on the other a vase, etc." This idea is further dilated upon by P. Christian (the disciple of Eliphas Levi), in his "Histoire de la Magie," to which I shall have occasion to refer later. The great exponents of the Tarot, Court de Gèbelin, Levi, and Etteilla, have always assigned to the Tarot a Qabalistico-Egyptian origin, and this I have found confirmed in my own researches into this subject, which have extended over several years.

W. Hughes Willshire, in his remarks on the General History of Playing-Cards, says: "The most ancient cards which have come down to us are of the Tarot's character. These are the four cards of the Musée Correr at Venice; the seventeen pieces of the Paris Cabinet (erroneously often called the Gringonneur, or Charles VI cards of 1392), five Venetian Tarots of the fifteenth century, in the opinion of some not of an earlier date than 1425; and the series of cards belonging to a Minchiate set, in the possession of the Countess Aurelia Visconti Gonzaga at Milan, when Cicognara wrote."

W. A. Chatto, in his "History of Playing-Cards," says that cards were invented in China as early as A.D. 1120, in the reign of Seun-Ho, for the amusement of his numerous concubines.

J. F. Vaillant, in "Les Romes, histoire vraie des vraies Bohémiens," Paris, 1857, says that the Chinese have a drawing divided into compartments or series, based on combinations of the number 7. 1 "It so closely resembles the Tarot, that the four suits of the latter occupy its first four columns; of the twenty-one atouts fourteen occupy the fifth column, and the seven other atouts the sixth column. This sixth column of seven atouts is that of the six days of the week of creation. Now, according to the Chinese, this representation belongs to the first ages of their empire, to the drying up of the waters of the deluge by IAO; it may be concluded, therefore, that it is an original, or a copy of the Tarot, and, under any circumstances, that the latter is of an origin anterior to Moses, that it belongs to the beginning of our time, to the epoch of the preparation of the Zodiac, and consequently that it must own 6600 years of existence."

But, notwithstanding the apparent audacity of this latter statement, it must be evident on reflection that the Tarot, consisting, as it does, of the ten numbers of the decimal scale counter-changed with the tetrad, and of a hieroglyphic alphabet of twenty-two mystic symbols, must be relegated to far earlier period in the history of the world than that usually assigned to the introduction of cards into Europe; and we may take the fact of the Tarot being the origin of the modern card as being now pretty well established by general consensus of Opinion.

It was Court de Gèbelin who, in his "Monde Primitif" (Paris 1781), wrote: "Were we to hear that there exists in our day Work of the Ancient Egyptians, one of their books which had escaped the flames which devoured their superb libraries, and which contains their purest doctrine on most interesting subjects, every one would doubtless be anxious to acquire the knowledge of so valuable and extraordinary a work. Were we to add that this book is widely spread through a large part of Europe, and that for several centuries it has been accessible to every one, would not it be still more surprising? And would not that surprise be at its height were it asserted that people have never suspected that it was Egyptian, that they possess it in such a manner that they can hardly be said to possess it at all, that no one has ever attempted to decipher a single leaf, and that the outcome of a recondite wisdom is regarded as a mass of extravagant designs which mean nothing in themselves? Would not people think that one was trying to amuse oneself with, and to play upon the credulity of one's hearers?

"Yet this is a true fact. This Egyptian book, the sole remains of their superb libraries, exists to our day; it is even so common that no savant has designed to trouble himself about it, no one before myself having suspected its illustrious origin. This book is composed of seventy-seven leaves or illustrations, or rather of seventy-eight, divided into five classes, which each present objects as various as they are amusing and instructive. In one word, this book is the PACK OF TAROT CARDS."

Let us now examine the word TAROT, or TARO, and discover, if we can, its true derivation and meaning. Court de Gèbelin states that there are three words of Oriental origin preserved in the nomenclature of the Pack. These are TARO, MAT, and PAGAD. Taro, he says, is pure Egyptian; from TAR, Path, and RO, ROS, or ROG, Royal--the Royal Path of Life. MAT is Oriental, and means overpowered, murdered, crack-brained; while PAGAD, he adds, is also Oriental, form PAG, chief, or master, and GAD, Fortune. Vailant says: "The great divinity Ashtaroth, As-taroth, is no other than the Indo-Tartar Tan-tara, the Tarot, the Zodiac." My derivation of the word, which I have never found given by any author, is from the ancient hieroglyphical Egyptian word "târu", to require an answer, or to consult; ergo, that which is consulted, or from which an answer is required. This appears to me to be the correct origin of the word, while the second t is an Egyptian hieroglyphic final, which is added to denote the feminine gender. The following are interesting metatheses of the letters of TARO: TORA (Hebrew) = Law; TROA (Hebrew) = Gate; ROTA (Latin) = wheel; ORAT (Latin) = it speaks, argues, or entreats; TAOR (Egyptian) = Täur, the Goddess of Darkness; ATOR (Egyptian) = Athor, the Egyptian Venus. A Mr. Lumley tells me that there is a Zend word "tarisk", meaning "to require an answer".

There are Italian, Spanish, and German Tarot packs, and since the time of Etteilla French also, but these latter are not so well adapted for occult study owing to Etteilla's attempted "corrections" of the symbolism. The Italian are decidedly the best for divination and practical occult purposes, and I shall, therefore, use them as the basis of the present treatise. Unfortunately the old-fashioned single-headed cards are obsolete now, and the only ones made are double-headed, which circumstance alters the symbolism in a few instances. I shall, therefore, wherever necessary, describe the omitted portion of the design, enclosing it within brackets to mark the same.

As I before observed, the Tarot pack consists of seventy-eight cards--namely, four suits of fourteen cards each, and twenty-two symbolic numbered trumps. The four suits are--


French .


Answering to



Wands, Sceptres, or Clubs




Cups, Chalices, or Goblets








Money, Circles, or Pentacles



Each suit consists of Ace, Deuce, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten; Fanti or Valet = Knave; Cavallo = Knight or Horseman; Dama or Reine = Queen; Re =  King.

The Kings, in each instance, wear a cap-of-maintenance beneath the crown; the Queens wear the crown only. The Queen of Pentacles and the Knave of Sceptres are the only ones represented in profile. In the suit of Sceptres the King bears a wand akin to that represented on the small cards of the suit, while the other three honours bear a bludgeon similar to that which is shown for the ace. In the suit of cups, that only which is held by the Queen is covered, thus showing the essentially feminine properties of this suit, while the sceptre held by the King of the preceding suit shows its more masculine character.

If we examine the small cards carefully we shall be struck a once by the comparative similarities of pattern of the Sceptres and the Swords, which are only distinguished from each other by the former being straight and the latter being curved. We shall also notice that the Deuces have peculiarities of their own, which distinguish them from the rest of the suit. The Deuce of Sceptres forms a cross with two roses and two lilies in the opposite angles; the Cross between the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. The Deuce of Cups shows a tesselated pavement or cloth whereon the cups stand; between them is a species of Caduceus, whose serpents are replaced by Lion-headed foliations, which recall the Chnuphis Serpent of the Gnostics, and certain familiar forms of the Elemental Spirits; practical occultists will know to what I allude. The Deuce of Swords forms a species of Vesica piscis enclosing a mystic rose of the primary colours. The Deuce of Pentacles is bound together by a continuous band in such a manner as to form a figure 8, and represents the one as being the reflection of the other, as the Universe is that of the Divine Idea.

The four Aces stand out by themselves from the rest of the pack, each forming, as it were, the Key of its respective suit. The Ace of Sceptres recalls the Club of Hercules; it is surrounded by eight detached leaves, whose shape recalls that of the Hebrew Letter Yod, or I, and is crowned with the Symbol of the Triad represented by the three lopped branches; it is the Symbol of Almighty Strength within the cube of the Universe, which latter is shown by the eight leaves, for eight is the first cubical number. The Ace of Cups is of Egyptian origin, which can be more easily seen in the Spanish Tarot. The figure, like an inverted M on its front, is all that remains of the Egyptian twin Serpents which originally decorated it. It represents the Waters of Creation in the first chapter of Genesis. It is the Symbol of the Power which receives and modifies. The Ace of Swords is a Sword surmounted by a Crown, from which depend on either side an olive and a palm branch, symbolic of mercy and severity; around it are Six Hebrew Yods, recalling the Six days of the Mosaic Creation. It is the Symbol of that Justice which maintains the World in order, the equilibrium of Mercy and Severity. The Ace of Pentacles represents Eternal Synthesis, the great whole of the visible Universe, the Realisation of counterbalanced power.

The 22 trumps are the hieroglyphic symbols of the occult meanings of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They are numbered from 0 to 21 inclusive. (See Table).





Hebrew  Letter.


Il Bagatto (PAGAD)

Le Bateleur

The Juggler or Magician




La Papessa

La Papesse

The High Priestess, or Female Pope






The Empress






The Emperor




Il Papa

Le Pape

The Hierophant or Pope




Gli Amanti


The Lovers




Il Carro

Le Chariot

The Chariot




La Giustizia

La Justice







The Hermit




Rota Di Fortuna

La Roue de Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune




La Forza

La Force

Strength, Fortitude




Il Penduto

Le Pendu

The Hanged Man




Il Morte

La Mort





La Temperanza

La Temperance





Il Diavolo

Le Diable

The Devil




La Torre

Le Maison-Dieu

The Lightning-struck Tower




Le Stelle


The Star




La Luna

La Lune

The Moon




Il Sole

Le Soleil

The Sun





Le Jugement

The Last Judgment




Il Matto (MAT)

Le Fou

The Foolish Man




Il Mondo

Le Monde

The Universe





1 This is partly taken by Vaillant from Court de Gèbelin's "Monde Primitif" vol. 8, p. 387.

Next: Symbolism of Each of the Keys