Great Tarotists of Yesteryear:
By James W. Revak


His Final Years

Although he was already suffering from diabetes, at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he was mobilized as a medical officer and sent to the trenches on the western front.  Reflecting on his experience there in his Ce que deviennent nos morts [What Our Dead Become] (1914), he wrote:

“At Chaumont-sur-Argonne, near Pierrefitte, in a trench a young German was dead, holding near his head and at eye level his prayer book. . . .

“Poor victim of the madness of the great, I salute you. . . .  Knowing death was coming, you bravely prepared your soul for its physical departure, and, obscure hero, you called on Him who awaits all.  May your gesture be blessed.  It is of no consequence that you were an enemy of my country and an envoy of the blind who sacrificed the flower of their men to the base satisfaction of their ambition. . . .

“Tomorrow you will return to the earth, but you will have drunk from the waters of forgetfulnes . . . I salute you and I pray with you.”

Papus' gravePapus was soon demobilized due to illness and, in 1916 while the war raged on, he died from tuberculosis at the Hôpital de la Charité [Charity Hospital] in Paris, the very hospital where he once trained to be a physician.  He was fifty-one years old.

Illustration (right): Papus’ grave at Père Lachaise, Paris.  The stone bears his family name, Encausse.  Click the image for a larger one.  Source: a contemporary edition of Papus’ La Cabale: Tradition secrète de l’Occident (published by Éditions Dangles). 

A N   A S S E S S M E N T

His numerous claims notwithstanding, Papus did not so much decode Tarot as use it as a framework on which to erect a monument to occultism and mysticism.  His Le Tarot des bohémiens is problematic; in it he is often (and uncharacteristically) obscure, confusing, and turgid.  However, to his credit, he devoted an entire book to wedding the cards to a broad spectrum of complex esoteric thought in a detailed, fairly systematic manner.  No one had attempted this since Etteilla in the late eighteenth century – not even Lévi.

So why isn’t Papus better known and appreciated by contemporary occultists generally and Tarotists specifically?  First, many readers know him only by his Le Tarot des bohémiens, which was, as already noted, a problematic work.  Second, much of his thought and philosophy depends from the rarified world of eighteenth and nineteenth-century French occultism and mysticism with which may readers are unfamiliar.  Finally, language remains a looming barrier; few of Papus’s works have been translated into English, and for better or worse this is the only language read by an enormous number of contemporary esotericists and Tarotists.

Nevertheless, thanks to his knowledge, writings, enthusiastic leadership, and what today one would call “networking”, Papus helped to ensure continued study and use of Tarot and clearly established himself as the leading French occultist of the late nineteenth century.



Decker, Ronald; DePaulis, Thierry; Dummett, Michael.  (1996).  A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot.  New York: St. Martin’s.  ISBN 0312162944.

McIntosh, Christopher.  (1972).  Éliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival.  London: Rider.  ISBN 0091122716. 

Papus.  (1909).  Le Tarot divinatoire: clef du tirage des cartes et des sorts [Divination by Tarot: Key to Reading Cards and Lots].  Republished (1998).  St-Jean-de-Braye: Éditions Dangles.  ISBN 2703300670.

Papus.  (1910).  (A. P. Norton, Trans.; A. E. Waite, Ed.).  The Tarot of the Bohemians: The Most Ancient Book in the World. (3d ed.).  London: Rider.  Republished numerous times.  Originally published in French as Le Tarot des Bohémiens: Le plus ancien Livre du monde (1889). 

Tarot Deck

Le Tarot Divinatoire par le docteur Papus [The Divinatory Tarot by Doctor Papus]Paris: Éditions Dusserre.  This deck is closely based on Goulinat’s illustrations in Papus’ Le Tarot divinatoire (q.v.) with the exception that it is colorized.


Revak, James W.  The Amazing Major Arcanum Esoteric Symbol Quiz. Explore brief commentary on the Major Arcana by Papus and other major Tarotists.

Revak, James W.  Tarot Divination: Three Parallel Traditions.  Includes divinatory meanings from Papus’ Le Tarot divinatoire (q.v.) which depend from Etteilla and his students.


Free Bulletin Tells You When Villa Revak Is Updated! I Want More Interactive Adventures In Tarot!
Copyright © 2001 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  Version 1.1 (11/23/01).