The Influence of Etteilla &
His School on Mathers & Waite
By James W. Revak



The review of literature suggested the following hypotheses:

H-se-m: The SE significantly influenced Mathers’ DMs;

H-se-w: The SE significantly influenced Waites’ DMs; and

H-m-w: Mathers significantly influenced Waites’ DMs.


To test the hypotheses, the author judged that a meticulous textual comparison of DMs was appropriate.  He selected part of chapter four (pp. 48-50) and all of chapter six (pp. 112-152) of Papus’ Le Tarot divinatoire (1909) as source authorities for the SE’s DMs.  Chapter four (pp. 48-50) comprises selected card combinations (e.g. four Kings, three Kings, two Kings, etc.), which Papus attributes to Etteilla.  Chapter six is titled:

“A Detailed Study of the Divinatory Meanings of 78 Cards in Accordance with Etteila [sic] and D’Odoucet


“Commentary by d’Odoucet [sic]”  (p. 112).

For this chapter, Papus repeatedly cited D’Odoucet’s Science des signes as his source, which, as noted above, reproduced the synonyms from Dictionnaire synonimique.  Furthermore, Decker, Depaulis, & Dummett (1996) state that this chapter essentially “copies the table of meanings found in the Dictionnaire synonimique” (p. 107).  Clearly, this selection from Papus is a product of the SE.  Regrettably, books by Etteilla and members of his school concerning Tarot were apparently not in print (, 2000; Culture Surf, 2000) and unavailable to the author at the time he conducted this study; therefore, they were excluded from consideration as source authorities.  The sole exception, as mentioned above, was the fourth book of Manière de se récréer . . . Tarots (Etteilla, 1785/1993); however, it lacks anything approaching a comprehensive discussion of DMs.  It too, therefore, was excluded from consideration.

An English translation of Le Tarot divinatoire has apparently never been published; therefore, the author of this report translated the aforementioned selections into English, which comprises part of Tarot Divination: Three Parallel Traditions (Papus, Mathers & Waite, 1909, 1888, 1910/2000).  Although he is not completely fluent in French he has studied the language on the university level.  To help ensure that the translation was accurate, he regularly referred to appropriate authorities on the French language (Beryl et al, 1998; Hawkins & Towell, 1997).  Upon completion, he carefully reviewed the translation twice for accuracy and completeness at which time he made a few corrections and improvements.

With regard to Mathers’ The Tarot (1888/1993), the author used all DMs in the section titled Meanings of the Cards (pp. 23-61).  With regard to the DMs of selected card combinations in the section titled Special Insights (pp. 63-65), Mathers, as noted above, attributed most of them to Etteilla (see p. 63).  Although they presumably depend from Etteilla the author found no source with which to compare them; therefore, he regrettably excluded them from this study.

With regard to Waite’s PKT (1910), the author used all:

  • DMs of the Minor Arcana in part 3, section 2 (pp. 170-282);
  • DMs of the Major Arcana in part 3, section 3 (pp. 283-287);
  • Supplementary DMs for the Minor Arcana in part 3, section 4 (pp. 288-293); and
  • DMs for selected card combinations in part 3, section 5 (pp. 295-297).


Before comparing DMs assigned to the Trumps one must determine correspondences between the Trumps of ET and those of the TM and similar decks; as noted above, the Trumps differ significantly by decks.  Papus (1909), Kaplan (p. 140, 1978), and Decker, Depaulis & Dummett (Table 2, p. 86, 1996) have suggested correspondences.  Apparently, although Mathers (1888/1993) used none of these, Waite (1910) used those of Papus.  Therefore, this paper will use those of Papus.  For details about how the author made this decision, see Appendix C.


To conduct his analysis, the author meticulously compared each DM of Mathers to the corresponding DMs of the SE and classed each DM of Mathers as a strong match, modest match, or no match.  Similarly, he compared each DM of Waite to the corresponding DMs of the SE and classed each DM of Waite as a strong match, etc. The author also compared each DM of Waite not matching those of the SE to those of Mathers and classed each as a strong match, etc.

A strong match comprised DMs which were identical or very similar.  A modest match comprised DMs which were not strong matches but were similar to the extent that a reasonable person would likely conclude that they were probably related.  The assignment of DMs to specific card orientations (upright or reversed) did not influence the classification process.  The author judged that similarities between DMs were sufficient for classification regardless the card orientation to which they were assigned.  For example, if he judged that an upright DM from Waite was identical to a reversed DM from the SE, the DM from Waite was classed as a strong match.

However, in some cases, even if DMs were apparent matches, the author classed them as no match.  Specifically, if he judged that a reasonable person with a working knowledge of Western Esotericism and its iconography could construe a given DM of Mathers or Waite by visual inspection of the TM or like decks, then such DM was always classed as no match.  He did so even if such DM of Mathers or Waite was identical to that of the SE.

For example, Trump 11 of the TM and similar decks (or Trump 8 of RWS) is typically titled Strength or Fortitude and depicts strength personified as a woman either opening or shutting a lion’s mouth (e.g., see Conver, 1761; Waite & Smith 1909/1971).  Therefore, when Mathers or Waite made reference to strength, fortitude, power, etc., the author classed these DMs as no match—even though the SE espoused identical or similar DMs.

Finally, to help determine to what extent, if any, Waite may have used Mathers as his source for DMs from the SE, the author compared the subset of Waite’s DMs which matched (strongly or modestly) those of the SE to the corresponding DMs of Mathers.  He then classed each as a strong match, etc.

The author compared all DMs in like manner and recorded his judgments in a computerized spreadsheet.  Later, he reviewed both his judgments and the spreadsheet for completeness and accuracy at which time he made a few improvements and corrections to the data set.

For detailed examples of how the author compared DMs, see Appendix D.

Copyright © 2000 James W. Revak.  All rights reserved.  Version 1.1 (8/19/00).