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


Etteilla’s Tarot

In light of his many accomplishments, why did some leading occultists scorn Etteilla?  One possible explanation is his redesign of the Tarot deck; his critics vehemently objected to his radical revision of the venerable Tarot de Marseille (Tarot of Marseilles) (TM), which dates from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries (Kaplan, 1978, 1986).  Etteilla’s revisions included renumbering (reordering) the Trumps, the use of new (sometimes radically so) iconography, and the overt use of elemental, astrological, and cosmological correspondences (Decker, Depaulis & Dummett, 1996; see also Etteilla, 1785/1993, c. 1788/c. 1975).

Let us briefly compare ET with the TM to understand better the extent and character of his revisions.  For this purpose the current Grand Etteilla (Etteilla, c.1788/c. 1975) will serve as the exemplar of ET (see also Kaplan, 1978, 1986).  This deck closely resembles Etteilla’s original; however, the keywords diverge from the original (Decker, Depaulis, & Dummett, 1996): they are bilingual (French and English) and, more importantly, sometimes differ significantly from the originals.  Therefore, the author of this report has edited the images to restore the original French keywords.  Conver’s TM, published in Marseilles (1761), will serve as the exemplar of the TM (see also Kaplan, 1978, 1986).

Let us begin by visually comparing selected Trumps.  Comparison of the ET Appuis/Protection [Support/Protection] to the TM L’Empereur [The Emperor], to which it corresponds (Decker, Depaulis, & Dummett, p. 86, Table 2, 1996; Kaplan, p. 140, 1978), reveals major differences to the reasonable viewer (see Figure 3).  Certainly, the keywords or titles and iconography are radically different.  The Trumps of ET, in part, depict the seven days of a creation myth—possibly related to one in the Hermetic classic Pymander (Decker, Depaulis, & Dummett, 1996).  Specifically, Appuis/Protection depicts the fifth day; hence the label 5 Cré. (short for Création [Creation]) (in the upper right and lower left corners).  On this day sea creatures and birds were made; hence the imagery which depicts these animals rather than an emperor.  The numerical order of the cards also differs: the ET Appuis/Protection is seven (hence 7 in the upper left and lower right corners); however, the TM L’Empereur is four (hence IIII in the upper middle).  Note also that Etteilla’s card corresponds to the zodiacal sign Libra (hence the sigil on the upper left and lower right sides) (see also Etteilla, 1785/1993); however, no overt zodiacal correspondence appears on the TM L’Empereur.

Appuis/Protection from ET  L'Empereur from the TM

Figure 3 (left to right): Appuis/Protection from ET (adapted from Etteilla, c. 1788/c. 1975, published by Grimaud); and L’Empereur from the TM (Conver, 1761, republished by Héron).  Click the images for larger ones.

Some Trumps from ET resemble corresponding Trumps from the TM more closely, yet significant differences persist.  For example, Etteille’s La Justice/Le Légiste (Justice/The Jurist) resembles the TM La Justice [Justice] (see Figure 4).  Both depict justice personified as a woman seated on a throne, crowned, and holding a sword in one hand and a balance in her other.  Significant differences, nevertheless, stand out.  Specifically, Etteilla’s La Justice is numbered nine, whereas her counterpart in the TM is numbered eight.  In addition, Etteilla’s card corresponds to Sagitarius (see also Etteilla, 1785/1993), which departs from the TM, because either the TM La Justice has no overt astrological correspondence, or, because of her balance, a reasonable person with a basic knowledge of astrology might assign it to Libra (e.g., Wirth 1927/1985).  In either case, Etteilla’s assignment of La Justice to Sagitarius comprises another departure from the TM.  Many additional significant differences between the Trumps of ET and those of the TM exist; selected ones may be found in Appendix B.

La Justice/Le Légiste from ET  La Justice from the TM

Figure 4: (left to right) La Justice/Le Légiste from ET (adapted from Etteilla c. 1788/c. 1975, published by Grimaud); and La Justice from the TM (Conver, 1761, republished by Héron).  Click the images for larager ones.

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