This page is to track the progress of my Etteilla Tarot construction. The project was started in 2022.
Every illustration starts with a hand sketch using pen and ink. The sketch is then scanned in and digitally colored using seamless tile patterns that I make and digital brushes that I have created.
Jean-Baptiste Alliette is, according to the tarot community’s beliefs, the first professional tarot reader. He’s at least acknowledged for popularizing the profession of tarot.
He was an 18th-century tarot expert, which I didn’t know. In this brave new world of Instagram witches and tarot-tube and Facebook groups, it made sense to pay tribute to him. My Etteilla, a redux of his creations as a tribute is what my Etteilla will be.
Etteilla not only did tarot readings as a profession, but he also ran the New School of Magic, a magic school he created. He published his tarot classes in the local newspapers and taught people how “go pro” in cartomancy. Many of his students went on to become divination and tarot teachers.
He created his own tarot card deck in the late 1780s. It was a restoration of the Egyptian Book of Thoth by Hermes Trismegistus. He ran a campaign in his town to raise the funds he needed to print the deck (the first Kickstarter). ).
To create the illustrations, Etteilla and his colleague gathered pre-existing engravings from different sources. You mean like a collage deck from the 18th century? =P
He self-published books about astrology, magic and tarot. He also published ads for magic school and tarot classes. His New School of Magic students would contribute to a weekly newsletter.
Etteilla appeared to be very business-savvy. She attended print shop conferences in Strasbourg to get more information about the trade. (The best quality tarot card cards were at that time printed in Strasbourg. He was able to get patents and licenses to expand his magic school and tarot business.
His advertising and marketing efforts drew criticisms from “serious” occultists. Etteilla, in essence, was over-commercializing tarot… or so the criticism.
His life was not without drama. Most notably, he had to deal with a rival, d’Odoucet. Both parties resorted, in part, to publishing name-calling. However, d’Odoucet continued to make a profit off Etteilla’s legacy after Etteilla’s passing.
Etteilla would tell you about his school’s 500 students, and how 150 of them went on to become professional cartomancers. But then, he would also boast about the pupils who paid him money. He claimed that only a handful were good while the rest were charlatans.
He was also fearless in his political commentary, leaning progressive. He supported the Revolution. He demanded the abolition of taxes on playing cards or divinatory ones such as his Book of Thoth. He opposed the death penalty.
According to our sources, the man was born from a humble, working-class family. Arthur Edward Waite and Eliphas Levi, both occultists, would use this insult against him later, mocking his status as a barber and implying that he is not qualified to speak intelligently about esoteric subjects. Waite, Levi, and the Legacy of the Golden Dawn drew heavily from Etteilla’s card meanings.
Was Jean-Baptiste Alliette a mere barber? This is a topic of debate among tarot historians. It doesn’t matter what Etteilla’s “day job” was, it is clear that he was an entrepreneur. It is important to note that Levi & Waite brought up Etteilla’s barbering profession in order to amplify their condescension. It is to discredit Etteilla’s authority in tarot.
Etteilla’s tarot deck was very popular, but Levi rejected Etteilla’s re-ordering the trumps. He called it a “vulgar ordnance” and restored the numbering to the traditional order as on the Conver and Dodal (“Tarot de Marseille”)). Levi expressed disapproval for Etteilla and rejected Etteilla’s re-ordering of the trumps, calling it a “vulgar order” and a way Etteilla used the tarot to predict the future. (As opposed to Levi’s proposal of the Tarot as a sacred tool of transcendental, high magic a>
Etteilla thought that by creating his own deck of tarot cards, he was trying to restore the Book of Thoth’s tarot to its Egyptian roots, which the Marseille version had abandoned. The order of the trumps cards is quite different to what most tarot readers would expect. Etteilla changed the order of the trumps to make Cards 2-8 follow the seven days in Creation.
Most tarot card readers will interpret The Hermit to refer to introspection, the focus on the inner world, wisdom, or teaching. The Etteilla’s The Hermit card (Card 8) warns against treachery, slander, repentance, and that someone is in your midst. The Malady portends The Magician (Card 15, Majors), also known as The False Prophet.
The complete cast of four Virtues in the trumps is one of my favorite aspects of the Etteilla Tarot.
The Star card is often interpreted as a symbol of hope, rejuvenation, and healing. The Etteilla, card 4, shows the Star card (titled The Sky Le Ciel), which portends doom, trouble, and death.
Occult Tarot readers who are familiar with the English tradition of cards such as the RiderWaiteSmith or CrowleyHarris Thoth tend to connect planets, zodiac signs and Majors in a specific order and decan rulers to Minors.
The Etteilla assigns the 12 zodiac signs to the 12 Major Arcana cards. For example, Card 6 corresponds to Virgo, Card 7 corresponds to Libra, Card 8 corresponds to Scorpio, and so on.
The Etteilla also misses the Emperor and Empress. According to Papus, The Empress is replaced by Card 6, The Stars or, as some Etteillas call it, The Firmament.
We now have Card 7, Birds & Fish in place of The Emperor. Card 8 is the seventh day in Creation. It’s titled Rest in 1791 Livre de Thot. Papus suggests that this card is equivalent to the High Priestess and Popess.