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Pages (PDF): 32
Publication Date: 1888
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Revised and expanded edition of Mathers' original treatise. Three methods of reading cards are included, along with instructions for the game of tarot, which can be played by two or three people. This is a classic text that will be appreciated by anyone interested in the study of the tarot.
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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. "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?
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