"Egyptians" Tarot cards


It must be said openly that trying to analyze the Egyptian Tarot as such is complete nonsense. There are innumerable versions, and each one follows its own rules, often created by the authors themselves and the fusion of preconceived ideas of Egyptian mysticism and the practices from other Tarots. However, it is worth reviewing the origins that make this type of deck one of the most interesting for the public, as well as checking the similarities they share.

If we try to analyze Tarot decks, we will find mainly two types that call themselves "Egyptian Tarot". One of these groups are those decks that, with the thought that the origin of the tarot is in Egypt, tried to capture in their decks some elements or subliminal ideas about magic, religion, mysticism and the secrecy of this culture, but they do not necessarily show an Egyptian iconography, rather, they mostly follow a traditional pattern to which they adjust what is attractive to them. The belief that the Tarot and cartomancy come from Egypt has existed since ancient times, being in the 18th century where this idea spread the most, largely due to the work of Antoine Court de Gébelin (1725-1784), who initiated the study. of the Tarot as an ancestral esoteric system, and Jean Baptiste Alliete (1738-1791), known as Eteilla, founder of the Societé des interprètes du Livre de Thoth (Society of Interpreters of the Book of Thoth), understood as a set of hermetic wisdom with associations astrological and with the arcana. The analysis also vaguely deduced that the Roma tribes came from Asia or Africa, specifically Egypt, and that in their migration they spread the art of Tarot throughout Europe, but the esoteric and visual value of ancient Egyptian culture cannot be denied either, which at this time it was being rediscovered. Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) author of one of the most popular and used tarot cards in the world, the Rider Waite (1910) sensed and intended to hint at the presence of Egyptian mysticism in his deck: however, despite his attempts, his tarot is appreciated for many reasons, but Egyptian symbolism is rarely referenced, manifested in only a couple of cards. This is even more complex in Aleister Crowley's tarot, which is called the Book of Thoth, and the subtitle Egyptian Tarot, where its illustrations are complex, deep and confusing for those who hope to find something related to Egypt, despite that with a correct analysis, several of these elements can be identified. This deck was illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, and in its images the cabal, astrology, gematria, numerology and many other esoteric knowledge that Crowley wanted to capture, whose history and interpretation will be made in other well-deserved articles.

The legend that is the main motivator for the development of Egyptian-style cartomancy is the so-called Book of Thoth, which is mentioned in a fragmentary text from the Ptolemaic period (SII BC), in which a character called "He who loves wisdom ", identified with the god Thoth, reveals to a disciple some keys to divine knowledge, in the manner of a philosophical dialogue. From here an entire modern mythology was extracted according to which Thoth would have delivered divine knowledge to men, through the use of spells and perhaps, through the use of a deck of cards, or rather, through the symbolic syncretism of archetypal images (the characters represented in the Tarot). This story joins that of Setne and Neferkaptah, where Setne tries to steal the book of Thoth from the tomb of the Neferkaptah, and suffers from horrible visions about his future, as a warning that divine power is not within the reach of men.

As it has already been said, the Egyptian tarot has multiple versions, since contrary to what is intended to be believed, since even today many claim to be the only and/or authentic one that "the Egyptians used", there is no archaic and authentic Egyptian model from which the rest of the decks have drunk. The Egyptian Tarot does not exist. Only the mentioned texts and the mysteries of a culture that was still little known are available, from which all the subsequent thought was extracted for the creation of the so-called Egyptian Tarot, although their archetypes are shared in the majority of decks of Tarot since the Middle Ages, although everything indicates that there is no common origin. It is believed that the first of the Tarot variants presented as Egyptian was created by Etteila himself, and that all the others have come from it, being the common source: but of its three supposed versions, all lacked Egyptian iconography, attractive mainly searched, although they tried to link it with their ancestral culture. The Eteilla tarot had a "simple" and double interpretation, according to the position of the right or reverse of the cards, and hardly altered the customary meanings of the so-called gypsy tarots.It is more likely that most of the Egyptian tarot, our second classification, is based on the one created by R. Falconnier in 1896 and illustrated by M. O. Wegener. Falconnier was based in turn on the ideas and teachings from occultist Paul Christian. Here, the images finally show a complete Egyptian aesthetic, together with the hermetic knowledge that both he and his predecessors were forced to present. The major arcana are the important ones, and the only ones that are included in the deck. It can be said that it is the first truly Egyptian tarot. Actually, the versions that have come down to us, with the exception of those indicated, which are preserved by tradition, are practically current, created at most at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, whose main characteristic is the Egyptian representation, this being its greatest attraction, and many of them are nothing more than copies of Falconnier's with another style of illustration or color. As It will be seen, carried by the tarot tradition, many of them include the minor arcana, organized into four usual suits, but they are not too new. They usually have a clean name, Egyptian Tarot -although they also have many variants and subtitles-, and the illustrations of their cards are made in the manner of the paintings of the palaces and tombs of the pharaohs, from whose attractiveness they profit.

The Egyptian Tarot, introduced with this name, or with that of "of the Egyptian gods", "of Nefertari", "of the doors", "eternal" and a long list of Egyptian references, usually consists of 56 minor arcana and 22 major arcana. The most modern ones tend to represent the traditional Major Arcana associated with Egyptian deities and/or mythological situations, something that did not happen in Falconnier's, where the arcana have been transposed from the traditional model to an Egyptian aesthetic with characters without prominence, in any case seeking some allegory and loading the environment with many other symbols, such as animals, fantastic or not, temples or objects referring specifically to a divinity or to some virtue that prevails in the archetype that is represented. This continues to be maintained in a large part of the Tarot that are nothing more than transpositions of Falconnier's, as well as in others that, with a traditional presentation, dare to include these same symbols to defend their presentation as "archaic" or "Egyptian".

In those of Egyptian imagery, as some common examples in which the divinities are mixed with the usual representation, we can mention the arcane of the Magician, always represented by Thoth, of course, the god of wisdom or with his animal, the ibis. The Hanged Man is Osiris sacrificed, following the story of his tearing to pieces and resurrection, thereby becoming a deity of life and death, sometimes including elements related to the harvest. Set is the Devil's card, as the enemy of Osiris and Horus, but not necessarily and inescapably evil, since he is also the one who helps Ra in his fight against the serpent Apophis, in the same way that the Devil does not only imply destruction or evil. failure. If it is not Set, Typhon, the mythological monster of Greek antiquity, appears. Anubis is the High Priest, as the main person in charge of the question of death in Amduat and the main architect of the resurrection of Osiris, but it is easy to represent death with a sarcophagus or a mummy. Isis is the magician goddess par excellence, and for this reason her image is linked to that of the Popess, who in traditional tarot is identified as a mystical door, as access to higher knowledge. Horus, the son of Isis and Osiris, is related to the Chariot card, just as the two-horse charioteer symbolizes balance and justice, as well as leadership. Maat, the goddess of Justice, embodies the same, sometimes represented as a woman with the scales, and other times as the feather itself that competes against the weight of the heart. The hermit is represented by Konsu, lunar god, being solitude and reflection light in the dark. Sekmet, the lioness goddess who lost control over a taste for human blood, and was tricked into trading blood for wine, is the card of Strength, who tends to be represented by a lion, referring to both power and power out of control.

There are many cards whose representation and interpretation becomes more complex. The Sun card has an interesting representation in this situation, and that is that it is both Ra and Geb, the god of the earth. In both cases it is a positive card, since Ra always defeats Apophis, and Geb is a fertile and nutritious god, who receives the sun's rays. Fortune, through the wheel of fortune, generally accompanied by Horus, Anubis, and the mother goddess Mut, in the idea of ​​her protection against the future of opposites. Temperance according to some is Isis as cunning and protective, according to others, a winged spirit of man, represented in an allegorical way. The Fool, according to some tarots, is an initiate in some mystery religion, freed from earthly ties. The Emperor and Empress sometimes represent Osiris and Isis before the fatal event of his death, at other times they represent Horus and his wife Hathor, and in many cases, it is simply a general representation taken from Egyptian funerary iconography. The High Priest is usually Osiris, just as she is the High Priestess, but Ptah also appears un this position. The goddess Khnum is identified with the Star card, and their relationship is not very clear, since she is a fertility goddess, for which reason she has been interpreted as a guide, or a new path.

Even trying hard it's common to see lax representations within a deck that could be seen as caring. For example, the Judgment card becomes the card for the weighing of souls or Psychostasis, indicating the most important judgment in the life of an ancient Egyptian, or also the image of the Ka or Ba -Egyptian parts of the soul- separating from the deceased, represented with a sarcophagus, in the idea that in reality, the Judgment is not taking place, but is about to arrive. In some cases, simply a sarcophagus, accompanied or not by some other character, to refer to this judgment from the Beyond, where even celestial characters can appear playing trumpets - something that is not an Egyptian reference. The World card generally tries to represent a balanced Whole, through different symbols and images where a mostly female figure -as in traditional tarot cards- dominates the center or upper center of the card, be it a sphinx, a goddess or an allegory. In the Lovers card, the couple is not divine, but human, and the symbols that surround them, this time divine, are the ones that warn about the necessary balance in the couple. However, many other images are carbon copies of traditional tarot cards. The Tower or the Moon do not show, with few exceptions, any variety, except for the intentionally Egyptian aesthetic. Nor is this usually the case in the Wheel of Fortune or the Star.

Despite being an Egyptian-style Tarot, most versions include arcane and cabalistic symbols under or inscribed on the images - often a Hebrew letter to be related to its numerical value following the cabalistic gematria, a planetary symbol, and / or other zodiacal or astrological. This is mainly due to the Falconnier model, which included astrological symbols and the so-called Alphabet of the Magicians, supposedly created by Paracelsus for the development of his healing talismans. Likewise, it is due to the studies about the Tarot, that although they claim that the oldest forms of knowledge come from Egypt, they cannot separate from the deck all the astrological and esoteric traditions that have accompanied it since the Middle Ages and whose repercussion, especially in the last centuries, continues in force. This is easily identifiable in situations where even the name of the card does not manifest anything specifically Egyptian, for example, when the Judgment arcana, instead of being represented by Maat or called in this way, shows a different image and receives the Job's name, in reference to the Biblical Saint Job. In addition, it should not be forgotten that they are very recent decks that drink from the tradition of tarot scholars, having several predecessors with whom they share many of these occult relationships. This will be all the more noticeable when Baphomet himself, Templar or occultist, appears, usually in arcana related to passion, sexuality or strength, although always looking for the well-known aesthetic.

Whether or not this symbolism is present, it is well known that the astrological question in Egypt weighs heavily, both in its ancient culture and in the vision that we've got of it. For this reason, we can also find certain cards that are linked to the cardinal points, to the days of the week, to the months of the year, to the solstices, to the seven astrological planets and even to the ages of man or the gender. Due to the importance of the number four, which also exists in Crowley, who extracts it from the Kabbalah, it is usually done by dividing the card into 4 "pieces", in a cross, first interpreting each symbol and image, and then the joint meaning. This makes it possible for both the psychic and the client to pay attention to the details of the situation, and not simply look for a positive or negative response from the whole. However, they can be consulted like any other tarot, since the meanings are always parallel.

As for the casting, it is not difficult to realize their intention. There are so-called triangle or pyramid toss, of three or six cards, which take this form. Normally tarot readers point out that the first one or the symbolizes the past, the second one or the present, and the last one or the future outcome. When there are more cards, the narrative of fate is further developed. The four cards toss is also appetizing. However, we will also find copies of those carried out in other tarots, such as the cross toss or the nine toss, just another proof that the Tarot continues to preserve, whatever its form, a tradition that weighs more than any innovation.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -pietrocarracedo@gmail.com

-Huson, P. Mystical origins of the Tarot: from Ancient Roots to Modern Usage. Inner tradicitions bear company. EEUU. (2004)
-Lichtheim, M. Ancient Egyptian Literature. I. The Old and Middle Kingdoms. University of California Press, Oakland, EEUU (1973)
-Mosquera, J.M. Llonch Segarra, S. Ludus Triumphorum. La Historia del Tarot. Asociación Española de Tarot Profesional. Lulu. (2017)

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