Ettellia Tarot (I): "Arcana or main cards.


Etteilla Tarot

The news about Jean Baptiste Alliette (1738 - 1791) is varied and confusing, however, the world of Tarot owes a lot to this French occultist who, with his name backwards, Etteilla, was the first professional tarot reader and created one of the first "playable" tarot decks, that is, intended for sale and personal use, and also paved the way for tarot readers of the 19th and 20th centuries to create their own tarot "in the Egyptian way."

It is said that he was a French hairdresser who discovered a vein of gold in esotericism, however, everything indicates that this was a rumor to discredit him, since among his jobs we find many positions related to commerce, such as seed seller, consultant or printer, which fits more with his projects and proximity to the decks of cards. Furthermore, he was finally able to make a living from esotericism. Although it tried to be based on the tarot of Court de Gébelin - who was the first to associate the tarot with the Egyptian world, hermeticism, etc. - in the end Alliette designed her own card system, and associated it with the Book of Thoth, creating her own fantasy about seventeen Egyptian magicians who had come together to create it. Alliette published four volumes about his tarot, the last in 1785, and his most representative works were "Manière de se recréer ave cíe jeu de cañes nomnées Tarots", Ways of entertaining oneself with the card game called tarot, and "Jeu d'Oracle des Dames", the Oracle of Checkers Game. All the fantasies Alliette spoke about the Egyptians and the tarot earned her harsh criticism from other scholars and occult circles, most notably Eliphas Levi. However, he did contribute other new and valuable things to divination, such as the interpretation of inverted cards. And, why not say it, if it weren't for him, the world of tarot would not have been opened to all the townspeople, since before it was only an object of study by scholars and upper-class people.

However, his tarot is one of the most complicated to interpret, and we do not preserve any pure or original Ettellia deck, we do not preserve any "Ettellia" deck from before the 19th century. There were several tarots under the name Ettellia, which are commonly organized into Grand Ettellia, Grand Ettellia II, and Grand Ettellia III. But these divisions are neither clear nor authentic. Even within the first model, there are several models, which makes everything even more obscure and complicated.

Etteilla's deck has 78 cards. The traditional division of the major and minor arcana is not valid for this tarot, however, it is easy to distinguish the main cards of the four suits (pentacles, cups, swords and wands). The order of the standard tarot is also not valid, since here the order and illustrations vary. The meanings are also different, except in the most archetypal cases. Due to the fall into disuse and the few translations from French, there are several versions under the name Etteilla, very different from each other. However, we find more differences in the illustrations and spread systems than in the meaning of the cards themselves.

In Ettellia's letters there are no "arcana" as such. In the Ettellia tarot, the first cards symbolize Creation, the four cardinal virtues, and the events of men's lives. The rest are divided into four suits that begin with the King, Queen, Rider and Jack, and then the numbers 10 to 1, which always have a yellow square with a false hieroglyph, god or allegory. If the image is not clear enough, the yellow box is the one that indicates whether the card is right side up or upside down (usually the yellow box below is right side up, and above it is reverse side).

Due to this ability to read straight or inverted cards, in most methods of making spreads it is recommended that, when cutting the deck, one or two parts of the cut be voluntarily reversed before joining it to the deck, thus ensuring that cards will come out in both senses.

"Arcana" or main cards.

Let's analyze the main cards. This is a summary, to read the full meanings of these cards, you can follow this link:

The first eight cards symbolize Creation, following the biblical Genesis, although changing the order of days.

> The first card is Chaos. "The world was total chaos, darkness covered the abyss" It symbolizes emptiness, but also infinite possibilities. He is known as Etteila or the Consultant (male). Basic meanings: Ideal - Wisdom

> The light. "Then God said, Let there be light! And there was light. When God saw that the light was good, he separated it from the darkness, calling the light "day" and the darkness "night."" Symbolizes clarity. Its element is fire. Basic meanings: Clarification - Passion.

> The plants or the Moon. This difference is due to the illustrations, which sometimes use the traditional tarot Moon model to symbolize the water element. "God made the firmament and separated the waters that are below from the waters that are above" Symbolizes cleanliness, resolution. Your element is water. Basic meanings: Discussion - Instability.

> Heaven. "God called the firmament "heaven."" It symbolizes changes, time, getting rid of something. Its element is Air. Basic meanings: Revelation - Behavior

> Man and the quadrupeds, or the World. This difference is also due to the illustration, which is reminiscent of that of the traditional Tarot, with the four evangelists. "God made the wild animals, the domestic animals and all the creeping things of the field, each according to its kind (...) And God created the human being in his image; in the image of God he created him; man and woman he created them. " It symbolizes movement, travel. Its element is Earth. Basic meanings: Travel -Rural goods.

> The planets. "God made the two great stars: the larger star to rule the day, and the smaller one to rule the night. He also made the stars. God placed stars in the firmament to illuminate the earth." It symbolizes duality and time, day and night. Basic meanings: Secrets - Truth

> The fish and the birds. It symbolizes protection, balance. "And God created the great sea animals, and all the living creatures that move and swarm in the waters; and he also created all the birds, all according to their kind." Basic meanings: Support - Protection

> Rest / Female Consultant. Symbolizes reflection. "And on the seventh day he rested" Basic meanings: Tenacity - Progress

Etteilla. The Creation
Etteilla. The Creation

Some of these cards have correspondences with the traditional major arcana:

The Light with the Sun (XIX), the Plants with the Moon (XVIII), the Sky with the Star (XVII) and Man and the Quadrupeds with the World (XXI). The cards of Chaos, the Stars, Fish and Birds, and Rest, are originals, created by the author.

The following four cards symbolize the cardinal human virtues,

  • Justice. Basic meanings: Justice - Legislation.
  • Temperance. Basic meanings: Temperance - Convictions.
  • The force. Basic meanings: Strength - Power.
  • Prudence. Basic meanings: Prudence - Popularity.
Etteilla. Cardinal virtues
Etteilla. Cardinal virtues

In other versions of the Ettellia Tarot, these cards have illustrations that have sometimes led to a name change: Justice changes the Judge. Temperance changes the Priest. The force changes the Sovereign. And prudence changes the People.

Of these four cards, the first three correspond to those of the same name in traditional tarots (VIII, XIV and IX, respectively). Prudence corresponds to Hanged Man XII.

Finally, among the "main" cards, we have those that represent the events in people's lives:

  • Marriage / Union. Basic meanings: Marriage - Affair
  • Force Majeure. Basic meanings: Violence - Weakness.
  • Disease. Basic meanings: Sadness - Illness.
  • The Judgment. Basic meanings: Opinion - Judgment
  • Death. Basic meanings: Death - Disability.
  • The traitor. Basic meanings: Betrayal - Falsehood
  • Misery / Prison. Basic meanings: Poverty - Prison.
  • Fortune / The Wheel of Fortune. Basic meanings: Fortune - Increase.
  • The discord. Basic meanings: Judicial process - Legal dispute.
  • (or 78). The fool. Basic meanings: Madness - Lack of knowledge.
Etteilla. Events in human lives
Etteilla. Events in human lives

These cards correspond to some of the traditional tarot. Marriage, with the Lover (VI). Force Majeure, with the Devil (XV). The Judgment, with the same name (XX), as well as Death (XIII), and the Wheel of Fortune (X). The Traitor corresponds to The Hermit (IX), because he represents a religious person. Misery/Prison corresponds to The Tower (XVI), and Discord, to the Chariot (VII), because it is represented as a two-horse chariot.

As for the Fool (which obviously corresponds to the Fool card, which usually has no number), in some decks we will find that it is joined to the rest of the "arcana", and in others, that it is placed at the end of all the suits.

In the Ettellia Tarot there is no Empress (III) or Emperor (IV). There is also no Hierophant or Pope (V) nor Priestess or Popess (II). The latter were eliminated to avoid problems with the Church, although in previous tarot decks, they had already been replaced by Greco-Roman gods instead of eliminating them.

Changes between decks.

As said in the introduction, there are at least three different versions of the Grand Etteilla (I, II and III). The main differences that we find between the decks occur in the first cards of Grand Etteilla I, where there were already changes: for example, Chaos is changed to Light or Ettelia/Consultant; There are also decks in which it appears as the Void. And the first cards, related to Creation, sometimes appeared as the elements (Fire, Water, Air and Earth).

In Grand Ettellia II, we can find the replacement of the Priest by the Magician, and then by Illness, and the Fool, card number 78, was not included among the arcana in Grand Ettellia I, but was in II. Prudence, instead of being represented with a caduceus and a snake, changed and was represented with a mirror and a book. Temperance, represented as usual by a woman pouring water from one amphora to another, in this deck was represented as a woman with horse bridles and an elephant. We also find that the Repose, which represented Eve in Paradise, was temporarily replaced by a sorceress (but this illustration is practically impossible to find today). The Discord card was renamed The African Despot, but its illustration did not change.

The Grand Ettellia III established the medieval models that we will always find in these decks. Temperance was represented with horse bridles but with a cup in the other hand. Some representations changed radically. The Wheel of Fortune was represented with a monkey with a sword and a man attached to the wheel, but now it was a woman with her eyes covered on a wooden wheel.

Pietro V. Carracedo Ahumada -


-Cunningham, S. The Book of Thoth - Etteilla Tarot. Llewellyn Worldwide Limited, 2003

- Hundley, J. ; Fiebig, J; Kroll, M. Tarot. La Biblioteca del Esoterismo.

-Llonch Segarra, S.; Mosquera, José M. Ludus Triumphorum - La Historia del Tarot. Asociación Española de Tarot Profesional. (Lulu) 2017..

-Salas, E. El gran libro de Tarot. Robinbook, 2017.

Related posts:

>Etteilla tarot: "arcana" meaning

> The Four elements in Tarot.

>Divination with the crystal ball

> Pendulum. Divination and dowsing

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