Review by Solandia
Jean Francois Alliette, better known to us by his pseudonym Etteilla, was an important figure in the development of modern Tarot. In the late eighteenth century, he published the first known book focusing on the use Tarot for divinatory purposes and created the first set of Tarot cards specifically for occult and divinatory use.
Few cards remain today from Etteilla's original deck, but it served as a template for later versions created by his students. One of these, published in 1870 as 'Grand Jeu de Oracle des Dames' - Great Game of the Oracle of Ladies and known to academics as 'Grande Etteilla III', has been reproduced by Lo Scarabeo as the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot.
While based on Etteilla's cards and concepts, the 1870 deck differs somewhat from the original cards. It has medieval-styled images, and modifications were made to the imagery of some majors, but the titles and keywords remained unchanged. As it is a reproduction rather than a re-creation, the art of these cards looks old and age-toned in hue.
A deck of 78 cards with 22 majors and four suits of 14 cards each, the cards are numbered from 1 to 78 with the title appearing on the left and right hand borders. The top and bottom of the card bear upright and reversed keywords. (While I speak little French, English has borrowed enough words from it that I can generally understand the meaning of the keywords on these cards.)
Translated from French, the major arcana cards (also referred to as the superior 'Lames' in the booklet) are:
0 & 78 - Folly
- Birds & Fish
- High Priest
- Magician or Bateleur
- Wheel of Fortune
- "The African Despot" (yes, seriously)
Some of the major cards are recognisable as tarot archetypes, but more are greatly changed or wholly unfamiliar. Most easily recognisable is Justice (a woman with sword and scales), while at the other end of the spectrum is Bird & Fishes (which depicts just what it sounds like), Chaos and the Heavens, both of which have multi-coloured circular designs. The minor arcana (inferior Lames) are pip cards in suits of Batons, Cups, Swords and Coins, and the court cards (median Lames) are fully illustrated.
While Etteilla might have erroneously attributed the origins of Tarot to the Magi or Ancient Egyptian (hence the 'Book of Thoth' title) his deck was an important milestone in the development of Tarot as we know it. This is an interesting Tarot, ideal for the student of historical tarot, and for the collector of pre-Waite Tarot decks.