On March 19, 2021, I published an article on my blog in which I introduced my newest project, The First Occult Tarot, a Tarot based on an essay published in 1781, in Court de Gébelin’s eighth volume of his monumental encyclopedia, Monde primitif (accurately translated as Primordial World). I chose not to base the deck on the first article by Court de Gébelin, but on the second article, written by his friend the comte de Mellet.
I made this decision because I find de Gébelin’s interpretation of the cards somewhat shallow and comte de Mellet’s interpretations are more complete. I feel that they are closer to the interpretations that these images would have had in the Renaissance. He clearly sees that each of the three groups of seven trumps has a distinct character, different from the other groups. His overall interpretation is well founded in Hermetic philosophy. Basing his observations on the Besançon Tarot instead of the Tarot of Marseille, he reads the trumps from the World to the Fool as a descent from the Age of Gold, trumps 21 to 15; through the Age of Silver, trumps 14 to 8; and to the Ages of Copper and Iron, trumps 7 to 1 and the Fool, representing the madness of the modern world. What is implied but left unsaid, is that if the trumps describe the descent of humans into a state of ignorance, when we read them forward, from the Fool to the World, they describe the ascent back to a state of spiritual Oneness. Like the Hermetica, they are a textbook for achieving gnosis.
At this time, I have completed the trumps and most of the cards in the minor suits. Unlike de Gébelin, de Mellet discussed the minor suits and their role in divination. However, his list of meanings and imagery for the pips and courts is random and incomplete. When he has neglected to supply meanings, I have completed my list by researching traditional 18th- and 19th- century meanings associated with playing card divination, particularly L’art de tirer les cartes, “The Art of Reading Cards,” 1843, by Joahannès Trismégiste, an author who was either heavily influenced by de Mellet or working from the same model. I was also able to gain insights by examining the imagery on the Besançon and Aluette cards, the decks on which de Mellet based his observations. The imagery on my pips is heavily influenced by the Aluette cards, an 18th century French four-suit deck that made use of the Spanish suit symbols.
Like de Gébelin, de Mellet believed that the Tarot originated in Ancient Egypt, but their experience of Egyptian art and culture was mostly of the late Hellenized period when Egypt was merged with Classical culture. I based my imagery on this combination of Egyptian and Classical art. I was also influenced by the art of the 19th century Egyptian fantasy known as Egyptomania.
To complete this project, it was essential that I have an accurate translation of the 18th century French text, and until now, an accurate translation was not to be found. Fortunately, David Vine, an expert in historical French and a highly skilled translator, took on the task and has published a complete and accurate translation of both de Gébelin’s and de Mellet’s texts. along with Vine’s commentaries based on his extensive research of period French sources. And as an even greater stroke of fortune, David Vine has agreed to work with me on the book I am writing to accompany The First Occult Tarot deck, and which will now include Vine’s translation of de Mellet’s description of the trumps.
I still have royal cards to design and a book to write. So, it will be a while before you can preorder The First Occult Tarot deck and book set. But meanwhile, I recommend getting a copy of David Vine’s Vintage Tarot Texts: Antoine Court de Gébelin 1781; Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle Comte de Mellet, published by Editions letarot.com.