The First Occult Tarot, is a my Tarot creation based on an essay published in 1781, in Court de Gébelin’s eighth volume of his occult encyclopedia, Monde primitif. Not on the first article by Court de Gébelin, but on the second article, written by his contributor the comte de Mellet, whose article I believe offers a more complete interpretation of the Tarot. I feel that his interpretations of the cards are closer to the way that these images would have been viewed in the Renaissance. He clearly sees that each of the three groups of seven trumps has a distinct character, different from the other groups, and his overall interpretation is well founded in Hermetic philosophy.
At this time, I have completed all of the cards and I am still working on the book which is being edited by my translator David Vine. For this article I want to focus on how I visualized the cards in the minor suits. I have based them as much as possible on the comte de Mellet’s descriptions. His discussion of the imagery and list of meanings for the pips and court cards, however, is random and incomplete. Where he has neglected to supply meanings, I have completed my list by researching traditional 18th– and 19th-century explanations associated with playing card divination, as found in L’art de tirer les cartes, “The Art of Reading Cards,” published in 1843 by Joahannès Trismégiste, an author who was either influenced by de Mellet or who was working from the same model. I was also able to gain insights by examining the imagery on the Besançon Tarot and Aluette playing cards, the decks on which de Mellet based his observations. The imagery on my pips is greatly based on the Aluette cards, especially the cards in that deck which display characters other than the suits symbols, and that may be imply divinatory meanings.
In his 1781 article, the comte de Mellet wrote that he derived the meanings for the cards of the minor suits from card readers who were using the regular four-suit playing card deck with French suit symbols. To apply their card meanings to the Tarot, which uses Italian suits symbols, he equated Clubs to Coins, Hearts to Cups, Swords to Spades, and Diamonds to Batons. This is the same system of correlation that is found in Père C. F. Menestrier’s essay on playing cards, published in 1704. Menestrier was a French priest who has been called “the father of playing card research.” His correlations differ from most modern ones in that he pairs Diamonds with Coins, and Clubs with Batons, but his system became the accepted norm in 18th-century France, when de Mellet was writing. Perhaps the Club symbol was thought to relate to the four-petaled flower on the Italian Coins, and the pattern of overlapping Batons on the Italian cards suggested the Diamond shape. Tarot historian Ron Decker speculates that the meanings that French card readers employed were derived from those current among Italian readers using the Italian suits in the first place. So, I have also researched traditional Italian card interpretations in elaborating the method of reading this deck.
The count described the general areas of consideration the four suits as follows:
The SWORD stood for Royalty and Earthly Authorities.
The Priests made use of Canopic Jars for their Sacrifices, so the CUP symbolized the Priesthood.
The COIN meant commerce.
The BATON, Crook, or Goad represented Agriculture.
(Vine, p. 188)
De Mellet was also intrigued by the names attached to some of the Spanish pip cards used to play the game of Aluette. He believed these were ancient attributions preserved by Spanish card players. Aluette is actually a trick-taking game, nowadays played in southwestern France, based on a game that originated in the nearby Basque country of Spain in the Middle Ages (Vine, p.137). The illustrations on many of the pips include allegorical figures that influenced some of my designs, and seven of the Aluette cards have titles. The Aluette cards included here are from an early 19th ccentury deck in my collection.
The One-Eyed for the Ace of Coins
The Master for the Three of Coins
The Cow for the Two of Cups
The Queen of Heaven for the Three of Cups
Destiny for the Nine of Cups
Mercury for the Nine of Coins
The Serpent for the Ace of Batons
De Mellet found these titles compelling and believed they were further evidence of the Egyptian origin of the suits.
As we have said before, de Mellet’s other model deck was not the Tarot of Marseilles, but the Besançon Tarot, popular in eastern France, Switzerland and parts of Germany. The meanings he records sometimes relate directly to what is depicted on certain pips in this deck. For example, a small figure of Fortuna is portrayed in the center of the Four of Coins pip, and the Ace of Cups displays a vase with a lid, suggesting de Mellet’s sacred vessel used for sacrifices.
Finally, we can see from the sample reading that de Mellet describes in his essay that number symbolism was also important to him. This is especially applicable to the numbered pip cards. For instance, he states that Aces (1), represent written correspondence or news of events, in brief, something new, which is a fitting signification for the first number in a series.
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.
Below are examples of some of the pip cards that I have created for this deck.