Queen of Tarot

The ancient wisdom of the cards



As in spite of its modest pretensions, this monograph is, so far as I am aware, the first attempt to provide in English a complete synoptic account of the Tarot, with its archaeological position defined, its available symbolism developed, and—as a matter of curiosity in occultism—with its divinatory meanings and modes of operation sufficiently exhibited, it is my wish, from the literate standpoint, to enumerate those text-books of the subject, and the most important incidental references thereto, which have come under my notice. The bibliographical particulars that follow lay no claim to completeness, as I have cited nothing that I have not seen with my own eyes; but I can understand that most of my readers will be surprised at the extent of the literature—if I may so term it conventionally—which has grown up in the course of the last 120 years. Those who desire to pursue their inquiries further will find ample materials herein, though it is not a course which I am seeking to commend especially, as I deem that enough has been said upon the Tarot in this place to stand for all that has preceded it. The bibliography itself is representative after a similar manner. I should add that there is a considerable catalogue of cards and works on card-playing in the British Museum, but I have not had occasion to consult it to any extent for the purposes of the present list.


Monde Primitf, analyse et compare avec le Monde Moderne. Par M. Court de Gebelin. Vol. 8, 40, Paris, 1781.

The articles on the Jeu des Tarots will be found at pp. 365 to 410. The plates at the end shew the Trumps Major and the Aces of each suit. These are valuable, as indications of the cards at the close of the eighteenth century. They were presumably then in circulation in the South of France, as it is said that at the period in question they were practically unknown at Paris. I have dealt with the claims of the papers in the body of the present work. Their speculations were tolerable enough for their mazy period; but that they are suffered still, and accepted indeed without question, by French occult writers is the most convincing testimony that one can need to the qualifications of the latter for dealing with any question of historical research.


The Works of Etteilla. Les Septs Nuances de I’oeuvre philosophique Hermitique; Maniere de se recreer avec le Jeu de Cartes, nommees Tarots; Fragments sur les Hautes Sciences; Philosophie des Hautes Sciences; Jeu des Tarots, ou le Livre de Thoth; Lecons Theoriques et Pratiques du Livre de Thoth—all published between 1783 and 1787.

These are exceedingly rare and were frankly among the works of colportage of their particular period. They contain the most curious fragments on matters within and without the main issue, lucubrations on genii, magic, astrology, talismans, dreams, etc. I have spoken sufficiently in the text of the author’s views on the Tarot and his place in its modern history. He regarded it as a work of speaking hieroglyphics, but to translate it was not easy. He, however, accomplished the task that is to say, in his own opinion.


An Inquiry into the Antient Greek Game, supposed to have been invented by Palamedes. [By James Christie.] London: 40, 1801.

I mention this collection of curious dissertations because it has been cited by writers on the Tarot. It seeks to establish a close connexion between early games of antiquity and modern chess. It is suggested that the invention attributed to Palamedes, prior to the Siege of Troy, was known in China from a more remote period of antiquity. The work has no reference to cards of any kind whatsoever.


Researches into the History of Playing Cards. By Samuel Weller Singer. 40, London, 1816.

The Tarot is probably of Eastern origin and high antiquity, but the rest of Court de Gebelin’s theory is vague and unfounded. Cards were known in Europe prior to the appearance of the Egyptians. The work has a good deal of curious information and the appendices are valuable, but the Tarot occupies comparatively little of the text and the period is too early for a tangible criticism of its claims. There are excellent reproductions of early specimen designs. Those of Court de Gebelin are also given in extenso.


Facts and Speculations on Playing Cards. By W. A. Chatto. 8vo, London, 1848.

The author suggested that the Trumps Major and the numeral cards were once separate, but were afterwards combined. The oldest specimens of Tarot cards are not later than 1440. But the claims and value of the volume have been sufficiently described in the text.


Les Cartes a Jouer el la Cartomancie. Par D. R. P. Boiteau d’Ambly. 40, Paris, 1854.

There are some interesting illustrations of early Tarot cards, Which are said to be of Oriental origin; but they are not referred to Egypt. The early gipsy connexion is affirmed, but there is no evidence produced. The cards came with the gipsies from India, where they were designed to shew forth the intentions of “the unknown divinity” rather than to be the servants of profane amusement.


Dogme el Rituel de la Haute Magie. Par Eliphas Levi, 2 vols., demy 8vo, Paris, 1854.

This is the first publication of Alphonse Louis Constant on occult philosophy, and it is also his magnum opus. It is constructed in both volumes on the major Keys of the Tarot and has been therefore understood as a kind of development of their implicits, in the way that these were presented to the mind of the author. To supplement what has been said of this work in the text of the present monograph, I need only add that the section on transmutations in the second volume contains what is termed the Key of Thoth. The inner circle depicts a triple Tau, with a hexagram where the bases join, and beneath is the Ace of Cups. Within the external circle are the letters TARO, and about this figure as a whole are grouped the symbols of the Four Living Creatures, the Ace of Wands, Ace of Swords, the letter Shin, and a magician’s candle, which is identical, according to Levi, with the lights used in the Goetic Circle of Black Evocations and Pacts. The triple Tau may be taken to represent the Ace of Pentacles. The only Tarot card given in the volumes is the Chariot, which is drawn by two sphinxes; the fashion thus set has been followed in later days. Those who interpret the work as a kind of commentary on the Trumps Major are the conventional occult students and those who follow them will have only the pains of fools.


Les Romes. Par J. A. Vaillant. Demy 8vo, Paris, 1857.

The author tells us how he met with the cards, but the account is in a chapter of anecdotes. The Tarot is the sidereal book of Enoch, modelled on the astral wheel of Athor. There is a description of the Trumps Major, which are evidently regarded as an heirloom, brought by the gipsies from Indo-Tartary. The publication of Levi’s Dogme et Rituel must, I think, have impressed Vaillant very much, and although in this, which was the writer’s most important work, the anecdote that I have mentioned is practically his only Tarot reference, he seems to have gone much further in a later publication—Clef Magique de la Fiction et du Fait, but I have not been able to see it, nor do I think, from the reports concerning it, that I have sustained a loss.


Histoire de la Magie. Par Eliphas Levi. 8vo, Paris, 1860.

The references to the Tarot are few in this brilliant work, which will be available shortly in English. It gives the 21st Trump Major, commonly called the Universe, or World, under the title of Yinx Pantomorph—a seated figure wearing the crown of Isis. This has been reproduced by Papus in Le Tarot Divinataire. The author explains that the extant Tarot has come down to us through the Jews, but it passed somehow into the hands of the gipsies, who brought it with them when they first entered France in the early part of the fifteenth century. The authority here is Vaillant.


La Clef des Grands Mysteres. Par Eliphas Levi. 8vo, Paris, 1861.

The frontispiece to this work represents the absolute Key of the occult sciences, given by William Postel and completed by the writer. It is reproduced in The Tarot of the Bohemians, and in the preface which I have prefixed thereto, as indeed elsewhere, I have explained that Postel never constructed a hieroglyphical key. Eliphas Levi identifies the Tarot as that sacred alphabet which has been variously referred to Enoch, Thoth, Cadmus and Palamedes. It consists of absolute ideas attached to signs and numbers. In respect of the latter, there is an extended commentary on these as far as the number ig, the series being interpreted as the Keys of Occult Theology. The remaining three numerals which complete the Hebrew alphabet are called the Keys of Nature. The Tarot is said to be the original of chess, as it is also of the Royal Game of Goose. This volume contains the author’s hypothetical reconstruction of the tenth Trump Major, shewing Egyptian figures on the Wheel of Fortune.


L’Homme Rouge des Tuileyies. Par P. Christian. Fcap. 8vo, Paris, 1863.

The work is exceedingly rare, is much sought and was once highly prized in France; but Dr. Papus has awakened to the fact that it is really of slender value, and the statement might be extended. It is interesting, however, as containing the writer’s first reveries on the Tarot. He was a follower and imitator of Levi. In the present work, he provides a commentary on the Trumps Major and thereafter the designs and meanings of all the Minor Arcana. There are many and curious astrological attributions. The work does not seem to mention the Tarot by name. A later Histoire de la Magie does little more than reproduce and extend the account of the Trumps Major given herein.


The History of Playing Cards. By E. S. Taylor. Cr. 8vo, London, 1865.

This was published posthumously and is practically a translation of Boiteau. It therefore calls for little remark on my part. The opinion is that cards were imported by the gipsies from India. There are also references to the so-called Chinese Tarot, which was mentioned by Court de Gebelin.


Origine des Caries a Jouer. Par Romain Merlin. 40, Paris, 1869.

There is no basis for the Egyptian origin of the Tarot, except in the imagination of Court de Gebelin. I have mentioned otherwise that the writer disposes, to his personal satisfaction, of the gipsy hypothesis, and he does the same in respect of the imputed connexion with India; he says that cards were known in Europe before communication was opened generally with that world about 1494. But if the gipsies were a Pariah tribe already dwelling in the West, and if the cards were a part of their baggage, there is nothing in this contention. The whole question is essentially one of speculation.


The Platonist. Vol. II, pp. 126-8. Published at St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A., 1884-5. Royal 4to. This periodical, the suspension of which must have been regretted by many admirers of an unselfish and laborious effort, contained one anonymous article on the Tarot by a writer with theosophical tendencies, and considerable pretensions to knowledge. It has, however, by its own evidence, strong titles to negligence, and is indeed a ridiculous performance. The word Tarot is the Latin Rota = wheel, transposed. The system was invented at a remote period in India, presumably—for the writer is vague—about B.C. 300. The Fool represents primordial chaos. The Tarot is now used by Rosicrucian adepts, but in spite of the inference that it may have come down to them from their German progenitors in the early seventeenth century, and notwithstanding the source in India, the twenty-two keys were pictured on the walls of Egyptian temples dedicated to the mysteries of initiation. Some of this rubbish is derived from P. Christian, but the following statement is peculiar, I think, to the writer: “It is known to adepts that there should be twenty-two esoteric keys, which would make the total number up to 100.” Persons who reach a certain stage of lucidity have only to provide blank pasteboards of the required number and the missing designs will be furnished by superior intelligences. Meanwhile, America is still awaiting the fulfilment of the concluding forecast, that some few will ere long have so far developed in that country “as to be able to read perfectly… in that perfect and divine sybilline work, the Taro.” Perhaps the cards which accompany the present volume will give the opportunity and the impulse!


Lo Joch de Naips. Per Joseph Brunet y Bellet. Cr. 8vo, Barcelona, 1886.

With reference to the dream of Egyptian origin, the author quotes E. Garth Wilkison’s Manners and Customs of the Egyptians as negative evidence at least that cards were unknown in the old cities of the Delta. The history of the subject is sketched, following the chief authorities, but without reference to exponents of the occult schools. The mainstay throughout is Chatto. There are some interesting particulars about the prohibition of cards in Spain, and the appendices include a few valuable documents, by one of which it appears, as already mentioned, that St. Bernardin of Sienna preached against games in general, and cards in particular, so far back as 1423. There are illustrations of rude Tarots, including a curious example of an Ace of Cups, with a phoenix rising therefrom, and a Queen of Cups, from whose vessel issues a flower.


The Tarot: Its Occult Signification, Use in FortuneTelling, and Method of Play. By S. L. MacGregor Mathers. Sq. 16mo, London, 1888.

This booklet was designed to accompany a set of Tarot cards, and the current packs of the period were imported from abroad for the purpose. There is no pretence of original research, and the only personal opinion expressed by the writer or calling for notice here states that the Trumps Major are hieroglyphic symbols corresponding to the occult meanings of the Hebrew alphabet. Here the authority is Levi, from whom is also derived the brief symbolism allocated to the twenty-two Keys. The divinatory meanings follow, and then the modes of operation. It is a mere sketch written in a pretentious manner and is negligible in all respects.


Traite Methodique de Science Occulte. Par Papus. 8vo, Paris, 1891.

The rectified Tarot published by Oswald Wirth after the indications of Eliphas Levi is reproduced in this work, which—it may be mentioned—extends to nearly 1,100 pages. There is a section on the gipsies, considered as the importers of esoteric tradition into Europe by means of the cards. The Tarot is a combination of numbers and ideas, whence its correspondence with the Hebrew alphabet. Unfortunately, the Hebrew citations are rendered almost unintelligible by innumerable typographical errors.


Eliphas Levi: Le Livre des Splendeurs. Demy 8vo, Paris, 1894.

A section on the Elements of the Kabalah affirms (a) That the Tarot contains in the several cards of the four suits a fourfold explanation of the numbers 1 to 10; (b) that the symbols which we now have only in the form of cards were at first medals and then afterwards became talismans; (c) that the Tarot is the hieroglyphical book of the Thirty-two Paths of Kabalistic theosophy, and that its summary explanation is in the Sepher Yelzirah; (d) that it is the inspiration of all religious theories and symbols; (e) that its emblems are found on the ancient monuments of Egypt. With the historical value of these pretensions I have dealt in the text.


Clefs Magiques et Clavicules de Salomon Par Eliphas Levi. Sq. 12mo, Paris, 1895.

The Keys in question are said to have been restored in 1860, in their primitive purity, by means of hieroglyphical signs and numbers, without any admixture of Samaritan or Egyptian images. There are rude designs of the Hebrew letters attributed to the Trumps Major, with meanings—most of which are to be found in other works by the same writer. There are also combinations of the letters which enter into the Divine Name; these combinations are attributed to the court cards of the Lesser Arcana. Certain talismans of spirits are in fine furnished with Tarot attributions; the Ace of Clubs corresponds to the Deus Absconditus, the First Principle. The little book was issued at a high price and as something that should be reserved to adepts, or those on the path of adeptship, but it is really without value—symbolical or otherwise.


Les xxii Lames Hermetiques du Tarot Divinatoire. Par R. Falconnier. Demy 8vo, Paris, 1896.

The word Tarot comes from the Sanskrit and means “fixed star,” which in its turn signifies immutable tradition, theosophical synthesis, symbolism of primitive dogma, etc. Graven on golden plates, the designs were used by Hermes Trismegistus and their mysteries were only revealed to the highest grades of the priesthood of Isis. It is unnecessary therefore to say that the Tarot is of Egyptian origin and the work of M. Falconnier has been to reconstruct its primitive form, which he does by reference to the monuments—that is to say, after the fashion of Eliphas Levi, he draws the designs of the Trumps Major in imitation of Egyptian art. This production has been hailed by French occultists as presenting the Tarot in its perfection, but the same has been said of the designs of Oswald Wirth, which are quite unlike and not Egyptian at all. To be frank, these kinds of foolery may be as much as can be expected from the Sanctuary of the Comedie-Francaise, to which the author belongs, and it should be reserved thereto.


The Magical Ritual of the Sanctum Regnum, interpreted by the Tarot Trumps. Translated from the MSS. of Eliphas Levi and edited by W. Wynn Westcott, M.B. Fcap. 8vo, London, 1896.

It is necessary to say that the interest of this memorial rests rather in the fact of its existence than in its intrinsic importance. There is a kind of informal commentary on the Trumps Major, or rather there are considerations which presumably had arisen therefrom in the mind of the French author. For example, the card called Fortitude is an opportunity for expatiation on will as the secret of strength. The Hanged Man is said to represent the completion of the Great Work. Death suggests a diatribe against Necromancy and Goetia; but such phantoms have no existence in “the Sanctum Regnum” of life. Temperance produces only a few vapid commonplaces, and the Devil, which is blind force, is the occasion for repetition of much that has been said already in the earlier works of Levi. The Tower represents the betrayal of the Great Arcanum, and this it was which caused the sword of Samael to be stretched over the Garden of Delight. Amongst the plates there is a monogram of the Gnosis, which is also that of the Tarot. The editor has thoughtfully appended some information on the Trump Cards taken from the early works of Levi and from the commentaries of P. Christian.


Comment on devient Alchimiste. Par F. Jolivet de Castellot. Sq. 8vo, Paris, 1897.

Herein is a summary of the Alchemical Tarot, which-with all my respect for innovations and inventions-seems to be high fantasy; but Etteilla had reveries of this kind, and if it should ever be warrantable to produce a Key Major in place of the present Key Minor, it might be worth while to tabulate the analogies of these strange dreams. At the moment it will be sufficient to say that there is given a schedule of the alchemical correspondences to the Trumps Major, by which it appears that the juggler or Magician symbolizes attractive force; the High Priestess is inert matter, than which nothing is more false; the Pope is the Quintessence, which—if he were only acquainted with Shakespeare—might tempt the present successor of St. Peter to repeat that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.” The Devil, on the other hand, is the matter of philosophy at the black stage; the Last judgment is the red stage of the Stone; the Fool is its fermentation; and, in fine, the last card, or the World, is the Alchemical Absolute-the Stone itself. If this should encourage my readers, they may note further that the particulars of various chemical combinations can be developed by means of the Lesser Arcana, if these are laid out for the purpose. Specifically, the King of Wands = Gold the Pages or Knaves represent animal substances the King of Cups = Silver; and so forth.


Le Grand Arcane, ou l’occultisme devoile. Par Eliphas Levi. Demy 8vo, Paris, 1898.

After many years and the long experience of all his concerns in occultism, the author at length reduces his message to one formula in this work. I speak, of course, only in respect of the Tarot: he says that the cards of Etteilla produce a kind of hypnotism in the seer or seeress who divines thereby. The folly of the psychic reads in the folly of the querent. Did he counsel honesty, it is suggested that he would lose his clients. I have written severe criticisms on occult arts and sciences, but this is astonishing from one of their past professors and, moreover, I think that the psychic occasionally is a psychic and sees in a manner as such.


Le Serpent de la Genese—Livre II; La Clef de la Magie Noire. Par Stanislas de Guaita. 8vo, Paris, 1902.

It is a vast commentary on the second septenary of the Trumps Major. Justice signifies equilibrium and its agent; the Hermit typifies the mysteries of solitude; the Wheel of Fortune is the circulus of becoming or attaining; Fortitude signifies the power resident in will; the Hanged Man is magical bondage, which speaks volumes for the clouded and inverted insight of this fantasiast in occultism: Death is, of course, that which its name signifies, but with reversion to the second death; Temperance means the magic of transformations, and therefore suggests excess rather than abstinence. There is more of the same kind of thing—I believe—in the first book, but this will serve as a specimen. The demise of Stanislas de Guaita put an end to his scheme of interpreting the Tarot Trumps, but it should be understood that the connexion is shadowy and that actual references could be reduced to a very few pages.


Le Tarot: Apercu historique. Par. J. J. Bourgeat. Sq. 12MO, Paris, 1906.

The author has illustrated his work by purely fantastic designs of certain Trumps Major, as, for example, the Wheel of Fortune, Death and the Devil. They have no connexion with symbolism. The Tarot is said to have originated in India, whence it passed to Egypt. Eliphas Levi, P. Christian, and J. A. Vaillant are cited in support of statements and points of view. The mode of divination adopted is fully and carefully set out.


L’Art de tirer les Caries. Par Antonio Magus. Cr. 8vo, Paris, n.d. (about 1908).

This is not a work of any especial pretension, nor has it any title to consideration on account of its modesty. Frankly, it is little—if any—better than a bookseller’s experiment. There is a summary account of the chief methods of divination, derived from familiar sources; there is a history of cartomancy in France; and there are indifferent reproductions of Etteilla Tarot cards, with his meanings and the well-known mode of operation. Finally, there is a section on common fortune-telling by a piquet set of ordinary cards: this seems to lack the only merit that it might have Possessed, namely, perspicuity; but I speak with reserve, as I am not perhaps a judge possessing ideal qualifications in matters of this kind. In any case, the question signifies nothing. It is just to add that the concealed author maintains what he terms the Egyptian tradition of the Tarot, which is the Great Book of Thoth. But there is a light accent throughout his thesis, and it does not follow that he took the claim seriously.


Le Tarot Divinatoire: Clef du tirage des Caries et des sorts. Par le Dr. Papus. Demy 8vo, Paris, 1909.

The text is accompanied by what is termed a complete reconstitution of all the symbols, which means that in this manner we have yet another Tarot. The Trumps Major follow the traditional lines, with various explanations and attributions on the margins, and this Plan obtains throughout the series. From the draughtsman’s point of view, it must be said that the designs are indifferently done, and the reproductions seem worse than the designs. This is probably of no especial importance to the class of readers addressed. Dr. Papus also presents, by way of curious memorials, the evidential value of which he seems to accept implicitly, certain unpublished designs of EIiphas Levi; they are certainly interesting as examples of the manner in which the great occultist manufactured the archaeology of the Tarot to bear out his personal views. We have (a) Trump Major, No. 5, being Horus as the Grand Hierophant, drawn after the monuments; (b) Trump Major, No. 2, being the High Priestess as Isis, also after the monuments; and (c) five imaginary specimens of an Indian Tarot. This is how la haute science in France contributes to the illustration of that work which Dr. Papus terms livre de la science eternelle; it would be called by rougher names in English criticism. The editor himself takes his usual pains and believes that he has discovered the time attributed to each card by ancient Egypt. He applies it to the purpose of divination, so that the skilful fortune-teller can now predict the hour and the day when the dark young man will meet with the fair widow, and so forth.


Le Tarot des Bohemiens. Par Papus. 8vo, Paris, 1889. English Translation, second edition, 1910.

An exceedingly complex work, which claims to present an absolute key to occult science. It was translated into English by Mr. A. P. Morton in 1896, and this version has been re-issued recently under my own supervision. The preface which I have prefixed thereto contains all that it is necessary to say regarding its claims, and it should be certainly consulted by readers of the present Pictorial Key to the Tarot. The fact that Papus regards the great sheaf of hieroglyphics as “the most ancient book in the world,” as “the Bible of Bibles,” and therefore as “the primitive revelation,” does not detract from the claim of his general study, which—it should be added—is accompanied by numerous valuable plates, exhibiting Tarot codices, old and new, and diagrams summarizing the personal theses of the writer and of some others who preceded him. The Tarot of the Bohemians is published at 6s. by William Rider & Son, Ltd.


Manuel Synthetique et Pratique du Tarot. Par Eudes Picard. 8vo, Paris, 1909.

Here is yet one more handbook of the subject, presenting in a series of rough plates a complete sequence of the cards. The Trumps Major are those of Court de Gebelin and for the Lesser Arcana the writer has had recourse to his imagination; it can be said that some of them are curious, a very few thinly suggestive and the rest bad. The explanations embody neither research nor thought at first hand; they are bald summaries of the occult authorities in France, followed by a brief general sense drawn out as a harmony of the whole. The method of use is confined to four pages and recommends that divination should be performed in a fasting state. On the history of the Tarot, M. Picard says (a) that it is confused; (b) that we do not know precisely whence it comes; (c) that, this notwithstanding, its introduction is due to the Gipsies. He says finally that its interpretation is an art.