Thoughts on Etteilla

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Rial Cadnam
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Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by Rial Cadnam » 06 Jul 2018, 20:40

I'm trying to understand why the Etteilla deck structure is often pushed-aside or viewed disparagingly as "incorrect" due to the identity and ordering of the major arcana.

Consider the facts:

- Italian and French Tarot decks for simple gameplay already had a numbered/ordered set of 21 trumps plus the "excuse" card (fool) long before the Marseilles tarot (with that gameplay structure) was used for divination

- The concept of the "fool's journey" through the major arcana did not influence the original ordering of the major arcana, but was a story derived secondhand after the structure of the major arcana was already established as simple trump cards for gameplay

- There is no true Egyptian / "Thoth" origin to the Major Arcana. The symbols are clearly steeped in Christianity (Devil, Judgement, Pope, etc). All of the ancient Tarot scholars were wrong about Egyptian roots, however the *minor* arcana certainly have geographical roots in Egypt and surrounding regions, via the Muluk Wa-Nawwab

- Etteilla was the first to take the already-existing TofM that was purely a gameplay deck, and *think about* how the symbols and archetypes could be improved on or rearranged to be more meaningful for divination. He also invented the first spreads and cartomancy methods using Tarot game cards. In other words: he took a gameplayers deck (TofM) and said: most of these symbols can be used for divination, but should be reordered and restructured thusly...

And despite this history: we find ourselves in a present Tarot culture where the purely incidental structure of the TofM *gameplay deck*, plus the subsequently derived story of the Fools journey that was invented after the fact, are viewed as "correct" and "true" and superior to a deck structure and system (Etteilla's) that was thoughtfully organized with esoteric/occult use in mind.

It's like people are preferring a rock that incidentally can be used as a hammer (TofM) over a deliberately forged hammer that was designed to fill a hammer's purpose (Etteilla).

I have read some history suggesting that snobbish classism and competition during Etteilla's time are what pushed Etteilla's approach (and deck) to the sidelines in favor of TofM.

Thoughts? Anyone here have any logical or historical insight on why TofM is preferred over Etteilla? Note: replies such as "TofM speaks to me more than Etteilla" is not the sort of answer I'm looking for.

Thanks.

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Charlie Brown
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Re: Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by Charlie Brown » 07 Jul 2018, 02:04

Well, I'm not sure that there's such a thing as a "correct" or "true" cartomancy deck. People have read with playing cards and, really, all kinds of cards for quite a long time. Etteilla didn't invent that. Now there are good cartomancers using any number of decks and/or systems: playing cards, lenormand, various tarot school, Le grand jeu, etc. There's no one deck for cartomancy but you are undoubtedly correct that different decks excel at different things. I don't use tarot for the same types of situations that I use lenormand. The Etteilla deck, then, becomes another tool.

So why wouldn't the Etteilla deck be more popular. Well, I think you identified it yourself. It's a specialty deck that's designed for a specific, esoteric purpose. As a gaming deck, the TdM would be widely available to any number of people in any number of situations. It could be picked up and learned without many barriers. As an occult deck designed specifically for divination, the Etteilla deck would have undoubtedly been hard to come by and probably only known about by people who were already deeply involved and proficient in divination. For them, it would be another tool, rather than THE tool. I don't think it's fair to say that Etteilla was 'pushed aside' since I've never seen evidence that he was central to mainstream card reading in the first place. That's not to mention that, in my experience, TdM tends to be read as an exoteric deck. Correspondences to the humors don't seem as important to the barmaid who's answering whether Jean-Michel is going to propose.

The more pointed question, I think, is why Etteilla is less known appreciated as an esoteric deck than the RWS or Thoth. There I think it's simply a question of 1)its origins in the English speaking world and 2) the marketability of illustrated minors and/or the marketability of the Crowley name.

For what it's worth, I'm not sure that I've ever heard anyone refer to The Fool's journey through the major arcana as a feature of TdM. That's something that I hear about primarily with decks derived from the RWS system.

In any case, it's interesting to think about the different approaches. I'm making the assumption from all this that you use the Etteilla deck and appreciate it's esoteric nature. Why do prefer it to, say, the Thoth?
Charlie Brown
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Rial Cadnam
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Re: Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by Rial Cadnam » 07 Jul 2018, 11:48

This is just the type of thoughtful reply I'd been hoping for. Thank you!

From what I've read, the Etteilla deck is less-favored due to criticism that Etteilla re-ordered (and in a couple of cases, re-named) the major arcana cards to fit an occult / esoteric / divinatory purpose, when the original TofM had no such purpose. This is what strikes me as exceedingly curious: the widespread opinion that the numbered sequence and identity of trumps in TofM, which is preserved in RW, is the "right" deck structure, and that Etteilla "messed that up". Meanwhile, most of the meanings of the RW minor arcana, and even some of PCS's artwork, are directly lifted from Etteilla.

I guess I am really most interested in the question of why the TofM major arcana structure became the dominant deck structure that is reflected in 95% of the decks produced since, and now has whole tomes of allegory and esoteric meaning attributed to that set of trumps and the numerical sequence, which are both little more than products of a gaming deck. I am wondering why there is not a stronger enduring tradition of Etteilla tarot, which was tweaked and modified and optimized for the very thing we use tarot cards for.

Your hypothesis regarding the more widespread availability (and thus prevalence) of TofM is a good one. But people like Levi and Waite had tremendous influence, through their writings, in establishing what they saw as the "correct" structure of a deck of cards wrongly assumed to have more ancient origin. Both apparently embraced Etteilla's work regarding card meanings, interpretation, and spreads, while soundly rejecting the structure of the decks Etteilla produced.

Again, my metaphor: it's like preferring a rock to do a hammer's job, simply because a rock is an older tool, even though it was not INTENDED to do a hammer's job, but incidentally can, albeit clumsily.

You asked why I like Etteilla. One reason is because there is more of a focus on the structure of nature and the universe, than an adherence to boring Christian themes like the Pope, Judgement, and even the Devil (Etteilla's "devil" is much more of a silly gremlin than a Lucifer-type figure). Another reason is that the deck was optimized (at least for Etteilla) to conduct divinatory exploration, and the fact that Etteilla WAS the first to use the Tarot gaming deck for those purposes, and is the historical father of Tarot card *reading*.

You also ask why I don't prefer Crowley's Thoth. I must start by confessing that while I own that deck, I have not really explored or worked with it that much. My initial / general impressions of it, however, are that it seems excessively decadent and self-indulgent, like Crowley himself. It feels more like Crowley's personal sexual acid trip than a deck intended for others to learn from. I can't get the photographs of him in fake Pharoah-mystic garb out of my mind. But those are just my superficial opinions based on very little working experience with that deck.

Interesting that Crowley's deck is the one people mean when they refer to the "Thoth Deck"... Etteilla's final deck, version 3, was also called "The Book of Thoth"... 100 years prior.

Ri al-Cadnam

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VegasGeorge
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Re: Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by VegasGeorge » 09 Jul 2018, 00:43

I'd answer in a more simple minded way. I just don't find the Etteilla art work attractive or helpful, and I especially don't like the minor arcana in pips. I depend on visual stimulation to spark my imagination when considering the cards, helping to conjure analogy, etc. Other decks just offer me a lot more to work with.
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Re: Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by Barleywine » 12 Jul 2018, 20:47

For me, it simply amounts to the time and effort required to learn yet another system, and one that is intricate to boot. I began with the Thoth long ago (early '70s) and only recently tackled the RWS and my new fascination, the Lenormand. I've also been toying with playing card reading and thinking about Kipper, so I have a pretty full plate. That's not to say I'm disinterested, I'm just not ready to retrench in order to take up the challenge. In actual reading, the ordering of the trumps is kind of moot anyway because they are usually removed from their context when placed in a spread.

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Belinda2
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Re: Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by Belinda2 » 15 Jul 2018, 22:40

I'm going show my ignorance here for a bit, this is the deck that you're discussing correct or decks along this line?https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/le-tarot ... gL3cfD_BwE

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Re: Thoughts on Etteilla

Post by Belinda2 » 20 Jul 2018, 00:20

I do have Petit Oracle des Dames which is related to Etteilla so if I get it it can hopefully help me with an understanding of the oracle deck

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