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by wallyg

Tarot as the Book of Thoth: the Power of Fascination With Ancient Egypt

Back in the late 1700s, a Freemason by the name of Court de Gebelin was shown for the first time a tarot pack. He studied the cards and a revelation hit him: they were living remnants of ancient Egyptian religion. He was so convinced of his intuition that he wrote an entire treatise on the Tarot and its Egyptian origins (1). He did not offer much in terms of evidence to uphold his conviction, but we must keep in mind that he was writing at a time when the so-called ‘scientific method’ was not part of the humanistic tradition. A friend of his, the Count of Mellet, wrote a supporting essay that went even further by claiming that Tarot was the surviving “book of Thoth” that contained divine Egyptian revelations (2). Gebelin and Mellet’s work gave birth to an entire esoteric tradition that maintained the Egyptian origin of the play pack. Following this tradition, a French cartomancer named Eteilla became famous by expanding on the Egyptian Tarot, and later in the 19th century, the physician Papus affirmed that the Tarot was the “Bible of Bibles”, the book of Hermes Trismegistus, kept alive by the Gypsies (3). It was only at the beginning of the 20th century, in the authoritative work of A.E.Waite, Pictorial Key to the Tarot that he remonstrated those that believed that the pack could have possibly originated from Egypt (4). However, remnants of the old esoteric belief can still be found in Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth tarot pack and modern tarot creations like the Ancient Egyptian Tarot (5, 6).

Waite’s deconstructionism was based on a rising modern concern with recorded history. In this sense, he was correct: apparently, the first tarot packs in a recognizable form rose in Italy in the 1400s,

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