Etteilla v. Waite: Part IV

In the previous installment of Etteilla v. Waite, we saw the two decks diverge and take different directions. While the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) follows the path of the individual, the Grande Etteilla (GE) sets up a framework for a morally functioning society.

The RWS so far has shown us the early stages and maturation of the Hero on his personal mythic journey, followed by the shedding of his Personal Father and his crossing of the threshold of Death. When we left him, he was being guided through the Underworld towards his greatest test. We will meet this obstacle shortly.

The GE, on the other hand, has a much broader scope, beginning with nothing less than the very creation of our entire world. Once the world has been created and mankind has eaten the mythic Fruit of Knowledge, thereby separating themselves from lowly animals, four pillars of a moral society are established in the form of the female personifications of the four virtues of Justice, Temperance, Strength, and Prudence. The sign of this successful society is the Great Priest, connecting man and woman in marriage, and on a greater level, mankind with the Divine. Despite all this, mankind is still plagued by the Devil, and now, back on the individual level (because society generally rejects it), the Magician signifies the pathway of the occult and the enlightenment that can be obtained through it (or does he?). To get to this point, one must still obey the laws of society and of God, which is why (I suspect) the Magician is found so far down the line, past all of the religious imagery (much of occult philosophy appears to have its origin in religious thought). We will see here what becomes of the occult initiate, which will not be entirely unlike what becomes of the Hero in the RWS.

In this part, we will study the last seven cards of the Major Arcana from each deck, beginning with the GE. You will notice the general trend of both decks move from the worldly concerns we have seen previously towards more spiritual concerns. While this has already begun (starting with the Hanged Man in the RWS and with the Devil in the GE), we will see it swing into full force in the last cards.

Cards 16-19 of the GE (top) and the RWS (bottom).

The next several cards of the GE are somewhat disturbing, beginning with Judgement. While the concept behind this card is familiar, the imagery is much different. Rather than an angel raising the dead from their graves with a blast from a trumpet, we see an angel brandishing a sword and descending on a group of people. There are seven people in the picture. Only one of them seems to notice the angel, with arms raised in praise or fear. This card is followed by Death. After Death is the monk, who appears to be the same person as the high priest performing the marriage we saw earlier. This time, the monk is labelled a traitor, a false devotee, and is pictured leaving the monastery. The next card is the monastery or temple collapsing to the ground in a fiery blaze. The fire seems to be coming down from the sky. Is this the end of the world? It certainly seems so, and it would balance the Creation shown in the first eight cards. Why do these cards follow the Magician? Is he being punished for his occult ways, or is there some other explanation? Is the priest the Magician, leaving the monastery after having a vision of the end to come? We’ll come back to these questions with the next three cards and I’ll see if I can’t work something out that makes some sort of sense.


 The RWS also begins this round in a bleak spot. The Devil symbolizes the great obstacle or antagonist the Hero must face before he can complete his task. This is the most difficult test for him. Once he vanquishes the Devil, he must make his escape amidst the crumbling situation around him (the Tower). If we liken the Hero’s Journey to Jungian psychology, the Devil usually represents the Hero’s own dark side, which he must confront. If he does so successfully, the worldview he would have held up until this point will come crashing down. This can be traumatic, but it is for the best. The Star comes next, and stands for the purpose of the Hero’s quest. In some myths, it’s a magic, life-giving plant, in others, it’s a princess. The variations are virtually endless, but the general archetype is symbolized in this card. It is also a moment of rest after the ordeal with the Devil, although the Hero is still in the Underworld at this point. After obtaining what he’s come for, he must make his final escape, which is pictured in the Moon. This part of the journey is very dangerous, but if the Hero remembers the teachings of his personal father (the Hermit), he will succeed.

The final three cards of the Major Arcana.

Following the destruction of the Temple card in the GE is the Wheel of Fortune. Here we see Lady Fortune balancing upon her wheel. We can take it to mean that the world exists in cycles of creation and destruction, the entire process of which has been drawn out for us in the preceding cards. Next comes the African Despot. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of this card or its placement here at the end. It combines the imagery of the Emperor and the Chariot from traditional decks. The despot himself looks very much like the Magician we saw pictured in card 15. Does this mean that, through his occult means, the Magician has survived the trial by fire, allowing him to become king of a new order? Perhaps, but what’s with the term ‘despot’? Not a very flattering designation in my experience. And why he is African makes even less sense. Could this refer to the supposedly Egyptian origin of the Tarot? If so, then we have a story before us of a man who, through his magic (and use of the secrets represented in the Tarot), has removed himself from the ever-spinning cycle of life and death represented by the Wheel, much like the Buddhist concept of Nirvana.

This leaves me with the question of the Priest/monk. Is he also the Magician, who received the Angel of Judgement with open arms, and therefore knew to leave the monastery before the wrath of God brought it down? Or is he rather a different man, a symbol of the failing morals of mankind? It would make sense if we consider the Priest card to be a sign of the epitome of the divine connection to society. This same man has now betrayed his faith, which might symbolize society’s descent into corruption and sin. I think I like the latter interpretation better, because the Priest does look like the Monk, and the Magician does look like the Despot, but they do not look like each other. In that case, this chronicle of the World would have two central characters, who respond to the Devil in different ways. First is the Priest, who symbolizes traditional morality. He meets the Devil and becomes an apostate, and is swallowed in the flames of God’s wrath along with everyone else. Then we have the Magician, who is seen by the likes of the Priest as at odds with his sense of morality. But the Magician doesn’t succumb to the temptations of the Devil as the Priest does, and when God rains down sulfur, he is the one who is not only spared, but made king.

These two pairs seem to show the same two people. Besides the faces, which are virtually the same within each pair, notice the color coordination between the Priest and Monk on the left(brown, white, and yellow), and the Magician and King on the right (red, green, and blue). This can’t just be an accident.

Back to the RWS, the Hero has successfully navigated his way back to the world of the living. He has accomplished his task. The Sun is his moment of triumph and relief. In Judgement (very different than that in the GE), the Hero bestows his boon on fellow man, thus truly fulfilling his role as Hero. The World card sees the Hero, once the Fool, return enlightened back to the Ouroboros, completing the cycle.

There is one card left: the GE’s Fool, called the Fool or Alchemist. This card is separate from the rest of the Major Arcana. He is numbered 78, which places him not only at the end of the Majors, but of the entire deck. As the Alchemist, he has successfully integrated all of the elements represented by the Minor Arcana into himself. Like the Fool of the RWS, society probably does not take him seriously. But he alone is truly enlightened. In this sense, he is like the RWS’ World, which, with its four animals in each corner, also suggests a unity of the elements.


So here we come to the end of the interpretations of each progression of cards. Before I sign off on this installment, I would like to say one thing: I don’t know anything about Etteilla’s deck. Everything that I’ve put forth in the past few posts have been based upon my knowledge of mythology, my knowledge of traditional Tarot, and my interpretations of the pictures. So, because I have found no sources on Etteilla’s intended system to draw from, I have synthesized my results entirely from my own knowledge. As such, I cannot claim that anything I said in regards to the GE has any serious merit (my treatment of the RWS, on the other hand, can be corroborated with any number of sources). In general, I have left out Etteilla’s divinatory keywords from my descriptions, because, while they do connect with each card on an individual level, I found almost no significance towards a cohesive scheme of the entire Arcana, which is what I was trying to construct. Those who are familiar with Waite’s suggested divinatory meanings will notice that I left them out, as well. Sometimes these meanings coincide with the mythic archetype represented by the card; other times, they do not.

In the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I will move away from the established progressions and rearrange all of the cards from both decks in an attempt to establish parallels between specific cards. My goal is to create some associations (as well as establish where there is absolutely no correlation) between the GE and the RWS, which will (hopefully) help me to more fully understand what Etteilla might have intended with his strange cards.

The Medieval Scapini.

The detail in this deck is mind-boggling.

The artist Luigi Scapini was commissioned to help recreate the Visconti-Sforza Tarot for US Games. The Visconti-Sforza version of the Tarot is the oldest known to exist.

After that work was done, Scapini was apparently inspired to create his own. The result is the Medieval Scapini Tarot (MST), an astonishing blend of influences, all centered around the basic style of the Visconti-Sforza.

An example of the Major Arcana, a court card, and a small card from the MST.

When I say that the style is based on the Visconti-Sforza, I’m only telling a partial truth. The Major Arcana are indeed inspired by this style, but the Minor Arcana are not. The original deck would have had only pip cards, similar to the TdM. Scapini has gone the extra mile and illustrated all of the small cards, making them more akin to the RWS than anything else, at least as far as historical decks are concerned. This does not mean that the pictures themselves are inspired by the RWS, however. They are the artist’s own interpretations, derived from a diverse pool of divinatory meanings, including the Golden Dawn and Etteilla. There is the occasional nod to the RWS hidden amongst the vast amounts of symbolism, but make no mistake, these cards are not, by and large, derived from the RWS.

What makes this deck interesting is how starkly modern it is, incorporating systems and symbols from virtually all of its historical precedents, while maintaining an artistic style that evokes the Tarot in its oldest form. This is originally why I chose this deck. I wanted a historically-oriented deck to counter the addition of the very modern Deviant Moon I’d just gotten. The original Visconti-Sforza is missing some cards, which means that any recreation of it would require entirely new imaginings of those cards. I figured, if I had to get a deck that has new cards, why not just go for this one, which still stays basically true to the aesthetic of the original Major Arcana (with the addition of details that do not take away from the overall impression of historicity, at least to my untrained eye). The small cards still resemble regular pips, but with the fun illustrations added in. Having a TdM, I know what a typical pip card looks like, so the variation here is welcome.

The version of this deck that I got came complete with a companion book by Ronald Decker, titled Art and Arcana, without which a lot of the aforementioned symbolism would have been lost on me (although that would undoubtedly have had no effect on my overall enjoyment of this deck). The book is very interesting, thoroughly researched, providing an history of the Tarot in general, as well as detailing the specific systems important to the development of the Tarot as we know it today, all in the context of Scapini’s deck. The book has been invaluable to my understanding of this deck, and it was a very welcome surprise to find it (I did not realize that I had gotten a set that included a book at the time of purchase).

This deck is amazing, simply put. I have not seen such a comprehensive inclusion of various systems since Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, and the artwork is stunning. The deck is made all the more lavish with the metallic gold and silver backgrounds in the Major Arcana and court cards, as well as highlights in some of the details throughout the entire deck, most notably the suit of coins, all of the emblems of which have been done in gold. Again, the detail is great. There is so much in each card, and every bit is significant. This will be one of those decks that shows me something new every time I look through it for a long time to come.


Etteilla v. Waite: Part III

In the previous installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I examined the first eight cards of each pack, and compared them to each other. We saw so far that the Grande Etteilla (GE) portrays the components that make up so-called Creation myths, while the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) portrays the Hero’s Journey myth. We also saw that, for the first few cards at least, there are similar themes in both of these types of myth. In this part, we will see the GE switch gears, dealing more with human society rather than nature, and the RWS will continue on its trajectory through the middle portion of the Hero’s Journey.

Cards 9-12. Top: GE, Bottom: RWS

You might remember from the last post that the first eight cards from each pack can be interpreted in such a way as to draw parallels between their meanings and positions. That pretty much stops here. The decks have diverged, and at least for the seven cards here in question, they do not meet again.

Actually, you can almost disregard what I just said. Here we see Justice in the GE, and Strength in the RWS. However, the RWS’ placement of Strength is atypical of historical Tarot decks; most traditional decks place Justice right here. So, for example, if I were using a TdM for comparison here, the ninth card in both cases would be Justice. However, we are studying the RWS, so Strength it is.

Justice is the first card in the GE after the Creation (see previous post, linked above). The World has been made, and people have risen above their animal selves by eating the mythic Fruit of Knowledge. Now civilization can begin. Justice is also the first in a new pattern, comprised of the four virtues: Justice, Temperance, Force/Strength, and Prudence. Three of these virtues are also in the RWS. These four virtues have been around for ages (in a mythic sense, they’ve been around since the eating of the aforementioned Fruit). We can think of them as the pillars of civilized society. Civilization thrives when the populace accepts and attempts to live according to these four virtues (that’s the idea, anyway). So these four cards of the GE are fairly straightforward: after the Creation, we have a sort of moral framework to guide us along the path of Life.


Waite and the secret order to which he belonged had their reasons for switching Justice and Strength, namely astrological and numerological. There are compelling arguments for this change, but as far as the Hero’s Journey is concerned, I believe the traditional way is better.

We left the Hero when he was in the Chariot, symbolizing the beginning of his journey down his chosen path. The Chariot suggests triumph; or, in the Hero’s Journey, the confidence of the Hero in adolescence. He feels unstoppable, but he has not come into any serious trouble yet. Justice represents maturity. Before the Hero can advance, he has to learn the true nature of the world, that his actions have consequences. This transforms the Hero from the cocky adolescent into the responsible young adult. This is probably the point when he begins to really fathom the seriousness of the path he has chosen. He then goes on to the Hermit, perhaps in distress from what Justice has taught him. The Hermit appears in many myths in many forms, although he is usually wise and elderly. This archetype is called the ‘personal father’.* This figure does not have to be the Hero’s real father, although he can be. This figure rather teaches the Hero the most important lesson he will ever learn: the lesson of his true self, his true purpose, and the source of his true strength. He helps the Hero to light his internal Lamp of Wisdom, which the Hero will need to guide him later on.

The Hero feels safe in the presence of the Hermit. But in order to actually complete his task, he must move on. Consider Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Gandalf, or Dumbledore. These are all personal father Hermit figures to their respective Heroes, and each must die before the Hero can come into his own and fully realize the lessons learned from his Hermit. The Wheel of Fortune can represent this stage. The cycle turns, and the Hero is compelled to fulfill his destiny. This leads us to Strength, and the Hero must draw from his internal strength in order to survive what comes next.

Cards 13-15

Back to the GE, we see following the four virtues the Priest. This card is interesting, because it appears to combine the Lovers and the Hierophant from traditional decks. We see a Grand Priest presiding over a marriage. It evokes the Lovers of the TdM in that there are three figures, and the emotion of Love is clearly in play. However, the Lovers of Mr. Crowley’s CHT are much closer to the Priest of the GE. There is a man presiding over the marriage in the CHT, rather than choosing between two women as in the TdM. According to Crowley, the presiding minister is the Hermit. What makes this even more interesting is this: while I have never read anything confirming this, I believe that the Priest in card 13 is none other than the Hermit we will meet in card 18. They look almost identical.

Top – GE: Notice the similarities between the Priest on the left and the Monk on the right. Bottom – CHT: You can see the similarities between the Lovers (left) and the Priest card above it. One can also note elements of the more traditional TdM Lovers in this card, such as the Cupid.

What is the significance of this? I’m not really sure, but it is a fascinating coincidence, if nothing more. I do know that Crowley was attempting to illustrate the alchemical process (among other occult ideas) through the progression of his cards, and these two cards play significant roles. Etteilla’s deck looks much more tame on the surface than Crowley’s, but his Tarot was supposed to be the first ever deck created with the sole purpose of the occult in mind. Surely these similarities are not just accidents? But I digress.

The Grand Priest card perhaps represents a happily functioning society as the result of the previous four cards. The character of the Priest himself suggests the notion we saw in the Hierophant of the RWS: that of a connection between the divine and human realm, with the priest acting as intermediary. All of these cards so far bespeak happiness and harmony; this is interrupted by the next card: the Devil. However, this Devil does not seem quite so malevolent as other Devils. He’s colorful, smiling, and appears to be dancing. Furthermore, rather than existing in a dark abyss, this Devil is out in the bright of day, among nature. As I’ve discussed in a recent post, the Devil can represent our animal urges. While religion tends to suppress this aspect of ourselves, the occult tends to embrace it, figuring that enlightenment lies beyond. As an occult deck, the GE would naturally place the Devil in a lighter context. It is through the path of the occult that we can learn to embrace and control these desires. Hence the Magician as the next card.

By now, we’ve seen the creation of the world, witnessed the moral constraints that allow for a functioning civilization, and moved beyond everyday society and into the realm of the esoteric. This is where we will leave the GE until next time.

Now, back to the RWS.

In Strength, the Hero has controlled his animal desires and directed their energy towards his task. The Strength he’s gained will be necessary here at the next stage, the Hanged Man. Everything up until this point has been preparation; this is his first great trial. This is the trial of crossing the threshold of the Underworld. For all intents and purposes, the Hero has met Death. Now in the Underworld, the Hero must somehow navigate his way to that which he seeks. He is not without help at this point: the angel of Temperance acts as a spiritual guide, leading him and keeping him level as he works towards the most difficult task of all.

But more on that in the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite.



*This is the Hermit archetype in the context of the Hero’s Journey. As I have discussed in many previous posts, the Hermit fulfills many archetypes, most notably the Wise One. This is not incompatible with the personal father, however.



The Deviant Moon.

Remember when I had apprehensions about having too many Tarot decks? Well, I’m over it. Two new decks have been added to my collection, bringing the total number up to nine. Forget all of the nonsense I’ve said in the past about how many Tarot decks I think is appropriate. I’m only a Fool.

Anyway, this post is dedicated to the Deviant Moon Tarot (DMT), which is apparently pretty popular, despite (or perhaps because of) its slightly grotesque art style (photo-manipulation of gravestones makes up a lot of the clothing worn by these characters, by the way).

An example of the Major Arcana, a court card, and a small card from the DMT.

I’ll be honest: at first I was repulsed by this deck, almost entirely because of the Hermit. My favorite card in the Tarot has gotten a very non-traditional and downright unflattering treatment in this deck. Where is the wisdom I’ve come to respect so highly? In fact, the entire Major Arcana disappointed me when I looked through these cards online. Some of them were cool, but some were not, and the majority stuck me as just mediocre. Not that the artwork was poorly executed – it’s all very well done I think; rather, it was just some stylistic choices that I didn’t really care for (like the Chariot, for example, and of course the Hermit).

The Minor Arcana is what really stood out to me – really, it blew me away. After looking through them, I was thoroughly impressed, and I could not forget them. Over time, pictures kept coming up online, and I kept turning it over in my head, each time leaning closer and closer to wanting this deck of cards that originally left such a bad taste in my mouth. I was on the verge of clicking “buy” on amazon, but just did not do it, leaving them in the cart for me to mull over some more. That very day, I found the deck in a bookstore, and that was that. I brought them home, and did several readings with them. It was because of the Minors that I was initially attracted to this deck, which is not typical for me.

The Minor Arcana are not totally traditional, either in artwork or in meaning, although you can sense the influence of the RWS on some of the cards.

This deck is undoubtedly darker than most. This is part of the reason why I was drawn to it in spite of myself, though. I’ve got so much light, but light is meaningless without darkness to counterbalance it. This deck has the nightmarish landscapes to contrast with the peaceful dreamscapes I’ve come to associate with the Sun and Moon Tarot. This deck has the corrupt and decaying city to contrast with the vibrant and living nature in the Wildwood Tarot. It fills a void in my collection, that unappealing place in the back of my mind that is there nonetheless, and it does so with a grotesque beauty. And with all that said, this deck is not without its lighter moments, and it has a conspicuous sense of humor. I like that. I haven’t spent any time doing shadow work with my Tarot collection yet. When I do work up the courage to dig up my demons, however, I will probably do it with this deck. The demons will feel right at home in the light of the Deviant Moon, and the humor will help me maintain my sanity.

The Deviant Hermit – DMT

The more I turn these cards over in my hands, the more I like them. Even the Hermit has grown on me. There was a discussion on the forums on about this card that gave me heart. I’m not the only person who was let down by this card. But it was asserted by someone that, perhaps, this Hermit represents the man prior to his enlightenment, the very moment before he turned his back on society. His anguish is the anguish of a man who needs to be left alone. It’s all too much. The Hermit has to leave sometime, after all. You can glimpse a hint of what’s to come in the half of his face that is turned away from us – almost serene. He wasn’t always the wise and lonely old sage that is pictured in so many decks. He’s got to start somewhere.

The Devil.

Where to begin with this one.

Is this the card of Evil? What are you supposed to think or do if you should turn it up? It’s unsettling, to say the least. After Death, this card is probably the most frightening in the deck to most people.

I suppose I’ll just start on the surface and go deeper from there.

The surface is pretty much all bad. There’s no way around it: the Devil is the Antagonist, the Fallen, and he makes it his business to bring you down with him.

The picture of the Devil is a perversion of both the Hierophant and the Lovers – RWS

Like the Hierophant and Judgement, the imagery of this card (at least in the RWS and TdM) is based on Christian tradition. It depicts a winged beast-man with horns, with two lesser demons (or are they people? They’ve got horns and tails either way) chained to his pedestal.

The Devil used to be an angel, much like those pictured on the cards Temperance, Judgement, and the Lovers (again, using the RWS here – no decks prior to this one pictured an angel on the Lovers). Before Creation, the Devil, called Lucifer, or the “Bringer of Light” or “Morning Star”, rebelled against God, sparking a great cosmic war. God triumphed, as God tends to do, and Lucifer and his fellows were cast out of Paradise, hence the ‘fallen angels’ designation. Apparently, the fall caused great disfigurement to the Devil, because the former Bringer of Light became an ugly and horned satyr-like creature.

The Devil doesn’t have to refer to Lucifer; many people use it interchangeably with ‘demon’, both of which are an umbrella designation that could also refer to one of Lucifer’s many minions, my favorite of which is Mephistopheles from the Faust legend. When Faust “sold his soul to the Devil”, he was not actually dealing with Lucifer at all, although I suppose Mephisto was probably just working on commission. As a general term, though, the Devil could mean someone (mortal or not) who is anywhere from mischievous to downright evil.

The Devil is sort of like the Trickster gone bad, like Loki from Norse myth. Loki starts out as a good, if somewhat mischievous guy. Sure, he starts a lot of trouble for the Aesir, but he was always on their side, there to bring them back out of whatever situation he caused. As time went on, though, this began to change, until ultimately he led a great host of demons and giants against the gods in the final cataclysmic war that destroyed everyone, himself included. One can see parallels between this and the Christian myth of the war before Creation, although the Norse were not so optimistic as the Christians are (which is saying something).

Like the Trickster, the Devil manipulates. But while the Trickster generally manipulates simply for the sake of shaking things up (one gets the sense that the Trickster is easily bored), the Devil does so for his own selfish and perverted ends. I would bet that the Devil’s motto is “misery loves company.” He’s damned for all eternity, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to endure it alone. He and his minions spend all of their time tempting us humans to sin until we’re so heavy with it that we fall to their level. Or maybe he just wants revenge on God. If we’re God’s children, then it must be painful to watch as some of us shun his loving embrace in favor of Lucifer’s bed. The Devil may not be able to reach God himself, but he sure as hell can reach us.

All this is assuming the Devil really is evil. But is he?

There are theories which state that the Devil is nothing more than God’s shadow. Following this train of thought, he is no less a part of God than Jesus Christ, the epitome of virtue. How can this blasphemy be so? Think about it like this: God is everything. Or rather, everything is an aspect of God. This includes the dark just as it does the light. Most God-fearing Christians refuse to accept this, but consider the Old Testament. God was the one who struck down the sinners, not the Devil. God can and is willing to be quite brutal.

We should remember that “good” and “evil” are human creations. They do not exist in nature. Is the Lion evil because it has slain the Lamb? Of course not. It goes without saying that there are terrible things in this world. We have come to see good and evil as a way of categorizing what is basically pleasant and unpleasant for us. These concepts have gone a long way in building a successful society where we’ve all generally agreed not to kill each other. Without them, we would never have evolved past hunter-gatherers. Without the notion of evil, there would be no good. In this way, the Devil is just playing the role that no one else is willing to, but which must be played all the same. In the end, though, it’s all part of God’s plan. And think about it: if God is all-powerful, would he really allow the existence of the Devil if he didn’t have to?

Now the Devil’s role begins to take on a level of ambiguity. Perhaps he is just misunderstood. It is the Devil, not God, that led us to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We curse him for tempting us, for driving us to commit the original sin. But without that fruit, we would be no different from the animals. The Devil didn’t bring us closer to hell by doing so; he brought us closer to heaven. God subsequently expelled us from Eden before we could eat from the other Tree – the Tree of Life. He was afraid that, should we eat from both trees, we would become like him. Who was really trying to help us in this situation? The irony is, prior to eating from the Tree, Adam and Eve simply didn’t know any better. It is only by following the advice of the Devil that they learned to see good and evil. And for that, the Devil has forever been branded as the evil one.

I’m not a proponent of Satanism. I’m not trying to say God is really the evil one, and the Devil is our savior. But I do think that perhaps they really might be one and the same. Two sides of the same coin, if you will.

What if the Devil was never demonized? – CHT

But how does all this relate to the Tarot? On the surface, this card is the card of temptation. We can be slaves to our vices, and this is what most people see when this card comes up. And it’s perfectly valid. Many people are indeed chained to their Devil’s pedestal. But on a deeper level, the Devil symbolizes the opportunity for enlightenment through our baser desires.

Why does the Devil look like a scary goat-man, anyway? Prior to Christianity, the Horned God was a common figure throughout Europe. He stood for man’s connection to nature – to our animal desires. Pagans didn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. It’s true, after all. Despite our higher understanding, we are all still animals at the end of the day, subject to the same needs and urges, and ultimately doomed to die and return to the Earth. The Devil looks most like the Greek god Pan, the satyr god of nature, responsible for instilling the animal state of panic in men. The civilized Greeks respected this god, even feared him to an extent, but they also celebrated him. Our animal sides need to be embraced before they can really be controlled.

The Devil is nothing more than the Force of Nature in our lives – GE

In the Hero’s Journey, the Devil represents the most difficult stage. The Hero has died and descended into the Underworld. Now he has to face the great antagonist. On a psychological level, this Devil is none other than the shadows of the self, kept in the deepest, darkest recesses of the psyche. We need to face those aspects of ourselves that we hide from the world, and integrate them into our personality to truly become whole.

Facing the Devil is not to be done lightly, however. He holds great power. Many people try to wield this power only to fall victim to its corruption. There is a reason the Devil is situated so far along the path of the Major Arcana. Only after passing through all of the previous stages, becoming a master of Temperance, can you hope to be successful in your contest against the Devil. Even then, your fate is not guaranteed. To dance with the Devil, one must be ever vigilant, and to know when to bow out. But should you succeed, you will be forever changed. You will understand the true value of both good and evil, and that they are both ultimately just illusions. Only then can you begin your return journey, back to the world of the light and the living, as a true Hero.


It is only by eating from the mythical Tree of Life that we can hope to transcend our worldly bounds, to become truly divine. Unfortunately, we have been barred from the garden in which it grows. But should we ever find the Tree again, it is only by following the advice of the Devil, and by breaking the orders of God, that we could ever eat of its fruit. Should you be wary of what the Devil whispers in your ear? Certainly. He is a Trickster, after all. But you should still listen. The Trickster saves as often as he condemns.

Etteilla v. Waite: Part II

In Part 1, I established that I intend to study the Grande Etteilla (GE) in comparison with the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS).

For this part, I’ve chosen to focus on the first eight cards of the Major Arcana. There is a reason for this. The first eight cards of the Etteilla deck are the cards that portray Creation, and the RWS splits very nicely into three groups of seven. Add the Fool to the first group of seven, and you get an even eight, just perfect to match the GE. The Fool in the RWS is numbered zero, so it makes sense to put it at the beginning. The Fool in the GE, on the other hand, is numbered 78, which is very interesting in its implications, but we’ll wait until we get there to examine them in detail. The next two posts after this one will deal with seven cards each.

Before I get started on the cards, I want to briefly discuss the mythic themes which underlie each of these two decks. I have been taught that at their core, all myths can be classified as either Creation myths, or Hero’s Journey myths.* Put in the simplest terms, Creation myths attempt to answer the basic question “Where did we come from?”, while Hero’s Journey myths attempt to answer “Where are we going?”, or even more basic, “Who am I?”. Creation stories try to explain the nature of the world and how it became the place it is today, and Hero’s Journey stories try to explain the nature of humanity. It shouldn’t be assumed that all creation myths just deal with the literal creation of the world. There are many Greek myths that explain how specific trees and flowers came into existence, for example. Also included in this category are stories that explain why certain aspects of society are as they are – it’s not just limited to nature. They are all considered creation myths; there are many, many different variations of this type of myth. Hero’s Journey myths, on the other hand, all follow a basic formula. There are variations from story to story, but they all can be reduced to a common structure. Aspects of this structure have already been discussed in various posts on this blog about the Major Arcana (and I will continue to do so as I write about other cards), and we’ll see a general outline of this structure laid out throughout this study.

In short, the typical Tarot deck, represented here by the RWS, encompasses the Hero’s Journey, while the GE provides a very basic outline of the Creation. There is some crossover, especially within the first eight cards, which will be made clear shortly. Overall, though, it seems to me that the RWS and other more traditional Tarot decks are generally more concerned with the human condition, while the GE appears to concern itself more with the nature of our world.

The first four cards of the GE (top) and the RWS (bottom).

The first thing to notice when looking at these cards together is that, for the first four cards at least, there are no people in the GE while the RWS is dominated by them. For the first three cards, though, that difference is only superficial, and we will actually see that there are a lot of similar ideas conveyed in each respective card. It becomes clear, however, that the GE shows these ideas as they relate to the macrocosm, and the RWS as they relate to the microcosm.

  1. (I will be using the GE numbering throughout this study. This may get confusing, because when I say “card 1”, most people think of the Magician for the RWS, while in this instance, I’m actually referring to the Fool. It’s something to keep in mind as you read on.) Here we see Chaos in the GE, or the time before the World was created. This idea is mirrored in microcosm in the Fool: the time before consciousness awakens. The Fool is the pure, un-tethered soul of the Hero, the moment before he steps off the cliff (symbolic of its descent into consciousness, or the departure of the Hero from the Ouroboros,** and the beginning of his story). Chaos is the Ouroboros, where everything is one. The trademark characteristic of the Ouroboros is its roundness: Chaos is surrounded by circles in the card (and the Fool’s number 0 is symbolic of the same).
  2. The first thing that usually happens to break up the Ouroboros is the split between light and dark. Here we see light, in the form of the Sun. Light is often considered a male characteristic, and the dark female. So in the RWS, we see the Magician, a man who embodies the masculine principle of activity.
  3. Here we see a couple of things going on. First of all, we see the Moon, compliment of the Sun in the previous card. We also see that another binary opposition has occurred: the separation of Earth and Sky. Considering the High Priestess’ significance as the card of binary opposites in general, as well as the female principle of passivity opposite the active Magician, these two cards do indeed match up.
  4. Though the last card showed that the Earth and Sky are both now in existence, it’s focus was on the feminine Earth. Now our attention is turned back towards the masculine side of opposites in the Sky. In other words, the course of the cards after Chaos so far has gone thus: Light – Dark/Earth – Sky, illustrating two pairs of opposites across the space of three cards. This is where the RWS begins to diverge from the GE in its symbolism. The Empress represents the natural world. This includes the sky, as symbolized by the twelve stars of her crown, but the focus remains on the living Earth. After the Fool (unconsciousness) so far we have: Male – Female – Nature.
Cards 5-8***

5. Back down to Earth, we see that it is now being populated with people and animals. The man’s place in the center of everything else makes it clear that humans are thought to rule over the other animals. In a sense, the Emperor of the RWS illustrates a similar idea. It is the masculine compliment to the feminine Empress, and is symbolic for the structure of civilization in contrast to the wildness of nature.

6. And back again to the Sky, we see that it is now populated with the celestial bodies. Notice the astrological signs; this suggests the belief that the Heavens rule the Earth. In the RWS, we have the Hierophant, who acts as an intermediary between the two realms, reinforcing the notion that there is a higher power than us humans.

7. True to form, we are back again to Earth. Here, birds and fish have joined man and beast upon the earth. Land, air, and water are full of life, and the world is now complete. To be honest, I’m having trouble drawing a connection between the Lovers of the RWS and the Birds and Fish of the GE. The irony here is that, of all the RWS cards, this single card is the closest to actually depicting the Creation, the whole process of which has been drawn out over the last seven cards of the GE. The image of the Lovers shows Adam and Eve, the first people, together in the Garden of Eden. They’re naked, which suggests they have not yet eaten from the Tree of Knowledge (behind Eve). I suppose this card might show completed Creation, and in that way can be associated with the Birds and Fish. But the Birds and Fish themselves are not the completed creation; they’re just the last step the GE shows us to completion. Typically, the Lovers suggests a defining choice in a person’s life. The choice to eat the fruit of the Tree was a defining moment in the mythical history of all mankind. This is the card where the difference between the macrocosm of the GE and the microcosm of the RWS becomes clear. They do not match up anymore. A different story is now being told.

8. Here, the GE shows us a picture that is reminiscent of the Lovers from the previous pair of cards. Eve, the first woman, is naked in the Garden of Eden, while the Serpent tempts her to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This card is called Rest, and it shows the end of Creation. The world is complete, and all is good. At this point, at least symbolically, people are no more than animals. While they are supposed to rule over the animals, they are not really any different from them. It is when Eve, followed by Adam, eats the forbidden fruit that they separate themselves from the animals. The fruit gives them knowledge and wisdom to know what is right and what is wrong. This myth is trying to tell us that the ability to learn and build upon what we learn is what sets us apart from nature. The Chariot of the RWS builds upon the choice made by the Lover in the previous card. The Hero is now on a distinct path; he is growing into the Heroic role. So here we see the path of all mankind laid out in the choice of Eve in the GE, and the path of the individual is now actively being traveled in the RWS as a result of the choice made in the previous card.

To sum up:

In the GE, the progression is thus:

Chaos – Light – Dark/Earth – Sky – Population of the World – Population of the Heavens – Population of the Sea and Sky – Finish/Choice

This is a general pattern for the Creation myth. First is Chaos, or the Ouroboros. The next cards deal with the splitting of binary opposites, followed by the entrance of living beings into the world. The order of these events might be different in other mythic systems, but typically they all would contain the basic elements introduced here. These cards are very general. In some cases, entire myths would be assigned to a single card. For example, all of the Greek myths about trees and flowers would go to the 3rd card (called Plants – this is tied to the Earth nature of the card); the myths about constellations would go to the 6th card; etc. Myths about the awakening of mankind to greater knowledge or understanding would be linked to the 8th card. The mythic content of these eight cards can thus be interpreted in two ways: together, they form a progression that accounts for the literal creation of the world; separately, they each account for any number of individual myths that focus on specific aspects of creation.

In the RWS, the progression is thus:

Unconsciousness – Male principle – Female principle – Nature – Civilization – Religion – Choice – Development of choice

Here we see the beginning stages of the Hero myth. First is the Fool, or the soul of the Hero himself. Again, we see the splitting of binary opposites, but in this case it revolves around the developing consciousness of the individual rather than the World. However, we can look at the Magician through the Hierophant as personifications symbolizing the collective experience of mankind. On the individual level, the High Priestess and the Magician symbolize the awakening of the person to binary opposites, or the awakening of conscious thought. The Empress is the nurturing Mother figure, and the Emperor the law-giving Father figure. The Hierophant serves as the education of the Hero, both on a spiritual and mundane level (in older times, when myths were much more prevalent, there was not much of a distinction between these two levels, hence the Hierophant’s association with them both). On the collective level, the Magician and Priestess symbolize the breaking of opposites almost identical to that portrayed in the GE. This is an entirely unconscious process. The Empress is Nature, the Emperor is Civilization, and the Hierophant is Religion. The Lovers is the transition from collective or individual to strictly individual (although the experiences in the rest of the pack are still shared by everyone, they occur on an individual level, in contrast to the previous cards). The Hero has been raised and educated, now he must make the choice of what the purpose of his life really is. The Chariot shows him setting off down his chosen path to actually become the Hero.


In the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I will discuss the next seven cards of each deck.



*Or sometimes both. For example, Dying Gods myths tend to fit into both categories. The Egyptian myth of the Sun god Ra’s daily journey by boat illustrates this nicely. It is a Creation myth, in that it attempts to explain what happens to the sun each night. It is also a Hero’s Journey, because it follows the basic formula of symbolic death and rebirth that is central to this type of myth.

**The Ouroboros is a very important concept in myth. I have not written about it yet, aside from perhaps a mention here or there. I am saving my in-depth discussion of the Ouroboros for my write up of the World card. If you’re not already familiar with this concept, all you need to know for now is that the Ouroboros is basically the entire Universe before it split into binary opposites, often associated with the womb. It also signifies the endless cycle of death and rebirth that makes the world go ’round. It’s an entirely abstract concept, but you’ve probably seen it represented by pictures of a serpent that is biting or eating its own tail. In fact, you’ve seen it twice in this very post: once in the 5th card of the GE, surrounding the Man, and once in the 2nd card of the RWS, as the Magician’s belt.

***I’m slightly disappointed that cards 6 and 7 in my deck are not colored. I suspect they were supposed to be. The pictures are very beautiful; I wish I could see them in color. Alas!


Etteilla v. Waite: Part I

The Grande Etteilla (GE) is the oddball deck in my collection. It’s almost frustrating, because I just don’t know how to approach it.

The difference is in the Major Arcana. While my other decks are indeed different from each other in this respect, they are all still rooted in a common system, based on the TdM. The GE is the sole exception, with a total re-vamp of the Major Arcana. And I’m not just talking about name changes here. The Wildwood changed the names of every single card in the Major Arcana, but they are still fundamentally the same cards as any other deck. The same cannot be said of the GE.

In an effort to better understand this mysterious deck, I’ve decided I would lay them out in order, side by side with the cards of the RWS in its intended order. My hope is to find any correlations in their patterns, or to see if any sense can be made of their differences by comparing them to a system that is much more familiar to me.

Then, I want to rearrange them, placing the GE cards next to the RWS ones that match them best, and see if I can form some associations to help me out. Some of them are easier than others, like the Devil or the Magician, which appear in both decks, albeit in different places. Others are more confusing. Is the Priest card of the GE more closely related to the Hierophant, or the Lovers?* And what about cards like Birds and Fish? Is there anything even close to an equivalent in the more traditional Tarot decks?

I’ve decided to use the RWS as a base for comparison because a) I have a small version of this deck, which makes it easier to lay them out on my desk next to other cards; b) I’m more familiar with it than other decks; and c) Waite was consciously influenced by Etteilla’s deck (among many others, of course) when he created his own, so if any correlations exist, they’re likely to be most obvious in the RWS. While it’s not the most traditional Tarot deck, I’ve got a fairly decent grasp on its similarities and differences compared to others like the TdM. It also has the advantage of being ingrained in the popular imagination as the Tarot deck, which grants an interesting platform for contrast against the comparatively unknown Etteilla. When it’s appropriate, however, I may substitute cards from other decks for the RWS.

I also intend to take advantage of the opportunity this study provides me to really dig into the mythological implications of each deck, specifically the Creation myth portrayed in the GE and the Hero’s Journey myth portrayed in the others, and whether or not there’s any overlap.


That’ll about wrap it up for this introduction. In the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I’ll examine the first eight cards in each deck, or Chaos to Rest in the GE, and the Fool to the Chariot in the RWS.


*In this instance, I refer to the TdM version of the Lovers, although a fascinating correlation exists between the CHT Lovers and this card. But I’m getting ahead of myself.