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.