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.



5 thoughts on “Etteilla v. Waite: Part I”

  1. I have this deck and found it frustrating at first. It predates the Golden Dawn method in publication. .. so though it has many similarities it’s a bit of a mix between the older European tarot decks and the occult ideas of the Rider Waite and Crowley Harris Thoth deck which came later. I found I had to work with the different descriptions of the cards and not import my other tarot knowledge onto these cards. They really are so very different and strange but lovely too. Love to keep following your process with this deck πŸŒŸπŸŒ™ Asha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My understanding (limited though it may be thanks to a frustrating lack of texts in English about it) is that Etteilla basically built his own system of the Tarot geared specifically towards occultism. While his interpretations of the Minor Arcana have been heavily drawn upon by many subsequent (and influential) Tarotists, his Major Arcana have been totally disregarded, even ridiculed, by the same folks who used his Minors (I’ve read disparaging comments from Wirth, Waite, and Crowley). So, while these guys borrowed much of his Minor Arcana interpretations, they reverted back to the more traditional Marseille system as a basis for their own Majors.
      Because there is virtually no reading material on this subject, I see no better option than importing my Tarot knowledge of other systems on this deck, at the very least for purposes of comparison. It is obvious at a glance that they are not the same, and as such, I do have some apprehensions about this method.
      Furthermore, I am largely approaching this study from the angle of archetypes and myth, because these are the ways with which I most strongly identify with the Tarot. As I’ve progressed, though, I’ve come to realize that perhaps this isn’t the best way to deal with Etteilla’s Tarot, at least not past the first eight cards. On the other hand, there has to be some sort of archetypal pattern behind the deck. Surely Etteilla didn’t just make an arbitrary progression for his Majors. I am currently exploring the possibility of occult initiation as the underlying ‘plot’, so to speak.
      What I ultimately intend on doing with this project is figuring out which cards best match up from each respective deck (for example, the Capuchin and the Hermit). Some are easy, some are not. What I hope to gain from this, though, isn’t so much an understanding of Etteilla’s system itself as it is an understanding of his system in the context of the greater trends of the Tarot, within which he seems to exist in a bubble.
      Ultimately, Etteilla’s lasting influence seems to be in the Minor Arcana, and in the general legacy he left as being the first person to make a serious connection between the Tarot and the occult. His Major Arcana, for all intents and purposes, might as well not exist. But they do, and they are frustratingly fascinating in their divergence from a typical deck. I am compelled to try and figure it out in the only way I know how, and these resulting posts are really no more than a thought exercise for me. I don’t claim any of it to be “right” (if such a thing can really exist when talking about the definitions of Tarot cards).
      Anyways, thanks a lot for reading, and sorry for this long-winded reply. Please feel free to leave your opinions on the other parts of this series. You’re the first person I’ve ever “cyber-met” that has really worked with this deck, and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow your comment I soooo great 😊 maybe we could do some collab posts on this deck and see what we can evoke. I agree with and have experienced the same as you described in your comment. I remember now how Crowley absolutely slams Eteillia and I remember fuzzily something about him in Eliphas Levi’s “Histoire of Magic” and “Transcendental Magic” (remembering the title off the top of my head). But then Crowley slams everyone except for himself because he had a messiah complex! I’ll comment in more detail when I’m at my computer. πŸŒ™πŸŒŸ Asha

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s