Etteilla v. Waite: Part V

In the previous three installments of this series, I lined up the Major Arcana of the Grande Etteilla III (GE)* against the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS). The first of these installments (Part II of the series) saw me compare the first eight cards of each deck, one at a time. The nature of these cards made this feasible; for the next two parts (Parts III and IV), however, I did them in groups of seven each, because the nature of these cards shifted, and the parallels we saw in the first part between the two decks were no longer applicable. I interpreted these cards, as progressions rather than as individuals, from an angle of mythology. The RWS was fairly straightforward, illustrating the so-called “Hero’s Journey” type of myth. The GE, on the other hand, posed some difficulties. I believe it can be boiled down to the basic structure of beginning-middle-end, much like the Hero’s Journey and the RWS. However, while the RWS dealt on the level of individual development, the GE appears to deal with that of the collective. Therefore, the beginning-middle-end structure becomes Creation, Preservation, and Destruction of the world (one can easily see a parallel with the Hindu trinity of Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva). Broadly speaking, this pattern evokes another type of myth, referred to collectively as Creation myths.

Having established a basic framework through which to understand the cards as a series, I will now shift my attention to the cards as individuals. What I will be doing for the foreseeable future is matching up cards from the GE with appropriate counterparts from the RWS (or other decks as I see fit). Some cards are fairly obvious, such as Death or the Devil, both of which appear in both decks. Some cards do not have an equivalent, such as the Hanged Man from the RWS or the Birds and Fish from the GE. And some cards from the GE match with more than one from the RWS, such as the High Priest, which has elements of both the Lovers and the Hierophant.


Chaos from the GE next to the Fool from the CHT

Chaos: This card was matched with the Fool in part II of this series, and while the two look nothing alike, I think there is something to that connection. In fact, the Fool is Chaos personified. Chaos does not mean destruction, nor anything inherently negative (or positive, for that matter); rather, it represents formlessness, like the potential of the Fool. It is everything and nothing, beginning and end, existing outside of time.

Additionally, Chaos is labelled “Etteilla,” which means that this card is intended to serve as a significator for the querent. As the Fool is also an “universal significator,” these two cards both serve as the connection between the cards and the person consulting them.


Sun or Light: The obvious match for this card is the Sun. However, because the Magician represents the active “male” principle, he matches here as well. This attribution makes more sense, I think, with the addition of the following card to the sequence.


Plants: Despite the title of the card, the moon seems to be the main focus of the image, and as such, I think the Moon can be matched with it, same as the Suns from both decks were paired above. This is sort of a superficial match, though, and there is another card latent with lunar symbolism which I think fits better. The High Priestess is the compliment of the Magician, or the passive or “female” principle. Not only does the Priestess represent the principle opposite the Magician, she represents the principle of opposites itself, or “binary opposition”. In the case of the Plants card, this simultaneous display of principles is made clear by the combination of Earth and Sky in a single image, which we did not see in the Sun.

For the titular Plants, the best card I can think to match is the Empress. She signifies Nature; she is Mother Earth.

Together, the Sun and Plants illustrate the moment of the creation of the world out of the Chaos that reigned before. The Cosmic Egg has hatched to reveal a primal distinction of opposites: Light and Dark; Sky and Earth; or, in the case of the RWS, Male and Female.


In the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I will continue to match Etteilla’s Major Arcana cards with counterparts from Waite’s deck.

*It should be understood that the actual deck in use here is called the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, and is supposed to be based on the pattern of the Grande Etteilla III. I’ve never seen a genuine Etteilla deck of any pattern, so I cannot say how true to the source these cards are, although they are admittedly quite a bit removed from Etteilla himself.



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