Antoine Court de Gébelin and Jean-Baptiste Alliette (also known as “Etteilla”) are two prominent figures in the history of occult tarot. They played significant roles in popularizing and shaping the interpretation of tarot cards for divinatory and esoteric purposes.
Antoine Court de Gébelin (1725–1784)
Antoine Court de Gébelin was a French clergyman, historian, and Freemason who is often credited with being one of the first individuals to propose a mystical and esoteric interpretation of the tarot. In his work “Le Monde primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne” (The Primitive World, Analyzed and Compared to the Modern World), published in the late 18th century, Court de Gébelin proposed that the tarot had ancient Egyptian origins and contained hidden wisdom and knowledge. He argued that the tarot deck was a repository of ancient mystical teachings, tracing its roots back to Egyptian priests.
Court de Gébelin’s ideas about the tarot’s Egyptian origins were largely speculative and not supported by historical evidence. However, his writings contributed to the popularization of the idea that the tarot held secret esoteric meanings beyond its use as a card game.
Jean-Baptiste Alliette (1738–1791), known as Etteilla
Jean-Baptiste Alliette, a French occultist, is more commonly known by his pseudonym “Etteilla.” He was a contemporary of Court de Gébelin and played a crucial role in developing the tarot for divinatory purposes. Etteilla is often regarded as one of the pioneers of tarot divination and the first to create a systematic method of reading tarot cards for fortune-telling.
In the late 18th century, Etteilla published several books on tarot, including “Manière de se récréer avec le jeu de cartes nommées tarots” (The Way to Amuse Oneself with the Deck of Cards Called Tarot), in which he introduced new interpretations and divinatory meanings for the cards. He also created his own tarot deck, the “Grand Etteilla,” which featured illustrated images and correspondences between the cards and various esoteric systems, such as astrology and numerology.
Etteilla’s contributions to the occult tarot laid the groundwork for the tarot’s use as a tool for divination and self-discovery. His interpretations and methods influenced later tarot readers and practitioners, shaping the development of tarot as a popular form of esoteric practice.
Both Court de Gébelin and Etteilla contributed to the emergence of the occult tarot tradition by introducing esoteric interpretations and divinatory practices associated with the tarot cards. Their writings and ideas continue to influence modern tarot practices and interpretations within the broader context of esotericism and divination.