‘‘Etteilla’’ (ca. 1790)
An eighteenth-century student of the tarot. By profession he
was a hairdresser, his true name being Alliette, but on entering
upon his occult studies he changed his name to read backward
‘‘Etteilla.’’ He had little education and was ill-acquainted with
the philosophy of the initiates. Nevertheless, he possessed a
profound intuition, and according to the famous occultist
Éliphas Lévi, he came very near to unveiling the secrets of the
tarot. Lévi stated that his writings, however, were ‘‘obscure,
wearisome, and in style barbarous.’’ Etteilla claimed to have revised
the Book of Thoth (i.e., the tarot) but in reality obscured its
meaning by regarding as blunders certain cards whose meaning
he had failed to grasp.
It is commonly admitted that he failed in his attempt to elucidate
the tarot and ended by transposing the keys, thus destroying
the correspondence between the numbers and the
signs. It is also said that he degraded the science of the tarot
into mere fortune-telling by cards for credulous people. The
publications of Etteilla include Manière de se récréer le jeu de cartes
nommés Tarots (4 pts., 1783–85), Philosophie des hautes sciences
(1785), and Science, Leçons Théoriques et pratiques du livre de Thot
(1787).
Sources
Douglas, Alfred. The Tarot The Origins, Meaning, and Use of
the Cards. New York Taplinger, 1972.
Lévi, Éliphas. Transcendental Magic. New York Samuel
Weiser, 1972

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