Gebelin: Introduction


by Court de Gébelin, first published in Monde Primitif, Vol 8, 1781

Where we deal with its origin, explain its allegories, and show that it is the source of our modern playing cards, etc etc.


The surprise that would be caused by the discovery of an Egyptian Book.

If we were to hear it announced that there is still today a book of the ancient Egyptians, one of their books that had escaped the flames that devoured their superb libraries, and which contains their purest doctrines on interesting subjects, all who heard, undoubtedly, would be eager to know such an invaluable and extraordinary book. If it was also said that this book is very widespread in a large part of Europe and has been in the hands of everyone for several centuries, the surprise would certainly increase. Would it not reach its peak if one was then told that no one has ever suspected that it was Egyptian; that those who have it have never valued it, nor ever sought to decipher a page of it: that the fruit of exquisite wisdom is looked upon as a collection of extravagant figures that mean nothing in themselves? Would we not then think that the speaker is amusing himself, playing on the credulity of his listeners?


This Egyptian Book exists.

The fact is however that it is undoubtedly true. This Egyptian book, the sole remnant of their superb libraries, still exists today. It is even so common that no scholar has deigned to occupy himself with it, nobody before us having ever suspected its illustrious origin. This book is composed of 77 pages or tableaus, even of 78, divided into 5 classes, each of which present subjects as varied as they are amusing and instructive. This book is in a word the GAME OF TAROT, a game unknown admittedly in Paris, but well-known in Italy, Germany, even in Provence, as much for the bizarre figures offered by each of its cards, as for their great number.

Though widely known, however, no region where it is used is any more advanced on the value the bizarre figures seem to offer than another. Such is its ancient origin that, buried in the darkness of time, no one knows neither where or when it was invented, nor the motive which had gathered so many extraordinary figures, so few of which seem to go together, such that it offers in its entirety only a riddle that no one has ever sought to solve.

So unworthy of attention has the game appeared that it has even been overlooked by those of our experts occupied with the origin of playing cards. They only spoke of French cards, or in use in Paris, whose origin is not very old; and after having proven the modern invention of it, believed they had exhausted the matter. It is because the establishment of any field of knowledge in a country is constantly confused with its primitive invention: as we have already shown with regard to the compass. The Greeks and the Romans themselves confused these subjects a great deal, which has deprived us of a multitude of interesting origins.

But the form, disposition, arrangement of this game and the figures which it presents are so obviously allegorical, and these allegories are so in conformity with the civil, philosophical and religious doctrines of the ancient Egyptians, that one cannot fail to recognise the work of this wise people, that only they could be the sole inventors, rivals in this respect to the Indians who invented the game of chess.


We will show the allegories the various cards of this game offers.
The numerical formulas according to which it was composed.
How it was transmitted to us.
Its relationship with a Chinese monument.
How the Spanish cards were born and the relationship of the latter with the French cards.

This essay will be followed by a dissertation in which it is established how this game was applied to the art of divination; it is the work of a General Officer, a Provincial Governor, who honours us with his benevolence, and who has found in this game with ingenious sagacity the Egyptian principles on the art of divining by cards, principles that were distinguished by the first bands of Egyptians, badly named Bohemians, who spread across Europe; and of which there are still some vestiges in our packs of cards, though rendered infinitely less by their monotony and the small number of their figures.

The Egyptian deck, on the contrary, is admirable for this purpose, encompassing in a way the whole universe and the various circumstances to which the life of man is susceptible. Such was the profundity of these singular people, to have impressed upon the least of their works the seal of immortality, that others seem, in some manner, hardly able to drag themselves in their footsteps.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Gebelin: Introduction - Notes

NOTE: 'Jeu' in French in context of cards can mean 'game, deck, pack' of tarot [cards] - although I have translated it (for the most part), as 'game' understand it to mean 'game/pack/deck' according to context.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Gebelin: ARTICLE I


ALLEGORIES presented by the Cards of the Game of TAROT.

If this game, which has always been mute for all those who knew it, has developed in our eyes, it was not the effect of some deep meditations, nor of the desire to unravel its chaos: we did not give it a moments thought. Invited a few years ago to go to see a Lady of our acquaintance, Madam C d.H., [1] who had arrived from Germany or Switzerland, we found her occupied playing this game with some other people: "We're playing a game you probably don't know."

"That may be, what is it?"

"The game of Tarot."

"I had occasion to see it when I was extremely young, but I don't have any idea of it."

"It's a rhapsody of the most bizarre and extravagant figures: in this one, for example," taking care to choose one loaded with figures, and without any relation to its name, "it is the World."

As soon as I lay my eyes on it I see the allegory: everyone leaves their game to come and see this marvellous card in which I apprehend what they have never seen. Each of them asks me to explain one card after another. In a quarter of an hour, the game was played, explained, and declared Egyptian. Since it was not the play of our imagination, but the result of the discerned relations and sympathy of the game with all that we knew of Egyptian ideas, we promised ourselves to share it someday with the public; persuaded that it would find pleasant a discovery and gift of this nature, an Egyptian book that had escaped from barbarism, the ravages of time, fires accidental and deliberate, and the still greater disaster of ignorance.

That it has been able to triumph over all the ages and to pass down to us with a rare fidelity is surely down to the frivolous and lightweight nature of the book. Ignorance in regards to what it represented, as indeed we were ourselves until now, provided safe passage by which to cross the centuries quietly, without anyone thinking of making it disappear.

It was time to rediscover the allegories that it was destined to preserve and to reveal that among these wise people even games were founded on allegory, and that these wise scholars knew how to convert into an amusement the most useful knowledge and make of it just a game.

As we have said, the Game of Tarot is composed of 77 Cards, even a 78th, divided into trumps and 4 suits. So that our readers can follow us, we have made engravings of the trumps and the ace of each suit, which we name after the Spaniards, Spadille, Baste, and Ponte.


The TRUMPS number XXII, and in general represent the temporal and spiritual Heads of Society, the physical Heads of Agriculture, the Cardinal Virtues, Marriage, Death and the resurrection or creation; the various games of fortune, the Sage and the Fool, Time which consumes all, etc. It is thus understood in advance that all these cards are as many allegorical figures relating to the whole of life, and susceptible to an infinity of combinations. We will examine them one by one, and try to decipher the particular allegory or riddle that each of them contains.

No. 0, Zero.


One cannot ignore the FOOL in this card, with his fool's sceptre and coat adorned with shells and bells. He walks very fast like the fool that he is, carrying his little bundle behind him, thinking thereby to escape from a tiger that bites his buttocks. As for the package, it is the emblem of his faults that he wishes not to see; and this tiger, that of his remorse which follows him galloping and leaping behind him.

It was a fine idea that Horace framed so well in gold, in fact it was not his, and had not escaped the Egyptians. It would be a vulgar idea, a commonplace; but taken from Nature still true, and presented with all the graces of which it is susceptible, this agreeable and wise poet seemed to have drawn from it his profound judgement.

As for this trump, we call it ZERO, though it is placed in the game after XXI, because it does not count when it is alone, and its only value is that which it gives to the others, precisely like our zero: thus showing that nothing exists without folly.

No. I.


We start with the number I and proceed to XXI, as the current practice is to start with the least number and proceed to the highest. The Egyptians, however, commenced the count from the highest and proceeded to the lowest. Thus they sang the octave while going down, and not while going up like us. In the essay following this one the Egyptian custom is followed, and the greater account is shown thereby. Thus both approaches will be covered: ours most convenient when one wants to consider each card itself: and the other more useful in better conceiving the whole and their relationships.

The first of all the Trumps in ascending order, or the last descending, is the CUP PLAYER. We recognise him at his table covered with dice, goblets, knives, and balls, etc., by his staff of Jacob or rod of the Magi, by the ball which he holds between two fingers and will make disappear. He is called the BATELEUR by the cardmakers: it is the common name of the people of this estate: is it necessary to say that it comes from baste, stick?

At the head of all the estates, he indicates that life is but a dream, a vanishing act: that it is like a perpetual game of chance or random assembly of a thousand circumstances beyond our control and which inevitably influences any general administration.

Between the Fool and the Bateleur, Man is not well.

No. II, III, IV, V.


Numbers II and III represent two women: Numbers IV and V, their husbands: they are the temporal and spiritual Heads of Society.


No IV represents the KING, and III the QUEEN. They both have the attributes of the Eagle on a shield and a sceptre topped by a taudified globe or crowned with a cross, called a Tau, the sign par excellence.

The King is seen in profile, the Queen full face: they are both sat on a throne. The Queen wears a trailing dress, the back of her throne is high: the King is in [something like] a gondola or shell chair, legs crossed. His crown is semi-circular and topped by a pearl with a cross. That of the Queen ends in a point. The King carries an Order of Chivalry.


No V represents the Head of the Hierophants or the HIGH PRIEST: No II the HIGH PRIESTESS or his wife: we know that among the Egyptians, the Heads of the Priesthood were married. If these cards were of modern invention, one wouldn't see a High Priestess, let alone one under the name of POPESSE, as German cardmakers have ridiculously named her.

The High Priestess sits in an armchair: she wears a long habit with a species of veil which falls from behind her head and crosses over her stomach: she has a double crown with two horns like that of Isis: she holds an open book on her knees; two scarves decorated with crosses form an X across her chest.

The High Priest is in a long habit with a large cloak fastened with a clasp: he wears the triple tiara: with one hand he leans on a sceptre with a triple cross: and with the other hand he blesses with two fingers extended two figures we see at his knees.

The Italian or German cardmakers who reduced this game to their own understanding made these two characters to whom the ancients gave the names of Father and Mother, similar to our Abbot and Abbess, eastern words meaning the same thing, they made them, say I, a Pope and Popesse.

As for the triple-cross sceptre, it is an emblem absolutely Egyptian: we see it on the Table of Isis, under the letter TT; an invaluable monument that we have already had engraved in all its extent in order to give it someday to the public. It has to do with the triple phallus that was paraded in the famous festival of Pamylies, where they rejoiced to have found Osiris, and where it was the symbol of the regeneration of plants and all of Nature.

No. VII.


OSIRIS advances next; he appears in the form of a triumphant King, with a sceptre in hand and crown on his head: he is in his warrior's chariot, drawn by two white horses. No one is unaware that Osiris was the great divinity of the Egyptians, the same as that of all the Sabean peoples, or that the sun is the physical symbol of this supreme invisible deity made manifest in this masterpiece of nature. Lost during the winter: he reappears in the spring with a new brilliance, having triumphed over all who made war on him.

No. VI.


A young man and a young woman pledge themselves their mutual faith: a priest blesses them, Cupid is about to pierce them with his arrows. The cardmakers call this card the [male] LOVER. They seem to have added themselves this Cupid with his bow and arrows, to render the tableau more meaningful in their eyes.

We see in the Antiquities of BOISSARD [T III. Pl. XXXVI], a monument of the same nature, a depiction of marital union; but it is made up only of three figures.

The lover and beloved who pledge themselves their faith: [the figure of] Love between them serves as both witness and priest.

This picture is entitled 'FIDEI SIMULACRUM', depicting marital faith: the characters are called by the beautiful names TRUTH, HONOUR and LOVE. It is needless to say that Truth designates the woman here rather than the man, not only because the gender of word is feminine, but because constant Fidelity is more essential in the woman. This precious monument was raised by T. Fundanius Eromenus or the kind, to his very dear wife Poppée Demetrie and their beloved daughter Manilia Eromenis.

Plate V.


he four Cardinal VIRTUES.

The figures that we have gathered in this plate relate to the four Cardinal Virtues.

No. XI. This one represents FORCE. It is a woman who has become the mistress of a lion, and who opens its mouth with the same facility as if she were opening that of a little spaniel. She has on her head the hat of a shepherdess.

No. XIII TEMPERANCE [rectified: XIV]. A winged woman pours water from one vase into another to temper the liquor that it contains.

No. VIII JUSTICE. She is a queen, she is ASTREA seated on her throne, holding a dagger in one hand and scales in the other.

No. XII PRUDENCE is one of the four Cardinal Virtues: could the Egyptians forget her in these paintings of human life? Nevertheless, we do not find her in this game. We see in her place under No XII, between Force and Temperance, a man hanging by the feet: but why hung like this? It is the work of a miserable and presumptuous card maker who did not understand the beauty of the allegory contained within this card, took it upon himself to correct it and thereby entirely disfigured it.

Prudence can only be represented in a way recognizable to the eyes by a man standing, who having one foot laid, advances the other and holds it suspended while looking for the place where he can safely place it. The title of this card was thus the man with the suspended foot, pede suspenso: the card maker, not knowing what it meant, made him a man hanged by the feet.

Then we asked, why a hanged man in this game? And we have not failed to say, this is the just punishment of the inventor of the game, for having represented a Popesse.

But placed between Force, Temperance and Justice, who can fail to see that it is Prudence that is wanted and that must have been represented originally?

Plate VI.

No. VIIII. ou IX.

The SAGE or the Seeker of Truth and the Just.

No IX represents a venerable philosopher in a long mantle, a hood over his shoulders: he walks bent over his stick and holds a lantern in his left hand. He is the sage seeking justice and virtue.

So we imagined from this Egyptian painting the story of Diogenes who with a lantern in hand goes looking for a man in midday. Witty words, especially epigrammatic, are for all time: and Diogenes was a man to put this image in motion.

The cardmakers made this Sage a Hermit. That is rather well observed: philosophers live willingly apart where they are hardly touched by the frivolity of the times. Heraclites was considered mad in the eyes of his fellow citizens: in the East, moreover, to indulge in speculative sciences or to become hermetized is almost one and the same thing. The Egyptian hermits are as beyond reproach in this respect as those of India and the monks of Siam: they were or are all as many Druids.

No. XIX.


On this plate we have gathered all the cards relating to light: thus after the dull lantern of the Hermit, we will review the Sun, the Moon and the brilliant Sirius or sparkling Dog Star, all figuring in this game with various emblems.

The SUN is represented here as the physical Father of Humanity and all of Nature: it illuminates men in society, it presides over their Cities: gold tears and pearls are distilled from its rays: thus is depicted the happy influences of this celestial body.

This Game of Tarots is here in perfect conformity with the doctrines of the Egyptians, as we will see in more detail in the following article.



Thus the MOON following the Sun is also accompanied by tears of gold and pearls, to mark that it also contributes for its part to the advantages of the earth.

PAUSANIAS teaches us in his description of Phocis that, according to the Egyptians, it was the TEARS of ISIS that flooded the waters of the Nile every year and thus rendered fertile the lands of Egypt. Reports of this country also speak about a DROP or tear which falls from the moon at the moment when the waters of the Nile swell.

At the bottom of this tableau, we see a crayfish or crab, either to mark the retrograde motion of the Moon, or to indicate that it is when the Sun and the Moon emerge from the sign of Cancer that the flood caused by their tears arrives, with the rising of the Dog Star that we see in the following tableau.

It may even be the two reasons are united: it is not uncommon to draw conclusions from a crowd of consequences which form a mass which would be too confusing to untangle.

Two towers occupy the middle of the card, one at each side to indicate the two famous Pillars of Hercules, beyond the bounds of which these two great luminaries never pass.

Between the two pillars are two dogs that seem to bark at the Moon and to guard it: perfectly Egyptian ideas. In the unique allegories of these people, the Tropics are compared with two palaces each one guarded by a dog, which like faithful gatekeepers, held these celestial bodies in the midst of heaven without allowing them to slip towards one pole or the other.

These are not the illusions of ordinary pundits. CLEMENT, himself an Egyptian, since he came from Alexandria, and consequently ought to know what he was talking about, assures us in his Tapestries [2], that the Egyptians represented the TROPICS under the figure of two DOGS, which, like gatekeepers or faithful guardians, prevented the Sun and Moon from penetrating further and going to the poles.



Here we have before us a tableau no less allegorical, and absolutely Egyptian; it is called the STAR. We can see, indeed, a brilliant star surrounded by seven smaller stars. A woman bending on one knee who holds two jars upside down and from which two rivers run occupies the bottom of the card. Next to this woman is a butterfly on a flower.

It is purely Egyptian.

This Star, par excellence, is the Dog Star or Sirius: a star that rises when the Sun leaves the sign of Cancer, in which the preceding tableau finishes, and which this Star immediately follows.

The seven stars that surround it and that seem to form its court are the planets: it is in a way their Queen, since the beginning of the year is fixed by the moment of its rising; they seem to come to receive its orders that they may regulate their courses by it.

The lady below, very attentive in this moment to spread the water of her jars, is the Queen of Heaven, ISIS, to whose benevolence was attributed the flooding of the Nile, which starts with the rising of the Dog Star; thus this rising announced the inundation. For this reason, the Dog Star was dedicated to Isis, as her symbol par excellence.

As the beginning of the year also opened with the rising of this Star, they called it SOTH-IS, the opening of the year; and it is under this name that it was dedicated to Isis.

Finally, the Flower and the BUTTERFLY which it supports were the emblems of regeneration and resurrection: they indicated at the same time that thanks to the beneficence of Isis, with the rising of the Dog Star, the bare fields of Egypt would be covered in a new harvest.

Plate VIII.



No XIII represents DEATH: it reaps People, Kings and Queens, the Great and the Small, nothing resists its murderous scythe.

It is not surprising that it is placed under this number; the number thirteen was always regarded as unfortunate. There must have been some great misfortune on such a day very long ago that the memory influenced all the ancient nations about it. Could it be a continuation of this memory that the thirteen Hebrew tribes were never counted more than twelve?

Let us add that it is not surprising either that the Egyptians would insert death in a game which ought to arouse only pleasant ideas: this game was a game of war, so death must enter into it: thus the game of chess finishes by checkmate, that is to say by shāh māt, the death of the King. Moreover, we have occasion to recall in the calendar, that in the feasts, these wise and reflective people paraded a skeleton under the name of Maneros, no doubt in order to urge the guests not to kill themselves by gluttony. Everyone has their own manner of looking at things, and tastes should never be disputed.

No. XV.


No XV represents a famous Egyptian character, TYPHON, brother of Osiris and Isis, the principle of evil, the great Demon of Hell: he has the wings of a bat, feet and hands of a harpie; on his head, ugly stag horns: they made him as ugly and as devilish as could be. At his feet are two little devils with long ears, large tails, their hands tied behind their back: they are bound to the pedestal of Typhon by a rope to their necks: he never lets go of those who are his; he loves well those who are his.

No. XVI.

ouse of God, or the Castle of Plutus.

This time we have here a lesson against avarice. This tableau represents a tower which is called the HOUSE OF GOD, that is to say the House par excellence; it is a tower filled with gold, the Castle of Plutus: it falls in ruins and its worshippers fall crushed under its debris.

For this ensemble, can we ignore the story of the Egyptian prince whom HERODOTUS speaks about called RHAMPSINIT who, after having had a large stone tower constructed to house his treasures, and to which only he had the key, noticed however that they diminished before his eyes, without anyone passing through the only door that existed in this edifice.

To discover such clever thieves, the Prince set traps around the jars that contained his riches. The thieves were the two sons of the architect who served Rhampsinit. He had secured a stone in such a manner that they could remove it and steal at will without fear of apprehension. He taught his secret to his children who used it wonderfully as we can see. They robbed the Prince, and then they threw themselves to the bottom of the tower: and so they are represented here.

It is truly the most beautiful moment in the story. One will find in Herodotus the rest of this clever tale. How one of the two brothers was captured in a trap: how he urged his brother to cut off his head: how their mother insisted that her son bring back the body of his brother: how he went with goatskin flasks loaded on an ass to the guards of the corpse and of the palace: how, after they had taken his goatskin flasks in spite of his cunning tears, and they had fallen into a drunken sleep, he shaved off the right sides of all their beards, and took the body of his brother from them: how the King extremely astonished, urged his daughter to ask each of her suiters the finest trick that they had done: how this bright young man went to the beautiful daughter, and told her all that he had done: how the beautiful daughter wanted to arrest him, but seized only upon a false arm: how, to complete this great adventure, and to bring it to a happy end, the King promised his daughter to the ingenious young man who had tricked them so well, as being the person worthiest of it, and this was carried out to the great satisfaction of all.

I do not know if Herodotus took this tale for real history, but people able to invent similar romances or Milesian Fables could very well invent any game.

This writer brings back another fact that proves what we said in the story of the calendar, that the statues of giants paraded in various festivals usually designate the seasons. He says that Rhampsinit, the same prince we have just spoken about, erected at the north and the south of the Temple of Vulcan two statues twenty-five cubits high, one called Summer and the other Winter. They worshipped the one, but made sacrifices, on the contrary, to the latter: it is thus like the savages who recognise and love the good principle but only sacrifice to the evil.

No. X.

he Wheel of Fortune.

The last number on this plate is the WHEEL of FORTUNE. Here human characters, in the shape of monkeys, dogs, rabbits, etc., rise in turn on this wheel to which they are attached. It seems that it is a satire against fortune, and against those that it elevates quickly and lets fall with the same speed.

Plate VIII.

No. XX.

Card badly named the LAST JUDGMENT.

This tableau represents an angel sounding a trumpet: we also see as if rising from the earth an old man, a woman and a naked child.

The cardmakers having lost the meanings of these tableaus, and still more all together, saw the last Judgement here; and to make it more recognizable added some sort of tombs. Remove these tombs and this tableau also serves to designate the creation, happening in time, at the beginning of time, as indicated by number XXI.

No. XXI.

IME, badly named the WORLD.

This tableau, which the cardmakers have called the World because they regarded it as the origin of all, represents TIME. We cannot misunderstand it as a whole.

In the centre is the Goddess of Time, with her fluttering veil which serves her as a belt or Peplum, as the ancients called it. She is posed as if running, like Time, and in a circle that represents the revolutions of Time; as well as the egg from which everything emerged in Time.

At the four corners of the tableau are the emblems of the four seasons, which form the revolutions of the year, the same that made up the four heads of the Cherubim.

These emblems are the Eagle, the Lion, the Ox, and the young Man:

The Eagle represents Spring when the birds return.
The Lion, Summer when the sun is blazing.
The Ox, Autumn when we plough and sow.
The young Man, Winter, when we meet in society.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot


Reserved for notes to article I

1. Jean Marie Lhôte in Court de Gébelin: Le Tarot présenté et commenté par Jean-Marie Lhôte, 1983 suggested Madam C d.H was Madame Helvetius.

2. Or, Stromates, Book 5:
"And there are those who fashion ears and eyes of costly material, and consecrate them, dedicating them in the temples to the gods — by this plainly indicating that God sees and hears all things. Besides, the lion is with them the symbol of strength and prowess, as the ox clearly is of the earth itself, and husbandry and food, and the horse of fortitude and confidence; while, on the other hand, the sphinx, of strength combined with intelligence — as it had a body entirely that of a lion, and the face of a man. Similarly to these, to indicate intelligence, and memory, and power, and art, a man is sculptured in the temples. And in what is called among them the Komasiæ of the gods, they carry about golden images — two dogs, one hawk, and one ibis; and the four figures of the images they call four letters. For the dogs are symbols of the two hemispheres, which, as it were, go round and keep watch; the hawk, of the sun, for it is fiery and destructive (so they attribute pestilential diseases to the sun); the ibis, of the moon, likening the shady parts to that which is dark in plumage, and the luminous to the light. And some will have it that by the dogs are meant the tropics, which guard and watch the sun's passage to the south and north. The hawk signifies the equinoctial line, which is high and parched with heat, as the ibis the ecliptic. For the ibis seems, above other animals, to have furnished to the Egyptians the first rudiments of the invention of number and measure, as the oblique line did of circles."
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Gebelin: ARTICLE 11



In addition to the Trumps, this game is composed of four suits distinguished by their emblems: they are called SWORDS, CUPS, BATONS AND COINS.

The aces of these four suits can be seen in Plate VIII.

A represents the Ace of Swords, surmounted by a crown surrounded by palms.
C, the Ace of Cups: it looks like a castle; this is how large silver cups were made in other times.
D, the Ace of Batons; it is a true club.
B, the Ace of Coins, surrounded by garlands.

Each of these suits is composed of fourteen cards, that is to say, ten cards numbered from I to X, and four figurative cards, called the King, the Queen, the Knight or Rider, and his Squire or Valet.

These four suits relate to the four estates into which the Egyptians were divided.

The Sword designated the Sovereign and the all-military nobility.
The Cup, the Clergy or the Priesthood.
The Baton, or Club of Hercules, Agriculture.
The Coin, Commerce whose sign is money.

This Game is based on the Septenary.

This game is absolutely based on the sacred number seven. Each suit is two times seven cards. The Trumps are three times seven; the number of cards is seventy-seven; the Fool being like 0. Now no one is ignorant of the part which this number played among the Egyptians, and that it became a formula for them by which they summarized the elements of all the sciences.

The sinister idea attached in this Game to the number thirteen, also recalls very well the same origin.

This game can only have been invented by the Egyptians, since it is based on the number seven; as it is relative to the division of the inhabitants of Egypt into four estates; as most of its Trumps are absolutely related to Egypt, such as the two heads of the Hierophants, man and woman, Isis or the Canicule [Dog Star], Typhon, Osiris, the House of God, the World, the Dogs who designate the Tropics, and so on; this game, entirely allegorical, could only be the work of the Egyptians alone.

Invented by a man of genius, before or after the game of chess, and combining utility to pleasure, it has come down to us through all the ages; it survived the whole ruin of Egypt and the knowledge which distinguished her; and while we had no idea of the wisdom of the lessons it contained, we did not fail to amuse ourselves with the game she had invented.

It is easy to trace the route it took to reach our regions. In the first centuries of the Church, Egyptians were very widespread in Rome; they carried there their ceremonies and worship of Isis; therefore the game at hand.

This game, interesting by itself, was confined to Italy until the relations of the Germans with the Italians made it known to this second nation; and until those relations of the Counts of Provence with Italy, and during the whole stay of the Court of Rome in Avignon, naturalized it in Provence and Avignon.

If it did not come to Paris, it must be attributed to the oddity of its figures, and to the number of its cards, which are not likely to please the vivacity of French Ladies. We were therefore obliged, as we shall soon see, to reduce this game excessively in their favour.

Yet Egypt herself did not enjoy the fruit of her invention: reduced to the most deplorable servitude, to the most profound ignorance, deprived of all the arts, her inhabitants would be unable to produce a single card of this game.

If our French Cards, infinitely less complicated, require the sustained work of a multitude of hands, and the concurrence of several Arts, how could these unfortunate people have preserved their own? Such are the evils which are founded upon a subjugated nation, that it loses even the objects of its own amusements: having not been able to preserve its most precious advantages, what right would it claim to what was only a pleasant relaxation?

Oriental names conserved in this Game.

This game has retained some names that would also declare it an oriental game if we had no other proof.

These names are those of TARO, MAT and PAGAD.

1. TARO.

The name of this game is pure Egyptian: it is composed of the word Tar, which means path, way; and from the word Ro, Ros, Rog, which means King, Royal. It is, word for word, the Royal Way of Life.

This game refers in fact to the entire life of the citizens, since it is made up of the various estates between which they are divided, and follows them from their birth until death, by showing them all the virtues and all the physical and moral guides to which they must attach themselves, such as the King, the Queen, the heads of Religion, the Sun, the Moon, etc.

It teaches them at the same time by the cup player and by the wheel of fortune, that nothing is more capricious in this world than the various estates of man: that his only refuge is in virtue, of which he is constantly in need.

2. MAT.

The Mat, common name of the fool, and which survives in Italian, comes from the Oriental Mat, stunned, bruised, cracked. Fools have always been portrayed as having a cracked brain.


The Cup Player is called Pagad in the course of the Game. This name, which is unlike anything in our Western Languages, is pure Oriental and very well chosen: Pag means in the East, Chief, Master, Lord: and Gad, Fortune. Indeed, he is represented as disposing lots [or, arranging fates, or, casting spells] with his staff of Jacob or his rod of the Magi.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Gebelin: ARTICLE III

Article III.


1: How to deal the cards.

One of our friends, M. L' A. R. [1] was good enough to explain to us the manner in which we play it: he is the one who will speak, if we have understood him correctly.

This game is played by two, but the cards are dealt as if there were three: each player, therefore, has only one-third of the cards: thus during the fight there is always a third of the troops who rest; we could call them the Reserve Corps.

For this game is a game of war, and not a game of peace, as it has been misunderstood: in every army there is a reserve corps. Moreover, this reserve makes the game more difficult, since it is much more difficult to guess the cards that his opponent can have.

The cards are dealt by five, or five by five.

Out of the 78 Cards, there are three left at the end; instead of sharing them between the Players and the reserve or Mort [Death], the dealer keeps them; which gives him the advantage of discarding three [from his hand].

2: How to count the points of this Game.

The Trumps do not all have the same value.

21. 20. 19. 18 and 17. are called the five big Trumps.

The 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. are called the five little ones.

If we have three of the big ones or three of the little ones, we count five points: ten points, if we have four; and fifteen, if we have five.

This is another way of Egyptian counting: the dinar or denarius of Pythagoras being equal to the quaternary, since one, two, three and four added together make ten.

If there are ten Trumps in your game, you spread them out, and they are worth ten points, if you have thirteen, you spread them out too, and they are worth fifteen points, independently of the other combinations.

Seven Cards bear the name of Tarots par excellence: these are the privileged cards; and here again, the number of seven. These Cards are:

The World or Trump 21.
The Mat or Fool 0.
The Pagad or Trump 1.

And the four kings.

If we have two of these tarot-trumps, we ask the other, who has it? if he can’t answer by showing the third, the one who asked the question scores 5 points: he scores 15 if he has all three. Sequences or 4 cards of the same suit are worth 5 points.

3: The manner of playing the cards.

The Fool takes nothing, nothing takes it: it constitutes a Trump, and is of all suits also.

If we play a King, if we don't have the Queen, we put the Fool, which is called "excuse".

The Fool with two Kings counts 5 points: with three, fifteen.

A King taken, or Mort [dead], 5 points for the one who takes it.

If we take the Bateleur from our opponent, we score 5 points.

So the game is to take from the opponent the cards that count the most points and to make all efforts to form sequences: the opponent must do all he can to save his greatest cards: therefore, looking ahead, sacrifice weak trumps, or the weakest suit cards.

He must do everything in order to save his strong cards by taking those of his opponent.

4: The Dealer's Discard.

The dealer cannot discard Trumps or Kings; it would be too easy for him since he would save himself without danger. All that is allowed in favour of his primacy is to discard a sequence: because it counts, and it can form a renounce, which is a double advantage.

5: How to count the hands.

The game is to a hundred, as in Piquet, with this difference, that it is not the one who first gets to a hundred once the game has started who wins, but the one who makes the most points; for all parties must have gone to the end: it thus offers more resources than Piquet.

To count the points in one’s hands, each of the seven cards called tarots, with a suit card, is worth 5 points.

The Queen with a card, 4.
The Knight with a card, 3.
The Valet with a card, 2.
Single cards together, 1.

We count the surplus of points that one opponent has over the other and record them: we continue to play until we reach 100.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot


Reserved for notes to article III

1. Jean Marie Lhôte in Court de Gébelin: Le Tarot présenté et commenté par Jean-Marie Lhôte, 1983 suggested M.L'A.R. is probably Monsier l'Abbe Rive, a subscriber to Le Monde Primitif and author of Eclaircissements historiques et critiques sur l’invention des cartes à jouer, 1780.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Gebelin: ARTICLE IV


The Game of Tarot considered as a game of Political Geography.

We were shown in a catalogue of Italian Books, the title of a book where geography is intertwined with the game of tarots: and we could not obtain this book.[1] Does it contain there geography lessons to engrave on each card of the game? Is this an application of this game to geography? The field of conjecture is endless, and perhaps by multiplying the combinations, we would move further away from the views of this book. Without embarrassing ourselves with what it may have said, let us see ourselves how the Egyptians could have applied this game to political geography as it was known in their time, about three thousand years ago.

Time or the WORLD represents the Globe of the Earth and its revolutions.

The CREATION, the moment when the Earth came out of chaos, where it took form, dividing into land and seas, and man was created to become its Master, the King of this beautiful domain.

The four Cardinal VIRTUES correspond to the four quarters of the world, East, West, North and South, these four points relating to man, by which he is at the centre of everything; which one may call his right, his left, his front and his back, and from which his knowledge extends in rays to the extremity of all, according to the extent of his physical eyes first, and then of his intellectual eyes far more piercing.

The four SUITS will be the four regions or parts of the World corresponding to the four cardinal points, Asia, Africa, Europe and Celto-Scythia or the frozen countries of the north: a division which has grown since the discovery of the Americas, and where in order to lose nothing of the old, we have substituted for Celto-Scythia the polar lands of the North and South.

SWORDS represent ASIA, land of great monarchies, great conquests, great revolutions.

BATONS, EGYPT, the nourisher of humanity and symbol of the South, of black people.

CUPS, the NORTH, from which humanity descended and from which came instruction and science.

COINS, EUROPE or the WEST, rich in gold mines in these beginnings of the world, which we so badly call the old days or ancient times.

Each of the numbered cards of these four suits will be one of the great countries of these four regions of the world.

The ten sword cards will have represented, Arabia; Edom, which reigned over the Seas of the South; Palestine populated by Egyptians; Phoenicia, Master of the Mediterranean Sea; Syria or Aramea; Mesopotamia or Chaldea, Media, Susiana, Persia, and India.

The ten baton cards will have represented the three great divisions of Egypt, Thebes or Upper Egypt, Delta or Lower Egypt, Heptanome or Middle Egypt divided into seven governments. Then Ethiopia, Cyrenaica, or in its place the lands of Jupiter Ammon, Libya or Carthage, the peaceful Atlantes, the Numidian vagabonds, the Moors pressing on the Atlantic Ocean; the Gaetuli, who were placed in the South of the Atlas Mountains, spread in those vast countries which we now call Nigeria and Guinea.

The ten coin cards will have represented the Isle of Crete, Kingdom of the illustrious Minos, Greece and its islands, Italy, Sicily and its volcanoes, the Balearic Islands famous for the skill of their infantry troops, Baetica rich in herds, Celtiberia abundant in gold mines: Cádiz or Gadir, the Isle of Hercules par excellence, the most commercial of the Universe; Lusitania and the Fortunate Isles, or Canary Islands.

The ten cup cards, Armenia and its Mount Ararat, Iberia, the Scythians of the Himalayas, the Scythians of the Caucasus, the Cimmerians of the Sea of Azov, the Getae or Goths, the Dacians, the Hyperboreans so famous in this high antiquity, the Celts wandering in their icy forests, the Isle of Thule at the ends of the world.

The four court cards of each suit will contain geographic details for each Region.

The KINGS, the state of the governments of each, the forces of the empires that composed them, and how they were more or less considerable according to the fact that agriculture was in use and in honour; this inexhaustible source of ever-renewing riches.

The QUEENS, the development of their religions, of their customs, of their practices, especially of their opinions, opinion having always been regarded as the Queen of the world. Blessed is he who knows how to direct it; he will always be King of the Universe, master of his fellow-men; it is eloquent Hercules who leads men with a golden bridle.

The KNIGHTS, the exploits of the people, the history of their heroes or knights; that of their tournaments, their games, their battles.

The VALETS, the history of the arts, their origin, their nature; all that concerns the industrious portion of each nation, that which is devoted to mechanical objects, to manufacture, to commerce which varies in a hundred ways the form of wealth without adding anything to the substance, which circulates in the universe these riches and objects of industry; which empowers the farmers to renew wealth by providing them with the most immediate outlets for that which they have already brought forth, and how everything is strangled as soon as this circulation is not given free play, since the merchants are less busy, and their suppliers discouraged.

The set of XXI or XXII Trumps, the XXII Letters of the Egyptian Alphabet common to the Hebrews and Orientals, and which serve as numbers, are necessary to keep accounts in all the many countries.

Each of these trumps will also have had a particular use. Several will have been related to the principal objects of Celestial Geography, if this expression can be used. Thus,

The Sun, Moon, Cancer, Columns of Hercules, the Tropics or their Dogs.

The Dog Star, that beautiful and brilliant portal of Heaven.

The celestial Bear, on which all the celestial bodies lean in executing their revolutions around it, an admirable constellation represented by the seven Tarots, and which seems to publish in characters of fire inscribed on our heads and in the firmament that our solar system was based, like the sciences, on the formula of seven, and perhaps even the entire mass of the universe.

All the others can be considered relative to political and moral geography, to the true government of the states: and even to the government of every man in particular.

The four Cardinal Virtues show that states can only be sustained by the goodness of the government, by the excellence of education, by the practice of virtues in those who govern and who are governed: Prudence to correct abuses, Force to maintain peace and union, Temperance in the means; Justice towards all. How ignorance, pride, avarice, and foolishness in some give rise to a fatal contempt in others: from which arise the disorders which shake to their foundations the Empires where justice is violated, where one acts by any means, where one abuses one's strength, and where one lives without foresight. Disorders that have destroyed so many families whose name had long been heard throughout the earth, and who had reigned with so much glory over the astonished nations.

These virtues are no less necessary for each individual. Temperance regulates his duties towards himself, especially towards his own body, which he too often treats only as an unfortunate slave, a martyr to his disordered affections.

Justice which regulates one's duties towards one's neighbour and towards the Divinity itself to whom we owe everything.

Fortitude with which he sustains himself in the midst of the ruins of the universe, scorning the vain and insane efforts of the passions which constantly besiege him with their impetuous waves.

Finally, Prudence with which he patiently waits for the success of his endeavours, ready for any event, like a fine player who never risks his game and knows how to take advantage of everything.

The triumphant King then becomes the emblem of him who, by means of these virtues, has been wise to himself, just to others, strong against passions, not forgetting to accumulate resources against times of adversity.

Time that uses everything with inconceivable rapidity, Fortune that plays with everything; the Bateleur who escapes everything, Folly which is of everything, Avarice which loses everything; the Devil who is everywhere: Death, which swallows up everything, a singular septenary number which is of every country, can give rise to observations no less important and no less varied.

Finally, the one who has everything to gain and nothing to lose, the King truly triumphant is the true sage who, lantern in hand, is constantly attentive to his efforts, is of no school, knows all that is good to enjoy it, and perceives all that is bad to avoid it.

Such would be, or nearly so, the geographical-political-moral explanation of this ancient game: and such must be the end of all. Humanity, you would be happy, if every game ended so well!
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot


Reserved for notes to article IV

1. As Gebelin does not provide us with a title of the book, we cannot be sure to what he is referring to. An example of an Italian book on a geographical tarot (or rather, reduced tarocchini deck) is at the British Museum here:

L'Utile col Diletto o sia Geografia intrecciata nel Giuoco de Tarocchi, con le Insegne degl'Illustrissimi ed Ecclelsi Signori Gonfalonieri, ed Anziani di Bologna dal 1670, sino al 1725

This book, published in 1725, was banned for stating that Bologna had a mixed-government, all seized copies were burnt - hence original copies are very rare.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot