Sunday, April 23, 2017
The Kabbalah and the Tarot by Arthur E. Waite 1902
THE KABALAH AND THE TAROT by Arthur Edward Waite 1902
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It is very well known to all occult students at the present day that the Tarot is a method of divination by means of seventy-eight symbolical picture-cards, to which great antiquity and high importance are attributed by several authorities. Their literary history is also equally well known. They were first mentioned by the French archaelogist Court de Gebelin at the close of the eighteenth century, and were attributed by him to an Egyptian origin. Much about the same time the subject was taken up by a professed cartomancer, named Alliette, who wrote a great deal about them in several illiterate tracts, and endeavoured to trace their connection with Egypt through the Jewish Kabalah. The inquiry then fell into neglect, except in so far as Continental fortune-tellers were concerned, until the year 1854, when Eliphas Levi made his first contributions to occult science.
In 1857, J. A. Vaillant endeavoured to prove their Chinese origin and transmission by means of the gipsies; their connection with these nomads was subsequently adopted by Levi, who gave great prominence to the Tarot in all his writings up to the year 1865. The subject was also taken in hand by P. Christian, who published a large history of Magic in 1870. He developed still further the Egyptian theory, but no statement which he makes can be accepted with any confidence. In the year 1887 I was the first who introduced the claims of the Tarot to English readers in a digest of the chief works of Eliphas Levi. An important contribution to the inquiry was made shortly after by the French occultist Papus, whose elaborate work entitled the "Tarot of the Bohemians," though scarcely of critical value on the historical side, remains the most comprehensive and attractive summary of all the arguments.
The point which concerns us here is, of course, the Kabalistic connections. Eliphas Levi says that the Tarot cards are the key to the esoteric tradition of the Jews, and "the primitive source of divine and
human tradition"; he institutes an analogy between the symbols of its four suits and the four letters of the Divine Name Tetragrammaton and between the ten Sephiroth and the ten small cards belonging to each suit. He gives also the correspondences between the twenty-two trump cards and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, for which he quotes the authority of "divers Kabalistic Jews," which must not, however, be interpreted too strictly, as although the symbolism of the Hebrew alphabet has been much dwelt on by such authorities there is no trace of any reference to the Tarot by Kabalistic writers of the past. It must be admitted, on the other hand, that the analogies are exceedingly striking, and that although the historic evidences can scarcely be said to exist, and have been supplied from the treasures of imagination, there can be no doubt that the Tarot is actually, as it is claimed to be, of considerable importance symbolically. I may perhaps be permitted also to register my personal belief that it has distinct Kabalistic connections, some of which were broadly outlined by Eliphas Levi. Unfortunately, the interpretations of its symbolism which have been attempted by various writers are nearly worthless, in the first place because they have all proved themselves incapable of conducting a dispassionate historical inquiry; they have allowed affirmation to take the place of evidence; they have regarded a hint as a sufficient ground of conviction; they have made conjecture certitude. Setting aside Court de Gebelin, who was merely an inquirer hampered by the limitations of his period; setting aside Levi, who seldom made an accurate statement about any matter of fact; observe how Dr. Papus pursues his inquiry into the origin of the Tarot It is by an appeal to the writers who preceded him, as if their authority were final; to Court de Gebelin, who was a groper in the dark during the childhood of archaeological reasoning; to Vaillant, with his fascinating theory of gipsy transmission which is about as conclusive as Godfrey Higgins on the "Celtic Druids"; to Levi, whose "marvellous learning" is so much and so unsafely insisted on by the whole French school. Papus contributes nothing himself to the problem on its historical side except an affirmation that "the game called the Tarot, which the Gypsies possess, is the Bible of Bibles." Obviously, the historical question calls for treatment by some independent scholar who will begin by releasing its present fantastic connections.
In the second place, the symbolism of the Tarot, which, to do justice to Dr. Papus, is most patiently and skilfully elaborated in his work, is at once disorganised if there be any doubt as to the attribution of its trump cards to the Hebrew alphabet Now there is one card which bears no number and is therefore allocated according to the discretion of the interpreter. It has been allocated in all cases wrongly, by the uninstructed because they had nothing but their private judgment to guide them, and by those who knew better because they desired to mislead. I may go further and say that the true nature of Tarot symbolism is perhaps a secret in the hands of a very few persons, and outside that circle operators and writers may combine the cards as they like and attribute them as they like, but they will never find the right way. The symbolism is, however, so rich that it will give meanings of a kind in whatever way it may be disposed, and some of these may be strikingly suggestive, but they are illusory none the less. The purpose of this short paper is therefore to show that the published Tarots and the methods of using them may be very serviceable for divination, fortune-telling and other trifles, but they are not the key of the Kabalah, and that the Royal Game of Goose may be recommended with almost as much reason for the same purpose. Dr. Papus is therefore unconsciously misdirecting his many followers when he advertises his laborious readings as the "Absolute Key to Occult Science."
See also 100 Books on the Kabbalah on DVDrom (Qabbala, Jewish Mysticism), and Over 220 Books on the Occult and Astrology on DVDrom
For a list of all of my disks and digital books click here