Vintage Tarot Texts (Gebelin and the comte de Mellet), trans. by David Vine

David Vine is one of those rare treasures in the tarot community. Combining his academic training, knowledge of the classical languages, medieval literature, and art history with a passion for the tarot, Vine has translated several seminal French-language tarot texts, and Vintage Tarot Texts, Volume 1, is one such treat.

Just a random comment– A beautiful touch in this edition are the captioned historical illustrations throughout, such as this print of an array of ancient sistra and rattles. I so appreciate the added illustrations.

Volume I consists of seminal essays on the tarot by Court de Gebelin and comte de Mellet. The first text to address tarot at length in a symbological context was by comte de Mellet, and thus in one sense, his work is the foundational document for everything we have come to understand about the esoteric tradition of the cards.

Antoine Court de Gebelin was a French scholar, polymath, and Freemason, and while largely forgotten today, was a star in his own time. He socialized with the likes of Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, and through his friendship with Franklin, became a sympathizer of American independence.

De Gebelin’s magnum opus was his unfinished Monde primitif, which appeared in nine volumes between 1773 and 1782. The ambition was to assemble a compendium of all of human knowledge and to reconstruct primeval civilization.

In the eighth volume of Monde primitif were two essays explicating tarot cards. The first was written by de Gebelin himself and the second was presented under anonymous authorship “M.***** le C. de M.***.” It was these two essays that turned out to be most celebrated and remembered from the nine volumes of Monde primitif.

In the glossary section of the text, he defines the tarot (spelled tarraux) as: “TARRAUX, a card game very well known in Germany, Italy, & Switzerland. It is an Egyptian game, as I will one day demonstrate; the name of the game is comprised of two Oriental words, TAR & Rha, Rho, that means “royal road.”

De Gebelin’s writings on the tarot is oft criticized for connecting ancient Egypt to tarot, setting the precedent for centuries of misinformation to follow, but translator David Vine asks us not to dismiss all of the essays just because.

Plus, that purported Egyptomania is somewhat misunderstood, in part, notes Vine, due to Michael Dummett and Ronald Decker’s A Wicked Pack of Cards propagating a misunderstanding of de Gebelin and comte de Mellet’s works.

In Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle, Comte de Mellet’s “An Investigation into the Tarots and into Divination by Means of Tarot Cards,” he describes tarot imagery as having been invented by Thoth, or Mercury.

He discusses the cards in order from Key 21, The Universe, depicting the figure of the goddess Isis in an egg, down toward Key 1, The Mountebank, or the Magus, and then “followed by a unique card representing Folly, who carries her sack, or her imperfections, behind her, while a tiger, or remorse, devouring the figure’s calves, slows her advance toward crime.”

Keys 21 through 15 are the First Series, the Golden Age; Keys 14 through 8 are the Second Series, the Silver Age; and Keys 7 through 1 plus Folly are the Third Series, the Age of Iron.

The suit of Swords stood for royalty and earthly authorities; the suit of Cups (Canopic Jars) for the priesthood; the suit of Coins for commerce; and the suit of Batons for agriculture. “The chance combinations obtained by shuffling these Pictures formed sentences that the Magi read or interpreted as Dictates of Fate,” writes the Comte de Mellet.

In terms of mythological attributes, the Two of Coins is encircled by the “Mystical Girdle of Isis,” of the Tyet, a symbol of the goddess. This Girdle of Isis is also associated with a holy relic believed to have belonged to the Virgin Mary, the Girdle of the Theotokos.

A few other fun features of note: The Queen of Batons is said to feature Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain and agriculture, likened to the Greek goddess of Demeter. And the Ace of Swords is dedicated to Mars. Wands (Batons) are neutral cards that indicate the countryside; Cups denote happiness; Swords denote misfortune; and Coins denote prosperity.

David Vine’s translations of Monde primitif helped make this text accessible. The commentary chapters were enlightening, and filled in many of my gaps in knowledge. If you’re interested in exploring tarot history further, then I highly recommend getting this book. I eagerly await the subsequent volumes of Vintage Tarot Texts.

5 thoughts on “Vintage Tarot Texts (Gebelin and the comte de Mellet), trans. by David Vine

  1. Sounds great and eager to to read about his uncovering puzzling misunderstanding of certain French texts…sounds like he was able to dig deeper. I have not checked into many retranslated references for quite awhile.


  2. Pingback: Vintage Tarot Texts (Gebelin and the comte de Mellet), trans. by David Vine – spiritual advisor to psychics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s