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Tarot and Alchemy: a short introduction

When you think of Alchemy, you usually think of the 16th and 17th centuries. You probably see the image of (old) men brewing all kinds of concoctions from which they try to make gold. The candlelight and the old books & manuscript add an occult touch to this image. You might think it is a bit silly, but many great discoveries have been made during these experiments! And nowadays,  we are actually able to create gold out of other commodities (although this is such an expensive process that the costs do not outweigh the benefits of the gold obtained). You could, however,  argue that these alchemists were the forerunners of our “modern” sciences (physics, chemistry, medical sciences).

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Deep Sighs and Being Consumed by Jealousy: The Vera Sibilla

Although we know that the first Tarot cards were originated in early Renaissance Italy, it is the French who take credit for the way we work with the Tarot today; After all, it was the French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette  (1738 – 1791) who – as far as is known at least – was the first to assign all kinds of occult correspondences to the Tarot and showed a broader audience how to use Tarot for divination. More Frenchies followed and for years the Marseille deck was THE Tarot deck to be used for divination purposes. The British also contributed a great deal when the members of the Golden Dawn started to delve into the occult writings on the Tarot at the end of the 19th century. The have ‘corrected’ the work of their French predecessors. It is not completely clear if these corrections are for the better, some argue they do and some argue they don’t.

Arthur Edward Waite  (1857 – 1942) is probably the best known Golden Dawn member because he released the popular Raider-Waite-Smith deck in 1909, in cooperation with Pamela Colman Smith (also a Golden Dawn member). Previously, a separate tradition of divination cards had also arised in Germany and the surrounding areas: The Lenormand and the Kipper decks are both of German origin. These four systems (Marseille Tarot, RWS Tarot, Lenormand and Kipper) are the most commonly used decks to date. What about the Italians?

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