“If someone would announce that an ancient Egyptian work still exists: one of their books that escaped the flames that destroyed their extraordinary libraries, and which contains their highest teachings on a number of fascinating objects . . . . Would you think he was fooling his readers?”Antoine Court de Gébelin on the Tarot in ‘Le Monde Primitif’
Antoine Court de Gébellin (1725 – 1784) is regarded as the founder of the ‘modern’ esoteric Tarot. His father was a preacher and in 1754 he was about to become a preacher himself. However, things turned out completely different because in 1771 he joined a Masonic order… He interacted with well-known and influential people such as the writer Voltaire, sculptor Houdon and the then U.S. ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin.
It was in 1781 that Gébellin claimed that the Tarot had Egyptian roots. When he began publishing his serial “Le Monde Primitif, analysée comparé avec le monde moderne” in 1773, he had been studying esoteric wisdom for 20 years. Thousands of people subscribed to his publications, including Louis XVI of France. “Le Monde Primitif” consisted of a total of 9 volumes and although the Tarot is already mentioned in volume 5 (“an Egyptian game”) It was volume 8 that was entirely dedicated to the ‘Tarreaux’, a deck of cards that, according to Gébellin, was best known in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The name ‘Tarreaux’ is said to have been derived from the words ‘Tar’ and ‘Rho’ (royal road). Volume 8 of the serial was thus entirely devoted to the Tarot. 90 pages total of which 60 by Antoine de Gébellin. Antoine explains the origin of the Tarot (being Egyptian). The remaining 30 pages are from a certain “C. de M.” In this section, a Tarot spread is presented. “C. de M.” is Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle, or ‘Le Comte de Mellet‘ (1727 – 1804). Fayolle was already researching the origins and the use of card games before he came into contact with Gébellin’s work. One of his publications is about the development of various card games at the court of Brabant (The Netherlands).
But first we return to Antoine de Gébellin; As mentioned, in 1773 he had started publishing work that would later become known for the Tarot. But before the Tarot is discussed in detail in volume 8, Antoine tries to bring up all kinds of ‘old wisdom’; He did this, among other things, by analyzing and comparing ancient languages. He was mainly interested in the alphabet and the icons that occur in some languages such as Chinese, Hebrew and of course ancient Egyptian. (Hieroglyphics).
Antoine also writes in his book how he came into contact with the Tarot and how he immediately understood the deeper meaning that others eluded. This is known as his famous ‘fifteen minutes of enlightenment’. Antoine was attending a party, where he met a lady – ‘Madame C. d’H’ who was playing a card game with a few other people. Fascinated, he picked up the card ‘The World’ and intuitively told what the ‘real’ symbolism was. In fifteen minutes he had explained all the cards and had declared that the origin was clearly Egyptian. How this is secretly a bit true is something for later. Because the focus here, are the 30 pages of Le Comte de Mellet; De Mellet probably published the very first Tarot Spread. And it would be a lot of fun to try that spread!
In the original description, you do this as a couple, but you can do it alone (this just requires some extra focus).
First Published Tarot Spread by Le Comte de Mellet
First, find all the Major Arcana cards from your deck and put them aside. The other stack (Minor Arcana + Court cards together) is also placed on 1 stack on the left (step 1)
Now you are going to count from 1 to 14 where you turn over a small Arcana Card with your right hand and place it next to the stack. At the same time, you take a Major Arcana card with your left hand and place it next to the stack. However, you leave this Major Arcana ‘closed’. (Step 2)
When the Minor Arcana card matches the number you call out, you set it aside together with the Major Arcana card. You call out the numbers where Ace =1, Page =11, Knight = 12, Queen = 13 and King = 14 (Step 3)
The stack with the Major Arcana cards is of course the first to run out. When that happens, you slide it aside again and start over. You continue until the stack of Minor Arcana is also finished. According to the original description, you need to repeat this process 3 times, but I always stop after 1 round.
You now have a number of ‘pairs’ of 1 Major Arcana and 1 Minor Arcana card. You interpret this in pairs.