Atouts of the Tarots

By M. K. Van Rensselaer.

The Major Arcana

Since the creation of the world mankind has realized a divine power shaping his destiny, and has tried to conciliate the unknown god. Since life is made up of happenings that are unforeseen, man believed that certain occult powers directed and shaped them. It was natural, therefore, to try to ascertain the wishes of the controller of fate, so that they might be complied with and misfortune thus averted.

Invocations, sacrifices and queries, private or public in the temples, are recorded from early days. Some have been found that date from at least five thousand years before Christ. Directions for “wave offerings,” “burnt offerings,” etc., are frequent in the Old Testament. The commands for marking the “rods” with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, for the purpose of laying them on the altar and awaiting results when the wishes of the Lord would be revealed, are given in Numbers xvii. Prayers to Nebo, Thoth, and Mercury are found everywhere in the countries where they were worshipped. The use of divining arrows (rods), when demanding the wishes of the gods, is a known historic fact, so it is readily seen whence the Egyptians received their inspiration to gather together the customs, ceremonies and superstitions of alien religions, to absorb them in the worship of their god Thoth.

The temples of the Egyptian gods were generally gorgeously decorated, and those of Thoth were filled besides with learned women and men who devoted the result of their studies to the common good, without a thought of self-aggrandisement. They made themselves the go-between of Thoth and man, when revealing the wishes of the occult beings. The number of Hermetic Books, written at Thoth’s dictation, is given by Jamblichus as 20,000.

Naturally, when sacrifices or offerings were made, the worshipper demanded a reply to his inquiries, thus taxing the ingenuity of the prophets, who were, in fact, no wiser than himself as to the predestinations recorded at birth. So, sometimes they found the desires of the gods hidden in the entrails of animals or in the palms of the hands.

Astronomers and astrologers, observing that the heavenly bodies conformed to certain laws, decided that these laws also governed the lives of men. In the worship of Ishtar, the great Babylonian goddess, who has been identified with both Venus and Diana, the flight of birds had portent; while at the oracle of Delphi straws (a variant of the rods of Aaron or the divining arrows of the Asiatics) were employed to ascertain the wishes of the gods, and it is the descendants of these that are now sometimes known as Jackstraws, that came to us from the Chinese, and at others are identified as the pip cards now in common use.

A close study of each card of the old Tarots reveals much of the history of the book and its original intention, for the resemblance of the different cards to the different Egyptian deities is clearly displayed to the student. The attributes and costumes of Maut, Isis, Phthah, Neith, Amun, Thmei, Nepte, Seth, Anubis, and Ra are all to be traced on the detached leaves of the ancient book. The costumes are those of Italians of about the thirteenth century, it is true, but the caps, the girdles, the positions and the attributes, as well as the qualities assigned to each by the fortune-tellers, are too apparent to be ignored. It would seem that the cards were designed by some person to whom these different marks had been described, but who had no knowledge of the original pictures of these gods that are still so instructive in Egypt. While the attributes are retained, the pictures do not recall the old ones that can still be found in mummy cases or historic monuments. It was therefore impossible for those who wrote on Playing Cards before the great discoveries in Egypt to recognize the connection of the Tarots with the ancient mysteries, although the symbols of Mercury might have given a clue, had these been noted.

Without declaring that the deductions connecting the Atouts with the Egyptian gods is infallible, the strong resemblance between them must be carefully considered, and the intention of each card studied with all the obtainable history connected with it.


I. LE BAGATLEUR (Il Bagattel)

This card, also known as the Juggler or Pagat, bears various names, according to the locality where it was used. “It is derived,” says Count Emiliano di Parravicino, in the Burlington Magazine for December, 1903, “from Bagat or Paghead and Gad, that signifies fortune, and the card is often called Bagatto (or cobbler), since there are sometimes tools placed on the board in front of the figure, one of which (in the corrupted designs of modern cards) resembles a cobbler’s awl.” The figure on this card represents the Player or Inquirer, and when the cards are laid out, according to the rules of prophesying, it is controlled by all that are dealt close to it. That is to say, the cards surrounding this figure tell the events that are likely soon to befall the inquirer. The first Atout represents a young man standing behind a table. On his head is a hat of mystic meaning, for it is shaped like the sign of “eternal life,” ; his left hand carries a wand, called by de Gebelin “son Bâton de Jacob, ou Verges des Mages.” This magician’s wand was readily recognized by the shrewd Frenchman, who evidently understood the symbolism of the rod of Aaron (or Jacob). The rod is really the caduceus of Mercury that has so many significances. It is one of the pip devices that has been reproduced in the Ace of Rods, Staves, or Sceptres, as it is variously called, and, by placing it in the hand of the inquirer, it denotes that he has been given the power to consult the oracle. The other articles placed on the table before the youth are the other devices that mark the suits of the cards, namely: Money, Cups and Swords, although on modern Italian Tarots these emblems are often changed for others that lack significance. In “the lottery chart,” called Tsz-fa-to, used by the Chinese fortune-tellers, there is a figure like the Bagatleur, holding up his hand in the same way, which recalls the many mystic meanings attached to the “blessing hand.” The Pagat or Magician (as this card is often called) is sometimes expressed merely by the Hebrew letter Aleph, which is placed beside the figure, or is used alone, when an Initiate understands the symbol as well as if the Pagat was in its place. What relation the Hebrew alphabet has to the Tarots is a matter for conjecture, but the characters are often placed on early packs, and some writers have pointed out that, in their opinion, these letters offer fresh evidences of the origin of cards and their connection with divination. So Papus says: “The first letters of the alphabet express hieroglyphically man himself as a collective unity—the Master principle—the ruler of the world.” In very old packs the earth is represented at the bottom of the picture, ornamented with its fruits. The centre is occupied with the man, whose right hand bent towards the ground, the left hand raised towards heaven, thus representing two principles, the one active and the other passive, of the great All, and it corresponds with the two columns of Jakin and Bohas of the temple of Solomon and of Freemasonry, as well as with the great statues erected before the tombs of the Egyptian kings. The meaning may be thus stated: “Man with one hand seeks for God in Heaven, and with the other he plunges below to call up the demon to himself, and thus unites the divine and the diabolic in humanity.”

It is well known that among primitive people, boys, upon arriving at manhood, went through certain ceremonies with fasting and incantations so this card also represents a youth making his first offering to the gods of the temple, and consulting them as to his future life, or asking what Nebo or Thoth had written at the time of his birth on their “Tablets of Fate.” In order to learn from the gods what his future occupation should be, one of the symbols of Mercury is lifted haphazard from the table before him. Thus, if a sword be grasped, a man will be a soldier, and a woman will have a person of rank for a husband. The Cup represents the Church or Love. In primitive nations various articles are still placed before a child, and the one selected influences its occupations, when mature. In Korea a bundle of yarn, a handful of rice, a few coins, a cake of ink, a brush, and some paper are placed before a baby, on attaining its first birthday. If it selects the yarn, it denotes a long life; the money means prosperity; the writing materials signify that a scholar’s life will be the one followed, while rice means happiness. Hebrew letters can be expressed by numbers as well as by the conventional characters; this is well exemplified by the way they were used in making the fringes of the temple of Solomon, the strands of which were peculiarly knotted in groups of different numbers, that, when deciphered, represented a text. A similar knotted fringe adorns the Taleth or praying scarf, worn by the Jews when worshipping in the synagogue, on which a text is typified by groups of knots expressing Hebrew letters. “This fringe is made with four threads, one of which is longer than the others. Two threads are bound together with the longest one in a double knot, then it is wrapped seven times, then eight, then eleven, followed by thirteen, with two knots separating each.” “According to the Kabbalah,” states Professor Rosenau, in his book entitled “Jewish Ceremonial Institutions,” “these knots and windings have a secret meaning, making thirty-nine in all; they correspond to the numerical value of the letters constituting two words, or ‘the Lord is one,’ since each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has numerical significance.”

Among uneducated people symbols took the place of written characters in early days, so, since these knots conveyed a sound and a meaning, a number is also indicated by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These letters or numbers that were occasionally placed on the early Atouts have the greatest value when deciphering the attributes found on the Tarots, since each one has occult significance attached to it, evidently placed there with the intention of assisting the early fortune-tellers to decipher their meaning, although omitted in the later books of Thoth-Hermes, when they were used only for amusement or gambling.



This card is supposed to represent Isis. She is typified by a seated female figure with two pillars behind her, between which hangs a curtain indicating her temple. She is crowned with a triple tiara, and has an open book in her lap. This goddess instructs and persuades. Law, erudition, and occult science are under her protection. As the first female figure among the Atouts, she represents the priestess of the temple of Thoth, also Eve, also the mother. When a woman is the inquirer, this card represents her, instead of the Pagat, which represents a man inquirer. The name of Papessa, given to this card by the modern Italian card-painter, seems to be a corruption of Isis. The former name is misleading, and has no connection with the original meaning of the figure, for it has nothing in common with the mythical Pope Joan of the Roman Church, while all the attributes show that the figure represents Isis, or, perhaps, Tashitum, the consort of Nebo, called “the Interceder.” “The Italian card-makers,” says de Gebelin, “named numbers II and V of the Atouts, mother and father, or Papessa and Papa;” but he declares “their emblems are Egyptian and the triple phallus worn by number II is the one borne by Isis in the Fête des Pampylies, where Isis joyfully receives Osiris. It is the symbol of regeneration of plants, or spring.” The card is also supposed to represent Juno in the Roman mythology. “The attitude connects it,” says the same authority, “with la haute magic, since it is the first of the symbols of the Emerald Tablet, one of the books of Thoth, that was discovered on the mount of Nebo.” Wiltshire says: “Believers in magic find occult meanings in the hands of this figure.” Roman women sacrificed to Juno on their birthdays, as she was not only the goddess who presided over maternity (making Mercury her messenger, who carried the child to its parents) but she was also the protector of women. Part of the great book of Thoth, called the Ritual of the Dead, said to have been written with the finger of Thoth, and generally placed with a mummy, says: “I am yesterday. Yesterday is Osiris. Phthah goes around. The divine Horus prefers Thee. The god Set does so in turn, as well as Isis, whom thou hast seen.” The Hebrew letter on the second Atout is Beth, which hieroglyphically expresses mouth or tongue, one of the things used in the sacrifices to Nebo and to Mercury.



This card betokens Venus Urania according to the Roman mythology, or Maut according to that of Egypt. The vulture is its emblem, one of Maut’s attributes signifying maternity. The mouse also represents her, and it typifies fecundity. The card has many significances, such as speech, action, initiative, friendliness, protection, progress, production, and helpfulness. The figure is that of a seated woman holding a shield and a sceptre. In old cards she is crowned with a diadem that has twelve stars on its points. This card also symbolizes generation and productive forces. Its letter is Gimel, the meaning of which is the throat, or the hand of a man half closed; hence, it signifies that which encloses, that which is hollow, a canal, an inclosure. The card also represents a woman friend, but not always one that is desirable. The Egyptian goddess, Maut, wears a cap and crown, and she bears a sceptre. Her flowing robes are confined below the breasts with a girdle, the typical zone that has such occult meanings. Among the Persians and tribes of North Africa, the girdle is always removed from a bride, as part of the wedding ceremony, and neither is she nor the bridegroom allowed to wear one for seven days after the marriage. Maut is called “Lady of Heaven,” and “Giver of Life,” and has been identified by some as the Ishtar of the Babylonians.


IV. L’IMPERATORE (The Emperor)

The fourth Atout shows in profile a male figure seated on a throne. He represents Jupiter or Amun, the Ammon of the Egyptians, the Marduk of the Babylonians, and the Merodach of the Bible. This letter is Daleth, suggesting growth, nourishment, generation, divine will, long life, strong character or personal ability and ambition. This card and number three have similar representations on the Persian cards, which pack alone of those adopted by different countries retains the figure-pictures, to the entire exclusion of the pip cards. This seems to point to the fact that, while the Egyptians or Assyrians overran Persia and imposed some of their customs and religious beliefs on the people, the great gods were adopted reluctantly, and the key to their wishes was not bestowed on the conquered people, as would have been the case had their use, in combination with the prophetic arrows or rods, been taught at the same time. The great temple of Ammon was at Thebes, the southern Egyptian capital. The name Ammon means concealment, to veil, to hide. “His most common title,” says Mr. Rawlinson, in “Ancient Egypt” (page 322), “was Suten-Netern, king of the gods, also called Hek or Hyk, the Ruler, the Emperor, Lord of Heaven, strong bull.” His image, like that of the fourth Atout, is represented as seated on a throne. He is crowned, and wears a collar and bracelets. He bears the sceptre, the symbol of power and plenty. One of the invocations to Ammon begins “Hail to thee, Lord of Truth, whose shrine is hidden.”


V. IL PAPA (The Pope)

The pronunciation of the name of this card alone proves its connection with the Egyptian god, Phthah, but, besides this, it has many strange significances assigned to it, all of them pointing to the same conclusion. The figure denotes the religious superior, as it wears the triple crown, combined with the two pillars of the temple. The African god was greatly revered and feared, while many temples were dedicated to his worship. Four figures kneel before Il Papa, whom he blesses with uplifted palm, sacred to religious ceremonies, and inherited from the “hand of the Cohen” of the Jews. In the old cemetery at Prague there are hundreds of tombstones, on which the uplifted hands are carved to represent ideographically the descendants of Aaron, who alone can bestow benediction in this way. The hand plays an important part in heraldic emblems. “The Ulster, or bloody hand,” is a mark ofrank, not only in English heraldry, but is venerated by Orientals as well. A bloody hand is frequently found stamped beside the lintel of the door among North Africans, and small silver or brass facsimiles of the right hand are also fastened to the door or worn on the person, to ward off the evil eye, when it is called the “hand of Fatima.” Arabs frequently wear this hand, that is then covered with engraved quotations from the Koran. Their name for it is Kam or five fingers. The number five—Khamsa—is considered so powerful and mystic that it is believed to bring bad luck if it is mentioned, so the word is not pronounced, but the Arabs say “two-three” instead. The Neapolitans generally wear a hand with one finger outstretched as a charm, one of the many links connecting them with Egypt. The fifth Atout in its position and consequence represents aspiration, health, intelligence, union, strength of will, religion and faith. The accompanying letter is He, the meaning of which is aspiration. The triple-barred sceptre is an especial emblem of Phthah, who was known as “the revealer,” the one who made hidden duties manifest.

The first four figures of the Atouts are connected with family life. The inquirer in number one, the parents in two and four, and the influence of State and Church in three and five, forming a significant group when studying the cards and their meanings.


VI. GLI AMANTI (The Lovers)

The sixth card has not yet been connected with any of the occult gods of Egypt or Babylonia. The figures seem to belong solely to Cupid. The card shows a young man between two females, symbolizing virtue and vice. Cupid hovers overhead, blindfolded, and with bent bow, ready to “shoot an arrow into the air.” When used for prophesying, this card is typical of a young man starting in life, whose future depends upon the choice before him, since good and evil both seem to claim him. The card also denotes affection, love, friendship, charity, union and sight, the latter being indicated by the letter, which is Vau, the hieroglyphic sign for eyes, light or brilliancy. The import of this figure is personal magnetism. This card also indicates marriage, and is emblematic of the legal tie, as well as of luck and good fortune.

Early Italian Tarots
Pip and Court Cards of the Cup Suit


VII. IL CARRO (The Chariot)

This is one of the most mystic of cards, its number being one that was regarded as occult by the ancients. It displays a picture of a king or a conqueror, in his car drawn by beasts, precisely as Nebo was frequently represented in the texts, “when the gilt chariot never marks the way.” Sometimes the car is drawn by horses, frequently by oxen, sometimes by lions, and occasionally by black and white sphinxes. This car typifies Mars, the god of war mentioned in Babylonian mythology and in the Bible, “when every nation made gods of their own and the men of Cuth made Neral (Mars).” (2 Kings xvii:30.) As has been mentioned, Nebo bore a sword and was regarded as accompanying warriors, although he generally represents the pestilence that follows in the wake of war. The Hebrew letter of the seventh Atout is Zain, that expresses an arrow, thus suggesting a weapon as well as a soldier, so it denotes victory, a ruling power, triumph, protection, a domineering character. “The arrows of divination” are frequently referred to in the Bible, for instance, when “the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way at the head of the two ways to use divination. He made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked at the liver.” The tablets found at Nippur frequently refer to all the arts of divination, as when a text in cuneiform characters says: “the arrows were marked Yes and No,” or, “the king had shaken the arrows, questioned the house gods, and looked into the liver.” Mr. Culin, in his “Korean Games,” considers that divination by arrows is one of the most primitive forms, and it is still kept up in Korea, China, Japan, etc. The sticks used for the purpose in China are in the form of arrows, and are kept in a cube-shaped box resembling a quiver. They are shaken in a peculiar way until one jumps out, when the design on it, and the direction in which it points to the shrine, are considered to have replied to the inquirer.

The Chariot of the Atouts was, under certain conditions, supposed to represent Osiris. It was also called “the chariot of Mercury,” in the sense that he was the messenger of Mars when war was to be proclaimed, or when his caduceus was used as a flag of truce. Seven was always considered by the Egyptian savants a mystical number, so this card played an important part in occult science. Count Emiliano di Parravicino, in his essay published in the Burlington Magazine, December, 1903 (page 238), says: “Mgr. Antonio Dragoni (1814) suggests that the Atouts, numbering twenty-one [not counting the Joker (Fou), which has no number], represent the Egyptian doctrine beloved by Pythagoras, of the perfect number Three and the mythical number Seven. Hence, Thoth, the Mercury of the Egyptians, forms with the pack of pip cards his book or picture of the creation of three classes of images, which symbolize the first three ages of the world—i. e., the golden, the silver, and the bronze. Each of these three classes is to represent in its seven divisions a greater reference or mysticism, a mysterious book of the highest value in the art of divination, since this book of unbound leaves contained the key to all mysteries, although its contents were undecipherable to all but those taught in the temples of Thoth.” This proves that other thinkers besides Papus and de Gebelin had come to the same conclusions from their study of the Tarot pack, although without having the benefit of exchanging views on the subject.

The Babylonians believed in seven evil spirits, as the following prayer, translated from a cuneiform tablet, will prove:

Seven are they. They are seven,
The same in the mighty deep;
And Seven are they in heaven,
’Though in water, sometimes they sleep.
They are neither male, nor female,
These awful spirits that fly,
But like destructive whirlwinds,
They swirl across the sky.

Without a home or offspring,
Compassion and mercy are nil,
Since prayers or supplications,
They neither hear nor feel.

Like wild beasts bred in the mountains,
They defy both gods and men,
Polluting even the fountains
The rivers, the marshes, the fen.
Evil are they, strangely evil,
In temples, in cities, in homes;
For Seven are they, cruel Seven,
With weird and terrible forms.

Mr. Willshire, in his “Catalogue of the Playing Cards in the British Museum,” says: “It hardly requires a reference to the Bible to notice the frequency with which the number Seven is mentioned. Not only was the Seventh day to be kept holy, but, then, there was the mystery of the Seven stars, of which Nebo (Mercury) was one, the latter being the most rapid and brilliant. Also of the Seven golden candlesticks, and, in Zachariah iii:9, we find that on the stone laid before Joshua there were Seven eyes. Mercury invented the lyre, according to the Egyptians, in the year of the world two thousand. At first it had only three strings, but in the hands of the Muses, Seven were adopted. Then also the Seven virtues were called the Seven cords of the human lyre, having their analogies in the Seven colours of the prismatic spectrum. Then there were Seven precious stones, namely: Carbuncle (garnet), Crystal, Diamond, Agate, Emerald, Sapphire, and Onyx, besides the Seven chief metals.” The emerald was considered the stone of Thoth, we may infer, since one of his books was entitled “The Emerald Tablet.” Among the Berber tribes, of North Africa, the women put seven marks on their foreheads, to protect them from the evil eye; this is also done among some of the Negro tribes. When consulting the pip cards, the Sevens have peculiar and occult values, marking the boundaries between those lower and higher. They also make combinations that influence the consideration of other cards.



The figure on the eighth card is represented in the most modern fashion, and yet, with its attributes and values, it is much as Egyptians would have known it when the worship of Thoth was at its height. It is the goddess of Truth or Ma. Her title was sometimes adopted by the kings, who called themselves the friends of Truth. Mr. Rawlinson, on page 385 of “Ancient Egypt,” says: “The chief judge of every court is said to have worn an image of Ma around his neck, and when he decided a case he touched the litigant with it, in whose favour the decision was made, in order to testify that everything had been done with justice and truth. In the final judgment of Osiris, the image of Ma was placed in the scale, and weighed against the good actions of the dead.” It may easily be perceived what a forceful figure the one of justice must have been to the people who consulted the oracles in the temples of Thoth. Justice is represented on the Atout as a seated female figure, on a throne bearing her usual heraldic marks of a sword and a pair of scales. Law and order are denoted by every line and emblem on the card, which, summed up, expresses conscientiousness, balance, power, and poise, in all their forms. The leaf also corresponds with some of the attributes of the god Tiemei, and again represents one of the deities of Olympus. Heth, the letter corresponding to it, means a field, and from that springs the idea of anything requiring labour and continued effort, the elements and existence. When it typifies Ceres, of the Olympic gods, it denotes the mother as she is generally represented, with her daughter, Prosperpine, endeavouring (as the original type of a mother-in-law) to keep her from the arms of Pluto, while Mercury leads the wife forcibly away. This card is the dominating one of Cups (meaning sacrifice) of the pip part of the pack.


IX. L’EREMITA (The Hermit)

The Hermit is one of the most mysterious designs on the Atouts, and has not yet acknowledged all its intentions. For the meaning assigned to it, and its value for soothsaying, hardly correspond with the personage depicted, so it is supposed that the artist who modernized the ancient design has altered it too completely to be recognised by those unacquainted with the original intention. It shows an old man, holding a lantern aloft, and by some is regarded as a watchman calling the hours of the night, and by others, as Diogenes searching for an honest man. But the attributes or values given to the card rather quarrel with the design, for they signify friendship, protection, and wisdom. The rod or staff signifies a pilgrim, certainly an overseer, and is a favourite emblem in the Bible, as in Psalms xxiii:4, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” or, in Isaiah x:15, “If the staff should lift up.” It is the cane of the medical man, and represents the Sceptre suit of the pip cards. This Atout typifies strength of character, philanthropy, the wisdom of silence in difficulties, circumspection, prudence, and sympathy; in short, all the qualities desirable in a friend. The letter is Teth, which represents a roof or place of safety, suggesting the idea of a shelter and protection given by wisdom and forethought. The card also typifies human love and humanity.


(The Wheel of Fortune)

This Atout has many and various connections with the superstitions of ancient days. It is the Wheel of Fortune, and, among other things, represents Osiris judging the souls of the dead. Anubis clambers up on one side, while Typhon descends on the left of the wheel. “There are two ideas,” says Papus, “expressed by this symbolic card. The first is that of supremacy, the second of eternity.” The former is typified by Anubis and Typhon climbing or falling, one reaching to overpower the other, while the wheel turns eternally, lifting first one and then the other. Thus it is in life, for fortune changes from good to bad with unceasing regularity, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly, but always controlled by an unknown force, that is called luck. The circle signifies eternity, and the Wheel of Fortune is one of the oldest known symbols in the world. It is deemed by some to have itsanalogy in the “Wheels of Ezekiel and of Pythagoras,” with all the significances attached to these emblematic figures. Being numbered ten, its Hebrew letter is Yod, the hieroglyphic meaning of which is “the forefinger extended as a sign of command.” This sign  is recognised even by the uninitiated, and is one of the surviving attributes of Mercury in common use to-day. It was placed under the head of Mercury, when he was erected by the roadside as Terminus to point out a road. In every synagogue is found a pointer, called Yod, because its long arm terminates in a beautifully modelled hand, with the forefinger outstretched. This is used by the reader of the Scriptures to keep the place, since the text is written in fine characters not easily followed without the pointing finger of the Yod. The Wheel of Fortune typifies magic power, fortune, expression of the will of the gods, or their commands, supremacy, superstition, and luck. Anubis was the conductor of spirits to the judgment seat (or Mercury, as Chthonius); he also held the balance in the hall of the dead. He is called “Lord of the Burying-ground,” and is represented as a jackal. The Wheel of Fortune is derived from Osiris, on the judgment seat, with Anubis as assistant.


XI. LA FORZA (Strength)

This Atout shows a female figure, wearing the mystic hat, or vital sign , seen on the Pagat, or the first Atout. The girl forces open the mouth of a lion, expressing vitality, force, courage, daring. It would seem the ancients believed that, in suffering or trouble a woman was superior to a man, for endurance and strength of mind.

The figure also typifies innocence, so the fable of Una and the lion seems to be depicted, whether intentionally or not. Another symbol is that of the Amazons, who pretended, say modern writers, to great strength, in spite of being women, but the translations of some of the cuneiform tablets lead one to suppose that these female warriors were more noted in their own times for their wit than for their strength. The value given to the card indicates it to be under the protection of Minerva. The Hebrew letter for this card is Kaph, which typifies a grasping hand. This card represents subtle and mystic occultism, with its influence over mankind; in fact, female charity. It recalls, by its costume and attributes, the Egyptian goddess Neith, whose temple was at Sais, the chief city of the Delta. She wears a peculiar emblem on her head, sometimes called a “shuttle,” recalling the device of the Atout. Mr. Rawlinson, in his “Ancient Egypt” (page 342), says the inscription on her shrine reads: “I am all that was, and is, and is to be. No mortal hath lifted my veil.” The last expression would be understood in Egypt, for the lifting of the veil is the conclusion of the marriage service, when the bridegroom sees his wife for the first time. Therefore, one meaning of the card is a bride.


XII. L’APPESO (The Hanged Man)

The hanged man is a remarkable figure on the twelfth leaf of the Book of Thoth. The person is suspended by one foot from a gibbet that is crudely made, by placing a bar in the fork of two opposite trees that have been lopped of other branches. The hands are tied behind, and the right leg crosses the left, by which the figure is suspended. This peculiar form of punishment was at one time inflicted for certain kinds of crimes in Etruria, and was probably typical when it was adopted. It has been suggested that one of the signs of recognition between Freemasons consists in crossing the legs, although these persons generally remain upright and are not contortionists, so it is difficult to concede this connection with the figure on the Atout. It shows a young man, who is said to be the Pagat, or inquirer, of the first Atout, who, having passed through the temptations of youth, begins to aspire to an ethical future. This is exemplified by his position, indicating discipline, or submission to a superior will. Perhaps another idea is, that since all the blood has run to his head, the powers of knowledge are concentrated, and will be increased. The card expresses equilibrium, charity, courage, knowledge and prudence; also wisdom and fidelity. Lamed is the corresponding Hebrew letter; it designates the arm, so is, therefore, connected with expansive power and movement, as applied to all ideas of extension, of occupation, of possession. The figure being raised above the earth, and in a position of pain, together with humility, typifies a mind withdrawn from temporal ideas, or a martyr to science. Vulcan is supposed to be the Olympian god typified by L’Appeso, not only on account of the strong arm, but also because he was thrown out of heaven and lamed for life.



This thirteenth Atout is represented on some cards as a skeleton mowing off the heads of men, on some as a rider on a white horse, and on others on a black one. There is an old proverb: “Death comes riding on a white horse,” and sometimes the clouds betokening rain are called “the white horses of death.” One of the horses of Aurora was called Abraxas, the numerical value of these letters summing up three hundred and sixty-five, or the number of the days of the year. The occult meanings attached to this card and its number in the Atouts are well known, for the latter is connected with bad luck or death in all European countries, and in every place where the worship of Mercury or the Hermetic art, as connected with cards, has penetrated. It is not so regarded, however, by savage tribes, who have not followed this cult. This superstition is, therefore, by many deemed to be one of the proofs that the cards were descended from those mysteries. It is supposed that this image of Death was the half-way position in the temple of Thoth, and therefore divided the Atouts to the right and to the left, since they were placed in sequence on both sides. Thoth Hermes, the unnumbered Atout, was represented by a statue that occupied the centre of the building, under which stood an altar. On this altar the rods (or pip cards) were thrown when consulting the oracle. At any rate, the altar (or its remains) occupies the centre of the ruins of the temple of Mercury, at Baiæ. The central position of Death was deemed to indicate the dividing period of a man’s life. The inquirer, after consulting the pictured figures, representing the family, religion, government, and friends of the beginning of his life, now learned of the more serious affairs of later years, not necessarily death or bad fortune, but, rather, a transforming force, since this Atout marked such a distinct epoch in the path of life, and was to be considered most seriously. Still the card also portends sorrow, destruction, and death. The letter is Mem, meaning fertility and formation, or the development of the being in an unlimited space, perhaps regeneration after destruction, or immortality in another world.


XIV. LA TEMPERAN (Temperance)

It is probable that this figure was intended for Nut or Nephthys. Of her but little is positively known, and, so far, no temple erected to her has been discovered. She was called the wife of Seb, and the mother of Osiris. Her titles are “the Elder,” “the Mother of the Gods,” and “the Nurse.” She is usually represented as veiled and pouring a liquid from a vase. Her figure frequently appears in tombs, as if she was the guardian angel or protector of the dead soul. This idea of an oblation to the gods, through pouring wine or oil before them, is found to be common among the Babylonians, and to “pour oil on the troubled waters” is no mere figure of speech.

The fourteenth Atout is represented as a winged female pouring liquid from one jug to another, signifying individual and corporeal existence, production, fruition, health, temperance, economy and offspring. Its letter is Nun, signifying fruit of any kind and all things produced. Neptune is typified by one of his nymphs offering an oblation when mingling the waters. There may be a remote and more occult connection with this device and divination, for one of the earliest methods of consulting the gods was through pouring water on oil, or oil on water, and prognosticating from the results. This process is found to have been used among the Babylonians as early as two thousand five hundred years before Christ. Two books have been discovered on this subject that give full directions for consulting the wishes of the gods through those means, and they have been fully translated by Dr. Arthur Ungnad. One is, “Interpretations of the Future among the Babylonians and Assyrians,” and in it are found many directions for discovering the wishes of the gods, such as: “If the oil fills the cup, the person dies;” “If the oil floats on water to the east, the person will die;” “If to the right, it is good luck, if to the left, it is misfortune.” The name, Temperance, given to this card, seems to be rather misleading and modern, since the picture evidently typifies this most ancient custom.


XV. IL DIAVOLO (The Devil)

Set, or Sutech, the principle of evil, who is connected with the myth of Osiris, needs but little explanation. Even moderns can comprehend at a glance all that it typifies. Mgr. Antonio Dragoni is one of the earliest persons to identify this card with Set or Typho, the son of Seb, who was the brother of Osiris, and one of the geniuses of evil. Any one who has attempted to read the myth of Osiris will appreciate the difficulties of unravelling it. The Hyksos, or shepherd kings, selected Set as their sole deity, and Seti I assumed his name, thus placing himself under the protection of the evil one. Afterwards the worship of Set ceased entirely and he was abhorred. The long ears retained on the figure of the fifteenth Atout mark the connection with Set, for that was one of his distinguishing attributes. The Hebrew letter that represents this card is Zain, which means arrow, or any weapon of destruction. The intention of this Atout is destiny, chance, fatality, superstition, illness, temptation; it represents a spirit of evil, hatred, jealousy, and suspicion.


XVI. LA TORRE (The Tower)

In this leaf, a building struck by lightning is portrayed, through a thunderbolt shot by Jupiter, and conveyed by the “Messenger,” Mercury. The “lightning god” was one of Nebo’s titles, and the mark is retained on the Japanese cards, although probably accidentally, since there is no connection between their playing cards and the original Atouts. Some writers call this tower the “castle of Plutus” (the Roman god of wealth), deeming it a warning to misers, for it recalls the legend relating to an incident in the life of Rameses II, recorded in Herodotus. The Pharaoh ordered a tower to be built for his treasures, and he alone had its key, but daily he discovered that his valuables were disappearing, although there was only one egress. A watch was set, and it was found that two of the sons of the architect could enter by displacing a stone, that had been left for the purpose of thieving, and when the men were entrapped inside, they threw themselves headlong from the tower. This picture shows a connection with Egyptian legend that must not be disregarded in seeking to trace the Tarots to the mysteries of Thoth. Besides, some persons believe that the card represents the destruction of the temples of Babylon, and due weight must be given to the significance awarded by that people to lightning, when consulting the gods through divination, particularly as it was the weapon of Jove (Merodach), who was connected with the Baal of the Bible, and sometimes worshipped as Enlil, who was frequently implored not to destroy his people by lightning. But there are other legends connected with the destruction of ancient temples that are even older than that of Egypt, and we are lucky to have access to one that has lately been translated from the Sumerian language, written in cuneiform characters on one of the tablets discovered by Prof. Herman V. Hilprecht in the Temple Library of Nippur. Above two hundred of them were of a religious or historical character, which he set apart for the well-known scholar, Doctor Radau, to translate. These related chiefly to the worship of the gods of the second dynasty of Ur, or about two thousand five hundred years before Christ. “Although the beginning of the Babylonian religion, as portrayed in these tablets,” says Doctor Radau, in “Miscellaneous Sumerian Texts from the Temple Library of Nippur” (page 389), “has to be sought somewhere at about 5700 B. C., when the religions of Babylon were systematized.” One tablet relates how a king of that period conquered his enemies with the help of the chief god, who at that time was named Enlil, “the Governor of the gods,” “the god who destines fate.” It was his son, Nebo, who was his confidential messenger, his “lightning-rod,” and who wrote on the “tablets of Fate” the decrees of the supreme being at the birth of each mortal. It may be noted that Nebo is given a different father at different times, but so it is in the mythologies as now interpreted; the oldest accounts name the chief gods, whose qualities and symbols later became merged in more modern ones, and they were given different names at various times, which is most confusing. The great temple consecrated to Enlil is called E-Kur, and is at Nippur. This name for this particular tabernacle became the common name for temple in general (page 411). No king of Babylon ventured to do anything or take any step without “kissing the hand” of Enlil, to obtain his consent and approval. According to Doctor Radau, Enlil was afterwards succeeded or displaced by Marduk (the Merodach of the Bible, and the Jupiter of the Romans), although the supremacy of Enlil lasted some three thousand five hundred years, quite long enough to leave an impression on the “Book of Fate.” One of the tablets translated from the Sumerian language has been given almost literally, and is an invocation to Enlil, bewailing the destruction and begging for the restoration of the principal cities of Babylonia, together with the temples that had been destroyed, which were, in fact, the homes of the priests, who always dwelt in the sanctuaries. Doctor Radau (page 444) calls the song, “The Lamentation of the Goddess Nin, of the City of Mar, who was called Nin-Mar.” He gives a literal translation of the cuneiform text of the tablet that has a well-defined metre, and is divided into sections. The first three verses are an invocation to Enlil, the supreme god, by this goddess, Nin-Mar, who declares that she is “Mistress of Mar,” who, through the power granted to her by Enlil, was once able to destroy the enemies of her country and lay waste their lands, but the power has left her, as her “Master” sleeps. Nin-Mar gets a sympathetic god, named Nin-ib, to sing a hymn with her, in which the destroyed temples are recounted. Nin-ib was the solar deity of Nippur, also a war god, but inclined to be beneficent to mankind. One of his titles was “the warrior,” and he is identified as the planet Saturn. His symbol was a man with a lion’s head.


Oh, Enlil, who placed on the waters
A shelter for men and for all,
Great God, who creates and then slaughters,
Come, hark to the children’s call.
Nin-Mar, the smiter of mountains, I sigh, I sigh;
Enlil, to thee I cry, cry, cry.

Shall the Mistress of Mar and his daughters,
His doves and the broods on their nests,
Shall their homes be cast out on the waters,
While their Master is lying at rest?
Nin-Mar, who was the destroyer of lands, I sigh, I sigh;
Enlil, to thee I cry, cry, cry.

Exalted one! Listen to pleadings,
For my Nippur now covers its face;
My E-Kur, my Ki-Ur have vanished,
May all be restored to their place.
It is Mar, the smiter of mountains, I sigh, I sigh;
Enlil, to thee I cry, cry, cry.



Great Nippur, and E-Kur and Ki-Ur with Girsu have perished in flame,
Then harken, oh, powerful Enlil, and restore them to greatness and fame.
Oh, then shall thy cities exalt thee, thy harems, thy children, thy lands,
The doves which fly over the towers, the temples that rise from the sands.
We pray that thy days may be lengthened, thy cities, like mountains, arise;
Then open thy ears, mighty Enlil, to thy children’s most sorrowful cries.
Listen to Nin-Mar, its Mistress, I sigh, I sigh;
Enlil, to thee I cry, cry, cry.

The Atout of the Tower typifies the money pip of the cards, with all of its mundane significances, so its meaning is easily translated as intending sorrow, destruction, vice, descent, perverseness, wickedness, degeneration. Ayin is the letter of la maison de dieu, or le feu de ciel, as the card is variously called, and both its design and its complementary letter express all that is crooked, bad, and false.



This Atout shows a young woman “beneath the mystery of the stars,” the seven stars of the Bible, that were the seven planets of antiquity. The name star is derived from that of Ishtar, the great Babylonian goddess. The central and most brilliant star on the Atout represents Mercury as the god of speech, or the transmitter of the wishes of gods to men, or Nebo, “the writer on the tablets of Fate.” The Dog Star was called Thoth by the Egyptians, who also considered this god the author of speech, language, and writing, like his predecessor, Nebo, whose mountain was at the plain of Moab, (Deuteronomy xxxiv:1), and he also had the same planet dedicated to him. He, the differentiating letter, means voice or speech, just as Nebo, or Nabi, means prophet, proclaimer. Hebe, who succeeded Mercury, as cupbearer to the gods, represents him here dispensing the essence of life equally between two jugs; and, to carry the resemblance still further, the picture recalls oblations to Osiris, which were typical of the mingling of life and power, as exemplified by pouring out water when standing on the earth. Thus, two of the elements are shown, a third one having been represented in the lightning of the preceding card. The different connections between the ceremonies of the ancients with the Cup and the cupbearer have been described in the chapter relating to that emblem. On some of the oldest of the Atouts, before their designs became confused by ignorant artists, when some of the most distinctive emblems were omitted, or altered, a gazelle stands behind the woman. This still further shows the connection of this card with old Egyptian legends, for it was said that the gazelle gave warning of the rising of the Nile, by fleeing to the desert, even before the inhabitants expected the flood. The gazelle is sacred to Osiris. This animal is also retained on one of the pip cards of the Spanish pack. The Stars typify immortality, creation, hope, song, music, speech, and the connection between humanity and a supreme power. It will be recalled that all these things were attributed to Mercury, Thoth, and Nebo. A god pouring a liquid from one vessel to another is frequently found on Egyptian seal cylinders. It is generally the sun god, although other gods are frequently represented.

Early Italian Tarots
Pip Cards of the Rod Suit



The eighteenth Atout speaks for itself. The legends connected with it are far spread, but all are practically the same. Two dogs bay at the moon, that is represented at the top of the picture. They are symbols of Marduk, which seem to have little connection here. A crawfish crawls from the water to land. The meanings are manifold, for the letter Tzaddi (although its hieroglyphic idea is similar to that of Teth on the ninth card) has different significances, according to its position in a word. It chiefly means an aim, an end, a succession, and its value varies.

The occult significance of this Atout is the material body, with its gratifications, such as gourmandising, drinking, covetousness, gambling, selfishness, and the danger of self-indulgence. Then, also, the card warns of hidden dangers, enemies, and accidents, representing, besides the ibis-headed Thoth, the god of letters. To discover all its significances, the eighteenth card must be studied with due regard to conditions, position, and the meaning of those adjoining it, all of which aid in deciphering the obscure intentions of this leaf, that is assigned in mythology to Diana.


XIX. IL SOLE (The Sun)

A representation of the sun is the design on the nineteenth Atout, the accompanying letter of which is Zoph, signifying a defensive weapon. This Atout indicates the elements, precious stones, and minerals; an awaking, revival, excitement, transition, nutrition and digestion; also self-esteem, indulgence, eagerness to make money, and probable success by self-exertion; also a worldly person, or a happy marriage. The god Ra is represented by the sun in Egyptian mythology. He was greatly revered by some of the Pharaohs, such as Rameses, who adopted his name.


XX. IL GIUDIZIO (The Judgment)

The Day of Judgment is the symbol of this Atout, and its letter is Resh, representing typically the head of man. The picture shows an angel blowing a trumpet from the clouds, while below, the earth is yawning, to allow the dead to rise. This is a strange emblem to be placed among the heathen leaves, for it is peculiarly Christian in its significances; but even the oldest designs show it pictured in this way. As it stands, it expresses motion, movement, travels, readjustments, originality, determination, respiration, and regeneration. Then, also, it typifies scenery, skill, and artistic capabilities. The Romans dedicated it to Pluto, the ruler of the nether world. It has many of the attributes of Ishtar, the goddess of the Babylonians, from whose name Easter is derived. She represented spring, and was the protector of vegetation, growth, and agriculture. The angel blowing the trumpet is a very old design, and one often used on tombs or cenotaphs. It recalls Theodore Hook’s witty epitaph on Lord de Ros, of whom little good could be said, and who was accused of cheating at cards, but whose family erected a fine monument to his memory, on which was the representation of the angel of the Resurrection. Under it Hook wrote: “Here LIES England’s Premier Baron patiently waiting the last trump.”


XXI. IL MONDO (The World)

This card shows the nude figure of a woman, in an ellipse of leaves and flowers, the victor’s wreath of the Grecians. She represents verity or truth. In the four corners are the emblems of the apostles that St. John borrowed from Ezekiel, and the latter from Assyria and Babylonia. These are the Man, Lion, Bull and Eagle. Besides typifying the apostles, they, in a manner, suggest the four attributes of the pip suits, and also the four elements. The inscrutable-looking man represents brain, knowledge, and mystery. The ox typifies strength, and the lion courage, while the eagle suggests inspiration and the power of soaring above mundane affairs. These four emblems represent also the four seasons, when the ox stands for autumn, the man for winter, the lion for summer, and the eagle for spring; so the complex meaning of the twenty-first Atout suggests that the head or wisdom of man prescribes the will of the ox, the courage of the lion, and the aspirations of the bird, through the mouth of Truth. The attributes of the designs on the cards are also included in this leaf from the book of Thoth. The wand that thefigure holds represents the Stave, or caduceus, or magic wand of Aaron, “that was kept for a token,” as well as fire. The Cup betokens the south, and summer, and water. The Sword, earth, and the Coin (or Ring), eternity and air. Il Mondo’s letter is Tau, which symbolises perfection. The meaning of the whole card covers the elements of success, luck, happiness, marriage, contentment, bliss.



The twenty-second Atout has no number upon it, and is called Le Fou, Il Matto, or the Joker. It is the presiding deity himself, Thoth, Nebo, or Mercury, in all his various moods, with all his many qualifications. These are denoted by the cards that fall near him, when being dealt, that are controlled or influenced by his overwhelming personality and qualifications. He generally brings news and good luck. Count Parravicino declares: “the Italian name is derived from an Egyptian one, Mat, which signifies beginnings or perfection.” The card represents everything that is typical of Mercury, such as irresponsibility, with all its consequences. The figure of Il Matto carries the attributes of Mercury: the staff he holds in his hand, while a purse dangles from his side. He is travelling or walking, as if carrying news, or a message, and also suggests a wanderer, a pedler, or a merchant. Motion, energy, and luck are expressed, as well as fickleness, inconstancy, and unconventionality that may amount to insanity. The letter is Shin, and expresses cyclic movement. In some of the old Italian Tarots, Il Matto is represented as being naked, or else in tattered garments, like a beggar, when he symbolises folly, frivolity, or chance. In the Austrian Tarots he is dressed like a harlequin, or else simply with cap and bells. He is the gypsy wanderer, as we know him, believed by some persons to be the descendant of the Egyptian priests of the temple of Serapeon, at Pozzuoli, who were forced to wander by the destruction of this temple.

It must be remembered that no Tarots have been discovered that are over five hundred years old, and that a great gap exists between these and the mysteries of the temple of Thoth; therefore, some of the emblems or symbols that we know may not resemble those of the originals. We must also recall that there is more than one cult represented among the Atouts; therefore, many of the attributes of different deities are mingled confusingly, perhaps, on one and the same card. The student is necessarily limited by conditions, for many of the virtues accredited to the emblematic figures have been received traditionally, or have been discovered by intuition, and are attributed first to one god, and then to another, as the study of ancient myths or cults reveals a hitherto unexpected connection.

The intention of the Atouts, as a whole, is the representation of a youth and his parents or governors and sponsors. These are followed by everything that can express human life, such as ambition, love, marriage, temptation, friendship, luck, trials, illness, hatred, jealousy, despair, hope, enemies, success, and death. When combined with the pip cards, the whole makes an interesting game of life, presided over by the versatile god, Mercury, “the writer on the tablets of Fate.”

The whole of the Tarot pack has been called “the Bible of the Gypsies,” “the Athor of the Egyptians,” “the Thora of the Hebrews,” “the Great Book of Thoth Hermes Trismegistus,” and “the Key of Things Hidden from the Beginning of the World”; so, how should poor mortals be able to unravel all its secrets and lay them bare before an uncrediting world.


This is taken from Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards.





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