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Eliphas Levi On the Tarot

This excerpt is taken from Eliphas Levi's TRANSCENDENTAL MAGIC: Its Doctrine and Ritual. Translated and annotated by Arthur Edward Waite.

Eliphas Levi

The Tarot, that miraculous work which inspired all the sacred books of antiquity, is the most perfect instrument of divination, by reason of the analogical precision of its figures and numbers. It can be employed with complete confidence.

Its oracles are always rigorously true, at least in a certain sense, and even when it predicts nothing it reveals secret things and gives the most wise counsel to its querents.

Alliette, who, in the last century, from a hairdresser became a Kabalist, and kabalistically called himself Etteilla, reading his name backwards after the manner of Hebrew, Alliette, I say, after thirty years of meditation over the Tarot, was on the threshold of discovering everything that is concealed in this extraordinary work; but he ended only by misplacing the keys, through want of their proper understanding, and inverted the order and character of the figures, though without entirely destroying their analogies, so great are the sympathy and correspondence which exist between them.

The writings of Etteilla, now very rare, are obscure, wearisome and barbarous in style; they have not all been printed, and some manuscripts of this father of modern cartomancers are in the hands of a Paris bookseller who has been good enough to let us examine them. Their most remarkable points are the obstinate perseverance and incontestable good faith of the author, who all his life perceived the grandeur of the occult sciences, but was destined to die at the gate of the sanctuary without ever penetrating behind the veil. He had little esteem for Agrippa, made much of Jean Belot and knew nothing of the philosophy of Paracelsus; but he possessed a highly-trained intuition and great persistence of will, though his fancy exceeded his judgement. His endowments were insufficient for a Magus and more than were needed for a skilful and accredited diviner of the vulgar order. Hence Etteilla had a fashionable success which a more accomplished magician would perhaps have been wrong to renounce, but assuredly would not have claimed.

When delivering at the end of our "Ritual" a last message upon the Tarot, we shall show the complete method of reading and hence of consulting it, not only on the probable chances of destiny but also, and above all, upon problems of philosophy and religion, concerning which it provides a solution as invariably certain as it is admirable in its precision, if explained in the hierarchic order of the analogy of the three worlds with the three colours and the four shades which compose the sacred septenary. All this belongs to the positive practice of Magic, and can be only indicated summarily and established theoretically in the present first part, which is dedicated to the doctrine of Transcendental Magic and the philosophical and religious key of the exalted sciences, known, or unknown rather, under the name of occult.
 

(Note:  The above extract is provided for historical reference purposes.  It is difficult reading, but this is not owing to anything being taken out of context; many occult books of this period were written in an equally dense style.  --Ed.)

 

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