Tarot

Eliphas Levi and the Tarot

The evidence for the initiated tradition of the Tarot.


Although the origins of the Tarot are perfectly obscure, there is a very interesting piece of quite modern history, history well within the memory of living man, which is extremely significant, and will be found, as the thesis develops, to sustain it in a very remarkable way. In the middle of the nineteenth century, there arose a very great Qabalist and scholar, who still annoys dull people by his habit of diverting himself at their expense by making fools of them posthumously.

His name was Alphonse Louis Constant, and he was an Abbé of the Roman Church. For his “nom-de-guerre” he translated his name into Hebrew-Eliphas Levi Zahed, and he is very generally known as Eliphas Levi. Eliphas Levi was a philosopher and an artist, besides being a supreme literary stylist and a practical joker of the variety called “Pince sans rire”; and, being an artist and a profound symbolist, he was immensely attracted by the Tarot.

While in England, he proposed to Kenneth Mackenzie, a famous occult scholar and high-grade Freemason, to reconstitute and issue a scientifically-designed pack. In his works are new presentations by him of the trumps called The Chariot and The Devil. He seems to have understood that the Tarot was actually a pictorial form of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, which is the basis of the whole Qabalah, so much so that he composed his works on this basis. He wished to write a complete treatise on Magick. He divided his subject into two parts—Theory and Practice which he called Dogma and Ritual. Each part has twenty-two chapters, one for each of the twenty-two trumps; and each chapter deals with the subject represented by the picture displayed by the trump. The importance of the accuracy of the correspondence will appear in due course. Here we come to a slight complication. The chapters correspond, but they correspond wrongly; and this is only to be explained by the fact that Levi felt himself bound by his original oath of secrecy to the Order of Initiates which had given him the secrets of the Tarot.

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