As Dr. Keizer so aptly reminds us,  the "... evidence that the Tarot images derive from ancient and archetypal Egyptian temple images. . ."  . . . " . . .  is the Holy Grail of esoteric Tarot advocates..." He  writes:

"The Egyptian paradigm was justified by a medieval document claiming to be part of the body of writings by the NeoPlatonist Iamblichus, whose Manetho is the memoires of an Egyptian priest. The Pseudo-Iamblichan document describes initiatic images used in the hall of neophytes that correspond closely to the Tarot trump images known in the eighteenth century."

This was also central to the system of The Church of Light, and its founder Elbert Benjamin [C.C. Zain]:

"Iamblichus, a Neo-Platonist of the fourth century and an initiate of The Brotherhood of Light, has left us an important document entitled, An Egyptian Initiation." Zain, The Sacred Tarot, p. 69.

In Yarker, Arcane Schools:  Tarot decoration of a double row of 11 Pillars through which the candidate for Initiation was led. The source for this idea comes from Iamblicus, who is also quotes by C. C. Zain.

There is a great deal of evidence to connect the Tarot and its emergence, especially during the Renaissance, to the Neo-Platonic tradition.

From the 4th century Iamblichus - to P. Christian, to Zain.

"An Egyptian Initiation was translated from the original MS. into French by P. Christian, and those who have written much of value concerning the Tarot have drawn heavily upon his translation." Zain, Tarot, p. 69

 "No one today knows the real origin of the Tarot picture cards. They have been traced as far as the thirteenth century in Europe but students of the Tarot symbolism believe that in the nature of symbolism as such, there is evidence that it has come down to us from the Temples of ancient Egypt and Babylonia." Corinne Heline, The Bible and the Tarot, New Age Press, Oceanside, California, 1969, p.119.

Chapter 7 of Umberto Eco, entitled “The Perfect Language of Images.”

p. 145:

“Iamblichus, in his De mysterius aegyptiorum, said that the Egyptians, when they invented their symbols, imitating the nature of the universe and the creation of the gods, revealed occult intuitions by symbols.

This resonates with C.C. Zain, who in this sense externalized the Egyptian Tarot in the tradition of Iamblichus. Umberto Eco traces this lineage back to Plotinus, and of course, Plato. But generally speaking, the Tarot belongs to the same iconographic or ideographic tradition as Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Tarot, is a Perfect Language of Images.


"The history of the Tarot is a great puzzle. During the Middle Ages, when it first appeared historically, there existed a tendency to build up synthetic symbolical or logical systems of the same sort as Ars Magna by Raymond Lully. But productions similar to the Tarot exist in India and China, so that we cannot possibly think it one of those systems created during the Middle Ages in Europe; it is also evidently connected with the Ancient Mysteries and the Egyptian Initiations. Although its origin is in oblivion and the aim of its author or authors quite unknown, there is no doubt whatever that it is the most complete code of Hermetic symbolism we possess." P.D.Ouspensky [*]

I am in complete agreement with Ouspensky here. We should view the Tarot as a supremely Hermetic code. And a Hermetic tool.


"The first scholar of the Tarot in modern times was the Count de Gebelin, the French archeologist, who in the years c. 1773 to 1782 set forth the theory that the Tarot cards originated in Egypt. On the basis of this understanding a set of cards was later drawn up with Egyptian pictures in imitation of the vignettes which are inscribed at the head of each chapter of the Book of the Dead. These pictures, however, follow the patterns of the "Bohemian" Tarot, which had been circulating in Europe, especially in Southern France, and were used for fortune telling by bands of wandering gypsies. A.E. Waite takes credit to himself as having been the first to introduce the Tarot to the English-speaking public in 1887, in a digest of the writings of Eliphas Levi." p.119


John D. Blakeley:

"In support for his claim for an Egyptian origin, Court de Gébelin supposed that the word Tarot (or Tarocco) was derived from the two Egyptian words: tar (road), and ro, ros, or rog (king or royal). Also he refered to the word arosh which is said to be divisible into the syllables a (doctrine or science) and rosh (Mercury). This was repeated by Taylor. p.18. Others, including William Postel Wirth p. 34 pointed out that the word rota (wheel) could be transposed into taro and that it was included in the Rosicrucian phrase rota mundi wheel of the universe). [ref. An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy p.CXXIX] W.Starkie [In Sara’s Tents] notes that the Hungarian word torok means ‘ a pack of cards’ and that it is derived from a Hindu word taru. This, of course, prompts the question of possible association with tar, the embodiment of wisdom (prajna) in the Tibetan religious system. Idries Shah [The Sufis p. 398] claims that the word is derived from the Arabic TaRIQa( the course of life, way of life, way upon which a person is travelling) and he indicates that the Arabic word turuq means ‘four ways.’ He records that the word TaRIQa may be expressed visually as a palm tree." [*]

Here, there is an undercurrent which suggests that we can interpret Rosicrucian as ros - royal and cruix or cross - as the ‘four ways’. That is, The Royal Crossroads.

The Egyptian Tarot offers a deeper Key to the Traditional Spirituality of Africa, in contrast to the more Eurocentric packs (decks). It also offers, paradoxically, profound insight into the Hellenic world of mythology (Greek) and its Roman reflex. When we use the term ‘Egyptian Tarot’ we do not mean that it is exclusively from ancient Egypt. I would prefer to use the term Hermetic, as the Egyptian Tarot is essentially Hermetic in its operation. It is also correctly known as The Book of Thoth.

As part of the 30 Year ongoing research into the History and Symbolism of the Sacred Tarot - the following Series are offered, as examples of the cyber-Hermetic Work that can be achieved.


Antoine Faivre places Court de Gébelin in an important position with the late 18th Century transmission of the Tradition:

"During the same period, Antoine Court de Gébelin published Le Monde Primitif, in which he expounded the idea of a tradition underlying all the particular ones, and exhibited a preference for Egypt (in keeping with the egyptomania which was then in vogue). One part of this work was devoted to the Tarot, which the author considered a key for unlocking the secret of the golden thread of meaning which connects each tradition to all the others." [*]

I agree with this suggestion, wholeheartedly. Walter Starkie, in his interesting book on the Gypsies, also sees Gébelin as crucial to the view that the Gypsies, ( as Egyptians) were also instrumental in the transmission:

"Court de Gébelin, in the eighth volume of his Monde Primitif (Paris, I78I), had described the Tarot cards as the sole surviving Book of the Ancient Egyptians. The word Tarot, he said, was from the Egyptian Tar, path, and Ro, Ros or Rog, royal-' The Royal Path of Life'. " [*]

One can be forgiven for seeing the roots Ro, Ros and Rog, if their etymological roots can be proved or endorsed by Academia, as having some link to Rosicrucian. Or for that matter, merely to The Rose - as we know it was sacred to Isis in the Alexandrian Cult of Isis that is beautifully described by Apuleus in his 'The Golden Ass.'

"Gébelin, holding that the cards were of Egyptian origin, read them in reverse way, beginning with Key 22." [*]

I would like to comment here that any theory on which way the Tarot should be read approaches the subject from a strictly linear or serial point of view. If one sees the 22 Major Arcana as standing in a Circle - which is their correct form - the problem does not arise. But there is definitely a telluric rift between the Alpha (or Aleph) and the Omega (or Tau, of Arcanum 1 and 22 respectively.

"According to Gébelin, the Tarot pack symbolizes human society as a whole, while the 22 Keys are the Ages of Gold, Silver and Iron. The four suits were the four classes into which society was divided among the Egyptians: Swords were the sovereign and the nobles; Cups were the caste of the priests; Clubs were the husbandmen; Coins were the commercial class. The Golden Age ran from Key 22 to Key I5. The Universe, the Creation of Man (wrongly named the Judgement); the Creation of the Sun, Moon, Stars, the overthrow of the Maison-Dieu, i.e. the Fall of Man; and finally the fifteenth Key, Typhon, the Devil, who brings to an end the Age of Gold. The Silver Age ran from Key I4 to Key 8. Temperance, Death, the accident of Life, Strength, Fortune, Justice. The Iron Age ran from Key 7 to Key I. War, the Lovers, Jove threatening the Earth, the King, the Queen, Pride and finally Deception." Starkie, Ibid. p.322

Clifton says of Gébelin:

"...a French Protestant clergyman, who appears to have been the first occultist to see the cards as something more than a medium of gaming and everyday fortunetelling. Around 1781 he pronounced them to be the repository of ancient Egyptian wisdom: intellectuals of the time found Egypt fascinating and mysterious, and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which led to the understanding of hieroglyphic writing, was still several years away." [*]

From Court de Gébelin according to Clifton, the transmission proceeds through, amongst others: Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant), Papus (Gerard Encausse), A. E. Waite, Aleister Crowley, Paul Foster Case, and C. C. Zain (Elbert Benjamine).

[*] Blakeley, John D. The Mystical Tower of the Tarot, Watkins, London, 1974, p. 10.

[*]Clifton Chas S. The Unexamined Tarot, Source: Gnosis Magazine - Winter 1991, pp. 45. Chas Clifton was a contributing editor of GNOSIS. [now defunct] He lives in Colorado and is currently editing an encyclopedia of heresies to be published by ABC/Cleo

[*] Faivre, Antoine and Voss, Karen-Claire, Western Esotericism and The Science Of Religions, Numen, Vol. 42 (1995). E.J. Brill, Leiden, p. 55.

[*] Ouspensky, P.D. The Symbolism of the Tarot, St. Petersberg, 1913

[*] Starkie, Walter In Sara's Tents, THE TAROT PACK, John Murray, London, 1955.p.320.

[*] Starkie, p.322.

Leonard George - The Teachings of Iamblichus: Between Eros and Anteros



Tarot Index