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The Esoteric Tarot, by Ronald Decker

Ancient Sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabala

Reviewed by Gareth J. Medway

[Snip] In the late eighteenth century Antoine Court de Gébelin and Jean Baptiste Alliette, better known by the reversal of his surname, Etteilla, considered that the Tarot derived from ancient Egypt. Decker rejects this view, and takes it that the Tarot is not much older than the earliest surviving packs, that is circa 1440 (and it is thought that no cards existed anywhere in the world before about 900). Yet, he argues, it was created by people with an enthusiasm for what survived of Egyptian tradition and mysticism.

He gives an outline of Hermeticism, a theosophy that developed when Greeks settled in northern Egypt in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests, and combined elements of both cultures. One product was the Hermetic Corpus, a collection of discourses attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a Greek God who was now believed to have been an early pharaoh. Though these texts did not reach Italy until the 1460s, too late to have influenced the Tarot, some of the doctrines had been incorporated into neo-Platonism. Another influence, he considers, was the writing of Marcus Manilius, a first century Roman astrologer.

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