Vintage Tarot Texts
Author: Antoine Court de Gebelin, 1781; Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle, Comte de Mellet, 1781
Translated and Annotated by: David Vine
“Vintage Tarot Texts” is an annotated English translation of 1781 French essays by Antoine Court de Gebelin and the comte de Mellet. These texts are supported by biographical and historical analysis, in this debut volume of “Vintage Tarot Texts”.
Essentially, Vine has given these two 18th-century scholars a modern voice. Robert Place notes that these two articles are pivotal to Tarot scholarship, and that they are the foundation upon which all later occult theories about this deck rest. (My comment – they are also very easy to follow and understand.)
Before I take a look at the book itself, it is important to look at the author’s credentials. David Vine is a writer, translator, instructor, and Tarot scholar who is also trained in modern and classical languages and medieval literature and art history. “Vintage Tarot Texts” is the first of a series of books showcasing foundational European Tarot literature of the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries.
Vine notes that in presenting his translations, he paid meticulous attention to the linguistic and cultural vintage of the original texts. He also felt that it was essential to remember who these authors were – educated men, quite imaginative when the shortage of facts invited speculation and showing universal honesty.
Throughout this book, I was impressed by the use of in-depth footnotes, along with the complex background Vine presented for each author. It is both interesting and pertinent to see which of their contemporaries they corresponded with, which societies they belonged to (such as the Masons), what their personal interests were, and what their political leanings might be.
In the section on Antoine Court de Gebelin, Vine noted that the popular culture of the eighteenth century, on both sides of the Atlantic, was steeped in the classics. We see reflected in “A Wicked Pack of Cards” such things as a persistent disregard for de Geblin’s learning and methodology, along with a projection of the personal views and prejudices of Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett. Vine also commented on the use of “faulty logic” and a perhaps willful misunderstanding of what de Gebelin is asserting.
I was fascinated by Vine’s translation of de Gebelin’s Articles. They start out by explaining how the Tarot is divided in Trumps and the four suits, which is followed by a discussion of the individual cards. Of interest here is how the cards represent things such as leaders of society, marriage, the four cardinal virtues, death, the wheel of fortune, and time. The definition of the suits is also in keeping with the time. This is followed by an article on how to play the game of Tarot and how the game of Tarots can be considered a game of geopolitics. Other articles include commentary on Spanish and French Tarot cards.
The section on Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle (the Comte de Mellet) begins with the fact that the basic facts about his life are readily available, including that of his military career, and that he was an extremely wealthy man.
Vine also notes that de Gebelen published de Mellet’s essay along with his own – an indication that the men had been carrying on a correspondence in which they exchanged ideas. In fact, Decker et al noted that the two essays agreed in their main conclusions (such as the Egyptian imagery for the cards), and their designations for the four suits, although they differed concerning the symbolism they attached to each of the cards.
De Mellet gave a short synopsis of each card, going from the 21st card (Universe) down in a succession of series: the Golden Age (21-15), the Silver Age (14-8), the Age of Iron (7-1).
I found the translation of this book compelling, as it offers the students of the Tarot a solid foundation for their understanding and a look at how the Tarot developed. This book is the first in a series – I would consider following the series to develop one’s understanding of what the Tarot really is.
© July 2022 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction is prohibited without written permission from the author.