Sacred Texts  Tarot  Tarot Reading  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 335



The Royal Game of Human Life played by the Egyptians. The Unity of Games in the Tarot.



1. When the players have chosen their Magian, they also choose from amongst the non-players a man and a woman, whom they name Osiris and Isis.

2. When commencing a game, the Magian having taken the central place, the players settle the amount of the principal fine together (we will suppose it to be one halfpenny), and a basket is placed on the table to receive the money.

3. When all the players axe seated, the Magian takes the Book of Thoth, i. e. the pack of Tarot cards, and shuffles them, carefully placing their heads alternate ways, but without looking at them, lets them be cut by some player on his left, and then deals the cards to his right, giving as many as he likes, up to seven, to each player and to himself

p. 336

4. Each player should notice that the top of the card (when the Magian deals it) is facing his chest; it is therefore in that sense, and according to the order in which the cards are dealt, that the players should read the oracles traced upon it, which they refer to whomever they choose amongst the persons in the house.

5. When one of the players reads an oracle he assumes the character of an interpreter, and if the person to whom he refers the oracle will not give him a present, be must pay half the fine.

6. When a person has received three veracious oracles upon the past, the present, or according to probabilities the future, and he refuses to reward the interpreter, the players will hold a council, and judge by a majority of voices whether his refusal is justified or not. In the latter case, the Magian must pronounce the word PAMENES, which warns all the household that there is one person present who does not join in the royal game of the Human Life, and then Osiris and Isis are obliged to pay for him, for when they accepted these titles, they undertook to diffuse peace and abundance over the heroes who are playing.

7. When one of the spectators asks to buy the hand of one of the players, the Magian fixes its price, which is divided into three parts: the first third is paid into the fine-box; the second to the Magian; and the third to the player, who however can avoid parting with his cards by paying the two first thirds of the price fixed by the Magian.

8. When one of the spectators has acquired the hand of one of the players, he takes with it all the player's chances of fines and presents.

9. When one of the players cannot read the oracles, he

p. 337

places his seven cards on one side and pays one-fourth of the fine.

10. If the player, although able to read the oracle, cannot find any one to whom he can refer it, he must lay his cards upon the table, face upwards, and read the meaning that he sees in them, without paying anything. If, on the other hand, he interprets them badly, according to the judgment of the other players, the Magian condemns him to pay half the fine.

11. When the interpreter has pronounced the oracle, aloud or privately, and has received a present, he can have his seven cards re-shuffled by the Magian, who will return them to him to cut; and finally, if the same cards produce three presents from the same or other persons to whom the oracles have been uttered, all the players, except the Magian, give the interpreter three times the value of the fine. This is the civic crown.

12. The Magian arranges and directs the games as he likes; he awards the fines according to the nature of the faults, such as showing the cards to other players, biding them from the spectators, any indiscretion in the utterance of the oracles, reading oracles which are not justified by the cards, etc.

13. The spectators can join in the game until the Magian indicates that it will soon end, by saying in a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, the game will close.

14. If the Magian should forget to announce the coming end of the game, all the spectators have a right to share the fines, which are divided equally amongst all the players, when the expenses have been paid.

p. 338


Is it not true that man has displayed more inventive faculties to satisfy his vices, than for anything, else? To convince ourselves of this fact we need only look at the innumerable inventions destined to aid him in losing the time which has been so parsimoniously dealt out to us all.

But the human brain acts in accordance with a very small number of laws, and the inventor cannot escape from the effect of this rule. Look at the basis of most games, however they may differ in appearance. Is it not possible to find one single game, from which most of the others are derived?

Follow me in thought, dear reader, over one of the high-roads of Spain or Italy, and let us ask some old Gypsy to leave her camp for a moment and tell our fortunes. Look at the strange cards she draws from her greasy bag: the Universe, the Sun, the Stars, Death, Fortune, Love, are only a few of the names of these eccentric figures, which depict the phases of our daily life with so much simplicity. What is this game? The Gypsy Tarot.

It is composed of our cards with four additional figures called Knights, who are placed between the Queen and the Knave. But its originality lies in the twenty-two supplementary and symbolical figures. Each of them represents an image, a number, an idea. Court de Gébelin, a savant of the eighteenth century, has shown us that this game, as possessed by the Gypsies, is of Egyptian origin, that it also existed in China and India from the earliest antiquity, and we shall see that it is the father of most of the games now known.

It is composed of numbers and figures, which mutually react upon and explain each other. But if we separate

p. 339

the figures and arrange them upon a paper in the form of a wheel, making the numbers move in the shape of dice, we produce the Goose game, with which Ulysses, according to Homer, practised cheating beneath the walls of Troy.

If we fix the numbers upon alternate black and white squares, and allow the lesser figures of our game to move upon them--the King, Queen, Knight, Foolish Man or Knave, Tower or ace--we have the Game of Chess. In fact, the primitive chessboards bore numbers, and philosophers used them to solve problems of logic.

If, leaving the figures on one side, we confine ourselves to the use of numbers, the Game of Dice appears, and if we weary of throwing the dice, we can mark the characters upon horizontal plates and create the Game of Dominoes.

If the symbolical figures are in our way, we replace them by black and white draughts, and by using the numbers upon the dice we invent Backgammon, another combination of the Goose game.

Chess degenerates in the same way into the Game of Draughts.

Lastly, our pack of cards, instead of first appearing under Charles X, according to the common report, is of far older date. Spanish regulations are in existence dated long before this reign, forbidding the nobles to play at cards, and the Tarot itself is of very ancient origin.

The sceptres of the Tarot have become clubs, the cups hearts, the swords spades, and the pentacles or money diamonds. We have also lost the twenty-two symbolical figures and the four knights.

But if all these games are derived from the Tarot, what is its origin and its primitive derivation?

These are grave questions, which for their solution lead the mind into dangerous researches. Let me

p. 340

therefore relate to you a certain confidence upon this subject which I received from a dusty old manuscript, forgotten in a corner of a library. Take it as romance or as history, whichever you like, it does not matter so long as your curiosity is gratified.

Now, let us transport ourselves in imagination three thousand miles away, into the midst of the wonderful and grandiose Egyptian civilization, which archæologists are each day revealing more fully to our century.

Let us enter one of those cities, of which Paris would form but one district, passing through the defensive outworks guarded by a well-equipped body of soldiers, and glide amongst the inhabitants, who are as numerous and as busy as those of our greatest cities.

On all sides immense monuments of strange architecture rise to enormous heights; the terraces of rich houses indicate the first steps of a gigantic staircase, formed by the palaces and temples, and dominated by the silent residence of the supreme head of the Empire.

The great cities are everywhere fortified, the Nile is restrained by moles, and enormous reservoirs are ready to receive its surplus waters, and thus transform terrible inundations into beneficent irrigation.

All this involves science and savants, but where are they?

At this epoch science and religion were blended in a single study, and all the men of science, engineers, doctors, architects, superior officers, scribes, etc., were called priests or Initiates. We must not confuse the priest of antiquity with the word taken in the modern sense, or we shall fall into many errors, amongst others that of believing that Egypt was given over to clerical despotism in its worst form.

p. 341

Instruction of every kind was given in the temples in various degrees, according to methods perfectly established, and, at that epoch, imitated in every country in the world.

The highest instruction which man can acquire was given in the great temple of Egypt, and it was there that the great reformers of the future completed their studies: Orpheus, Lycurgus, Pythagoras, and Moses amongst many others.

Astronomy was one of the sciences which became the object of constant investigation. We now know through Pythagoras, who has perpetuated the knowledge of the wise men of Egypt, that they were acquainted with the movement of the earth round the sun, as well as with the position of the latter in relation to its satellite planets. Many of the mythological stories relate to these mysteries and the wise men of the epoch, that is to say, the priests taught astronomy to their disciples, by means of small cards, which represented the months, seasons, signs of the zodiac, planets, sun, etc., etc. In this way they imprinted upon the imagination of the students the data which later on they verified in nature.

A time followed when Egypt, no longer able to struggle against her invaders, prepared to die honourably. Then the Egyptian savants (at least so my mysterious informant asserts) held a great assembly to arrange how the knowledge, that until that date had been confined to men judged worthy to receive it, should be saved from destruction.

At first they thought of confiding these secrets to virtuous men secretly recruited by the Initiates themselves, who would transmit them from generation to generation. But one priest, observing that virtue is a most fragile thing, and most difficult to find, at all events

p. 342

in a continuous line, proposed to confide the scientific traditions to vice.

The latter, he said, would never fail completely, and through it we are sure of a long and durable preservation of our principles.

This opinion was evidently adopted, and the game chosen as a vice was preferred. The small plates were then engraved with the mysterious figures which formerly taught the most important scientific secrets, and since then the players have transmitted this Tarot from generation to generation, far better than the most virtuous men upon earth would have done.

Such is the story or the history confided to me by this old manuscript, upon the origin of the father of our great games, and I am very glad that it provided me with the means of proving my perhaps paradoxical assertion of their original unity.

Next: Chapter XXII. Conclusion