One of the greatest pleasures I have in life is to go and visit my friends, Witta and K. Frank Jensen. Frank goes by the name of ‘legendary card collector’ and Witta is acknowledged as a ‘very talented artist’. I don’t want to be presumptuous and say that these names are understatements, as I don’t want to be so arrogant as to suggest that I know better. But the thing is that, personally, and regardless of the names we go by, I find these people immensely fascinating and unfathomably kind. As to what these people know, oh well, if only I was allowed to move in and learn.
We see each other often though, and the visits are almost always prompted by the arts and the cards. Every visit turns into a visit to the museum, as Frank, being legendary, lives up to his reputation. Although his collection is unique in the world for being almost complete to perfection in the category ‘20th century tarot’, what most people don’t know is that Frank owns very old and very important documents, cards, and books that are impossible to find anywhere else. He has things that fall into the category of ‘the last one’.
Today the theme was Etteilla and some Papus. We are both attracted to Etteilla because, as Frank says, ‘it’s impossible to think of tarot if Etteilla hadn’t been around and doing what he did,’ namely, conflating the Marseille tarot, fortunetelling cards, and new theories about the Egyptians. The game was, as has been before, initiation. How to be initiated into the mysteries. Now, this was not a novel thing in Etteilla’s time, so one would hardly want to pin that ‘originality’ on him. There is a ‘tradition’ for the desire to have the gates of heaven open. But the way in which Etteilla combined the tradition of reading cards with Catholicism and Orientalism was quite something.
I will not develop an 18th century history section here now, as my head is full of images and souls. Not to mention the bang when, following in Etteilla’s footsteps, Frank uncovered a box of incense made entirely according to Aleister Crowley’s instructions for rituals, with view to living magically – let’s just say that, for the sake of keeping it simple. All this incense was well preserved for ages in pharmaceutical glass bottles, that I now own.
But having come home I wanted to know something. So here’s a lame question, as I’m certain that many must have posed it before. A question that I posed to my own dear original Z. Lismon Etteilla from 1850.
What was Etteilla thinking when he created his grand jeu des tarots?
As the cards below show, he was thinking of sending out a message in the hope that it will be useful. I think I like Etteilla even more tonight for that. How very simple, considering the amount of theories around as to what his motives were.
Many thanks to Frank, Witta, Bent, Frigg, and the man himself, Etteilla.
The ones reading this, enjoy below the pics of very rare material by Etteilla and Papus: