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Tarot and Ancient Egypt – A Connection? By Debbie J Challis

A couple of years ago, I wanted to know why there were so many Ancient Egyptian inspired objects in ‘New Age’ shops and what the connections were with tarot. I was put in touch with a historian and practitioner Lena Munday and thought I’d share with you what she wrote:

“A language in itself, a book of occult wisdom, a mode of communication invented by the Ancients that reaches us today despite centuries of persecution, distortion, and neglect…A coded system linked directly to Astrology, Gnosticism, alchemy, ritual magic, and Qabala… The Tarot is a mirror and a map of the soul reflecting the entire spectrum of human experience.

From the infancy of the Fool to the completion and knowledge that finds its embodiment in the World, this system speaks the ancient language of symbols. This book has evolved into a deck comprised of 78 cards, 22 of these are the Major Arcana and the remaining 56 are the Minor Arcana with four suits- Pentacles, Swords, Rods or Wands, and Cups. These number ace to ten and include pages, knights, kings, and queens. For each card, there is an alchemical correspondence, an astrological sign and a number. The deck currently in widespread usage with its myriad of artistic interpretations is based on the pack designed by Pamela Colman Smith under the direction of Arthur Edward Waite whose book ‘The Pictorial Key to the Tarot’ was published in 1910. The occult revival during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries manifested some interesting study although much of this was male-dominated. An exception was the work of Helena Blavatsky who mentioned Tarot in ‘The Secret Doctrine’ and ‘The Unveiling of Isis’ connecting the origins of Tarot with Ancient Egypt.

As a system of occult meaning and esoteric guidance, Tarot was forced underground in Medieval Europe. Disguising the Tarot as a game was a way of enabling practitioners to continue its usage without persecution. It was called ‘The Devil’s Picture Book’ by the Christian Church and heretics using it were put to death. This is why records are patchy and the Tarot appears to only to resurface at certain times. Those in the know always used it, but secretly if they needed to.

Aleister Crowley wrote in ‘The Book of Thoth: A short essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians’ (OTO 1944): ‘the origin of Tarot is quite irrelevant, even if it were certain. It must stand or fall on its own merits.’

Unlike Crowley, many are concerned with Tarot origins and among these historians, practitioners, healers, mystics, and writers there are many who believe the answers do lie firmly in Ancient Egypt. The Theosophers, following on from Madame Blavatsky and her classic work ‘The Secret Doctrine’ (1888) are the alternative Egyptologists, writers that include John Gordon and Katy Noura Butler who assert that Ancient Egypt is more ancient than we think and that the Ancient Egyptians guarded the wisdom and knowledge of Atlantis.

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