The Playing-Card Volume 32, Number 2 (2003), pp. 79-88.
[Note from mikeh: Dummett's article is discussed on THF at viewtopic.php?f=11&p=22185#p22179.]
Since Franco Pratesi's article published in The Playing Card in 1989,1 we have
known that fortune-telling with Tarot cards began in Bologna before we
have any evidence that it had begun in France. From Signora Ingallati's book,
we know that the practice has survived to this day. Pratesi's article mentioned a
sheet that he had found in the Library of the University of Bologna,2 on which was
a list of divinatory meanings for 35 of the 62 cards of the Tarocco bolognese; the
list is given in the table at the end of this article. The list was followed on the sheet
by a sentence saying "They are put down in five piles, there being seven cards to
each pile". This shows that the list is not incomplete, but that only the 35 cards
listed were used for divination. It leaves quite unclear the actual method of reading
the cards. In a later article3 Pratesi speculates that the consultant was asked to
choose one of the five face-down piles, and that his fortune was then read from
the seven cards it contained. This is unlikely to be right. Signora Ingallati, a present day
practitioner of cartomancy from Bologna, made her first act, in telling the
fortune of a friend of mine who gallantly volunteered to be a guinea-pig, was to ask
her to distribute the 50 cards she uses into five piles face down. The Signora then
first looked at the bottom card of each pile, and then at each of the piles in turn.
The sheet discovered by Pratesi is included in a folder containing miscellaneous
documents, including a number dated 1772-3. However, because in the list the
lowest court cards of Cups and Coins are each called Fantesca (Maid), but those of
Swords and Batons Fante (Jack), we can date the list to the first half of the XVIII
century: for after 1750 at the latest those court figures of the Tarocco bolognese
and of the Primiera bolognese (the regular pack that shared a standard pattern
with the Bolognese Tarot pack) reverted to being male in all four suits.
Unfortunately, none of the four Papi (Empress, Emperor, Popess and Pope), nor
any of the Moretti or Moors which replaced them in 1725, is among the 35 cards in
the list: we therefore lack this indication of when in the first half of the XVIII
century the list was compiled. It seems probable, however, that it was compiled
after 1725, since it is more understandable that none of the four Moors was used
for divination than that none of the four Papi was.
The earliest evidence of cartomancy with the Tarot pack in France dates from
1770; it is a passing reference to it in the book published in that year by the
cartomancer Jean-Baptiste Alliette, usually known as Etteilla.4 It may of course be
1 F. Pratesi, 'Italian Cards: New Discoveries, no.9', Vol. XVII, May 1989, pp. 136-145. See also R. Decker, T.
Depaulis and M. Dummett, A Wicked Pack of Cards, London, 1996 (referred to in later notes as WPC), pp. 48-51.
2 Bologna, Biblioteca universitaria, 4029, Caps. 119.
3 F. Pratesi, 'Tarot bolonais et Cartomancie', L'As de Trèfle, no. 37, May 1989, pp. 10-11.
4 Etteilla, ou manière de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes, Amsterdam, 1770, pp. 73-4.
that the practice had existed in France for some decades before this first mention
of it in print; but it seems likely that it arose in Bologna before it did in France.We
have no evidence of the practice of telling fortunes by means of cards normally
used for play of any kind, Tarot cards or regular cards, in any European country
before the XVIII century; almost all evidence we have for it dates from after 1750.5
We know from the books by Sigismondo Fanti of 1524 and Francesco Marcolini of
1540, and from the German Losbücher, that fortune-telling, probably not taken very
seriously, was practised in the XVI century.6 From their first arrival in Europe, the
Gypsies told fortunes by means of palmistry; and of course astrologers cast
horoscopes. But it was not until the XVIII century that people began to press almost
every random (chaotic) occurrence into the service of divination; in his work of
1770, Etteilla mentions tin, molten lead, coffee grounds and the white of an egg;
British readers can add tea leaves. Was there a change in the attitude to divination
in the XVIII century? So far as I know, no one has enquired into the question; but
it deserves enquiry.
Tarot cartomancy has persisted in Bologna without interruption from the first
half of the XVIII century to the present day. Its history has been very different
from its French cousin. From Etteilla's first publication of a cartomantic version of
the Tarot pack in 1789 onwards, there has been a continuous tradition in France of
Tarot packs expressly designed to be used for divination; and, since the essays by
Court de Gébelin and the comte de Mellet published in 1781 in Volume VIII of the
former's Monde primitif, there has been a stream of French writings about the Tarot,
attempting to integrate it into the general theory of magic. Nothing of this kind
ever happened in Bologna. Cartomancers there have used the ordinary Tarocco
bolognese, as also used by players of the fascinating and complex variety of the
game of Tarot indigenous to that city; no special form of the Bolognese pack has
ever been devised for cartomantic purposes. Nor, until a book published in 2000,
has anything been written in Bologna about divination by means of playing cards
of any kind. Tarot cards were never credited in Bologna with having been invented
in ancient Egypt, or anywhere else in the ancient world. Nor have they been
associated, as they were in France, with the occult or with the Cabala. They have
simply been used for fortune-telling, just as ordinary playing cards are used in
many countries, and in Bologna itself as well.
Is there nevertheless any connection between French and Bolognese Tarot
cartomancy? If there is any, it can have come only through Etteilla. In his numerous
books written between 1782 and his death in 1791, Etteilla tells several stories
about his own life, by no means scrupulously truthful. I do not believe Etteilla to
5 I mean here fortune-telling by drawing or laying out the cards, without using any supplementary instrument
such as a book. Marcolini's book required the use of a Trappola pack as a randomising device, to determine to
which page of the book to turn at the various stages of the procedure; the prediction was printed on the last
page of the book turned to. That is not cartomancy as we nowadays understand it.
6 See M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot, London, 1980, pp. 94-6.
The Playing-Card Volume 32, Number 2
have been a conscious liar, and think there must be a substratum of truth to all his
stories; but I think he deceived himself into believing embroideries on the facts
that served to his advantage.7 Etteilla spoke of instruction on the Tarot he had
received from the ages of 19 to 27 (thus between 1757 and 1765) from an aged
Piedmontese.8 According to Etteilla, this man called the Tarot pack 'an Egyptian
book' and gave Etteilla notes on the Tarot cards. Etteilla was anxious to prove that
had known about the "book of Thoth" long before the publication of de Gébelin's
eighth volume, and insisted that he had studied it during those years. How much
truth is there in all this?
There is no evidence that Tarot cartomancy flourished at that time in Piedmont;
an Italian speaking of it must probably have been referring to the Bolognese
practice. But of course nothing stands in the way of someone from Piedmont visiting
Bologna. It is therefore perfectly possible that the encounter Etteilla reported did
indeed take place. Mr. Ronald Decker has independently arrived at the same
conclusion. It is unlikely, however, that the young Etteilla took much notice at the
time of what he was told about the Tarot pack, and particularly unlikely that he
was told that it was an Egyptian book: no trace of that fantasy, not derived from
French sources, is known from Italy. Certainly there is no correspondence between
the meanings given to the trumps in the XVIII-century Bolognese list and those
which Etteilla assigned to his trump cards when he began to practise Tarot
cartomancy. The cartomancy that Etteilla practised in the early years, and about
which he wrote in the book of 1770, was carried out with the Piquet pack. It was
only when he became anxious to prove that he had known about Tarot cards for
many years before 1781 that the meeting with the old Piedmontese became in his
memory his initiation into Tarot cartomancy.
Any link between the Bolognese interpretation of the cards of the local form of
the Tarot pack and Etteilla's cartomancy must therefore be looked for in the first
place in the significances assigned in Bologna to the suit cards and those assigned
by Etteilla to cards of the Piquet pack, which he later transferred to corresponding
cards of the Tarot pack; he took Swords to correspond to Spades, Diamonds to
Batons, Hearts to Cups and Clubs to Coins. There is one striking coincidence: in
the XVIII-century Bolognese list, the 10 of Swords means 'tears', and the same
meaning attaches to the 10 of Spades in Etteilla's system. There are some other
7 Thus Etteilla tells that in 1777 he was awarded in Frankfurt the titles of Astro-phil-astres and Magus of
France for a dissertation on trump II of the Tarot pack. As Thierry Depaulis discovered, Etteilla was in
Strasbourg in 1777, acting as a print-seller; at that time he became familiar with Tarot packs in their Tarot
de Marseille and Tarot de Besançon forms. It is therefore possible that be should have visited some occult
group, probably astrological, in Frankfurt, and spoken to them of trump II as the Popess and as Juno. It is
possible also that they should have spoken of him as a Magier von Frankreich or something of the kind. But
the title "Astro-phil-astres" is too preposterous to be credited.
8 Etteilla, Les sept nuances de l'Oeuvre Philosophique-hermétique, Paris, 1786, p. 40. His first biographer,
J.-B. Millet-Saint-Pierre, in Recherches sur le dernier sorcier et la dernière école de magie, Le Havre,
1859, p. 15, gives to Etteilla's Piedmontese instructor the unltalian name of "Alexis", and places their first
meeting in Lamballe, in Brittany.
cards which have the same or similar meanings in the two cases: the Bolognese
Ace of Swords signifies 'a letter', as does Etteilla's Ace of Diamonds; the Bolognese
Ace of Cups signifies 'the house', as does Etteilla's 10 of Clubs; the Bolognese 10 of
Coins signifies 'money', and Etteilla's 10 of Diamonds signifies 'gold'. In these
cases, the cards do not correspond, under Etteilla's system. But too much notice
should not be taken of this, because it will be seen from the table that in the
Bolognese tradition of cartomancy the same meanings wander about from one
card to another, according to the conceptions of different interpreters. Ronald
Decker is convinced that the Bolognese interpretations of the suit cards, and
particularly of the numeral cards, influenced Etteilla's interpretations of the cards
of the French-suited, and eventually of the Tarot, pack. I feel uncertain on the
point. Readers may make up their minds from the forthcoming book by Ronald
Decker, which will accompany a new version of Etteilla's Tarot pack. In the
meantime they may study a table of Etteilla's interpretations of the Piquet pack.9
A Bolognese Tarot pack from the 1820's, whose maker is not known, was
included in the exhibition of Tarot cards held in the Castello Estense in Ferrara in
1987; divinatory meanings, similar but not identical to those in the list found by
Pratesi, were written by hand on the cards.10 Thus the Star was inscribed "Roba"
(things, stuff) rather than "Regalo" (gift), while "Coppi della casa" (roof-tiles of the
house - actually curved pieces holding tiles together) was written on the 9 of Cups
rather than on the 10. The pack was formerly in the collection of Signor Renzo
Salvadè of Bologna, and was again shown in an exhibition at Fiesole in 1988. It is
now in the collection of Signor Silvio Berardi of Bologna. The catalogue of the
Ferrara exhibition gives the pack as consisting of 63 cards;11 in fact, it has only 45,
all of them bearing inscriptions. From that date until now, 45 has been the standard
number of cards used for Tarot cartomancy in Bologna, out of the full pack of 62;
it is not always the same 45 that are used, however.
A recent book by Maria Luigia Ingallati, II Tarocco bolognese,12 might be thought
from its title to be about the very special form of the game of Tarot, Tarocchi
bolognesi or Tarocchino, which still flourishes vigorously in Bologna and its
surroundings. It is not: it is about fortune-telling with the Tarocco bolognese, the
equally special 62-card form of Tarot pack used for that game, which Signora
Ingallati herself practises.
Signor Berardi also has in his collection two other Tarocco bolognese packs
with cartomantic inscriptions by hand, both dating from between 1862 and 1874;
this can be told from the use of the first tax stamp employed by the new Italian
state. One of these two packs is by Carlo Provasi, the other by Alessandro Grandi.
9 Such a table is given in WPC (see note 1), p. 75.
10 See G. Berti and A. Vitali's catalogue of the exhibition, Le carte di corte: i Tarocchi, Bologna, 1987, p. 191,
11 And in WPC, p. 50, it was erroneously stated to comprise 62 cards, all with cartomantic inscriptions.
12 Edizioni Pendragon, Bologna, 2000,114 pp., Euro 15.5.
The Playing-Card Volume 32, Number 2
The Provasi pack consists of 45 cards, all of them with inscriptions. That by
Grandi is an incomplete pack of 57 cards, only 40 of them with inscriptions; but it
may be conjectured that the five missing cards all had inscriptions, making up the
usual total of 45. A friend of Signor Berardi's, Signora Luppi, formerly practised
Tarot cartomancy with 45 cards, and kindly supplied the interpretations she was
accustomed to use. Signora Ingallati testifies in her book that cartomancy with 45
cards of the Tarocco bolognese is still regularly practised today. She herself has
added five cards to the usual 45, in order to have 50 cards with which to tell
fortunes. Thus Tarot cartomancy has continued to be practised in Bologna from
the early XVIII century to the present day.
In her book, Signora Ingallati imports some features from the French tradition
of the esoteric Tarot; she declares that cartomancy takes its origin from ancient
Egypt, where in 2000 B.C. 22 gold plates were found which bore the names of the
Major Arcana (the tramps). In listing the divinatory meanings of the cards, she
arranges the trumps or Arcani in the order and with the nomenclature and
numbering of those in the Tarocco piemontese, which of course follows those of
the Tarot de Marseille. She illustrates them, however, by the trumps of the Tarocco
bolognese with corresponding subjects. This naturally has the consequence that
the numbers she assigns to the Arcani frequently differ from those shown on the
cards illustrated. She also calls astrology in aid of her cartomantic method. This,
however, is a feature of her personal technique, just as the ideas derived from
French cartomancy are due to her rather than to Bolognese tradition.
The book is nevertheless a useful guide to the traditional practice. The author
explains that she has adopted a method using 50 cards of the pack, instead of the
45 cards used by other Bolognese cartomancers of the present day; in a letter she
kindly informed me which were the five cards she added. The meanings she assigns
to the suit cards and to two of the Moretti are in accordance with "the ancient
culture of Bolognese cartomancers"; and for each of the trumps she gives the
traditional meaning alongside that which she prefers to adopt. She has somewhat
eccentrically included among the cards she has added the Joker, labelled la Matta,
often included with modern Tarocco bolognese packs, but never used in play.
The accompanying table shows the divinatory meanings assigned to the cards
in the various sources. The first column, headed "1700-1750", shows those given
in the list discovered by Pratesi. The second column shows the inscriptions in the
pack once exhibited in the Castello Estense, and now part of Signor Berardi's
collection. The third column shows those in the pack made by Provasi, a question
mark indicating inscriptions difficult to read. The fourth column shows the
inscriptions on the pack made by Grandi; here a double question mark indicates a
missing card; conjecturally this will have borne a divinatory inscription. The fifth
column gives the meanings attributed by Signor Berardi's friend, Signora Luppi.
The sixth column gives the meanings excerpted from Signora Ingallati's book for
45 cards. Finally, the last column gives the meanings ascribed by her to 50 cards.
The five cards which Signora Ingallati informed me that she added to the 45
traditionally used were the Matta, the 9 of Coppe, one of the Moretti and the 10
and 6 of Denari, the last of which she takes to signify 'tears'. The same meaning
was given to the same card both in the pack from the 1820s and in that by Grandi;
this meaning is given to the 7 of Denari in the pack by Provasi and by Signora
Luppi. On the other hand, the 7 of Spade does not belong to the 35 or 45 cards
assigned cartomantic meanings in any of the other sources, although it is not one
of those said by Signora Ingallati to have been added by her to the 45 cards
traditionally used. I therefore conjecture that Signora Ingallati suffered a lapse of
memory in writing to me, and that the 7 of Spade was one of the cards she added,
and not the 6 of Denari: I have followed this conjecture in compiling the penultimate
column of the table. I have also conjectured, with much less assurance, that the
Moretto added by her was not that which she interprets as intrigo, but that she
labels the medico, and have followed this conjecture, too, in the table.
Signora Ingallati describes some elaborate layouts, also used by traditional
cartomancers (but with only 45 cards).
29 cards have cartomantic meanings (not always the same) in every list: Angelo,
Mondo, Sole, Luna, trumps 16,14,11, 9, 7, and 6, Begato, Matto, Re di Spade, Re,
Regina, Cavallo, Fante (sea) and Asso di Denari, Re, Regina, Cavallo, Fante and
Asso di Bastoni, Re, Regina, Cavallo, Fante(sca), Asso and 10 di Coppe. 5 cards
have cartomantic meanings in none of the lists: one Moretto, the 9 and the 8 di
Spade, the 10 di Bastoni and the 8 di Coppe. The Matta and (if my conjecture is
correct) the 7 di Spade appear only in the last column.
I could not have written this article without the kind help of several people. First is Signor
Silvio Berardi of Bologna, who with the greatest kindness sent me photocopies of all the
cards with cartomantic inscriptions in three packs in his collection, together with a list of
his readings of those inscriptions and information about the dates of two of the packs.
When I was in Bologna, he kindly showed me these packs and also gave me a list of
cartomantic meanings supplied by a friend of his, Signora Luppi, who used to practise
Tarot cartomancy. I am grateful to her also for kindly taking the trouble to write down
these meanings on the cards of a modern pack. I have had very useful information about
present-day cartomantic practice from Signora Ingallati, also of Bologna, and author of a
book on the subject mentioned above. Finally, I have received very useful discussion of
Etteilla's possible contact with an Italian cartomancer from Mr. Ronald Decker. I accord
my grateful thanks to all of these people who have so greatly assisted me.