The Oswald Wirth Deck
Oswald Wirth was born on august 5, 1860 in Brienz, Switzerland. Around 1880 he went to Paris where he joined the army. After his military service, he worked both as an artist and accountant and got interested in the occult. He befriended the famous Italian artist and occultist Stanislas de Guaita. This friendship ultimately resulted in 1889 in the publication of the tarot deck Les 22 Arcanes du Tarot du Tarot dessinés a l’usage des initiés sur les indications de Stanislas de Guaita. (published by Georges Poirel). This was a limited edition of ca. 100 beautifully hand colored copies and is very rare. The exact quantity of this edition is somewhat unclear. It is interesting that another famous occultist from Fin de Siècle Paris, Papus, in the same period published (other)images of the cards of the major arcana of the tarot in his famous work Le Tarot des Bohémiens.
The Oswald Wirth Tarot deck shown on these pages however, is a later version, published by AG Mueller (Switzerland) and by US Games Systems (USA) in 1976. The images are newly colored by Tchou Editeur of Paris. The 22 cards of the major arcana are designed as originally by Oswald Wirth, the 56 cards of the minor arcana are designed in style as he might have envisioned them.
The Oswald Wirth tarot is based on the Marseille tarot. Additionally, each of the 22 cards of the major arcana contains the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as Wirth strongly supported Eliphas Levi’s theory that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet were directly related the 22 cards of the major arcana of the tarot.
We offer two decks of the 1976 US Games edition, one of which has a stock of cards still in its original cellophane wrapper. Both decks come with a small leaflet of instructions.
In both cases the cards are in good condition, the boxed show some wear and tear. The box of the cards shown on these pages has a small sticker on the side, mentioning Librairie des Science Occultes.
The text on the cards is in French, the cards are colored in primary colors with a metallic brightness.
Unfortunately, the original images of the 22 cards of the major Arcana as they were originally designed by Oswald Wirth are not (yet) in our possession, since the sheer openness and accessibility of those images strongly reflect the sentiments of the insecure and volatile society in those days (among many other political developments, in 1890 France secured a secret agreement of defence with Russia anticipating an eventual future German invasion). However, the strong images of the 1976 version still succeeded maintaining the strong lining and colouring, characteristic for that time, (see also as the cards from the Papus deck), their unimaginative style illustrating the uneasiness of fin de siècle France.
In 1969 Elisabeth Haich (1897-1994) published a book on tarot Die zweiundzwanzig Bewusstseinstufen des Menschen (a.k.a. Wisdom of the Tarot). Accompanying this edition were the 22 cards of the major arcana, created in the style of Oswald Wirth. For the edition of 1969 (J. Fink Verlag) there are no borders. The edition on these pages is from 1983 (Drei Eichen Verlag). The borders of these cards are ornamented. The cards have no retro and are in mint condition. The book is not available.
As a special, we offer also images of the complete Major Arcana of the original version published in 1889. These images are absolutely stunning in their powerful simplicity. The viciousness and the zeal of the fleece ridden cat attacking the ‘unnumbered one’ gives you truly goosebumps and makes you almost feel sorry for its victim.