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MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
Posts: 443
translating Etteilla

I wrote that for Etteilla
...the tarot outlines the steps of spiritual healing and so is "spiritual medicine" (Etteilla's phrase in the 2nd Cahier), comparable in its sphere to the elixir of alchemy.
In French the phrase I translated as "spiritual medicine" is “medécine de l’esprit.” The problem is that in French the word “esprit” is broader than the English word “spirit”; it can also be translated as “mind.”

The same is true in German. “Geist” means more than “spirit”; Hegel’s “Phaenomenologie des Geistes” for example is translated as both “Phenomenology of Spirit” and “Phenomenology of Mind” (

In Etteilla’s case, the phrase “medécine de l’esprit” occurs on p. 182, in the Supplement to the 2nd Cahier. It is in Etteilla’s later thoughts addressed to p. 68 of the 2nd Cahier, where he called himself “Médecin de l’esprits,” physician of spirits—or physician of minds. Which is better, in English? Well, on p. 68 the full clause is
Médecin purement des esprits, ainsi que je le démontre dans le Fragment qui termine le troisieme Cahier de cet Ouvrage, je ne pourrois offrir que des cures toutes intellectuelles, l'esprit n'en ayant pas besoin d'autres;...
Or in English:
Physician purely of spirits [or minds], as I demonstrate in the Fragment which ends the third book of this Work, I could offer only intellectual cures, the spirit [or mind] having no need of others.
The word “intellectuelles” suggests that “mind” is the more appropriate translation. However it is not “mind” in the sense of “the exercise of the rational faculty,” as for example by scientists or lawyers, but a broader sense (Hermetic, but for all I know also that in ordinary French), in which the Hermetic deity himself is called “nous,” Greek for “mind.” The human mind acquires the higher knowledge of the divine mind not by reasoning alone, but by all the mental faculties. Jung’s classification of mental faculties or “functions” gives us some idea: the faculties of the mind include thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuition.

In 18th century French, even the word we translate as “to think,” “penser,” is broader than the English word “think,” which corresponds to the Jungian function of thinking. When Descartes (17th century, but the same) said, “Cogito ergo sum,” he was thinking “Je pense, ainsi je suis”; “penser” includes not just the rational faculty, but all the other Jungian functions, especially what we would term “experiencing.” It is not “I reason, therefore I am,” because an evil demon might be fooling him into thinking he is reasoning, when he only imagines that he does so, like a mad person who doesn’t know his thinking is off. It is more “I experience, therefore I am”—even an evil demon could not create the illusion that he is experiencing something, because the illusion itself is an experience. As Descartes says (,
But what, then, am I? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives.
Another word that does not translate easily from 18th Century French into modern English is “Science,” which includes more than what we would consider “science”: it includes all that is capable of being accessed by the mind; “knowledge” is closer, or perhaps “the process of obtaining knowledge.” So when you see “knowledge” in my translations, probably the French word is “science”; another word that could be translated as “knowledge” is “connaissance”; that word I translate as “acquaintance.”

I would appreciate comments by others on these issues, especially those more familiar with French and other Western European languages than I.

I find it interesting that in the 2nd Cahier Etteilla rarely uses the word “divination” and never speaks of “predicting” the future by means of the “Book of Thot.” Its function is “médecine de l’esprit.” I will try to translate more of the context in which that expression occurs. Hopefully I will get some help from a friend who teaches French, as here the going gets rougher.
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