Originally posted at the Rhapsodies of the Bizarre fan page on Facebook.
Tarot, and the ancient Egyptian ideas it allegedly preserved, only survived because people couldn't see beneath the surface of the playing cards and the games being played, to grasp what they were actually looking at, the Book of Thoth.
It required the vision and indiscriminate revelation of Court de Gébelin to point out what Tarot was really about. But, why if these were preservations of ancient secrets, would Court de Gébelin feel comfortable revealing the secrets to a bunch of card players at a salon?
That is an interesting question, whose answer is rather complex. For one thing, Tarot was seized upon by Court de Gébelin as just one item in a long list of artifacts he alleged were veiling ancient secrets. The Tarot revelations would not have served the purpose of supporting his overall thesis, that apparently modern items like Tarot cards often point back to an ancient and wiser age, if he had kept quiet about it or only shared it with Freemasons.
Also, in French salon culture, the philosophe, such as Court de Gébelin, was there to instruct and enlighten. Having an apparently sudden revelation about the ancient origin of Tarot allowed Court de Gébelin to show off essentially, and perform his public function at the salon. We have discussed the very different atmosphere in the 18th-century salon, where people were attempting to share information with the literate public, and how occultists have treated Tarot ever since, as a central secret, and one needing to be veiled.
At the same time, occultists have always openly discussed Tarot, always alleging to fix it and make it wholly legible to people attempting to read it or read with it. But at the heart of this seeming beneficence is an essential dissembling, necessary because Tarot became mired in the struggle to prove the authenticity of claims of one occult group and its masters against another. If you revealed all your secrets like you were an 18th-century philosophe showoff, you wouldn't have anything left to peddle or reveal back at your secret order.
So, a concern to establish authority and keep the cash-paying members coming in is the primary root for the notion that Tarot is mysterious, containing secrets only the enlightened can understand.