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Tarot History

From: Destiny G.
Sent on: Sunday, April 6, 2014 5:41 PM


TAROT HISTORY Marseille Tarot

Le Bateleur from Jean Dodal's 18th century Marseille Tarot, published in Lyon for the export market. The Marseille Tarot (or Tarot of Marseille), also widely known by the French designation Tarot de Marseille, is one of the standard patterns for the design of tarot cards. It is the pattern from which subsequent tarot decks derive either directly or by way of decks that themselves derive from it.

Origins of the Marseille Tarot pattern

According to leading author Michael Dummett, Tarot has been invented in northern Italy in the fifteenth century. It is at times referred to as the Milan pattern. Proponents of the Dummet theory of origin claim that tarot cards were introduced into southern France from northern Italy when the French conquered Milan in the Piedmont in 1499. The antecedents of the Marseille Tarot would then have been introduced into southern France at around that time. The game of tarot is claimed to have died out in Italy but survived in France and Switzerland. However, alternative theories suggest that the Milan pattern is not the oldest. The case has been made by many that the Marseilles pattern deck has a medieval origin. In any case, when the game from France was introduced, or reintroduced, into northern Italy in the 17th or 18th century, the Marseille-type design of the cards became dominant.

Marseille Tarot

The name Tarot de Marseille is not of particularly ancient vintage; it was used by Romain Merlin in 1859, gained a little wider usage with Papus's Le Tarot de bohémiens, and gained prominence in the 1930s through the French cartomancer and publisher Paul Marteau, inheritor of the famous family publishing house Grimaud. Prior to this, it tended to simply be called as 'Jeux de Tarot', the 'de' ('of') having the ambiguous meaning similarly found in English between 'from' and 'about'. Differences in design style would be referred to by the publisher details usually depicted on the two coins card. Through the publishing of a deck based very closely on the Conver deck, this latter indeed originating in Marseille, he introduced this collective name to a variety of closely related designs that were being made in the city of Marseille in the south of France, a city that was one amongst other centres of playing card manufacture. The Marseille Tarot is one of the standards from which many tarot decks of the nineteenth century and later are derived.


Like other Tarot decks, the Marseille Tarot contains fifty-six cards in the four standardsuits. In French language versions of the Marseille Tarot, those suits are identified by their French names of Bâtons, Épées (Swords), Coupes (Cups), and Deniers (Coins). These count from Ace to 10. As well, there are four court cards in each suit: a Valet, Chevalier or Cavalier (Horse-rider or Knight), Reine (Queen) and Roi (King). Many tarotists nowadays, whether English- or French-speaking call these court and pip cards minor arcana ("arcanes mineures" in French). The court cards are sometimes called "Les Honneurs" or "Les Lames Mineures de Figures" in French, and "Royal Arcana" in English. There are also the standard twenty-two trump cards. At times, the Fool, which is normally unnumbered except in rare instance (and then as either zero or as twenty-two), is at times considered as separate or additional to the other twenty-one numbered trumps. These twenty-two cards, in addition to their appelation as trumps are often also referred to as the major arcana or Atouts (or 'Arcanes majeures' in French).

I. Le Bateleur (The Mountebank, The Juggler, The Magician)
II. La Papesse (The Papess, or The Female Pope)
III. L'Impératrice (The Empress)
IV. L'Empereur (The Emperor)
V. Le Pape (The Pope)
VI. L'Amoureux (The Lover)
VII. Le Chariot (The Chariot)
VIII. La Justice (Justice)
IX. L'Hermite (The Hermit)
X. La Roue de Fortune (The Wheel of Fortune)
XI. La Force (Strength, or Fortitude)

XII. Le Pendu (The Hanged Man)
XIII. La Mort [Death, often left un-named, but called 'L'Arcane sans nom']
XIV. Tempérance (Temperance)
XV. Le Diable (The Devil)
XVI. La Maison Dieu (The House of God, or The Tower)
XVII. L'Étoile (The Star)
XVIII. La Lune (The Moon)
XIX. Le Soleil (The Sun)
XX. Le Jugement (Judgement)
XXI. Le Monde (The World)
no number. Le Mat or Fou (The Fool)


The XIII card is generally left unnamed in the various old and modern versions of the Tarot de Marseille, but it is worth noting that in the Noblet Tarot Marseille (circa 1650), the card is named LAMORT (Death). In at least some printings of the French/English bilingual version of the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille, the XIII card is named "La Mort" in French and named "Death" in English. In many modern tarot decks (e.g., Waite-Smith), the XIII card is named Death. In at least one 19th century Italian tarot deck (e.g., the one photoreproduced by Italian publisher Lo Scarabeo as the "Ancient Italian Tarots" deck), the card is named "IL TREDICI" (Thirteen). The use of obviously Christian traditional images (such as the Pope, Devil, the Grim Reaper and the Last Judgement) and indeed controversial Christian images such as La Papesse — often thought to represent the legendary Pope Joan awned controversies from the Renaissance to the present. One variant on the Tarot de Marseille, now called the SwissTarot or the Tarot of Besancon , removes the controversial Papess and Pope and, in their stead, puts Juno with her peacock , and Jupiter eagle. More recent decks, following a suggestion by Court de Gebelin, often rename the Papess as the "High Priestess", and the Pope as the "Hierophant". During the French Revolution, the Emperor and Empress cards became the subject of similar controversies and were displaced by Grandfather and Grandmother. The Valet de Bâtons (i.e., Page of Batons) is another card worth noting in this regard. In the Tarot de Marseille, the title of that card generally appears on the side of the card, while in some old versions of the Tarot de Marseille that card, along with either some or all others, is left unnamed. As to the east of the French centre is the Besancon Tarot (Swiss) Junon-Jupiter (II-V) variant, so to the north are variants such as the Beligian Tarot (Flemish) decks that replace the Papesse and the Pope with, respectively, the 'Spanish Captain' ("Le'Spagnol Capitano Eracasse") and Bacchus ("Bacus").

Later history of Tarot

Each card, whether in the major arcana or minor arcana, was originally printed from a woodcut; the cards were later coloured either by hand or by the use of stencils. One well-known artisan producing tarot cards in the Tarot de Marseille style was Nicolas Conver, who produced one early attested deck in 1760. Other early attested decks in the Tarot de Marseille family of decks include Jean Noblet's (circa 1650) and Jean Dodal's (circa 1701). The chief use of the deck originally was very likely to play the game of tarot, also known as tarock [German] or tarocco [Italian]; the use of tarot in divination is also attested in the eighteenth century in the journals of Casanova. It was the Conver deck, or a deck very similar to it, that came to the attention of Antoine Court de Gebelin in the late eighteenth century. Court de Gébelin's writings, which contained much by way of speculation as to the supposed Egyptian origin of tarot cards and their symbols, brought tarot to the attention of other Freemasons and those having esoteric or occult interest. The Chosson and Payen decks became the model for most subsequent Marseille-type tarot decks, now claimed or recognised to perhaps have some important symbolic content, and considered esoterically or occultly significant. Following De Gébelin's writing, however, other decks claiming to 'restore' imagery began to emerge, the first of these designed by Etteilla (his name Alliette reversed). Catromancy with the Tarot was definitely being practised throughout France by the end of the eighteenth century; Alexis-Vincent-Charles Berbiguier reported an encounter with two "sibyls" who divined with Tarot cards in the last decade of the century at Avignon.

The place and influence of the Marseille tarot in French and English Tarot design and usage

In the English-speaking world, where there is little or no tradition of using tarots as playing cards, tarot decks only became known through the efforts of occultists influenced by French tarotists such as Etteilla, and later, Eliphas Levi. These occultists later produced esoteric decks that reflected their own ideas, and these decks were widely circulated in the anglophone world. Various esoteric decks such as the Waite Smith deck (conceived by A. E. Waite and rendered by Pamela Colman Smith), and the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot deck (conceived by Aleister Crowley and rendered by Lady Frieda Harris) -- and tarot decks inspired by those two decks -- are most typically used. Waite, Colman Smith, Crowley and Harris were all former members of the influential, Victorian-era Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at different respective points in time; and the Golden Dawn, in turn, was influenced by Lévi and other French occult revivalists. Although there were various other respective influences (e.g., Etteilla's pip card meanings in the case of Waite/Colman Smith), Waite/Colman Smith's and Crowley/Harris' decks were greatly inspired by the Golden Dawn's member-use tarot deck and the Golden Dawn's tarot curriculum. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was essentially the first in the Anglophone world to venture into esoteric tarot. Francophone occultists such as Court de Gebelin, Etteilla, Eliphas Lévi, Oswald Wirth and Papus were influential in fashioning esoteric tarot in the French-speaking world; the influence of these Francophone occultists has come to bear even on interpretation of the Tarot de Marseille cards themselves. Even though the Tarot de Marseille decks are not 'occult' "per se", the imagery of the Tarot de Marseille decks arguably shows Hermectic influences (e.g., alchemy, astronomy, etc.). In the French-speaking world, users of the tarot for divination and other esoteric purposes such as Alexander Jodorowsky, Kris Hadar and many others, continue to use the Tarot de Marseille, although Oswald Wirth's Atouts-only (major-arcana) tarot deck has enjoyed such popularity in the 20th century (albeit less so than the Tarot de Marseille). Tarot decks derived from the some 20th century designs, such as the Waite-Smith others, have also gained some popularity in French-speaking countries. Although the "Tarot de Marseille" was used in earlier times for the playing of the game of tarot, it is generally not used for this purpose any longer. Instead, for that purpose, tarot-style "gaming" decks are used. Tarot game decks generally have numbered trumps and a Fool card with non-esoteric designs that do not include the Tarot de Marseille iconography and with minor arcana cards that closely reflect regular French playing cards. Paul Marteau pioneered the number-plus-suit-plus-design approach to interpreting the numbered minor arcana cards ['pip cards'] of the Tarot de Marseille. Prior to Marteau's book Le Tarot de Marseille (which was first published "circa" 1930s), cartomantic meanings (such as Etteilla's) were generally the only ones published for interpreting Marseille pip cards. Even nowadays, as evidenced by tarot readings of members of French-language tarot lists and forums on the Internet, some employ only the major arcana cards for divination. In fact, in recognition of this, many French-language Tarot de Marseille tarot books (even good ones, such as Picard's) discuss the symbolism and interpretation of only the major arcana. Many fortune-tellers in France who use the "Tarot de Marseille" for readings will use only the major arcana and will use an Etteilla deck if they are to use all 78 cards for the reading. Many of the images of the Waite-Smith tarot are derived from the "Tarot de Marseille", with, admittedly, signs of influence from other decks also apparent such as, e.g., the 17th century Jacques Vieville deck for the Sun card and the 16th century Sola Busca deck for certain pip cards (notably the three and seven swords). The 19th century deck of Swiss-French occultist Oswald Wirth was also influential for certain of the iconographic features of the trumps of the Waite-Smith tarot deck.

English translation and usage of the term 'Tarot de Marseille'

The term "Tarot de Marseille" has, in the past, most often been translated into English as "Tarot of Marseilles" because of the English spelling "Marseilles" for the city whose name in French is spelled "Marseille" and in Spanish "Marsella" (traditional English spellings for many famous geographical locations differ from the foreign spelling, e.g. 'Moscow' for 'Moskva' in Russia, 'Cologne' for 'Köln' in Germany, 'English Channel' for the French 'Manche', etc.). The English usage of the name 'Marseille' is gradually enjoying greater, concurrent usage to describe the city generally; likewise, the alternate English translation "Tarot of Marseille" for the French term "Tarot de Marseille" is gradually increasing in usage. Others have also tended to use the initials '"TdM"', allowing for ambiguity as to whether the 'M' stands for 'Marseille' or 'Milan', a region claimed for the origins of the image-design.

In deference to the common appelation 'Marseille' for the style and in recognition that the deck appears in other places, the term 'Marseille-style' is at times also used.

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