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Reading the Tarot de Marseilles Suit Cards

One of the biggest hurdles for students of the Tarot de Marseilles is learning to read the suit cards fluently without memorizing a bunch of keywords. I’ve come up with some techniques that ensure you get lots of suit cards to practice with. In fact, I enjoy these techniques so much, they’ve become my favorite spreads.

In my reading style, the suits are the meat and potatoes of the reading. They tell you what’s going to happen, how it’s going to feel, and who’s involved. The trump card derived from the sum of the suit cards is the background situation, the underlying tone of the spread, the lesson, or the archetypal energy working behind the scenes.

I’ve assigned each suit card a core meaning which never changes. If the Two of Cups means falling in love, it’s still going to mean that whether it’s paired with the Star, the Devil, or the Emperor. It will have a different flavor or context, but its core meaning will never fundamentally change.

If you want some ideas on finding your own personal meanings for the suit cards, go over to this cartomancy page.

Here’s the basic method: Set aside the 22 trump cards, then shuffle the suit cards. Lay out two or three suit cards, then get a trump card by taking the sum of the suit cards. Interpret the suit cards first before bringing in the trump as additional  information.

If dealing with two or three suit cards at a time seems intimidating, go over to this blog page to read about working with one suit and one trump card together. Get comfortable with that, then move on to multiple suit cards.

Let’s look at a sample reading using a question that was sent to Dear Abby.

A woman wrote: “I was told I can’t bring my boyfriend to a cousin’s wedding. Is it because they’re trying to limit the number of guests, or is he being snubbed? Should I make an issue out of it?”

I distilled this question to “How can I best handle the wedding situation?”

I set the 22 trump cards aside, shuffled the four suits of the Ancient Italian Tarot, and dealt two cards – the Four of Cups and Eight of Swords. This is what I would tell the Questioner:

The Four of Cups is about emotional containment and reserve. Your cousin’s family doesn’t know your boyfriend very well, or for some reason they’re not comfortable around him. They’re trying to keep the guest list confined to people they see as part of the tribe, and unfortunately, they see your boyfriend as an outsider

The Eight of Swords is even more restrictive, with its sense of something being squeezed inside strong boundaries. It’s possible the family doesn’t have the resources to invite everyone. They have to draw a line somewhere, and your boyfriend falls outside the line.

4 + 8 = 12 = The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man is powerless to do anything. His situation is echoed by that compressed branch in the Eight of Swords. Your cousin’s family believes, for whatever reason, that they have no choice but to not invite your boyfriend. And you have no power to change the situation.

I don’t see any encouragement in these cards for making waves or trying to change their minds. My advice is to take the high road, attend the wedding alone, and don’t mention the issue. Keep your ears open and you may get some clues about what’s behind their attitude.

Readers – How would you interpret this spread? I’d love to see your ideas in the comments section below.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sherryl, I know your first love is Tarot history, but I learn something new and interesting every time I read one of your “tarot tips and techniques” articles. This was no exception. I’m putting this idea into my own reading repertoire immediately. I’m so delighted with how you share your wealth of knowledge here — on many topics. Your blog is becoming such a wonderful resource … just like you!

    March 27, 2016
    • Hello Rebecca,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. They are a ray of sunshine and really inspire me to keep on with the blogging.

      March 27, 2016
  2. Dimitri #


    Do you remove the Court cards from the Minor Arcana so it leaves a total of 36 cards for this style of reading?

    Or… do you include them and treat the number value of the Court cards as Page/Princess (11), Knight (12), Queen (13) and King (14)?

    I’ve used the latter format, adding them up to a Major Arcana like you suggested and have had some interesting results. Thank you.

    February 1, 2021
    • Hi Dimitri, I use the same method you use. But I assign the cards numbers 2, 3, 4, 5. I’m not sure why I did it that way, probably just intuitive. But I’ve since learned that those are the values the court cards have in some systems of scoring the game.

      February 2, 2021

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