Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading by Camelia Elias
This exciting book by Camelia Elias is a new addition to our small supply of Tarot de Marseille books in English.
We hit the ground running on the first page with an actual reading done in a café. This sets the tone for the book, where every card, and every teaching, is accompanied by a three-card spread illustrated in color.
The essence of Elias’s technique is to tell a concise story with three cards, staying close to the reality of the images. When she amplifies her card meanings with another system, she goes to folk traditions in cartomancy, which she calls the “cunning folk” method.
The heart of the book is a discussion of each trump card. Elias stays with the surface reality of each image and does not indulge in esoteric correspondences or historical speculation. Lists of keywords follow a brief discussion of each card. Health indicators derived from traditional cartomancy show that she doesn’t shy away from topics that many card readers avoid. I particularly enjoyed the “public life” keywords, where she combines two trump cards to describe occupations. Some of my favorites: a professional gambler as the Magician and Wheel of Fortune; or the Hanged Man and Temperance as a yoga instructor.
This book is a special treat for historical deck aficionados, as it’s illustrated with a late 18th-century deck printed in Turin by Carolus Zoya. The deck is in a private collection and can’t be seen anywhere else.
Reading this book was like sitting down with a wise and experienced older sister who shares her lifetime’s experience reading the cards. Packed with practical advice, the book is a load of dynamite disguised as an inexpensive paperback.
I would certainly agree with Ms. Smith, that any additional books relating specifically to the Marseilles Tarot are always received with considerable anticipation. I have, personally, read most of what is available on the subject. Except for the publications written in French. There definitely is a modern interest in alternative perspectives concerning ‘open’ readings relating to the three card ‘Major Arcana’ spread. Camelia Elias’s book further elaborates upon this particular approach toward the Tarot.
I must admit I was taken aback, in her Introduction, that she felt it necessary to mention that she was reluctant to write a book concerning her understanding of the Tarot and was somewhat compelled to do so, by her students. That set a somewhat negative tone, for me, as I started to read her book. I felt, if this is the case, what genuine enthusiasm is she going to offer in her teachings? Is she just going to rehash what her fellow Tarot readers, of high standing, have taught her?
John Fahey once said, about his fellow guitarists of the ‘ American Primitive’ school of guitar playing, that they play “what sounds good to their own ears”. I have a sense that what Camelia talks about in relation to the “cunning folk method” of Tarot card reading is a similar form of transmission. It is a very subjective, intuitive, expression from their active imagination, which does not rely upon formality, structure and tradition. It’s a more ‘Tantric’ path issuing from the outer fringes of creative possibility. Definitely akin to trusting one’s gut feelings.
The drawback, in realtion to this is, it really can’t be taught. In a sense, it is an ‘affliction’ one is blessed with or cursed by. Perhaps, Camelia realized this in her reluctance to write a book about how she reads the Marseilles Tarot. She understands that she cannot impart her particular gift of the ‘cunning folk method’ in a manner that presents itself as a valid ‘instruction book’.
That being said, I did enjoy how she spoke about the cards. Her affection did come across as genuine. What her book lacked for me was, the force of a personally inspired philosophical insight into the human condition that the Tarot encompasses and displays within it’s images. If her book was meant to be an ‘introductory’ overview of the Marseilles Tarot, without the esoteric, historical, perspective, then her offering left much to be desired.
The real jewel, she had at her disposal, was overlooked for the most part. The Zoya Tarot deck is fascinating in relation to it’s place in the evolutionary iconography of the modern decks that have been produced by Ben Dov and Jodorowsky, based upon the Conver Tarot deck. The Zoya Tarot deck, being of Italian origin, should be studied and written about concerning it’s iconographic influences relating to the French school of Tarology, which produced the final appearance of the Marseilles Tarot deck in use today.
If Camelia had written about that aspect of investigation in her book, it would have been a genuine contribution to the study of the Tarot. I am left with the feeling that Carmelia should have put more effort into her work.
Thank you, Michael, for this alternate opinion of the book.