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Tarot History Rant #4: The 22-Card Deck (and why I read the TdM with a full deck)

Moon and Three of Cups from Madenie Tarot de Marseille

You may have heard people say the 22 trumps were grafted onto a pack of playing cards for gaming purposes. Actually, the 22 trump cards and the four suits were always a set. You need 78 cards to play the game of Trionfi/Tarocchi/Tarot. The 22 trump cards were never sold separately until occultists put them on a spiritual pedestal while scorning the suit cards (minor arcana) as a vulgar fortune-telling tool.

Many contemporary French and Italian tarot books discuss only the trump cards. If they deal with the minor arcana at all, it’s with a few lines for each card in the back of the book, as if the author were embarrassed to be caught talking about them.

This attitude seems to be creeping into the Anglo-American Tarot de Marseille (TdM) community. I’ve overheard some rather dogmatic pronouncements that one should never use the suit cards when reading with the TdM; or that beginners should get comfortable reading with just the trumps before taking on the suit cards.

I respectfully and strongly disagree! The suit cards are not problem children that need banishing to the nursery until they learn to behave. In my opinion, a spread with all trumps has too much information. There are so many layers of meaning to each card — how do you sort through it all without suit cards to help narrow your options?

Some teachers say you get all the clarification you need from the trump figure’s gaze and gestures, as well as the repetition of shapes between the cards. I say you can get this with the suit cards just as well. The pips aren’t inert symbols, good only for pigeonholing your keywords. They make gestures, vibrate with energy, and dance with their neighbors.

Reading Example

For my card of the day, I often draw one trump and one suit card and read them as a unit. Last month, on the day of the full moon, I got the cards shown above: the Moon and Three of Cups from the Pierre Madenie deck.

The Cups card mimics the two dogs howling at the moon. The top cup and the moon shape-change into each other. The cards told me to pay attention to the moon and its effects, and reminded me that the full moon this time of year brings extreme low tides. I rearranged my schedule to go tide pooling in the afternoon; and incidentally went to the only beach in town that allows dogs to run free.

The Moon card could have inspired me to stay home and write in my dream journal; or go out for a lobster dinner; or watch the moon rise from the top of a tall building. But the pip card channeled my imagination and showed me exactly how to act on the trump card.


Want to make friends with the pips? This page has tips and exercises to help you

Here’s a post on using the TdM for your card of the day.

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