Three New Tarot de Marseille Books
Things have certainly changed since I began reading with the TdM around the turn of the millennium. Back then there were no books in English on the subject; so I spent a fortune on shipping for a small collection of books in French. Since then there have been almost no other basic TdM books in English. I recently found three books that show the tide is turning.
Tarot Triumphs: Using the Marseilles Tarot Trumps for Divination and Inspiration. Cherry Gilchrist. Weiser Books, 2016. 290 pages.
I’ll start with the best of the lot, a solid beginner’s book with everything you need to get started. Gilchrist runs through the trumps three times. At the very start of the book she pulls us into a 15th-century street scene where the trumps roll past as larger-than-life allegorical figures on theatrical floats. I experienced a bit of vertigo standing on a 15th-century Italian street, seeing 18th-century French Tarot de Marseille figures, and hearing one trump referred to by its 19th century occultist name, High Priestess. Although Gilchrist is very aware of early tarot history and refers to it often, her book is based on the Grimaud TdM, the most widely used deck in France. All illustrations are black and white line drawings of this deck.
The second run-through of the trumps gives a quick description and a few keywords to get you started with divination. The third time is a longer description discussing each card as allegory and myth with a good grounding in history.
She organizes the trumps into a pattern of three sets of seven cards, as do many authors. Her take on the meaning of the sets: Trumps 1 through 7 are actual people, roles we play, or parts of one’s personality. Trumps 8 to 14 are ways of responding to the environment and handling situations. Trumps 15 to 21 are energies from a transpersonal realm.
I’ve never been fond of large spreads, especially with the TdM. I rarely pull more than two or three cards at a time. But Gilchrist makes an interesting point. The entire trump suit is a pattern, just as the entire night sky is a complete pattern. You wouldn’t cast a horoscope and only use three planets, or one little slice of the sky; so why would you lay out a spread using only three cards out of the entire deck? She gives a rather elaborate spread using all 22 trumps that inspires me to research how other authors have treated this technique.
The Authentic Tarot: Discovering Your Inner Self. Thomas Saunders. Watkins Media, 2007. 170 pages.
This book is illustrated with the Grimaud deck in black and white. There’s an insert with the 22 trumps, court cards and a few pip cards in color, about three-quarter size, as well as a color insert with the trumps arranged in three rows of 7 cards each.
The history chapter starts with tarot’s mysterious origins and goes downhill from there. In just seven pages it crams in Gypsies, Cathars, Knights Templar, the 1392 Gringonneur deck, Great Mother worship, the church’s supposed persecution of tarot, and Eliphas Levi. He refers to Barbara Walker, De Gebelin and Many P. Hall as tarot scholars. The likes of Dummett, Vitali, and De Paulis don’t make the cut. Do yourself a favor and skip this chapter.
In his favor, he rejects occultist attempts to create a grand unified theory of everything by attributing sounds, scents, colors, astrology, numerology, letters of the alphabet, stations on the Tree of Life, and the kitchen sink to the cards.
Saunders organizes the trumps into three sets of seven and overlays them with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. We’re given a quick run-through of the hero’s journey, a choice of several numerological systems, and a dictionary of symbols. The personality profiles for each court card are very helpful if you’re having a hard time relating to these figures. His 21-card spread is laid out in three rows of seven and read from the center like a Lenormand grand tableau.
If you’re just getting started with the Tarot de Marseille and feel intimidated by Jodorowsky and other masters, both of these books are good places to start.
Tarot By The Slice: A Look at Features, Elements, Numbers, Suits, Sex and Archetypes. Karen S. and T. Magus Miller. Self-published, San Bernardino, CA 2017. 137 pages.
The authors quote liberally from their main influences: Jodorowsky, Ben-Dov and Enriquez. The book is illustrated with Yoav Ben-Dov’s CBD Tarot and the Burdel facsimile produced by Yves Reynaud, both in black and white.
Each “slice” is a topic: suit, number, element, gender, the story in the trumps. The book’s strong point is its treatment of the suits. If you want to study the pips by combining suit and number, this is a good place to start.
Something I’ve not seen in any other book: pages with spaces where you lay cards of different suits on the page next to diagrams of overlapping circles and keywords that show how the two suits interact to form a third entity.
Trumps are discussed as the story of the Fool’s journey to integration and authenticity. Their paradigms for this journey are Pinocchio, The Velveteen Rabbit, and the Wizard of Oz. The book ends with sample readings using several different spreads including one they invented using two overlapping drum hoops to indicate spread positions. The descriptions are sketchy and baffling.
This 135-page book is good for beginners who want a taste of the TdM without investing a lot of time. You will learn enough to decide if you want to continue your studies.