Divinatory Meanings for the Tarot de Marseille
At the bottom of an old carton, I recently found a file folder stuffed with divinatory meanings (DMs) for the Tarot de Marseille (TdM) pip cards. When I began reading with historic decks about 20 years ago, I bought European TdM books, snapped up English language books when they became available, and downloaded lists of card meanings online. Then I took copious notes and made charts comparing various authors’ meanings.
I pulled the 4 of Swords out of a deck at random and listed the DMs for that card given by the eleven authors in my folder:
Etteilla 1785: upright: solitude, retreat, hermitage, banishment, remote, the tomb
Reversed: economy, good management, foresight, discretion, precautions
Arthur Edward Waite 1911: upright: retreat, solitude, the tomb
Reversed: circumspection, economy, wise administration
Paul Marteau 1949: Mysticism, a growing understanding of the ideal, slow flowering of realization, beginning of a plan
Antonia Matiuzzi 1987: closed off, excessive defensiveness, isolation, the tomb
Colette Silvestre-Haeberle 1998: perseverance, overcoming difficulties, perfect balance
Alejandro Jodorowsky 2004: upright: rationality, practical mind, scientific intelligence
Reversed: excessive rationality that excludes intuition and poetry, rigid mind
Diego Meldi 2007: solitude, a period of waiting, feeling oppressed or alone and wanting to escape
Judith Charles 2008: with positive cards: triumph over problems, stabilizing relationships
With negative cards: solitude, misunderstood, mental troubles
Claude Darche 2008: rigid, dogmatic, stuck in a problem you can’t overcome. You must extricate yourself
Yoav Ben Dov 2013: upright: A situation that is stable but limited, pushing against boundaries, constraints
Reversed: limited, confined, giving up trying to break out of your oppressive situation
Centroisa.com accessed 2016: upright: solitude which is creative and productive
Reversed: unfortunate events in work or professional life
Some random thoughts on this list of card meanings:
- In more ways than one, Etteilla is the founding father of modern tarot reading. His divinatory meanings have had a huge influence on subsequent tarotists.
- Etteilla is the reason A. E. Waite, occultist and creator of the Waite Smith tarot, is included in an article about the Tarot de Marseille. Several years ago, James Revak calculated that 49% of Waite’s divinatory meanings were derived from Etteilla. Many of the illustrations on the WS pip cards illustrate Etteilla. As you can see, Etteilla’s DMs have been taken up by many authors.
- Etteilla’s upright and reversed meanings often have no relationship to each other. He started his career reading with French-suited cards, and claimed to have been trained by Italian cartomancers. So his card meanings may come from an old oral tradition.
- People ask if there’s a “tradition” for TdM reading. Etteilla’s DMs infuse modern interpretations of the cards. If you read enough books, you get the feeling there’s a loose consensus among card readers, and you can easily spot the authors who are outside the mainstream, or who base their card meanings on occult correspondences. The best mainstream book in English is Tarot: The Open Reading by Yoav Ben-Dov.
- Paul Marteau may have popularized the term Tarot de Marseille and made it the standard European tarot deck, but otherwise he seems to be off on his own metaphysical cloud.
- I did a happy dance whenever an author connected card meanings to the actual image. They mentioned how the flower in the Four of Swords seems constricted behind a thick a wall, and how the card’s symmetry feels static.
- Which leads me to my number one rule for card meanings: if you can’t support your meanings with the imagery, then they’re just abstract concepts you have to memorize.
Cards are a visual language!
When I give a reading, do I remember any of these DMs? Not consciously.
Did I waste my time reading all those books and taking such extensive notes? I hope not!
I like to imagine all that book learning sifting down to my subconscious, like autumn leaves settling on a forest floor and turning to mulch.
Ask if you want the names of any of the books I used. It would be tedious to list them all here, and few of them are in English.
Cards illustrated at top, clockwise from top left:
Marshmallow Marseille by Wandering Oracle (Based on a 1790 deck)
Rosenwald deck (@1500) restored by Tarot Sheet Revival (Sullivan Hismans)
Tarocco Milanese 1850 by Il Meneghello
Tarocco Soprafino 1835 by Il Meneghello