Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Paul Marteau: On Four Arcana of the Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

The desultory notes published previously provide some measure of context for the following article by Paul Marteau, the existence of which has gone unnoticed in the Tarot literature, with one equally obscure exception, and which gives great insight into Marteau’s work, with one caveat.

In effect, the notion that the Tarot originated, or, as in some iterations of the myth, developed initially, in France, and more precisely in Provence or Marseilles, has grown beyond mere parochialism. Various historical events and figures have been invoked in support of this historically-unfounded theory; the Cathars, the Troubadours, Mary Magdalene, Abbot Suger, and, as we shall see, the Phocæan Greek colony of Massalia, modern-day Marseilles. This notion, hinted at by Eugène Caslant in his preliminary exposé to Marteau’s book, is not to be found in Caslant’s earlier article for Le Voile d’Isis in 1928, and he merely attributes it to “the occult tradition,” whatever that may be, without providing any further indications.

Why Marteau chose not to include these prefatory remarks in his 1949 work is unknown; perhaps the documents and letters held in the Bibliothèque nationale or Marteau’s unpublished diaries contain the answer.

Read the remainder of this article on our Ko-Fi page.

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Le Tarot Perino: A Traditional Tarot of the 21st Century

Translator’s Introduction

We have previously mentioned the work of the artist-engraver Thomas Perino, detailing his meticulous and inspired engraving of a Tarot deck according to the traditional means of production, and we have also translated an insightful essay on the importance of this artistic endeavour. Now, it gives us great pleasure to announce the imminent publication of Thomas Perino’s Tarot deck, along with an accompanying book, via the medium of crowdfunding. Please support this remarkable and worthwhile project here.


Le Tarot Perino:

A Traditional Tarot of the 21st Century

Le Feu Sacré publishers have the joy and honour of publishing a unique Tarot of Marseille deck, that of the artist-engraver Thomas Perino, drawn according to the Conver Tarot canon (1760).

Engraved on basswood woodblocks (lime/linden tree) by the craftsman, each one of the seventy-eight cards of this deck has been the object of the most minute attention, in the pure respect of the tradition of the cardmakers of yore. The blocks were then assembled and printed in a single giant block in Michael Woolworth’s workshop. The print thus obtained was painted by hand by Thomas Perino. This print, acquired in 2022 by the Musée Français de la carte à jouer (the Playing Card Museum), is the one which served as the basis for the manufacture of these cards. These cards are reproduced in their original size of 8x16cm.

This complete deck of the Tarot Perino is the link between the Ancients and the Moderns: conceived and produced over five full years, it is introduced in this edition by a new generation of writers, all tarologists and passionate about the Tarot. Resolutely oriented towards poetry, these authors consider the Tarot as a daily practice, a science for today, a way of life which blends together action, pleasure, study, work and spirituality. Only a publishing house based on literature, literature as a permanent poem, as a restorative fiction and as a philosophy of the future, could engender such a Tarot.

Thomas Perino Says a Few Words

26 August, 2022

Two years ago, in my little garret and throughout the pandemic that gave us a lot of solitude and free time, I was putting the finishing touches to my Tarot deck, which I had begun five years earlier. It was with a lot of emotion and gratitude that I discovered that this action, absurd at first glance, had been welcomed with great kindness by a great number of people. Among them, some extended the kindness and trust to propose to publish this Tarot deck.

Aurélien Lemant was the first to speak of this to me, on behalf of Le Feu Sacré publishers. Warren Lambert produced a film on the printing of the engravings by Michael Woolworth’s workshop. Finally, Pacôme Thiellement wrote a beautiful text to give an account of this work. It is therefore not insignificant that these three accomplices in addition to myself were brought together to write a book which would accompany the Tarot deck produced from these engravings. I hope that once again the magic will be effected and that there will be those among you who will wish to support this project which has accompanied me for so many years. And please do not hesitate to share this publication.



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André Virel: Around the World in a Few Lines

Translator’s Introduction

The previous instalment, André Virel’s Two Images of the Tarot of Marseilles, examined the relations between the cards XIII and Le Mat from a perspective akin to that of the form of tarology which considers the Tarot as an optical language. The succeeding sub-chapter of the same article, Around the World in a Few Lines, adopts a very unusual interpretative iconography of the imagery of the card Le Monde, i.e. The World.

Contrary to the conventional historical interpretation of the central figure of the mandorla as being derived from the image of Christ in Glory flanked by the Tetramorph, or symbolic representations of the Four Evangelists, and differing from the occultist theory that it depicts the hermetic androgyne or Rébis, Virel instead proposes a gynocentric interpretation based on his own particular concept of evolutionary psycho-biology.

This sub-chapter, “Un tour du monde en quelques lignes,” forms the fifth section of the article entitled “Laboratoire et oratoire du rêve,” published in volume III of the Cahiers Jean Scot Erigène, 1992. The text on this particular arcanum does not appear, not even in nuce, in Virel’s Histoire de notre image (Mont-Blanc, 1965).


Around the World in a Few Lines

André Virel

One of the important questions asked of the symbologist by the serialised set of the major arcana would then be that of discovering the coherent significations of the sequence leading from arcanum I, LE BATELEUR, to arcanum XXI, LE MONDE. But we shall modestly restrain ourselves here to seeking a plausible significance for the last numbered arcanum, XXI, which is to say, the WORLD. It should be noted from the outset that all of the central characters of the major arcana, with the exception of X and XVIII, are anthropomorphic images.

On the other hand, the last numbered arcanum is named LE MONDE (THE WORLD). We may thus consider that the serialised set leads us to specify that the symbolic pathway of the Tarot leads to an equivalence of “Homo” species and of nature…

In effect, the central image of the arcanum is an anthropomorphic image, yet it is feminine. Why? To this question raised by an image of a well-defined biological being, it behoves us to propose a biological reply.

In the image of the universe, woman may bear a new living being within herself. And woman may substitute herself for nourishing nature by giving her milk to the child. Woman is the anthropomorphic symbol of the World.

Woman, like man, is a mammal, but as such, it is woman and not man who breastfeeds her young after having borne them within herself. Let us therefore cast a panoramic glance over the evolution of the different species of the branch of vertebrates who ended in our species of Homo Erectus, directing our attention to the evolution of the nourishing mechanisms accorded to progeny. We shall see that the more we ascend this ladder of vertebrates, the more the living being, interiorising its mechanisms of reproduction, substitutes itself little by little to the environment, to the point of recreating within itself, to the point of becoming, the nourishing environment of its progeny, increasingly affirming in this way what we term autogeny.

First of all, female fish, then amphibians, lay the ova which the males come, externally, to fertilise with their milt. The egg is then abandoned to the chance of the environment, and aquatic nature nourishes the newly-born fry. Then the reptiles appear. The egg is still delivered up to the environment, but it is protected by a shell containing a water reserve which nourishes the embryo. The new-born feed on what earthly nature offers them. Later, the eggs of the first mammals will be protected from the rigours of the climate and from agression by being kept within a marsupial pouch where the warmth incubates them. This protective isolation is what we term a schizogeny. Marsupials, properly speaking, no longer lay eggs. The young one, sheltered during the phase of gestation, emerges alive and formed from the belly of the female, who has therefore substituted herself for the world. Its development is still completed in a marsupial pouch into which the mother compresses her teat to breastfeed her child, still incapable of suckling. Then, finally appear placentary mammals, whose young are, from birth, capable of suckling, which we term autogeny.

We have already mentioned, concerning mythology, those three phases of genetic symbology, phases which we have termed cosmogenic (fusion), schizogenic (interiorisation), and autogenic (creative individuation). But our goal, being more limited as to the example chosen of the Tarot, was more simply to show why the anthropological symbolism of the sequence of the major arcana ended by illustrating, in its last arcanum, the world by the image of woman. This biological figure is the symbol of the functions of our psyche and of our spirituality whose nocturnal gestation prepares the reflexive consciousness confronted with nature, from which we sprang, but on which, having acquired our autogeny, we may act and with which we may engage in dialogue.

We shall say no more here on the homologies which may established with other sequenced sets of Tradition. Let us simply mention a few phrases to meditate, taken from the works of various researchers, who, although too often exclusively esotericists, have specialised in the domain. (1)(2)

Roger Tilley wrote: “Theories of the origin of playing cards are many in number, seldom probable, occasionally romantic and never capable of proof.”

For Grillot de Givry, “The Tarot has no origin whatever. It remains a mystery, an enigma, a problem. At most it harmonizes with the symbolism of alchemy, another intangible doctrine which has beaten a subterranean path through the centuries, avoiding both religion and science and yet establishing itself in their domains.”

For Joseph Maxwell, “The analysis of the Tarot enables us to better understand the idea of Pythagoras when he says that God does geometry.”

For Oswald Wirth, “The Tarot may help us to relearn how to divine, for it is a treatise of high philosophy in images… Far from being a thinking machine, it teaches us to imagine accurately, by means of a true alphabet of the imagination.”

But what might accurate imagination be? Roger Caillois answered this question by saying: “it is to reunite, insofar as possible, the conditions of a felicitous conjecture.” (3)

For our part, let us say that the Tarot is a symbolic language, in the image of our body, and suited to open us up to ourselves, to others, and to nature, in order to be the echo of the world as the world is our echo. To such a dialogue and such a reflection, to the development of our creative imaginary and of our reflexive consciousness, and in the same way as mythologies and other data from Tradition, the Tarot invites us to perfect the sense of our architecture. In our psycho-physiological research on the biological function of the Imaginary, and in our parallel attempt to found a genetic symbology, all these treasures were for us akin to activity tables. (4)



1. For a good read on the Tarot, see Gérard Van Rijnberk, Le Tarot – Histoire, Iconographie, Ésotérisme, Derain, 1947, [repub. Trédaniel, 1981, Dervy, 2019].

2. Virel’s sources are as follows (in English):

Roger Tilley, Playing Cards, Octopus Books, 1973.

Grillot de Givry, Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, Harrap, 1931.

Joseph Maxwell, The Tarot, Spearman, 1975.

Oswald Wirth, The Tarot of the Magicians, Weiser Books, 1985.

3. This quote comes from Caillois’ Preface to Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen-Âge by Oswald Wirth. – Translator

4. This concluding paragraph was appended to the later version of the article Two Images of the Tarot of Marseilles, published in Les Univers de l’Imaginaire (Éditions de l’Arbre Vert, 2000), with, however, one notable difference. In effect, the word ‘biological’ has been replaced with the word ‘oneiric’ in the later version. – Translator

Image source: Paul Marteau, B.P. Grimaud, Ancien Tarot de Marseille, 1930, courtesy of the BNF.

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André Virel: Two Images of the Tarot of Marseilles

Translator’s Introduction

Previously, we have alluded to the work of André Virel, without examining his writings on the subject. In effect, Virel’s seminal work, Histoire de notre image (Mont-Blanc, 1965), contains considerations on the Tarot, considerations which must be among the most insightful and thought-provoking to be found in the vast corpus of books on the Tarot. Virel would later revisit the Tarot in a number of articles, reworking, adapting and supplementing his earlier thoughts.

André Virel (1920-2000) was a 20th-century French polymath: artist, poet, anthropologist, psychologist and philosopher. A member of the Resistance during WWII, Virel later became one of the leading proponents of what he termed oneirotherapy, the study and use of dreams and guided imagery as a psychotherapeutic practice.

A prolific writer, Virel’s works include a novel, books of poetry, scientific papers, and learned studies of symbolism, mythology and psychology. In English, his work Decorated Man/ Ritual and Seduction was published in 1980 by Abrams. Recently, his Mental Imagination: Introduction to Oneirotherapy, cowritten with Roger Frétigny, was published by Inner Garden Press.

This sub-chapter, “Deux images du Tarot de Marseille,” forms the fourth section of the article entitled “Laboratoire et oratoire du rêve,” published in volume III of the Cahiers Jean Scot Erigène, 1992, and later compiled in Les Univers de l’Imaginaire, Éditions de l’Arbre Vert, 2000. The later version includes the concluding paragraph from the following sub-chapter, which we have not added here. The present excerpt is a much-developed version of the corresponding section of chapter 3 of Virel’s Histoire de notre image, “Le tarot de Marseille”.

The influence of the “Carteresian” (to coin a word) dialectics will be obvious to seasoned readers of these pages, and Virel’s (uncredited) influence on later generations of French tarologists ought to be equally clear by now with respect to to the issue dealt with in this text.


Two Images of the Tarot of Marseilles

André Virel

The Tarot is a game whose known origins are not very ancient. The Charles VI Tarot is so-called because it is considered to date from the end of the 14th (or early 15th) century. It is painted by hand. Later, decks were engraved onto woodblocks. There are also Tarot decks from Venice or Lombardy, from the early 15th century.

Nowadays, the best-known deck is the Tarot published by B.P. Grimaud in Paris. It is the so-called “Tarot of Marseilles” since it reproduces a model published in 1761 by Nicolas Conver, master cardmaker in Marseilles. It is a deck of 78 cards, also called arcana, of which 56 point cards are called minor arcana, and 22 figurative cards called major arcana. The 56 point cards are divided into four series of 14 cards (staffs, cups, swords, coins) and form a set analogous to our current decks of playing cards. It is probable that the 56 point cards preceded the complete Tarot of 78 cards and that, in a later step, these 56 cards followed another evolution, becoming the decks of 56 cards in which staffs, cups, swords and coins became, respectively, diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs, at the end of the 18th century. 56 cards are reduced to 52 with the disappearance of the knight, at least in France, for in certain Spanish decks, the knight is still present, but the queen has disappeared.

As to the 22 major arcana, 20 of them bear a name at their base, and a number in their upper cartouche. But two major arcana form the exception to this double labelling. One is numbered, XIII, but it is not named. The other is not numbered, but it is named, LE MAT. The one is therefore essentially number, and the other speech, which already evokes the dialectic of the particle and of the wave, of discontinuity and of continuity.

Let us also note, concerning the horizontal lines of the frame, that figure XIII has no rectangular base in which a name might be inscribed. Therefore, the character is not only the unnamed but also the unnameable. His name is nobody. His lower jaw is blocked by a sort of frontal bandage which prevents it from moving and thereby does not allow the emission of the word. XIII has sealed lips. Let us recall here the symbolic importance of the teeth. Elsewhere, we wrote:

“If the skeleton, solid structure of the flesh, symbolises death, its sole visible part during life are the teeth. The teeth are therefore the place in which life and death are fused together. The teeth are time. To lose one’s teeth is to lose time, it is to die, and it is sometimes to be reborn… Among numerous primitives peoples, the initiation ceremony is accompanied by shattering the teeth, and this symbolism recalls those pierced teeth of the Palaeolithic which accompanied the body to its abode.”

In our ontogenesis, the acquisition of our temporality involves the acquisition of the notion of death. We then understand, for instance, the importance of the symbolic impact of losing “milk teeth” for the child towards the age of seven years. This loss is very emotional in the proto-conscious genesis of the notion of time seeking to orient itself and the Me seeking to affirm itself. This shock may be positive in the acquisition of our temporality, which involves the acquisition of the notion of our possible death. To lose this solid corporal fragment which enables us to chew, to kill, symbolically prepares the child to a later awareness he will have of death, towards the tenth year, of life and of non-life, of Me and the not-Me. Similarly, for a child, the fact of seeing an adult taking out their dentures is charged with such a symbolic efficiency.

Let us take another look at XIII. He is the man with the mouth of shadows and his gesture is the voice of night. His left foot, being stuck in the back soil, condemns him to not being able to advance along a sagittal pathway, but turn on himself like the hands on a clock face. And, like the pendulum of a clock, his scythe goes from right to left, and from left to right, in an incessant lateral movement of destruction. It is as though past and future were experienced in an eternal present of repetition. He is an echo of the permanent destruction by Saturn-king, of disintegration. Segments of bodies and decapitated heads emerge from the black earth. There, the tufts of grass are not green yet each of them has but two colours, yellow or blue, whose union gives vegetal green.

The discontinuous Saturn-king, or Vulcan, schize or focality.

Is that to say that XIII is only frozen time, always equal to itself, beyond all evolutive duration? No, for its skull is furnished with a nasal appendage. No, for this flesh-coloured skeleton is a skeleton with a covering of skin. And its vertebrae have the shape of ears of corn. This is the arcanum in which life and death fuse together. Its two aspects are the inexorable void but the possible resurrection. Its significance is then that of the rites of passage and of the great Osirian myth. It is the great meaning of the expression transmitted by Tradition: the Lost Word. Arcanum XIII is an offer of initiation.

Let us now observe LE MAT, by placing him next to XIII. The staff of the MAT and the handle of the scythe of XIII are parallel. In XIII, the handle of the scythe signs a disintegrative action by a lateral symmetric movement devoid of all advance. In LE MAT, the staff takes part in the sagittal advance of the character.

The headdress of LE MAT extends outside the frame of the image, there where the white cartouche bears no number. XIII is unnamed, LE MAT is unnumbered. LE MAT transcends all quantification, suggesting all possible numbers, which is to say, none at all. The empty cartouche is zero and infinity. In the set of twenty-two major arcana, LE MAT may thus be located everywhere and nowhere, between any other pair of the twenty-one other numbered arcana. Exegetes have often placed him between arcana XX and XXI, between LE JUGEMENT and LE MONDE. It is no doubt there where he appears to us to be ideally situated, as bearer of the infinite and the atemporal, the meaning of which is necessary for an understanding of the universe. […]

The continuous Uranus-king, or Mercury, indifferentiation or syntony.

LE MAT marks the quest of our spatial integrations. The orientations of his body are bizarre. The feet of LE MAT are properly aligned on the rectilinear base of the image but his head and his body appear relatively twisted, the torso seeming to present itself frontally, which recalls the folded perspective of Egyptian figures. He holds a staff with a knapsack in his left hand, but it rests on his right shoulder.

Whereas XIII is sedentary, LE MAT is a nomad, a wandering voyager, of no fixed abode, in an atemporal space. For his part, XIII evokes a time deprived of spatial freedom. LE MAT suggests a duration without history, an undertaking whose footsteps leave no trace. And yet a sort of dog reveals the most fleshy volume of his body: his hindquarters bear the scars of his past ordeals. Above, that staff with the knapsack across his throat, is it not a sign of the anguish caused by that baggage?

May his image blur to the benefit of his message, arcanum of the word, escapee of the number, and we dream your space like a fog in which all contours are erased, in which all the noises of nature become fused into murmurs. Deprived of all landmarks, your language becomes the sound of an alarm and a call for help. It is the foghorn, the hope of which is to hear an echo. The tinkling of your necklace of bells restitute to you the envelope of your body, closest to yourself.

In certain versions of the Tarot, this arcanum was called LE FOU [the madman]. But it expresses both folly and freedom. This word MAT would come from the Persian word meaning “death.” And here this word refers us back to arcanum XIII, which bears none. It is as though each of these two arcana were of a dual nature, as though these two arcana constituted a set of a dual nature. Is it not the same, in contemporary physics, for the set of the wave and the particle, in the dialectic of continuity and discontinuity?

Your symbolic dialogue, XIII and MAT, is indeed the inner dialogue of each of us. XIII is only an offer of initiation through the contribution of the MAT. And LE MAT is only an offer of freedom thanks to the contribution of XIII. Their set is that hope which the symbolic consciousness of dream brings to us, the consciousness of that Imaginary which dissolves and reintegrates the vectors of the fundamental dimensional coordinates of our understanding, the vectors of the three spatial dimensions and of the temporal dimension. It is these vectors which structure the intuition which is given us of our body, which enables us to know the world and to act upon it, and to know ourselves.


In his earlier book, Virel wrote a succinct overview of the reciprocal relations between these two arcana, which presents some slightly different formulations which are worth considering.

Of these two arcana, one is numbered, but not named: arcanum XIII. The other is not numbered, but is named: LE MAT. One is number, the other speech. One symbolises discontinuity, the other continuity. Note the symbolism of death and of dissociation of arcanum XIII; and the symbolism of mobility, of movement, of arcanum LE MAT, the wandering voyager. He is the man of no fixed abode, chased by a dog, the guardian of the home. Disengaged from the law, he is the free man, or the madman. In certain decks, in effect, he is named LE FOU (the Fool). The comical twin of certain kings (the profane, twin of the sacred), the fool was emancipated from the social rule; he could say anything with impunity. We also know that LE MAT is, in the game of chess, the position of the king who cannot avoid defeat. The lost king, that too is madness, if we consider that the king, as central power, is, on the social plane, what consciousness is on the individual plane.

Let us note that death (arcanum XIII) and madness (LE MAT) constitute, with wisdom, possible manners of escaping the constraints of the Over-self. Whence the fact that these two arcana have the privilege of translating a bipolarity of the metaphysical adventure of Man.

One will note that arcanum XIII presents dissociated limbs. Death is often associated with a theme of dissolution: it is, on the one hand, because it is in fact a dissolution; above all, it is because the disintegration of the body may take on an initiatory significance related to the idea that the individual must die in order to be reborn – that is to say, to symbolically change body, to decompose in order to recompose oneself on a higher plane. […]

André Virel, Histoire de notre image, Mont-Blanc, 1965, pp. 64-65.


Image source: Paul Marteau, B.P. Grimaud, Ancien Tarot de Marseille, 1930, courtesy of the BNF.

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Italo Calvino: On André Virel


The regular reader of these pages will by now have seized the narrative importance, not to say notoriety, of Italo Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies (1969/1973) as far as tarological fiction is concerned. A perusal of the reviews and other writings devoted to this text will highlight the dichotomy of Calvino’s creative process, one essentially revolving around the twin poles of inspiration and constraint.

As we wrote elsewhere:

It should be noted that the Author’s Note which accompanied the French and Italian editions is rather different to that which appeared in the English edition: it is more extensive and, effectively, Calvino explicitly references the academic literature on the subject and alludes to the vast body of symbolic and occultist work on the Tarot. He states that: “As to the vast literature on cartomancy and the symbolic interpretation of the Tarot, even though I obviously delved into it, I do not think it had had much of an influence on my work. Above all, I endeavoured to look at the Tarot cards with attention, like someone who does not know what they represent, and to draw out suggestions and associations, to interpret according to an imaginary iconology.”

Leaving aside the symbolic or occultist interpretations of the Tarot, one must also consider the following passage from Calvino’s American lectures, published in English as Six Memos for the Next Millennium, which sheds some light on Calvino’s thinking and sources of inspiration.

In effect, André Virel‘s seminal monograph, Histoire de notre image (Mont-Blanc, 1965), qualified by Antoine Faivre as “one of the most interesting [books] ever produced by contemporary psychology,” contains a chapter on the images of the Tarot of Marseilles, dealing with the dialectic XIII-Le Mat (the Fool) (further developed in later articles); the symbolism of twins, in conjunction with Le Soleil (the Sun); the ambivalence of choice, in connection with the imagery of L’Amoureux (the Lover); its resolution, in terms of Le Chariot (the Chariot); and the polarities of Le Diable (the Devil) and La Maison-Dieu (the Tower). Finally, Virel concludes his overview of the arcana of the Tarot with an examination of the “original centre” symbolised by L’Étoile (the Star).

In the following excerpt from Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, one will easily recognise the influence of Jean Carteret‘s astrological dialectics on Virel’s thought. Furthermore, one will gain insight into the elaboration of The Castle of Crossed Destinies and indeed, Calvino’s work as a whole.


On André Virel

Italo Calvino

Here too I have to refer to some occasional reading of mine— from time to time enlightening ideas emerge from reading odd books that are hard to classify from a rigorously academic point of view. The book in question, which I read while studying the symbolism of the tarot, is André Virel’s Histoire de nôtre image (1965). According to the author—a student of the collective imagination in what I take to be the school of Jung—Mercury and Vulcan represent the two inseparable and complementary functions of life: Mercury represents syntony, or participation in the world around us; Vulcan, focalization or constructive concentration. Mercury and Vulcan are both sons of Jupiter, whose realm is that of the consciousness, individual and social. But on his mother’s side Mercury is a descendant of Uranus, whose kingdom was that of the “cyclophrenic” age of undifferentiated continuity. And Vulcan is descended from Saturn, whose realm was that of the “schizophrenic” era of egocentric isolation. Saturn dethroned Uranus, and Jupiter dethroned Saturn. In the end, in the well-balanced, luminous realm of Jupiter, both Mercury and Vulcan carry with them the memory of some dark primordial realm, changing what had been a destructive malady into something positive: syntony and focalization.

Even since I read Virel’s explanation of how Mercury and Vulcan are both contrasting and complementary, I have begun to understand something that I had only a rather vague idea of before—something about myself, about how I am and how I would like to be; about how I write and how I might be able to write. Vulcan’s concentration and craftsmanship are needed to record Mercury’s adventures and metamorphoses. Mercury’s swiftness and mobility are needed to make Vulcan’s endless labors become bearers of meaning. And from the formless mineral matrix, the gods’ symbols of office acquire their forms: lyres or tridents, spears or diadems.

– Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Patrick Creagh trans., Jonathan Cape, 1992.

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Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau: André Virel

Translator’s Introduction

The previous excerpt from the memoirs of Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau described his meetings with Jean Carteret, in whose home Gaisseau would encounter the psychologist-philosopher André Virel (1920-2000), the subject of this instalment, which immediately follows the foregoing one.

This story occurs during the expedition which Gaisseau, along with photographer Tony Saulnier and André Virel, mounted to film the the sacred and secret ceremonies of the Toma people of Guinea. The relative importance of this seemingly minor anecdote will be underscored if one considers the pivotal role played by Virel’s Tarot reading in the greater scheme of things; marking the turning point in a protracted and often painful process of attempting to, firstly, gain permission to film these ceremonies, and secondly, as a necessary precondition to the first, of receiving initiation into the cult. While the former was characterised by mistrust and bewitchment, the latter culminated in the ritual scarification that signified membership of the secret society. The ensuing documentary, La Forêt sacrée (1953/1955), was released in 1956 in the US as Gri-gri.

Later instalments will further examine Virel’s signal contribution to the study of the Tarot.


André Virel

Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau

Among the usual visitors, Mazière, Jacques Herold, Brienne, Nora Mitrani, and many others. I had encountered André Virel there. He had published, with Jacques Prévert and André Verdet, an anthology of poetry, Le Cheval de Trois; the domain of dreams and the unconscious were more familiar to him than that of reality. We spoke at length of the sacred forest of the Toma, and, increasingly, I considered the tattoo not as a physical ordeal indispensable to the success of the documentary, but as a genuine initiation, a magical operation which would bring us a certain form of mystical recognition. In these circumstances, it became natural to associate Virel to our experience. He would be able to decipher the obscure symbols for us. His role, in fact, was as badly defined as our true goal. […]

In our shack, on the other side of the road, Virel read the Tarot cards, which he brought everywhere, for Tony Saulnier, always sceptic.

Akoy had wanted to know his future. We had to humour him: he would be the village headman if the circumstances were favourable.

A tall man, slightly stiff, an old felt hat in his hand, and who appeared to be naked beneath a long trench coat fastened at the waist, had attentively observed the entire scene. Without being invited, he came to take Akoy’s place. A strange face, rounded forehead, bulging eyes, he gazed at Virel with intensity, seeking to understand, to guess the meaning of the oracle.

Virel pointed to one of the cards and said:

– The forest is your domain.
– Yes, he admitted with pride. I am a sorcerer.

I informed him of our plans. Perhaps he would be able to help us… He asked to sleep on it.

We did not have to wait for the light of day. A few hours later, draped in his blanket, he entered our shack.

– My name, Voiné, means ‘tenacious’; Koïwogui, my family, ‘those who do not eat the panther’. I spoke to my spirit Angbaï. I have no fear of death. I will lead you into the forest.


– “In the forest, I always walk first. I am Zogui…” Voine had said proudly.

Zogui, this word which he himself translated as “sorcerer” [féticheur], means “great initiate,” superman.

This phrase was to mark the beginning of a strange experience. […]

– Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau, Vivre pour voir, Laffont, 1981.


Elsewhere, Gaisseau told the story in a slightly different form, and that book has been published in English.

In our hut Virel had brought out his tarot deck, the Marseille tarots. He had been studying symbolism for years , and tonight he explained it all to Tony, who knew very little about it. Virel used the deck to foretell futures, and claimed that he could tell anyone his destiny and character. Tony, skeptical, asked for a demonstration, and Virel dealt out the cards, happy to oblige.

– Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau, The Sacred Forest: Magic and Secret Rites in French Guinea, Knopf, 1954, pp. 32-33.

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Tchalaï Dermitzel: Meditation: A Solitary Vice?

Translator’s Introduction

Tchalaï Unger, best known for her work on the Tarot – took a deep interest in the religious traditions of the world, and wrote extensively on these and related subjects in the magazines and journals of the 1970s-90s. One such article deals with the issue of meditation as taught in the Sufi tradition. As a useful complement to Tchalaï’s brief instructions on meditation found in her Tarot writings, we present this article, first published in Le soufisme: voie d’unité, edited by Charles Antoni, éditions L’Originel, 1982, pages 83-90, under her married name Tchalaï Dermitzel.

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Meditation: A Solitary Vice?

Tchalaï Dermitzel

To write anything at all whatsoever on Sufi meditation, one would have had to have practiced it for – at least – an entire lifetime. Even then, having reached that extremity, there would in all likelihood no longer be any desire to write anything at all, but only to encourage, in moderation, those who find themselves or believe themselves to be called onto that path.

At the very least, one may try, by attempting to exclude vanity, to provide a simple testimony to an experience which, though individual by definition, rejoins the intimacy of the collective essence: these English words, although clumsy, avoid having to have recourse to the jargon of initiates which could be felt as discouraging or elitist, such as Dharana (approximately corresponding to the English word “concentration”), Dhyana (… contemplation), not to mention Atman or Brahman, absolute and absolutely untranslatable.

For my part, I have encountered Sufi meditation in the person of Pir Vilayat Khan, a luminous being, often qualified as Christlike by his disciples (which I am not, insofar as I am not connected to him by the bayat). Before that, a few attempts at meditation had convinced me that the best eventual form would be an elaborate form of mental imagination; this technical point of view seemed to me then to be only one acceptable to avoid psychic swelling and spiritual ambiguity!

A disastrous ambiguity, in effect, hovers today over this word (from the Latin meditatio = exercise) and on the practise of meditation, engendering derisive disputes incompatible with a true life. For a number of people, who in good faith believe in the practice of meditation, this means a state of mental wandering hidden beneath the alibi of a carefully controlled facial expression, and a more or less classical physical posture, the so-called “diamond” or “tailor” postures (more rarely, the “lotus” posture), a posture only maintained with difficulty by muscular effort, accompanied, or not, by a mudra – intertwining the fingers with each other or the palms of the hands. It represents nonetheless a truly praiseworthy effort towards an attitude of observation, of acceptance, of setting aside the egotistic tendencies. Most of the time, unfortunately, the experience of vacuity is not acquired – barely even touched upon – and one reaches only a state of physiological disorientation, sometimes disappointing and sometimes positive, because in reality, the beginning meditator draws closer to the “alpha level” and its corollaries/components: the cessation of physiological wear and tear; a halt to entropy; cellular compensation to reflexes/stress.

Certain traditions lead to a genuine experience of the greatest vacuity possible for a human being – which is to say very little vacuity, and strictly intellectual. This is a matter of “yin” meditation, which is to say that the effort (there is always some, whether one admits it or not) bears on the periphery of the being – aiming at an extension of the consciousness or rather of the sensation of being – and means that one obtains an experience of intellectual dispersion, of letting go of vigilance, but in no way a “fundamental” experience. It is not, naturally enough, a question of criticising these methods or traditions, but of noting the conclusion of their processes because, definitely, grace has the last word and can effect miracles in any circumstances at all whatsoever… Moreover, “yin” meditation has very useful relaxation effects for Westerners submerged by external stimuli and incapable of attaining the “alpha level” without spiritual motivation. One note: they bring to women an inner comfort, and often, a spectacular physical sense of fulfilment. In men, on the other hand, over time, they generally bring about a debilitating and privative sensation, which may generate neuroses.

For others, the state of meditation can only be found thanks to a process of induction, in which the mental image which contains or constitutes the induction remains constantly under the conscious control of the individual, destined to centre the sensations, notably those of the circulation of energy; this centripetal meditation certainly effects an inner structuring, which translates into greater efficiency on every level (including those of daily life and social relations), and spectacular development of the yang, bringing about for instance a modification of the physiognomy and the functioning of the autonomic nervous system in the direction of a greater elasticity/tonicity. Nonetheless, the direct action it effects on the hypothalamus provokes a hormonal stimulation which in turn generates a hyperactivity whose excesses manifest on the mental level. This is often followed by a loss of contact with – and not an entry into or communion with – reality.

These two narrow paths, bordered all along by the ravines of illusion on one side and the abyss of pride on the other, are very delicate ad dangerous to follow, justifying the challenge set by Paul Valéry: “Meditation is a solitary vice.” We cannot recommend enough that one venture into it under the supervision of a true guide. Unfortunately, the criteria that would enable one to identify a true guide do not belong to the tangible world, where they manifest in a vague and unusable form!

These two paths find themselves complementarily unified in the Sufi meditation, such as I have encountered it – through personal experience and not in a bookish way – in Ajmer (Rajasthan) sustained by the use of sound (drum) through three full days and nights, and such as I then found it once again, less violently, under the direction of Pir Vilayat.

Here is the advice that Pir Vilayat gave for the work of meditation. This definitive outline is to be followed every day.

  1. Relax your body with muscular exercises; find your pose; calm body and mind. Detach your attention from the impressions of the outside world. Detach yourself even from the sensorial world by lowering the tuning of the emotions through indifference.
  2. Refuse to be conditioned; surround yourself with a zone of silence; place a guardian at the doors of perception: detachment.
  3. Abandon your spirit as well as your body.
  4. Experience the gravitational pull of your thoughts and emotions. Adopt non-emotion. Leave the mind to its flux.
  5. Allow your consciousness to be pulled higher and higher.

Obviously this outline does not represent an induction but only its content. The container, which is just as important, is the sequence of images or of suggestions which enable this outline to constitute itself.

For example, Pir Vilayat often uses this very beautiful invitation to voyage to introduce the meditation: “You are elsewhere; you come from the depths of the universe; you are the visitor, and for that you had to borrow the matter of the planet, in order to experience the conditions of existence on earth; but that is transitory, and to return to your origin, you must free yourself from the me and become impersonal, Cosmic.”

This process, within a few minutes, gives you a sensation of involution-descent into matter which then allows the sensations of evolution to occur much more easily. The two paths – the centrifugal and the centripetal – then blend themselves in four times/places, during approximately 45 minutes to an hour. It is a matter of detaching oneself from the surrounding world, from the environment: noises, recent emotional shocks, familial or professional difficulties, etc., then of elevating oneself above the physical world – to go beyond the physical or cenesthetic sensations, etc.

Some Pointers

  • Never raise the veil of Maya too suddenly.
  • Tell oneself again and again:
    • That which is here is elsewhere
    • That which is not here is nowhere
  • Follow those who brave the depths and the spaces of being and offer to the future generations the topology of the inner states and of the other spheres.
  • Far from me the thought of “Two.”
  • The body is the material projection and action of the spirit.
  • No exercises with respiration without the guidance of an experienced practitioner; no pranayama without the instructions of a master.
  • Keep the door open between consciousness and unconsciousness; suspend consciousness at the border between the two. Observe the most archetypes and images precipitating. The key is not to see any images – in the end.
  • Inwardly contemplate an object and feel oneself one with the essence of that object; go beyond the subject/object dichotomy.
  • Normal respiration; inhalation/Joy; minimal retention/Love; exhalation/Peace.

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Pierre-André Dujat: Jean Carteret

Translator’s Introduction

Continuing the series of accounts and portraits of Jean Carteret, here is one by Pierre-André Dujat, who, along with Philippe Pissier, contributed to preserving Carteret’s legacy by collecting and publishing his recordings and texts.The original French may be read here.

* * *

Jean Carteret

Pierre-André Dujat

Jean Carteret is a being of light whose presence and power make the “ins” and “outs” of the chaos of our society legible and comprehensible. “Liberated during Life” from 1970 onwards following an inner Odyssey which led to the encounter of the experience of pseudo-death, and thus having acceded to the faculty of epistemological “sight”, until the end of his days on Earth, in 1980 of this chronology, he never ceased to trigger in others this same qualitative leap which he called “peace”, and which concerns the metaphysical plane, in dialectic with his unshakeable faith in the advent of the future self-managing global socialism, the only thing capable, in his eyes, of launching the dynamic suited to opening onto social justice and onto transcendence for humanity as a whole.

An astrologer who discovered two planets of the solar system (Proserpine, which is the transcendence of Venus, and Vulcan which is the transcendence of Mars), a mystic without the ecclesiastic trappings of some Church or other, a Gnostic without connections to any Gnostic movement, anti-traditionalist, anti-elitist, in relation with the Absolute Deity, “which is not God,” a poet of the full life and of the voyage in every sense of the word (“Death… I am curious about it as though it were a voyage!”) “composer of astrology,” musician, violinist and pianist, realised philosopher, Jean – essentially/existentially inspired by knowledge and by love, which he placed above the former – had direct intuition as his master, and the desire to situate esotericism in its place, that is, as a passage to the exotericism to the heart of the true socialism yet to come. Springing from an intimate lived experience in relation with this unavoidable mutation of history, the message of Jean – a living consciousness enamoured with social justice and with social justness – is, to this day still, as yet marginalised.

– Pierre-André Dujat
1 September 1988, of this chronology

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Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau: Jean Carteret

Translator’s Introduction

A number of texts by and portraits of Jean Carteret have been published on this site. Indeed, it is not without merit to consider the influence and impact exerted by this philosopher of the Word by consulting the accounts left of his person and teachings. This next instalment provides some further insight into his uncanny astrological ability and intuition.

Pierre Dominique Gaisseau (1923-1997) was a French explorer and documentary film-maker best known for his documentary Sky Above and Mud Beneath (1961), which was awarded the first Oscar for a documentary. This excerpt comes his biography, Vivre pour voir, Laffont, 1981.


Jean Carteret

Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau

Jean Carteret, better known in those days as “the Mage of Saint-Germain-des-Prés” or “of Saint-Tropez,” following the season, was somewhat at the origin of this new orientation in the adventure.

It happened in the home of Francis Mazière, in the darkness of the tropical plants amidst the corals and crystals, the model yachts, and the dreamlike objects and machines from the four corners of the world.

– “You are a Pisces,” Carteret had told me, at first glance.

I knew nothing of astrology, but like everybody, I knew my sign.

– Yes, from the 10th of March.
– What time?
– Half past one in the morning, I think.

Incredulous, he nodded his head.

– That is not possible… No, not possible at all; half past one in the afternoon.

And he launched into a description of Pisces ascendant Cancer, the sign he assigned to me, so convincingly that I would later ask my mother for confirmation. He was right.

That night, already fascinated by the intensity of his gaze, his concentration when he listened, and his passion as soon as he explained beings and things, I had no doubt that for years, I had spent evenings, nights even, in his apartment on the rue de la Tour d’Auvergne.

The place was in his image; an attic in which was accumulated driftwood and stones rolled by the sea, mandragore roots and boxes he would open to find the symbols and myths of forgotten cosmogonies. He was equally at ease with the Yin Yang and the I Ching as he was with the Tarot and with astrology. All those passionate about poetry, the occult sciences came there to listen to his magical vision, which temporarily gave a new sense to creation. We also played the cruel game of truth. The overwhelmed faces showed that cheating was rare. I thought I had rediscovered the world and myself.


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René Guénon: Some Further Remarks on the Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

Previously, we have translated and published two book reviews alongside excerpts from the letters and writings of René Guénon dealing with the Tarot. Further correspondence of his has recently been digitised, namely, his letters to Patrice Genty, alias Basilide or Mercuranus, also previously featured on these pages.

In this letter, reproducing the comments of another correspondent, one Raffaelli, one will note that the issue of correspondences between the Tarot trumps and the zodiacal signs, and incidentally, the Hebrew letters, was far from resolved in the mind of the French traditionalist. One will also consider the import of the last sentence, all the more so in light of his comments on the lodge Les Neufs Sœurs in Études sur la Franc-Maçonnerie et le Compagnonnage [Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage].

“The Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs, of which he [Benjamin Franklin] was a member, and even Worshipful Master, constitutes, by the special mentality which governed it, an absolutely exceptional case in the Masonry of the time; it was no doubt the sole centre from whence the [extremely suspect] influences in question then found the possibility of effectively exerting their destructive and anti-traditional action, and, following what we said above, it is certainly not to Masonry itself which must be imputed the initiative and the responsibility for such an action.”

Further reading: The relations between Tarot and astrology are the subject of an insightful essay by Jean-Marie Lhôte. Maxwell is of course Joseph Maxwell, whose work, reviewed by Roger Caillois, has been mentioned here. The writings of Court de Gébelin have been considered here.

Some Further Remarks on the Tarot

René Guénon


Cairo, 16 February 1947

I have recently received a letter from Raffaelli, a professor of mathematics, who, among various other questions, raises one concerning the astrological correspondences of the Tarot, and which concerns you directly in part. Here is what he has written on the subject:

“There is first of all the correspondence of the Hermit to Leo, which seems to me to raise an objection: the opposition of the veiled lamp and the radiant light of the Sun. The letter Theth has the meanings of envelopment, of protection, of roof, of covering. Do Leo and the Sun not arouse in the mind ideas absolutely contradictory to this?

Basilide, who believes that the Tarot is above all astrology, has the Hermit correspond to Virgo, and Maxwell to Pisces, which is not shocking.

Next, there is the correspondence of arcanum XIX, the Sun, with Pisces; Basilide chooses Leo, which is astrologically justified, and Maxwell chooses Gemini, I do not know why.

It seems natural, still from the astrological point of view, to have arcanum XVIII, the Moon, correspond to Cancer, as Basilide and Maxwell do; but which Papus, Marc Haven and those inspired by the Hebrew letters have correspond to Aquarius.

To arcanum VIII, Justice, which is usually made to correspond to Libra (as Basilide and Maxwell do), the Sepher Yetsirah has it correspond to the sign of Cancer. Now, how could Justice and the ideas which relate to it be symbolised by the sign of Cancer, which is the abode of the Moon, and which evokes only ideas of age, of heredity, of kinship, of intimacy etc.?”

I must admit that I do not see very clearly how all this might be untangled and take these divergences into account. As it seems to me that you are better placed than I to reply to this question, since I have never particularly considered the matter, would you be so kind as to tell me what you make of it? Thank you in advance.

In the end, Raffaelli seems to think that the correspondence of the arcana of the Tarot to the Hebrew letters is not exact, or even that it might have been thought up afterwards; all the same it seems to me to be scarcely possible that it was but a rêverie of Court de Gébelin…


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Tarot and Literary Creation: Appendix 2

Tarot and Literary Creation

Appendix 2

The works of the French novelist Paul Adam (1862-1920) deserve some mention, not least because the Symbolist author constructed his novels and characters by reading them their cards in order to determine their literary destinies. This early example of finding creative and narrative inspiration in the cards was suggested by V.-É. Michelet, historiographer of the Belle Époque occultism and confirmed by Adam himself in a letter reproduced by the former in his work Les Compagnons de la hiérophanie (p. 48) saying:

“Yes, the Tarot has, each day, inspired and suggested many of my essays. I owe a thousand intuitions to the Hermit, the Juggler, the Popess, according to their postures amongst their peers, in the figure of the Pentagram. And I am grateful to them for having bestowed me a strength through which you will have been seduced to the point of writing these pages for which I remain a docile disciple having received the highest reward for his zeal, that of your approbation.” (June 1919.)

Paul Adam’s novels have been the subject of a doctoral thesis, Les romans de Paul Adam: du symbolisme littéraire au symbolisme cabalistique by J. Ann Duncan, P. Lang, 1977, which contains, tellingly enough, a chapter entitled “Le Tarot,” which we have unfortunately not been able to consult. The foregoing remarks, however, provide a certain amount of insight into Adam’s technique, viz. the use of a spread and a possible interpretation of the postural information according to the relative positions of the cards, in other words, an early and more holistic version of the hermeneutic application of the gaze. These creative techniques, let it be said in passing, are now so common as to be found in general manuals of creative writing, where the cards of the Tarot are considered as so many prompts and characters to be used to stimulate the creative faculties and narrative engine. In that respect, The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin (Atria Books, 2016) is perhaps the manual that goes the furthest in the creative application of tarology to the art of writing.

As far as the literature in the English language is concerned, the most important and interesting works include The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams (1932), studied in detail in Esotericism and Narrative: The Occult Fiction of Charles Williams by Aren Roukema (Brill, 2018), and Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham (1946), republished recently with an insightful preface by James Smythe (Bloomsbury, 2021). Curiously, Gresham wrote a preface for the US edition of Williams’ work (1950). Another influential work, John Fowles’ classic novel The Magus (1965-1977) – whose very title refers to the first trump card – unfolds through 78 chapters, the same number as the total number of cards in the Tarot deck. The tarological underpinnings of Fowles’ novel have been studied in greater depth here and here.

As to the works of W. B. Yeats (A Vision, Stories of Red Hanrahan) and T. S. Eliot (The Waste Land), cited by Streiff-Moretti and expanded upon by various scholars, they have been the object of some scholarly attention as far as their tarological content is concerned and need detain us no further. (A future instalment may outline some of the research on these writings.)

Yet any comprehensive examination of the question of “literature” will necessarily have to include works of non-fiction, and here too, the tarological influence makes itself felt.

The poetic application of the Tarot, its earliest literary manifestation, dating back five centuries, and one which endures till today, would ideally require a separate study. Pending such a study on this early poetic literature of the Tarot, one may read Christina Olsen’s 1994 doctoral dissertation “Carte da trionfi: The development of tarot in fifteenth-century Italy“.

Where personal memoirs are concerned, perhaps one of the more striking, insightful and moving accounts of mental illness, framed through the sequence of the Tarot trumps, is the palimpsestic dialogue by the French poet Christian Guez (1948-1988), retracing his descent into schizophrenia and subsequent treatment, Du Fou au Bateleur (Presses de la Renaissance, 1984), written with the psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Coudray.

Theatre, too, is not exempt of tarology, and the trilogy of plays by Benoît Lepecq, Le Fou, Le Tarot du Fou, and Le Zodiaque du Fou (Amandier, 2011-2013) amply proves this, in a powerful triptych of theatrical one-man performances which perfectly encapsulate the multifaceted nature of the trump card known as The Fool.

Political pamphlets and manifestos are admittedly not the first type of text in which one might expect to find the Tarot, yet that is precisely what Alain Guyard/A.-R. Königstein’s Discours du sous-commandant Marcos à son disciple sur les barricades (1994) attempts to achieve, blending the revolutionary with the ritualistic in this unusual and remarkable document.

To return to the narrative form, let us signal a number of works, unknown in English translation, which present some particularities of the tarological kind.

– to be continued

Part 1

Part 3

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