Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Alain Borvo: Discover Aluette, the Game of the Cow

Translator’s Introduction

Aluette, or the Game of the Cow, has already been the object of an article by René-Louis Doyon, and while it is still played in certain areas of western France, it remains mostly unknown in the English-speaking world. Yet its peculiar rules and peculiar iconography deserve to be better known. For that reason, we present the translation of an engaging introductory article by a specialist of the question, Alain Borveau, which examines the history and the rules of the game in greater detail.

The author Alain Borveau (1933-2002), or Borvo as he styled himself, after the Breton spelling, was  a well-known card collector and games specialist, publisher of a journal devoted to games and author of a number of books on card games, such as Jeux De Cartes Et Cartes A Jouer, De Vecchi, 1978; and Comment on joue : 85 regles de jeux de cartes pour vous amuser en famille ou entre amis, De Vecchi, 1987, and, of course, a very interesting monograph on the subject of Aluette, Anatomie d’un jeu de cartes, l’Aluette ou le Jeu de la Vache, Librairie nantaise Yves Vachon, Nantes, 1977.

An ethnologist by training, Borveau spent time in northern Finland studying the Sámit culture. His personal website and a brief English biography may be found here. Borveau’s article, Sáhkku, The “Devil’s Game”, may be read online in English in the n° 4 issue of Board Game Studies here (pp. 33-52). An obituary of the author by Thierry Depaulis (in English) may be read in the n° 6 issue of Board Games Studies, 2003, on page 102, and a fuller biography (in French) may be read here. Borveau was also the creator of Le Grand Oracle Celtique, a 72-card oracle deck of druidic inspiration published by Grimaud in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the author of a novel, Celui qui a perdu son nom, Spes, 1960.

This article by Alain Borvo, “Découvrez l’aluette”,  first published in Jeux et Stratégie, n° 4 August 1980, may be downloaded from this website or read here: part 1 and part 2.

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Discover Aluette, the Game of the Cow

Alain Borvo

At least as much as monuments, traditional games are a part of our cultural heritage. Let us therefore take advantage of this Year of Culture to rediscover them. And let us begin with one of the most curious games, as much by the originality of its rules as by the design of its special cards, the game of Aluette or the Cow, still very much alive in the West, from the Cotentin to the estuary of the Gironde.

West coast of France. Areas in which Aluette is played.

Le Croisic, 5 pm. In the smoke-filled backroom of the bar down by the docks, four elderly men “strike the cardboard.” Former fishermen versus the veterans of the Royale, as they still call the National Navy around here. The conversation flows, sprinkled with curses and snatches of obscure phrases in which it is question of one-eyed men, cows, pisspants, horsewomen and of a certain Kiss-Hard!

You may also have caught a glimpse, once the cards have been turned over, of some bizarre grimaces on the delighted faces of the partners: you are in the presence of a genuine game of Aluette, one of the oldest games of Europe.

Let us take a closer look over the players’ shoulders: the cards they have in hand have nothing to do with the usual ones we know, shapes and backs aside. Instead of our traditional spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds, they bear swords, cups, staffs, and coins, the same suits as we find on the ancient tarot and which we still find today on Italian and Spanish cards. But the similarity ends there: the characters of the Aluette court are very different and the point cards are supplemented with all manner of very strange naïve drawings – cherubs, medals with busts and profiles, birds, a sort of feathered Indian, violins, without forgetting the cow lying down in the 2 of Cups, which has also given its name to the game.

What, then, is the origin of this “game of the cow” and its surprising imagery? The two earliest mentions we know of date back to the beginning of the 16th century, in the lower Loire valley. In effect, the chronicles tell us that at that time, Anne of Brittany, then Queen of France, had taught Archduke Philip the Fair to “play the luettes”, a new game in favour at the court of Amboise and which she herself had perhaps brought from her castle in Nantes. On his side, Rabelais, who had lived for a long time in Vendée, cites the “luettes” among the games played by the young Gargantua. With Pantagruel, we find ourselves in Bordeaux, where the hero “found no entertainment apart from sailors playing the luettes on the shore.

Aluette, luettes, we could doubt that it is even the same game if the term of “luette” were not still in use to denote the strongest cards. This brings us to take a closer interest in the composition of the game.

The Aluette deck comprises 48 cards, divided into four series: two with round suits, corresponding to our red suits – the cups and the coins, and two with long suits – the staffs and the swords. Each suit comprises 12 cards, from the strongest to the weakest: the ace, the king, the horsewoman, the valet, the 9, the 8, the 7, and so on till the 2. However, this order is partly modified by the existence of the “luettes” and the “doubles.”

Certain point cards have effectively left the ranks to become a sort of “super ace.” The strongest are the 4 luettes, which are, in order of decreasing strength:

  • the 3 of Coins, called Monsieur;
  • the 3 of Cups, called Madame;
  • the 2 of Coins, called the One-Eyed Man;
  • the 2 of Cups, called the Cow.

Next come the 4 doubles or double-aces, still in the order of their decreasing value:

  • the 9 of Cups, called the Big 9;
  • the 9 of Coins, called the Little 9;
  • the 2 of Staffs, called the 2 of Oak;
  • the 2 of Swords, called the 2 of Writing, so called because the name and address of the cardmaker was once written on it.

Each of these 8 cards beats all the others of the deck, beginning with the aces. As there is no suit of trumps, the order thus defined is unchangeable.

* * *

The Game of the Cow

From left to right: 20th century; 16th century; 19th century.

By the oddness to the drawings they bear, the cards of the Aluette deck cannot but arouse the curiosity of whoever contemplates them for the first time. Who is this young beauty called Madame, and who is coming out of one of the cups of the 3 of Cups? Why this feathered Indian on the ace of Staffs? And above all, what is this incongruous cow doing at the foot of the 2 of Cups, this ruminant which has given its name to the game, when the card it denotes is only the fourth highest in value?

All these symbols have been superadded over the course of the centuries, and the “Cow” is perhaps the most ancient: we find it, on this same card, at the dawn of the 16th century, as seen on this 2 of Cups of a Spanish-suited deck printed in Toulouse towards 1510.

At the time, the point cards were often supplemented with multiple drawings added to the spaces in between the suit symbols, for the most part heraldic symbols. Thus, the eagle of Castile adorned the ace of Coins. The lion of León, the 2 of that same suit. The cow of Béarn, the 2 of Cups.

In all likelihood, this “cow” was the strongest luette at the time, a sort of super-ace whose name would remain associated with that of the game over the centuries, long after its drawing had disappeared from the card.

The most surprising thing is that, as with all the other symbols that decorated the point cards in the beginning, the cow very quickly vanished from the 2 of Cups. It was only 250 years later, at the beginning of the 19th century that it made its reappearance, reinvented by the cardmakers from Nantes, concerned with materialising with an image the name which the players had not stopped using to designate this strong card of the game!

* * *

But let us return to the story of our game of luettes which we have left on the banks of the lower Loire and the Gironde at the dawn of the 16th century. At that time, the piquet cards with French suits have not yet spread throughout the country. In the south-western quarter of France, a type of Spanish-suited playing cards was long in use, and were notably manufactured in Toulouse, Limoges, and in Puy-de-Dôme, in Auvergne, which are the main centres of card exportation towards Spain. What games were they used for? We do not know, but we may suppose that for the most part they more or less derive from an old stock of rules in use in the Iberian peninsula, having perhaps been brought over by the Moors with the cards themselves.

Aluette has preserved some of these archaic rules, which proves its antiquity; among others the one that gives the game all its flavour: the rule that allows the partners to signal to each other, using codified mimicry, the strong cards they have in hand!

To each of the luettes and the doubles corresponds an imperceptible movement of the head, the eyes, the mouth or the hands, which, naturally enough, the adversaries will attempt to notice all the while trying to communicate without being seen themselves. Following the regions, there also exist other signs to indicate the aces, the figures or to signal that one has nothing. These mute declarations may be accompanied by commentaries voiced aloud, to say for example that one has the “higher” or “lower” card, or even the “higher of the higher” or the “lower of the lower”. The essential thing is to never pronounce the name of a card aloud.

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Learn to Make Faces!

To each of the strong cards of the game corresponds a mimic or a conventional sign, which enables one partner to indicate to the other which cards he has in hand. These are among the most commonly-used, but there are others for the aces and the court cards. When one has a bad hand, one shrugs the shoulders according to whether it is very weak or simply mediocre. A player who has a number of strong cards might only make one signal and then announce aloud that he has “the higher,” or “the lower, or the “lower of the lower.”



Above: the 4 Luettes (from left to right): Monsieur: raise the eyes; Madame: smile to one side; the One-Eyed Man: wink; the Cow: pout. Below: The 4 Doubles: Big Nine: Thumbs up; Little Nine: Raise the little finger; 2 of Oak: Raise index and middle fingers; 2 of Writing: put two fingers forward. (Image from Alain Borvo, Anatomie d’un jeu de cartes, Librairie nantaise Yves Vachon, Nantes, 1977, p. 16)

From left to right: Monsieur; the One-Eyed Man; the Cow; Madame.

* * *

This rule is of great interest due to the mode of counting the points. Like many trick-taking games, Aluette is played by 4 players, in 2 teams of 2, the partners being seated on opposite corners. But they do not add up their scores: it is the player of the pair who scores the highest who will mark the point for his team. Therefore it is essential to know which of the two partners has the greatest chances of taking the trick.

It is then understandable that the entire strategy of the game, for the team, will consist in preferring the partner who has the greatest number of strong cards. To do so, there exist a certain number of ways one must know how to combine. One of them resides in the skilful handling of “the hand”: it is effectively the player who takes the trick who will put down the first card in the next hand. Given that one is not obliged to raise, the last one to play will make the decision as to the trick. He has three possibilities:

  1. He plays a card higher to the other three, and takes the trick. In this case, he will be the first to play next.
  2. He plays a lower card; either because he has no higher card; or because he wants his partner to win; or again, because he wants the opponent to his left to win, which will allow him to play last again in the next hand.
  3. He plays a card of the same value as the strongest card played of the preceding 3 already played. We say that he has “done as much,” and that the trick is “spoiled,” and no one takes the trick. His opponent to the left plays again first, and it is he himself who will once again make the decision.

The possibility of “spoiling” the hand takes an important place in the strategy of Aluette. It is useful, to be sure, when one has no strong card to take the trick, as well as to ensure the trick does not go to the opposing team. But one may also use it to get a better idea of the opponent’s hand by having him play first next, when one wishes to hold onto the luettes or the doubles for the following hands, or again, if one wishes to make a “mordienne.”

The mordienne is one of the twists of the game, which consists of, for one of the players, to take the last tricks in a row without having taken any beforehand. The number of these tricks taken must be greater than that of the tricks taken each of the other 3 players. Successfully played, the mordienne brings 2 points instead of the single point which the team would score by winning the deal. Obviously one only tries to pull off a mordienne when one has the greatest number of strong cards in hand. In this case, one tells one’s partner by lightly biting one’s lower lip. From then on, the partner will try to spoil the greatest number of deals at the beginning of the deal. But the opposing team will not be long in guessing the manoeuvre: and then they will endeavour to take the trick, or to keep one luette for the end, or else to spoil one of the last hands, which would the effect of interrupting the mordienne.

Aluette, as we can see, is a game of subtlety, which, without suit of trumps or the obligation to raise, and perhaps even because of this, requires an extremely tight analysis of the probabilities. But by its vocabulary as well as by the use of the mimicry it allows, it is also a joyful pastime. This explains no doubt why the game has very much remained alive over a vast region: southern Brittany, Vendée, and Charente-Maritime, where Aluette is played quite far inland. In the Cotentin, Ille-et-Vilaine, the Côtes-d’Armor and the Morbihan, it is only known on the coast, amongst the fishermen and the retired sailors of the National Navy. It is also to be found all along the valley of the Loire all the way up to Orléans, whence it is was imported from Nantes by sailors.

* * *

The Misadventures of Kiss-Hard

“Kiss-Hard” has fooled a lot of folks! With a decorative medallion which relates it to “Monsieur” and to the “One-Eyed Man,” we could think that it is a luette. In fact, the 5 of Coins has no value, aside from giving you the right to kiss the nearest woman, when there is one in the group. Yet its story deserves to be told. Originally, the central coin was none other than the reproduction of the coin newly-minted in Spain in 1497. We see, face to face, Ferdinand and Isabella, the famous couple of Catholic Monarchs, who enabled Christopher Columbus to discover America.

From left to right: Coin from 1497; 16th century: a chaste Kiss-Hard…; 18th century: the libertinage of the Kiss-Hard couple…; a very chaste Kiss-Hard couple on a 20th-century deck…

Almost 3 centuries later, the French Revolution occurred. Deprived of their royal attributes, that is, of their crowns, the “Kiss-Hard” couple would lose all restraint to give themselves up to intimate exercises, well suited to arousing the mockery of the Aluette players. But morality will end up by gaining the upper hand: the decks of the 20th century show a very chaste “Kiss-Hard”, nicely kissing each other on the lips in the fashion of the Vendéen Marais.

In our era in which eroticism is permitted, should our master-cardmakers not revise their Aluette designs to make them better suited to the spirit of the times? …

* * *

The Last Trick

We are here at the last of the 9 tricks of the deal. By playing the “One-Eyed Man”, the player from the bottom left will take the trick, thereby scoring 3 hands. As none of his opponents has done as much, he will take the point. In Aluette, in effect, the partners’ tricks are not added up: it is the player who has taken the most tricks who will score the point for his team. If two opponents reach the same number of tricks, the point goes to the team who scored the tricks first. Above, in the centre: two spoiled tricks which went to no one, one of the players having put down a card of the same value as the strongest of the 3 others.

* * *

To Know More

The Aluette cards are only published nowadays by two manufacturers, Grimaud, in Paris, and Héron-Boéchat, in Merignac. The rules are included with each pack of these commercially-available decks.

For the rules, one may also refer to the little book published in 1968 by Guy Rebour, La Crapette et le jeu d’aluette, Éditions, Bornemann, paris.

As concerns the history of the game, its iconography and its customs, one will consult with interest the following works:

Every general work on the history of playing cards will devote a certain amount of space to the game of Aluette, and its rules will be found in most volumes dealing with the rules of card games.

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For the further explanations of the rules of the game in English, please see here, here, or here.

Héron-Boéchat no longer manufacture an Aluette deck, although Grimaud still do. The contemporary Grimaud edition, available here, includes both the value of the cards as well as the miming signals printed on the individual cards, as shown below.

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Maurice Baskine: 17 13: 17 Hope Faith in a 13 Radical Transformation

Translator’s Introduction

We have written previously of the Surrealist artist Maurice Baskine and of the publication of his recently discovered Tarot deck. Baskine’s study of the Tarot not only yielded a personal deck and a book, but also produced some further results, such as the following hermetic diagram.  This diagram was published in the Surrealist journal Néon, n° 2, 1948. We present it here without commentary, other than to note that 1713 – a date André Breton claimed as his year of birth – is derived from the very initials of the writer’s name, to the point of forming his signature and an integral part of his coat-of-arms. Furthermore, the Surrealist author’s fascination for Arcanum 17 is self-evident.

* * *


To André Breton

17 13

17 Hope Faith
in a
13 Radical Transformation

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Gilemon Villemin: The Tarot de Marseille (Animation)


Versatile and often to be found where least expected, Tchalaï taught for a time in the ESIEA school of electronic engineering in France during the 1990s. According to a former student, the creator of the following video, she knew how to spark the class’s interest in the Tarot, which resulted in many interesting projects.

One such project is the following animation, in which the various elements and figures which make up the cards find themselves detached from each other, and animated, to say, moving along the directions of implied motion, articulating the essentially dynamic and interactive nature of the tarotic images.

The creator of this video, Gilemon Villemin, is an engineer and animator. His personal website is here, and the original video may be found here.

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The Tarot de Marseille

Gilemon Villemin

Published with the kind permission of the author.

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Maurice Baskine: Le Tarot de la Conscience

Le Tarot de la Conscience

Maurice Baskine


One contemporary Tarot deck that has gone unnoticed, and unjustifiably so, is that of the Surrealist artist Maurice Baskine (1901- 1968). This deck was recently rediscovered and published in France, along with Baskine’s text, “Le dessous des cartes de maître Mat,”  as a “little white booklet,” as Le Tarot de la Conscience – The Tarot of Consciousness.

Le Tarot de la Conscience

Born in Ukraine in 1901, Maurice Baskine died in Paris in 1968, where his family had moved to when he was four years old. He was, in turn, a bank clerk, an accountant in a factory, a soldier, a member of the Resistance and a sales representative. A self-taught artist inspired by alchemy, astrology and mystical literature, such as that of Nostradamus or Fulcanelli, Baskine joined the Surrealist movement and formulated his own theories of magical colour symbolism, which he called fantasophy, or phantasophy. Baskine’s body of work includes paintings, etchings, sculptures, and mixed-media pieces.

“In Surrealism, along with Victor Brauner, Maurice Baskine was without doubt the one who came closest to an art whose permanent reference was magic.” – José Pierre, L’aventure surréaliste autour d’André Breton, Filipacchi, 1986, p. 131.

Maurice Baskine (1901- 1968)

In terms of the Tarot, Baskine produced some 3 etchings for a limited edition of André Breton’s Arcanum 17, a work itself inspired by the Tarot. At the time, his as-then-unpublished deck and the manuscript for his booklet were favourably mentioned by a number of prominent writers, and we find the following praise for his work:

“To be sure, the Tarot has been the subject of a number of very interesting studies, especially in recent years, and among them is the unfortunately as-yet unpublished one by the contemporary artist Baskine.”

– Jacques Bergier (author of The Morning of the Magicians)

“[Baskine’s work] gives a principally alchemical reading of the Tarot. […] Baskine is that student of Nature who knows how to extricate from the darkest matter the fire that smoulders and gleams when it comes into contact with a mind still in possession of its original gift.”

– Aimé Patri (philosopher)

“I enjoyed Maurice Baskine, the phantasopher with the large round glasses (he called his philosophy of life phantasophy) looking for the philosopher’s stone in an athanor in his house in Fontenay-sous-Bois, and who would leave behind beautiful alchemical paintings, a new Tarot deck, a triptych on the Great Work, and a magical object, the Photoron with mirror.”

– Sarane Alexandrian (Surrealist, philosopher)

Baskine’s work on the Tarot was announced as being “forthcoming” in a 1953 art review, but was never published during the artist’s lifetime. This deck was produced using the drypoint technique of scratching ink, and is somewhat on the ‘dark’ side. Nevertheless, it may well appeal to some, for a number of reasons: its artistic value, its mystical background, or simply its novelty.

Some Links:

A brief but informative biography may be found here; a wide selection of his works is available on the website of the Cordes-sur-Ciel museum of modern and contemporary art, home to a permanent collection of Baskine’s works; a selection of his works may be found here; and the lecture series by Adam McLean also includes a lesson on Baskine and the Surrealists (lesson 17:3). Finally, this interview with one of Baskine’s fellows, Claude Domec, provides some insight into the way he  viewed art as an act of magic (pages 23, 38-39). There is as yet no comprehensive biography of Baskine in either French or English, but a DVD documentary was produced during the retrospective of his work.

The deck is available on the usual platforms online, as well as directly from the publisher, Éditions Bussière.

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Fanny Clar: The Great Game

Translator’s Introduction

Fanny Clar, pen name of Clara Fanny Olivier (1875-1944), was a French journalist and writer, as well as a socialist and feminist activist. Author of a varied body of work, her writings include novels, poetry, plays, and books for children. On Clar, a recent – and very topical – article in English is available here.

This little piece, named after the fortune-telling card spread entitled the Great GameLe Grand Jeu, provides something of a contrarian view on the divinatory phenomenon, advocating a certain Stoicism instead. In effect, Clar’s view is very much in line with the concept of the amor fati of the ancient Stoic philosophers, although we have been unable to identify the source of the quotation cited, perhaps from Seneca, Epictetus, or Marcus Aurelius.

The original article was published as ‘Le Grand Jeu,’ in Floréal, 11 December 1920, no. 45, p. 1044, and may be read here.

Illustration by J. Clar

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The Great Game

Fanny Clar

Merchants of futures, tellers of fortunes good and bad, readers of tarot cards have never had such a great prosperity.

I am only saying this from hearsay. I cannot give any information drawn from personal experience. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to peer through the skylight of Tomorrow. For the past, who better than I myself who lived through it, to tell me as to its value?

I will thus never question the coffee grounds. Never have I allowed myself to indiscreetly question the Queen of Diamonds to know what influence on my destiny the encounter with the dark woman or the gangly young man will have.

The future is a ribbon which the Parcae has wrapped around her gnarly finger. Each day its width tightens. If it is sewn of good and honest thread right to the end, I will call myself satisfied. As to knowing how long is left to wrap, as to knowing whether there will be knots in the weave, what use is it? If I can do nothing about it, then what use is it to even think about it?

And I share the opinion of that philosopher, very simplistic perhaps, but whose philosophy appears to me to be acceptable:

“If I have good news to reap, I will always be pleased. If I must receive only bad news, then what use is it to allow it to preoccupy my mind?”

I do not think this is a dumb idea. What the Great Game has in store for us, the future will unveil in due course. To force it to speak beforehand will not prevent us from becoming its prey.

It is my opinion that it is preferable to spend our time in the best way we can manage, without interfering with our neighbour’s share. To reach the end of the thread, with a serene soul and good humour, I do not see any other method to recommend to you.

To times of unease correspond this imperious desire of interrogating the future. Credulity exasperates itself when, tired of reality, poor humanity desperately seeks some hope in the smoke of dreams. After the great shocks, fears, doubts, exasperated nervousness create tormented minds, the prey of chiromancers of all stripes.

It is the bottom of Pandora’s box that the client comes to query in the small office of the merchant of the future. The one and the other know it and mutually deceive each other.

I do not think that, if either of them were indisputably certain of buying and selling visions of tomorrow, the one would dare ask and the other dare reply.

No, I do not believe so.

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Jules Bois: The Popess of the Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

Jules Bois (1868-1943) was one of those prolific and once influential cultural figures who have now become largely neglected, yet whose work is perhaps due a revival. Now typically only mentioned in conjunction with the occult interests of the novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, his close friend, or with the esoteric music of Erik Satie, his fellow Rosicrucian devotee, Bois’ literary output conserves a certain documentary value, in spite of its journalistic excesses. Author of a number of novels, plays, collections of poetry, travelogues, feminist tracts, and investigations into the world of the occult, Bois’ published output amounts to some thirty-odd volumes of books.

Yet it is for his involvement in a series of literary spats within the Parisian occultist milieu, spats which resulted in a number of duels, deaths, and accusations of sorcery, that Jules Bois is chiefly remembered, if at all. Once again, readers who wish to learn more about the underside of the occultism of the Belle Époque involving pistols at dawn with characters such as Stanislas de Guaita, Papus and co. will find no better account in English than that published by Tobias Churton in his Occult Paris. Often – and erroneously – labelled a “notorious Satanist,” Bois’ character is worth dwelling on, if only to give a glimpse into the complex and often contradictory world to which he belonged.

Jules Bois (1868-1943), flanked by portraits of J.-K. Huysmans and Ernest Renan.

Having moved to Paris at the age of twenty, Bois quickly joined the literary and artistic circles of the day and became a noted journalist and art critic. Just as quickly, he also joined a number of supposedly esoteric orders and became close to Lady Caithness and the Theosophical Society, where he encountered feminist ideas, leading him to develop his own thoughts on the subject.

In effect, and this point must be noted in order to better understand Bois’ apparent critique of the feminine dimension of Catharism (personified as the Dantesque ‘Béatrice’ or ‘Bice’) that follows, Bois’ form of feminism was influenced by the theories of the philosopher J. J. Bachofen, something of a pioneering development in France since the writings of the Swiss thinker would not gain any traction in that country until almost a century later. In a nutshell, rather than promote a regressive form of matriarchal religion, as per Bachofen’s model, Bois sought to explicit a Nietszchean brand of “Superwoman” feminism, one going beyond patriarchy, and wrote a number of works towards that goal (L’Éternelle Poupée, L’Ève nouvelle, Le Couple futur).

In that respect, it must be kept in mind that while Bois eventually distanced himself from the occultist movement, a certain anti-clerical streak is evident in his writings from that period. Against patriarchal forms of religiosity, Bois posited a syncretic form of post-patriarchal and feminist spirituality. Even after his 1901 conversion to Catholicism, Bois’ views on feminism did not change in substance, becoming further refined along mystical Christian lines.

Bois’ occultist works consist mainly of investigative studies of the occultist societies of the day (Les petites religions de Paris) or of so-called occultist phenomena and speculations as to how they may arise (L’au-delà et les forces inconnues) and sceptical critiques of occultism and divination (Le Monde invisible). Bois’ view was that occultism and spiritualism were a necessary stage in the process of scientific development, since they opened the way for the experimental analysis of these phenomena, in other words, the development of what was known in French as “métapsychique”, or in English, parapsychology. In that regard, as a psychologist, Bois also played a somewhat important role as intermediary between the occultist circles of the late 19th century and the emerging psychological study groups of the early 20th century, especially promoting hypnotherapy for soldiers traumatised by World War I, among other things.

In his works, Bois dealt with the Tarot on a number of occasions. Firstly, in his influential book, Le Satanisme et la Magie (1900), in which he proposed the idea that the Tarot was not Egyptian, but rather of medieval European origin, and moreover, nothing less than the veiled vector of the Cathar heresy in a pictorial form. (Never short of a contradiction, this is in spite of telling us that the Tarot comes from Asia, or that the Bohemians came from Egypt…) That sub-chapter may be divided into two parts, the first treating of this tangled and implausible history in an overly convoluted manner, and the second being a brief exegesis of the Tarot trumps in accordance with the foregoing proposition.

Later, in his Le Monde Invisible (1902), Bois recycled, reworked and condensed some of this material, in a chapter on divination and the “Merchants of Hope.” The part dealing with the Tarot provides a summary of the potted history of the Cathars and the Gypsies from the previous work, while the exegesis in the earlier book has been omitted completely. In order to provide a coherent synthetic overview of Bois’ theory of the Tarot, we have thus combined the overview from Le Monde Invisible (pp. 256-258) with the second section from Le Satanisme et la Magie (pp. 19-20), separated by a series of asterisks.

These ideas – bordering on what has been termed Franco-Catholic nationalism – were not exactly new; in fact they had been formulated a couple of years earlier by his namesake, Georges Bois (no relation), also a friend of Huysmans, who had welded together some of the occultist preoccupations with Catharism to Catholic conspiracy theories in the wake of the Taxil hoax, and which shall be the subject of a future publication.

Yet, some of the particularities of the interpretation of the Tarot proposed by Bois bear a great resemblance to those first expressed in the mid 1890s by one P. Christian fils, that is, Paul Christian the younger, a transparent pseudonym based on that of the influential Tarot author Jean-Baptiste Pitois. The nature and the extent of these borrowings, rather than reflect a serious case of plagiarism, although that was by no means uncommon, more than likely indicate that Bois himself was responsible for La Reine Zinzarah and the other publications attributed to the putative son of the notorious librarian. This identification has never been noted to the best of our knowledge. In consequence, we have appended a footnote from La Reine Zinzarah (p. 225), which provides further insight into this early attempt to connect the Tarot to the Cathars, as well as an excerpt from another article, published in the Journal du Magnétisme in January 1895 under the same name. (A number of editorial notes have been provided to help unravel some of Bois’ arcane allusions.)

While attributing the paternity of the Tarot to the ancient Egyptians or the Gypsies (“Bohemians”) was something of a trope, Bois appears to have been the first to correlate the Tarot trumps with the Albigensian heresy, an idea later taken up by various authors, such as Maurice Magre, and which still endures today in certain circles, but for very different reasons. At the time, the predictable occultist reaction to this insistance on a medieval European origin of the Tarot was derision: a brief note in the Voile d’Isis, presumably by Papus himself, reads: “his critique, unfortunately too superficial?, only saw the garb of the idea and not the idea itself: the philosophy of the Tarot is in no way related to the Gnostic system, whereas, on the contrary, it presents the greatest concordances with the Kabbalah.” (Le Voile d’Isis, 3 April 1895, pp. 4-5)

On the subject of Jules Bois, see the following light-hearted article on his predictions for the year 2009, a century ahead of time, while readers of French may consult this more in-depth article on his life and works. Further reminiscences of Bois, by Vivekananda, no less, may be read here. Despite living in the United States for the best part of the second half of his life, none of Bois’ books have been translated into English, although he wrote one book in that language, his Essay on democracy (1924), dealing with the causes of WWI. A number of his articles in English on various subjects may be found online, including here. In English, Bois and his works are cited extensively in the studies Satanism: A Social History by Massimo Introvigne and Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism by Ruben van Luijk. A recent biography by Dominique Dubois, Jules Bois (1868-1943) : le reporter de l’occultisme, le poète et le féministe de la belle époque, Arqa, 2006, and a growing number of articles on Bois herald a renewal of interest in this intriguing figure and his work.

The Popess of the Tarot

Jules Bois

Another system of divination, even more popular, is that of the Tarot, or put more plainly, “the cards.” Where do these cards come from? They are said to date back to the time of Charles VI, that splenetic monarch consumed by a love philtre. (*) But this bible of divination is an import from Asia; it arrived in the wagon of the Gypsies.

Naïve and diabolical little images, they console, excite or damn. Through games of patience, they fill the idle hours of the old maid; with them, the croupier whips the nerves of the gambler to the point of suicide; they gather together the family in an honest game of whist; and in the hands of the sorceress, they fuel the fevers of the ambitious, of the flirtatious woman, and of the professional lover.

The occultists think they have found all the metaphysics within these cards; and yet they reign over the green mat of the gambling clubs.

Heresy had just been crushed in the blood of the Albigensians, Catholicism thought to have definitively sealed its triumph when the devious Tarot, that revolutionary bible, appeared. They ran to the rescue of the heresy, ragged, lowly and insolent, those known as the Bohemians, messengers of the Good Fortune, on their sprightly horses, in a prancing horde, with their swarthy features, their greasy hair, their coloured wagons striking the cobblestones of the streets. They first asked the aldermen, who snorted:

– “Who are you?”
– “I am, said the first, the duke of Upper Egypt, and those are the counts and barons, we have come to ask hospitality of France.”
– “And what brings you here, what orders have you received?”
– “We obey the One who precedes our cortège. Hidden within a palanquin, she studies the destinies of the world within the coloured books of Hermes. She is the queen of the Kabbalahs, the Sublime Mistress of Fire and Metal!” (*)

A stranger in a strange land, surrounded by her nomadic people, who have never revealed their origin or plans! She is the Beggarwoman, the Popess of the Tarot, the first of the somnambulists and the mediums, the Queen of Bohemia.

I have recounted this adventure all throughout Le Satanisme et la Magie [Satanism and Magic]. In vain, the aldermen sought to chase out these minions of the devil. The entire city was disturbed. The busybodies were on their doorsteps.

They whispered: “Unknown people who say they come from Egypt… They bring with them a book in which our future may be found… My dear, do you know that they can read palms?” The Gypsy women have come down from their wagons in the meantime, holding the beautiful Tarot images, charming and fearsome, in their fingers, in which the young lovers, the country folk, the old and rich noblemen, the letters that promise love and gold are to be found – and people gather round to listen to their delightful stories. To the young girl, they foretell a handsome La Hire (*); to the merchants, they give hopes of sudden sales; to the housewife bored of an old husband, they promise a coming affair. Such is how the human heart is conquered, and purses opened. The feudal castles themselves lower their drawbridges. The sorceress enters, holding within her satchel those marvellous cards in which dreams mingle with the promise of coins and kisses. Who could resist? The lure of divination entraps all souls.


And this Egyptian book, the amusement of the king Charles VI, consumed by a love philtre, as he gave in to the dream of this sorceress, idealised the martyrs of that sect [the Cathars], all those minions of love, the valets, the La Hires, the “faithful” of the langue d’Oc who, in the gallant courts, hid the teachings of the Temple beneath mawkishness. (*) Do you not recognise the wagon of the Bohemians in the Chariot (arcanum VII); the Old Man of the Mountain in the Hermit (VIIII) (*); the Baphomet in the Devil (XV) (*); the blind charm that leads the sorcerer to the rebel heart in the Lover (VI); the fatality that struck the Templar Order in the Fire from Heaven (XVI), and which avenges itself by crushing the Pope and the King beneath its ruins? …

Henri VII, leader of the sect, the one who laid siege to Rome and who was poisoned by an orthodox Communion wafer (*): he is the Emperor of the Tarot (arcanum IIII), having the heraldic attribute of the eagle at his feet, the bird of Saint John – Saint John the patron saint of the Templars. The Empress (III) is the Sect itself, the “Bice”, the mystical spouse of the emperor Henri VII. (*) Who would not discover within the Popess (II) the Sublime Mistress of Fire and Metal, the Duchess of Egypt? The Pope (V), is the Pope of Avignon, the good Albigensian pontiff, perhaps the anti-pope Cadalus (*), author of the famous grimoire attributed to Honorius. (*) As to arcanum I, the Juggler, one would need to be blind not to see the Bohemian himself, or the old sorcerer of Albi, reduced to cup and ball tricks, the bonesetter, the bear tamer.

Satan may now rest assured; they may burn all those grimoires in which he is not to be found. His story and his future – the supreme arcanum “the Triumph of the Mages” (*) – are written in inoffensive paintings in which solitary women will find solace, with which men will relax or annoy themselves; cards of success, cards of love, cards for gambling, cards truly of Woman and of the Devil!


The Tarot which the Bohemians use to tell fortunes is Egyptian, in theory. But a certain number of the figures which compose it are none other than the modifications which the Albigensians brought to bear. One of the more interesting ones is the one whose title is: La Maison-Dieu, emblem of the great catastrophe according to the cartomancers? – La Maison-Dieu of the Tarot – a tower struck by a thunderbolt – is none other than the Order of Knights of the Hospital struck by the papal bull of Boniface VIII. This tower is a Templar commandery, a symbolism to which we will easily gain the key if we recall that Maison-Dieu signifies hospital. – We have published a special work in this perspective.


If we consider the figures of the Tarot, it is precisely their medieval designations that strike us. We see the Maison-Dieu, formerly denoting a hospital; the Hermit; the Chariot; the Emperor; the Empress, designations that have nothing particularly pharaonic about them. Then come the Pope and the Popess, sacerdotal dignities which were assuredly not yet in use at the time of Sesostris. In a word, if a closer examination of the Tarot would set us on the track of some symbolism or other, it would lead rather to Albigensian symbolism instead of the Memphitic symbolism. We would be much closer to Simon de Montfort than to king Ozymandias.



Charles VI: Charles VI of France (1368-1422), known for his mental illness and psychotic fits and for his putative connection to the Tarot. In effect, one particularly tenacious legend would have it that the game of Tarot was invented to amuse the mad king in his later years. A receipt for three decks of cards found in the royal accounts, payable to one Jacquemin Gringonneur, was later erroneously associated with a deck of hand-painted cards in the Bibliothèque nationale. Despite having been made in northern Italy, the designation of “Charles VI Tarot” has stuck with this deck. Although contemporary psychiatrists have now diagnosed Charles’ psychotic episodes as a sign of schizophrenia, Bois appears to believe – or wish to vehicle the belief – that Charles was in fact under the effect of a debilitating love potion – provided, no less, by a Languedocien sorcerer.

Henri VIIHenry VII, Holy Roman Emperor, who laid siege to Florence, not Rome, and who is supposed to have died of malaria, although recent tests have shown an abnormally high level of arsenic present in his remains, giving some credence to the rumours that he was poisoned.

The Sublime Mistress of Fire and Metal: An epithet culled from the novel La Reine Zinzarah by the pseudonymous writer who called himself Paul Christian fils (1894), and whose close textual similarities to Bois’ work strongly suggest that the author was none other than Bois himself.

La Hire: Étienne de Vignolles, known as La Hire, was a a French military commander during the Hundred Years’ War, and a close comrade of Joan of Arc. In French-suited playing cards, the Jack or knave of Hearts is known as La Hire.

The “Faithful” of the langue d’Oc: A reference to the Fedeli d’Amore (the Faithful of Love or Love’s Lieges), the name of an esoteric brotherhood mentioned by Dante in his Vita Nuova, allegedly associated to the Templar Order and who supposedly practiced a form of erotic spirituality. This brotherhood would also be at the origins of the Troubadours and the Courtly Love of the Languedoc region in the south of France.

The Old Man of the Mountain: Epithet of Hassan-i Sabbah, founder of the Nizari Isma’ili state and its military group known as the Order of Assassins, often referred also as the Hashshashin.

Baphomet: A deity that the Knights Templar were accused of worshipping, and that was subsequently incorporated into occult traditions. Modern scholars agree that the name of Baphomet was an Old French corruption of the name “Mahomet”, with the interpretation being that some of the Templars, through their long military occupation of the Holy Land, had begun incorporating Islamic ideas into their belief system, and that this was seen and documented by the Inquisitors as heresy. This notion was further examined by P. Christian fils in an article entitled “La Magie et les Templiers,” published in La Quinzaine, October 15, 1895, pp. 466-478.

Honorius II: Born Pietro Cadalo (Latin: Petrus Cadalus) (c. 1010–1072), Honorius II was an antipope from 1061 to 1072, and had no known connection to the Albigensian – or any other – heresy. The work alluded to by Bois is in fact the title of two different books by unrelated homonymous characters, the first being the Sworn Book of Honorius, or Liber Juratus Honorii, a 13th century grimoire purportedly written by Honorius of Thebes, a possibly mythical character from the Middle Ages; the second being the much later Grimoire of Pope Honorius, or Le Grimoire du Pape Honorius, a 17th to 18th century grimoire attributed to Pope Honorius III (1150-1227).

Bice or Beatrice: Throughout his writings, Bois uses the Dantesque figure of Beatrice,  or ‘Bice’, as a synonym for the Greek Sophia, or feminine wisdom, of the Gnostics.

The Triumph of the Mages: A typo for the epithet The Crown of the Mages coined by Paul Christian, referring to the twenty-first card of the Tarot trump sequence, The World.

Order of Knights of the Hospital: The French reads: milice hospitalière. Christian/Bois has here conflated the Order of the Knights Templar with the Knights Hospitaller.

Boniface VIII: Once again, Bois has confused Pope Boniface VIII – who issued bulls against Philip the Fair of France – with his successor, Clement V, who abolished the Templar Order.

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Charles Antoni: Jean Carteret

Translator’s Introduction

The life and works of Jean Carteret (1906-1980) have already been introduced and presented on this site, in a number of posts, but it is not without interest to return to this thought-provoking character, influential in his own sphere, and whose theory of the Tarot is perhaps one of the most original and engaging formulations thus far.

As far as literature is concerned, Carteret is mentioned on numerous occasions in the works and diaries of Anaïs Nin; he is the subject of the vignette “The All-Seeing” in Under a Glass Bell, as well as the eponymous protagonist of the story “Marcel” in Delta of Venus.

Here, publisher Charles Antoni evokes his encounter with Carteret, a fateful encounter which resulted in the publication of a number of books, including the landmark tarological exegesis, Le Tarot comme Langage.

Jean Carteret, 1979

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Jean Carteret

Charles Antoni

Paris, 1977

I discovered the name of Jean Carteret in an article in some journal whose name I forget. It was an article done by Daniel Giraud. I met him later on. I had found the article very interesting, as well as the character of Jean Carteret, and I had had the idea to meet up with him. I ended up finding out his telephone humber and calling him up; very nicely, he gave me a rendezvous at his home in the rue de la Tour-d’Auvergne.

It was a maid’s room full of objects; there was no empty space at all. He was such as I had seen him in the photo in the magazine; bearded, long hair; a man of about seventy years old. He had fingernails of an impressive length, one even had the feeling that he never cut them.

Such as I saw him at that moment, and such as I saw him afterwards, he was always wearing a Breton sailor’s cap. Which, no doubt, he was himself. Very sympathetic, he was stretched out on his couch, which doubled up as his bed. He appeared to listen to music all day long, because large headphones were in front of him, along with many records and tapes, as well as massive speakers, all this was stacked up in front of him.

We spoke for about two hours. He was unstoppable, and every question I asked him, he could develop infinitely. He really was a man of language. He knew a lot of people in the literary world, and in the artistic world too he had a wide network of acquaintances. He seemed to be particularly interested in astrology; he was even acknowledged as being a great symbolist of astrology.

It was said that he had discovered two new planets, Proserpine and Lilith. He was not an astrologer in the narrow sense of the term, the one who quickly draws up a chart of the heavens to try to divine your destiny. No! He was a metaphysician of astrology. In fact, he was a metaphysician. In the second volume of her Diaries, Anaïs Nin talks a lot about him. Of her encounter with him, she says: “He had sea-blue eyes and was extremely intelligent.”

After that first encounter, I asked him to come with me to the L’Originel publishers, which he willingly agreed to. And for a few evenings in the week, we continued our discussions, which would go on for hours…

After a year spent in his company, I suggested that he publish a book of discussions; during those evenings, I had recorded his talks. I always regretted that at that time, video cameras did not yet exist. It would have been wonderful to be able to admire Jean Carteret, so many years later. Finally, the work Des Dialogues et du Verbe [On Dialogues and On the Word] was published a year later, before he died in his sleep. That was all I was able to save of that man of language. I think he would have been pleased to see that not all had been lost and that some young people still take an interest in his thought.

He was a man of extreme kindness, never did I ever see him refuse anything at all whatsoever. It took an entire year of work on his manuscript. Jean Carteret wrote little, which is no doubt the reason why he remained almost unknown, apart from in a handful of specialised circles. In this world of paper, it is surprising that a bunch of people, who didn’t have one percent to tell of what Jean Carteret could tell, have become renowned. As [Raymond] Abellio used to say about him: “Jean Carteret was a sort of Socrates who never found his Plato.” To be sure, there are still a few discussions recorded during radio shows. All is not lost as a result.

No doubt many things might still brush upon the surface of his thought. L’Originel contributed to this somewhat. Jean Carteret was a discreet man who had gone beyond all existing conventions. What he often used to say was that the best moments of his existence had been during his voyage in Lapland. He had kept a marvelled childlike memory of that. Jean Carteret had kept that childlike gaze. That gaze marvelling at things, that gaze of sky blue.

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Charles Antoni: Alessandro Jodorowsky

Translator’s Introduction

The name of Charles Antoni (1941-2016) will likely prove to be unknown to non-French speakers, yet this writer, philosopher and publisher deserves to be better known, due to his tireless activity in presenting and publishing a great number of books as well as an influential journal on all manner of subjects connected to spirituality and personal development, such as non-dualistic philosophy, meditation, yoga, Zen Buddhism, martial arts, and so forth.

Having left his native Corsica to become an actor in Paris in the 1960s, Antoni would soon travel to India to learn yoga and meditation at the feet of the masters, before returning to France to found a journal which would later turn into a fully-fledged publishing outfit, the éditions L’Originel, in 1977.

With respect to the Tarot, a number of things could be said, but for now, suffice to say that éditions L’Originel published some of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s early Tarot writings in their eponymous journal in the 1970s, as well as one work on the subject, Le Tarot Miroir d’Eternité, by Christian Morris in 1996. As to the rest, we shall return to this in due course.

In this brief excerpt from his memoirs, L’infini voyage (2017), Antoni evokes the figure of Alejandro Jodorowsky, whom readers of this blog will recognise without any great difficulty.

Charles Antoni (1941-2016) Still from the documentary Les Masques et l’éveil by Jacques Spohr

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Alessandro Jodorowsky

Charles Antoni

The cult film The Holy Mountain by Alessandro Jodorowsky came out on the screens. No doubt inspired by Daumal’s Mont Analogue. The character played by Jodorowsky in the film bore a strange resemblance to G. I. Gurdjieff. And the soul of the Tarot, no doubt inspired by Oscar Ichazo, was the connecting thread of the film. It was only a few years later that Jodorowsky devoted himself to his passion for the Tarot, giving a sort of conference-performance each week which anyone could attend freely. We could say that he was, in France, the great renovator and exegete of the Tarot.

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Jodorowsky photographed by Grant Delin

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Jean-Michel Mathonière: The Tarot and the Art of Memory, or the Art of Accommodating Symbols

Translator’s Introduction

Having previously published a piece by Jean-Michel Mathonière, the preface to Yves Desmares’ book Graal et Tarot, we return to his work with this article, the first in a series revisiting the Tarot after the publication of his book L’arcane des arcanes du Tarot, published by Trédaniel in 1985,  further examining the historical and iconographic background to the elaboration of the Tarot, the latest of which was published in January 2020. This piece, Tarot et Art de Mémoire… ou l’art d’accommoder les symboles, was first published in La Chaîne d’Union, nouvelle série n° 12, printemps 2000, and may be read online here.

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The Tarot and the Art of Memory, or the Art of Accommodating Symbols

Jean-Michel Mathonière

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author

Best known for his writings on Freemasonry and on hermetic symbolism, Oswald Wirth, by publishing Le Tarot des imagiers du moyen-âge [The Tarot of the Magicians] in 1927, inscribed himself within the lineage of the occultists of the 19th century who saw this deck as an important legacy of the secret philosophy of the sages of Antiquity, a legacy deliberately hidden away from the secular/desecrators thanks to its appearance of a mere game. The origin of this wave of interest for the Tarot, notably represented by Éliphas Lévi and Stanislas de Guaïta, is to be found from the end of the 18th century; its founding father is Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Freemason (secretary of the famous lodge Les Neuf Sœurs) and author of a vast mytho-encyclopaedic work entitled Le Monde primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne […], whose eighth volume, published in 1781, is largely concerned with the arcana of the Tarot in which he thought to have recognised the fragments of the “Book of Thot” of the Egyptians. Then, between 1783 and 1785, this was followed by the publication in four volumes of the Manière de se recréer avec le jeu de cartes nommées tarots by Etteilla (pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Alliette), also a Freemason, who takes up and develops the idea that it is indeed the famous “Book of Thot” – we are here at the peak of this wave of interest for a mysterious Egypt which will push Bonaparte to lead soldiers and scholars to the foot of the pyramids.

From that time on, many other publications have followed this path for, even if it is not as often drawn upon as astrology or kabbalah, the Tarot is now one of those subjects that makes up the stock-in-trade of the occult sciences and which periodically fuels public attention as far as mystery and fringe spirituality is concerned. In this way, from the beginning of the 1980s, the Tarot has once again undergone a formidable trend, as much as a divinatory support as a support for meditation. It has been put to every sauce, to begin with that of the Centuries of Nostradamus, and – it was almost inevitable – to that of the Masonic sauce.

For any reader in the slightest attentive and curious, it quickly appears that the considerable mass of writings devoted in whole or in part to the Tarot, beyond being repetitive and ill-disguised recompilations of a handful of classics, turns out to be disappointing when it is a question of dealing with anything other than divination, and incidentally of symbolism, and of broaching certain fundamental questions, beginning with: where and when did the Tarot appear, and what was its initial vocation?

For the fact that the occultists only latterly appropriated it and found within it fodder for symbolic-esoteric commentaries does not necessarily signify that it is well and truly, in origin, a particular form of “treatise of occult philosophy.” And even were it more or less the case – and we shall see to what extent in conclusion – it behoves us to remain extremely prudent as to the interpretations which may result.

From this latter point of view – which is not limited to the Tarot and which may equally be applied to Masonic symbolism – one must in effect bear in mind that a perfectly clear symbol in a given context may, over time and little by little, see its usage slide into other contexts, become mysterious and receive other interpretations, not necessarily aberrant, but in any event, out of step or incomplete with respect to the primary significance. Therefore it is not without interest to first of all seek to replace the Tarot in the context of its birth.

It is obvious that a brief article cannot provide a comprehensive, nor even a summary, overview of every aspect of this rich subject, but I hope that these few insights, essentially geared towards the demystification of the Tarot, may usefully serve as railings for those who would pursue the meandering pathways, as obscure as one might wish for, of the specialised literature.

A Few Indispensable Pointers

It behoves us first of all to recall how a Tarot deck is composed, and what distinguishes it so radically from other decks of cards.

The most widespread model is composed of 78 cards, divided into two sub-sets, a division which, including variants, characterises the Tarot from the onset.

On the one hand, the so-called “minor” cards, 56 in number and subdivided into four series (cups, coins, swords and staffs), identically structured (ace, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, then, valet, knight, queen, king) – these minor cards are analogous to those of the deck of “ordinary” playing cards (notwithstanding variants in the “suits”, that is, the distinctive emblems of the series, for instance, heart, club, spade and diamond for French-suited cards).

On the other hand, the so-called “major” cards or “trumps”, twenty-two in number (in fact, 21 + 1), which each possess a particular iconography – these are the “extra” cards which are characteristic of the Tarot.

Let us immediately note that there exist Tarot decks, or of games belonging to the same general type, that have more or less cards, trumps notably, than the classic model – of which the so-called “Marseilles” Tarot is the best known exemplar, notably by those who take an interest in symbolism.

I. A Little History

First of all, let us clear the board of all received ideas as to the high antiquity of the Tarot. No, it is not the work of the great initiates of ancient Egypt! Nor is it of Hebraic-kabbalistic origin either. Nor Gypsy. Much less, since there have obviously been a few to make the claim, is it extraterrestrial…

The most ancient Tarot decks we presently know of are those created in the courts of northern Italy (Milan and Ferrara) from the years 1440-1450. They are magnificent miniatures painted on parchment, whose backgrounds are gilt. Unfortunately, none of them has come down to us complete (the so-called “Visconti-Sforza” nonetheless counts 74 cards out of 78, perhaps), and most of them are known to us only by a few cards – which demonstrate that noticeable variants already existed. One of the most curious is that of the Goldschmidt collection, painted in Italy or in Provence in the middle of the 15th century: some of the nine cards preserved present emblems with a hermetic resonance (the ace of Cup undoubtedly alludes to the Grail and the fountain of the “lovers of knowledge”); we will also note, without drawing any hasty conclusions, that the ground of certain scenes is formed by a “mosaic paving.” Some fragments of cards engraved on wood from the end of the 15th century are also known to us. Whether luxury or popular, the greater number of the major arcana of these first tarot decks already possess, in their broad strokes, their iconography or their classic themes.

Arcanum XXI (The World) of the so-called “Visconti-Sforza” deck. Miniature on parchment, after the original deck, by Jean-Michel Mathonière.

Following the Italian wars and artistic and intellectual exchanges, Tarot spread throughout France from the beginning of the 16th century, where it will soon become very fashionable as a game. The oldest French reference to the “taraux” occurs in Gargantua (1534) by Rabelais, in a list of games played by the young giant (chapter 12). From that period, the decks are produced in France, notably in Lyons (Catelin Geoffroy deck, 1557), then in Paris (see, for instance the handsome tarot by Jacques Viéville, towards 1650, or, first example of the definitive “Marseilles” type decks, that of Jean Noblet, around the same time). During the 17th and 18th centuries, we also find them produced in Avignon (papal territory benefitting from the tax exemption on cards), in Rouen, in Chambéry, in Besançon… and of course, but rather later, in Marseilles. That is notably where the deck of Nicolas Conver will be published, in 1760, the perfection of whose engraving and colours will assure it such a success that it will become in a way the “standard,” from which all its successors will draw inspiration, and to whose symbolic commentary the majority of works of an esoteric nature are devoted, in spite of the fact that it is, in the end, the late offspring of a much older and more varied tradition.

Ace of Cups from the Goldschmidt collection

The “ordinary” cards, analogous to the minor arcana of the Tarot, are for their part attested at a somewhat earlier date. The texts begin to brutally flourish from the 1370s onwards, and we learn that they are of “saracen” origin – whence, notably, the representation of swords in the shapes of scimitars with curved blades. In reality, it is the Chinese who, towards the 10th century, invented the game of cards, which then followed the Silk Road to reach the Middle East. The Topkapi museum in Istanbul thus possess a few cards of a magnificent hand-painted deck, from the 16th century, whose iconography is incontestably related to the that of the characteristic emblems of Italian and Spanish playing cards. Yet, whether they are Eastern or Western, the fragility of the cards, even when dealing with luxurious decks painted on parchment, means that very few witnesses have survived and makes a more precise historical study difficult.

Despite this dearth of documentary sources, the iconographic analysis of the 16th century Tarot decks alone allows us to legitimately hypothesise that its birth is to be situated in northern Italy and likely does not date to much earlier than the beginning of the 16th century – at least as far as the form that we know of is concerned, that is, a set of characteristic images which is added, for no apparent reason, to the ordinary cards. Nonetheless, as we shall see in greater detail, from the very fact that its iconography is essentially the result of borrowings from various corpuses, sometimes very ancient, we can accept that, like a living being, its birth into the light of day was preceded by a long period of gestation, which may well extend earlier to the beginning of the 14th century and have Oriental roots.

A Sufi Origin?

Other research leads remain to be explored in order to better situate this north and, above all, the causes of this genesis. Etymology perhaps provides us with some interesting lights. The French word “tarot” (Gargantua, 1534) derives from the Italian “taroccho” (attested in Ferrara in 1516), whose origin is unknown, as a Venetian invective against this game notes in 1550: “E quel nome fantastico e bizarro / Di Tarocco, senz’ ethimologia…” This meant that the French occultists of the 19th century sought to remedy by an unconvincing reliance on the Oriental languages of classical Antiquity, notably Hebrew, and to anagrams (TAROT/ROTA), and other kabbalistic encodings… Curiously, even among the more academically-minded, no one thought to solicit Arabic, even when it became known that the ordinary cards (also known as naibi, from the Arabic “standard-bearer,” denoting the “court” cards of the numeral series) came to us from the Saracens.

Now, “taroccho” may derive from the Arabic “tariqa” (plural: “turuq”) meaning “the way” in the initiatory sense (Sufi brotherhoods are as many “turuq”). Furthermore, even though it is only quite lately attested, at least explicitly, the traditional denomination of the Tarot cards, the “arcana” (major or minor), if it undoubtedly evokes a classical Latin etymology (“arcana,” the casket in which jewels and treasure are locked up, and by extension, secrets (1)), may too have an Arab origin: “arkân,” “the angles,” a term which, in the technical vocabulary of Islamic esotericism, designates the “foundations” (in the sense of “landmarks”) and which is connected to the notion of “tariqa.”

Here we are, back at esotericism! From this point of view, the “arcana of the Tarot” could signify “the foundations of the way.” The hypothesis of an origin of the Tarot connected to Sufism in the end would not be surprising, especially if we consider the fact that the Sufi doctrines were well known to Dante, for example, whose work was itself very fashionable in the princely and learned circles in which the first Tarot decks appear. Moreover, as to its content, the mathematico-geometrical structure of the major arcana (2) is not without evoking the mathematico-metaphysical speculations of the Iranian Sufis of the 13th century. However, for want of documentary confirmation, let us bear in mind that this is but a hypothesis.

A Very Rich, but Diverse Iconography

Another received idea, commonly shared by those who take an interest in the esoteric symbolism of the Tarot, is that the “true” tarot, the only one worthy of attention, is the so-called “Marseilles” Tarot. Moreover, by producing new models, the occultists were only, in their own words, “restituting” to this classic model certain symbolic details, which, over the course of popular copies, would have been lost – notably the correspondences with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Now, not only is this classic model not from Marseilles (it too originates in Northern Italy), but furthermore it is far from being the only model of Tarot. Thus, if the classic model has 78 cards, there exist other tarot decks, notably among the most ancient, or decks of cards belonging to same genre, which have more or less: the tarot of Bologna has but 62, whereas the Florentine minchiate has 97 in total – 40 of which are trumps. As to the iconographic themes, a mere glance at the ancient decks will confirm that they are not only very diverse, but also, and beginning with those which recur in all the models, much less fixed than is generally believed.

Let us take a few characteristic examples. Thus, the Juggler, first of the major arcana, who, in the Tarot of Marseilles revisited by the occultists, belongs at the same time to the category of the prestidigitators and to that of the mages/initiates, appears in certain Italian decks as being a craftsman, more often than not a cobbler… Or again (see the illustrations) the God-House which, in the classic “Marseilles” model (arcanum XVI), is depicted by a tower decapitated by lightning (reminiscent of the “Masonic” allegory of the destruction of the tower of Babel), and which, in the Florentine minchiate, under the number XV, is depicted by Adam and Eve being chased out of the earthly Paradise (the tower is then that of the fortified gate of the enclosure, whereas the lightning symbolises the divine wrath). Without forgetting the Tarot of Jacques Viéville either, published in Paris in the middle of the 17th century, in which arcanum XVI is represented, without any indication of a name, by a tree struck by lightning under which a shepherd and his flock of sheep and goats take shelter… Or again, in that other Parisian deck of the early 17th century, in which, under the name La Foudre [The Lightning], arcanum XVI borrows from arcanum XV of the Marseilles model the theme of the Devil, here depicted by a demon with a drum beating the sinners in the flames of Hell… To be sure, the lightning is recurrent and the tower, the earthly paradise and the tree are well-known symbols of axiality, incidentally lost, all in connection with the Christian theme of the Fall. We will also note that, in order to better yet show the complexity of these crossed borrowings, that in certain decks which wed the tree to the lightning, the theme of the tower is transported to the following arcanum, the Star, in the shape of a bell-tower (whose connection to lightning we know precisely due to Brother Franklin!).

For want of being able to devote more space, these are but a few examples drawn from a long list, of which the flexibility inherent to symbolism does not always permit us to divine the coherence – if there truly is one – and we see very well, in consequence, how foolhardy and excessive it is to elaborate a general interpretation of the Tarot by basing oneself on one model alone.

From left to right: Anonymous Parisian (17th c.); Viéville (middle of 17th c.); Bolognese deck by Giacomo Zoni (18th c.) after a “Marseilles” type deck; Florentine ‘Alpouerone’ Minchiate deck (18th c.).

II. The Tarot, What For?

If the exact origins of the Tarot remain uncertain, this is not the case as far as its original use is concerned. It is only on the late, during the course of the 18th century, that it will become a divinatory instrument. Prior to that – and until today still – it was clearly a game. But what is to be understood exactly by this term? Is it merely a form of entertainment, or in extreme cases, a vice? Or is it, since a number of games appear to have been so before becoming simple amusements – something more “initiatory”? The documentary sources are not very revealing on this point. At most, they allow us to notice that the vice of gambling is by no means recent, since more often than not they are ecclesiastic prohibitions.

Nevertheless, one need but look at the iconography of one ancient deck or another to convince oneself that it cannot be but an insignificant illustration, purely “decorative” or “pleasing,” as one might expect of a game of no consequence, even of aristocratic origin. Its themes are less strange than they seem and especially borrow from Christian iconography: the Pope, Justice, the Wheel of Fortune, Force, etc. They equally borrow from the iconography of medieval society: the Juggler, the Empress, the Emperor, etc. To the labels as well: the Popess is none other than the famous popess Joan, a woman who would have been elected pope in the Middles Ages, disguised as a man. Other arcana, the Star (made famous by André Breton, Arcane 17 [Arcanum 17]), the Moon, the Sun, refer to astronomy/astrology, all the while allowing for possible references to alchemy (but as it borrows extensively from astrology, this is not very significant).

Symbolic… Symbolic, You Say?

We cannot say, then, that the Tarot explicitly, much less methodically, refers to various occult sciences of which the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were indeed particularly fond. In passing, let us demolish another received idea, of which the occultists of the 19th century were the ardent propagators: the twenty-two major arcana of the Tarot do not coincide with twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (3), on which the kabbalistic doctrines are largely founded. If we confine ourselves to those decks engraved before the fad for occultism, no detail of the drawings clearly or even discreetly evokes the shape or one Hebrew letter or another.

In fact, and this is a particularly important remark (and not only for the Tarot), it is the occultist authors who little by little manipulated the iconography and the “symbolism” in order to make the arcana of the Tarot fit their theories! This phenomenon, eminently criticisable from the moment it becomes a matter of deciphering this symbolism, is to be found even in works considered as being among the most serious, presenting themselves in a way as being a return to the “tradition,” that of Paul Marteau on Le Tarot de Marseille (1949): the symbolic reading the author provides is especially based on the colours… yet they are not those of the “standard” edition of 1760, but those of the 1930 edition realised under his own direction! Followed in this by Alexandro Jodorowsky in the 1980s, the author also applies sustained attention to certain equally secondary details of the engravings, and which are, in passing, extremely variable from one deck to the next: in this way, for instance, he reaches the point of counting the lines of the hatching on the collar of some character or another in order to deduce, numerology helping, “luminous” significations. In fact, looking more closely, it appears that like the colours, these “significant” details for the most part are absent from the oldest editions, or else are the result of an amalgam of a number of them – hence the two dice on the Juggler’s table, on which a lot has been written since the number of combinations of two dice is 21, which is to say the same as that of the numbered major arcana! But, in the genre, the prize goes to the occultists of course, notably to Oswald Wirth, whose drawings introduce alchemical, kabbalistic, Egyptian and even Taoist symbols at every opportunity…

Rabelais, whose interest in hermeticism is well known, in his day already mocked an author who claimed to fully explain the symbolism of colours in heraldry. What would he have said, seeing the Tarot becoming a waste land onto which the pale remains of initiatory traditions and exotic religions have been piled up in a jumbled heap?

The Juggler from the deck by Nicolas Conver (1760) and its “faithful” copy by Paul Marteau (1948). Spot the difference…

III. The Art of Memory

Let us summarise. The Tarot is born, we are not too sure by what subtle process, of an exchange between Islam and the West, at the twilight of the Middle Ages and at the dawn of the Renaissance. Now, it is an era fond of hermeticism and it would, in effect, not be surprising were the iconography of the Tarot to make references to this. It would even be the contrary that would be almost abnormal. Yet, if we compare them with the very characteristic alchemical iconography, it is very clear that these references are almost insignificant. The same goes for astrology: the Star, the Moon, the Sun, are very little to go by, even though certain details clearly attest an intention going beyond banality or the simple depiction of the celestial bodies we all know.In fact, on closer examination, the tarot refers more or less to all the classic iconographies of that era, without substituting itself to one of them as a homogenous series or “imago mundi.” And what if this were precisely the key to the “mystery” of the arcana?

At the time, there was effectively a sort of “eight” liberal Art very much in vogue. Practiced and honoured since Greco-Roman Antiquity, the Art of Memory is based on the principle of the arrangement of “agent” images in highly structured “places,” easily memorised because “oriented.” Moreover, these are generally architectural structures: the entrance gate to a palace, its lobby, its staircase, its rooms, its windows, etc. are so many places in which one might arrange, like statues in their niches, agent images. What are those? They are images capable of strongly striking the imagination, unusual images, or images that present equally unusual details. In brief, symbolic images. Numerous treatises advise the use of bloody images, images of murder, because they are more easily memorised, and it is easier to attach a greater number of details to them (the murder weapon, the location of the wound, the colour of blood, etc.), supports for as many pieces of information as necessary. These images are then arranged in the places, according to a very precise order, in such a way that when one wishes to recall them, one need only enter into the “edifice of memory” and go into such or such a part of it in order to immediately bring them to mind.

In fact, this organisation of memory does not necessitate memorising all the necessary details in one go. It is a memory that is rationally constructed over time. For instance, the storage of information relative to astronomy/astrology could begin with the creation of a general agent image, in the same way that a door opens on to a room in which knowledge will be stored over the course of its acquisition, in the shape of as many images as necessary.

We can easily understand that the Tarot is a remarkable “memory palace” since it incorporates in the same spacio-temporal set a coherent set of places (four “minor” series of ten hierarchical cards + twenty-two “major” cards, themselves numerically ordered) and images which, all the while being more or less known by users (therefore easier to memorise and already referring to various information), possess striking details. One will also note that the ludic use of the Tarot is finally none other than the practical application of the principal rule of the Art of Memory, to wit, frequently going through, with some attachment, the edifices of memory in order to revivify its images; even more so than other games of cards, the ludic use of the Tarot in effect strongly calls on the memory.

This hypothesis fins the beginning of proof in the fact that, precisely, there exist decks of cards which are explicitly games of the Art of Memory, and of which certain details clearly evoke the spirit of the major arcana of the Tarot. Thus, in 1509, Thomas Murner published in Strasbourg a treatise entitled Logica Memorativa, which is entirely based on a deck of cards. Already, towards 1545, the Italian deck falsely attributed to Mantegna, composed of 50 exclusively “major” cards, of which a large number are perfectly analogous to the arcana of the Tarot, may no doubt be classified in the category of educational games founded on the classical and learned tradition of the Art of Memory.

Memory card by Thomas Murner, 1509. A good mason is known by his work…

And what about divination in all this? If we accept that the Tarot is originally a system of the Art of Memory, this “drift” may be fairly easily explained. In effect, the Art of Memory is much more than a simple “passive” mnemonic technique. The dynamism of the system effectively induces analogical reasoning, notably by means of the numbers – how could we not relate, for instance, the seven planets of traditional astronomy/astrology with anything that could be combined by series of seven? Not only does the system foster the acquisition of knowledge in this way, but it also does so for the development of the imagination and of the capacity for invention. Whether deliberate or not, the confrontation with images drawn from the Art of memory powerfully solicits reminiscences and analogies. The step that separates the system from divination is then quickly passed, especially if we are ignorant of what exactly it involves.

By Way of Conclusion:

Is the Tarot the Bearer of an Esoteric Message?

It remains to be known whether the Art of Memory set to work in the ancient tarots possesses (or not) a real hermetic dimension. Let us note in passing that such a dimension, moreover more or less inherent to all analogical mode of thought, will be the object, in the 16th century, of the speculations of Giordano Bruno and will come, through the publication of his works and his stay in England, to fuel the circles from which speculative Freemasonry draws an essential part of its roots. (4) The answer is not easy, all the more so since iconological research on the Tarot is still in its infancy. Much the same, incidentally, as for the Art of Memory, whose importance in Renaissance thought has only been demonstrated quite recently. Furthermore, one would have to define beforehand what hermeticism consists of – incidentally a more exact and precise term than “esotericism.” It remains nonetheless the case that a rigorous study of the arcana of the Tarot, without being exclusive to one deck or another, considered more “authentic” than the rest, remains a particularly effective and lively means of exploring symbolism. From this point of view, the hermeticism of the Tarot would be just as much, if not more, outside it, that is to say, in the projections and reminiscences it solicits, than inside it. This is probably what Italo Calvino had in mind when he wrote his talented novella on the Tarot, The Castle of Crossed Destinies.

As to deducing from the symbolic character of the Tarot, whatever its precise reasons, the fact that it would be the bearer of an esoteric message, of a coherent secret doctrine (notwithstanding the accumulated losses over the course of the centuries of popular copies), that is, as I hope I have given a glimpse, a badly-founded hypothesis.

— Jean-Michel Mathonière

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  1. Rabelais appears to have subscribed to this meaning himself for arcana when he mentions the “Silènes” in the surprising prologue to his Gargantua. While the Silènes are normally the characters who accompany Bacchus in the “ancient style” depictions of his “Triumph,” he defines them here, in the beginning of his prologue, as “little boxes” with “joyous and frivolous figures” painted on top, in which precious things are locked up. It is on this occasion that he incites the reader to seek an esoteric significance to his fanciful writings, in the same way as a dog breaks a bone in order to suck out “the pith and the marrow.” This text is particularly important because it implicitly attests a number of points: Rabelais knew the major cards under the name of “arcana” as well as that of “triumphs” (trionfi in Italian, which is effectively the oldest name by which they were known); moreover, he assigns a hermetic sense to these cards. An in-depth study would need to be undertaken as to the connections between the work of Rabelais and the Tarot. Let us simply note here the kinship that exists between the character of Gargantua and the Mate (Fool), who is also a giant and whose apparent madness may very well hide a certain wisdom, just as the same passage of the Prologue of Gargantua underlines, when it says that Socrates was like the Silènes, because, “For to have eyed his outside, and esteemed of him by his exterior appearance, you would not have given the peel of an onion for him, so deformed he was in body, and ridiculous in his gesture. He had a sharp pointed nose, with the look of a bull, and countenance of a fool […]” We have here a faithful portrait of the Fool of the Tarot! We will also note the connections that exist between the iconography of certain arcana of the Tarot and some of the 120 engravings that, beyond all commentary, form a curious volume which, if it is not by Rabelais, nonetheless seems to arise from his circle of friends, Les Songes drôlatiques de Pantagruel [The Drolatic Dreams of Pantagruel], and published in Paris in 1565 (12 years after the death of Rabelais).
  2. This fascinating subject would be too long to delve into here. In sum, let us note that the major arcana are susceptible to being arranged in the shape of a “mandala,” according to a natural division of the circle into twenty equal sectors – arcanum XXI, the World, occupying the centre, and arcanum [XXII] the Fool (unnumbered in most decks and serving as a “joker” to replace one trump or another), being considered as forming the representation of the path of the observer-initiate within the 20 + 1 proposed “stations.” The division into twenty, natural because obtained by the sole means of the square and the compass, presents the interest of creating logical and so to say “occult” [i.e. hidden] sub-series between the cards, arranged on the perimeter according to their numeral order. In this way, there are ten pairs of opposed cards, five series of four cards and four series of five cards – each of these series shedding light on the diverse modalities of the “quatre de chiffre” [‘sign of four’]. For a complete exposé of these geometric relations, cf. L’Arcane des arcanes du tarot ; essai sur la structure géométrique des arcanes, éd. de la Maisnie, Paris, 1985, pp. 73-91 + the fold-out chart (certain points exposed in that book are now fairly removed from my current line of thinking, notably as far as esotericism, properly speaking, is concerned).
  3. Which does not mean that the Tarot does not contain any allusions to Kabbalah. Yet, on the one hand, the latter is not limited to speculations on the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (the ten sephiroth are also very important), and, on the other, notably if we take into account the context in which the earliest decks appear, it would be more judicious to refer first of all to Christian Kabbalah – which is precisely the environment and period in which it takes off – rather than to purely Hebraic Kabbalah.
  4. On the question of the important connections between the Art of Memory and of Masonic symbolism/ritualism, cf. Marc-Reymond Larose, Le Plan secret d’Hiram ; Fondements opératifs et perspectives spéculatives du tableau de loge, éd. La Nef de Salomon, Dieulefit, 1998, notably the chapter « Le tableau de loge en tant que système d’Art de mémoire », pp. 91-99, and its attendant notes.

This engraving from the Songes drôlatiques de Pantagruel simultaneously evokes arcanum XVI of the Tarot (the God-House) and the Italian name of this game – trionfi – which originally denoted the procession of divinities on chariots, accompanied by “silènes.”


Despite the impressive abundance of works devoted to the Tarot, there is presently no book in French that judiciously weds history, iconography and symbolism. One may nonetheless consult the book by Gérard van Rijnberk, Le Tarot; histoire, iconographie, symbolisme, 1947, repub. La Maisnie/Trédaniel, Paris, 1981 (in spite of the fact that its documentary references are dated, that its iconography is clearly insufficient, and that the part devoted to “symbolism” is but a compilation without real criticism of occultist conceptions). As far as the history and iconography of the decks are concerned, one may consult the excellent catalogue of the exhibition organised by the Bibliothèque Nationale, Tarot, jeu et magie, Paris, 1984. The most important and most serious publication is in English, Michael Dummett, The Game of Tarot, Duckworth, London, 1980. Some interesting studies, notably on iconology, have been published in Italy; cf. notably the catalogue of the exhibition Le Carte di Corte. Gioco e Magia alla Corte degli Estensi, Ferrara, Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1987. Finally, as to what appears to me to be the true “key” to the more or less enigmatic iconography of the Tarot, cf. Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966.
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Stanislas de Guaita: Magical Plants

Translator’s Introduction

Having previously published Stanislas de Guaita’s brief dictionary-like entry on the Tarot, as well as his table of analogical correspondences, and prior to publishing a more extensive examination on what we may term the “medical Tarot,” we have seen fit to present another entry from de Guaita’s work, the only one, to the best of our knowledge, which mentions a potential correlation between the arcana of the Tarot and the list of 16 plants with magical properties, known as the Chaldean herbs.

With the exception of vervain, De Guaita does not further develop the analogies or correspondences between the plants and the arcana of the Tarot. In effect, vervain is summarily dealt with in the entry immediately preceding this one, based chiefly on an article by the spagyrist Jan Baptist van Helmont in his De magnetica vulnerum curatione, but like the alchemist before him, studiously omitting to specify the means by which this plant may be used to concoct a love potion. De Guaita’s source for the list of Chaldean herbs is the Trinum Magicum of Cæsar Longinus, 1629 [1630; pp. 168-180 in the linked version]. One will note some of the minor divergences in spelling from the list given in the work attributed to Albertus Magnus, the Grand Albert, the ultimate source of these herbs. This entry, ‘Plantes Magiques,’ appears on page 372 of Le Serpent de la Genèse, book 1, Le Temple de Satan, Librairie du Merveilleux, 1891.

The topic of hermetic herbology is extremely interesting, and English-speaking readers now benefit from the new editions of the classic French works Hermetic Herbalism by Jean Mavéric and Occult Botany by Paul Sédir, both superbly translated and annotated by R. Bailey, and which provide a wealth of information on the subject, and whose English equivalences we have followed here.

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Magical Plants

Stanislas de Guaita

The attractive plant is not the only one doted with occult properties of a marvellous energy. The ancient mages knew of 22 plants, whose properties corresponded to the esoteric significance of the 22 arcana of the absolute Doctrine. Vervain was related to Arcanum VI (the Lover of the Tarot).

The magicians of the Middle Ages had been able to gather only the remnants of these traditions. The late heirs of a science that had become very debased, albeit still real, they reduced the list of sacred plants to sixteen names. (1) Moreover, the numerical order of the ordinary classification was inverted, and unfortunate substitutions further altered an already unrecognisable nomenclature.

According to Cæsar Longinus, the sixteen sacred plants are:

  1. Heliotrope (the Chaldean Ireos), the herb of sincerity;
  2. Nettle (Roybra), the herb of bravery;
  3. Shepherd’s Purse (Lorumborat), the herb of fertility;
  4. Greater Celandine (Aquilaris), the herb of triumph;
  5. Periwinkle (Iterisi), the herb of fidelity;
  6. Catnip (Bieith), the herb of vitality;
  7. Hound’s-Tongue (Algeil), the herb of sympathy;
  8. Henbane (Mansesa), the herb of death;
  9. Lily (Augo), the herb of manifestation;
  10. Mistletoe (Luperax), the herb of salvation;
  11. Greater Centaury (Isiphilon), the herb of enchantments;
  12. Sage (Coloricon), the herb of life;
  13. Vervain (Ophanas), the herb of love;
  14. Lemon Balm (Celeivos), the herb of comfort;
  15. Rose (Eglerisa), the herb of initiation;
  16. Bistort (Cartulin), the herb of fluids.


  1. The science of the neo-mages of Chaldea.

Image: Image of Vervain taken from Matthiole’s Commentaries on Dioscorides, 1572. Source.

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