Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Paul Marteau: On Four Arcana of the Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

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

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

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remarks in his 1949 work is unknown; perhaps the documents and letters held in the Bibliothèque nationale or Marteau’s unpublished diaries contain the answer.

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

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Thomas Ligotti: The Red Tower

The Red Tower

Thomas Ligotti

“The ruined factory stood three stories high in an otherwise featureless landscape. Although somewhat imposing on its own terms, it occupied only the most unobtrusive place within the gray emptiness of its surroundings, its presence serving as a mere accent upon a desolate horizon. No road led to the factory, nor were there any traces of one that might have led to it at some time in the distant past. If there had ever been such a road it would have been rendered useless as soon as it arrived at one of the four, red-bricked sides of the factory, even in the days when the facility was in full landscape. Although somewhat imposing on its own terms, it occupied only the most unobtrusive place within the gray emptiness of its surroundings, its presence serving as a mere accent upon a desolate horizon. No road led to the factory, nor were there any traces of one that might have led to it at some time in the distant past. If there had ever been such a road it would have been rendered useless as soon as it arrived at one of the four, red-bricked sides of the factory, even in the days when the facility was in full operation. The reason for this was simple: no doors had been built into the factory; no loading docks or entranceways allowed penetration of the outer walls of the structure, which was solid brick on all four sides without even a single window below the level of the second floor. 

The phenomenon of a large factory so closed off from the outside world was a point of extreme fascination to me. It was almost with regret that I ultimately learned about the factory’s subterranean access. But of course that revelation in its turn also became a source for my truly degenerate sense of amazement, my decayed fascination.

The factory had long been in ruins, its innumerable bricks worn and crumbling, its many windows shattered. Each of the three enormous stories that stood above the ground level was vacant of all but dust and silence.”

– Thomas Ligotti, Teatro Grottesco, 2007


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Jules Bois: An Unpublished Tarot Book and Deck

Translator’s Introduction

Aside from the previous excerpts and this poem, and some casual remarks on divination scattered throughout his works, Jules Bois had in fact intended to write an entire book on the Tarot, accompanied by a full set of illustrated cards drawn by Henry de Malvost, the artist who had illustrated his Le Satanisme et la Magie (1895). This work would never be published, no trace of it is to be found in the archives of Bois’ papers to the best of our knowledge, and the sole mention of it is in an article on the history of playing cards by Raoul Deberdt, published in La Revue Universelle in 1899, and from which the illustration below was taken.

Although the footnote on page 225 of La Reine Zinzarah by “P. Christian fils” (published previously) mentions the publication of such a work, this, no more than the book on Natural and Onomantic Astrology announced in the footnote on the first page of the same book, was not published under a pseudonym, nor in instalments either as far as we have able to ascertain.

With respect to Bois’ archives, divided into two sets and donated to two different educational establishments in the United States, only the collection now housed in Georgetown, the smaller of the two, has been catalogued. One will surmise that if this unpublished book is still extant, then it will be found – one hopes – in the more extensive archives kept by Columbia

Henry Colas de Malvost – the aristocratic surname perhaps being a pseudonym – was a friend and collaborator of Jules Bois, and who illustrated works by the latter, such as Le satanisme et la magie. Biographical details on this artist are lacking; no dates of birth or death are known. One reference in a work by Bois, dated 1903, provides a terminus ante quem for his death. Aside from his association with Bois, the few details and illustrations such as we have been able to glean are presented below. Says Bois: “Mr Henry de Malvost evokes the devil himself with his pencil.”

Effectively, de Malvost’s illustrations were singled out in practically every review of the book, and have exerted a certain influence on later depictions of so-called satanic rituals and witchcraft. Furthermore, illustrations taken from Bois’ book would be reused by the Surrealists, including one chosen to accompany a text by André Breton in the journal Minotaure (no. 3-4, 1933).

Illustrations from Jules Bois Le Satanisme et la Magie

Elsewhere, Bois would write:

“Painters, ordinarily so material, have applied themselves to reproducing miracles. … Mr. Henry de Malvost, who illustrated my Satanism and Magic (he is no longer with us, alas!), resurrected the Devil with his pencil.” (Le Monde invisible, p. 316, 1903.)

“The strangest of these innovators was Henry Colas de Malvost, who interpreted with a vigorous inspiration my “Noces de Sathan” and who illustrated my study on Satanism and Magic. His example serves as a link between the aesthetic of the Spirits and that of the Symbolists, for that complex artist, he too, was a medium, in his spare time. (Le Miracle Moderne, p. 163, 1907.)

In effect, de Malvost had provided the décor and costumes for Bois’ play, as well as the frontispiece to the published version.

Les Noces de Sathan, frontispiece by Henry de Malvost. (source)

In addition to book illustrations, de Malvost’s literary activities appear to have been primarily critiques of theatre and classical music, published in the same journals Bois contributed to, as well as a book of verse, Au gré du vent, Vanier, 1888. He also set poetry to music.

The Two Lovers, art by Henry Colas (source)


De Malvost’s illustration of Marlowe’s Faust for the Théâtre d’art, 1891-1892. (source)

Aside from the illustrations to Bois’ books, the only substantial mention of Colas de Malvost’s work is to be found in connection to his friendship with the artist Georges (i.e. Marie-Mathilde) de Peyrebrune. Indeed, some of his paintings depicting de Peyrebrune are preserved in the museum of art & archaeology of Périgueux.

The relevant passages from the article on the history of playing cards and the Tarot by Raoul Deberdt, published in La Revue Universelle in 1899, is translated and reproduced below, along with an image of the Tarot card drawn by Henry de Malvost, the sole traces of either this deck or Bois’ Tarot book we have been able to discover:


“The old Tarot of the philosophers was crying out to be entirely renewed: in its deepest symbols, of an incomparable moral beauty, artist-thinkers will find the raw material upon which to exercise their genius. Already now, the warm feminist apostle and occultist, Mr Jules Bois, aided by the subtle artist H. De Malvost, will publish an excellent illustrated commentary on the Tarot, of which we have the good fortune to be able to reproduce an as-yet unpublished engraving. Mr Bois’ work will be a very reliable guide for those artists who would wish to penetrate the arcana of the antique mystery in order to find therein the fertile formulas of scientific mysticism. The austere Tarot may be gentrified and gallantified to infinity, and what more proof do we need than the charming Balsamo deck (pub. Wattillaux, publisher-cardmaker), whose plates date from the 18th century, and in which all the allegories of the ancient deck of the Persian or Chaldean mages will be found translated into delectable scenes of gallantry after the style of Lawrence, Baudouin, or Fragonard.”


Six of Cups, from the Tarot deck drawn by Henry de Malvost


The so-called Balsamo deck, published by the cardmaker Wattillaux, refers to Giuseppe Balsamo, the Italian adventurer who styled himself Count Cagliostro and who developed the Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. Presumably “Balsamo” (i.e. Cagliostro) is being used here as a general term for the various “Egyptian” Tarots, pointing to the heavily Egyptianized Jeu de la Princesse Tarot that first appeared in an 1843 work by Johannès Trismégiste (aka Lorambert). Wattillaux acquired the rights to this deck a few years later and continued printing it for the remainder of the 1800s. The mention of the plates dating to the 18th century also presumably refers back to Etteilla, given that, technically, the “Jeu de la Princesse” Tarot is a type of Grand Etteilla deck. (Thanks to J.C.)


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Iwan Gilkin: Golden Stanzas


The overlapping circles between the arts and the occult find themselves becoming almost concentric diagrams among the so-called Decadent writers of the French persuasion in the late 19th century, emphasising the elective affinities between these two domains. While authors such as J.-K. Huysmans, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam and Barbey d’Aurevilly remain well known, there are others who have undeservedly fallen into the oblivion of neglect with the passage of time.

One such artist is the Belgian Symbolist poet Iwan Gilkin (1858-1924). During his lifetime, Gilkin was fêted as the Belgian Baudelaire, due to his ability to weld a dark sensibility to precise formal structures and a concern for elegant poetic expression. His chief works include the poetry anthologies La Nuit (Night), Les ténèbres (The Darkness) and a number of plays.

A contemporary critic of his depicts the character as follows:


“A dark Raphael, it has been said. No one has better incarnated the struggle of good and evil, or darkness and light, of ugliness and beauty than he. The poet of sorrow, the cross-bearer of an ageing, accursed world. The brain of a mathematician and the soul of a prophet. Deep down, a rebellious believer and a terrible justicier.” – Valère Gille, 1894.

Closer to our concerns, however, is Gilkin’s early and scarce booklet, Stances dorées. Commentaire sacerdotal du Tarot. Paris, Chamuel ; Bruxelles, Lacomblez, 1893 – the Golden Stanzas: a Sacerdotal Commentary on the Tarot, published in Paris & Brussells in 1893. This booklet was never republished during the poet’s lifetime nor compiled in the various anthologies of Gilkin’s work. A small-press French republication was issued in 2018, courtesy of Éther & Égrégore Éditions, but this edition is no longer available.

By all accounts, Gilkin’s interest in the occult was no affectation, and his private library contained a great many works of the last rarity, making him, after a fashion, the Belgian counterpart of Stanislas de Guaita. While de Guaita’s occult works have eclipsed his poetry, Gilkin is considered as a poet with an interest in the occult rather than an occultist poetaster.

A reviewer of the time, presumably Paul Chacornac, wrote:

Mr Iwan Gilkin has written a rhyming paraphrase of the Initiatory Tarot. The work is as simple and great as it is useful. The author, following each card in turn, each of the twenty-two major arcana, translates the esoteric teachings into quatrains. It is a pure joy to add to the literature of modern esotericism.

Gilkin’s stanzas are occasionally mentioned in the occult and Tarot literature of the time, for instance, in Bourgeat’s oft-reprinted classic, Le Tarot. More recently, the only mention of this rare little booklet is to be found in a Russian work, by one Shmakov, presumably following Bourgeat, and by extension, in Dummett, Decker & Depaulis’ Wicked Pack of Cards (1996), which provides an overview of the spread of these ideas and influences.

A review of the 2018 edition of Gilkin’s poems reads as follows:

Small in size but great in terms of the originality of its composition, this book by Iwan GILKIN, accompanied by 22 engravings bears the following title, evocative with poetry: Golden Stanzas. Inspired by the “Divinatory Tarot” of Papus on the one hand, and by “The Tarot, the Hebrew Alphabet and Numbers” by Marc Haven, on the other, the author, a Belgian poet and playwright, journalist and literary critic, has illustrated the 22 major arcana of the Tarot by quatrains (of pure classical poetry and respecting the strict rules of French prosody). And this is no simple game of wits, for these quatrains contain hermetic, magical or alchemical references, which evoke the secret world of the initiatory tradition.

To qualify these stanzas as “golden” inevitably evokes the “Golden Verses” of Pythagoras, another high point of sacred knowledge. And this parallel by Iwan GILKIN cannot be the sole fruit of random chance…

These stanzas, which apply successively to the mysterious arcana of the Tarot, should be recited in a low voice so that each word may be impressed upon the heart of the seeker, who has the graphical representation of each arcana beneath his eyes, facing the stanza it has inspired.

– Yves-Fred Boisset, L’Initiation, n 4, 2018.

One will note how the reviewer has identified two of Gilkin’s ‘sources of inspiration,’ namely, the works by Papus and Marc Haven, the former of which is available in English translation. Yet there are others, and a future instalment will consider another highly obscure work of Tarological philosophy which also served as the basis for some of Gilkin’s ideas.

Curiously, an English translation of some of these poems appeared in 2006, courtesy of the renowned poet-translator James Kirkup (1918-2009). In effect, Kirkup produced a limited edition chapbook containing a selection of Gilkin’s poems, including some of the Golden Stanzas, A pilgrimage in hell : a selection of poems by Iwan Gilkin, translated by James Kirkup, Hub Editions, 2006. This edition, like the original, is now extremely rare.

James Kirkup

Kirkup’s “qualifications” for translating such a work are unusual. If, in effect, he translated a significant amount of French poetry in his voluminous body of work, it is worth mentioning that he also translated the now classic work of Tarot pseudo-history, Paul Christian’s History and Practice of Magic, Citadel Press, 1969. The attentive reader will by now know that Christian’s chief source in this respect was his own fictional account of the Egyptian genesis of the Tarot as given in his novel, L’Homme Rouge des Tuileries, alongside his fabricated reference to a non-existent passage in Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis. A comprehensive obituary and biography of Kirkup may be read here.

As with a number of older Tarot-related booklets, pamphlets and journals, once again, our experience shows that works of this size are often to be found bound in with others, and often incorrectly or incompletely catalogued, rendering discovery difficult.

One will note the use of the Conver deck as the basis for the accompanying illustrations (see the VT inscription on the shield on the Chariot VII). One will also note the presence of letters of the Hebrew alphabet (top and top right hand corner) and astrological glyphs (bottom right hand corner). Indeed, Gilkin’s Tarot images seem to be copied directly from Papus’ Le Tarot des Bohémiens. In the original 1889 edition, Papus includes pictures of Oswald Wirth’s Tarot and what appears to be a Camoin edition of Nicolas Conver’s Tarot with Hebrew letters and astrological symbols added to some, but not all, of the cards. Papus’ correspondences (and thus Gilkin’s) conform to Eliphas Lévi’s second system (first described in 1861).

The original French booklet may be downloaded here as a PDF file. stances dorees

We present here four of Gilkin’s twenty-two stanzas followed by their English translations by Kirkup.


Golden Stanzas

Iwan Gilkin

English translation by James Kirkup


2018 edition


Un principe, une loi: sache que l’Être est l’Être.

Le Supérieur est comme l’Inférieur.

Sois toi-même et toi seul. Apprends à te connaître.

Reflet du Tout-Puissant, reflète sa splendeur.


One principle, one law: know that Being is Being.

Superior stands with Inferior.

Be thyself, thyself alone. By thyself learn the truth.

Mirror of the All-Powerful, reflect his splendeur.




Tu mourras pour la foi dont tu prêches le règne.

Veux-tu vivre, tais-toi! Si tu parles, péris!

Mets le feu dans la terre, et que la terre craigne

Le Grand-Oeuvre est Phénix: il naît de ses débris.



Thou shalt die for the faith whose reign thou shalt establish.

If thou wouldst live, hold thy peace. Shouldst thou speak, perish!

Set fire to the earth, that the earth may quake with fear!

The Great Work – Phoenix: it rises from its ashes.




Si ton dieu n’est pas Dieu, tu ne sers que le diable.

Tout désordre est Satan; c’est le feu dévorant.

N’affronte point sa foudre ou sois invulnérable,

Mais le mal n’est que l’ombre où dort le Dieu vivant.



If thy god is not God, thou but servest the devil.

Thy disorders are Satan; the devouring fire.

Be invulnerable, or confront not his lightnings.

Evil is but the shadow where the living God sleeps.




Au cœur du monde gît la couronne des Mages.

C’est l’éternel repos de l’éternel souhait.

Du centre du Soleil, délivré des nuages,

Le Mage parfait sait, ose, veut et se tait.



At the world’s heart there lies the crown of the Magi.

The eternal refuge of the eternal vow.

From the heart of the Sun, delivered from the clouds,

The perfect Magus knows, dares, desires, is silent.


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Antoine Faivre: Preface to Tarots, engravings by Yves Jobert and Arcanes, a poem by Jean Pothier

Translator’s Introduction

The name of Antoine Faivre (1934-2021) may not be unfamiliar to readers of these pages, now that many of the works of the eminent French scholar of esotericism are available in English. A lengthy overview of Faivre’s life and work by Wouter J. Hanegraaff may be read here. Faivre did not write about the Tarot in any great detail, with the notable exception of a brief essay – perhaps the outline for a longer planned work – “Reflections on the Various Uses of Tarot” in: Innovation in Esotericism from the Renaissance to the Present, edited by Georgiana D. Hedesan, Tim Rudbøg, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021 – and the following piece.

In effect, given that the first anniversary of Faivre’s death has just passed, it is not without interest to consider one of his few writings on the Tarot, his preface to an artistic portfolio containing copperplate engravings of Tarot images by Yves Jobert (b.1930) accompanied by a series of poems by Jean Pothier, entitled “Arcanes”. This work, “Tarots”, was produced in 1973 by Alain Weil as a large format portfolio of prints, in an edition of 50 copies, plus 12 copies hors commerce.

Thanks to Bill Wolf


Preface to Tarots, engravings by Yves Jobert and Arcanes, a poem by Jean Pothier

Antoine Faivre


The spectator-reader would be highly mistaken in considering the book by Yves Jobert as being a mere variation on a known theme. First of all, the Tarot is not a theme, a formal code with mathematically limited operative possibilities, a game of the seven families or of twenty-two pieces, or of capricious ludions, enclosed within on itself, referring but to itself. Its signification, immense but justified by Tradition – and by experience – raises it up to the status of speculum universi: there is but astrology to claim, on the same basis, to encompass the entire universe, beginning with the one which abides within man, so much so is it true that within and without constitute but the same reality. It is therefore not a mathematical exercise but rather one of style, if we understand this to mean the ultimate harmonic, the goal of our quest, there where the platonic spheres play the harmony of the world around a ring which is perhaps that of this book: a book eternally open to the eyes of the man of desire who will find there, if he so wishes, the golden chain of Homer, or Jacob’s ladder, its dynamic representation, the length of which he shall ascend – but descend too, in an alternating rhythm from Above to Below and from Below to Above, a polar rhythm which underpins that of all true life, which is that of the angels.

The kingdom of heaven is within us. But in order to enter into it, we must first rid ourselves of our logical tics, of the solar imperialism of a schizomorphic culture from which the symbol has been evacuated with loss and destruction, or flattened by the iconoclastic steamroller. We must allow these images to vibrate within us, watch them organise themselves into constellations of meaning, listen to them call to each other and answer each other in the space that is their own and which is reducible to no other. We shall then see that they express the syntax of our psyche, reply to our most arduous questions for they present themselves, in the end, akin to a technique of illumination capable of melting all the blockages which poison the channels joining the conscious to the unconscious, the body to the mind, the will to action, desire to reality.

Modern art, all too often, merely trots after the steeds of intellectual and spiritual debacle, whether emasculated, it contents itself with anaemically abstract forms, or whether neurotic, it contemplates its sterile poverty in the narcissistic basin of its existentialist obsessions. The intermediary or royal way is abandoned, for along with the requirement of talent we could add that of modesty. Yves Jobert has undertaken this path in the certainty that faithfulness to Tradition is no arbitrary limitation, but a springboard for all genuine art which consists less in finding than in rediscovering what has been submerged by individual and cosmic cataclysms, less in imposing discoveries than in colouring with one’s own vision what, without the artist’s gaze, would remain opaque. If man is not a solitary animal devoid of meaning, we would expect images he projects and in which he finds himself, that they reflect an order, that of the great archetypes, the primordial myths, the mundus imaginalis. The builders of the cathedrals left the specific mark of their own genius in stone, but they all referred to the same message. Yves Jobert, with this book, has done no differently, and I wager that this work will largely tower above the stagnant level of the innumerable little broken mirrors in which only the anti-image is reflected, that of fragmentation or of powerlessness.

The poem by Jean Pothier chants this symbolic spiral: it embraces its contours, follows or precedes its movement, after the fashion of an alchemical music, that is, like Hippomenes in pursuit of a fleeing Atalanta. Jean Pothier, through his verses, breathes a mercurial principle into the Sulphur of the work: it remains for the reader to spot the invisible Salt born of this union, by looking at the three golden apples of Hippomenes roll; in so doing, they will have thereby raised a corner of the veil, for they are those of the gardens of the Hesperides.

– Antoine Faivre


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Book Review: Etteilla/Hisler: Theory and Practical Instruction on the Book of Thoth

Theory and Practical Instruction on the Book of Thoth

by Etteilla, translated into German by Hisler, translated into English by K.A. Nitz

The works of Jean-Baptiste Alliette, alias Etteilla, the putative father of cartomancy in general, and of taromancy in particular, have not fared well either in terms of republication nor in terms of translation. In spite of his unchallenged reputation as the creator of the first complete and systematic methodology of fortunetelling with Tarot cards, Alliette’s actual teachings on the subject have for a long time been dismissed as a historical curiosity, known only through piecemeal, secondhand or inaccurate descriptions, often accompanied by an unflattering moral commentary, all of which serve to distort the true import of his contribution to the field.

Recent years, however, have seen the discovery and digitisation of a great many of the original documents involved, and this process is ongoing. In this way, a more complete and accurate idea of Etteilla’s works may be obtained, provided one makes the effort to understand the notoriously difficult prose of the author and piece together his scattered writings. It is therefore no small matter to note the following publication of the works of one of Etteilla’s disciples, the Prussian Hisler, a development which must be welcomed, and all the more so in that it displays a great degree of rigour and exactitude.

The work is titled and subtitled as follows:

Etteilla [Alliette, Jean-Baptiste]. Theory and Instruction in the Book of Thoth. A translation of Theoretischer und praktischer Unterricht über das Buch Thot — neue Auflage published in German 1857 (first edition 1793) in an unattributed translation with additions (possibly by Etteilla’s student Hisler) of the original French of 1790: Cours théorique et pratique du livre de Thot: pour entendre avec justesse l’art, la science et la sagesse de rendre les oracles.

That is to say that this is a translation of Johann Scheible’s 1857 reprint of Hisler’s text. This 1857 reprint seems to be the same as Hisler’s 1793 translation, aside from a few changes in German orthography. Scheible included new wood engravings of all 78 cards in the back of his book instead of issuing them as an actual deck.

Hisler’s version in fact is an abridged edition with respect to the original French, for the Prussian disciple saw fit to skilfully excise those passages extraneous to divination, in order to better focus on the prime subject of the work. Furthermore, Hisler has combined the last two chapters of the French, and added an additional chapter, on dream interpretation using Etteilla’s Tarot.

It is worth noting that Etteilla’s original text included four out of six planned lessons, but he died before he could publish the final two. As a result, there is a ~50 page gap before the final section in his Cours théorique et pratique du livre de Thot. Both Hisler and d’Odoucet added the two missing lessons to their respective versions.

The appendix will also be useful for the reader who wishes to become familiar with Etteilla’s system, in that it includes correspondences for each card taken from a French work attributed to his students.

This translation by K. A. Nitz has a lot to commend itself, cross-referenced as it is against the original French. The translator’s footnotes indicate where the German departs from the French, and add useful information where apposite. Nitz has even caught Johann Scheible’s accidental transposition of Virgo and Scorpio on the cards, thereby showing the degree of care and attention that has gone into this work.

Some minor quibbles might be that a slightly better translation of the title would be “Theoretical and Practical Instruction on the Book of Thoth”. One of the title pages already has “on the Book of Thoth”, but in other places, “in the Book of Thoth” is used instead. Contrary to what the blurb on the back cover states, one should note that Etteilla did not coin the term “cartomancie”, but rather, the term “cartonomancie” which eventually was corrupted into the former.

In the appendix, Nitz has placed card 0/78 (the Fool) at the front of the deck, likely due to the widespread influence of the Rider-Waite-Smith card order. Etteilla and Joubert de La Salette both place the Fool between cards #21 (the Chariot) and #22 (King of Batons). Other works belonging to Etteilla’s tradition place it at the end of the deck. Etteilla and Joubert de La Salette also number the Fool as 0. The original 1793 German deck had no numbers on the card at all. A later edition added the number 78 to the Fool.

Also in the appendix, Nitz translates the first suit as “Sceptre”, but for the Ace, changes it to “Baton”. These might be made the same for the sake of consistency. In the appendix, the Swords appear to be missing labels for the court cards (King of Swords, Queen of Swords, etc.). Similarly, card#6 (Night/Day) ought to include the label “4th Day of creation.”

The translator’s explanation for Etteilla’s “signs of death” numbers seems a little unlikely. Etteilla describes these as the “chain from birth to death”. Nitz instead explains them as the “death” of the other card indicated by the extra number. It seems to us that Mike Howard’s cyclical interpretation seems to be closer to what Etteilla intended. More can be read here. An errata will be found on the translator’s webpage, and these errors and typos are now easily fixed.

These minor issues aside, this work will prove to be a valuable resource for those who wish to more fully understand Etteilla’s system and gain a greater working knowledge of his methodology. For the historically-inclined, it will also provide a greater understanding of the transmission and development of cartomancy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Appropriately, it contains 78 pages. The publisher’s website is here, and the Errata may be read here.

Thanks to the translator for providing a review copy, and thanks to J.C. for his insights.


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Tassadit Yacine-Titouh: L’Amoureux



After the fashion of the Lover, in divination by means of the Tarot, who hesitates between the two terms of the alternative, the ambiguous subject is born beneath the sign of the one who advances and who retreats, who loves and who unloves. His dual identity founded on two antagonistic elements is a source of riches; but when not mastered, leads to the irremediable destruction of the subject. This embodied ambiguity is ill-perceived, for it is associated with hesitation, indecision, which are proper to women and are necessarily to be opposed to the determined and determining conduct of men of honour, who possess mastery over their destiny and thereby over the world and its meaning.

  • Tassadit Yacine-Titouh, Chacal ou la ruse des dominés, Éditions La Découverte, 2010.

Image courtesy of the BNF.

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Etteilla and Freemasonry (III)

Etteilla and Freemasonry (III)

The Perfect Initiates of Egypt

1821 French edition of the Crata Repoa

Previously, we have alluded to Etteilla’s links to a little-known Masonic rite of Egyptian inspiration. This rite, regime, or lodge, was known as the Perfect Initiates of Egypt – Les Parfaits Initiés d’Égypteof which Alliette would have been no less than “Grand Mage” or founder.

Woodford’s Masonic cyclopedia contains the following entry:

Perfect Initiates, Rite of. — A name said to be given by Cagliostro at Lyons to a grade of his so-called Egyptian Rite. (p. 556.)

Mackey’s Encyclopædia of Freemasonry gives some further details:

Asia, Perfect Initiates of. A rite of very little importance, consisting of seven degrees and said to have been invented at Lyons. A very voluminous manuscript, translated from the German, was sold at Paris, in 1821, to M. Bailleul, and came into the possession of Ragon, who reduced its size, and with the assistance of Des Etangs, modified it. I have no knowledge that it was ever worked. (p. 92.)

Arthur Edward Waite, in his New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, volume 2, seeks to correct the confusion:

Perfect Initiates, Rite of. — There is an opportunity here to correct certain obvious misstatements. In the first place, even Count Cagliostro would have scarcely described a single Grade belonging to a sequence by the title of Rite. The Rite of Cagliostro was one thing and its Grades were the component parts. Secondly, and therefore he did not assign to one of them the name of Rite of Perfect Initiates of Egypt. Thirdly, he did not designate his Egyptian Masonry as the Rite of Perfect Initiates when he first started it at Lyons, though he may have regarded it unquestionably as perfect in all its parts and honourable to the builder. He called it — as we have seen previously — Egyptian Masonry, while the Lodge which he established at Lyons to work and confer its Degrees was named Wisdom Triumphant. When it is said that a Rite of Perfect Initiates of Egypt, consisting of seven Degrees, had its headquarters at Lyons, the reference is to Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite, and when compilers who make this statement distinguish the one from the other they err therein. (p. 153.)

But there is more. It is Waite who has erred in conflating both these Rites. According to the Masonic specialist Gérard Galtier, Alliette may even have headed this small order called les Parfaits Initiés d’Egypte – the Perfect Initiates of Egypt, based in Lyon – the so-called “capital of Freemasonry,” but unrelated to the lodge or rite of Cagliostro (Maçonnerie égyptienne, Rose-Croix et Néo-Chevalerie, 2017, p. 38.), founded in October of 1784. Serge Caillet’s important work on the same subject says much the same thing (Arcanes et rituels de la franc-maçonnerie égyptienne, 2017, pp. 20-21.) Roger Dachez labels it a “possibly Masonic rite,” without providing further details (Les rites maçonniques égyptiens, 2012, chapter 2). The appendix to the Acta Latomorum, vol. 1, simply lists it as: “Parfaits Initiés (Rite des) ou d’Egypte. [Perfect Initiates (Rite of) or of Egypt] – This regime consists of seven grades: it arose in Lyon.” (p. 331)

However, we find differing dates for the foundation of this lodge, with some sources saying 1785 and others 1821. These dates come from Marconis de Nègre, the schismatic head of an another Egyptian Masonic rite, that of Memphis, who, in one of his works gives a date of 1821  for the founding of this order, but elsewhere states that the order was founded in Greece in 1817. These glaring inconsistencies suggest either a certain amount of confusion or deliberate mystification, a phenomenon typical of Egyptian Masonry if we are to believe the author of Les Rites Maçonniques de Misraïm et Memphis. There also appears to be a certain amount of conflation with the African Architects, another early Egyptian rite, founded in Germany around 1767.

Like that of the African Architects, the rite of the Perfect Initiates of Egypt was supposedly based on the Crata Repoa of von Köppen and von Hymmen, published in 1770, but only published into French in 1821 by Antoine Bailleul. To complicate matters further, according to the editor of the French version, the erudite Mason J.-M. Ragon (p. 44), their edition was based on a German copy with an interlinear French translation written in, which proves that the text was known and in discreet circulation in France prior to the publication of the text in 1821.

First edition of the Crata Repoa

According to Galtier, concrete evidence of the existence of this hitherto obscure lodge was revealed with the discovery of the correspondence of its last grand master, Charles Geille de Bonrecueille, who would have become ‘Grand Mage’ on Alliette’s death in 1791. The works on Egyptian Masonry in French, whether from the 18th century or more recent times, as we have seen, merely mention this rite in passing, as a footnote, or for the sake of providing an example of a non-Cagliostran rite of Egyptian inspiration, but without examining it in any depth. It is entirely possible that this obscure organisation, if it did exist elsewhere than on paper, was an association of Masonic inspiration rather than a regular lodge, which could also explain Alliette’s denial of being a Mason.

Indeed, the chief problem of knowing about Etteilla’s Masonic affiliations is that Masonic historians have come to contradictory conclusions based on the same evidence, to wit, primarily the letters of Charles de Bonrecueille and the ritual documents held in the Masonic archives in Lyon.

Pierre Mollier (“Des Livres et des Rites… une quête maçonnique – et bibliophilie – sous l’Empire : la correspondance Thory-Geille autour du Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté”) considers Etteilla’s association to have been non-Masonic in character, while Jean Iozia (La Franc-Maçonnerie Egyptienne au Grand Orient de France – Mythes Fondateurs, Histoire et Pratique) believes the contrary.

It is clear that, no more than the various Egyptian rites mentioned above, there has been some conflation of Etteilla’s “Société des interprètes du Livre de Thot” and the Perfect Initiates of Egypt, perhaps best explained by overlapping memberships and a certain confusion with respect to the source materials.

Second edition of the Crata Repoa

The relations between Cagliostro’s lodge and that of the Perfect Initiates of Egypt are also far from clear, with Masonic historians either conflating both, or distinguishing them entirely, or suggesting some other relation.

What is curious is the lack of consensus on the status, importance and influence of these obscure Egyptian regimes in the contemporary Egyptian rite Masonic historiography, which is quite divided on the question: some seek to claim them as worthy precursors (Roger Dachez, Les rites maçonniques égyptiens, chapters 2 and 3; Jean-Louis de Biasi, ABC de l’ésotérisme maçonnique : Secrets des rites égyptiens, chapter 2), while others seek to distance themselves from their dubious legacy. (e.g. Jean Mallinger, Les Rites dits Égyptiens de la Maçonnerie; René Witzhard [pseud. Alain Guyard], Un Siècle de Maçonnerie Egyptienne, Editions A.C.V., 2000).

As regards Cagliostro and his rite, although the first lodge of his Egyptian Masonry was founded in Lyon in late 1784, La Sagesse TriomphanteTriumphant Wisdom, the first workings of this rite took place in August of 1781 in Strasbourg, according to the diaries of Ramon de Carbonnières (cited in Cagliostro et la Franc-maçonnerie égyptienne by Denis Labouré), a fact which has generally been overlooked by the majority of Masonic historians. Incidentally, we know from the research of Thierry Depaulis that Alliette had been in Strasbourg in 1777, and it is entirely possible he had – and maintained – contact with local occultist and Masonic groups.

With one exception, we have been unable to consult the recent works on Freemasonry in Lyon, which may well shed further light on the subject, perhaps even definitively, and note these references here for the researcher who will endeavour to reach the truth of the matter, namely: Histoire de la franc-maçonnerie à Lyon, by André Combes, Editions des Traboules, 2005; Franc-maconnerie lyonnaise, les fondements du 18e siècle by Michel Chomarat, Musée Gadagne, 2004; Les loges maçonniques lyonnaises, vols. 1 and 2, by Aimé Imbert, Le Temps des Pierres, 2013/2016. On the other hand, the lengthy study by Alice Joly, Un mystique lyonnais et les secrets de la franc-maçonnerie : Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, 1730-1824, Editions Teletes, 1986, contains no mention of Etteilla at all. 

Moreover, let us note the republication of Paul Vuillaud’s Histoires et portraits de Rose-Croix, Archè Edizioni, 1987, which contains a rather unflattering portrait of Charles Geille de Bonrecueille, Alliette’s disciple and putative successor, and whose letters, incidentally, are in the archives of the Lyon city library, along with a trove of esoteric and Masonic materials, which may hold the key to the whole affair.

If we take the conflicting statements listed above at face value, then it remains to establish a coherent and plausible sequence of events, namely, to determine the dates of Alliette’s supposed entry into Freemasonry, presumably later than his 1785 denial, or to prove his ties to pseudo- or para-Masonic organisations. These contradictory indications concerning his affiliation might be easily explained by considering the man’s opportunistic career: in all likelihood, Alliette would have thought it better to join Freemasonry, or to capitalise on its perceived connection to ancient – and above all, Egyptian – wisdom, in order to expedite his reinvention and legitimacy as the father of hermetic cartomancy.

Conversely, he may have simply concocted his own rite of Masonic inspiration to that end. Pending a thorough study of the unexamined documents referred to above, and based on the principle of economy, these are what appear to us as being the most likely scenarios.

Future instalments will examine the nature of Etteilla’s society, the extant ritual documents, as well as the posterity of this organisation.

* * *


  • Crata Repoa, German and French editions of 1770, 1778 and 1821.

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

Translator’s Introduction

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


Le Tarot Perino:

A Traditional Tarot of the 21st Century

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

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

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

Thomas Perino Says a Few Words

26 August, 2022

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

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



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André Virel: Around the World in a Few Lines

Translator’s Introduction

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

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

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


Around the World in a Few Lines

André Virel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Roger Tilley, Playing Cards, Octopus Books, 1973.

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

Joseph Maxwell, The Tarot, Spearman, 1975.

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

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

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

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

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André Virel: Two Images of the Tarot of Marseilles

Translator’s Introduction

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

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

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

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

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


Two Images of the Tarot of Marseilles

André Virel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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