Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

Basilide: The Metaphysical Tarot

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Translator’s Introduction

The basic ideas of Patrice Genty concerning the four suits of the Minor Arcana of the Tarot deck have already been presented in his appendix to the book on cartomancy by P.-C. Jagot, signed ‘Mercuranus.’ Under the hieronym of the Gnostic patriarch Basilide, Genty further explored his curious view on the nature and composition of the Tarot in two books, Le Profond Mystère du Tarot Métaphysique (1929) and Le Symbolisme du Tarot (1942).

Le Profond Mystère du Tarot Métaphysique ; Le Symbolisme du Tarot

In effect, Basilide details the three worlds according to the Gnostic view as follows:

“The first world is ruled by the Unity and the Ternary; the second by the Binary and the Senary; and the third by the Quaternary and the Duodenary. Each world reflects the two others. […] The major Arcana of the Tarot figure the 22 principles of the Third World. […]”

There is a great deal of digression and inconsistency in Basilide’s two books, which are very much a curious blend of ideas culled from Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, as well as the theories of Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, but we shall here simply provide his comments on the structure of the pack, and more specifically, on the Minor Arcana, as a continuation of his postface for the book by Thylbus, and of this series in general.


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The Metaphysical Tarot

Basilide (Patrice Genty)


The complete pack of Tarot cards is the synthesis of the universe and includes the three worlds.

  • Major Arcana: First world.
  • Minor Arcana: Second world.
  • Ordinary Cards: Third world.

The complete study of the Tarot must therefore include these three series of cards.

The relations between the major arcana are multiple, for, even though chiefly representing the first world, we also find the two others therein. These arcana may therefore be studied according to the unity and the ternary (1st world); according to the binary and the senary (2nd world); or according to the quaternary and the duodenary (3rd world). Among the authors who have studied the Tarot, Wirth preferentially uses the binary key, and Papus the quaternary key, following the divine name YHWH. […]

The major arcana indicate the principles; the minor arcana, the transformations to which they are subject; and the ordinary playing cards, their realisation in the material world, symbolised by the cube. The number of these last cards must therefore be 4 x 4 x 4, or 64 cards (two packs of 32 cards).

To each of the 8 angles of the cube, we place three figures (king, queen, valet; father, mother, child), each following one of the half-edges. The 8 aces are placed following the 8 half-diagonals, and serve as a transition.

The rest, 8 groups of 4 cards, are placed in the centre of the cube and indicate the definitive mode of realisation. It would be necessary to restore the symbolism of ordinary playing cards and to do for them what Eudes Picard has done for the minor arcana.

Let us stay a few words on the latter. They are divided into four series: Staffs, Cups, Swords, Coins (corresponding to diamonds, hearts, spades, and clubs respectively).

Each series is composed of 14 cards, 4 figures and 10 cards numbered from 1 to 10, giving 16 figures and 40 numbered cards in total; 40 being the number of transformation (let us note in passing that 40 x 12 x 9 = 4320).

Each series is composed of: 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10: 55 points, or, for the 4 series or 40 cards: 220 points.

There exist other systems of minor arcana; one of them, used by certain Gypsies, is composed of 13×13 cards. The 4 figures of each series are named: King, Queen, Knight, Valet. The King and Queen are complementary; the Knight is the bond that connects them; and the Valet is the fruit of this union.

We could also arrange them according to two pairs forming a cross. The King and the Queen, binary by complementarism, are placed on the horizontal line; the Knight and the Valet, binary by subordination, on the vertical line.

The diagram of the Staff is the vertical line; the Coin is the circle.

The Cup and the Sword are formed from the foregoing pair.

The Staff is the action in potential; the Cup, the first intention of the act; the Sword, the struggle to realise it; the Coin, the realised act.

The 4 series of 4 figures are the guardians of the cardinal points and form the connection with the preceding world (in the same way as the ordinary playing cards).

As to the 40 numbered cards, the synthesis of the stellar world. Papus has shown the role of the 10, synthesis of the 9 others and intermediary with the following world. There thus remain 4 times 9 or 36 cards, corresponding to the constellations (18 in each hemisphere).

The Staffs correspond to Fire, the Cups to Air, the Swords to Water and the Coins to Earth.

The celestial sphere is mobile; it must therefore also be the case for the minor arcana, which represent the world of the heavens, cycles, and transformations. The ordinary playing cards represent the sub-lunar world, cubic and stable. It is the world of realisation.

To read the Tarot with an entire deck, one would therefore have to place the major arcana on a circle, the minor arcana on a moveable sphere surrounding the circle, and the ordinary playing cards on a cube enveloping the sphere.

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