Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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In Memoriam: Tchalaï Unger

Tchalaï Unger



Today marks the 16th anniversary of Tchalaï’s passing, and we invite readers to consult the revised biography and bibliography of this remarkable woman, tarologist extraordinaire, here, as well as the following excerpts from her works:

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In the meantime, I had worked a lot with the Tarot of Marseilles, not as a divinatory tool, but as a model of the universe; I even wrote the booklet that has accompanied this deck since 1981, and have become acutely aware of the power of images; the “card” possesses an energetic charge which, in a way, directly reaches the deepest layers of the psyche of the observer, without passing through the purview of the intellect. Unfortunately, this perception finds itself, in most people (especially the more evolved), deformed by the filter of a symbolic system. As we encounter as many symbolic systems as there are spiritual movements, and as they are almost always altered or modified, we quickly go astray… We forget that the Tarot is a Model of the Universe, in the same way as all the other great spiritual paths of knowledge, or mathematical systems, such as quantum mechanics, for instance.

– Tchalaï Unger, Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane : Le tarot tzigane et son âme, éditions Trajéctoire, 2001, p. 15.

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Jean-Pierre Seguin: Obituary: Paul Marteau (1885-1966)

Translator’s Introduction

The figure of Paul Marteau presents something of a paradox: although the name is known to almost every amateur of the Marseilles Tarot, the man himself remains completely unknown. To date, there has been but one comprehensive study of the man, his life, and his work, that by Gwenael Beuchet, ‘Paul Marteau, auteur et éditeur de l’Ancien Tarot de Marseille (1930),’ in Thierry Depaulis (ed.), Actes du Colloque ‘Papiers, Images, Collections,’ 28, 29, 30 avril 2000, Le Vieux Papier n° 358 (October 2000), pp. 31-40. Even the otherwise thorough book by Decker and Dummett, A History of the Occult Tarot, (Duckworth, 2002, pages 302-303) glosses over this important figure and his major contribution to the Tarot. The present series of book reviews and texts seeks to redress this oversight, and in that perspective, we present here Marteau’s obituary by Jean-Pierre Seguin, the only one we are aware of. The “great writer in distress” alluded to below is none other than Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose odd relationship with Marteau – and indeed, with the Tarot itself – remains to be elucidated more thoroughly.

Marteau’s donation to the Bibliothèque nationale, mentioned below, followed that of his uncle, thereby providing the library with a significant collection of playing cards, prints, books, woodblocks and other memorabilia. Yet a number of items were later sold after his death, including his manuscripts and letters from Céline, by the Parisian auction house Drouot in 1979, which had earlier sold part of Marteau’s collection of books in 1934. The elder Marteau’s 1909 donation consisted of “856 feuillets [i.e. cards] belonging to 382 antique or modern decks; 132 types of tarot papers; 30 reproductions of antique cards; 95 prints related to the game of cards; 69 decrees, laws, edicts…; 115 books related to the game of cards.” Later, Henry-René D’Allemagne would also donate close to 7,000 cards, while the younger Marteau’s collection would comprise of 458 decks of cards, 25 woodblocks and 165 books. For further details, one may consult the exhibition catalogue drawn up by Jean-Pierre Seguin, as well as a detailed article by Jude Talbot.

To put paid to one particularly tenacious rumour, relayed by the Bibliothèque nationale itself, Paul Marteau was not an Officer of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest order of merit. This mistaken attribution stems from a homonym and close contemporary, yet simple verification on the database of the Grand Chancellory of the Order reveals the source of the confusion: his namesake, one Paul Edouard Marteau (1895-1960), a veterinarian surgeon and captain of the reserve, was decorated in 1949. Likewise, we have found no evidence that Marteau ever studied philosophy in Leipzig.

This obituary appeared in the Bulletin de la Société archéologique, historique & artistique le Vieux papier, tome 25, 1967, and the original may be read here. Marteau passed away in early December of 1966. The author, Jean-Pierre Seguin, was an art historian and senior librarian, curator of the Prints and Photography department of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.


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Paul Marteau (1885-1966)

Jean-Pierre Seguin

Reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.

Paul Marteau died too soon to have been able to attend the inauguration, at the Bibliothèque nationale, of the exhibition of the most beautiful or most curious pieces of the collection of playing cards he donated in May 1966. He would have loved so much to have seen all the interest that, for six weeks, a host of friends, collectors, and strangers had for this unique set, which had been one of the passions of his life.

Paul Marteau, the last traditional master-cardmaker – such was the title he proudly gave himself – was the grand-nephew of Baptiste-Paul Grimaud, who in 1858 founded a House that remains famous, the son of Léo Marteau (1848-1920), master-cardmaker in Paris, and nephew of Georges Marteau (1851-1916), he too master-cardmaker and a great collector, who donated important collections of Far Eastern art objects to the Museum of Decorative Arts and of playing cards to the Bibliothèque nationale.

Paul Marteau was passionate about his work. He had the ambition – and he managed to achieve it – to maintain the high quality of the French playing card which had guaranteed it the first place in the international market. He was also fascinated by the esoteric aspect of the cards.

On his estate at Fleurière, in Cannes, planted with millennial trees and decorated with the flowers he loved, overlooking a magnificent view, he lived out his last years in the perfect communion of ideas and of sentiments with Madame Marteau. Without any illusions as to his health, peacefully and with a smile, he did not eschew any of the joys that were still allowed him.

He was a cultured man, of an exquisite politeness, of a smiling indulgence for those trifling flaws of character, but who did not tolerate mediocrity or nastiness. He was generous, without ulterior motives, and with the most perfect discretion. One day, we will know of the support he gave to one of our great writers in distress. His gesture in favour of the Cabinet des Estampes shows how much he knew how to let go, without regrets, of what he had loved so much for the benefit of others.

— Jean-Pierre SEGUIN

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René-Louis Doyon: Cartomancers’ Decks

Translator’s Introduction

“One grows weary of everything, apart from knowing.”

— René-Louis Doyon


The name of René-Louis Doyon, alias ‘the Mandarin’, is all but forgotten, and yet this obscure literary figure played an important and influential role in the French literature and publishing of the early and mid-twentieth century. Born in 1885, he died in 1966, and as such was the exact contemporary of Paul Marteau, his erstwhile friend, collaborator and benefactor.

Writer, journalist, publisher, bookseller, bibliophile and literary gadfly, Doyon’s career spanned the first half of the twentieth-century literary scene in France, where he exerted an uneven but definite influence. Throughout the course of his variegated editorial career, Doyon published a prodigious amount of works, by himself or others, including novels, literary and artistic criticism, biographies, social histories, memoirs, as well as a significant amount of prefaces and introductions. In addition to republishing editions of the classics, Doyon was instrumental in promoting younger and unknown authors. His literary flair is demonstrated when one considers that his back catalogue was eventually bought out by the publisher Robert Denoël, and that he was the first to discover and publish the writings of both Marcel Jouhandeau and a young André Malraux. Yet Doyon’s career, and indeed, life, was both marked and marred by his combative personality and a taste for polemics and literary feuds that would ultimately alienate him from the cultural establishment.

Perhaps the most succinct portrait of the man is that left by Éric Dussert, who says that, “René-Louis Doyon was an extravagant man of letters; failed publisher, mordant but erudite critic, he leaves behind an often messy body of work whose convoluted style is unforgettable. […] The case of René-Louis Doyon is exemplary of the paradox of those failures who work like maniacs, sometimes with talent, but without ever bending fate.”

In 1920, Doyon founded a literary journal called La Connaissance [Knowledge], also the name of his bookshop as well as his publishing outfit. This journal became more simply known as the Livrets du Mandarin from 1923, and was irregularly published until 1963. Although Doyon’s journal ostensibly focused on literature, the arts and current affairs, he also included a number of articles dealing with more metaphysical subjects, notably some articles by Paul Marteau, to which we shall return.

In effect, Doyon and Marteau were close for a time, La Connaissance was allegedly financed by Paul Marteau, according to François Gibault, biographer of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (cited in G. Beuchet,  ‘Paul Marteau, auteur et éditeur de l’Ancien Tarot de Marseille (1930),’ in Thierry Depaulis (ed.), Actes du Colloque ‘Papiers, Images, Collections,’ 28, 29, 30 avril 2000, Le Vieux Papier n° 358 (October 2000), pp. 33-34), and Marteau began to write a series of articles on esotericism for Doyon’s journal from 1921, although the planned series came to a premature end at the end of the same year after only three articles had been published. Marteau would also contribute an essay on the esotericism of the hermetic novel Le Comte de Gabalis to Doyon’s edition of that work, also published in 1921. Later, when Doyon’s professional and financial decline was fully underway, from the mid 1930s, Marteau would have aided him until they fell out, for reasons unknown, but not difficult to guess.

Both men would later go on to become acquainted with the controversial author Céline after the war, Doyon eventually selling his inscribed copy of a rare edition of Voyage au bout de la Nuit to Marteau. If, in 1935, Doyon could dedicate his study of J.-K. Huysmans, Ombres dans la Cathédrale, to “my friend Paul Marteau,” relations between the two men had soured by the mid-fifties, as is made evident from Doyon’s letter to Jean Paulhan on the 28 of March 1956, when he writes, “There is no one, not even Marteau (that spoilt child), who has not betrayed me with brutality. I am used to it.” Indeed, Doyon’s memoirs, published in 1953, contain but one brief and impersonal reference to his former friend: “Paul Marteau wrote on esotericism, whose arcana were familiar to him and of which he cultivated the bitterest specialities with the learned Caslant.” (Mémoire d’homme: souvenirs irréguliers d’un écrivain qui ne l’est pas moins, La Connaissance, p. 104.)

Doyon’s interest and knowledge of “occult matters,” as his friend Jean Paulhan put it, is attested by  his noteworthy edition of Le Comte de Gabalis by by Montfaucon de Villars, with an extensive introduction and accompanying essays (including the one by Paul Marteau). This was the first of a planned series of esoteric texts, followed by a text by Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, a prominent 18th-century Freemason and Martinist, Les Sommeils, in 1926, obtained through his friendship with one of the latter’s descendants. His 1942 biography of Montfaucon de Villars included an intriguing aside on the occultist author, Grillot de Givry, author of the well-known book Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, and whose untimely death, according to Doyon, was to be classified as a “mystagogic assassination” for having revealed occult secrets. Doyon also published a pamphlet on the mysterious secret society “Les Veilleurs” [The Watchers], to which belonged Schwaller de Lubicz and the poet Oscar Milosz, whom Doyon knew well and had published, showing his inside knowledge of the esoteric circles of the time (Livrets du Mandarin, n° 3 January 1960), as well as an in-depth biography and study of Joséphin Péladan (La Douloureuse aventure de Péladan, La Connaissance, 1946). Doyon further published an anthology of texts concerning the Compagnonnage and the mysticism of the trades-based initiations (La Pierre, ses fastes et les hommes, Denoël, 1939). On a lighter note, it is also worth noting a booklet on the popular folk legend of the beast of the Gévaudan which terrorised rural France in the mid-eighteenth century, Le Loup du Gévaudan. Variétés sur la légende, La Connaissance, 1936.

Doyon’s knowledge of cards and the Tarot is amply demonstrated by the three very interesting articles he penned on the subject, the first two for the Gazette Dunlop in 1937, and the third, some 25 years later, for his own Livrets du Mandarin. The obscurity of certain references show that Doyon engaged in some serious research and reflection on the subject before committing his thoughts to paper, although as we shall later see, his references were sometimes garbled. (For instance, neither the Grand nor the Petit Albert grimoires deal with cartomancy, nor are they concerned with games.) Be that as it may, the wit and erudition of these articles make them worth presenting to a wider audience.

The first article, La Petite Histoire des Cartes à Jouer [A Little History of Playing Cards], deals with the design, engraving and printing processes of card-making, and even taxation, in minute detail and with great erudition. The second article, Les Jeux de Cartes en France (Types et Varietés) [Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)], describes the types of cards used for both cartomancy and those used for playing, such as the Tarot Nouveau, as well as a number of other regional games, one of which, Aluette, we shall post in the next instalment.

Finally, Doyon’s 1962 article Petite Histoire des Cartes : Casse-tête et prophétisme [A Little History of Cards: Puzzles and Prophecy], taking up some of the observations of the earlier pieces, proceeds to analyse the very idea of the analogical correspondences of the Tarot, pre-empting the type of argument advanced by Umberto Eco in his writings (e.g.  L’idea deforme and Foucault’s Pendulum), and historical analyses which foreshadow those employed by later generations of historians.

Doyon died in 1966 in the utmost misery, a victim of his own uncompromising values and prickly personality. A selection of portraits and obituaries are available (in French) at the end of the following article. Aside from his published volume of memoirs, the only comprehensive overview of the life and works of René-Louis Doyon is the article Les chemins sinueux d’un étrange mandarin by Éric Dussert, first published in Le Matricule des Anges n°38, March 2002. Further reflections on Doyon’s single-minded and single-handed publishing efforts may be found in another article by Dussert here.

We present this brief excerpt from the second of his articles on playing cards, an overview of the various decks used for cartomancy. In it, one will find what is possibly the sole mention of the intriguing article Paul Marteau published in the Arts et Métiers Graphiques journal, 15 years before the publication of his book, and which, for reasons unknown, was not included in the final edition of his work. The illustrations accompanying Doyon’s article all come from the Grimaud firm, as do most of the decks cited (links to which may be found below), thereby underscoring his cordial relationship with Marteau, and, presumably, access to his collection.

The journal in which this article was published, the Gazette Dunlop, was devoted to motoring, sports and tourism, and the issues often included a miscellany of thematic articles as well. This was due in no small part to the encyclopaedic and eclectic mind of its editor, Louis Baudry de Saunier, another eccentric gentleman to whom we cannot do justice here. The original article was published in the n° 202 issue of the Gazette Dunlop of June 1937, and may be read here.

René-Louis Doyon in 1922

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Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)


by The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)

Cartomancers’ Decks

The card decks destined to the various games played in Europe have always been and still are, more or less, of the same type.

Those destined for divination have much greater variety and their composition is mixed in with an occult science accessible only to initiates, as well as a lot of fantasy useful for impressing the anxious and gullible client. Their common father is the great and mysterious “Tarot” which comes from the Indias and which is generally labelled as Egyptian, as Bohemian, jealously guarded by the Egyptians, and yet known and put to work under the name of Ancient Tarot of Marseilles, with its recomposed colours and its orthodox arcana. Mr Paul Marteau has provided the outline of a very substantial study in Arts et Métiers Graphiques; to which those curious about symbols and mystic secrets may refer.

Some figures from the Egyptian Tarot, or so-called Tarot of Marseilles, which is currently used by Cartomancers

Is it known, for the other decks used by prophets and professional fortune-tellers, that their design and composition reach an entertaining realisation of images whose appearance and shuffling form the entire unexpected part of conjectural revelations? As we have the Grand and Petit Albert, attributed to the genius of the Dominican Albert the Great (and what has he not been attributed, since it is said that his name is to be found in that of the once ill-renowned Place Maubert – “Mauvais Albert” or “Evil Albert”?) We have the Grand and Petit Etteilla, from the 18th century, the work of an ingenious barber; the Tarot of Mlle Lenormand, official soothsayer of Napoleon and of Josephine, is still in use; the Sybil of the Salons, the Book of Destiny, the Little Cartomancer and the Ancient Destiny; a real palette, with impressive or comical images which occupy more space on the cardboard than on the tarotic image itself. That is not all: the Game of the Hand, with its very curious chiromantic diagrams, and the Astrological Tarot, with its celestial diagrams, that is what may yet be found commercially; with the means – for want of sure learning – on how to use them! What a choice! Only surprises and naïve ingeniousness here, and complicated to boot; a little learning and a lot of already outdated opportunism, for our age has become far too distracted or too preoccupied by science and business to seek out the secret and the why of the world by means other than the alembic, analysis and the scales; the most recent creations of these cards are almost a century old!

— The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)

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Tchalaï: A Brief Biography

Portrait of Tchalaï by Francis Campiglia.

Translator’s Introduction

Tchalaï Unger (1934-2005) was one of the most influential tarologists of the past half century in France, pioneering a very particular method of rational study based on close observation, inductive reasoning and a personal type of maieutics. This grounding, once integrated, allows for the play of intuition to freely emerge. Tchalaï’s method, diametrically opposed to the ubiquitous and stale “divinatory meanings” and hackneyed “spreads” present in just about every other Tarot book or booklet, has had a massive influence in France and French-speaking countries, and later, the Hispanophone world, due to the fact that her booklet accompanied the popular Grimaud edition of the Tarot of Marseilles for many years. Although translated into English, the English edition does not seem to have had much of an impact and was presumably not widely available at the time. This booklet, primarily dealing with the theory, was later followed by a more substantial work, which is more practice-oriented. Tchalaï also wrote a number of articles on the Tarot as well, some of which were published in Spanish and Dutch. We inaugurate this series of excerpts from her work with this biographical piece.

The following biography was published online on the blog of one of Tchalaï’s students, Laurent Édouard, who adapted it from the blurb provided in one of her booklets. The second text – which can be considered an obituary – is excerpted from a piece by the musicologist Iégor Reznikoff.

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Tchalaï Unger: A Name in the World of the Marseilles Tarot

Born in 1934 by the banks of a stream in the West of France, Tchalaï Unger dedicated her life to living, by trying to free herself from numerous passionate activities: violinist at the age of 4, musical critic for the Parisien at age 19, then later journalist almost everywhere (France Soir, Paris Match, Figaro magazine, among others), specialising in interviewing actors (Brando, Delon) and film directors (Spielberg, George Miller, Ridley Scott, Gus Van Sant), film critic, as well as script reader for a large film production company.

In parallel, her studies in psychological schools and philosophical groups lead her to becoming a therapist at the crossroads of the Eriksonian and Transpersonal movements. She has written a number of works on Memory-Codes: Introduction au Dépoussiérage des Mythes [Introduction to the Dusting Off of Myths], Les Amants Merveilleux [The Wonderful Lovers], Les Empreintes de l’Invisible [The Imprints of the Invisible], Le tarot, jeu du gouvernement du monde [The Tarot, the Game of Governing the World], Prières Inconnues [Unknown Prayers], Le Sexe des Rêves [Dream Sex], Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane [The Authentic Gypsy Tarot], etc.  She has given many workshops aimed at corporate executives.

She created Le Tarot Tzigane [The Gypsy Tarot], Le Tarot des Chamanes [The Tarot of the Shamans] and has worked with an iconographer on La Réponse des Saints [The Reply of the Saints], and with an artist expert in futuristic effects, she has created L’Oracle de la Santa-Fé [The Oracle of the Santa-Fé].

Her 1981 booklet, The Tarot: Why, How and How Far? to accompany the Ancient Tarot of Marseille (designed by Paul Marteau in 1930 and published by Grimaud) sold over a million copies worldwide. In this booklet, she presents an original and particularly innovative approach to the Tarot of Marseilles.

In an extraordinary work, Le Théorème de Rodrigue [The Rodrigues Theorem], she explores a natural approach to the sensorial fourth dimension. These different activities only give a glimpse into her essential passion, Collective Memories.

As a translator, she encountered many high-level scientists (Stanislav Grof, Rupert Sheldrake, David Bohm). Among other works, she translated David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order.  Her last book, Secrets de Gitans [Gypsy Secrets] was published in 2002.

This biography was adapted from her booklet Les amants merveilleux ou le mythe de la fusion [The Wonderful Lovers, or the Myth of Fusion] which was distributed during the workshops of the same name from 1990 to 1995.

Tchalaï left us on the 20th of April, 2005. She leaves an entire generation of tarologists in sorrow at her loss.

[Note: Some of the publications cited above were privately printed rather than commercially published, and we have been unable to find further details about her decks other than the Tarot Tzigane. – Trans.]

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There are, of course, many people of Gypsy origin who have, as we say, “made it”, whether in France, in Russia, or elsewhere. I would like to mention one of those people, not so well known, it is true, but who was very loved and very highly regarded by her friends, including myself. Born Micheline Bazin, she decided to take up the lineage of her Unger grandfather, and so she adopted the name Tchalaï Unger which suited her so well. She converted to Orthodox Christianity, which is how I came to know her. As a journalist, she was close to Louis Pauwels, Marlon Brando, Yul Brynner and other renowned figures. She passed away in 2005. She was the author of the book – chiromancy oblige – Tarot Tzigane. As we knew her, so beautiful and so noble, so serene, she bore the vivacity of all the Gypsy splendour we have evoked.

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Tchalaï: A Brief Bibliography


  • Le Tarot, Pourquoi, Comment, Jusqu’où, Grimaud, 1981.
  • Translated into English as: The Tarot: Why, how and how far, Grimaud, 1982.
  • Translated into Spanish as: El Tarot : ¿por qué? ¿cómo? ¿hasta dónde?, Obelisco, 1985.
  • Republished in Spanish as: El tarot : La respuesta del futuro, Obelisco, 2004.


  • Les Empreintes de l’invisible, MA éditions, 1989.
  • Republished as: Le tarot, jeu du gouvernement du monde, Montorgueil, 1994.


  • Le tarot tzigane et son âme, Librairie de l’inconnu éd, 1995.
  • Republished as: Le Véritable Tarot Tzigane : Le tarot tzigane et son âme, éditions Trajéctoire, 2001.
  • Translated into Portuguese (Brazil) as: O Verdadeiro Tarô Tzigane, Clube de Autores, 2019.


  • Prières pour les peines et les joies d’aujourd’hui, Dervy, 1994.
  • Le Sexe des Rêves, éditions du Prieuré, 1997.
  • Secrets de Gitans, carnets d’une drabarni, éditions Trajéctoire, 2002.



  • Introduction au Dépoussiérage des Mythes, 1989.
  • Les Amants Merveilleux ou le mythe de la fusion, 1990.
  • Le Théorème de Rodrigue, [??].


  • David Bohm: La plénitude de l’univers, éditions du Rocher, 1987. French translation of: Wholeness and the Implicate order. Reprinted numerous times.
  • Edred Thorsson: La magie des runes, Presses Pocket, 1991. French translation of: At the well of wyrd.



  • Marc Questin, La splendeur du chamane, éditions du Rocher, 1997.



  • Le Tarot Tzigane, Grimaud, 1984.
  • Republished as: Le Tarot Tzigane, France Jeu Productions, 1995.

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Photo credits:

  • Above: Portrait of Tchalaï by Francis Campiglia.
  • Below: Portrait of Tchalaï from the back cover of Secrets de Gitans, photographer unknown.

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