Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Mercuranus: The Minor Arcana of the Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

Previously, we published the preface to the book Les Cartes et les Tarots : méthode des maîtres de la cartomancie, by the author who signed as Thylbus, first published in 1912. That little book contained an intriguing appendix, the only theoretical part of the work, by the pseudonymous author Mercuranus, none other than Patrice Genty, alias Basilide.

Patrice Genty (1883-1964), an inspector for the national gas company of France, was a 20th century author interested in esoteric matters; a member and later leader of the Gnostic Church founded by Jules Doinel, he wrote works on Gnosticism, the Templars, the Celtic tradition, and two books on the Tarot, as well as a number of articles on alchemy and other topics for the occultist periodicals of the time. Some of his works have been republished in French, and a biography may be found here (in French).

This brief appendix is worth considering, treating as it does of the much-neglected Minor Arcana, as well as elemental, seasonal and astrological attributions. We have already published excerpts from the works of Gérard Van Rijnberk and Jean Chaboseau in this respect, so it is not without interest to pursue this examination with the following text. Readers will note that the division of the four suits into either active or passive categories according to their design – a straight line or a curve – is attributable to none other than Eudes Picard.

Patrice Genty would later continue his investigations into the Tarot in two short but dense books, Le Profond Mystère du Tarot Métaphysique (1929) and Le Symbolisme du Tarot (1942), both published under the hieronym Basilide, but the burgeoning ideas he had on the Minor Arcana are already present, in nuce, in this appendix. The later edition of this book, which we have consulted for this translation, is available online here.

Various editions of Les Cartes et les Tarots

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The Minor Arcana of the Tarot


(Patrice Genty)

The Tarot that is most often used is composed of 78 cards, divided as follows:

  • 22 major arcana;
  • 4 x 10 or 40 cards in 4 series numbered from 1 to 10;
  • 4 x 4 or 16 figures.

The Tarot therefore enables the study of transformations (40) of 22 principles and of their realisation in the material world (42). (*)

The minor arcana are subdivided into 4 groups:

Staffs, Cups, Swords, Coins.

The Staff is the active principle: schematised by a vertical line; the Cup, the passive principle, schematised by a horizontal line; the Sword, their union, schematised by a cross; the Coin, the product of this union, is schematised by a circle.

The set is therefore schematised by a cross inscribed within a circle.

In other words, the Staff symbolises action; the Cup, the motive for the action (passion); the Sword the struggle to execute the action, and the Coin, the product, the result of the action.

We could indicate other schemas. The Staff is a straight line; the Coin a closed curve; the Sword and the Cup are mixed, and are composed of straight lines and curves.

Many correspondences have been established between the minor arcana and the elements. All these may be justified, according to the point of view concerned. From the divinatory point of view, the Staff corresponds to fire; the Sword to water; the Cup to air; and the Coin to earth.



  • This figure of 42 may be a typo since Genty states elsewhere that it is the deck of ordinary playing cards that represents realisation in the material world, in which case the correct figure ought to be 52, for a standard deck of playing cards, or 32, for a stripped deck of piquet cards. However, the number 42 occupies a special place in the Egyptian, Kabbalistic and Pythagorean traditions, and it is possible that this is what Genty had in mind instead, without specifying the matter further. – Trans.

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Paul-Clément Jagot: Preface to Thylbus: Cards and Tarots: Methods of the Masters of Cartomancy

Translator’s Introduction

The little work this excerpt has been taken from has had an influence that extends beyond its length. In effect, the book Les Cartes et les Tarots : méthode des maîtres de la cartomancie, by the author who signed Thylbus, first published in 1912, was reprinted quite a few times through the 20th century, and was the chief source of the cartomantic tradition dating back to Etteilla in that century.

Its brief preface by Paul-Clément Jagot, dealing mainly with the form of intuitive inspiration involved in reading cards, was also influential and is mentioned in some of the most unexpected quarters. The pseudonymous author Thylbus is none other than Jagot himself. Paul-Clément Jagot (1889-1962) was one of those French precursors who created a bridge between the occultism of the late 19th century and the nascent self-development movement of the early 20th century, typified by “Positive Thinking”, the Coué method of autosuggestion, and active imagination or guided dreaming; similar to the New Thought movement in the United States.

The work itself consists quite simply of divinatory meanings for the cards of an pack of ordinary playing cards, along with those of the Tarot, understood as the Tarot deck designed by Etteilla, followed by the ways in which the cards may be arranged and questioned. In other words, it is a practical, not theoretical, work, one destined to the cartomancers and the curious. (The appendix, to which we shall return, presents an exception to this characterisation.)

The book was republished at least half a dozen times,but was first published as Traité de cartomancie, ou l’Avenir par les cartes, Eichler, 1912, and later republished as Les Cartes et les tarots, méthode des maîtres de la cartomancie, Drouin, 1924, and continuously reprinted thereafter by Dangles until recently. One of the later editions, which we have consulted for this translation, is available online here. Here we present the preface to this interesting little work.

Cover of an early edition

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Cards and Tarots: Methods of the Masters of Cartomancy

Paul-Clément Jagot

Intuition, clairvoyance, lucidity, these mysterious faculties have barely been touched upon by modern psychology, and yet were widely in use during Antiquity where, in order to provoke manifestations, various so-called divinatory practices were used.

Cartomancy is the simplest and most effective of these methods. It enables everyone to obtain, to a degree relative to their receptivity, the perception of matters situated beyond sensorial perception in time and space.

It develops a certain degree of prescience in everyone.

In the Tarot, the Initiate possesses an admirable symbolism in which his meditations will discover an entire philosophy; a mathematical oracle in which the answers to the most formidable questions are enclosed.

The most humble cartomancer, unconscious handler of the arcana, thanks to the second state in which the traditional ritual places her, realises the necessary psychic conditions in order to grasp the imminent virtualities.

If it is easy for anyone to give themselves a cheap certificate of superiority by criticising the cartomancers and their clientele, it is no less true that the latter is by no means limited to mere mortals alone, but that it also includes fervent devotees ranking among the most enlightened spheres. That is because, in spite of all the mockery and all the short-sighted reasoning, experience shows that by applying the rules of cartomancy, we may truly recover the past, know the present and foresee the future.

The practical manual of divination by cards that I present to the public today and in particular to the readers of my books, was composed according to the most qualified sources. The collaboration of Mr Thylbus – an erudite seeker – and Madame de Karnac – an expert practitioner of fortune-telling, is supplemented by Mercuranus, well-known for his articles in the Voile d’Isis and his alchemical research.

I have read more or less everything that has been published on the subject, and I can say, with the certainty of seeing the reader’s opinion corroborate my own, that no other treatise is at the same time as clear, as complete and as strictly in conformity with the Tradition of the Masters of the Art.

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Patrice Boussel: The Great Game

Translator’s Introduction

A further entry in Patrice Boussel’s Manuel de la Superstition deals with cartomancy proper, and more specifically, with the card ‘spread’ entitled Le Grand Jeu, which may be translated literally as The Great Game, as we have done here, and which also exists as an expression, appropriately derived from gambling, and which means “to go for broke,” “to go all in,” or to make a “supreme attempt,” as noted by René-Louis Doyon. This expression also lent its name to the eponymous literary and artistic movement, loosely led by René Daumal, and which evolved on the margins of Surrealism. Finally, the term also served as title for a famous 1934 film by Jacques Feyder, in which a card reading plays a pivotal role in the plot. The genesis of the term is examined in depth by Malcolm Yapp in his lecture, ‘The Legend of the Great Game’, in the British Academy 2000 Lectures and Memoirs, pp. 179-198. The perceptive reader will note the intriguing literary indications in the last paragraph, an allusion, it would appear, to the writing technique of the French Symbolist author Paul Adam.

This little outline of cartomancy using a piquet deck is largely culled from the classic work on the subject by Boiteau d’Ambly, Les cartes à jouer: et la cartomancie, published in 1854 and itself largely based on the works of Etteilla as far as the section on divination is concerned.

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The Great Game

Patrice Boussel

The art of reading the cards, that is, to predict the future by means of cards, bears the learned name of cartomancy. Cartomancy is practiced with the thirty-two cards of a deck of ordinary piquet playing cards, or with the seventy-eight cards of a tarot pack. What we ordinarily understand by the Great Game, is the use of the set of cards of one of these decks with a view towards knowing events in the near or distant future. The meaning of each of them is giving by correcting its traditional value by its neighbouring cards and by its position within the set of the spread. The complexity of the Tarot deck and the difficulty of certain symbolic interpretations means that amateurs who wish to know their future or that of their friends generally content themselves with the thirty-two cards with which they play belote.

We may also use the Great Game to find out if a marriage will be successful, if we may count on an inheritance, if a lawsuit will be favourable, of a voyage will be a happy one, etc. In each case, it will be necessary to pay particular attention to certain cards corresponding to the subject: the dark or fair-haired gentleman will be the king of clubs or of hearts, a profitable death will be the ace of spades upside-down, the ace of hearts may bring some news, etc.

The most classic method of distributing the cards is as follows: after having shuffled the deck thoroughly, have the querent cut the deck using the left hand. Count the cards from the pack and take out the seventh, the fourteenth, etc. … by always placing the intermediate six cards at the bottom of the deck. Continue this operation until twelve cards have been taken out and spread in a circular arc from left to right, in the order they were picked. Check if the consultant is represented within these twelve cards (a king, a jack, or a queen, according to whether it is a man, a young man, or a woman; spades or hearts according to whether the person is dark or fair-haired).

If the card representing the interested party is not among the twelve cards, find it in the remaining pack and place it after the twelfth card. Otherwise, have the querent pick a thirteenth card from among the twenty remaining cards. The interpretation may then begin.

First of all, give a summary interpretation of the entire spread, then, going from the card which depicts the querent, analyse the cards encountered by counting off five by five until one reaches the starting point. Finally, in order to obtain further supplementary interpretations, have the querent draw a card, face down, from the remaining pack, for each of the thirteen cards whose meaning is still obscure. It will be possible to continue in this way until the pack has been completely used up.

In the exceptional case where all has not been made clear, we may yet again take the first thirteen cards, shuffle them, have the querent cut them once again with the left hand, then arrange them face down in six piles (for the person, for the home, for one’s expectations, for what does not wish for, for the surprise, for one’s consolation), by proceeding in this way: spread the first six cards from left to right; on the second round, place a card over the first five; on the third, place the two last cards on the first and second pile. Each pile is then turned over and explained.

Another method consists of having the querent shuffle and cut the deck with the left hand, then pick twelve cards, face down, in turn, and place them one after the other from top to bottom, from left to right. There are turned over in the same order in such a way as to obtain a sort of square. If the querent’s card is not present in the draw, look for his card in the pile and place it in a row more or less corresponding to its position in the pile, turning from right to left, starting from the highest card, called the card of destiny. After having given the greater outline of the future such as it is symbolised by the spread, shuffle the remaining pile, have it cut (using the left hand) and four new cards are drawn by the querent. The first will be placed on the card of destiny; the second on the card of the home (below); the third on the card of consolation (to the left); and the fourth on that of surprise (to the right). Supplementary information is given by the rest of the spread.

In general, hearts and clubs are good and happy signs; diamonds and spades bad and signs of misfortune. The court cards of hearts and diamonds announce blonde or fair-haired people; the court cards of clubs or spades dark-haired people.

The meaning of the eight cards in the four series is as follows:

  • The king of hearts is an honourable man who seeks to help you; reversed, his loyal intentions will be stopped.
  • The queen of hearts is an honest and generous woman from whom you may expect help; reversed, it means delays in your hopes.
  • The jack of hearts is a decent young man, often a soldier, who will join your family and who hopes to help you; reversed, he will be prevented from doing so.
  • The ace of hearts heralds pleasant news; it represents a meal between friends if it is surrounded by court cards.
  • The ten of hearts is a surprise that will bring great joy.
  • The nine of hearts promises reconciliation or tightens the bonds of friendship.
  • The eight promises satisfaction from one’s children.
  • The seven of hearts announces a good marriage.
  • The king of diamonds is a rather important man who is thinking of causing you trouble, and who will cause you trouble if he is reversed.
  • The queen of diamonds is a wicked woman who speaks ill of you, and who will cause you harm if she is reversed.
  • The jack of diamonds is a soldier or the mailman bringing bad news. Reversed, there will be no mail.
  • The ace of diamonds announces a letter.
  • The ten, an important and unexpected voyage.
  • The nine, delays where money or good deeds are concerned.
  • The eight, bad news or business propositions.
  • The seven, arguments or a surprise if it is accompanied by hearts.
  • The king of spades is a doctor or a lawyer; he may announce a serious illness or an unsuccessful trial.
  • The queen of spades is a widow or divorcee. Reversed, she will cheat you.
  • The jack is a young man, a spy or a traitor. Reversed, he will not be able to harm you.
  • The ace heralds a victory or great sadness; reversed, it announces a bereavement.
  • The ten, night time.
  • The nine, delays in business, or death.
  • The eight, bad news or tears.
  • The seven heralds arguments, troubles, losses.
  • The king of clubs is a powerful, fair, man, who may become a protector. Reversed, his good intentions will undergo a delay.
  • The queen is a dark-haired woman who loves you. Reversed, she will be jealous.
  • The jack of clubs promises a marriage, which will only take place after numerous difficulties if he is reversed.
  • The ace heralds gains, incoming money, and reversed, theft.
  • The ten of clubs is a sign of fortune, of inheritance.
  • The nine, of success.
  • The eight, of founded hopes.
  • The seven, of weakness or of thinking of someone else.

The individual significance of each card remains necessarily vague, it only gives but a general theme, and it is indispensable to know the card or cards which precede it in order to give an interpretation of the spread. Always according to tradition, the following sequences number among the more important:

  • Four kings in a row: honour; three: success in business and protection; two: good advice or rivalry between men.
  • Four queens: Lots of gossip, anger and backbiting; three: cheating and jealousy; two: friendship.
  • Four jacks: success or laziness; three: complications; two: arguments or forthcoming marriage.
  • Four aces: success or a death; three: libertinage or sentimental success; two: enmity or hesitation.
  • Four tens: success; three: change of state; two: loss.
  • Four nines: good deeds; three: troubles and hardships; two: troubles.
  • Four eights: success; three: marriage or abandonment; two: troubles.
  • Four sevens: intriguers; three: entertainment; two: small news or pregnancy.

Etteilla, who had great success in cartomancy a little under two centuries ago, has given many examples of interpretation. Thus, “for some undertaking or other, one needs the four aces and the nine of hearts for success. If the nine of spades comes out, it will not succeed.”

“If one wishes to know whether a child will do well, and if he will keep his inheritance: the four aces form a guarantee of property, and a marriage proportional to his sentiments, and if it is a young lady, she needs the four eights and the king of hearts, which will herald peace and harmony in her marriage.”

“To know how much delay a couple will have for their wedding, either by year, by month, or by week: the queen of spades will find herself with the queen of hearts. Every other eight will be so many years of delay; every nine will be so many months; every seven will be so many weeks.”

“To know whether a man will find success in the military: the four kings must find themselves with the four tens, and if by chance the four aces are also in there, then he will reach the highest grades, according to his capacity.”

“For a change of place, or of any state whatsoever: the person, master, mistress, or servant: if it is a master or mistress, one needs the four jacks, the ten and the eight of diamonds, and the ten of clubs for success. If a nine of diamonds is in there, it signifies delays. If it is a servant, he needs the ten and the seven of diamonds, the eight of spades, and the four queens for success.”

Divination by means of cards thus finds itself helped by solid and detailed traditions. If the querent shows good faith and if the person reading the Great Game has some talent, or if it is accepted that they possess some sort of second sight, very often it can happen that some astonishing predictions can be made.

It can also happen that this great means of raising the veil which hides the future may be in the wrong, but there is one case in which it can prove to be most useful, and in which the cartomancer will never be wrong, it is the that of the novelist struggling to continue the story of his characters’ adventures. When an author of serialised novels finds himself in a difficult situation, when he does not know what will become of his heroine, or how his hero will resolve the problem in question, what new devilment his opponent will come up with, the most elegant solution, the one that will be assuredly place him in tune with his readers, will be to draw the cards for each of the children of his imagination. He will thus discover the real next instalment of his story, and without any fatigue, without any possible error, he will know the future.

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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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André Salmon: Cartomancy (excerpts)

Translator’s Introduction

In literature, the Tarot as a narrative machine or as a plot device dates back to Pietro Aretino’s Pasquinate of 1521 at least, and has been put to work in all manner of ways, from formative and conceptual engine as in the work of Italo Calvino, explicit inspiration for William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley, an aid to character development in the work of Paul Adam, and as cliché in all manner of recent horror or fantasy novels. Less obviously, it has been an inspiration for poetry, although Aretino’s verses mark the first recorded instance of this particular usage, and Gérard de Nerval’s poems have been thoroughly studied in this perspective (by Georges Le Breton and Jean Richer, notably).

One undeservedly neglected figure whose work makes use of cards as both subject and inspiration for a series of poems is that of André Salmon (1881-1969), a once well-known French poet, close to Picasso, Apollinaire, Max Jacob and modernist artists and authors, and whose work was also well known in English at one point.

Portrait of Salmon by Josette Bournet, c.1947

Salmon’s series of 10 (or 12) brief poems inspired by the semi-historical, semi-legendary figures depicted on the court cards of the pack of ordinary playing cards is entitled Cartomancie, and was published in the ephemeral literary journal Action in 1921, illustrated with woodcuts. An offprint was also produced and one such copy appears in the collection of books, cards and papers donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale by Paul Marteau, director of Grimaud. These poems do not appear to have been republished since, nor compiled in Salmon’s other works, to the best of our knowledge. Moreover, the last stanza of the last poem, Valet of Heart, appears to be missing at least one line. The originals may be read here:

The engravings are also worthy of note in that they were produced by Lluís Bracons (1892-1961), an eminent engraver and lacquerer, founder of the Bracons-Duplessis engraving workshop. Further information on the characters depicted on the cards may be found here, and which are more comprehensively dealt with in chapter XII of W. Gurney Benham’s Playing cards : history of the pack and explanations of its many secrets.

Lest we conclude that cards and cartomancy were only a passing and wholly expedient interest, it should be noted that Salmon devoted a regular column in the newspaper Le Petit Parisien to recounting his investigative experiences among the soothsayers and fortune-tellers of Paris in the 1930s, which pieces were eventually compiled and published as Voyages au pays des voyantes (1932), a book which has been recently republished as Visites aux diseuses de bonne aventure, and which provides a unique insight into the world of early twentieth-century fortune-telling and cartomancy from the point of view of the interested but somewhat sceptical layman. In fact, credit for this type of investigative journalism and social history must go to Salmon, whose command of the French language, superior to the usual journalistic prose, coupled to an acute sense of observation, made him the perfect chronicler of this neglected but enduring aspect of human activity. Furthermore, his erudite historical and literary remarks complete the picture by connecting the divinatory practices and literature of the 18th and 19th centuries with those of his age, giving his work a certain documentary and anthropological value.

Further information on Salmon, his life and works, may be found on the following websites and blogs:

Nowhere is the Italian expression that to translate is to betray no more evident than when it comes to translating poetry, and as one renowned translator has said: to translate a poem, one must write a poem. Without in the slightest claiming to be a poet, nor even a poetaster, we here present fairly literal renditions of a few of these brief and charming pieces. The entire journal containing the pieces may be read here. Further examples of Salmon’s poetry, in both French and English, may be read here. Another English translation of Cartomancy, published by Olchar E. Lindsann, is available here.

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André Salmon

Rachel, Caesar

Queen of Diamonds

Fear the queen with the roses
Dragging you onto her square,
You’ll become her neuroses,
Which she will spread everywhere.

Alexander, Argine

Queen of Clubs

Tobacconist or money exchange?
Gold and banknotes, wines and spirits?
The Queen of Clubs has got heart!
Argine appears if your good angel wills it,
Like a crossed cheque with but one payee.

Lancelot, Ogier


Trifling temporary troubles —
Tears in the night — bereavement and prison
Delays at sea, O passenger
The dark star is above the house.

Plots in the town,
Formed against whom?
A closed circle
Wherein the Ace of Hearts shines.

Bothers, changes, disputes
— The cards never lie;
The black lily of uncertainty
Has corrupted my handsome valet.

Hector, La Hire

Valet of Heart

Gentle, faithful, honest, timid
And among all, the most fatal!
What to do with this heart so candid
O La Hire, so sentimental!
Argine appears if your good angel wills it.

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Jean Bossu: Etteilla & Freemasonry (I)

Translator’s Introduction

The article The Isis of the Tarot examined the origins of the so-called “occult Tarot” in some depth, and more specifically, its Masonic origins. One of the slightly later developments of this myth, that spurred on if not created by Jean-Baptiste Alliette, alias Etteilla, was unfortunately only summarily dealt with in that otherwise enlightening article. Pending publication of a more in-depth examination of the relations between Alliette and Freemasonry, we have seen fit to publish a series of short letters dealing precisely with the subject, in order to serve the twofold aim of first of all acquainting the casual reader with the basic facts of the matter, and secondly, in order to provide a variety of views, spanning the spectrum from praise to criticism.

The reason for this is as follows: the source for Alliette’s system of cartomancy is as yet unclear, supposing that one may exist, and the exact nature of his relations with Freemasonry, or para-Masonic associations, is equally unclear. That is not to imply that Alliette learned divinatory techniques in an initiatory setting, or even from a member of one of these societies, for, as we have seen from Streiff-Moretti’s article, the influence may very well have flowed in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, this enigma remains to be elucidated in order to shed further light on the birth of both cartomancy and the occult Tarot in general.

These texts, which may in fact be considered as a composite whole, were published in response to a query by a reader, a certain Cornélius, on Etteilla and his relations with Freemasonry, and were written by the contributors to the journal L’Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux, including Jean Bossu (1911-1985), a Masonic historian and specialist of Masonic biography. Indeed, Bossu’s biographical files – on no less than 130,000 Freemasons of the 17th and 18th centuries – are considered authoritative in the world of Masonic history. These files were bequeathed to the Bibliothèque Nationale and have now been conveniently digitised in the form of a searchable database, while his papers were left to the departmental archives of the Vosges.

Although Bossu did not then have access to his files, it would appear that he never returned to the question of Alliette’s affiliation to Freemasonry, according to his bibliography. Not only that, but Alliette does not appear to be listed in his files either, whether under his real name or his pseudonym. This does not prove that Alliette was not a Freemason, of course, however, some weight must be attached to Bossu’s extensive and encyclopaedic knowledge, and we may consider this absence of evidence to be, on the contrary, an argument from silence – pending further information.

Aside from a brief mention under the entry for the anagrammatic “Elie Alta” (Gervais Bouchet), the only mention of the man in Bossu’s files is in a quotation taken from the biography of Cagliostro by Henri d’Alméras (1904), where he is mentioned in passing, alongside other guests of the Masonic congress of 1785, including the unfortunate Touzay (or Touzai) Du Chanteau, who died in the explosion of the alchemical laboratory which the Philalèthes had installed in their lodge.

In the intervening 45 years since its initial publication, very little research has been done on Etteilla, with the exception of the notable and essential works on the subject by Sir Michael Dummett, Thierry Depaulis and Ronald Decker, which we have cited elsewhere, and especially their Wicked Pack of Cards. Perusal of these works will correct some of the more persistent errors, such as the “wigmaker fallacy,” among a number of other enduring legends. In spite of these minor inaccuracies, we have refrained from cluttering the text with [sic] each and every time, and will instead refer the interested reader to chapter 4 of the aforementioned Wicked Pack of Cards for a comprehensive and detailed biography of Alliette. Readers of French may also profitably consult the early biography by Millet Saint-Pierre, cited below.

These texts first appeared in L’Intermédiaire des chercheurs et curieux, September 1975,  page 837. Further details on Bossu, and especially, on his Masonic career, may be read here (in French). The second contributor, Georges de Cursac, was a priest with an interest in computistics, who had previously published a study on the dates of Christ, as well as some articles dealing with the “lateral history” of the Avignon papacy. We have been unable to determine the identities of the other two contributors. We have very slightly edited these texts in order to provide fuller references, as well as links to the works cited where possible.

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Etteilla & Freemasonry (I)

Jean Bossu

Alliette, eighteenth-century cartomancer. Until such a time as I am able to consult my files, I will say that the true name of the one who called himself Etteilla has always been known. Here is what René Le Forestier says, in note 57 of page 785 of his monumental work La Franc-Maçonnerie templière et occultiste aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles (Paris, 1970, in-8), referring to the book by Constantin Bila, La Croyance à la magie au XVIIIe siècle en France (Librairie Gamber, 1925):

Eteila, or better yet, Etteilla, was the anagram of Alliette, name of a former wigmaker who styled himself “professor of algebra” (Kabbalah) and who claimed to renew cartomancy by incorporating “good magic”, astrology, the philosopher’s stone, “the secret of commanding genies and manufacturing talismans” into it … Without being discouraged by political events, he announced, by way of posters, the opening of a “new school of magic.”

It is very possible that Etteilla was a Freemason, since he was the recipient of the proponenda sent by the Philalèthes on the 13 of November 1784 leading up to their congress, for in theory they only addressed them to Freemasons, but I doubt the name of his lodge is known.

— Jean Bossu

* * *

This eighteenth-century wigmaker published a so-called Egyptian Tarot under the pseudonym Etteilla, in which the influence of Gébelin is manifest. He corrected the figures mistreated by the latter’s engraver, but did so in a perspective more artistic than scientific, giving the cards new and less orthodox attributes. Worse yet, he modified the cards, thereby introducing the greatest confusion into the Tarot.

During the Revolution while the guillotine accomplished its work, Alliette, alias Etteilla, gave lessons in kabbalah to the populace. Born towards 1750, he would have died on 12 December, 1791. His deck, the so-called Grand Etteilla, is still in fashion and some users consider Alliette as a great cartomancer. On the other hand, his written work is considerable. The Bibliotheca Esoterica (Dorbon Ainé, 1940) devotes no less than ten analytical articles to it.

— G. De Cursac

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Alliette published all his works under the pseudonym Etteilla. His publications span from 1762 to 1791, with a long interval from 1762 to 1785. He was a wigmaker. All that we know of him has been compiled by Mr Millet de Saint Pierre in his Recherches sur le dernier sorcier.

A letter by de Bonrecueille, tax inspector of Toulon, dated 5 March 1892, and addressed to an adept of Marseilles, designated Hugand, whose pseudonym was Jejalet, as being invested by Alliette. The latter, in a letter signed using his pseudonym, places the death of his master on the 12 December 1791. His succession was contested by a certain Dudoucet.

Alliette’s cartomancy was particularly applied to the Tarots, in their primitive edition, introduced to France no doubt through Marseilles. The decks currently published under this name comprise the hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds of the original playing cards. Alliette has left some very beautiful reproductions of traditional decks. He maintained that the Tarot was of Egyptian provenance, from before the Christian era, and christened his collection the Book of Thot.

Did he belong to Freemasonry? That is for our erudite colleague Jean Bossu to answer, but if, at the end of the 18th century, there were marginal fringes of Freemasonry attracted by occultism, the symbolism of the Tarot – very rich as it is – does not seem to have aroused much interest, and Alliette, if he was indeed a Mason, could only have played but an obscure role.

— Bey

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Better known under the pseudonym Etteilla, deceased on the 12 of December, 1791. A portrait of Etteilla is included in his Etteilla, ou la seule manière de tirer les cartes. An etched frontispiece – a portrait of Etteilla – is twice included in the work of his disciple and heir d’Odoucet, Science des signes ou medicine de l’esprit, Paris, self-published, n.d. (1804).

Perhaps Cornélius will find the answers to his questions in the works by Etteilla and d’Odoucet. These works are not in the library in my town.

— Grib’Oval

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The Tarot and Love

Translator’s Introduction

Although the majority of the material translated and published here to date has been either of an intellectual, speculative nature, or conversely, a practical, rational working methodology, we have not neglected the more mundane and down-to-earth materials dealing with cartomancy and fortune-telling forasmuch. Effectively, in the popular literature of the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, one sometimes encounters writings which, for one reason or another, are interesting or entertaining, and therefore worth presenting to a wider readership.

The following piece, by one pseudonymous “Professor Swastis”, was published in what was known as the “feminine press”, where said prognosticator held a weekly column for a number of years during the 1930s, dealing with matters of divination, magic, dreams, etc., in a light-hearted, anecdotal manner, yet one which did not eschew the odd classical or literary allusion, as the following excerpt shows. While most books on cartomancy give at least token “divinatory meanings” for each card for a number of domains of human activity, the overt sexual mores of this interpretation from the 1930s may be somewhat unexpected for contemporary readers.

As such, this piece, the only one by this author to deal with the issue of the Tarot which we are aware of, will provide readers with a snapshot of one facet of the cartomantic literature of the early twentieth century, and may well prove useful to some. Incidentally, “Swastis” later made good on his promise to write more on divination with ordinary playing cards, setting out a rough series of half a dozen or more articles, which may also be published here in due course.

As to the reading methodology involved, although the author says that only the major arcana will be used, it is clear from the instructions that the entire deck is to be shuffled and drawn from, but that only the remaining majors will determine the reading. This piece was published as “Le Tarot et l’Amour,” Séduction, 27 July, 1935, p. 6. The original may be read on the French news archive here.

Three of Swords, Sola Busca Tarot, ~1490.

The Tarot and Love

Professor Swastis

“A pack of cards is a book of adventure, of the kind called romances. It is so far superior to other books of a similar kind that it can be made and read at the same time, and that it is not necessary to have brains to make it, nor knowledge of reading to read it. It is a marvellous work, also, in that it offers a regular and new sense every time its pages are shuffled. It is a contrivance never to be too much admired, because out of mathematical principles it extracts thousands on thousands of curious combinations, and so many singular affinities that it is believed, contrary to all truth, that in it are discoverable the secrets of hearts, the mystery of destinies and the arcanum of the future.”

Who speaks thusly? Our good master Jérôme Coignard, in The Queen Pedauque. (1) And who would this surprise? Anatole France drew the best part of his book from a hermetic work, The Count of Gabalis by Montfaucon de Villars. And since we are in such good company, why would I hesitate to talk to you of cards and their mysteries today, concerning matters of love? Space is lacking, I am afraid, to give you a proper manual of cartomancy. One would need a large volume. I shall therefore limit myself to providing some pointers on a subject which fascinates both you and I: Love.

As to that “singular novel” mentioned by the abbé Coignard, there are two decks: the Tarot and the ordinary deck of piquet playing cards. You must by now be thinking that my complete preference tends towards the Tarot. For the initiate, the Tarot of the Bohemians, with its 78 cards, or arcana, sums up the whole of the secret science. We can use them to read the future. Yet again, we can also use them to meditate on the mysteries of creation. The cabalistic wisdom, the wisdom of India, the Atlantean traditions, all find themselves condensed within the Tarot. And if you truly want to develop a more accurate intuition of your future, do not hesitate: buy a deck of Tarot cards.

Twenty-two of its cards (the same number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet) represent mysterious figures, veritable little portraits, depicting a central figure. These are the Major Arcana, as opposed to the other cards, decorated with cups, staffs, coins, and swords, and which are known as Minor Arcana.

Let us limit ourselves, for the time being, to the major arcana. You know the ritual: cut the deck with the left hand. Next, randomly draw five cards.

With the five cards laid out before us, remove the minor arcana. What remains of the major arcana will speak to us of love. And what if nothing remains? It means that the oracle is mute. To insist would be perfectly useless.

Each card bears its name inscribed beneath the figure. They do not all speak of love. Let us just look at those that are connected to it.

The second is the Popess. She announces solemn and platonic love. The third, the Empress, must I wish it upon you? It indicates fertile loves. The winners of the Cognacq Prize must have it in their hand of cards. (2)

The sixth is called the Lover. Wonderful omen, one might think. Indeed. It only expresses hesitation, or fickle hearts.

The seventh arcanum, the Chariot, is the sign of amorous triumph. In particular, it points to those of untiring temperament, of those who put into practice the words of the poet: “Put your work twenty times upon the anvil.” (3) Twenty times? Try four times to begin with, which would not be so bad.

The twelfth arcanum, on the contrary, is an evil sign. It depicts a man hanging by his feet. Alas! It portends one of those tenacious loves, the kind one can never extricate oneself from. The unfortunate women who fall upon a jealous man, in the lottery of love, always have this card in their reading.

The thirteenth? Death, as we sing in Carmen! Do not trust a vain appearance. This card is not always to be feared. It sometimes announces the end of an affair. But death is the sister of love. More often, it then expresses a complete change of existence. A resurrection: another love.

The Devil, the fifteenth arcanum, expresses the forces of nature. Temperament, if you prefer. And temperament in the sense it is taken by lovers. One would not be bored with a [female] querent who draws this card. Of all the devils, the only one I might wish upon you to pull by the tail, is that of the Tarot.

On the contrary, the sixteenth arcanum, the Tower [MaisonDieu], is always an evil sign. It is the crumbling of passion, its destruction under the weight of infidelity and disillusion. Let us move along quickly…

To fall into a no less negative arcanum, so to say: the Moon. It indicates easy pitfalls, you know, “without knowing how”, the kind of falls that may have nasty consequences. When the little god, as our ancestors said, has stung you with a poisoned arrow…

The Sun, the nineteenth arcanum, is, on the contrary, the card I wish upon you in preference to all others. Success, shared love. If it accompanies the tenth arcanum, the Wheel of Fortune, it points to love, wealth, and the most refined delights. By itself, the Wheel of Fortune foretells success.

Finally, the last arcanum, the Fool, announces what may well be the best of love: that of flings of no lasting consequence, as good friends…

Another time, we will set aside the Tarot, the cards of the sages, and pick up the deck of ordinary playing cards. It “speaks” less, but it is within everyone’s grasp.

– Professor Swastis


  1. Novel by Anatole France, published in 1893, and translated and published in English in 1910, and again, in 1922. See chapter XVII for the foregoing quote. Incidentally, Gabalis was republished in 1931 by René-Louis Doyon and Paul Marteau, director of Grimaud, and included a study detailing the relations between the two works.
  2. Prize founded by a wealthy couple, who could not have children of their own, awarded to those families with a large number of children.
  3. Boileau (1636-1711).

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