Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Denis de Rougemont: The Tarot and the Four Loves

Translator’s Introduction

The truism that the card The Lover does not merely represent the idea of love – whatever that may be – but instead, expresses hesitancy and indecision, far from being the fruit of conflicting cartomantic interpretations, is one that is implicit in the iconography of the card itself. The source of this apparent paradox lies in the diverging senses of the upper and lower elements of the card, namely, the cherubic Cupid figure letting loose an arrow above, and the male figure flanked by two female ones below. While the former is a recognisable character from the pantheon of Greco-Roman antiquity, the lower scene is tentatively described as depicting Hercules torn between the personifications of Virtue and Vice, as per Prodicus’ account, reproduced by Xenophon in his Memorabilia.

Although the exact composition of the card varies slightly from one iconographic tradition to another, the basic idea is the same. Van Rijnberk states: “One must distinguish the figures of the upper part of the card from those of the lower part. Above, we invariably find a being loosing an arrow, symbol of the influence which Heaven, the causal World, exerts on human affairs. This figure is certainly part of the primitive imagery. The figures depicted in the lower part of the card, which corresponds to the Earth, are not constant: we find a young man having to choose between women; a couple of lovers, alone or accompanied by friends, or whose union is being consecrated by a third person.” Later, he concludes: “The sixth arcanum represents man put to the test, and who must choose between good and evil. It is not an error for a modern author (Basilide) to call this card “hesitancy” or “ordeal.””

Is it possible to reconcile these seemingly unrelated – if not opposed – interpretations of the card?

In English, the question of the “four loves” has been dealt with by C. S. Lewis in his eponymous book, but readers of French are better served by the works of Denis de Rougemont, whose extensive and insightful examinations of the question, with one exception, have not been translated into English. Effectively, his classic book L’Amour et l’Occident, published in the US as Love in the Western World and in the UK as Passion and Society, provides the groundwork for an understanding of the varying forms of what is commonly known as ‘love’ in English, especially as they have manifested themselves in the Western world, as the title suggests. (In passing, it will be noted that de Rougemont’s understanding and classification differs slightly from that of Lewis.)

Yet de Rougemont wrote a number of other works on the topic, some of which have to do with the Tarot, and in this respect it is worth mentioning that de Rougemont himself made an in-depth study of the Tarot during his years of exile during WWII, to finally publish but one article on the subject, a subject to which we shall return in due course. This piece, taken from the last chapter of Comme toi-même : Essais sur les mythes de l’amour (Like Yourself: Essays on the Myths of Love), is the illustration, with reference to playing cards, and by extension to Tarot, of de Rougemont’s typology of love, based chiefly on his understanding of Jungian psychology and classical mythology.

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The Four Suits of Love

Denis de Rougemont

Everyone knows the deck of playing cards, at least to see, but almost no one sees them. Almost no one bothers to decipher these ideograms, much less take any pleasure in doing so. It is too serious a task for the players, and nothing but a game for those who are serious. Yet, if we observe a moment, but without playing, the suits of a deck of ordinary playing cards, we will not be long in discovering that they correspond exactly to the four loves which we have just identified [intuitive vision or philia; emotion or eros; sexual pleasure; cosmic energy]. (And if we go back to the Tarot, we will see that this is not due to chance or fantasy, as the elegant studies of the Indologist Heinrich Zimmer have shown.)

The Four Loves

Spade ♠

The shape indicates the number 1.
It suggests: penetrating, crossing through, stealing in one movement, wounding, killing, fertilising.
Corresponds to the Spirit and to Intuition (spiritual Love, intuitive gaze, philia, agapè).
Temperament: mystical, innovator, helpful, detached, rapid, disinterested, authoritarian.
Typical Deviations: Imperialism and sadism, or, inversely, asceticism and taste for self-sacrifice; towards the other: crime; towards oneself, suicide.
Conception of Love: A King of Spades will say that “Love is not a sentiment, but the total situation of the one who loves, oriented towards the truth.”
Proof of the Validity of this Love: the accurate gaze.

Heart ♥

The shape indicates the number 2.
It suggests: palpitation, contraction-dilation, being vulnerable or wounded, pierced by a pike [Fr: pique, a pointed weapon, but in card terminology, a spade.] (“A sword will pierce your soul,” says Simeon to Mary).
Corresponds to the Soul and to Feeling (passion-Love, tenderness, Eros).
Temperament: emotive-depressive, oblative-invasive, receptive-imaginative, nostalgic-enthusiast.
Typical Deviations: Masochism. (Only the one who has a soul, and knows it, is able to be a masochist and to rejoice in it.) Taste for death as a couple [i.e. a suicide pact]. Paranoia.
Conception of Love: “Beauty makes one shed the best of tears.” – Tristan.
Proof: to feel intensely.

Club ♣

The shape indicates the number 3.
It suggests: to push, to embrace, to expand into the three dimensions (spirit, soul and body) without losing one’s instinct, to become attached, to wither.
Corresponds to the Body and to Sensation. (“All flesh is like grass.” The love of the flesh for all that transcends and animates it, for growth comes from below, but the blooming and blossoming depend on the light received, the air, and the dew.)
Temperament: sensual-impulsive-curious; predator-exclusive-creator (of objects, not of concepts).
Typical Deviations: Don Juan. Aberrations of instinct. Mystical naturism. (The mystical utopia, sometimes realised, of the four-leafed clover: to transform the stem of instinct into a fourth leaf.)
Conception of Love: Greed. “What is true, what is beautiful, is what is good for me.”
Proof: to touch, to embrace.

Diamond ♦

The shape indicates the number 4.
It suggests: to define, to delimit (the square), but also to penetrate everywhere, in every direction (sharp angles, a reminder that this square was once a crossbow quarrel, a four-sided arrow; to contradict, and to put in parallel, to oppose in order to balance.
Corresponds to the Intellect, to Thinking (Love of the just, and the passion of discovery).
Temperament: exclusive, constructor, critic, prudent (“to be square”); abstractor, classical, impudent, inventive (of structures and of concepts).
Typical Deviations: Schizophrenia. Taste for rape. Sexual impotence by distrust of the soul. (The Intellectual, in the wrong sense, is the one who is cut off from the soul, or either does not know what to do with it, or denies it.)
Conception of Love: Balance which demands exchange, the maintenance of both within their proper limits.
Proof: to understand (or on the contrary, to accept as a fact that which resists all criticism.)


We will have recognised, in passing, the four fundamental functions of C. G. Jung: thinking, sensation, intuition, feeling, even though they are placed here in a different order, and which translate the particular logic and ontogenesis of love. These four functions coexist in the life of every normal man, but one, in general, is dominant, more strongly actualised; and thereby, it potentiates in the unconscious the function the most different to itself. The pairs of oppositions described by Jung: intuition-sensation (black signs of the deck of cards) and feeling-thinking (red signs) will be found in my schematic outline.

I have limited myself to the interpretations concerning love, the ones which may illustrate the preceding pages. I have only considered the Aces. There are many other things in the figures* of the cards.

* It is unclear whether this refers to the design of the cards in general, or the court cards in particular. – Translator.

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Read the original French here.

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