Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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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.

* * *

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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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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Pierre Piobb: Correspondences between Tarot, Kabbalah & Astrology

Translator’s Introduction

After providing a translation of Pierre Piobb’s structuration of the Tarot and his views on its divinatory application, we present the table of correspondences found in Piobb’s Formulaire de Haute Magie. As noted previously, although Piobb indicates his source for these correspondences to be the work of Paul Christian, only the titles coined by the latter have been retained (with some minor modifications), the astrological correspondences being those of Charles Nicoullaud, from his Manuel d’Astrologie Sphérique et Judiciaire (1897, pp. 320-321). For Paul Christian’s table of correspondences, see here.

This set of correspondences went on to provide the basis for that of Salvador Dalí’s Tarot deck, likely via the medium of Pierre Mabille, another Surrealist and himself a student of Piobb’s, and also that of the Basque Tarot of Maritxu de Güler, the Tarot de Euskalherria, through its inclusion in the Encyclopédie des sciences occultes edited by Charles Mafféo Poinsot, translated into English as The Encyclopedia Of Occult Sciences.

As Stephen Mangan has noted: “The astrological associations are not related to any traditional correspondence of such with the Hebrew letters. Frequently they appear to be matched with the imagery of the cards, e.g., Temperance is Aquarius the water bearer because of the two cups; the Sun is Gemini because of the two youths; the Moon is Cancer because of the crustacean and being the traditional sign of the Moon; extending on the logic of the Golden Dawn in that Strength must be Leo because of the lion; Justice is Libra because of the scales.”

* * *

Excerpted from

Formulaire de Haute Magie

(Formulary of High Magic)

Pierre Piobb (1874-1942)

Adaptation of the Hebrew Alphabet to the Tarot
(sequence of so-called Major Arcana)


Grammatical Designation

Signification of the Tarot

Astrological Attribution



The Magus



The Door of the Temple






The Cubic Stone



The Master of the Arcana




The Two Paths




The Chariot of Osiris








The Veiled Lamp




The Sphinx




The Lion




The Sacrifice




The Scythe




Human Genius








The Tower Struck By Lightning



The Star of the Magi








The Light




The Resurrection of the Dead




The Crown




The Crocodile


* * *

For more on Piobb and his work (in French) see this dedicated website .


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Pierre Piobb: The Divinatory Tarot

Excerpts from

L’Évolution de l’Occultisme et la Science d’aujourd’hui

(The Evolution of Contemporary Occultism and Science)


L’Occultisme Contemporain

(Contemporary Occultism)

Pierre Piobb (1874-1942)

Translator’s Introduction

Cartomancy: Superstitious art of “drawing the cards” to conjecture the future.

We have already published a presentation of P. V. Piobb’s correlation between the Tarot and 22 regular polygons, an excerpt which ended with a seemingly dismissive remark on the divinatory application of the Tarot. Despite the foregoing quote, also taken from Piobb’s Clef Universelle des Sciences Secrètes, we shall see that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, in another work, L’Évolution de l’Occultisme et la Science d’aujourd’hui (1911), Piobb provides a typology of the divinatory arts, of which we present the outline as well as the section on Tarot. (The other sections have been omitted.) This is followed by a more in-depth look at the mechanisms involved, taken from a different work again, L’Occultisme Contemporain (1909). We can see from these excerpts the importance attached to the system of correspondences, on the one hand, and the rather restrictive reading methodologies then common, which are unfortunately not detailed, on the other.

* * *

On the Divinatory Arts:

I. Divinatory Arts

A. Mechanical Divinatory Arts
1. Elective Astrology

B. Semi-Mechanical Divinatory Arts
1. Geomancy
2. The Tarot (divination practiced by the interpretation, by means of knowledge of the correspondences of the symbols, of a series of special cards, Tarot arcana, drawn at random.)

C. Psychic Divinatory Arts
1. Interpretation of psychological events, dreams, feelings, etc.
2. Auto-divination (intuition, “second sight,” etc), connected to the psyche.

D. Physical Divinatory Arts
1. Chiromancy
2. Graphology
3. Physiognomy
4. Interpretation of gestures

E. Divinatory Arts of Random Events
Interpretation of random events, such as the flight of birds or birdsong, the arrangement of the entrails of a sacrificed animal, etc.

II. Prophecy

A. Conjectural Prophecy
B. Subjective Prophecy

* * *

IV: The Divinatory Arts


As to the manner of objective prophecy, it is even more extraordinary yet. On the one hand, it proceeds from the Tarot and from geomancy, and on the other, from astrology.
The Tarot is well-known. It is a deck of cards on which the most bizarre figures are depicted. Patient and erudite researchers, Papus, Oswald Wirth, Eudes Picard, among others, have discovered that these figures are symbols. If the reader throws a few random cards on the table, their symbolic representation may be applied to a future event. The Tarot is interpreted by means of fixed rules which leave little room for the personal imagination. In such a way that we may consider this divinatory instrument as being more or less mechanical.

The resulting predictions are often disconcerting. If, instead of consulting some professional soothsayer or other, naturally suspected of charlatanism, we were to read for ourselves – and, in sum, everyone can do so – we would be sometimes surprised at the results.

There is thus a fact here, and it is a matter of explaining it. But hypotheses are lacking. The metaphysical occultist schools classify it among the mediumnic phenomena, except we may be sceptical, because it is not necessary to be a medium in order to read the Tarot.

The same goes for geomancy. […] Effectively, it is due to chance that the geomantic points are drawn, just as it is also due to chance the Tarot cards are drawn. How is it, then, that they very often reveal the unknown future?

The problem of chance is one of the most difficult. It is of interest to both philosophy and mathematics. In the last analysis, we tend to admit that chance does not exist. It is a word that does not explain anything. We would be hard pressed to say that a given event is due to chance when it is unique: we must not recognise the fortuity in a series of events. Every phenomenon must necessarily have a cause, and chance is but the expression of an unknown cause, or of a multitude of causes, that escape us.

In this way, the matter of objective divination by the Tarot and geomancy are the subject of a great deal of study. They have been observed in an experimental manner, and have been analysed and tested. The sufficient cause is sought out. It is likely that it will be discovered, in the same way that the value of that forgotten and misunderstood science, astrology, has been clearly established.

* * *

For more on Piobb and his work (in French) see this dedicated website.

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On the Divide Between Astrology and the Divinatory Arts

On the Divide Between Astrology and the Divinatory Arts

Jean-Marc Lepers
Excerpt from the preface to Le Livre Blanc de l’Astrologie by J. Halbronn.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

I know the Tarot fairly well – 22 cards and that is all. […] But even if the Tarot is an esoteric system, we may still hope, by means of patience, of trial and error, of rearrangements, to obtain an idea of the way in which this system is arranged. This is what was stressed by Robert Jaulin, in his work on the geomantic system*, a system of divination is a “complete system” – that is to say that, by its very structure, no possible event is supposed to escape its description. […]

Knowing the Tarot fairly well, I have been interested, of course, in its correspondences with Astrology. It is true that they have apparently common symbols. But absolutely nothing proves that this correspondence is not due to the effect of a relative chance: in what we may call the general library of symbols, which is a relatively limited set, it is not very surprising that some have been used just as well in Astrology as in the Tarot. Nonetheless, they are never exactly the same. Is it, individually, the symbol and its declensions that matter, or the place within which it is situated in a structure? For the structures of the Tarot and of Astrology are highly different, and are not superimposable. Astrology operates on a base of 12, that is, three times four elements. The Tarot, on a base of 7, three times seven cards – plus one card denoted zero, of which there is no equivalent in Astrology, nor in any other divinatory system, to the best of my knowledge. If it is the set of the structure that has significance, that is, the relative positions of the various elements, the two systems have practically nothing comparable, apart from the fact that they both use a mathematical-geometric system.

* Robert Jaulin, La géomancie, analyse formelle, Mouton, 1966.

Read the original piece here.

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An Interpretation of the System of Correspondences of the Divinatory Tarot

Translator’s Introduction

The author of the following piece has written what is perhaps one of the most accessible overviews of the structure – or one of the structures – of the Tarot, one that is as clear as it is concise and comprehensive. The Tarot is examined in the optic of the familiar model of the threefold septenary, and although the supposedly traditional divinatory and symbolic meanings attached to the cards are sometimes mentioned, the rigorously mathematical logic employed eschews any concession to unsubstantiated and wholly arbitrary speculation.

The formulation of the pairs of opposing cards is grounded on this logic, and, to a lesser extent, on the visual symbolism presented by the cards themselves. This twin approach to the study of the Tarot is thereby doubly interesting, insofar as it attempts a total, to use the word, interpretation using all the elements provided. In this way, the Tarot is approached on its own terms, as a complete system, with its own rules of organisation.

The value of such a study is that it forces one to confront the fact that, if the Tarot forms a coherent and harmonious whole, then it behoves us to consider its constituent elements – the cards – not only taken in isolation, as most authors do, but in relation to the whole, and especially in relation to other cards, relations from which a meaningful significance can be derived. This, in turn, enriches one’s understanding of the cards taken singly, as well as of the Tarot itself as an organic whole, unveiling the potential for complexity in an apparently “naïve” system.

With respect to the notion of the ‘Three Worlds’, it should be noted that the first corresponds to the elemental world, the second to the world of incarnation, and the third to the metaphysical world of the spirit; three domains in which Energy, Matter, and the Spirit predominate respectively.

Finally, it must be noted that the implicit influence for this exercise in formal logic (the notion of the “complete system”) is to be found in the work of the French ethnologist Robert Jaulin on Geomancy (1), as is, less evidently, the concluding section on totalitarianism (2), according to the special meaning the latter author gave to the term. The former concept is to be put in relation with that of “local rationalities” developed by the anthropologist Yves Lecerf.

Jean-Marc Lepers is a theoretician of rationality in the systems of hypertextuality of digital databases. A doctor and director of theses in Economics, Information & Communication Science, and Anthropology, he lectured in the University of Paris.

This article was first published in 1995, and later expanded and rewritten in English by the author in 2007. The second version, while as yet unpublished, provides a number of further useful indications and it is to be hoped that it will eventually be published.


1. Robert Jaulin, La géomancie, analyse formelle, Mouton, 1966, repub. Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1995.
2. Robert Jaulin, L’Univers des totalitarismes, Essai d’ethnologie du “non être”, Éditions Loris Talmart, 1995.

It will be noted, from the details provided, that the Tarot deck referred to is the Ancient Tarot de Marseille, designed by Paul Marteau and published by Grimaud.

* * *

An Interpretation of the System of Correspondences of the Divinatory Tarot

Jean-Marc Lepers

Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.


The divinatory Tarot is constituted of a set of 78 cards, of which 22 are called “majors,” and 56 are called “minors.” The minor cards are arranged in four suits (Staffs, Cups, Coins, Swords) of 14 cards; 4 “court” cards (King, Queen, Knight, Valet), and 10 cards numbered 1–10. The minor cards more or less resemble the playing cards currently used for gaming. The suits have well-established meanings (Staffs: energy, fertility, enterprise; Cups: love; Coins: money; Swords: conflict), but the meaning of the numbered cards varies enormously according to the interpreters and the systems of numerology involved. It is very difficult to connect this meaning to an esoteric tradition, since most traditions operate on a mathematical logic of base-12 (12 being a multiple of 2, 3, 4, we may assign particular meanings to the relations of opposition, the triangle, the square, which is a common and well-established practice in astrology). The minor cards thus do not seem to be the bearers of an established traditional meaning, without referencing them to an external, base-10, interpretive system. This is not the case for the 22 majors.

The 22 major cards are composed of a number (from 1–21, one card, the Fool, not being numbered), of a symbolic figure presenting one or more characters in various situations, depicted with a limited number of colours (flesh, red, blue, sometimes some green), and finally, of a name affixed to the card (except for card 13, representing Death, sometimes called “the card without a name”). The numbering of the cards, their name, and the set of the symbols present, provide a great number of elements to consult, which allows us to understand the combinatoric and esoteric system of the Tarot.

There is no traditional text that describes the internal organisation of the Tarot. On the other hand, in the same way as with the planets, the signs of the zodiac, or the houses in astrology, the interpretation of the major cards taken one by one is globally the same for all interpreters. The methods of drawing the cards or the interpretations of the reading may, on the other hand, be rather variable.

How to Interpret a Non-Rational System?

The 22 cards present a relatively balanced distribution of masculine and feminine figures, and, at first sight, a set of symbols corresponding to everyday life (love, death, accidents, men and women in various situations). They do not, at first glance, give the impression of referring to a complex esoteric system. A child, or an illiterate person could, without great difficulty, understand the global meaning of a card; it would suffice to show them the card and explain its meaning. We may deduce that the Tarot is a naïve and not very mathematical system, unlike geomancy, Kabbalah or the I Ching. The medium itself may cause a problem to an occultist believing in ancient and secret knowledge: it involves cards, and thus a medium which cannot be all that ancient, and which is also a medium for gaming (in general, strongly linked to chance). This function of game of chance cannot be entirely dissociated from the Tarot. Most traditional societies, in particular in the eastern Mediterranean, were passionately given to gambling, often wagering large sums of money in the process. As though Chance were the only true sign of election, superior to all others. As with the divinatory function, the card may also possess that of distributing fortune.

But the very particular charm of the Tarot lies in the constant disjunctions between the name, the number and the symbolism depicted on the cards. The Tarot is not explained by a rigid combinatoric or arrangement, like geomancy or Kabbalah; on the contrary, it is a system that appears to be deliberately ambiguous. For example, card 16, the God-House, represents a catastrophe; but it is a strange name for a catastrophe. Yet, card 5, the Pope, represents spiritual power, which seems fairly normal. But the aforementioned Pope is paired to a Popess (card 2), which is not really part of the figures common to the Christian religious space. Or again, the One, which generally plays the role of the Unity of the divine in most systems, is, in the Tarot, a “mountebank,” which is not exactly serious for the creative and organising power of the world. Similarly, in the ordinary playing cards, the “jokers” or the “fools” are the strongest cards. Yet again, the Lover (card 6), which could express enthusiasm if it were interpreted in the ordinary sense, expresses precisely the opposite: doubts, uncertainties.

The organisation of the Tarot, insofar as it exists, is no doubt not reducible to a simple schema. One must be able to place names, numbers, symbols and an interpretive system into correspondence, all at the same time. Numbers, names, symbols, seem to correspond only by chance. The hypothesis according to which the set of the interpretive system of the Tarot, as widespread and as commonly used as it is, would be only an incoherent collage of disparate elements, would obviously be tempting if we were to consider that the expressions of human thought must necessarily take the form of transparent and well-arranged schemas. This temptation of a so-called rational schematism is particularly strong in academic circles, and it is not surprising that, incidentally, what have been defined as the “occult sciences” have been condemned just as much by monotheistic religions as by the academic totalitarianisms that have followed them.

A number of interpretive traditions connect the cards of the Tarot to the “Tree of Life” of the system of the Kabbalah. The Tree of Life and the Kabbalah form a complete and well-documented system of interpretation, one which is already accessible; other traditions connect the Tarot to an astrological interpretation, this too is well-documented. In a very general way, the common tendency of the human mind is to integrate any information into pre-existing interpretive systems. Incidentally, nothing proves that there is any connection between the Tarot, Kabbalah, and Astrology (the latter having but very distant connections between each other). We thus prefer to consider the Tarot as a raw document, including one or more specific structural forms which we shall attempt to shed some light on.

Names, Numbers and Icons

The numbering of the cards already provides a simple clue. Numbered from 1 to 21, they are only divisible by the two prime numbers 3 and 7. This numbering suggests either a division into three sets of seven elements, or seven sets of three. 3 and 7 are numbers that are systematically present in the traditional descriptions of the Western world: the division between a material, human or “incarnated” world, a spiritual world of the “soul,” and a cosmic or “divine” world, is a general structure on which the traditions and religions which originated in the Egyptian or Middle Eastern spaces have been elaborated, regardless of their particular formulations. The number 7 is also often found in the Hebrew space, and quite probably in many others too. In general, the six-pointed star plus one central point, or the seven-day week, express the idea of a cycle. The rhythm of lunations allows us to divide them more or less into four sets of seven days, and would have supposed that we divide the year into thirteen months of twenty-eight days. Yet it was a division into four seasons of three months, regulated on the solstices and equinoxes, which was adopted. The division into four sets of three is essential in Astrology; on the other hand, it would seem that the division into three sets of seven is the basis of the system of the Tarot. It seems difficult, under the circumstances, to connect these two spaces, the bases of whose calculations are completely incompatible.

Let us consider the first seven cards of the Tarot. The One, or “Juggler” depicts a young man wearing clothes the colours of which seem organised according to a principle of opposition of red and blue (one red shoe, one blue, etc.), holding a small, straight stick, and a small circle, in front of a table on which are the various objects of the illusionist. It signifies a principal of creation and of potentialities: we may easily assimilate him to the creator God, the Demiurge, the One. The Two, the Popess, depicts a woman wearing a tiara, holding a flesh-coloured book on her knees, wearing a red robe covered by a blue cloak. She generally represents the fertile principle, the flesh, the womb, matter. She is quite evidently to be opposed to the Pope, the Five, also bearing a tiara, holding an episcopal crook with three branches in his left hand, blessing with his right hand, and wearing a blue robe and a red cloak. The Pope and the Popess obviously form a pair of oppositions; the meaning of the Pope of the Tarot, spiritual power, opposed to the Popess, carnal realisation, corresponds exactly to the function of the real Pope. We will also note that the sum of the pair of oppositions, Pope and Popess, gives Seven.

The same applies to a second pair, the Emperor and the Empress. The Three, the Empress, and the Four, the Emperor, obey the same dress code and colour scheme as the Pope and Popess. In her left hand, the Empress holds a sceptre bearing a globe divided in three and topped with a cross, and in her right hand, a shield bearing an eagle. The Emperor has the same shield to his left, and holds the same sceptre with his right hand. The Empress signifies the Spirit (the Eagle), movement, thought, writing, conception. Conversely, the Emperor signifies practical realisation, stability. With respect to the Pope-Popess pair, each bearing a different symbol, we may note in the Emperor-Empress pair two identical symbols in reverse order. Whereas, in the Pope-Popess pair, the opposition of Spirit and Matter is total, in the Emperor-Empress pair, the one relies on the other, Spirit or Matter, on the left-hand side, in order to express the other on the right-hand side.

The pair of oppositions being based on the sum of Seven, the opposite of the One in this structure is the Six, the Lover. The Lover depicts a young man in a striped red, blue and yellow tunic, placed between an older dark-haired woman dressed in a red robe with blue sleeves, and a young girl covered by a blue dress and a blue cloak with red trimming. Above this trio, a Cupid surrounded by red, blue and yellow rays sends his arrow between the young man and the young girl. This card, opposed to the Juggler, generally expresses hesitation, the necessity of choice, or yet again, the inevitability of fate opposed to creative liberty.

Let None But Geometers Enter Here!

The set of these oppositions may be geometrically represented by placing the six cards at the points of a “star of David,” in the following manner:

Figure 1. Representation of the first 7 cards of the Tarot in the “star of David.”

A more sophisticated structure, in three dimensions, of the same structure, is also possible:

Figure 2. Pyramidal representation of the first 7 cards of the Tarot.

This regular octahedral structure represents a double pyramid, or two pyramids joined together by their bases. This structure evidently has a host of interesting properties: all the triangles are equilateral, and all the diametrical planes are squares. It offers an image of perfection to which mathematician-initiates are obviously susceptible (“Let None But Geometers Enter Here,” according to the Pythagoreans), and also offers a combination of triangles and squares (eight external triangles, three diametrical squares) which cannot help but seduce those minds used to pondering numbers on a duodecimal base.

It is not only possible but probable that a particular meaning was assigned to each of the triangles, squares or portions of space. For example, the pairs of the Pope-Popess and the Emperor-Empress all find themselves on the horizontal diametrical square. The Popess and the Empress, thus the two feminine figures, are at the two points of the line opposed to the Emperor and the Pope on this square. The Popess and the Emperor, material figures, are at the two points of the line opposed to the Pope and the Empress, spiritual figures.

The Seven, the Chariot, in the centre of the octahedron, depicts a royal figure on a chariot driven by two horses, one blue, on the left, the other red, on the right. The Chariot represents a victory, the equilibrium of forces and the passage to a superior level, possibly a voyage. All the multiples of Seven, like the Fourteen (Temperance) and the Twenty-One (the World), are cards of equilibrium and of success. This leads one to think that the structure of the first seven cards is to be repeated for the following two sets of seven.

The Three Worlds

The organisation of the correspondences becomes somewhat complicated due to the fact that one may think that the cards of the second group of seven are not entirely independent of those of the first group.

Imagine a simple structural analogy: the Eight corresponds to the One, the Nine to the Two, etc. However, the resulting pairs do not seem to be bearers of a meaningful opposition: what, for instance, might be the significance of the opposition of the Nine, the Hermit, to the Twelve, the Hanged Man? The relationship is no clearer for the other potential pairs. Neither the names, nor the symbolism, offer us any correspondences.

On the other hand, the pairs of oppositions resulting in a sum of fourteen seem to present a significance. Thus, the opposition of the One with the Thirteen (Death), of the Two (the Popess) with the Twelve (the Hanged Man). The opposition of the Three (the Empress) with the Eleven (Force) is undoubtedly less obvious. In consequence, we may imagine that the system of arrangement is perhaps more complex.

Interpretation must undoubtedly refer to the system of the three worlds, common to the majority of esotericisms, or to the Christian theology of the Holy Trinity, which is no longer familiar to modern thought, more used to the dialectic formalisation inherited from the Greek space. Nonetheless, a supposedly logical formalisation, but one which does not radically distinguish itself from the Trinitarian vision, may be found in the classic thesis-antithesis-synthesis formalisation, or in the affirmation-negation-negation of negation formalisation (the Hegelian Aufhebung). It always involves positing a “contradiction” between two supposedly antithetical terms (Spirit and Matter, Capital and Labour, Man and Woman, etc.) and to propose a resolution by the invention of an imaginary third term.

In this perspective, I must specify the signification of the three groups of seven cards, since it seems that the significance of the cards cannot be understood merely by the internal relations of each group, except for the first. The second and the third groups are probably generated not by internal association, or by the simple reproduction of the model of the first group, but in relation to the preceding groups.

By referring to my own cultural space, proper to the domain, I propose a connection between the three groups and the classic Trinitarian vision, the first group being that of the creative forces, “the Father,” the second being that of the human, the incarnate, “the Son,” and the third being that of the cosmic forces, “the Holy Spirit.” Other, more precise, vocabularies are employed by the occultists, who, for example, define an “astral plane.” The question is evidently not of knowing to what degree of reality these different discourses might be assigned. We may simply remark that the Trinitarian representation of the world is a constant, regardless of the argumentation over the attribution of such and such a characteristic to such and such a group.

What is certain in any case, is that all these representations of the world are, in their context, operative. The Trinitarian and geometric division of the world has provided the Western space with a valid representation of the world, in the same way that, in a different context, the binary representation, such as it is expressed in Taoist symbolism or in the I Ching, has provided the Chinese space with a valid and operative model. There is no doubt that these representations work, nor that they are constitutive of a culture. Ethnologists know from experience that multitudes of representations of the world and of different cultures can thus be created. Each representation is entirely valid in the context of the culture in which it is used.

In passing, let us note that our Trinitarian representation of the world, including at the same time the idea of a Heaven, of an End of the World, and that of an Apocalypse, does not cease to create problems. The binary Chinese representation instead privileges the balance of opposites and the cycle of transformations repeated infinitely. In order to avoid any possible confusion, I must specify that Chinese thought (Taoism, I Ching) can in no way be conflated with Buddhism, which is of Indian origin, and which, in many respects, may be considered as a hybrid system. As simple and as reductionist as this idea may seem, it appears that the fundamental difference between the Western and Chinese systems is in the difference of the basis for calculation which the space of the representations is founded on.

The Second World

We have stopped at the Seven, the Chariot, centre and equilibrium of the first world, meaning both a resolution, a passage, a mediation towards the second world, the properly human or “incarnate” world. The second world is a consequence of the first, and is not analogous to it. The cards of the second world do not provide any definite opposition, like the Pope-Popess or Emperor-Empress. However, we possess a clue, the property according to which all the pairs of opposed cards have the same sum.

We may thus think that the cards will be organised according to the card of equilibrium of the second world, the Fourteen, Temperance. Temperance depicts a winged, angelic, feminine figure, holding two urns, one red, in the right hand, the other blue, in the left, between which flows a fluid. Like the Chariot, this card signifies the equilibrium of opposites, this time in the incarnate world, and the passage to a superior, winged world, which is that of the Spirit.

This arrangement of the numbers, according to the Fourteen taken as centre, also makes Seven the median number of the opposed numbers. For example, the Eight will be opposed to the Six, total, Fourteen, median, Seven. The same goes for the Nine and the Five, etc.

In this system of calculation, the Eight, Justice, is opposed to the Six, the Lover. Justice is a feminine figure, doted with the traditional attributes, the sword and scales. Opposed to the Lover, meaning indecision, the difficulty of choice, she clearly signifies the choices, the decision, the completion of an order, the solution of a conflict. The Lover can be considered as an impasse of the Will, or more precisely, the necessity in which it finds itself obliged to incarnate itself, in which it is opposed to the Juggler. It is opposed to a feminine card, Justice, the first card of the incarnate world. Compared to the Juggler, Justice symbolises the completion of a human order, whereas the Juggler signifies the multiplicity of the possible.

The Nine, the Hermit, is opposed to the Five, the Pope. Whereas the Pope suggests a spiritual power of connection (the Pope has the power to “bind” and “unbind”), the Hermit suggests the solitary quest and secrecy. The occultists and initiates often see this as a representation of themselves. The Hermit supports himself with a staff held in his left hand, and holds a lantern, half-hidden in the folds of his cloak, in his right hand. This cloak is blue, like those of the feminine representations (Popess, Empress) of the first world, and unlike those of the Pope and the Emperor. Indeed, the Hermit corresponds to the Popess: she holds an open book on her knees, and the Hermit signifies seeking and study.

The Ten, the Wheel of Fortune, is opposed to the Four, the Emperor. We see a crowned animal figure holding a sword at the top of a spinning wheel on which some figures are ascending and others are descending. The meaning of the card is clear enough: it emphasises the fragility of human constructions; Fortune, feminine, is here opposed to the Emperor. His correspondence with the Empress is based on the idea of mobility; the Empress symbolises thought, movement, whereas the Emperor signifies stability. Let us bear in mind that the Emperor is depicted supporting himself on a shield representing the Eagle, the Spirit.

The Eleven, Force, depicts a young woman holding the jaws of an animal open. She is opposed to the Three, the Empress. We find here more or less the same relationship as the one between the Pope and the Hermit: Force, feminine figure, is covered with a red cape, masculine attribute. Force signifies the capacity of mastery over events; contrary to the Empress, she is oriented towards corporal realisations; she represents a mastery of the Lion, the animal symbolising the human, between the flesh of the Ox and the Angel representing the individual soul.

The Twelve, the Hanged Man, depicts a man suspended by the left foot. This card means a halt, a blockage, sacrifice. It is opposed to the Two, the Popess. We can read therein the limitation of incarnation, or the limitations of matter. The occultists connect this card to the sacrifice of Christ, meaning the limits of the Flesh or of Matter. It evidently corresponds to the Pope.

The Thirteen, Death, is opposed to the One, the Juggler. Death is obviously the end of the cycle of incarnation, the end of the cycle of realisations. It clearly signifies destruction, but also profound, intimate transformation.

We have each card in relation with its complement to Fourteen, considered as centre of the second world. Each card can also be considered in relation to the Seven, as the mediator between the first two worlds. We are in the presence of an additive structure: the Eight in the second world corresponds to the One in the first, the Nine to the Two, etc. Each card of the second world can be put in relation with two cards from the first, in a relation of opposition and in a relation of correspondence. Passing from one world to another, and onto higher numbers which can be put into relation in multiple ways with the preceding numbers by means of additive or subtractive methods, the cards become more complex, more ambiguous or ambivalent. It is quite probable that the set of relations of a card must be used if we wish to understand its meanings.

Understanding the system is only possible through the comprehension of the exact role of the centres of equilibrium and of passage, defined as the multiples of Seven. The meaning of the three cards which are multiples of Seven, at the same time equilibrium of the forces of a given plane, and passage to a “higher plane,” even if it is generally accepted by the occultists, accustomed to a rhetoric of the initiatory passage, may pose a problem to those who refer to a scientific culture. In scientific culture, the notion of resolution does not exist. We could even say that, given the methods which we apply to the description of the world, the idea of resolution, applied to sets which we see grow in complexity, would find no field to be applied to. Of course, there are important masses of dialectic hanging around in the so-called humanities, just as in the literary and political worlds. The vision of the Tarot is explicitly totalitarian: it elaborates a set of symbols going from the One (the Juggler) to the World (Twenty-One), to Totality, through a route that involves a number of resolutions. The occultisms, which all propose visions of liberation, of resolution, and the pinnacle, under various forms, of a new World, are necessarily totalitarian, but no more and no less than the adepts of the “resolution of contradictions,” of the “final solution,” or, more recently, of “unity through diversity,” of the “global village,” and of communicational paradises.

This notion of “resolution” must be fully understood, as obscure as it is for those who are not adept, and as evident as it is for those who are. Or, instead of understanding it, since it essentially involves an act of faith, to clearly grasp its structure and function. It is always difficult, obviously, to describe one’s own culture, since it does include the tools of its own description. The notion of resolution, for example, is totally implicit; no one has ever proved that there exists any resolution of anything at all whatsoever; yet the notion is commonly admitted, and used by most individuals, and in particular by non-scientific academics, in their daily activities.

We have no other alternative than to accept this notion as a commonly-used tool within the space of our culture, and not in others, and thus as a medium, a tool with its own significance, indefinable, incomprehensible and yet spontaneously understood by all the members of the culture throughout all the pre-conscious organisations they make of the world.

If I refer to my own experience as a reader of cards, I consider the description of the world and the meaning of the cards as valid and operative within the context of the reading, even though, in the context of scientific analysis, I can consider them as a totalitarian description (among many others, it is true). Even if I do not consider the division of the world into Mental, Physical and Astral, or others, as particularly valid, and even if, as is the case, I feel the greatest difficulties to picture what it involves, I am nevertheless able to make it work locally within particular experiences, and I can even do it with ease in quasi-reflex or spontaneous activities. Spontaneity, incidentally, is not the sign of some truth; it is the sign of the appropriateness of behaviour to a culture.

The Fourteen, Temperance, the Angel, thus means the passage to a higher level, that of the astral plane or of the cosmic forces. We obviously find metaphysical symbols there; Devil, God-House, Sun, Moon, Star, Judgment. We shall adopt the method used for the preceding level, that is, the study of the relations of each card with its complement with respect to the central card, Twenty-One.

The Third World: The Cosmos

The Fifteen, the Devil, is the first card of the metaphysical world. It depicts a horned, winged being with both penis and breasts as visible sexual attributes, and at whose feet we find two naked beings, also horned, doted with tails and animal ears, chained and whose hands are tied behind their back. The Devil holds what may be a sort of sword in the left hand. It means bonds, connections, and especially, all that is considered to be attachment to matter, and particularly the flesh, in the representations of the religious world. The Fifteen is the complement of the Six to give Twenty-One. The cards representing a number of figures, and generally, a type of connection between the figures and the symbols, are fairly specific. The Six, the Lover, depicts a man hesitating between two women. The Fifteen depicts a powerful bond. It is curious to follow the evolution of the One, the Juggler, in his passage through the three worlds. If the One represents a free and creative energy, a potentiality, the Eight (One plus Seven), Justice, represents at the same time the energy of the sword, and the equilibrium of the scales; as to the Fifteen, One plus Fourteen, or Eight plus Seven, it represents enchainment.

The Sixteen, the God-House, depicts a tower struck by lightning, from which men are falling. It is opposed to the Pope, to the Five. It signifies catastrophes, and principally, the destruction of hopes and illusions. More generally, in correspondence with the religious themes, it signifies the fragility of human constructions. We may note, here too, the evolutions of the Two, the Popess, matter, incarnation, in the three worlds: we pass from a representation of the matter as book, to read and to write, to that of study and seeking (the Hermit), to arrive at the destruction of matter (the God-House).

The Seventeen, the Star, depicts a naked young girl, pouring a blue stream from two red urns. She signifies hope, birth, rebirth. She is opposed to the Emperor. The Empress signified the Spirit, the Eagle, as the generative power of things. In the second world, she becomes the Wheel of Fortune, the incessant modification of the human world. In the third, she becomes a spring. In the religious conception, the spirit or the Holy Spirit that the initiate receives through the rite of baptism, is not conflated with the Creator. In some extremist traditions, the Demiurge may even be considered as an evil being, a power of enchainment such as is expressed by the Devil, put in the original place of the third world. It should be noted that, unlike Temperance, balancing the fluids of the two urns of different colours, the Star indicates the direction of the movement of the direction of the fluid. All the religious traditions originating in the eastern Mediterranean, of which we are the inheritors, had to propose an answer to the dialectic division between the Spirit and Matter, between Good and Evil, God and Man, etc. The traditional answer is the positing of a third term, of resolution, which the Christian tradition calls the “Holy Spirit” or the “Spirit of Love,” to distinguish it from the Spirit proper, of which we may never truly say whether it is divine or Luciferian, luminous or chthonic.

The Eighteen, the Moon, is opposed to the Empress, the Spirit. The Moon depicts two dogs howling next to a pond in which there is a sort of crayfish. Blue almost exclusively dominates the card. The Moon represents conflicts, dreams, hidden things, what we now call the unconscious. Obviously, the existence of dreams and the unconscious may pose a problem to the realisation of Universal Love. The occultists could not occult this problem. They would resolve it, as usual, with the notion of a resolution, of a passage represented by the World, or even by the Fool. The Four, the Emperor, represented the order of incarnate things. The Eleven represented Force, mastery over impulses. In the metaphysical plane of the third world, these impulses are evidently not “pure;” they are opposed to Universal Love.

The Nineteen, the Sun, represents, on the contrary, the Love that unites people. It is not, of course, love in the physical sense, but the principal of solar and divine love, considered as a link between humans in the Christian tradition. It is opposed to the Two, the Popess, incarnated matter. The Five, the Pope, signified the spiritual power, the power of liaison. In the physical and human world of incarnation, it is represented by the Twelve, the Hanged Man, the sacrificed one. In the Christian tradition, the sacrifice of Christ is the act of supreme love; it symbolises the total renunciation giving access too the disincarnate universal love.

The Twenty, the Judgment, represents the Last Judgment. A luminous angel bearing a trumpet makes humans rise, hands joined together, from their tombs. This card is opposed to the One, the Juggler; it symbolises the end of the cycle which leads to the last card, the World, or paradise. The Six, the Lover, signified the passage to concrete realisation, and its difficulties; the Thirteen, Death, signified the limit and the end of the terrestrial cycle; the Twenty signifies the end of the cosmic cycle and the final victory of the Spirit of Love.

The World depicts a naked young woman standing on the right foot, surrounded by the symbols of the four fundamental symbols of the tradition: the Ox, symbolising the Flesh, or matter, to the bottom left (we find more or less the same symbolism in the Taoist Ox, but without the relatively pejorative sense it has in the Christian tradition); the Lion, symbolising the Human, mixture of flesh and spirit (we find this symbol in the Eleven, Force), to the bottom right; the Angel, representing the individual human soul, to the top left; and the Eagle, representing the cosmic Spirit, to the top right. The World represents the union of all contraries, universal harmony, the resurrected flesh, cleansed of all sins and spiritualised, universal Peace and Love, the Philosopher’s Gold, the Great Work, Paradise, the realisation of all resolutions, the final synthesis.

Out of Play: The Fool

We reach the only non-numbered card, thus out of play, the Fool. It depicts a vagabond holding a staff in the right hand, his knapsack on his shoulder with his left hand, chased by a dog who has torn his trousers, his eyes raised up to heaven. It is the only card for which the interpretations diverge radically. The most common interpretation makes of him a fool, a wanderer, a card of vagabondage and of distress. But some occultists, on the contrary, see it as the access to a world beyond the world, a rebirth, or even the symbol of the authentic initiate, who has access to a world inaccessible to mere mortals.

The very existence of the Fool card necessitates some thought. First of all, the totalitarian enterprise of the world, in order to be totally coherent, must reserve a particular place for exclusion. Even were we to enlarge the field of application of inclusion (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God,” “the last shall be first, and the first last,” according to Christ), we cannot completely avoid having the “irrecoverable” somewhere. Even if the “lost sheep,” to use the Christian parable, occupies, by its very exclusion, and by the problem it poses to the totalitarian space, an enormous place in the “rescue” mechanism, nothing can prevent leaks which can “pose a problem” to the idealised order of the representation of the world. Most systems have set up a place specifically for the fool and the wanderer; from the place of the lost sheep, excluded or marginalised, the object of all charitable attention and social assistance, to the psychiatric hospital, the concentration camp or the gulag; but equally, in the Aztec astrological system, there exists a specific place, called that of the “game,” a place in which nothing can be decided. The wanderer or the fool, the one out of play, the Joker, is the object of particular attention in the totalitarian system: he is either the object of extravagant attention aiming to “reinsert” or to “include” him, to make him “participate,” or he is purely and simply eliminated. The system aims to have it so that no individuals it defines as “excluded” from its universalist vision of the world might exist. Inside the totalitarian system, whose vocation is to resolve all contradictions, there is no other; there is only Universal Love, or universal Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. According to the case, those included within the system shall be deemed guilty of not being able to apply it universally, which is why further sacrifices are always demanded of them, or, those excluded, guilty of being unable or unwilling to integrate, which is why they are to be eliminated. In this ferocious struggle between the forms of totalitarianism which has characterised the twentieth century, national-socialism, communism, and universalists of Christian inspiration, to which we may add Islamic totalitarianism, whose violent resurgence is probably due to its direct confrontation with the expansion of other totalitarianisms, Christian universalism appears to be triumphant today, under its generalised, supposedly “secular” form, and the – evidently universal – declaration of the “Rights of Man.” Its triumph, obviously accompanied by a demonisation of all other competing systems, all qualified as totalitarian, must not allow us to forget that, if it can pretend to universality, it is due to better management of the totalitarian idea, supported by a millennial tradition on which neither national-socialism nor communism, avowedly “revolutionary” systems, could base themselves on.

This ambivalence of the position of the system with respect to the excluded or those out of play explains the variability of the interpretations of the Fool card. The tradition implies that the most destitute, the most excluded, the most foolish, may be the image of God. Similarly, Karl Marx, grand master of the application of dialectic to the economy, demonstrated, in an unlikely number of tomes, how the working class was going to impoverish itself, and how it would be increasingly alienated, and thus, as if this were self-evident, being completely alienated by a bloodthirsty capitalism, could create a classless society, the communist paradise. Similarly, Hitler thought that the national and socialist revolution of the German people, enslaved and humiliated by the “international Jewish plutocracy,” particular image of Evil, would finally recover its natural pre-eminence, for the establishment of a new world order. We cannot underestimate, within our system of thought, the pervasiveness of these hallucinatory formulations, who see in the excluded the future of the world, who see in the slave God’s chosen one, or in the product of suburban sub-culture a cultural revolution. They are but the last expressions of a collective totalitarian madness which we have been replicating for the past few millennia.

To have done with the Judgment of God, the Fool turns his gaze away from the world, he escapes from the cycle of transcendence. Without law nor faith, he is simply out of play; he is not liberated, he does not manifest a resolution, he no longer participates. The Fool manifests that there is no other discourse than that of transcendence, in the entire space which has constituted itself around this discourse. The Fool expresses either the absolute silence of what can no longer function according to the common order of representations, or the derision and detachment that were the privilege of the Fools in traditional society, before the extension of totalitarianism decided to lock them up, to treat them, or to eliminate them. The Fool is the only ambiguous card of the Tarot, it manifests the existence of this vertiginous anxiety of the totalitarian world confronted with the existence of an elsewhere. This elsewhere, this radical strangeness, has no place in the order of representations, and the system would not be complete, and thereby absolutely totalitarian, if it did not invent a null space, incomprehensible and insane, a space devoid of sense. The institution of this null space is essential to the universalist totalitarian plenitude; the notion of Zero is indissociable to that of Infinity. Non-universalist, or non-civilised societies, do not know either of these notions, nor anything which might resemble the Fool, to which civilisation will reply that, for example, there are psychotics everywhere, but these become shamans in those societies which have not invented psychiatry. The confounding silliness of these statements, taken from among an infinity of statements of the same stripe, enlightens us on two points: the first, that the universalist pretence attacks all objects which fall within its view, even from far away and without knowing them, and elaborates in their regard theories validated within the system to the extent that these theories are universalist; the second, that the elaboration of the universalist discourse and theories equally has the function of permanently masking their very operation, by instituting an “it’s everywhere the same,” taking as a general rule what is but the expression of a particular representation of the world, dominant and in expansion, it is true, but alas for Paradise, not yet unique. The Fool reflects the place of the divine, or of the divinatory: he is the place of the world, and the world is not his place.

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Read the original French here.

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Daniel Giraud: The Tarot: Mirror of the World

“The self-emancipation of our time is an emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth.” – Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.


Translator’s Introduction

This early article by the noted astrologer-poet Daniel Giraud on the subject of the Tarot provides not only a concise overview of various methods of drawing the cards in order to obtain comprehensible answers, but also, a taste of things to come. One will note, in addition to the classic “spreads” derived from the works of influential authors, the spreads designed by analogy with other systems of divination (astrology, geomancy), and those inspired by the dialectical method (triad, cross).

(The above illustration did not accompany the article in question, but appeared in another issue of the same ephemeral journal.)

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The Tarot: Mirror of the World

On some Methods of Drawing the Arcana…

Daniel Giraud

To interpret the Arcana of the Tarot, whose significations are oriented according to their positions, is a matter of mastering as much as possible the significance of the values of these arcana. Whence the absurdity of such a text describing the divinatory practices of the Tarot without being able to deepen its profound symbolism within a few pages. (1)

The game of Tarot appeared around the time of the Renaissance; its origins, arising in various esoteric traditions whose transmission is attributed to the Gypsies, is lost in the medieval world of Eastern Europe. The 78 cards of the Tarot of Marseille seem nevertheless to be the most traditional.

Of the 56 minor arcana derive the game of ordinary playing cards, where one plays while being played. The Tarot also exists as a “game,” but we are here concerned with the great game: the game of life. And the divinatory Tarot is in resonance with what is named “Destiny.”

The Tarot as wisdom or divination consists essentially of 22 cards, even though it is possible to interpret the minor arcana. In each arcanum resides a great arcanum, a great secret, an archetype, as the moderns say. Thus the 22 major cards reunite a multiplicity of possibilities proceeding from the infinite and universal possibility.

In each card, everything is a sign: the positions of the figures (2), the colours (3), the subjects and objects depicted, etc…. Everything is an invitation to a voyage with multiple routes, marked out by the numbers of the cards, and a number of combinations are possible…

Within a global view, the most appropriate arrangement of the cards (4) appears to me to be that of the wheel… So the TAROT sets into rotation the cogs of the ROTA, the zodiacal circle, the Wheel of Life whose centre is the key. Thus, the 22nd card, the Fool, finds his just place: 22 or 0 (before the Juggler). Each arcanum may then be considered as a complementary value of the opposing arcanum, and the dialectic significance becomes clear.

For divinatory purposes, here is a résumé of the different systems of obtaining answers to questions posed:

With 78 Cards:

1. The Arc of Two times 7 Cards

7 major cards then 7 minor cards are drawn and placed below them, without turning them over. The querent indicates one of the major cards, and starting from this card, one counts, 1, then 2, and so on until the fifth card, which will begin the reading. The card is turned over, and one continues by counting off 5 each time. The last arcanum turned over will be the first one indicated.

2. The Arc of Two times 15 Cards

15 cards are drawn, and interpreted from right to left. The operation is repeated by placing another 15 cards below the first set. Then, the arcana are interpreted in pairs (the arcana above with the ones below). A variant of this method uses only 2 times 12 cards.

3. The Cross of 15 Cards

15 cards are drawn and placed thusly: 3 in the centre, 3 above, 3 below, 3 to the left, and 3 to the right. The arcana in the centre concern the current life of the querent. Those above, the answer to the question. Those below show the consequences. Those to the left, sentimental life. Those to the right, professional life.

4. The 7 Stacks

The querent cuts the deck 6 times to obtain 7 cards. The cards of each stack are then turned over, and the cards are read in the order in which the arcana have come out. This is repeated until the smallest stack is finished.

5. The 2 Stacks of 39 Cards

The entire deck is cut once. By turning over the 2 resulting stacks, each card from one stack is simultaneously interpreted with that of the other stack. And so on. In the beginning, it will concern the querent’s current situation, then progressively, the evolution of his existence.

6. The 3-Card Triangle

3 cards are drawn. The first, to the left, corresponds to the positive (inversely to the meanings of the positions of the figures since the situation of the place where the card is placed corresponds to the querent), the second to the right, represents the negative, and the third card represents the transcendence of opposites.

7. The 5-Card Cross

According to the method of Oswald Wirth. 5 cards are drawn and placed to the left (For), to the right (Against), below (the Sentence), above (the Judgment). The addition of the numbers of these 4 cards produces a fifth card, placed in the centre (the Synthesis). If the number exceeds 22, it is again reduced by the addition of its numbers, and if the number indicates a card already drawn, that card is set aside from the calculation to include only the three others.

8. The Cross of 10 or 15 Cards

5 cards are drawn and placed in the centre, to the right, below, to the left, and above. The operation is repeated once or twice, placing the new cards above the old ones. In the centre is the synthesis, above is the social situation, to the right, relations with others, below, the querent’s possibilities, and to the left, the signs of his destiny.

9. The Circle of 13 Cards

13 cards are drawn, the first in the centre is always the synthesis, the 12 others are placed in a circle and correspond to the values of the astrological houses.

10. The Geomantic Chart of 15 Cards

15 cards are drawn and disposed according to the geomantic chart. Each arcanum is to be read in relation to the 12 geomantic houses, to the Witnesses and to the Judge.

11. The Astrological Chart of 12 Cards

12 cards are drawn, placed in a circle, and read according to the astrological houses.

These last two methods may be completed with the use of the minor arcana (and multiple rules – not – to be followed are often described by the fortune-tellers).

In conclusion, there is no one method, no recipe for the universal panacea. There is no chance and the cards drawn always have a significance that break out of the framework we would give them.

The Tarot is not only a support for divination but awakens the cosmic intuition. We find ourselves in the presence of a materialisation of the soul of the world, where men see themselves as in a mirror. It is a reflection of the universal Man, through, for instance, astrological and alchemical esotericism.

But this then concerns the man of knowledge, the hermetic philosophy of the sage, and no longer the unveiling of the future by the fortune-teller…


1. Refer to the bibliography…
2. Evidently, a seated figure is passive, and standing, active, but interpretation involves symbols. Thus, the connected symbolism is in motion, and the Tarot being a mirror of the world inverts the directions… Thus, a person we see turned to the left (the left of the querent, of the being) reflects a material role (for it is to the right of the tarotic-cosmic figure). And inversely, since the Tarot is the projection of the unconscious collective, as the psychoanalysts say.
3. The colour symbolism is, of course, as it was understood in the Middle Ages. Apart from the flesh colour, we find blue (life), red (love), yellow (revelation), and green (wisdom).
4. Even though the systems of Armand Barbault and Dr Belbèze are ingenious.


Anonymous: Jeux de cartes, Tarots et cartes numérales du XIVe siècle, Crapelet, 1844.
Armand Barbault: L’Art de Prédire l’Avenir, Niclaus, 1950.
J.-G. Bourgeat: Le Tarot, Éditions Traditionnelles, 2004.
Edmond Delcamp: Le Tarot, Initiatique, Symbolique et Ésotérique, Courrier du Livre, 2012.
Hadès: Manuel Complet d’Interprétation du Tarot, Éditions Hadès, 1997.
Paul Marteau: Le Tarot de Marseille, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1949.
Joseph Maxwell: Le Tarot : Le Symbole, les Arcanes, la Divination, Archè, 1984.
Eudes Picard: Manuel Synthétique et Pratique du Tarot, Daragon, 1909.
Gérard Van Rijnberk: Le Tarot : Histoire, Iconographie, Ésotérisme, Dervy, 2019.
Oswald Wirth: Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen-Âge, Tchou, 2014.

Articles & Brief Texts:
Dr Belbèze: “Cartomancie et Métagnomie”, Revue Métapsychique, n° 3, mai-juin 1927.
J.-M. Lhôte: Shakespeare dans les Tarots et autres lieux, revue Bizarre, n° 43-44, juin 1967.
G. Le Scouëzec: “Le Tarot Symbolique”, in L’Encyclopédie de la Divination, Tchou, 1964.
M. Verneuil: Dictionnaire Pratique des Sciences Occultes, Les Documents d’Art, 1950.

Le Voile d’Isis, numéro spécial sur Le Tarot, 1928.

Decks of Cards:

Grimaud: Ancien Tarot de Marseille
Crowley: Thoth Tarot deck
Wirth: Golden Wirth Tarot Grand Trumps
Visconti Tarot
Classic (Muller) Tarot

As to the works of the popularisers Papus, Muchéry, Etteilla etc., their value appears very doubtful…

Daniel Giraud, ”Le Tarot, Miroir du Monde, ou de quelques méthodes pour sous-tirer les Arcanes…” Cosmose n° 2, 1977.

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