The work of Eudes Picard has been evoked a number of times on this website, and we have translated one of his articles, published prior to his book, though we have been unable to track down some of his other articles on the subject, published in obscure Masonic journals and the like. However, a substantial excerpt appeared in Le Journal du Dimanche (26 June, 1910), which we duly present. The original text is available courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale. The images are courtesy of Adam West-Watson.
Synthetic and Practical Manual of the Tarot
The publisher of occultist works, Mr H. Daragon, has recently given us the most serious study on the famous Tarot cards which fascinated the Middle Ages and which still interest a host of people who strongly wish to read the future. We have borrowed from that curious work the history of the Tarot and some of its illustrations, in which the author has drawn inspiration from the Tarot decks kept in the Bibliothèque nationale.
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What is the Tarot?
The Tarot is a pack of cards, to be sure, but a pack with which we do not play. It teaches, it does not entertain. Its practical aim is to unveil the future. This is not its sole character. Considered from a higher point of view, it summarises the system of the Universe, it reveals to us the world of Ideas and Principles, enables us to grasp some laws of the evolution of phenomena. In this capacity, the Tarot constitutes one of the most marvellous methods of Divination.
But to analyse the phenomenon, it is not enough to note it. One must trace back its origins, know its cause, follow its development. The Tarot provides us with these mysterious coordinates which connect, by deduction, the cause to the effect.
At first glance, the Tarot surprises. The oddness of its symbols, the naïve outline and the dryness of its pictures leave an impression. Of it, one says, “It is so curious.” One could smile: but no, one does not laugh. Surprise suppresses all criticism. We understand nothing at the beginning, but we instinctually feel that we are in front of a monument, and then we begin to ask ourselves if there is not something more than the work of the imagination behind these arcana, crude in appearance. The more we look closely at this extraordinary book, the more the mystery clears up. The card transforms itself into a mirror in which the play of numbers, colours and symbols is reflected. The whole harmonises itself little by little, becomes filed away in one’s mind, becomes clearer; in a word, we begin to decipher the multiple meanings of the cards.
The history of the Tarot is unclear. Different versions of its genesis exist. For want of proof from texts or monuments, we are reduced to having to accept the various opinions which set out its majors stages through the different races and ages. In reality, we do not know exactly where it comes from. It is not very likely that a human genius was qualified enough to compose it. The ideas it contains are universal and immovable. They go back to the earliest needs of the observer tormented by the desire to note his brilliant reveries on the universal mechanism by means of form, number and symbol. The Tarot would thus be a collective work, sketched out by the first seers and consecrated by a mysterious tradition.
Like the Iliad, it has had its epic poets who would have transmitted, without commentary, a sort of celestial epic. A characteristic trait of the Tarot and which specifies the definitive side of its conception, is to see how little its substance has changed over the course of the centuries. Within the ancient and modern Tarot packs, we find an identical narrative.
The modifications concern the details of form and betray the fantasy of the artists. We may convince ourselves of the reality of this observation by examining the collection of Tarot cards at the Bibliothèque nationale.
In consequence, we may say of the Tarot that it has been transmitted to us more modified than deformed; and if it eludes purely historical investigation, it presents plenty of clarity in the domain of esotericism. It is therefore the symbolic and esoteric side onto which we ought to bring our attention to bear and to direct our research.
Let us not forget that the ancients, faithful to magical rituals, maintained silence concerning their mysteries. The initiate alone took part in the cultic ceremonies and knew the unveiled Truth.
We lay out the 78 cards and immediately note that 22 of them distinguish themselves from the 56 others by an inscription evoking a general idea or characterising an individuality.
Once this first distinction established, we have before our eyes two series of arcana which form, so to say, two sets of Tarot cards. The first 22 cards are called major arcana, and the 56 others, minor arcana.
In principle, the Tarot was only composed of 22 cards. The addition of the 56 minors, from whence come our ordinary playing cards, dates, it would seem, from the Middle Ages. Their introduction would be due to the Gypsies who, allegedly, would have transmitted them to us.
This is an important point, because this hypothesis would tend to have one believe that the 56 minor arcana are anterior to Charles VI, and that, instead of having been spontaneously created for the entertainment of a king, they had already long been in existence. This is said in order to rehabilitate the 56 minors, highly neglected and generally considered as being foreign to the Tarot. We shall see later how these cards form the logical continuation to the greater trumps. For the time being, we are authorised to say that the Tarot does indeed include 78 cards and not 22; but that the nature of these two groups is different and that they constitute two great planes: a higher or celestial plane, represented by the 22 majors, and a lower or terrestrial plane, represented by 56 minors.
Both of these complete each other. They are connected in an intimate fashion and correspond to each other in the same proportions as effect to cause or the absolute to the relative.
Let us take a random example: card VI, entitled the Lover. It is an adolescent in between two women. — The arcanum evokes the myth of Hercules between Vice and Virtue. The young man hesitates. He does not which of the two women he should follow. Note his feet turned out, in consequence, in the opposite directions; first confirmation of doubt in the choice of direction and applied to the pre-eminent organ of movement. The soles of the feet are firmly on the ground, no movement is announced, the adolescent seems affixed to the earth. His arms are invisible, as though, in showing them, the slightest gesture would betray a movement of his will. He turns his gaze towards Vice, the sole indication of attention on his behalf. He looks simply, without effort, without desire.
Let us now note the details of the ornaments which adorn the flowers. What do we see? Leaves, flowers and fruits. It is not by random chance that the artist has sown the plants everywhere. No doubt, he thought that the product which best attests to terrestrial vitality is the plant. The choice of vegetal life is also made with discernment.
The phases of growth: bud, leaf, flower, fruits, are applied to the cards, signifying the beginning, evolution, result and consequences of a thing.
Here too, one must examine each card very closely. A difficulty arises nonetheless; and that is to distinguish where the symbol of the plants ends to become ornament. We sense that, next to the symbol, the fantasy has sometimes gotten ahead.
Be that as it may, this primary indication has seemed so precious to us that it has served us as a guide for the execution of our drawings, conceived in a more methodic manner, and concerning which we owe our reader some explanations.
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