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.
The Tarot and Love
“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 [Maison–Dieu], 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
- 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.
- Prize founded by a wealthy couple, who could not have children of their own, awarded to those families with a large number of children.
- Boileau (1636-1711).