Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Paul Marteau: Editions of Le Tarot de Marseille and the Ancien Tarot de Marseille

Translator’s Introduction

Of the many works published on the Tarot in French, perhaps none has had quite the influence or fortune enjoyed by that of Paul Marteau, Le Tarot de Marseille, begun in 1928 and published in 1949, almost twenty years after the first edition of his well-known Ancien Tarot de Marseille in 1930. That this work received the reception hinted at by the book reviews we have published is due to a number of factors, not all of which are those commonly advanced by critics and amateurs, enlightened or otherwise.

First of all, the fact that the book was written by the designer-publisher of what was to become the most common, if not standard, Marseille-type Tarot deck, played no small part in this popularity. After all, who better than the creator himself – and one, moreover, descended from a family with a century of experience in the cardmaking trade – to introduce and explain his own work?

Secondly, the complete, self-contained nature of the book, clearly and methodically laid out, also presents a positive development with respect to most of the preceding works on the subject. Unlike most other works (with the notable exception of those by Eudes Picard and Joseph Maxwell), Marteau treats of the entire pack of 78 cards in turn and in detail. The self-contained – hermetic, in the common sense of the word – nature of Marteau’s work is appealing: it contains no history (and therefore, neither myth nor bad history), no references to other systems of thought, mystical, divinatory or otherwise, with the exception of brief digressions on number and colour symbolism, for, after all, there are both colours and numbers in the Tarot. In a word, it is seemingly definitive and unassailable.

Lastly, one must not neglect its aesthetic value, a point oft overlooked by uninformed critics: published by Arts et Métiers Graphiques, a prestigious graphic design firm, with full-size, full-colour reproductions of the 78 cards, impeccable typography and a pleasing layout, Le Tarot de Marseille forms an attractive tome for collectors, amateurs and the merely curious alike.

Yet the style and tone of Marteau’s writing are polarising: one either admires his dense, precise prose, or one deplores its authoritative voice and stentorian formulations. Marteau himself apologises to the reader for its “ponderous phraseology”; Jean-Michel Mathonière says it is “well written and a pleasant read”; Tchalaï Unger calls it an example of “remarkable verbiage.”

The lack of a historical overview renders his book impervious to historical criticism, since it provides no foothold for critique, but the lack of a history of the deck he used as the basis of his work (aside from a single footnote singling out the deck printed by Nicolas Conver in 1761) makes it eminently suspect in the eyes of the historically-minded. Naturally, those interested in cartomancy or in the Tarot as a system of personal development have little concern for such things, but in the final analysis, the broad appeal exerted by Marteau’s book has also made it vulnerable to a multitude of criticisms, should one venture beyond the narrow confines of its particular scope and perspective. Writing of Marteau’s deck, the Tarot specialist Jean-Marie Lhôte correctly notes that it is “a deck whose origin is impossible to place; which is paradoxical coming from an erudite collector of his calibre.” (La Tour de feu, n° 121, p. 24)

In effect, the sole historical indication, the footnote alluded to above, reads as follows:

“This Tarot is the one published in 1761 by Nicolas Conver, master cardmaker in Marseilles, who had held onto the woodblocks and colour schemes of his distant predecessors. This Tarot is presently published by B. P. Grimaud, who have acquired the Conver estate and in this way could continue to print the traditional Tarot in its original form.” (Paul Marteau, Le Tarot de Marseille, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1949, p. 1)

As we shall see, unpacking this statement leads to a mystery that has still not been completely explained, namely the genesis and rationale of Marteau’s deck. Indeed, the early history of the Conver deck is also unexplored territory.

If we have insisted on this body of work, both deck and book, it has been in order to highlight the singular nature of Marteau’s undertaking, one which will be spelt out more fully in forthcoming articles. To reduce Marteau’s contribution to the world of Tarot to a commercial monopoly is a sign of ignorance at best, or a symptom of bad faith at worst.

These desultory notes provide some measure of context for the following series of articles which we intend to publish; the first by Paul Marteau himself, On Four Arcana of the Tarot, which provides insight into his view of the origins of the Tarot and on the genesis of his deck; and Paul Marteau, Author and Publisher of the Ancient Tarot of Marseilles (1930) by Gwenael Beuchet, which provides the only substantial overview of Marteau’s life and work; and finally, the introduction to the booklet which accompanied the 1990 Dusserre reprint of Marteau’s deck by Jean-Marie Lhôte, which provides an insightful examination of Marteau’s deck and legacy.

Before doing so, however, we have seen fit to draw up an outline and bibliography of the various editions of Marteau’s works, namely, his book, his deck and its booklet, in order to clarify some of the issues they pose. In effect, there have been a number of editions of both Marteau’s deck and book, and these editions present some subtle and interesting differences which are instructive to note.

* * *

Editions of Paul Marteau’s

Le Tarot de Marseille and the Ancien Tarot de Marseille

Box of the Ancien Tarot de Marseille, B. P. Grimaud, Paris, 1930. (Courtesy of Adam West-Watson)

Ancien Tarot de Marseille


Paul Marteau, as heir to the Grimaud card company, not only inherited the technical knowledge and commercial savvy of his forebears, but also their collections of historical decks, and as such had access to a veritable treasure trove of card-related material. Grimaud, notably, had purchased the rights to a deck produced by Lequart, founded in 1872. As the Tarot historian Thierry Depaulis has noted, “Although Lequart is better known for its ‘Besançon’-like tarot, which Grimaud took over in 1891 and continued until 1930, it seems Paul Marteau has used an early edition of Lequart & Thuillier’s Italian-suited tarot with Popess and Pope.”[1] Wishing to secure commercial rights over a new deck specifically for the purpose of divination, Marteau produced a Tarot deck based on the line drawings of this Lequart deck and on the colour scheme of the 1890 Camoin reprint of the 1760 Conver deck, better suited to mechanical reproduction, and to which Grimaud had acquired the rights in the late nineteenth century.[2]

Yet it turns out that the genesis of this deck, through a tangled history of mergers and acquisitions, extends even further back in time. The 1748 date given on the ribbon of the II of Coins of both the Lequart and Grimaud editions refers to the then earliest known date for the Parisian cardmaker Arnoult, bought out by Grimaud in 1858.[3] Therefore this 1748 date may be considered arbitrary and motivated by commercial concerns, in order to claim historical precedence over the Camoin reprint of the 1760 deck.

Thierry Depaulis states that, “In fact, it is very similar to the Nicolas Conver tarot, which Camoin was still printing in the second half of the 19th century (from very worn woodblocks). […] It is very likely that Camoin’s Conver tarot formed the basis of Lequart’s own, since even the ‘royal’ coat of arms with fleurs-de-lis on the two of Cups has been copied.”[4] The Tarot specialist Wilfried Houdouin has also noted that the Lequart deck was in all likelihood carved in the workshop of the Parisian cardmaker Antoine Lefer (1752-1813) a century earlier: “This deck effectively presents all the hallmarks of a Tarot deck produced between 1750 and 1800, as its resemblance to the 1760 Tarot of Nicolas Conver and its characteristic engravings show.”[5] According to the same author, this deck “most probably dates from 1778.”[6]

Marteau’s deck, slightly modified with respect to the originals on which it was based, was first produced in 1930, subsequently reprinted with different back designs, and would later be modified again in 1948. Some of the more notable differences between these two ‘editions’ include the removal of the royal fleur-de-lis from the IIII of Coins, replaced by a more politically-neutral tulip, and the addition of a pair of dice to the Juggler’s table. (Dice are also to be found on the Juggler card of the earlier Tarot by Jean Noblet, produced ca. 1650.) Some minor changes to the colouration were also effected. This colour scheme has also given rise to some controversy, but in fact, it would appear that Marteau, having sought out the older Antoine Camoin to make enquiries on this very subject, was inspired to adopt the colours of the earlier Camoin reprint when he came across the original stencils, still bearing the traces of these colours.[7]

Although the history of this deck and its ancestors as well as the rationale for Marteau’s editorial decisions remain to be fully elucidated, it is very possible that Marteau sought to base himself on an established standard, both in terms of the line drawings and the colour scheme, and in this way, lay claim to publish the Conver deck – “the traditional Tarot in its original form” – thus establishing himself as part of a chain of Tarot cardmakers.[8] Until such a time as Marteau’s unpublished letters and diaries might be examined, the matter must remain speculative and unresolved.

There were many reprints of the Grimaud deck throughout the 20th century, and a large number of them have been catalogued here. Both editions of Marteau’s deck were accompanied by his 80-page booklet entitled “Ancien Tarot de Marseille, explication des Arcanes Majeurs et Mineurs, avec de nombreux exemples de positions respectives de lames, précédée de nouvelles méthodes de Divination par le Tarot Traditionnel.” This booklet contains some material not present in Marteau’s later book, most notably divinatory meanings, as well as so-called “encounters” (Fr. rencontres) between cards, i.e. 2-card combinations and their combined meaning. Incidentally, the 1969/1970 English edition of Marteau’s deck, published by J.M. Simon, contains an approximate translation of this booklet.

One noteworthy non-Grimaud reprint is the one published by Dusserre in 1990, who printed a facsimile of the original 1930 deck, accompanied by a booklet by Jean-Marie Lhôte, who himself had been in contact with Marteau shortly before his death in 1966.

* * *

Le Tarot de Marseille

The editorial genesis of Marteau’s magnum opus, Le Tarot de Marseille, has also given rise to some speculation due to the differences between the 1930 and 1948 decks and the descriptions in the book, but also due to some differences between the various editions, which are noted below. All editions were published by Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Paris.

  • 1949: The first edition, limited to 2,900 copies numbered on the colophon page, was printed as a softcover In-8 volume. The cards of Marteau’s 1948 deck are pasted directly onto the pages of the book.
  • 1970: This second edition is identical to the first, with the notable exception of the cards, also pasted into the book, which are those of the 1960 Camoin ‘bicentennial’ reprint of the Conver deck. Although the colour scheme more or less matches the descriptions in the book, since Marteau mostly followed the precursor of this deck for his own, the line drawings are a little different. It is very possible that this deck was used instead of the original 1930 Grimaud deck due to copyright issues following the takeover of Grimaud by J.M. Simon in 1962, and Marteau’s death in 1966.
  • 1977, 1981: Identical in format to the foregoing editions, with the exception of the cards, printed directly into the book this time, reproducing the 1948 edition of Marteau’s deck.
  • 1984: Same as the foregoing, except it is presented in hardback format, with a black dust-jacket over a yellow clothbound volume, with the Juggler on the front cover, and the Ace of Cups on the back.
  • 1983: Marteau’s book was also translated into Spanish and published as El Tarot de Marsella by EDAF from 1983, with a number of reprints.

* * *

The literary reception of Marteau’s book, hinted at by the various book reviews we have published, fails to give a complete picture of the influence his work has had, an influence disproportionate to the limited print run of its first edition. Yet many of the notions laid out in Le Tarot de Marseille are now part and parcel of what may be called French Tarology, at least, that of the 20th century; reading the Tarot as an analogical, optical language; interpreting the floral ornaments; and paying close attention to the incidental details. The systems of more recent authors, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Tchalaï Unger, Marie-Thérèse des Longchamps or Claude de Milleville, are all, to a certain extent, inspired by this approach.

Paul Marteau’s article, book and booklet, taken as a whole, and respectively referring to the origin, theory and application of the Tarot, must be considered as representing the totality of his tarological system, and it is to be hoped that a complete and comprehensive edition and English translation of these texts be published at some point in the future.


[1] Thierry Depaulis, ‘The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies, Part I,’ The Playing-Card, volume 42 (2013-2014), Number 1, pp. 23-25.

[2] See Gwenael Beuchet, ‘Paul Marteau, auteur et éditeur de l’Ancien Tarot de Marseille (1930),’ in Thierry Depaulis (ed.), Actes du Colloque ‘Papiers, Images, Collections,’ 28, 29, 30 avril 2000, Le Vieux Papier n° 358 (October 2000), pp. 31-40.

[3] Thierry Depaulis, Tarot, Jeu et Magie, Bibliothèque nationale, 1984, p. 121. See also the detailed pages on the history of the Grimaud firm here.

[4] Thierry Depaulis, ‘The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies, Part I,’ The Playing-Card, volume 42 (2013-2014), Number 1, pp. 23-25.

[5] Wilfried Houdouin, Le code sacré du Tarot, Éditions Trajectoire, 2011, Chapter III, note 1.

[6] Wilfried Houdouin, The Tarot of Marseilles – The Fundamentals, Books on Demand, 2021, p. 222.

[7] Gwenael Beuchet, op. cit., p. 36.

[8] Paul Marteau, Le Tarot de Marseille, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1949, p. 1.

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Jean-Pierre Seguin: Obituary: Paul Marteau (1885-1966)

Translator’s Introduction

The figure of Paul Marteau presents something of a paradox: although the name is known to almost every amateur of the Marseilles Tarot, the man himself remains completely unknown. To date, there has been but one comprehensive study of the man, his life, and his work, that by Gwenael Beuchet, ‘Paul Marteau, auteur et éditeur de l’Ancien Tarot de Marseille (1930),’ in Thierry Depaulis (ed.), Actes du Colloque ‘Papiers, Images, Collections,’ 28, 29, 30 avril 2000, Le Vieux Papier n° 358 (October 2000), pp. 31-40. Even the otherwise thorough book by Decker and Dummett, A History of the Occult Tarot, (Duckworth, 2002, pages 302-303) glosses over this important figure and his major contribution to the Tarot. The present series of book reviews and texts seeks to redress this oversight, and in that perspective, we present here Marteau’s obituary by Jean-Pierre Seguin, the only one we are aware of. The “great writer in distress” alluded to below is none other than Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose odd relationship with Marteau – and indeed, with the Tarot itself – remains to be elucidated more thoroughly.

Marteau’s donation to the Bibliothèque nationale, mentioned below, followed that of his uncle, thereby providing the library with a significant collection of playing cards, prints, books, woodblocks and other memorabilia. Yet a number of items were later sold after his death, including his manuscripts and letters from Céline, by the Parisian auction house Drouot in 1979, which had earlier sold part of Marteau’s collection of books in 1934. The elder Marteau’s 1909 donation consisted of “856 feuillets [i.e. cards] belonging to 382 antique or modern decks; 132 types of tarot papers; 30 reproductions of antique cards; 95 prints related to the game of cards; 69 decrees, laws, edicts…; 115 books related to the game of cards.” Later, Henry-René D’Allemagne would also donate close to 7,000 cards, while the younger Marteau’s collection would comprise of 458 decks of cards, 25 woodblocks and 165 books. For further details, one may consult the exhibition catalogue drawn up by Jean-Pierre Seguin, as well as a detailed article by Jude Talbot.

To put paid to one particularly tenacious rumour, relayed by the Bibliothèque nationale itself, Paul Marteau was not an Officer of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest order of merit. This mistaken attribution stems from a homonym and close contemporary, yet simple verification on the database of the Grand Chancellory of the Order reveals the source of the confusion: his namesake, one Paul Edouard Marteau (1895-1960), a veterinarian surgeon and captain of the reserve, was decorated in 1949. Likewise, we have found no evidence that Marteau ever studied philosophy in Leipzig.

This obituary appeared in the Bulletin de la Société archéologique, historique & artistique le Vieux papier, tome 25, 1967, and the original may be read here. Marteau passed away in early December of 1966. The author, Jean-Pierre Seguin, was an art historian and senior librarian, curator of the Prints and Photography department of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.


* * *

Paul Marteau (1885-1966)

Jean-Pierre Seguin

Reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher.

Paul Marteau died too soon to have been able to attend the inauguration, at the Bibliothèque nationale, of the exhibition of the most beautiful or most curious pieces of the collection of playing cards he donated in May 1966. He would have loved so much to have seen all the interest that, for six weeks, a host of friends, collectors, and strangers had for this unique set, which had been one of the passions of his life.

Paul Marteau, the last traditional master-cardmaker – such was the title he proudly gave himself – was the grand-nephew of Baptiste-Paul Grimaud, who in 1858 founded a House that remains famous, the son of Léo Marteau (1848-1920), master-cardmaker in Paris, and nephew of Georges Marteau (1851-1916), he too master-cardmaker and a great collector, who donated important collections of Far Eastern art objects to the Museum of Decorative Arts and of playing cards to the Bibliothèque nationale.

Paul Marteau was passionate about his work. He had the ambition – and he managed to achieve it – to maintain the high quality of the French playing card which had guaranteed it the first place in the international market. He was also fascinated by the esoteric aspect of the cards.

On his estate at Fleurière, in Cannes, planted with millennial trees and decorated with the flowers he loved, overlooking a magnificent view, he lived out his last years in the perfect communion of ideas and of sentiments with Madame Marteau. Without any illusions as to his health, peacefully and with a smile, he did not eschew any of the joys that were still allowed him.

He was a cultured man, of an exquisite politeness, of a smiling indulgence for those trifling flaws of character, but who did not tolerate mediocrity or nastiness. He was generous, without ulterior motives, and with the most perfect discretion. One day, we will know of the support he gave to one of our great writers in distress. His gesture in favour of the Cabinet des Estampes shows how much he knew how to let go, without regrets, of what he had loved so much for the benefit of others.

— Jean-Pierre SEGUIN

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René-Louis Doyon: Aluette, the Game of the Cow

Translator’s Introduction

In an article on the supposedly Egyptian origins of the Tarot, it has been shown how the French game of Aluette, with its deck of Spanish-suited cards, was also considered by Court de Gébelin and his collaborator as containing symbols of ultimately Egyptian provenance; Isis, Osiris, Apis the ox, etc., alongside other figures from the Greco-Roman pantheon such as Mercury or Apollo. Naturally, these assertions are just as extravagant as many of the other claims made by that learned savant. This game of Aluette, which has largely escaped the attention and speculations the Tarot has been subjected to, has nonetheless been the object of a handful of very detailed and penetrating studies, notably those by Dr Marcel Baudouin, cited in the following piece, as well as a very interesting monograph by Alain Borvo. Latterly, play card historians have also examined the unique problem this unusual game of cards poses.

This brief presentation of the game by René-Louis Doyon, alias The Mandarin, also taken from his article on card games in France, provides an insightful and witty overview of a game whose popularity endures along the western and north-western seaboard of France. In fact, the only commercially available deck of Aluette at present is that manufactured by Grimaud, better known for their edition of the Tarot of Marseilles designed by Paul Marteau. We are not aware of any divinatory tradition or usage associated with the Aluette deck, in passing, although Spanish-suited decks have of course been put to this use. In effect, the unusual deck used in Aluette “retains a great many sixteenth-century details which have long since disappeared from use elsewhere” and include “many other features found on old Spanish cards, although some have become so exaggerated or distorted that they are not immediately obvious. They now also contain many bizarre details which are purely French inventions and they are especially appropriate to this game, employing as it does elements of shameless cheating aided by the use of facial grimaces as integral parts of its rules.” (Trevor Denning, The Playing-cards of Spain: A Guide for Historians and Collectors, 2003, p. 48)

This codified mimicry to signal one’s hand to one’s partner forms part of the game’s unique charm. As another author notes, “The trick, it goes without saying, consists in making the signs without them being seen by one’s adversaries. Therefore, as soon as the cards have been dealt, each player is attentive to seize, at the same time, the almost imperceptible signs of his partner and of his opponents. […] The game of luette is very complicated, and requires a lot of practice. Nothing is more comical to observe than the zest with which the Maraîchins conduct a game. They thrash about, strike the table with their fists and debate each trick, with everyone talking at the same time. As a result, it is difficult, except if one is deaf, to sleep in the room of an inn in which there are five or six games of luette in play. The scene would be worthy of the brush of a Rembrandt, that artist of the taverns.” (Ch. Édouard Gallet, La ville et la commune de Beauvoir-sur-Mer (Vendée), 1868, pp. 75-76.)

Lest we believe that Doyon had been taken in by the mystification of Court de Gébelin, for whom he had but short shrift, it is worth pointing out that the theory of the astro-mythical origins of Aluette is attributable to Dr Baudouin, whose writings present a learned blend of historical research mixed with more fanciful speculations. Aluette aside, Dr Baudouin is perhaps best known for his scholarly work on the peculiar local custom known as Maraîchinage, or what the doctor, ever the medical man, calls “intrabuccal cataglottism,” in other words, so-called French kissing. For those who read French, the two articles by Dr Baudouin, L’archéologie de la vache : la luette caractéristique du jeu de cartes vendéen“, and “Les origines de Bise-Dur ou “Cinq de deniers” : archéologie du jeu de carte d’Alluette, are online, and the originals will be found in the regional archives of the Vendée here, the first being in 3 parts, the second in two parts. Since then, the only serious study of the subject is that by Alain Borvo, Anatomie d’un jeu de cartes – l’aluette ou le jeu de la vache, Librairie nantaise Yves Vachon, Nantes, 1977. Let us also mention an older article by André Viaud-Grand-Marais, Un vieux jeu de cartes vendéen : le jeu d’aluette, Revue du Bas-Poitou, 1910, 2° fascicule, pp. 186-200, and a more recent article by Alain Borvo, “Découvrez l’aluette”, Jeux et Stratégie, n° 4 Août 1980, which may be downloaded from this website or read here: part 1 and part 2.

In English, interested readers will wish to read the arguments put forth by Sir Michael Dummett as to the origins and evolution of the deck and the game on pages 18-19 of his Game of Tarot, as well as the detailed appendix on pages 29-30, and may also profitably consult the entry on Aluette in the comprehensive work The Playing-cards of Spain: A Guide for Historians and Collectors by Trevor Denning (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003). Online, the following links may be helpful: Aluette, L’Aluette à travers les âges, Aluette.

The 2 of Cups, “The Cow”

* * *

Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)


by The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)

The Cow (West)

It now remains for us to speak of the most curious, the most entertaining of all provincial games, and also the most difficult to learn and to play for those who do not have two or three centuries worth of ancestral ties to the Marais [Poitevin] or the Bocage [Vendéen]. It is the game of Alluette (or Aluette more simply). To tell the truth, it is the ancient game of The Cow, probably very widespread in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Our Rabelais, that incomparable connaisseur of his age, cites them both, without appearing to confuse them, in the nomenclature of the numerous games taught to Gargantua, after the worthy student of Ponocrates washed his hands with fresh wine, picked his teeth with a pig’s trotter; in effect, we read: “au luette,” “au tarau” … and further… “aux vaches” [the cows]!

One will not expect to find here the very complicated history of this game, indeed more ancient than the precious remains which form the collections of the British Museum (3 decks), the Bibliothèque Nationale (Marteau collection), and a few private collections. Two learned monographs will enlighten those concerned erudite minds without perhaps satisfying them completely; those by Dr Marcel Baudouin, from Croix-de-Vie, strongly attached to the customs of the Lower Poitou, whether immodest Maraîchinage or mimed Luette.

No one can deny the connection between the current Cow, lying below the 2 of Cups, and the Ox Apis or the zodiacal Taurus. It is undeniable that the cards are inspired by Astrology: their esoteric origin is nowhere in doubt. The cards of the Luette have thus come from the same symbols like the others. They present a difference with ordinary playing cards in that they are of the Spanish type, which singularly complicates the history of their introduction into a country where the incursions of the English were much more frequent. Nevertheless, they have received, along with a mysterious and confused contribution, tense markers and a national prestige: the 2 of Coins bears the heads of a royal couple; the 5 of Coins is highly singular with its two faces in its central oval; this is the card called “Bise-Dur” [Kiss-Hard], one of the most popular of the game, along with the Cow reserved to the 2 of Cups; Storks are also depicted in the ace, the 2 and the 3 of Cups with drawings of more ancient symbols, more misunderstood and degenerated, but accepted by successive cardmakers and destined to satisfy the ever-increasing number of practitioners of a clearly local game. On the other hand, the queens advantageously supplant the Spanish horsemen; no doubt due to French gallantry! We must leave it to the learned to shed light on the question of its origins and to the collectors the useful task of discovering, with these remains, the witnesses of the transformations undergone by a secular idea come down to us after a great many travels and a great many amputations.

The 5 of Coins, “Kiss-Hard” (“Bise-Dur”)

The particularity of the game of Aluette, and which justifies its name more than its aim, is that it is played without saying a single word, without luette. Aluette is already a deformation and luette is another one; properly speaking, it is “l’uette,” avita in Latin; this cascade of deformations of uva which means “raisin,” comes to denote the appendage that bars the entry to the throat, then, more plainly, speech. A game without words, without interjections, without recourse, without invective nor curses, now there is a curiosity! And that is a fact. But if, in The Cow, one chews ones words, on the other hand one must explain oneself using gestures. There is an entire convention of mimicry which makes the game very attractive for the spectator; for the partners are not, one may assume, students or disciples of the great mime artists, such as Debureau, Séverin or Wague!

The head, the eyes, the lips, the fingers, the mouth, everything comes into play. Each card has its sign, just as it has its own colloquial terms. The 3 of Coins is Monsieur: one must raise one’s eyes to heaven; Madame (the 3 of Cups) will have one tilt one’s head to a shoulder; the One-Eyed Man (2 of Coins) will have one wink; the Cow requires a pout. One gives the thumbs up sign to announce the Grand Nine (of Cups); the Little Nine (of Coins) is signalled by the little finger. One opens the mouth for the four aces. One puts on a good face for the 4 kings, fairly indifferent features for the 4 ladies, and a rather dissatisfied frown for the valets. For the point cards, no sign. The winner makes a mordienne, an old French word which indicates its mixture of swear word and of siesta! But let us leave it to the philologists and the folklorists to seek out its origins; we are but profane observers.

The 3 of Cups, “Madame”, or The Storks

But what a scholar will not know, is how to knowingly play this game in the silence of a village of the Marais, where the autumn sounds the bell for the migratory birds and blows the bitter wind from the Ocean. One of the most curious games; a sport, or I dare say, a popular art which brings with it a series of grimaces and gestures which would make a mime dream! A tactic which reveals a discrete cunning and mores not really given to outward displays.

Such are the provincial games whose manufacture is authorised in France, and whose practice is is still unequally spread. They are not devoid of interest. They are witnesses; they are also the vehicles of traditions, of memories, of words, of popular learning, which show those who observe them the universality of the deck of playing cards and the interpenetration of all ideologies.

— The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)

  • Image Credits: Aluette cards from a deck copied on that engraved by H. Roiné, and which has been called “the most attractive portrait of Aluette, later imitated or copied by other cardmakers.” Images taken from here. Images of Madame and various Aluette cards taken from a late nineteenth-century deck by Grimaud, courtesy of the BNF.
  • Notes: Various etymologies have been proposed for the term mordienne, including méridienne, meaning siesta; a contraction of the swear word mort divine, meaning “the divine death,” not too dissimilar to the Shakespearean ‘Swounds, among others.

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René-Louis Doyon: Cartomancers’ Decks

Translator’s Introduction

“One grows weary of everything, apart from knowing.”

— René-Louis Doyon


The name of René-Louis Doyon, alias ‘the Mandarin’, is all but forgotten, and yet this obscure literary figure played an important and influential role in the French literature and publishing of the early and mid-twentieth century. Born in 1885, he died in 1966, and as such was the exact contemporary of Paul Marteau, his erstwhile friend, collaborator and benefactor.

Writer, journalist, publisher, bookseller, bibliophile and literary gadfly, Doyon’s career spanned the first half of the twentieth-century literary scene in France, where he exerted an uneven but definite influence. Throughout the course of his variegated editorial career, Doyon published a prodigious amount of works, by himself or others, including novels, literary and artistic criticism, biographies, social histories, memoirs, as well as a significant amount of prefaces and introductions. In addition to republishing editions of the classics, Doyon was instrumental in promoting younger and unknown authors. His literary flair is demonstrated when one considers that his back catalogue was eventually bought out by the publisher Robert Denoël, and that he was the first to discover and publish the writings of both Marcel Jouhandeau and a young André Malraux. Yet Doyon’s career, and indeed, life, was both marked and marred by his combative personality and a taste for polemics and literary feuds that would ultimately alienate him from the cultural establishment.

Perhaps the most succinct portrait of the man is that left by Éric Dussert, who says that, “René-Louis Doyon was an extravagant man of letters; failed publisher, mordant but erudite critic, he leaves behind an often messy body of work whose convoluted style is unforgettable. […] The case of René-Louis Doyon is exemplary of the paradox of those failures who work like maniacs, sometimes with talent, but without ever bending fate.”

In 1920, Doyon founded a literary journal called La Connaissance [Knowledge], also the name of his bookshop as well as his publishing outfit. This journal became more simply known as the Livrets du Mandarin from 1923, and was irregularly published until 1963. Although Doyon’s journal ostensibly focused on literature, the arts and current affairs, he also included a number of articles dealing with more metaphysical subjects, notably some articles by Paul Marteau, to which we shall return.

In effect, Doyon and Marteau were close for a time, La Connaissance was allegedly financed by Paul Marteau, according to François Gibault, biographer of Louis-Ferdinand Céline (cited in G. Beuchet,  ‘Paul Marteau, auteur et éditeur de l’Ancien Tarot de Marseille (1930),’ in Thierry Depaulis (ed.), Actes du Colloque ‘Papiers, Images, Collections,’ 28, 29, 30 avril 2000, Le Vieux Papier n° 358 (October 2000), pp. 33-34), and Marteau began to write a series of articles on esotericism for Doyon’s journal from 1921, although the planned series came to a premature end at the end of the same year after only three articles had been published. Marteau would also contribute an essay on the esotericism of the hermetic novel Le Comte de Gabalis to Doyon’s edition of that work, also published in 1921. Later, when Doyon’s professional and financial decline was fully underway, from the mid 1930s, Marteau would have aided him until they fell out, for reasons unknown, but not difficult to guess.

Both men would later go on to become acquainted with the controversial author Céline after the war, Doyon eventually selling his inscribed copy of a rare edition of Voyage au bout de la Nuit to Marteau. If, in 1935, Doyon could dedicate his study of J.-K. Huysmans, Ombres dans la Cathédrale, to “my friend Paul Marteau,” relations between the two men had soured by the mid-fifties, as is made evident from Doyon’s letter to Jean Paulhan on the 28 of March 1956, when he writes, “There is no one, not even Marteau (that spoilt child), who has not betrayed me with brutality. I am used to it.” Indeed, Doyon’s memoirs, published in 1953, contain but one brief and impersonal reference to his former friend: “Paul Marteau wrote on esotericism, whose arcana were familiar to him and of which he cultivated the bitterest specialities with the learned Caslant.” (Mémoire d’homme: souvenirs irréguliers d’un écrivain qui ne l’est pas moins, La Connaissance, p. 104.)

Doyon’s interest and knowledge of “occult matters,” as his friend Jean Paulhan put it, is attested by  his noteworthy edition of Le Comte de Gabalis by by Montfaucon de Villars, with an extensive introduction and accompanying essays (including the one by Paul Marteau). This was the first of a planned series of esoteric texts, followed by a text by Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, a prominent 18th-century Freemason and Martinist, Les Sommeils, in 1926, obtained through his friendship with one of the latter’s descendants. His 1942 biography of Montfaucon de Villars included an intriguing aside on the occultist author, Grillot de Givry, author of the well-known book Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy, and whose untimely death, according to Doyon, was to be classified as a “mystagogic assassination” for having revealed occult secrets. Doyon also published a pamphlet on the mysterious secret society “Les Veilleurs” [The Watchers], to which belonged Schwaller de Lubicz and the poet Oscar Milosz, whom Doyon knew well and had published, showing his inside knowledge of the esoteric circles of the time (Livrets du Mandarin, n° 3 January 1960), as well as an in-depth biography and study of Joséphin Péladan (La Douloureuse aventure de Péladan, La Connaissance, 1946). Doyon further published an anthology of texts concerning the Compagnonnage and the mysticism of the trades-based initiations (La Pierre, ses fastes et les hommes, Denoël, 1939). On a lighter note, it is also worth noting a booklet on the popular folk legend of the beast of the Gévaudan which terrorised rural France in the mid-eighteenth century, Le Loup du Gévaudan. Variétés sur la légende, La Connaissance, 1936.

Doyon’s knowledge of cards and the Tarot is amply demonstrated by the three very interesting articles he penned on the subject, the first two for the Gazette Dunlop in 1937, and the third, some 25 years later, for his own Livrets du Mandarin. The obscurity of certain references show that Doyon engaged in some serious research and reflection on the subject before committing his thoughts to paper, although as we shall later see, his references were sometimes garbled. (For instance, neither the Grand nor the Petit Albert grimoires deal with cartomancy, nor are they concerned with games.) Be that as it may, the wit and erudition of these articles make them worth presenting to a wider audience.

The first article, La Petite Histoire des Cartes à Jouer [A Little History of Playing Cards], deals with the design, engraving and printing processes of card-making, and even taxation, in minute detail and with great erudition. The second article, Les Jeux de Cartes en France (Types et Varietés) [Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)], describes the types of cards used for both cartomancy and those used for playing, such as the Tarot Nouveau, as well as a number of other regional games, one of which, Aluette, we shall post in the next instalment.

Finally, Doyon’s 1962 article Petite Histoire des Cartes : Casse-tête et prophétisme [A Little History of Cards: Puzzles and Prophecy], taking up some of the observations of the earlier pieces, proceeds to analyse the very idea of the analogical correspondences of the Tarot, pre-empting the type of argument advanced by Umberto Eco in his writings (e.g.  L’idea deforme and Foucault’s Pendulum), and historical analyses which foreshadow those employed by later generations of historians.

Doyon died in 1966 in the utmost misery, a victim of his own uncompromising values and prickly personality. A selection of portraits and obituaries are available (in French) at the end of the following article. Aside from his published volume of memoirs, the only comprehensive overview of the life and works of René-Louis Doyon is the article Les chemins sinueux d’un étrange mandarin by Éric Dussert, first published in Le Matricule des Anges n°38, March 2002. Further reflections on Doyon’s single-minded and single-handed publishing efforts may be found in another article by Dussert here.

We present this brief excerpt from the second of his articles on playing cards, an overview of the various decks used for cartomancy. In it, one will find what is possibly the sole mention of the intriguing article Paul Marteau published in the Arts et Métiers Graphiques journal, 15 years before the publication of his book, and which, for reasons unknown, was not included in the final edition of his work. The illustrations accompanying Doyon’s article all come from the Grimaud firm, as do most of the decks cited (links to which may be found below), thereby underscoring his cordial relationship with Marteau, and, presumably, access to his collection.

The journal in which this article was published, the Gazette Dunlop, was devoted to motoring, sports and tourism, and the issues often included a miscellany of thematic articles as well. This was due in no small part to the encyclopaedic and eclectic mind of its editor, Louis Baudry de Saunier, another eccentric gentleman to whom we cannot do justice here. The original article was published in the n° 202 issue of the Gazette Dunlop of June 1937, and may be read here.

René-Louis Doyon in 1922

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Card Games in France (Types and Varieties)


by The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)

Cartomancers’ Decks

The card decks destined to the various games played in Europe have always been and still are, more or less, of the same type.

Those destined for divination have much greater variety and their composition is mixed in with an occult science accessible only to initiates, as well as a lot of fantasy useful for impressing the anxious and gullible client. Their common father is the great and mysterious “Tarot” which comes from the Indias and which is generally labelled as Egyptian, as Bohemian, jealously guarded by the Egyptians, and yet known and put to work under the name of Ancient Tarot of Marseilles, with its recomposed colours and its orthodox arcana. Mr Paul Marteau has provided the outline of a very substantial study in Arts et Métiers Graphiques; to which those curious about symbols and mystic secrets may refer.

Some figures from the Egyptian Tarot, or so-called Tarot of Marseilles, which is currently used by Cartomancers

Is it known, for the other decks used by prophets and professional fortune-tellers, that their design and composition reach an entertaining realisation of images whose appearance and shuffling form the entire unexpected part of conjectural revelations? As we have the Grand and Petit Albert, attributed to the genius of the Dominican Albert the Great (and what has he not been attributed, since it is said that his name is to be found in that of the once ill-renowned Place Maubert – “Mauvais Albert” or “Evil Albert”?) We have the Grand and Petit Etteilla, from the 18th century, the work of an ingenious barber; the Tarot of Mlle Lenormand, official soothsayer of Napoleon and of Josephine, is still in use; the Sybil of the Salons, the Book of Destiny, the Little Cartomancer and the Ancient Destiny; a real palette, with impressive or comical images which occupy more space on the cardboard than on the tarotic image itself. That is not all: the Game of the Hand, with its very curious chiromantic diagrams, and the Astrological Tarot, with its celestial diagrams, that is what may yet be found commercially; with the means – for want of sure learning – on how to use them! What a choice! Only surprises and naïve ingeniousness here, and complicated to boot; a little learning and a lot of already outdated opportunism, for our age has become far too distracted or too preoccupied by science and business to seek out the secret and the why of the world by means other than the alembic, analysis and the scales; the most recent creations of these cards are almost a century old!

— The Mandarin (René-Louis Doyon)

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Patrice Boussel: On the Tarot of Marseilles

Translator’s Introduction

Paul Marteau‘s seminal work on the Tarot of Marseilles received widespread praise and a number of positive book reviews, some of which have been presented on this site. They show not only the ‘reach’ which Marteau and his publisher may have had, but above all, the interest which the Tarot aroused, and this from all angles. Effectively, the book was reviewed by art critics, playing card historians, literary figures and critics of all stripes rather than by occultists and fortune-tellers. One extensive, insightful and engaging review, by a critic well-qualified to do so, provides an in-depth view of the reception of this important work, and raises a number of important points in so doing.

The author, Patrice Boussel (1916-1985), was a senior librarian and a specialist on the history of medicine. Boussel was a prolific author, writing with wit and erudition on a great range of subjects; his illustrated histories of medicine, surgery and pharmacy “are considered classics and their rich iconography is often a revelation that bears witness to his curiosity and his artistic sensibility.”

Boussel further wrote works on all manner of subjects, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Beaumarchais, the cult of relics, eroticism and gallantry in the 19th century, and guides to the battlefields of France and to the D-Day landing beaches of WWII. Closer to our subject matter, Boussel also penned a series of guides to the local legends and secret histories of a number of regions of France; Burgundy, Brittany, Normandy, are all examined in this perspective; and closer still, Boussel wrote a guide to the fortune-tellers of Paris. Finally, in 1963 Boussel published a Manuel de Superstition, to which we shall have occasion to return.

These numerous and varied publications express the man’s cultured background and wide learning; having graduated in both philosophy and law, Boussel became interested in mathematics and geology, and after marrying a pharmacist, became interested in the medical sciences. He later became the curator of the Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris. A fuller biography of the man may be read here (in French).

Æsculape (pub. 1911-1974), the journal in which this article was published, was a monthly illustrated journal “on literature and the arts in their relations with the sciences and medicine,” founded by Benjamin Bord and later edited by Jean Avalon. The journal, although ostensibly aimed at the medical practitioner (“and his wife and his patients…”), had a much wider readership on account of the variety of its topics, its readability and the wealth of illustrations it contained. The iconographic collection built up by Avalon was highly considered, and the journal quickly became the official journal of the International Society for the History of Medicine. Out of print since 1974, copies have become sought-after items by amateurs of the weird and wonderful.

Æsculape, n° 1, 1950.

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On the Tarot of Marseilles

Patrice Boussel

Georges Courteline, in a masterpiece, Boubouroche, Marcel Pagnol, in another masterpiece, Marius, brought to life men possessed by the demon of cards, and because they were writing comedies, they were able, without concession, without abstract discourses, to show just how serious a thing the game of manille is. They raised laughs, they raise laughs, and they shall raise laughs at their characters, for these fellows are real, reasonable, and tragic, if you like, and yet they do not know it; for they naturally engage in one of the most natural and important acts of man, they gamble. Gambling is a serious matter, much like marriage or death, which explains the involuntary but definitely comical aspect of a gambler, of a cuckold, or of an undertaker.

Reading a medical treatise, a marriage contract, a manual of contract bridge, on the contrary, only very rarely engenders hilarity. The frivolousness of their authors saddens us rather: not only do they take themselves seriously but they wish to be taken as such… and they manage to do so. The reader, forgetful of his human condition, fretfully wonders about the consequences of a bad dose of tuberculosis, of the marital community property regime, or a four no-trump bid, as though, master of his destiny, he considered himself immortal, happy in his domestic life, and unbeatable at cards. He no longer has any desire at all whatsoever to laugh.

The Moon, from the set of so-called Charles VI Tarot cards. This card, as well as the following ones, belong to a series of seventeen conserved in the Cabinet des Estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale. These cards were, it is thought, executed in 1392 by an artist from the rue de la Verrerie in Paris, Jacques Gringonneur. These figurines are obviously from the 14th century, but nothing proves that they were part of the games created for the mad king and which the head of finances mentions in his accounts. The two astrologers we see here were replaced by two baying hounds in the later decks of the 15th century.

The book which Mr Paul Marteau has just published with Arts et Métiers Graphiques, on the Tarot of Marseilles, is not a joyful book, but it is a handsome book, and even a good book for many reasons, not all of which are those given by Mr Jean Paulhan in the preface he has provided, nor Eugène Caslant in his preliminary exposé.

Le Tarot de Marseille may be considered as being a promotional work, since the cards, published in 1761 by Nicolas Conver, master cardmaker in Marseilles, are currently being republished by B. P. Grimaud, and that “Paul Marteau, master cardmaker of France, is one of the directors of the Grimaud firm, globally renowned for its manufacture of playing cards.”

Le Tarot de Marseille is not a work of erudition, a “scientific” work, since it includes no bibliography, and we find almost none of those footnotes, respected by readers to the point of not reading them.

Le Tarot de Marseille is not a history book. The author says nothing of the origin of the cards, nor of the various hypotheses which have been proposed, he even says nothing of the historical position of this Marseilles Tarot.

Le Tarot de Marseille is not the work of an astrologer, for if the author uses the houses for the astrological spread, which is classic, he makes no allusion to the planetary influences, which could be deemed essential.

Finally, Le Tarot de Marseille is not a treatise of arithmosophy, to employ the term coined by Dr Allendy, author of the Symbolisme des Nombres. Mr Paul Marteau’s symbolism seems to be fairly summary: he opposes the Material to the Spiritual, instinct to religious sentiment, activity to passivity…

For all of this, may Mr Paul Marteau be praised.

The Hanged Man, from the so-called Charles VI deck. The Tarot deck is composed of 78 cards: 22 trumps, of which 21 are numbered, and four suits, consisting each of 14 cards. The names of the suits are: sword, cup, staff, and coin. Each suit has a king, a queen, a horseman, a valet, and ten cards numbered from 1 to 10. Of the 22 trumps, one is unnumbered: it is the fool, called Le Mat. The others are numbered from 1 to 21. The first five: the Juggler, the Popess, the Empress, the Emperor, and the Pope, constitute the lesser trumps. The last five, called the greater trumps, are the Star, the Moon, the Sun, the Judgment, and the World. The Hanged Man shown here is the twelfth card of the pack.

In his preface, Mr Jean Paulhan deals with occult matters and writes:

“The least that can be said of the specialists of occultism is that they also go awry, even more quickly than their sciences. I dare not even think of those who wind up in misery, or vile disease: neither Court de Gébelin, nor Éliphas Lévi – nor the Gypsies either, whose mysterious function, it would appear, was to spread the Tarot throughout the world, derived any profit from the riches they kindly promise us. There is worse, and the occultists best-known to us – those of the Enlightenment: Saint Germain, Cagliostro, Mesmer, Casanova, Etteilla a little later – end up in general by living at the expense of naïve elderly ladies seeking immortality. In brief, as happens one day, sooner or later, for the famous mediums, they cheat. When they do not adopt the trade that resembles most that of soothsayer: secret agents, informers; or else spies, turning for the benefit of the State which pays them the trenches they have dug out of the laudable concern of finding hidden treasure.”

The author of Le Tarot de Marseille must not “go awry.” He knows the existence of occult matters, but he wields them with prudence, and above all, with health. The superficial critic could say:

— But it’s a manual – a luxurious one – for beginning cartomancers!

No doubt seasoned professionals already have their own personal keys and have no need for the interpretation proposed by Mr Paul Marteau. This would bother them rather, for they might notice contradictions with what they hold to be true, which would inevitably sow some doubt in their souls, particularly avid for certainty.

The historians – equally professional – will consider this book with neither bibliography nor soothing references useful only for its beautiful reproductions of ancient images. They will not say that they are beautiful, but that they are precise, for beauty can be but foreign or unwelcome for the true historian. They will praise Mr Paul Marteau the technician, “the great master cardmaker of France,” and will only blame him for having had these ideas, and above all – o scandal! – for having presented them without any scientific apparatus.

Death, from the so-called Charles VI deck. Death is the thirteenth card of the pack. If they still play “tarot” in Burgundy and in Franche-Comté, the cards of the deck serve especially for the prediction of the future. The explanation of the “arcana” is, in essence, the aim of cartomancy. The interpretation of the combinations which they may present, of the influence exerted on this interpretation by the neighbouring minor cards, is a more complex matter than the summary explanations given by certain professionals would have one believe. The “science” of the Tarot demands knowledge of the kabbalah, of astrology, and of hermetic philosophy.

The author has “striven to show the reader that nothing in this Tarot has been placed at random, that the drawings have been conceived in such a way as to give significance to the slightest details, that the colours are always suited to the presiding idea of each card, and that the entire set reveals a transcendental philosophy.”

To explain the existence of soothsayers, of somnambulists, of fortune-tellers, one must accept that there exists, within every man, something secret, which guards itself and which refuses to be drawn out. The coffee grounds, the crystal ball… and in a more detailed and more precise fashion, the Tarot, enable one to evoke this something by stimulating the psyche of the seer, or of the cartomancer. No doubt the interpretation will always depend on this psyche, regardless of the instrument employed, but if we accept as much, how could we not accept that the perfection of the instrument may facilitate this interpretation? Now, the Tarot seems to be, and by far, the best of the lot.

3 of the major arcana plus the Mate, of the Tarot of Marseilles (Grimaud edition). The 22 arcana, of which the first, the Mate, is unnumbered, date back, according to the occultists, to the 22 major arcana of priestly magic.

“The Tarot is a universal vibrating instrument and becomes a source of energy by the fluidic projection of our thought.”

The Tarot provides “the symbolic keys of the universal laws which preside over the destinies of man.” Believe it – or not, the essential is that men would have thought in this way, and they would have summarised their philosophy in a collection of 78 images.

Court de Gébelin began his study on the Tarot pack with this striking phrase:

“If one were to announce that there still exists a work of the ancient Egyptians, one of their books that escaped the flames that devoured their superb libraries, and which contains their purest doctrine on interesting subjects, everyone would undoubtedly hasten to become acquainted with such an extraordinary book.”

Rather than making a general, and necessarily superficial, study of all the Tarot decks, Mr Paul Marteau has preferred to take as his subject the one he considers as being the best. From these 78 images, he has derived a philosophy, he has shed light on what one may imagine, by means of the Tarot of Marseilles, “of the universal laws which preside over the destinies of men,” he has therefore accomplished the task which he had set himself, and it must be admitted that those who would think otherwise would be bad jokers.

4 of the major arcana of the Tarot of Marseilles (Grimaud edition). The last trump, the World, marked with the highest number, takes all the others. These tarot cards are the faithful reproduction of a deck printed in Lyons in the 18th century.

“It would be imprudent to treat it as a handbook of physics or of geometry,” says Mr Jean Paulhan. “On the contrary. It must not be learned by heart. Nor shown – despite being, in my mind, very accurate and very beautiful – to all one’s friends. It must be read, of course, but to be immediately forgotten, and later read once more (without ever being reread). In brief, to relegate it to that secret part of ourselves, to which the Tarot as a whole is but a constant allusion.”

Le Tarot de Marseille presents itself as “a sort of dictionary, or even an encyclopaedia,” it is as serious as a book on law, a dictionary of philosophy, or a treatise on the game of chess might be, but it is by no means boring; the simplicity, the naïvety of the the engravings is moving, and moreover, the subject of the book – functionality and user’s guide to an instrument to know the unknowable – is entirely alive. To believe that we are about to know what we believe – at the same time – we cannot know, is that not human, “too human,” just as surely as considering oneself to be in love, cuckolded, or mortal?

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Follow the links for further details on: Marcel Pagnol; Marius; Georges Courteline; Boubouroche, Dr René Allendy; Le Symbolisme des Nombres.


Images of the “Charles VI” Tarot and Grimaud Ancien Tarot de Marseille courtesy of the BNF.
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Book Reviews: Le Tarot de Marseille by Paul Marteau

Translator’s Introduction

Continuing in our series of reviews of Paul Marteau’s seminal work on the Tarot of Marseilles, we present two further instalments, the first, from the journal of the Vieux Papier, an association still in existence, and which aims to study daily life through written and printed documents and iconography, including, incidentally, Tarot cards. It will come as no surprise, then, to discover that the historian Thierry Depaulis, whose works have often been mentioned in these pages, is the current president of the association. Indeed, Paul Marteau himself published a couple of articles in this journal in the 1930s.

This review, presumably by René Thiebaut, appeared on page 118 of the January 1951 issue of the Bulletin de la Société archéologique, historique & artistique le Vieux papier, tome 20, fascicle 154, and the original may be read here. Our few additions are within square brackets.

The second, from the Mercure de France, by the unknown collaborator who signed his [?] articles ‘S. P.’, was published on 1 October, 1949, and may be found on the Retronews website.

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Book Reviews: Le Tarot de Marseille, by Mr Paul Marteau

Mr Marteau has, for a long time, taken pleasure in collecting beautiful modern works, both for the harmony of the texts and the variety of illustrations, but he remains deeply attached to his profession and, if we were to ask him to choose between bibliophile and cardmaker for his business card, we can be assured that he would choose the second title.

His uncle, Mr Georges Marteau, formerly a member of our society, has left to the Cabinet des Estampes [of the BNF] his very beautiful collection of playing cards, which Mr [Jean] Adhémar showed to us in the Reserve.

He himself had begun another collection, and his ambition, he told us one day, would be to see in France the creation of a museum of playing cards, like in Altenburg [the Castle and Playing Card Museum]. In his office, everything is devoted to the glory of the cardmaker: books, regulations, images, decks from every country and from every era, curios, popular objects depicting figures. That is an appropriate ambience for the writing of this learned and beautiful work on the Tarot of Marseille, completed after 20 years of research and study.

Published by Arts et Métiers Graphiques, whose very handsome and unfortunately discontinued journal has not been forgotten, this 300-page volume is enriched with 78 colour reproductions of the cards explained in detail. Each one is provided with a definition of the symbolism, the colours, the character, the attributes, the number, etc. … A preface by Jean Paulhan, an exposé by Caslant summarise, for the general reader, the elements which enable one to guide oneself through so many diverse sciences. Then, Mr Marteau analyses each figure, with great sagacity: first, the number, then the general significance, the abstract significance, the analogical particularities, the orientation of the figures, the practical significances on the mental, animic [psychic] and physical planes.

We humbly admit that our lack of knowledge does not allow us to describe this learned work as would be fitting, but those colleagues more advanced in symbolism will appreciate, we are certain, its solidity and clarity.

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Le Tarot de Marseille, by Paul Marteau, preface by Jean Paulhan, introduction by Eugène Caslant; 19 x 27.5 cm; 300 pp.; colour reproduction of the 78 arcana; 2,900 copies; 2,500 francs. (Arts et Métiers Graphiques).

A very curious work, and a very handsome book. The preface is Paulhan at his finest, and goes far. The introduction and the text explain the use of the Tarot, and expand on its symbolism. It is an essay, and it is a treatise. A curiosity? Without doubt, but one of those “curiosities” that have both significance and reach.

—  S. P.

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Charles Estienne: Assessment of a Year of Painting: Book Review: Paul Marteau: Le Tarot de Marseille

Translator’s Introduction

Paul Marteau (1885–1966), heir and director of the Grimaud card manufacturing company, is best known for the deck of Tarot cards he produced in 1930, and the accompanying book he published in 1949. This deck, still in production, is the most widespread and best-known of the Tarot de Marseille type decks. Leaving aside the purely commercial aspect, the extent of his influence on the world of Tarot is as yet still little understood, through lack of research; if not badly understood or even misrepresented at times.

In an attempt to correct the record, and provide further indications in English, we have published a number of reviews of his work, and the perceptive reader will have noted the variety of horizons from which the reviewers hail; occultists, card historians, art critics, writers, poets; the influence of his work extended far beyond the confines of the insular worlds of cartomancy or card specialists, but instead brought the Tarot out into the open, as a cultural object in its own right.

Continuing in the series of book reviews, we present this piece by the noted art critic Charles Estienne (1908-1966). An important and influential critic and writer, Estienne was one of the main promoters of abstract and figurative art in the post-war period, and the author of numerous books on the subject. Close to André Breton for a time, it is therefore no surprise that he turned his attention to the Tarot, and especially, to the novel idea expressed by both Paul Marteau and Jean Paulhan, namely, that the Tarot be approached as an optical language in its own right, and conversely, applying the tarological exegesis to figurative art.

On that subject, it is not uninteresting to note the illustration by the artist Auguste Herbin which accompanied Estienne’s piece, which we have been unable to find, but which we have exchanged for a suitable replacement. The sculptor Jacques Villeglé later remarked that: “Charles Estienne had judiciously illustrated his article on the release of another book, this time dedicated to the Tarot of Marseilles and prefaced by Paulhan, by an Herbin, which, just like an arcana, was composed of simple forms with flat tones, o how resplendent!” (Jacques Villeglé, Cheminements, 1943-1959, 1999, p. 35.)

The following piece was originally published as “L’Art n’est-il qu’un jeu ? Bilan d’une année de peinture (1)” in the journal Combat, 14 September, 1949. It was followed by a second piece on recent exhibitions a week later, further expanding on the author’s views of expressionism and realism in art, but without reference to either the Tarot or to Marteau’s book. The original may be read on the French news archive here.

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Assessment of a Year of Painting

Book Review: Paul Marteau: Le Tarot de Marseille

Charles Estienne

A curious painting by Herbin. (This is not the exact artwork as reproduced in the original article, which we have been unable to find.Trans.)

Is Art But A Game? – An Assessment of One Year of Painting (1)

Before submitting “my” list of the chief exhibitions of the last season to my readers, I would like to tell a little story that may somehow contribute to articulate its meaning.

Over the course of a conversation on abstract art with the “figurative” artist [Maurice] Bianchon and his wife Marguerite Louppe, also an artist, Léon Degand recalled his reply to [Léon] Gischia during a similar discussion:

“No one, said Gischia, would have had the idea of changing the rules of the game of whist. The same goes for painting…”

— “Well, replied Degand, but what if I wish to play bridge?”

On the moment, Marguerite Louppe could only declare herself in favour of the artist’s “freedom of the game”. But the next day, she declared: “I was thinking that we were not talking about the same thing: because you are no longer playing cards, you are reading them, you abstract types…”

The “Tarot of Marseille”

That this little anecdote might go much further then its superficial sense was confirmed to me recently as I leafed through the very curious work dedicated to the Tarot of Marseille published by Arts et Métiers Graphiques, and enriched, as they used to say, with a malicious and profound preface by Jean Paulhan, an exposé by Eugène Caslant (of the École Polytéchnique, as the publisher notes), and finally with the 78 cards of the Tarot pack, reproduced in colour, the main text being by Paul Marteau, director of the Grimaud firm, specialised, as we know, in the manufacture of playing cards.

Now the “Tarot” is also a pack of cards, but of a particular type, since the figures and the suits which it consists of have a precise symbolic significance, and that the “combinations” which its cards may give rise to are supposed to “express the flowing and varying play of the universal forces.” This is why, continues Eugène Caslant, the one who handled these cards considered that their shuffling, if it were done in affinity with the mental and passional prospection of the querent, could discern the cosmic law at work, and reveal, to a certain extent, fate.


Of course, I am not ignoring the fact that broaching the grave and hackneyed subject of the “fate of art” will have me labelled an obscurantist. And yet, close to a very ancient popular practice, the Tarot, of which our current decks of cards are but the degenerate descendants — and without danger, since we no longer play at “fate” — it has been difficult not to make some very simple observations by way of hypotheses or indications…

1. That abstract art presently finds itself reproached for being flat, technically speaking, as playing cards were. The reproach was already classic, in their day, with respect to Manet, Gauguin, those ancestors of abstraction. But an Herbin today, the flat forms and shades he employs, do they not correspond, to his mind, to an alphabet, that is, to a precise symbolism? And is this symbolism not fairly close, in the end, to that of the Tarot, and which gives that strangeness and mystery to some Herbin pieces, for example, the one exhibited recently at the [Salon des] Réalités Nouvelles?

Second observation: Does current figurative art not increasingly appear to you as a “game without danger”, where the rule is to stop at the appearances of the world to avoid burning oneself by seeking what is behind it?

The Secret of the World

It is therefore not absolutely absurd to reproach the so-called abstract painters of violating, to a certain degree, the “rule” of a certain pictorial tradition, for in fact, they are no longer playing at only reproducing appearances; and this in order to “participate in the secrets of the world, — short of understanding them,” as Paulhan remarks. They do not reason by identities, but proceed by analogies: which is the very principle of the Tarot (and of poetry…).

And, still following the same comparison, a non-figurative composition of forms and of colours, if painted by an authentic artist, one in deep “affinity” with his “mental and passional projection,” this “combination” is in greater accord with the “cosmic laws”, and reveals more of the presence of Nature than the repetition or the imitation of forms outside it. In this way, new art, probably unwittingly, reconnects with an even more ancient tradition than that of the Renaissance, and in its own way, it no longer plays cards, it reads them… or it plays something else, that is truly its fate, fused with that of the artist-man.

One will note, I hope, that such principles demand just as much, if not more, from so-called abstract art than from its contrary…

(To be continued)

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Tchalaï: How to Work With the Tarot II

Tchalaï: How to Work With the Tarot II

Translator’s Introduction

The following excerpt from Tchalaï’s main work on the Tarot, Les Empreintes de l’Invisible – “Traces of the Invisible”, presents the  opening section on how to work with the Tarot based on a methodical, logical approach, without a priori. It may be considered as the extension or a more thorough development of the previous post here. This piece deals with considering the cards ab initio, without reference to any other system, nor to any so-called received ideas one may happen to have concerning the Tarot, or any deck of cards for that matter. As such, it directly challenges our preconceptions and forces us to confront the Tarot deck with a new pair of eyes and with a mind cleansed of clichés and commonplaces.

Les Empreintes de l’Invisible

Opening Pandora’s Box



In order to avoid harming ourselves with the secrets of perfection, let us tackle them with prudence, slowness and perseverance, without letting our attention or our pace slacken, without leaving behind us the least word we have not understood.

Do not be surprised if this chapter is written in a heavy-handed, didactic, almost spoken, manner, according to the mode of thought and logical, precise observation. Follow it step by step, consulting your deck all the while.

Procure for yourself a set of the Ancient Tarot of Marseilles produced by Grimaud, reference number 394 403.

Take the cards in hand. Place them in a pile. Turn them over. Look at them any way you like for ten minutes. Count them: 78. Measure them: their real size is 12.3 cm by 6.5 cm. A rectangular line drawing one millimetre wide delineates the contents of each card: 11.6 cm by 5.7 cm on the inside of the line, that is, almost exactly a double square.

One principle: number, image, name (or absence thereof) have a significance. No one card is less important or interesting than another. All of them count in the system of combinations and permutations.

Lay down the 78 cards of the Tarot. Let us forget everything we know – or think we know – about them. Let us approach these cards much as children in nursery school play with differently shaped blocks, putting them together, cubes with cubes, balls with balls, like with like. There is no need for us to give them a meaning or to derive a teaching therefrom just yet. At the same time as we see the laws which govern this set of cards appear, we may begin to form a logical approach, and it is a game!

Once we have put together the cards which are formed of the same parts, we can distinguish four general subsets.

The Great Square

We see here a group of figures with, below the image, a space bearing a name. There are four such functions: King, Queen, Valet and Horseman. There are four families: Cup, Sword, Staff and Coins. Let us immediately note that Coins is in the plural form and let us keep this particularity in mind since it may have a bearing later on.

Place the cards so as to see at a glance the four functions (for instance, horizontally) and the four families (for instance, vertically, although the reverse is just as legitimate).

For mnemonic reasons, for the functional handling of the cards, and even though the Tarot does not explicitly give them a name, I call this group The Great Square.

The Four Tools

Another subset is composed of four cards which have neither name nor number, nor even a space for same. They solely depict a large object, not a person, one per card, and for practical reasons, even though the Tarot does not give them a name, we shall call them The Four Tools.

The Technical Bloc

We also see a certain number of cards depicting objects (thirty-six, to be precise) which are not named but which are numbered. The number is placed to the side of the card, except in one series which depicts regular, circular objects in growing number, and which is not numbered. We may, for the sake of convenience, even though the Tarot does not give them a name, call them Coins by analogy with the tool which is held by the King, Queen, Valet and Horseman of Coins of the Great Square. Let us note the absence of numbers.

This subset, or at least three of the four of the series of this subset, are numbered as follows: II, III, IIII, V, VI, VII, VIII, VIIII, X.

Looking more closely, we can see that in two of the series, the number (placed on the side) is to be read from the centre of the card. That is to say, we can only decipher the card by placing oneself within its centre. In another series, the series can only be deciphered by placing oneself outside it. This series depicts a growing number of yellow goblets or cups. By analogy with the tool held by the group of figures from the Great Square, even though the Tarot does not give them a name, we can call this series that of Cup. Moreover, we can group together these 4 series as one set and call it The Technical Bloc. Later, we shall see that it may be read like a comic strip (without the speech bubbles! Objects cannot speak…)

The Cards of the Journey

To recap, we find three subsets based on the number four:

4 x 1: The Four Tools

4 x 4: The Great Square

4 x 9 (from II to X): The Technical Bloc

There remains one further subset, thus giving us a total of four sets!

One subset consists of cards containing an image, without name or number (The Four Tools); another, an image and a name (The Great Square); another, an image and a number (The Technical Bloc). The group we have not yet examined contains: image, name and number. For this reason, it is thus the most complex part of the Tarot.

For the sake of convenience, even though the Tarot does not give it a specific name, we shall call it the Cards of the Journey, because maps (and even visiting cards) are always a sign of identification and of recognition when travelling. [1] As to geographical maps, they offer us a workable approach to the territory we wish to explore and allow us to choose a route when travelling.

We have thus grouped together these twenty-two cards as they present the same characteristics: they have an image, and are numbered from I to XXI in a space situated above the image itself. This subset is quite pleasing because the figures appear familiar to us (more so than those of the Great Square), as do their names, except when they are surprising: what could a God-House be? Furthermore, these numbers indicate an order; we are used to using this order in our everyday life. The only problem is the card containing an image, a space with the name “The Mate,” and a space above the image.. without number. Where should we place this card?

Mating the Mate! [2]

One of the procedures used in the study of a set consists of comparing the part of the set that differs from the others to every other part in order to spot analogies. (In fact, this is exactly what we did by grouping the cards together earlier, thus discovering the four “modes” or subsets.)

Consider the Mate. Is there another card which draws our attention in an analogous manner? The answer is obviously yes. There is another card which has an image, a space containing the number XIII… but neither name nor a space to contain the name (not even on the side, like the Valet of Coins of the Great Square). When we look at the Mate, we notice that the upper space is empty, but the space itself exists. Therefore, the Mate does have a number. Perhaps this number is to be found elsewhere. And we may begin by examining more closely the particularity of this card numbered XIII, which cannot have a name.

Let us compare the images of these two cards, incomplete with respect to the other cards of the Journey, but their design tells us that they are clearly a part of this group. If we compare the figures, we immediately notice they are analogous: both figures are stepping forward towards their left, the one leaning on a sort of yellow handle (attached to a red blade), the other on a solid walking stick. Both stick and handle are at a similar angle and are both of the same yellow colour. The figures are not totally superimposable, but their postures are very similar indeed.

Let us put forth the hypothesis that both cards can be paired together. We would then have one card, bearing the number XIII and the name the Mate, and whose image would be blurred or doubled up. We could have given the Mate the number XIII, but this number already exists, it has already been “taken,” which leads us to place the Mate behind XIII rather than in front of it.

This is but a hypothesis, but it confirms the other hypotheses we have proposed. We can thus provisionally pair together the Mate and XIII, until something else appears which would negate this hypothesis.

Needless to say, the Tarot does not name XIII, and this by a remarkable peculiarity. Therefore, we shall not name it either, not even for practical reasons. To do so would be to introduce a serious error into the observation, logic and efficiency of the system.

[1] In French, carte means both “card” and “map.” – Ed.

[2] In French, Mater le Mat, literally, “taming (or watching, in slang) the Mate.” The wording has been changed to preserve the alliteration and wordplay. – Ed.
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