Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Denis de Rougemont: The Tarot and the Four Loves

Translator’s Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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The Four Suits of Love

Denis de Rougemont

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

The Four Loves

Spade ♠

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

Heart ♥

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

Club ♣

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

Diamond ♦

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


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

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

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

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Read the original French here.

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The Tarot and Love

Translator’s Introduction

Although the majority of the material translated and published here to date has been either of an intellectual, speculative nature, or conversely, a practical, rational working methodology, we have not neglected the more mundane and down-to-earth materials dealing with cartomancy and fortune-telling forasmuch. Effectively, in the popular literature of the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, one sometimes encounters writings which, for one reason or another, are interesting or entertaining, and therefore worth presenting to a wider readership.

The following piece, by one pseudonymous “Professor Swastis”, was published in what was known as the “feminine press”, where said prognosticator held a weekly column for a number of years during the 1930s, dealing with matters of divination, magic, dreams, etc., in a light-hearted, anecdotal manner, yet one which did not eschew the odd classical or literary allusion, as the following excerpt shows. While most books on cartomancy give at least token “divinatory meanings” for each card for a number of domains of human activity, the overt sexual mores of this interpretation from the 1930s may be somewhat unexpected for contemporary readers.

As such, this piece, the only one by this author to deal with the issue of the Tarot which we are aware of, will provide readers with a snapshot of one facet of the cartomantic literature of the early twentieth century, and may well prove useful to some. Incidentally, “Swastis” later made good on his promise to write more on divination with ordinary playing cards, setting out a rough series of half a dozen or more articles, which may also be published here in due course.

As to the reading methodology involved, although the author says that only the major arcana will be used, it is clear from the instructions that the entire deck is to be shuffled and drawn from, but that only the remaining majors will determine the reading. This piece was published as “Le Tarot et l’Amour,” Séduction, 27 July, 1935, p. 6. The original may be read on the French news archive here.

Three of Swords, Sola Busca Tarot, ~1490.

The Tarot and Love

Professor Swastis

“A pack of cards is a book of adventure, of the kind called romances. It is so far superior to other books of a similar kind that it can be made and read at the same time, and that it is not necessary to have brains to make it, nor knowledge of reading to read it. It is a marvellous work, also, in that it offers a regular and new sense every time its pages are shuffled. It is a contrivance never to be too much admired, because out of mathematical principles it extracts thousands on thousands of curious combinations, and so many singular affinities that it is believed, contrary to all truth, that in it are discoverable the secrets of hearts, the mystery of destinies and the arcanum of the future.”

Who speaks thusly? Our good master Jérôme Coignard, in The Queen Pedauque. (1) And who would this surprise? Anatole France drew the best part of his book from a hermetic work, The Count of Gabalis by Montfaucon de Villars. And since we are in such good company, why would I hesitate to talk to you of cards and their mysteries today, concerning matters of love? Space is lacking, I am afraid, to give you a proper manual of cartomancy. One would need a large volume. I shall therefore limit myself to providing some pointers on a subject which fascinates both you and I: Love.

As to that “singular novel” mentioned by the abbé Coignard, there are two decks: the Tarot and the ordinary deck of piquet playing cards. You must by now be thinking that my complete preference tends towards the Tarot. For the initiate, the Tarot of the Bohemians, with its 78 cards, or arcana, sums up the whole of the secret science. We can use them to read the future. Yet again, we can also use them to meditate on the mysteries of creation. The cabalistic wisdom, the wisdom of India, the Atlantean traditions, all find themselves condensed within the Tarot. And if you truly want to develop a more accurate intuition of your future, do not hesitate: buy a deck of Tarot cards.

Twenty-two of its cards (the same number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet) represent mysterious figures, veritable little portraits, depicting a central figure. These are the Major Arcana, as opposed to the other cards, decorated with cups, staffs, coins, and swords, and which are known as Minor Arcana.

Let us limit ourselves, for the time being, to the major arcana. You know the ritual: cut the deck with the left hand. Next, randomly draw five cards.

With the five cards laid out before us, remove the minor arcana. What remains of the major arcana will speak to us of love. And what if nothing remains? It means that the oracle is mute. To insist would be perfectly useless.

Each card bears its name inscribed beneath the figure. They do not all speak of love. Let us just look at those that are connected to it.

The second is the Popess. She announces solemn and platonic love. The third, the Empress, must I wish it upon you? It indicates fertile loves. The winners of the Cognacq Prize must have it in their hand of cards. (2)

The sixth is called the Lover. Wonderful omen, one might think. Indeed. It only expresses hesitation, or fickle hearts.

The seventh arcanum, the Chariot, is the sign of amorous triumph. In particular, it points to those of untiring temperament, of those who put into practice the words of the poet: “Put your work twenty times upon the anvil.” (3) Twenty times? Try four times to begin with, which would not be so bad.

The twelfth arcanum, on the contrary, is an evil sign. It depicts a man hanging by his feet. Alas! It portends one of those tenacious loves, the kind one can never extricate oneself from. The unfortunate women who fall upon a jealous man, in the lottery of love, always have this card in their reading.

The thirteenth? Death, as we sing in Carmen! Do not trust a vain appearance. This card is not always to be feared. It sometimes announces the end of an affair. But death is the sister of love. More often, it then expresses a complete change of existence. A resurrection: another love.

The Devil, the fifteenth arcanum, expresses the forces of nature. Temperament, if you prefer. And temperament in the sense it is taken by lovers. One would not be bored with a [female] querent who draws this card. Of all the devils, the only one I might wish upon you to pull by the tail, is that of the Tarot.

On the contrary, the sixteenth arcanum, the Tower [MaisonDieu], is always an evil sign. It is the crumbling of passion, its destruction under the weight of infidelity and disillusion. Let us move along quickly…

To fall into a no less negative arcanum, so to say: the Moon. It indicates easy pitfalls, you know, “without knowing how”, the kind of falls that may have nasty consequences. When the little god, as our ancestors said, has stung you with a poisoned arrow…

The Sun, the nineteenth arcanum, is, on the contrary, the card I wish upon you in preference to all others. Success, shared love. If it accompanies the tenth arcanum, the Wheel of Fortune, it points to love, wealth, and the most refined delights. By itself, the Wheel of Fortune foretells success.

Finally, the last arcanum, the Fool, announces what may well be the best of love: that of flings of no lasting consequence, as good friends…

Another time, we will set aside the Tarot, the cards of the sages, and pick up the deck of ordinary playing cards. It “speaks” less, but it is within everyone’s grasp.

– Professor Swastis


  1. Novel by Anatole France, published in 1893, and translated and published in English in 1910, and again, in 1922. See chapter XVII for the foregoing quote. Incidentally, Gabalis was republished in 1931 by René-Louis Doyon and Paul Marteau, director of Grimaud, and included a study detailing the relations between the two works.
  2. Prize founded by a wealthy couple, who could not have children of their own, awarded to those families with a large number of children.
  3. Boileau (1636-1711).

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