Excerpts from
Clef Universelle des Sciences Secrètes
(The Universal Key of the Secret Sciences)
Pierre Piobb (1874-1942)
Translator’s Introduction
P. V. Piobb, pseudonym of Pierre Vincenti, was a Corsican aristocrat and prominent French occultist of the first half of the twentieth century. In his writings, Piobb sought to explicit, in a rational and quasi-scientific manner, the structural bases of esotericism; astrology, most notably, but also geomancy, alchemy, magic, myth, symbolism, the writings of Trithemius and Nostradamus, and, to a lesser extent, the Tarot.
In terms of the Tarot, if the name of Pierre Piobb is known at all in this connection, it is on account of the table of correspondences included in his compendious work the Formulaire de Haute Magie (Formulary of High Magic), a set of correspondences which later had a major influence in the Spanish Tarot world through the work of Maritxu de Güler. (Incidentally, it is worth noting that although Piobb indicates his source for these correspondences to be the work of Paul Christian, only the titles coined by the latter have been retained, the astrological correspondences being those of Piobb himself.)
Yet this is possibly the least important facet of his writings on the Tarot, a minor and incidental corollary restricted to a single table, rather than the wholly innovative, and so to speak, visionary conception of the Tarot hinted at in the excerpt presented below. In effect, Piobb’s enduring legacy, in Tarot terms, is to have been the first to enounce the novel idea that the 22 trump cards of the Tarot correspond to the 22 regular polygons which may be inscribed within a circle, an idea which would later have a decisive influence on the French esotericists/philosophers, Raymond Abellio and Jean Carteret, in their respective hypercubic structural arrangements of the 22 Tarot trumps.
This book, the Clef Universelle des Sciences Secrètes or Universal Key of the Secret Sciences, is as yet untranslated into English. It consists of a synthetic overview of what the author calls the sacred or secret sciences, to wit, astrology, alchemy, magic, symbolism, and mythology, based largely on the works of Trithemius, and which makes extensive use of number and geometric symbolism. The eponymous “universal key” is the skeleton key which opens the door to each of the foregoing sciences.
This text, excerpted as it is from a much larger work, consists of the two relatively brief entries on the Tarot in what is effectively the major work on what may be termed “esoteric structuralism.” As such, some context is necessarily lacking, and a certain mathematical grounding is required in order to fully understand the points being made. That said, it is worth exploring the ideas expressed in this piece with an open mind, and rendering to this precursor his due.
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The Tarot
What is designated by the name Tarot is a deck of cards composed of 22 cards independent of the suits, and called the Major Arcana, and of 56 Minor Arcana which are divided into four “suits” of Swords, Staffs, Cups and Coins. The 22 Major Arcana correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and thus to the 22 regular polygons. Each suit consists of a King, Queen, Knight and Valet, which, being repeated four times, correspond to the figures of Geomancy. Next come the numbers 1-10 in each suit, which allows us to count to 10,000 owing to the multiples referring to each suit. But we could further extend the multiplication to the number corresponding to each Major Arcana. The Tarot is thus an instrument for teaching calculation. The Major Arcana are generally symbolised by figures which have no other aim than to remind one of the initiatory value of each of the polygons to which they refer. All of the methods that cartomancy recommends to “draw the cards” are superstitious in that they correspond to nothing rational, nor to anything that relates to the conceptions of the Secret Sciences. The deck of cards currently used for playing are derived from the Tarot by the elimination of various cards and by graphic transposition of the suits. […]
A lot has been said about the Tarot. The symbolism of which this game is incontestably imbued has spilled a lot of ink. Must I say that the various considerations, remarks, hypotheses and explanations which have been posited and disseminated correspond to nothing rational? Without in the world wishing to criticise this abundance of sincere effort, it must be said that, in this regard, very little has been gained, other than some insights which reverie may profit from, but which scarcely begins to satisfy reason.
Everyone has seen that the Tarot is composed of 22 symbolic figures, designated under the label of “Major Arcana” and of 56 other cards designated “Minor Arcana.” It was not difficult to see that the 22 Major Arcana were equal in number to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But no one had noticed that the latter merely constituted, in Kabbalah, a series of markers to indicate the details of a set which had nothing in common with the writing of these letters; they lost themselves in hypotheses when they did not fall into superstition. As to the 56 Minor Arcana, no seeker has doubted that they are composed of 4 times 4 figures – which we know as King, Queen, Knight and Valet – and 4 times 10 numerical expressions ordered by Swords, Staffs, Cups and Coins.
Yet it is a simple matter; the Tarot is formed of:
- 22 representations of the figurative numbers, those which are “figured” by the polygons corresponding to a polygon of 360 sides and of which the number of sides are necessarily the factors of this number 360;
- 16 figures which are none other than the 16 so-called geomantic figures, whose role remains evidently mysterious, but which finds itself susceptible to an elucidation that is as perfect as all the rest; – these 16 figures are divided into groups of 4 (King, Queen, Knight, Valet) repeated 4 times, according to the symbolic distribution of the arithmetic numbers in series of 10 (a distribution giving rise to the suits of the cards.)
- 40 arithmetic numbers, divided into units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, designated by the symbolic labels of Swords, Staffs, Cups and Coins.
But, seen in this way, the Tarot constitutes a perfectly practical instrument of calculation to apply the mathematical laws of the science of symbolism.
First of all, the 22 Major Arcana will serve in the geometric distribution because each of them represents one of the 22 polygons of this Universal Key of the Secret Sciences.
Next, the 16 figures, traditionally declared geomantic, facilitate the spatial distribution necessary to specify the ordered modality. These 16 figures effectively proceed from a polygon with as many sides and which subdivides the octagon in such a way as to rationally increase the precision on a compass wind-rose, according to which every horizon – thus all space – usually receives its specification. Even though the 16-sided polygon does not enter into the system of 22 polygons we have just mentioned, – because the number 16 is not a factor of 360 – it is nevertheless the complementary figuration of a number whose spatial character is, in terms of symbolism, particularly useful in every respect.
Then, the 40 Minor Arcana, which are numerical, allow to distribute, following the decimal system, the symbols which emerge from the polygonal constructions which the compass rose detailed by the geomantic figures will have suitably distributed – in such a way that the arithmetic number will effectively preside to all symbolic presentation.
That the Tarot, no more than Geomancy, has been used for fortune-telling is no reason not to see the profound science employed in its design. That the cards serve as a game for entertainment is likewise no reason not to consider them scientifically reasoned.
In the Tarot – which involves spatial division by Geomancy – there is the entire Science of Symbolism.
When we state that the 40-sided polygon – divisor of the decimal series into eight pentagons – constitutes the basis of symbolism, we think, in conformity with Reason, that there is the necessity in daily life to conceal the elements of this mechanical determinism of the Universe by means of symbols only understood by initiates.
There is nothing surprising that the calculator used to do so – namely, the Tarot – has a symbolic appearance. […]
Here, the number is lord of the domain. It is the number one must listen to. It is the number that instructs and enlightens. It provides the elements of complete elucidation. It is the Universal Key – the Key sought after so much, the one which opens every door, such as has been believed to have disappeared when the loss of Tradition was lamented.
Number, here, has a figurative character. It has its graphic – polygonal – representation. And by the combinations of the geometric figures, a system is elaborated – the system of the 22 polygons – whence, if one wishes and if one has the strength, we might derive a doctrine.
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Note
It must be noted that, if 1 and 2 are factors of 360, they do not constitute geometric figures. In his Formulary, Piobb writes: “The correspondence of the Hebrew letters with the figurative numbers stems from the fact that the number 360 (which is the number of degrees in the circumference) has 24 divisors, of which, however, the numbers 1 and 2 must be excluded as not being figurative. Effectively, it is impossible to construct a one- or two-sided polygon, and the polygonal series thus begins with the number 3.”
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For more on Piobb and his work (in French) see this dedicated website .
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