Traditional Tarot

Desultory Notes on the Tarot

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Patrice Boussel: The Great Game

Translator’s Introduction

A further entry in Patrice Boussel’s Manuel de la Superstition deals with cartomancy proper, and more specifically, with the card ‘spread’ entitled Le Grand Jeu, which may be translated literally as The Great Game, as we have done here, and which also exists as an expression, appropriately derived from gambling, and which means “to go for broke,” “to go all in,” or to make a “supreme attempt,” as noted by René-Louis Doyon. This expression also lent its name to the eponymous literary and artistic movement, loosely led by René Daumal, and which evolved on the margins of Surrealism. Finally, the term also served as title for a famous 1934 film by Jacques Feyder, in which a card reading plays a pivotal role in the plot. The genesis of the term is examined in depth by Malcolm Yapp in his lecture, ‘The Legend of the Great Game’, in the British Academy 2000 Lectures and Memoirs, pp. 179-198. The perceptive reader will note the intriguing literary indications in the last paragraph, an allusion, it would appear, to the writing technique of the French Symbolist author Paul Adam.

This little outline of cartomancy using a piquet deck is largely culled from the classic work on the subject by Boiteau d’Ambly, Les cartes à jouer: et la cartomancie, published in 1854 and itself largely based on the works of Etteilla as far as the section on divination is concerned.

* * *

The Great Game

Patrice Boussel

The art of reading the cards, that is, to predict the future by means of cards, bears the learned name of cartomancy. Cartomancy is practiced with the thirty-two cards of a deck of ordinary piquet playing cards, or with the seventy-eight cards of a tarot pack. What we ordinarily understand by the Great Game, is the use of the set of cards of one of these decks with a view towards knowing events in the near or distant future. The meaning of each of them is giving by correcting its traditional value by its neighbouring cards and by its position within the set of the spread. The complexity of the Tarot deck and the difficulty of certain symbolic interpretations means that amateurs who wish to know their future or that of their friends generally content themselves with the thirty-two cards with which they play belote.

We may also use the Great Game to find out if a marriage will be successful, if we may count on an inheritance, if a lawsuit will be favourable, of a voyage will be a happy one, etc. In each case, it will be necessary to pay particular attention to certain cards corresponding to the subject: the dark or fair-haired gentleman will be the king of clubs or of hearts, a profitable death will be the ace of spades upside-down, the ace of hearts may bring some news, etc.

The most classic method of distributing the cards is as follows: after having shuffled the deck thoroughly, have the querent cut the deck using the left hand. Count the cards from the pack and take out the seventh, the fourteenth, etc. … by always placing the intermediate six cards at the bottom of the deck. Continue this operation until twelve cards have been taken out and spread in a circular arc from left to right, in the order they were picked. Check if the consultant is represented within these twelve cards (a king, a jack, or a queen, according to whether it is a man, a young man, or a woman; spades or hearts according to whether the person is dark or fair-haired).

If the card representing the interested party is not among the twelve cards, find it in the remaining pack and place it after the twelfth card. Otherwise, have the querent pick a thirteenth card from among the twenty remaining cards. The interpretation may then begin.

First of all, give a summary interpretation of the entire spread, then, going from the card which depicts the querent, analyse the cards encountered by counting off five by five until one reaches the starting point. Finally, in order to obtain further supplementary interpretations, have the querent draw a card, face down, from the remaining pack, for each of the thirteen cards whose meaning is still obscure. It will be possible to continue in this way until the pack has been completely used up.

In the exceptional case where all has not been made clear, we may yet again take the first thirteen cards, shuffle them, have the querent cut them once again with the left hand, then arrange them face down in six piles (for the person, for the home, for one’s expectations, for what does not wish for, for the surprise, for one’s consolation), by proceeding in this way: spread the first six cards from left to right; on the second round, place a card over the first five; on the third, place the two last cards on the first and second pile. Each pile is then turned over and explained.

Another method consists of having the querent shuffle and cut the deck with the left hand, then pick twelve cards, face down, in turn, and place them one after the other from top to bottom, from left to right. There are turned over in the same order in such a way as to obtain a sort of square. If the querent’s card is not present in the draw, look for his card in the pile and place it in a row more or less corresponding to its position in the pile, turning from right to left, starting from the highest card, called the card of destiny. After having given the greater outline of the future such as it is symbolised by the spread, shuffle the remaining pile, have it cut (using the left hand) and four new cards are drawn by the querent. The first will be placed on the card of destiny; the second on the card of the home (below); the third on the card of consolation (to the left); and the fourth on that of surprise (to the right). Supplementary information is given by the rest of the spread.

In general, hearts and clubs are good and happy signs; diamonds and spades bad and signs of misfortune. The court cards of hearts and diamonds announce blonde or fair-haired people; the court cards of clubs or spades dark-haired people.

The meaning of the eight cards in the four series is as follows:

  • The king of hearts is an honourable man who seeks to help you; reversed, his loyal intentions will be stopped.
  • The queen of hearts is an honest and generous woman from whom you may expect help; reversed, it means delays in your hopes.
  • The jack of hearts is a decent young man, often a soldier, who will join your family and who hopes to help you; reversed, he will be prevented from doing so.
  • The ace of hearts heralds pleasant news; it represents a meal between friends if it is surrounded by court cards.
  • The ten of hearts is a surprise that will bring great joy.
  • The nine of hearts promises reconciliation or tightens the bonds of friendship.
  • The eight promises satisfaction from one’s children.
  • The seven of hearts announces a good marriage.
  • The king of diamonds is a rather important man who is thinking of causing you trouble, and who will cause you trouble if he is reversed.
  • The queen of diamonds is a wicked woman who speaks ill of you, and who will cause you harm if she is reversed.
  • The jack of diamonds is a soldier or the mailman bringing bad news. Reversed, there will be no mail.
  • The ace of diamonds announces a letter.
  • The ten, an important and unexpected voyage.
  • The nine, delays where money or good deeds are concerned.
  • The eight, bad news or business propositions.
  • The seven, arguments or a surprise if it is accompanied by hearts.
  • The king of spades is a doctor or a lawyer; he may announce a serious illness or an unsuccessful trial.
  • The queen of spades is a widow or divorcee. Reversed, she will cheat you.
  • The jack is a young man, a spy or a traitor. Reversed, he will not be able to harm you.
  • The ace heralds a victory or great sadness; reversed, it announces a bereavement.
  • The ten, night time.
  • The nine, delays in business, or death.
  • The eight, bad news or tears.
  • The seven heralds arguments, troubles, losses.
  • The king of clubs is a powerful, fair, man, who may become a protector. Reversed, his good intentions will undergo a delay.
  • The queen is a dark-haired woman who loves you. Reversed, she will be jealous.
  • The jack of clubs promises a marriage, which will only take place after numerous difficulties if he is reversed.
  • The ace heralds gains, incoming money, and reversed, theft.
  • The ten of clubs is a sign of fortune, of inheritance.
  • The nine, of success.
  • The eight, of founded hopes.
  • The seven, of weakness or of thinking of someone else.

The individual significance of each card remains necessarily vague, it only gives but a general theme, and it is indispensable to know the card or cards which precede it in order to give an interpretation of the spread. Always according to tradition, the following sequences number among the more important:

  • Four kings in a row: honour; three: success in business and protection; two: good advice or rivalry between men.
  • Four queens: Lots of gossip, anger and backbiting; three: cheating and jealousy; two: friendship.
  • Four jacks: success or laziness; three: complications; two: arguments or forthcoming marriage.
  • Four aces: success or a death; three: libertinage or sentimental success; two: enmity or hesitation.
  • Four tens: success; three: change of state; two: loss.
  • Four nines: good deeds; three: troubles and hardships; two: troubles.
  • Four eights: success; three: marriage or abandonment; two: troubles.
  • Four sevens: intriguers; three: entertainment; two: small news or pregnancy.

Etteilla, who had great success in cartomancy a little under two centuries ago, has given many examples of interpretation. Thus, “for some undertaking or other, one needs the four aces and the nine of hearts for success. If the nine of spades comes out, it will not succeed.”

“If one wishes to know whether a child will do well, and if he will keep his inheritance: the four aces form a guarantee of property, and a marriage proportional to his sentiments, and if it is a young lady, she needs the four eights and the king of hearts, which will herald peace and harmony in her marriage.”

“To know how much delay a couple will have for their wedding, either by year, by month, or by week: the queen of spades will find herself with the queen of hearts. Every other eight will be so many years of delay; every nine will be so many months; every seven will be so many weeks.”

“To know whether a man will find success in the military: the four kings must find themselves with the four tens, and if by chance the four aces are also in there, then he will reach the highest grades, according to his capacity.”

“For a change of place, or of any state whatsoever: the person, master, mistress, or servant: if it is a master or mistress, one needs the four jacks, the ten and the eight of diamonds, and the ten of clubs for success. If a nine of diamonds is in there, it signifies delays. If it is a servant, he needs the ten and the seven of diamonds, the eight of spades, and the four queens for success.”

Divination by means of cards thus finds itself helped by solid and detailed traditions. If the querent shows good faith and if the person reading the Great Game has some talent, or if it is accepted that they possess some sort of second sight, very often it can happen that some astonishing predictions can be made.

It can also happen that this great means of raising the veil which hides the future may be in the wrong, but there is one case in which it can prove to be most useful, and in which the cartomancer will never be wrong, it is the that of the novelist struggling to continue the story of his characters’ adventures. When an author of serialised novels finds himself in a difficult situation, when he does not know what will become of his heroine, or how his hero will resolve the problem in question, what new devilment his opponent will come up with, the most elegant solution, the one that will be assuredly place him in tune with his readers, will be to draw the cards for each of the children of his imagination. He will thus discover the real next instalment of his story, and without any fatigue, without any possible error, he will know the future.

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Daniel Giraud: The Tarot: Mirror of the World

“The self-emancipation of our time is an emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth.” – Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.


Translator’s Introduction

This early article by the noted astrologer-poet Daniel Giraud on the subject of the Tarot provides not only a concise overview of various methods of drawing the cards in order to obtain comprehensible answers, but also, a taste of things to come. One will note, in addition to the classic “spreads” derived from the works of influential authors, the spreads designed by analogy with other systems of divination (astrology, geomancy), and those inspired by the dialectical method (triad, cross).

(The above illustration did not accompany the article in question, but appeared in another issue of the same ephemeral journal.)

* * *

The Tarot: Mirror of the World

On some Methods of Drawing the Arcana…

Daniel Giraud

To interpret the Arcana of the Tarot, whose significations are oriented according to their positions, is a matter of mastering as much as possible the significance of the values of these arcana. Whence the absurdity of such a text describing the divinatory practices of the Tarot without being able to deepen its profound symbolism within a few pages. (1)

The game of Tarot appeared around the time of the Renaissance; its origins, arising in various esoteric traditions whose transmission is attributed to the Gypsies, is lost in the medieval world of Eastern Europe. The 78 cards of the Tarot of Marseille seem nevertheless to be the most traditional.

Of the 56 minor arcana derive the game of ordinary playing cards, where one plays while being played. The Tarot also exists as a “game,” but we are here concerned with the great game: the game of life. And the divinatory Tarot is in resonance with what is named “Destiny.”

The Tarot as wisdom or divination consists essentially of 22 cards, even though it is possible to interpret the minor arcana. In each arcanum resides a great arcanum, a great secret, an archetype, as the moderns say. Thus the 22 major cards reunite a multiplicity of possibilities proceeding from the infinite and universal possibility.

In each card, everything is a sign: the positions of the figures (2), the colours (3), the subjects and objects depicted, etc…. Everything is an invitation to a voyage with multiple routes, marked out by the numbers of the cards, and a number of combinations are possible…

Within a global view, the most appropriate arrangement of the cards (4) appears to me to be that of the wheel… So the TAROT sets into rotation the cogs of the ROTA, the zodiacal circle, the Wheel of Life whose centre is the key. Thus, the 22nd card, the Fool, finds his just place: 22 or 0 (before the Juggler). Each arcanum may then be considered as a complementary value of the opposing arcanum, and the dialectic significance becomes clear.

For divinatory purposes, here is a résumé of the different systems of obtaining answers to questions posed:

With 78 Cards:

1. The Arc of Two times 7 Cards

7 major cards then 7 minor cards are drawn and placed below them, without turning them over. The querent indicates one of the major cards, and starting from this card, one counts, 1, then 2, and so on until the fifth card, which will begin the reading. The card is turned over, and one continues by counting off 5 each time. The last arcanum turned over will be the first one indicated.

2. The Arc of Two times 15 Cards

15 cards are drawn, and interpreted from right to left. The operation is repeated by placing another 15 cards below the first set. Then, the arcana are interpreted in pairs (the arcana above with the ones below). A variant of this method uses only 2 times 12 cards.

3. The Cross of 15 Cards

15 cards are drawn and placed thusly: 3 in the centre, 3 above, 3 below, 3 to the left, and 3 to the right. The arcana in the centre concern the current life of the querent. Those above, the answer to the question. Those below show the consequences. Those to the left, sentimental life. Those to the right, professional life.

4. The 7 Stacks

The querent cuts the deck 6 times to obtain 7 cards. The cards of each stack are then turned over, and the cards are read in the order in which the arcana have come out. This is repeated until the smallest stack is finished.

5. The 2 Stacks of 39 Cards

The entire deck is cut once. By turning over the 2 resulting stacks, each card from one stack is simultaneously interpreted with that of the other stack. And so on. In the beginning, it will concern the querent’s current situation, then progressively, the evolution of his existence.

6. The 3-Card Triangle

3 cards are drawn. The first, to the left, corresponds to the positive (inversely to the meanings of the positions of the figures since the situation of the place where the card is placed corresponds to the querent), the second to the right, represents the negative, and the third card represents the transcendence of opposites.

7. The 5-Card Cross

According to the method of Oswald Wirth. 5 cards are drawn and placed to the left (For), to the right (Against), below (the Sentence), above (the Judgment). The addition of the numbers of these 4 cards produces a fifth card, placed in the centre (the Synthesis). If the number exceeds 22, it is again reduced by the addition of its numbers, and if the number indicates a card already drawn, that card is set aside from the calculation to include only the three others.

8. The Cross of 10 or 15 Cards

5 cards are drawn and placed in the centre, to the right, below, to the left, and above. The operation is repeated once or twice, placing the new cards above the old ones. In the centre is the synthesis, above is the social situation, to the right, relations with others, below, the querent’s possibilities, and to the left, the signs of his destiny.

9. The Circle of 13 Cards

13 cards are drawn, the first in the centre is always the synthesis, the 12 others are placed in a circle and correspond to the values of the astrological houses.

10. The Geomantic Chart of 15 Cards

15 cards are drawn and disposed according to the geomantic chart. Each arcanum is to be read in relation to the 12 geomantic houses, to the Witnesses and to the Judge.

11. The Astrological Chart of 12 Cards

12 cards are drawn, placed in a circle, and read according to the astrological houses.

These last two methods may be completed with the use of the minor arcana (and multiple rules – not – to be followed are often described by the fortune-tellers).

In conclusion, there is no one method, no recipe for the universal panacea. There is no chance and the cards drawn always have a significance that break out of the framework we would give them.

The Tarot is not only a support for divination but awakens the cosmic intuition. We find ourselves in the presence of a materialisation of the soul of the world, where men see themselves as in a mirror. It is a reflection of the universal Man, through, for instance, astrological and alchemical esotericism.

But this then concerns the man of knowledge, the hermetic philosophy of the sage, and no longer the unveiling of the future by the fortune-teller…


1. Refer to the bibliography…
2. Evidently, a seated figure is passive, and standing, active, but interpretation involves symbols. Thus, the connected symbolism is in motion, and the Tarot being a mirror of the world inverts the directions… Thus, a person we see turned to the left (the left of the querent, of the being) reflects a material role (for it is to the right of the tarotic-cosmic figure). And inversely, since the Tarot is the projection of the unconscious collective, as the psychoanalysts say.
3. The colour symbolism is, of course, as it was understood in the Middle Ages. Apart from the flesh colour, we find blue (life), red (love), yellow (revelation), and green (wisdom).
4. Even though the systems of Armand Barbault and Dr Belbèze are ingenious.


Anonymous: Jeux de cartes, Tarots et cartes numérales du XIVe siècle, Crapelet, 1844.
Armand Barbault: L’Art de Prédire l’Avenir, Niclaus, 1950.
J.-G. Bourgeat: Le Tarot, Éditions Traditionnelles, 2004.
Edmond Delcamp: Le Tarot, Initiatique, Symbolique et Ésotérique, Courrier du Livre, 2012.
Hadès: Manuel Complet d’Interprétation du Tarot, Éditions Hadès, 1997.
Paul Marteau: Le Tarot de Marseille, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1949.
Joseph Maxwell: Le Tarot : Le Symbole, les Arcanes, la Divination, Archè, 1984.
Eudes Picard: Manuel Synthétique et Pratique du Tarot, Daragon, 1909.
Gérard Van Rijnberk: Le Tarot : Histoire, Iconographie, Ésotérisme, Dervy, 2019.
Oswald Wirth: Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen-Âge, Tchou, 2014.

Articles & Brief Texts:
Dr Belbèze: “Cartomancie et Métagnomie”, Revue Métapsychique, n° 3, mai-juin 1927.
J.-M. Lhôte: Shakespeare dans les Tarots et autres lieux, revue Bizarre, n° 43-44, juin 1967.
G. Le Scouëzec: “Le Tarot Symbolique”, in L’Encyclopédie de la Divination, Tchou, 1964.
M. Verneuil: Dictionnaire Pratique des Sciences Occultes, Les Documents d’Art, 1950.

Le Voile d’Isis, numéro spécial sur Le Tarot, 1928.

Decks of Cards:

Grimaud: Ancien Tarot de Marseille
Crowley: Thoth Tarot deck
Wirth: Golden Wirth Tarot Grand Trumps
Visconti Tarot
Classic (Muller) Tarot

As to the works of the popularisers Papus, Muchéry, Etteilla etc., their value appears very doubtful…

Daniel Giraud, ”Le Tarot, Miroir du Monde, ou de quelques méthodes pour sous-tirer les Arcanes…” Cosmose n° 2, 1977.

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