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Tarot suits and playing cards suits : differences between english and french


Hello,

This is a thread that I have though of many times, and never come around to write yet.... but it's now or never

I often read, in english language tarot books, that if the tarot suits could be related to playing cards suits, it would be like that :

Cups - hearts
Wands - clubs
Pentacles - diamonds
Swords - spades

For me, with my french culture and my background in tarot playing cards, Marseilles tarot and Marseille deck as playing cards, the wands and pents are the other way around.

For me that would be :

Cups (coupes) - hearts (coeur)
Wands (bâtons) - diamonds (carreau)
Pentacles (deniers) - clubs (trèfle)
Swords (épées) - spades (pique)

In both cases I see semantic / ethymologic reasons.

I understand that the fact that, in english, the diamond suit is called "diamond" and therefore brings to the mind the idea of riches, makes sense as to why it would be related to Pentacles.
Also, for the same semantic reasons, a club can bring to mind a Wand.... so there you go.

But in french language it is very different.

"Trèfle" is the french name for the suit of clubs, and "trèfle" is french for clover (easy to see in the form of the suit symbol isn't it ?)
First of all, clover is a plant, therefore easily related to the element earth and not at all to the element fire.
But "trèfle" in french is also very old slang for money (and I mean old slang, like slang from other centuries - it is now a tad oldfashion but still understood)
Clover makes excellent fodder, and it nourishes the soil - historically whoever had the land had the riches, and if the lands grew rich clover, all the better.
French slang for money has often taken the form of plants or herbs, along the centuries and up to today. Here are different french slang words for money, that have been used in old french slang, and a lot of them are still used today :

Trèfle (Clover)
Oseille (Sorrel)
Blé (Oat)
Balles (Hay bale)
Avoine (Wheat)
Radis (Radish)
Patates (potatoes)
Artiche (twist on the word "artichaut" meaning Artichoke - artiche is also old slang for wallet)
Fourrage (Fodder for cows)

This explains why the suit of clubs (trèfle) is related to pentacles in my french mind.

For diamonds, though, the french word for the suit is "carreau".
"Carreau" is the wooden arrow used during medieval wars by foot soldiers with a special large crossbow. "Carreau" translates as crossbow bolt. Such bolts were unfortunately often used to set fire to villages, to crops, to homes and to castles, by dipping the end of the arrow in some tar-like substance and lighting it before shooting the crossbow.

You can see why this relates more to the element fire than to the element of earth. And why "carreau" brings to mind notions like speed, passion, usually associated with Wands, rather than anything associated with Pents.

So this is why my french mind associates Wands with diamonds (carreau), and Pentacles with clubs (trèfle).
And why I am often disconcerted when I read in english tarot books that it is the other way around.
The other way around makes little sense to me.

I am very curious as to how you see this, and especially if you are non native english speakers ? How is it in your native culture ?
And what about the Marseille readers, how do you see this ?

Looking forward to your experiences and opinions !
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