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Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
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Errors in post-1927 versions of Wirth's "Imagiers"

I finally got around to reading Wirth’s 1927 tarot masterpiece, Tarot des Imagiers des Moyen Age, in the English translation (Tarot of the Magicians, and I was quite impressed with what I saw. People know his deck more than what he says about it, most of which could apply to any Marseille-based deck.

Weiser deserves our thanks for reissuing the classic, and Mary Greer for putting her prestige and thought behind it with an introduction. However that edition is also something of a disappointment, for several reasons. One is that certain definite errors that existed in the 1985 translation have not been corrected [I originally had 1980, but now I see that it is 1985, thanks to Abrac]. Secondly, some new errors have been introduced in the footnotes, caused by the different pagination of the two editions. Another thing is that the illustrations, which were not high quality in 1985 compared to the original or the French reprints, are if anything more poorly reproduced in 2013 than in 1985—while repeating at least one error that got introduced into the French version of one major illustration). And finally, while the 1927 original and the 1985 translation had an index, the 2013 version and the later French editions do not.

There is also one other category of error: errors in the original edition that have been corrected in either the later French editions or the English translation. I have found what I think is one example of this type. This error seems to me a counter-example to the conventional wisdom that when discrepancies exist between editions, one should always take the first edition as expressing the author’s intention.

Most of the gross translation errors are in the Conclusion. However there are a couple early on, ones so obvious they perhaps doesn’t count as errors as opposed to a choice. First, of course, is the title, “Imagiers” is not “Magicians”. It means “image-makers”, an appropriately broad term that includes sculptors, painters of frescoes, illuminators, perhaps even writers who describe a painting, imaginary or real. To put after “imagiers” the phrase “des moyen age” means that the tarot he is concerned with is that based on medieval images. Whether there was an earlier sequence of images corresponding to the tarot before the late Middle Ages is an issue he wishes to set aside.

Then very soon comes another error that is surely another choice. It is in the translation of Wirth’s “Papesse”, a French word he was careful to put at the bottom of his card, visible even in the English translation of his book. The translation of “Papesse” is not “Priestess”, but “Popess”. “Papesse” is a term that first occurs in connection to the tarot, first documented as “Papessa” in a late 15th century Italy list of the special cards. The corresponding English term, by analogy, is “Popess.”

One error the English translation does not fall into is an egregious one in the 1966 Tchou French edition and all subsequent French editions and reprints, or at least ones with the introduction by Roger Caillois—even as late as October 2014. The Tchou/Caillois switches the divinatory meanings for the Popess and the Pope. So the Popess, card 2, gets Gevurah and strictness, while the Pope, card 5, gets Hochmah and wisdom. Such a switch is manifestly absurd, given Wirth’s Kabbalistic framework, in which card 2 corresponds to sefira 2, card 5 to sefira 5, and so on for all the cards up to 10. It also contradicts what said in the chapter on each of these cards before the part on “divinatory meanings”, which is the chapter’s end and conclusion. In making the switch, however, Tchou failed to switch the footnotes, which are grouped by chapter. There is a footnote indication (the small “1”) in the Popess meanings but no such footnote for that page in the back of the book. Instead, the footnote is listed in the group for the Pope card, for the page with the divinatory meanings.

Here are the relevant pages: first, the Papesse divinatory meanings in the original edition:

And then in the Tchou edition (I used the 2014):

You can see how it is Hochmah in the original and Geburah in the reprint.

And here is the divinatory meanings section of the reprint's "Pope" section (after which "L'Amoureux" follows. You can see how the Hochmah meanings ended up here.

It might be argued that the switch was inadvertent, owing to the fact that in both cases there is nothing on the reprint's page except the divinatory meanings, and there is no page number at the bottom of the page. Possibly, but the switch, which started in 1966, continues to this day. With no page numbers on the pages to be switched, it would be an easy error to fix.

There is one place where a discrepancy between versions is clearly deliberate rather than inadvertent, this time in the English translation rather than in the French editions. In the chapter on Temperance, in the part on divinatory meanings, the English translation reads “mysteries of water and fire”, whereas the original (repeated in the French editions) has “mystères de l’eau et du froid”, i.e. mysteries of water and cold. Did the French typesetter inadvertently introduce a word different from that in Wirth’s manuscript, or did Wirth really mean “cold”?

It might help to look at the context. The surrounding text has:
Transmutations d'ordre vital. Alchimie psychique. Régénération. Mystères de l'eau et du froid. Miracles. Fontaine de Jouvence.
The English translation, however, says:
[quoteTransmutation of a vital order. Psychic Alchemy. Regeneration. Mysteries of water and fire. Miracles. The fountain of youth.)[/quote]
There is no way that "froid", which means "cold", can be translated as "fire". So which is right?

Earlier in the chapter, Wirth had given an alchemical analysis of the Temperance lady’s two jugs:
En Alchimie le sujet, noirci à souhait, donc mort et purifié, est soumis à l'ablution. Cette opération utilise les pluies successives provenant de la condensation des vapeurs, qui se dégagent du cadavre sous l'action d'un feu extérieur modéré, alternativement activé puis ralenti. De ces pluies réiterés résulte le lavage progressif de la matière, qui, du noir passe au gris et finalement au blanc.
And the published English translation:
In Alchemy the subject, blackened as much as he wishes, hence dead and purified, then undergoes ablution. This operation uses the constant waters formed through condensation of vapours which emanate from the corpse by means of moderate fire outside, which is, in turn, allowed to flare up and die down. From this repeated action of making water results the cleansing of the subject who turns from black to grey, then finally to white.
There are some minor errors here, but nothing that the reader could not figure out by himself or herself: “blackened as much as he wishes” should be “blackened as much as wished”; “constant” should be “continual”; and the “who” in the last sentence should be “which”.

From this passage one would think that the “de l’eau et du froid” (“water and cold”) later should have been “de l’eau et du feu”, i.e. “water and fire”.

Earlier he had discussed the two jugs, the lower one of gold, the upper of silver. Gold is associated with the sun and the warmth of day, silver with the moon and the cold of night. In that case it could be “mysteries of hot and cold” or even “mysteries of fire and cold”, since fire is hot. Since the moon is associated with water as well as the cold of night, it could also be “mysteries of water and fire”. But not “mysteries of water and cold”.

I can find nothing at all in the preceding narrative that talks about “froid”, cold, specifically. There is one passage in which he says of the “angel” in relation to the flower that “it [the angel] waters it [the flower] or condenses the morning dew on it so as to allow it to resist the heat of the day”. But this is not about cold specifically; it is about the tendency of heat to dry out something.

I conclude that in this passage the English translation has correctly changed the meaning of Wirth’s printed text. I only wish that the translator had given a footnote explaining this choice.

In a later post I will deal with serious translation errors in the Conclusion of the English translation. I will hold off on footnote and illustration errors until after that.

Last edited by MikeH; 01-02-2016 at 21:38. Reason: changing 1980 to 1985
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Am I correct in thinking that the English editions do not include Caillois' introduction?
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Mine has an introduction but it's not credited to anyone in particular so I think it might be by Wirth, but I'm not positive. It's only two pages.

The publication info is: First published in English in 1985 by Samuel Weiser, Inc.; Second Printing 1990; English Translation © 1985 Samuel Weiser, Inc.
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The English language editions do not have the preface by Caillois. The introduction by Mary K. Greer takes its place. The "Author's Preface" and "Author's Introduction" are both by Wirth. In the original, the first has the heading "A la mémoire de Stanislas de Guati" (which the reprints, both French and English, put as a separate dedication); the second is "Avant-Propos" in both the original and the French reprint.

Now I want to talk about errors in the published translation. The translation is in general excellent. But Wirth is a very precise writer, so errors can engender needless confusion. I mostly noticed errors in the Conclusion. But there is one I have to mention from an earlier chapter. On p. 46 of the 2012 English version (p. 50 of the earlier one), in Chapter 5, Wirth distinguishes among three things, "Antimony", "Verdigris" and something called "Venus of Bronze." I had no idea what that was. The French has "Vénus ou Cuivre", meaning "Venus or Copper". Venus is the goddess associated with the metal copper.

The Conclusion is long quotes from Lévi followed by some reflections by Wirth. Two of the long quotes are short characterizations of the 22 arcana. In the first set, item 2 is of interest (p. 201 of the 2012, 196 of the earlier). Item 1 had the sentence, "All announces an active intelligent cause" ("Tout annonce une cause active, intelligente."). Then for item 2, the published English version reads:
2. The number serves as proof of the living unit.
The French is
2 Le nombre sert de preuve à la unité.
My translation would be
2. Number serves as proof of unity.
The saying is mysterious in either case, and "Le nombre" is ambiguous between "the number"--i.e. 2, I suppose--and number as an abstraction, like unity. I think the idea is that without multiplicity there would be no concept of unity, and vice versa, but I may be wrong. There must be a translation of Lévi's original somewhere, but I can't find it.

Item 17 speaks of "Vesper and her dew"--"Vesper et sa rosée". Actually, Vesper as a god is male. English requires a gender here, whereas the French doesn't. Since he has a maiden on the card, perhaps Wirth was thinking female. He would have done better to choose Venus.

The next set has several items of interest. Its number 4 (p. 203, 198 of the earlier) speaks of "the tetragram, the quarter, the cubic stone or its base". The French has "quaternaire", for which the proper English translation would be "quaternary".

Number 6 goes, in the published English version (p. 204):
6. Linking, crochet, phallus, tangle, union, embrace, struggle, antagonism, combination, balance.
"Crochet" in English is knitting. Probably Wirth meant "hook". Otherwise, the translation has "phallus" where the French has "lingam". Probably Lévi meant an allusion to Hinduism rather than to Greece.

Then for 8:
Balance scales, attraction and repulsion, life fear, promise and threat.
The French has
Balance, attraît et répulsion, vie, frayeur, promesse et menace.
The French "balance" means "scales"; in general, for the English "balance" the French would say "equilibre" (as Wirth does in item 6, at the end). However it may be that the sense of the English "balance" is not excluded. So:
Scales [Fr. balance], attraction and repulsion, life, terror, promise and threat.
Several of the items (nos. 13, 14, 16, 16, 17, 19) speak of a "sky" of this or that planet, and, less orthodoxly, of the soul. In Ptolemaic astronomy the planets each have a "heaven", for ten in all. The French is "ciel", which could be translated either as "sky" or "heaven" but here means "heaven". Wirth is quoting Lévi's idea that the later arcana correspond to particular heavens, in a descent from the macrocosm to the microcosm.

Next is a quote from Lévi about arranging the arcana in either a square or a triangle, and "placing the even numbers in opposition and reconciling them with the uneven numbers". "Uneven" would be more simply put as "odd". Then comes:
Thus the solution of all questions of magic is that of the pentagram, and all antimonies are explained by a harmonious unity.
Here the word "antimonies" should of course be replaced with "antinomies", exactly the same in French and English.

Then (p. 205/199) Wirth speaks in his own voice, attacking unnamed so-called "occultists" for their simple-mindedness. There is a sentence that as it reads attributes simple-mindedness to the Popess (known in this translation as the Priestess):
Did this occultist bow before the Priestess for whom nothing occult exists any more?
The French is:
Se sont-ils inclinés devant la Papesse, ces occultists pour qui n'existe plus rien d'occulte?
which means:
Did they bow before the Popess, these occultists for whom nothing occult [or hidden] exists any more?
It is not the Popess for whom nothing hidden exists, but the occultists whom Wirth is attacking.

Wirth concludes this paragraph in another sentence whose meaning is unclear in the translation:
Lured by their faith in doctrines which have the gift of winning them, they swear in the name of Masters whose profound thought they have not understood and they erect in Perez their occultist church.
Who or where is this "Perez". Actually the word is "Pères", Fathers, as we can see:
Fasciné par leur foi en des doctrines qui ont eu le don de les séduire, ils jurent au nom de Maîtres dont ils n'ont pas saisi le pensée profonde et qu'ils érigent en Pères de leur église occultiste.
The sentence should read:
Lured by their faith in doctrines which have the gift of seducing them, they swear in the name of Masters whose profound thought they have not understood and whom they erect as Fathers of their occultist church.
Then(206/199) a feminine personification under goes a change of gender in translation. The English version has:
In the interest of human progress the time has come to unite Imagination and Reason. The female and the male must support each other in order to give the great redeeming light to the world.
A worthy sentiment. However in the French the second sentence reads:
Les deux soeurs doivent se soutenir pour octoyer au monde la grande lumière rédemptrice.
That is,
The two sisters must support each other...
On the next page (207/200) Wirth talks, in the English, about how without imagination, we are "reducing our spirit's field of action", such that "there is some obscurantism in the philosophy of the rationalists". The word "esprit" can mean either "mind" and "spirit". Since later he talks about "notre avenir mental"--our mental future--it is clear that "mind" is the proper translation. He compares those who do not "dare to imagine" to those who stay on land due to ignorance of the laws of ocean navigation
Shall we stay on land when our mental future is on the water?
(Resterons-nous à terre alors que notre avenir mental est sur l'eau?
Finally, there is his last sentence, before his interesting Appendix. The English version has:
Turn inwards, following the precept of the Wise man who urges ou to search for the Stone hidden in the depths of self?
But Wirth is not speaking the language of Carl Jung or religious mysticism. What he says is:
Pénètre en toi-même, fidèle au précepts du Sage qui t'angage à chercher la Pierre cachée en ton intérieure le plus profond.
That is:
Penetrate inside yourself, faithful to the precepts of the Sage who urges you to search for the Stone hidden in your deepest interior.
The language is meant to echo alchemy. The Emerald Tablet says, "For it is able to penetrate and subdue everything subtle and everything crude and hard." And one of the alchemical emblems that Wirth shows us has the Latin for ""Visit the interior of the earth, and rectifying, you will find the hidden stone".

The Appendix of the 2012 has the title "Some Indications on the Symbolism of the Pantacles which accompany the present work". The earlier English version had "Pentacles". The 2012 has restored the original spelling back to "Pantacles". I suspect Mary Greer's hand here, as it is a subject she has written about in several places.

Last edited by MikeH; 23-01-2016 at 16:51.
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Now I want to deal with errors in the footnotes. Some of these are translation errors in both the 1985 and the 2012 editions. Others are new errors introduced into the 2012 edition from incorrect changes in the page numbers between editions. The numbers had to be changed, but whoever did it was not consistently good at the job.

First, the title of the section is translated incorrectly, in both the 1985 and 2012. The French title is “Notes”, and indeed that is what they are, and not a hard word to translate. In the English versions, the title is “References”. Some of the footnotes are references, but most are not.

In the French reprint, the footnotes are also in the back of the book, as opposed to the bottom of the page where they were in the original. But the French reprint, unlike the English, gives the page number for that footnote in the text. That has been omitted from both English versions, making it difficult to refer back to the text unless one has read the footnote while in the course of reading that very page of the text. Instead, the English versions simply number the footnotes consecutively.

In footnote 2, reference is made to a writer named, in the original, "Goethe". The name appears as “Gothe” in the English versions.

Footnote 21 says that the crayfish on card 18 is red “to indicate its effrey colour”. Does anyone know what “effrey” means? I cannot find it in a dictionary, even the OED. The last two words in the French are “caractère igné”, meaning “fiery character”.

Footnote 22 in the 2012 refers us to pages 24 and 25 for more information on the “Baldini cards”. The correct reference is page 8.

Footnote 27 speaks of the "‘light’ through which the occultist swears". The preposition in French is “par”, meaning “by”.

Footnote 28, in both English versions, leaves out Wirth’s suggestion that we go to a certain other page of the text. In the 2012 edition, that would be page 45. In the 1985, it would be p. 49.

Footnote 31 refers us to pp. 76-78. That should be, in the 2012, pp. 45-46.

Footnote 53 speaks of the “Prince of the World” and refers us to p. 75. The French is “ce Monde”, so “this World”. The reference in the 2012 edition should be to p. 70.

Footnote 58 misspells “femininity” as “feminity”.

Footnote 64 speaks of “a park of sterile tree with lush foliage”, an image from Goethe, spelled correctly. But the French has “arbres”, i.e. “trees”, which is surely right.

Last edited by MikeH; 01-02-2016 at 21:35.
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Errors and discrepancies in the illustrations.

Wirth was an illustrator before he was a writer. His visual imagination shows, with many illustrations sprinkled throughout the book illustrating the points he is making. In my view it does not do justice to the author when a later edition removes these illustrations from their original place just because they also appear somewhere else (in the Appendix), or even worse, exchanges the illustration he uses for another that doesn't fit. This particular sin (committed only once in the material I am covering in this post) was not committed in 1985 or in the French editions, but is in the 2012.

So now I will go through the book page by page, focusing on discrepancies between the illustrations in the original and those of the later editions. Much of this part of the 2012 is is in Google Books (which also has Greer's introduction), starting with the “Author’s Preface”, at So if you want, feel free to follow along.

A charming feature of Wirth’s 1927 text is that the first letter of each chapter is enclosed within a tarot-like scene, in the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts. These could not have been reproduced in the translation, considering that the initial letters of the English will be different. Unfortunately, the post-1927 French editions omit these illustrations as well. As an example I reproduce the first one, at the beginning of Chapter One.

Above the dedication “a la memoire de Stanislas de Guaita” is an illustration that Wirth repeats at the very end of the book. It has 22 images, so it is obviously meant to illustrate the 22 cards of the tarot. They are another version of the cards, one of many that he uses throughout the book, of which at least one other, the "astronomical tarot," is his design. In reading the book, I think the implication is, one will come to understand what these symbols mean in relation to the 22 arcana (or “arcanas,” as the English translation has it).

In the post-1927 editions, both French and English, this illustration only appears at the end of the book (p. 222 of the 2012, p. 214 of the 1985, p. 363 of the 2014 French). So you don’t get the pleasure of relating these images to the 22 arcana as you go through the book. The 2012 actually outdoes the others by its poor quality reproduction (p. 222):

That is even more mysterious than Wirth’s original. However it is not the sort of mystery we really need. In the Appendix Wirth calls these images a "symbolic alphabet" of "ideograms". They can even be used instead of the colored printed cards, by copying the symbols onto numbered pieces of paper, an activity he recommends so as to personalize the use of the cards. Of course with the 2012's version, that would not be possible, given how much is missing.

At the end of the dedication (the "Author's Preface") is this illustration:

It is not present in any of the later editions (except in the Appendix). Part of the intent in placing it here might be to announce the Kabbalistic orientation of what is to come. Also, as I read in the Appendix (p. 217 of 2012, pp. 208-9 of 1985, pp. 352-3 of 2014 French), de Guaita invented this emblem.

I continue. The 2012 on p. xxv (the end of the “Author’s Introduction”. omitted from Google Books) has a black and white reproduction of a scene of people playing cards in a tent. The cards are not tarot cards, but ones with ordinary French suits, of the sort that were invented around 1470. It is not in in Wirth’s original, nor that of the later French editions. Nothing is said about this illustration. It obviously would look better in color.

It seems to be a substitute for an illustration in the French editions, equally non-Wirthian, another of people playing cards. That woodcut is identified next to it as “La Consultation, bois gravé, fin du XVe siècle” (The Consultation, woodcut, end of 16th century). There are pictures of it on the Web; here is one,
It is the so-called “card players” of Israhel van Meckenem, c. 1500. I would guess that they are playing a card game, because there is a stack of cards next to each of them. But I suppose it could be the unused part of a deck during a reading, going one card at a time rather than in a "spread" (which Etteilla says he invented), and the scene done in a deliberately ambiguous way in case the Inquisition came knocking.

These illustrations are at the end of the “Avant-propos” (or "Author’s Introduction”). Wirth’s original also ends with an illustration, also on the subject of ordinary playing cards: it is of the four objects on the Bateleur’s (Magician’s) table, symbolic of the four suits.

There is nothing in the “Avant-Propos” about such cards, but there is in Chapter One that follows. They were invented by the Italians, he says, toward the end of the 14th century (at that time the similar “Mamluk” cards of Egypt apparently were not known). They divided into Bâtons, Coupes, Epées, and Deniers. In French “bâton” means “staff” or “stick”. The English translation has “wand”; but Wirth does not use the term corresponding to the English “wand”, i.e. “baguette”, although he does add that the “baguette magique” is one type of Baton. Likewise “denier” just means “coin”, not “pentacle,” as the English translation has it; but he does say that this “denier” is a “disque pentaculaire,” using the adjectival form of “pentacle”. According to the OED “pentacle” comes from the Middle French, meaning “talisman, most often in the form of a five-pointed star,” first attested in 1555; it is most typically in the shape of a pentagram enclosed by a circle. That is indeed what Wirth depicts. Such images were not, to be sure, on the cards from the beginning. The other suits are Cups and Swords. These are indeed what, in similar Italian, the suits were called before the tarot sequence was added. This emblem is also discussed on p. 364 of the 2014 French, underneath the emblem. The discussion, but without the emblem, is on p. 222 of the 2012 and p. 214 of the 1985. the two paragraphs about the "56 playing cards."

Chapter One, too, ends with an illustration; there is no image in the corresponding place in the later editions, in either language, nor any presentation of it in the Appendix of any later edition:

Again, there is no connection that I see to the chapter just ended. But this perfectly symmetrical face, looking at us in the eye as though about to speak, seems a kind of foretaste of the subject of the next chapter, which has to do with the “signs revealed by the secrets of the tarot”, in particular its symmetries taken as a whole. He arranges the tarot sequence in a circle and then into two rows that also form a circular pattern:

This particular image is included in the post-1927 versions; it serves to present patterns in the cards. But also indicates what the previous two lines of symbols, at the very beginning, correspond to in the tarot. That reference, of course, is lost on the reader if the previous sequence of symbols is not there.

At the end of this second chapter is another image, absent from the later editions, except in the Appendix. This one is from alchemy; I recognize it as the “Winged Hermaphrodite on the Winged Globe of Chaos” of the Victorium Spagyricum of 1625 .

This image again seems to relate to what follows, which ties the Kabbalist “tree of the sefirot” not only to the tarot sequence but also to the planets and metals. The alchemical emblem has symbols of the planets and an arrangement into three vertical columns, with ten items in all. It is a kind of alchemical variant on the Kabbalist “tree”. This alchemical emblem is discussed further in the Appendix, on p. 213 of the 2012, p.205 of the 1985, and p. 345 of the 2014 French. In the translation of the Appendix discussion, the metal "Bronze" is attributed to both Jupiter and Venus. The French has "Etain" (Tin) for Jupiter and "Cuivre" (Copper) for Venus.

This chapter, too, ends with an image not present in the later editions. This time it is of a mermaid moon-goddess (Wirth in the Appendix calls her a “sirene”) praying between two unicorns. It is the theme of “the lady and the unicorn” that we know from Renaissance tapestries, with a twist. The gesture of prayer upwards is something different. Among other things, it seems to announce the astronomical theme of the next chapter.
. The discussion in the Appendix is on p. 121 of the 2012, p. 213 of the 1985, and p. 362 of the 2014 French.

The next chapter, on “The Astronomical Tarot,” gives the 2012 publisher a chance to throw in some extra illustrations not in Wirth; if you see one that actually has stars in it, it is not Wirth’s. It, too, ends with an illustration. This one in fact sums up the chapter and therefore is reproduced in the later editions. However errors have crept in, starting in the French editions, made worse in the English. The errors I am going to discuss have already been pointed out on the Web at However the author did not know how far back they went. To clear Wirth of any blame, here is his original; it shows two groups of constellations, the zodiac on the outside and some other constellations closer to the Pole Star on the inside.

And now here is the corresponding English version (the same in 1985 and 2012):

As you can see, the number 12 has been given to three constellations: Perseus, Gemini, and Cancer (if you have trouble finding them, the website just linked to has arrows pointing to them). Fortunately, on the facing page there is a chart with the correct numbering: 12 to Perseus, 19 to Gemini, 18 to Cancer. The assignments of 18 and 19 are familiar ones. 12 is unique to Wirth’s special “astronomical tarot". Besides this star-map, he gives us black and white sketches of some of the individual cards at appropriate places in the book (at least one of which, for the 9th card, the post-1927 editions neglect to reproduce).

This numbering errors originated in the French editions, starting in 1966 (I checked in a copy I got from Interlibrary Loan); it has been continually reprinted since. The English version only added a few spelling errors. In image 9, “Headsman” should be “Herdsman”. And the English for “Cassiopée” is not “Cassiopea” but “Cassiopeia”. The constellation named "Herdsman" is that usually called Boötes, Greek for herdsman or plowman, literally "ox-driver" ( In his "astronomical" version of the card, shown at the end of the section discussing card 9 (the Hermit), he actually uses the title "Boötes." This illustration, the only one of that card, has been omitted from all the later editions, but I will give it when I get to that page of the book.

If you are wondering what a “Coachman”, Cocher, is doing with a goat on his back, that is because the constellation of Auriga, besides “Goatherd,” was also known as the Charioteer, identified with several famous ones, all sons of various Greek gods ( One might have expected that this Charioteer would be given the number 7, but such is not the case.

Chapter 5, “Notions of Symbolism: Forms and Colours”, by its visual nature, is almost made to order for errors in later editions. They do mount up.

Wirth’s primary forms are the circle, the cross, the triangle and the square. After exhibiting them, he has a charming illustration of a lady on a cloud drawing them, omitted from the 2012 but not the 1985.

Then the 2012 makes another unique blunder, this time not just of omission, in substituting a drawing that appears only in the Appendix (p. 211 of the 2012, p. 203 of the 1985, p. 341 of the 2014 French) for the one that is actually in this place in the text. Here is the original (which is also in the French editions and the 1985), followed by the 2012’s substitution.

In the Appendix, Wirth says of the one with legs that it is a dragon or a crocodile. However in Chapter 5 he is talking about a drawing of a serpent in an ancient text. Moreover, it is one that has some Greek words inside, something like En To Pan, which I suppose means“One the All”, as Wirth says (or "One is All", as the translation says). Substituting a drawing without these words and of a different animal is not helpful.

This took longer than I thought! I will continue later.

Last edited by MikeH; 01-02-2016 at 21:40. Reason: added p. references to Appendix discussions
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I have edited the last post so as to include citations of the same symbols, and/or discussions of them, in the Appendix of the various editions, or in one case, the "Boötes" (Herdsman) astronomical card, its appearance further on in the original of the book (but omitted from later editions). In the case of the alchemical image of the hermaphrodite on the the globe, I have indicated a translation error in the Appendix's discussion of that emblem.
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In this post I want to finish up discussing the omitted or distorted images in Part One of Wirth's book.

I am continuing with Chapter Five, on "Notions of Symbolism: Forms and Colours." Later in the same chapter, the 2012 book (unlike the 1980 or the French editions) commits two errors on two different pages, one of omission and the other in order of presentation. Since they are on opposite sides of the same double page of text and at the same place on the page in each case, I will discuss them together.

On the left side, there is a list of planets plus a symbol that With invented as a way of symbolizing all of them together that says what he wants it to say. The symbol is important, among other things, to convey how the planets act as a group, especially in a negative way as the “seven deadly sins”, something he talks about in the section on the Devil card (p 115 of 2012, p. 123 of 1980, p. 202 of 2014 French), and in the Appendix (p. 212 of 2012, p. 204 of the 1980, and p. 343 of the 2014 French); in both places he shows us the symbol, except in one edition. The 2012 (uniquely) omits this symbol everywhere it occurs--as though, although I'm sure it was an oversight, it were too devilish to see the light of day).

The other mistake is on the right side, above (and please understand that in the 2012 there is a quarter of a page on top that I have cut off). In the original, Wirth constructed a chart by which Jupiter’s traits can be contrasted with Saturn’s; the visual line-up makes it easy. The 2012, again uniquely, dispenses with this left-right chart and instead presents the Jupiter side, then what comes after the chart about Mercury and other planets, and on the next page presents the Saturn part of the chart (you can see that page at The visual contrast that Wirth has constructed is lost.

Another omission, again uniquely in the 2012, is of a symbol of Wirth's invention that combines Sulphur and Mercury, shown below:

In the 2012, the text in English is on p. 49, second paragraph, corresponding to p. 52 of the 1980 and p. 99 of the 2014 French. There is one translation/spelling error; "Huile ou Baume de Soufre, Humide radical" is not "Oil or Sulfur, Humidity" but "Oil or Balm of Sulphur, radical Humid". I have no idea what "radical Humid" would be; it might indicate that Sulphur is in a liquid or in the air as a kind of mist. This emblem is then shown again in the paragraph at the bottom of p. 214 and top of p. 215 of the 2012, except that the image has again been omitted. It can be seen on p. 206 of the 1980, p. 348 of the 2014 French (although it should have gone one paragraph higher there).

You will have noticed that this alchemical discussion is extremely condensed and precise. Any slip in the translation (such as the “Venus of bronze” nonsense (which can be seen on the left of the 2012 pages earlier in this post) will lead to confusion. In this section of the text it is particularly important to have at hand the French text, of which the current reprints of the 1966 are sufficient.

The next chapter is "The Tarot and the Hebrew Alphabet," which discusses visual parallels between the arcana and the corresponding Hebrew letters, starting with the Bateleur (Magician) as Aleph). At the end, the original has a winged disc with serpents on either side of the disc (Wirth later calls it a "winged globe"). I cannot see how it relates to the Hebrew letters, but it might relate to what comes next, his presentation of the 22 arcana, as he sees the image as a symbol of alchemical sublimation, part of the "great work." Wirth discusses the emblem in the Appendix, and all editions show the image (p. 116 of the 2012, p. 207 of the 1980, and p. 330 of the 2014 French).

Last edited by MikeH; 26-01-2016 at 16:58.
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What a lot of work you've done! Thank you!
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Well, I'm not done yet. In my view Wirth's book is one of the great works on the tarot of the 20th century, perhaps the greatest. It needs to be studied. And the original translator did a magnificent job, for the most part. He or she just didn't have somebody competent to check his or her work. And then somebody who didn't have much of a feel for Wirth made some decisions on how to "update" him for the 21st century. So before he can be studied--before I can study him, in fact-- there needs to be established an English-language text, or at least the beginnings of one-- which in his case must include the illustrations. I feel like a scholar of medieval manuscripts, studying variants to establish a critical text--except that the variants, including the original, published when the author was still alive and vigorous, are all from 1927 to 2012. It is turning out, moreover, that the most recent variation, which is also the most accessible to English-speaking readers, is also the most corrupt. I shall continue.

I made one edit of my preceding post since I last wrote, adding one more place where Wirth uses his symbol for all the planets, in the section on the Devil card, and noting that the 2012 does not reproduce this symbol in any of the three places the other editions have it. (Yes, I find this hard to believe. But I simply can't find it. There are stranger things to come.)

I am now at the point where I can start looking at the images Wirth uses to illustrate the 22 individual arcana. Here I want to emphasize again that I am not trying to summarize Wirth, much less present all the images he uses. I presuppose that whoever reads this has some edition of the work, in some language. (However someone who doesn't have it may get some idea of what is in it.) Moreover, I am addressing myself particularly to those who have one of the English-language versions, either the 1985, which was reprinted at various times, or the 2012. I also presuppose that whoever reads this can use the Internet, although I will try to help out with links.

It is at this point, Part 2 (out of 3) of the book that the 1966 re-engravings of Wirth’s cards makes its appearance in the post 1927-editions. The story of the Wirth and Wirth-like cards begins in 1889. Inside the text of Papus's [i]Tarot des Bohemiens[/i were small versions of the 22 cards he had designed; along with them came colored versions in card form. Then in Wirth's own book of 1927, he used, inside his text, the small black and white images of 1889. But also, in a pocket on the back inside cover (of the 1927), he put colored cards in designs that were very similar to the 1889 except in a few details; also, these cards had geometrical forms around the side and top borders.

In 1966 Wirth's book was republished in France. But instead of re-issuing Wirth's 1927 cards, an artist redid the cards in a way that would look good in black and white, for insertion into the text as card-sized images in place of the small 1889 ones. Probably the thinking was that if someone wanted to, they could make photocopies of the images, color them according to Wirth's instructions, and glue them to note-cards to use as cards. In a pocket in the back of the book was a pocket with the 22 actual colored cards; but if someone didn't want to use them day to day, they could make their own. This was something Wirth had recommended before, but now the technology had developed to make it possible to use the images without cutting up the book or having to be a very good copyist. The 1985 English translation did the same; but now it was necessary to buy the cards separately.. People had the choice of buying either the 1966 versions or reproductions of the 1927, as part of 78 card packs..

By 2012, the 1927 cards were unavailable and the 1966 were not really by Wirth. Like the French editions, the 2012 English edition has the 1966 re-engraved cards in black and white at the beginning of each of the 22 section, omitting the old 1889 images that Wirth had put there in 1927. But instead of including the 1966 colored versions at the back of the book, the publisher included, on stiff paper, the 1889 colored images, which people could cut out if they wished. These are at least genuinely Wirth, if not those he did for the 1927 book.

The problem is that these 1889 cards do not correspond in either their engraving or coloring to the descriptions in Wirth’s 1927 book. That is why he designed the new deck. It is true that the 1966 cards do not have the geometric forms around the edges that distinguish his 1927 cards. But neither do the 1889. Moreover, he does not mention these geometric shapes anywhere in his book. For seeing visually what he describes in his book, it doesn't matter. And in every other respect, the 1966 colored cards, even if not by Wirth, are far more similar to the 1927 cards than the 1889 are, as I will try to show.

First, how are the 1966 cards different from the 1927, aside from the geometric shapes? I can find only two discrepancies, on cards 12 and 13.

The first discrepancy is a notorious one, that the poles on the 1966 Hanged Man card do not change color from blue to green going up: they are green all the way. The 1889 does have a change, but seems to be the opposite, going from green, or greenish-blue, to light blue.

(Here for the 1889 I used the cut-out at the back of the 2012 edition of the book. The 1927 is a 6 inch print-out on photo paper. The 1966 is the card in the 2014 reprint of the 1966 French edition; the gold color is not actually as brown as on the scan. Nor does the 1927 have the greenish tint that often shows up. For more details on the 1889 see Kenji at For the 1927, the truest images I have seen, although of low resolution, are those by "club do taro" (it's Portuguese), at

The second discrepancy is that in the 1927, all the titles are on the bottom, with the Arabic numeral to its left. The only exception (ignoring the Fool, which has no number) is the Death card, where there is no title, and the number is on the top left, blending it in with the abstract designs (it is easy to overlook; I missed it until Filippe pointed it out in a later post). The 1966, however, puts the numbers on top, in the middle, and in Roman numerals, although the titles remain on the bottom, except that there is no title for Death. In contrast, the 1889 shows both the Arabic numeral (except for the Fool, of course) and the name, including the name for the Death card, on the bottom.

In general the 1889 cards differ from the 1927 in numerous ways in which the 1966 do not.

For the Bateleur, Wirth changed the number of coins/pentacles visible from three to one, which the 1966 copies faithfully. The same for his switch of the red end of the wand from bottom to top. Red and blue are important symbols, for fire and water and the corresponding emotions. There are also some color changes in the clothing. My print-out of the 1927 cut off a bit off the top of the card and came out a bit dark.


For the Popess, Wirth in 1927 added the image of a sphinx on the side of her chair, a yin-yang symbol on her book, her face is light-skinned rather than dark, and the right pillar is blue rather than dark gray of 1889. These details are all copied faithfully. in the 1966 Popess.

For the Empress, Wirth changed the moon beneath her feet so that the horns pointed down, and a circle was added to surround the stars. These details were copied faithfully.

The Emperor lost the armor on his knees and feet, as well as a distracting and unclear symbol on the eagle (seen more clearly in the lower image; for which I used Kenji's scan, somewhat enhanced). The 1927 was copied faithfully by the 1966.

I am not going to go through all the cards. Some of the details are minor, some not. A big change is in the color of the jugs on the Temperance and Star cards, very important to Wirth's color symbolism (which he spells out specifically in his book); it may also figure into his Kabbalistic/alchemical framework. In the 1889 cards, he made the jugs both gold (they might look brown, but I think that is partly fading). In the 1927 and 1966 cards the ones on the right are silver.

So as far as capturing Wirth’s 1927 ideas, the 1966 cards are better than the 1899. His thinking matured. The 1889 cards are of historical and artistic interest, and for that you can download them in color from Kenji's site, or from Gallica at

In my view the best thing, for studying him, is to download the 1927 images and print them. Wirth didn't have any divinatory advice about the 56 other cards. And what he has to say will apply to most Marseille and Marseille-based cards, if you remember it.

Last edited by MikeH; 01-02-2016 at 21:43. Reason: added images, incorporated Filippe's observation on the 1927 Death
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