Interpreting Minors in Marseilles Decks


Yeah, I see what you mean. I didn't put that too well! ;) What I meant was to distinguish between seven and nine of swords... and the same for wands. The idea of comparing odd/even numbers, like with like, might be that there is (often?) less change in the "foliage" patterns and the main distinguishing feature of e.g. presence/absence of a single vertical element. Makes the task more... uhm challenging? :D


Rusty Neon

When looking at the ten pips of a given suit, there will be occasions or types of details where it makes sense to look at the cards along a series of natural numbers while for other occasions or types of details (especially in the case of swords and batons as opposed to cups and coins), along a series of even or odd numbers.


Placing the pips in sequence, certain details of not only foliage emerge, but, in some versions of the Marseilles, details such as the number of parts (for example the number of 'parts' of each Coin - traditionally four in the Conver, but different in the Camoin and the Hadar) also gives rise to various thoughts.

In terms of an earlier comment made by Rusty Neon, I agree that Jodorowski claims to have abandoned the Marteau colouring in favour of the Conver, but certain cards on the Camoin still show heavy Marteau influence.

To continue our study, is this an opportune time to resurrect our incomplete reflections on each of the minor Arcana cards!!!?!


Re: The number Five

Rusty Neon said:
The above interpretation for the number Five would certainly make sense from a Pythagorean standpoint. Not to take anything away from that, it's still interesting to add, though, that Neo-Pythagorean Iamblichus notes a different Pyth interpretation for the Five...

Yes, that's the thing about Pythagoreanism: each number has so many different meanings, many of them contradictory. I tend to go with the "crisis" reading of the fives, if only because it's most consistent with the traditional divinatory meanings.



Across suits or thru the numbers?

When I teach the Continental Decks, I include *both* the longitudinal and the latitudinal approach. The difference will come from how much time I have to get it all across to students. In my "summer camp" class over this last summer, we had only six weeks to get through the material, so I could only give two weeks to the Pips, two weeks to the Royals, and two weeks to issues about spreads and deck choice and other sorts of general info. In that case, I went through two suits per night, from the Ace-10 and all four Royals. This gave a lot of emphasis to the develomental ideas which emerge when you trace a single suit through the numbers in linear sequence

On the other hand, the class I'm about to start teaching at the end of September will run for nine weeks, so I will give three weeks to the Pips, and that will allow me to move through the numbers *across four suits at once*, with each number refering up to it's same-numbered Trump as well. (I pointed this out during the 'summer school' class as we went along, but it was not the organizing principle of my teaching method as it will be this Fall.) This will allow me to go further into the structure of the number itself as a geometrical "identity", then to demonstrate how the pips and the Trump which partake in that identity carry the influence into their different spheres of influence.

The fun comes with the larger Pip numbers above four, which then become composites, patchworks of the lower numbers added together. By looking at how such groups are arranged from suit to suit, one can see further nuances of "geometrical" meaning in those larger even and odd numbers.


In my never-ending quest to find a way to read non-illustrated-pip decks that works for me, I was really having difficulties, because I want to read with them but I also want to read with illustrated decks, and I don’t want to have to use completely different meanings for each type. Also, I don’t want to depend on the pictorial details of Marseilles pips because I also want to read with other non-illustrated-pip decks such as the Ancient Italian, Ancient Lombardy, and Prediction. That means I need some type of suit+number scheme. But I find that I need to have each card presenting a particular personality, rather than just a generic suit+number.

I was impressed by Sylvia Abraham’s effort ( in “How to Read the Tarot”) to use number meanings derived from the Majors, and at the same time tying it in with the RWS pictures. However, I was dissatisfied with much of what she did. So I’ve taken a shot at it, stealing bits from Abraham and from Pamela Eakins’s Tarot of the Spirit book, as well as my own contributions, such as they are.

So, each pip meaning is derived from the suit meaning plus the number meaning, and also relates to the RWS picture. The one-word keywords after the Major titles aren’t meant to suggest that one should interpret the Majors using only those keywords, but merely to point out which aspect of the Major card is being used to correlate with the pip cards.

I’ve provided alternate Major correlations for the 8’s, depending on whether one wants to consider VIII as Strength or Justice.

In order to make it all work, I found that, like Abraham, I needed to identify Swords as troubles and negativity, a more traditional meaning, rather than the more modern definition of mental/intellectual concerns. Edited to add: After thinking more on this, I think the Swords meanings below still reflect mental/intellectual concerns, although admittedly with a negative cast. So I've decided to change the Ace of Swords from "Negative energy" to "Mental energy." This could be seen as being similar to the overall message of the Swords suit in the Osho Zen Tarot, i.e. that the mind has a tendency to operate in a way contrary to the best interests of the self.

I Bateleur – Creative energy
Ace Batons: Energy in creative endeavors
Ace Cups: Emotional energy
Ace Swords: Mental energy
Ace Coins: Material energy

II Popess – Intuitive knowledge
2 Batons: Intuitive knowledge of what one wants to do
2 Cups: Intuitive knowledge of what one feels
2 Swords: Intuitive knowledge of troubles which one doesn’t allow oneself to see
2 Coins: Intuitive knowledge of how to deal with material matters

III Empress – Creation
3 Batons: Creating results in creative endeavors
3 Cups: Creating emotional results/contributing to emotional events
3 Swords: Creating one’s own troubles
3 Coins: Creating material success

IV Emperor – Concretization
4 Batons: Concretization of results in creative endeavors
4 Cups: Concretization of emotional situation
4 Swords: Concretization of troubles (while one engages in a situation, there is always the possibility of improvement. But when one withdraws from the situation, the possibility of improvement is taken away, thus concretizing the negativity of the situation)
4 Coins: Concretization of material success

V Pope – Belief systems/mental maps
5 Batons: Being fully invested in one’s belief systems concerning creative goals, despite conflicts with others
5 Cups: Being fully invested in one’s belief systems concerning emotions, despite relationships which don’t work out
5 Swords: Being fully invested in mental machinations/competitions, despite the pain caused to self and others
5 Coins: Being fully invested in belief systems concerning the value of material success, despite the evidence of reality

VI Lovers – Choice (specifically, the tendency of the mind to make distinctions, narrow possibilities and express preferences)
6 Batons: Choosing a cause/quest to follow
6 Cups: The emotional satisfactions one tends to choose (i.e., idealistic or nostalgic)
6 Swords: Choosing to apply mental solutions to troubles
6 Coins: Choosing to share material resources

VII Chariot – Mystery/complexity hidden beneath apparent success (illustrated on the Chariot by the different-colored, contrary horses who for the present are under the control of the driver)
7 Batons: Taking outwardly courageous positions, perhaps motivated by inner fears of losing individuality
7 Cups: Having a wealth of choices, perhaps unaware of how one’s inner self subconsciously attracts or repels opportunities
7 Swords: Congratulating oneself on one’s cleverness in pulling off a coup, while unaware that mental paradigms are clashing, and the self-satisfaction will be short-lived
7 Coins: Enjoying the fruits of one’s labor, while beneath the surface the mysteries of growth unfold

VIII Strength – Strength
8 Batons: Strong movement in creative endeavors.
8 Cups: Strength to leave emotional situations which aren’t working out
8 Swords: Strength needed to free oneself of the ways one’s mind restricts oneself
8 Coins: Quiet strength exercised to learn skills step by step


VIII Justice – Balance
8 Batons: Balanced approach to creative endeavors – willingness to align oneself with energy in the environment
8 Cups: Balancing emotional and spiritual needs by making adjustments if necessary
8 Swords: Correcting imbalances caused by restrictive thinking
8 Coins: Balanced, step-by-step approach to learning skills

IX Hermit – Isolation
9 Batons: “Me against the world” attitude
9 Cups: Emotionally satisfying oneself (perhaps selfishly)
9 Swords: Loneliness
9 Coins: Pride in one’s material successes

X Wheel of Fortune – Logical conclusion/end of cycle
10 Batons: Logical conclusion of creative endeavors – becomes tiresome and burdensome
10 Cups: Logical conclusion of deep expression of feelings – establishment of family (i.e. any group of people who are family to each other)
10 Swords: Logical conclusion of mental machinations as they conflict with reality
10 Coins: Logical conclusion of thorough material preparation

-- Lee

Edited to add: It's inevitable that any effort of this type will fall short of perfection, since the RWS pictures don't fit neatly into a suit+number pattern. But it may be possible to construct something along these lines that will serve.


Lee: you've worked long and hard on this. Congratulations! :)

However, shouldn't this be in a thread called "Interpreting Minors in non-illlustrated decks?" Because if you relate RWS meanings to a Marseilles deck, then you're mixing up two completely different periods.

For instance the Swords: in RWS decks they are pretty negative, I agree. The pictures in that suit are highly depressing. In Marseilles decks for instance the Swords are neither negative nor positive. They're just one of the four basic elements of the Tarot - either fire or air, according to one's preference. There is no pre-conceived idea about whether they are negative or positive.

Please don't think I'm coming down on your system which looks to me a very well thought out and logical way of reading within the RWS framework.

Also I want to know something. If someone wants to read the RWS way, then why should they read with a non-illustrated deck? Isn't one of the reasons one wants to read with a non-illustrated deck is to get away from these meanings?


Hi Diana, you're quite right about the thread title. My main motivation was to find an already-existing thread to add onto rather than starting a new one, but if you'd like to split it off into a new thread, fine by me! :)

In a way I agree with your last point about using non-illustrated decks to get away from RWS meanings. The problem is, I (and I suspect at least some others as well) would like to be able to read with both illustrated and non-illustrated decks while at the same time maintaining some continuity of meaning between them. However, if one wants to take the position that by doing so one is creating an ill-bred hybrid, I won't argue! My prior post was more in the nature of what-do-you-all-think-of-this, rather than a fully-developed this-is-how-you-should-all-read sort of thing. :)

-- Lee


Lee, I don't really want to move your post. I think it fits in nicely here. And my above post was only my opinion - I will be happy to hear the opinions of others who are not members of the Anti-RWS-Brigade (membership is free.) :D



I'm confused

I have been brought up on RW style decks and I love them. I am also trying desperately, (as Diana will tell you) to understand the Marseille decks. At first I thought both style of decks had the same meaning....... then I found out they don't, so its a matter of learning something new.... OK by me. While I think its a great idea to have combined meanings (it would certainly make my life easier in the long run) can we do this? Are there not rules? Can we pick up any style of card and read just as we like? I know this may be correct for oracles but with Tarot - I thought there was something static about it. Am I wrong?

PS I'm so grateful for all the bumping going on at the moment, thanks Lee