Papus' Tarot of the Bohemians


I have this book on pdf and was curious on how soon to jump in on it. As some may have noted I've had some curiosity questions about the differences between Golden Dawn and Martinist Hermetic Qabalah and tarot. Currently I'm working through Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin's Man His True Nature and Ministry and was hoping to get some Papus in to further my understanding on what Martinism is all about (I've been curious about it for a while).

In reading the reviews for the Papus book however I'm noticing some of the people are noting that it's really heavy schlepping, to the point where they're almost indicating that if you haven't been an esoteric student for years the content of the book will mostly floss in one eye and out the other. Has anyone else here read it and if so what are your opinions? Are there any books out ahead of that one that you'd recommend for getting a more generalized understanding on Papus' thinking prior to embarking on Tarot of the Bohemians? As it is I've got Levi's Paradoxes of the Highest Science and Israel Regardie's Llewelynn 'Complete Golden Dawn' that have been contenders in terms of batting-order.


I have this book on pdf and was curious on how soon to jump in on it. As some may have noted I've had some curiosity questions about the differences between Golden Dawn and Martinist Hermetic Qabalah and tarot........
What is a 'Martinist Hermetic Qabalah'? Does something like that really exist? Is it due to Saint Martin himself or it something 'found' only in insanely high (and totally secret) degrees of Continental or French Masonry and 'known' only to Christine Payne-Towler and her loyal disciples? Here's a Tree of Life that might present itself as pertaining to a 'Martinist' Qabalah. It ain't like the GD tree at all.

GD history is bad enough. At least the basic facts about it are pretty firmly established. Not so the Martinist stuff. In many writings about it, fantasy is not distinguished from fact, so one is constantly on edge trying to separate fact from fiction.

Go ahead and read Saint Martin, Papus, Levi, and Regardie. I was referring to more modern commentators, who substantiate their words with references to supernally high and mighty sources to which ordinary mortals are not privy.


What I said might have conjuncted a little odd - I was admitting that they both practice a Hermetic Qabalah, the GD has a format, I don't know enough about the full variety of the rest albeit I get the impression that Martinism practices a Qabalah, with a Q because while they're Judao-Christian they are so through a Hermetic/Platonic/mystic sort of lens, so I'm referring to it as an unknown Hermetic Qabalah that they practice rather than it being 'their' Hermetic Qabalah in any specificity.

I do know people who are Martinists and claim that it's very heavy in Qabalah learning, I just wish I knew what tree or whether I could get some leads on how different or similar it is to GD or whether there are places I could learn more about it as proper. That's part of why Papus' book looks so interesting.


That Tree of Life to which I linked is based on the Levi Hebrew letter attributions. I don't think I've been brainwashed by P. F. Case and/or A.E. Waite, but I can't make any sense at all out of it. However, I am also prejudiced against it, which is not Levi's fault. I shall explain.

According to one well-known tarot author, Levi was worthy of being admitted to unimaginably, stratospherically, high degrees of French Masonry (which apparently are so secret that no one knows whether they even exist). It was within that sacred environment that Levi obtained his information about the tarot attributions. Mathers and Waite were not deemed worthy of admission to those degrees, so they formulated a different (and quite arbitrary) system of correspondences and tried to discredit Levi because of jealousy. (There may be a few slight inaccuracies in the preceding, but that's the gist of it. I think it has no more credibility than a child's lie.)

Pardon me while I relieve my nausea...

Anyhow, I'm curious enough to download the Papus book and see if I can make any sense out of it.


The picture you linked reminds me of something that would have been in Aryeh Kaplan's book with respect to the positioning of the 3, 7, and 12 in a geometric fashion to the paths.

I think what leads me at wondering and wanting to figure it out is really two things. I have a group leader who keeps in subtle ways constantly recommending Martinism to me just on the kinds of topics that I and a few others in our group bring up and it really sounds like the underpinnings of what's learned are looking at the bible through the Egyptian and Pythagorean lens and by extension of both the Hermetic. Also the other thing that gets me - I'm constantly on the lookout for new tarot decks to get and I rarely ever see new decks with GD attributions and when I do there's usually a Cicero involved. I then compare that to the number of people who create decks on an ongoing basis, beautiful decks mind you, that I'd love to use but they keep to this day - obstinately or otherwise - putting the Fool on Shin.

Part of me really loved the Unknown Author's 'Meditation on the Tarot' as well as his overall attitude toward sacred and divine magic and self-development (MOUP has him on the recommended Martinist reading list). Like you mentioned though I also do have a lot of respect for Paul Foster Case (still new to B.O.T.A. but looking forward to all it has to offer), I love Dion Fortune's work, I love Gareth Knight's A Practical Guide in that they all walk on the pious edge of the mysteries and stick to what's applicable for that path. I suppose in one way I'm lucky that this is all hitting at once and because of that I don't have anyone with an opinion trying to pull on my sleeve to pull for one side or another.

On so many levels I'm trying to make sense of what information I'll find useful out there, what organizations have processes and knowledge I'd want to join for the sake of growth and gaining knowledge, and I'd agree with you that the author you mentioned sounds like a blatant hack and I'm sure there are plenty of people trying to gain fame by riding someone else's accomplishments or trying to MC them. Also, while I know I can't trust everything I see or hear online I heard mention that the Cicero's or at least S.T. were members of several orders including a Martinist organization? If so I'm at least glad to see that the heads are keeping it real and I'm not looking at a U of Michigan vs. Ohio State type rivalry here. Regardless, if the old French attribution model turned out to be full tripe and if it had no break-even with comparison to GD formatting its confusing that so many people cleave to it including groups as big as Freemasonry.


FWIW, in The Unknown Philosopher by Arthur Edward Waite, as far as I can tell, Saint Martin gets a 100% approval rating. In fact, even Waite's theological leanings seem to be identical with those of Saint Martin (which were rather heretical, being seriously at variance with traditional soteriology).

Ruby Jewel

Tarot of Bohemians

I can tell you about my experience with the Papus Bohemian Qabalah system. When I first looked at it, it looked rather formidable, but I went ahead and bit the bullet. First I set up a big 4' square piece of plywood on top of 2 sawhorses and covered it with a twin size red blanket. This is what I used to lay out the cards on and it is perfect. It took me about 3 days to lay out the entire deck according to the instructions in the book. After I started, everything just sort of started falling into place automatically, and it was quite a magical experience the way the cards work numerically. First I laid out the 1st ternary (first 3 cards in a trine) on the top left corner, then I put the bottom (negative) ternary beneath it to create the first septenary. When I finished there were 3 septenaries across the top and the last ternary I laid at the bottom beneath the first septenary. By the time I finished the whole thing was engrained in my memory. Now I can "see" with my mind's eye every card of the major arcana in it's proper position in that layout. It was worth every moment of my time and effort, and I would say, don't be inhibited. Just begin at the beginning and learn about the numbers and work it out as you go. One thing: you are not going to want to dismantle it for awhile as you will want to study it. So, put it somewhere that you can leave it, and use a 2nd deck. And, by the way, I had no idea what the Qabalah was...still don't really, but I bought the Kaplan book on it, so I'm learning about it.

Today, I did the same thing with the "Tree of Life". It is all laid out and now I'm going to study it until I know it intimately as well.

I had the Papus "Tarot of the Bohemians" for several years and haven't worked with the tarot in over 15 years, but I recently became motivated again. All I can say is that the book is quite clear and easily understood once you make the effort.


TY Ruby.

My biggest concern is, while I'd love to know more about it, I almost want to wait until my current alchemy/tarot/Qabalah system has fused more with me before I throw this in the mix. I'm currently on more of a Golden Dawn path, would love to know the distinctions between that and how Papus worked but need to be careful how and when I go about that kind of research.

Ruby Jewel

Golden Dawn

I am working with the Golden Dawn deck myself right now, and that is why I am learning The Tree of Life layout. Kaplan's book "The Qabalistic Tarot" is making it all very clear for me. Of course, I am pretty knowledgeable about astrology as I studied it in NYC for 2 years back in the 80's. Believe me, it helps tremendously because "The Tree of Life" is highly integrated with astrology. However, I think the thing that has helped me more than even the astrology is knowing the Papus layout. The "Tree" is very similar in that it is based on the "yod-heh-vau-2nd heh", same as Papus. In both, the 2nd Heh's (which become the next yod in the journey) turn out to be the transitional cards, as well as the 10's and the Pages/Princesses. When you study the numbers at the beginning of Papus you will see how that happens. Also the assignments of the 4 elements are the same. I'm sure I would not be moving along nearly so easily with this "Tree of Life" if I didn't already know the Papus' layout. Furthermore, I can see that Papus is a whole lot easier to digest. It is very straightforward, and not so focused on astrology; whereas the Kaplan explanation of the "Tree" is very convoluted, as he keeps admitting to in the text. I have them both laid out side-by-side for a comparative analysis as I go. Very, very interesting and enlightening together. By the way, I studied Papus with the Rider Waite deck.

I am really glad I took the "time out" to learn the "Tarot of the Bohemian's" method as it has helped me understand everything I've studied since. Good luck on your endeavors. I'm sure whatever method you choose is perfect for you. I just wanted to share my experience here in case it might be of some help. Virginia