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



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 !


I have thought about this also quite a lot. The question popped up here, concerning playing card suits and elements:


It's interesting that the French suit of Kreuz (Clubs) is called Treff in many areas of Germany - my grandmother used to call it Treff. I'm sure that's from the French word. And diamonds are of course Karo.

Herz (oldfashioned: Coeur), Kreuz (or Treff), Pik and Karo are the German words for the French suits - taken one to one from French and so etymologically, nothing new for me to add.

But I ask myself how the German and French suits go together. You can see them here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_playing_cards

But is that really the right way to sort them?

You may like Huson's book Mystical Origins of the Tarot - he devotes a lot of thought to the origins of the suit names and their comparison.

According to Huson:

Mamluk Coins = Italian Danari = old French Clover = Modern French clover leaves (Clubs) = Spanish Oros = German Bells

Mamluk Cups = Italian Cups = old French Hearts = Modern French Hearts = Spanish Cups = German Hearts

Mamluk Swords = Italian Swords = old French Spades (piques) = Modern French spades = Spanish swords = German leaves

Mamluk polo sticks = Italian batons = old French tiles (carreaux) = Modern French diamonds = Spanish cudgels = German acorns

These are playing card suit, the question is, how do they go together with tarot suits and elements? Coins are made in fire, just like swords, and wood for the cudgels grows from the earth - it's really a matter of decision which system makes most sense to you.

But if you look at the historical development, I think there is no doubt that Coins/Tiles (carreau) become Pentacles, Hearts are Cups, Piques are Swords and Batons are Wands.


Hello Nemia, thank you very much for your input and interesting information !

I have no idea at all if what I expose here is "right" or not.
I know that I have read in tarot material (in french) that Wands (Batons) were related to Carreau (diamonds) and that Pentacles (Deniers) were related to Trèfle (clubs), and that makes perfect sense for me.
But I also read the contrary many times ! Including in wikipedia. So I do not know.

Here is my personal hypothesis :

1st step :
Marseille decks being the offsprings of Italian decks, and french playing cards being the offsprings of Marseille decks, I think that it appeared in this way (in France, at least) :
Wands (Batons) - Diamonds (carreau)
Pentacles (Deniers) - Clubs (trèfle)

2d step :
RWS being a product of english-speaking culture, and being, for a part, the offspring of Marseille decks, I suppose that is when the twist between Wands and Pentacles happened. It makes more sense, for an english speaking person, to link pentacles with diamonds.
RWS and Thoth are decks born of the english speaking world; and their influence have taken over the tarot world at some point.

But historically I am not sure this it makes sense. Deniers (pentacles) were more associated with the merchant community, and they might have been dealing with coins, but rarely with diamonds. The nobility which might have had access to gems, is historically represented by spades (épées).

My hypothesis seems to be supported by Huson (I did not know of his book before you mentioned it today in your post, so thank you !) if he considers, as you say, that

Mamluk Coins = Italian Danari = old French Clover = Modern French clover leaves (Clubs)
Mamluk polo sticks = Italian batons = old French tiles (carreaux) = Modern French diamonds

That is how I see it personally.
But, once again, it is just a personal understanding, I have no way of knowing wich is right or not, just my intuition and my french culture !

But if you look at the historical development, I think there is no doubt that Coins/Tiles (carreau) become Pentacles, Hearts are Cups, Piques are Swords and Batons are Wands.

In your description here, clubs (trèfles) are absent. Batons and Wands are the same, none is the modern french symbol.

And I think that on the contrary there is doubt concerning the transformation of Coins in french Carreau. I think historically there is a lot of reasons why Coins would become the french Trèfle.
i also see historical reasons why it would become Carreau, but a lot less.

Please remember, it is just my opinion and my understanding here. I have not studied the historical development, I am just wondering..though Huson seems to be going my way, while many other sources go the other way.

But the info you share on german suits is very interesting.
It could be an other reason for twisting around wands and pents : the closeness between english and german. The round bell symbol could look like a pentacle, and the more elongated kreuz could look more like a wand. That would support Wand = Clubs and Pents = Diamonds (the contrary of my own feeling)

Depending on how you see it, the relations between italian and german symbols can either clash or relate to the relation between italian and modern french symbols.

This is all very interesting !


Yes it's very interesting but it makes me right now dizzzzzy LOL

What a lot of information, thank you for starting this thread!


Yes I understand !
I must learn to write shorter posts, I know its an issue I have, lol !
Also, I get easily mixed up with all the names of the suits....
Thanks for your inputs that was very instructive :)


You? I have to learn that but I'm afraid it's too late... your post was perfect, mine incoherent. I feel really confused - as though we were having a picknick while around us everybody is packing and feeling the earth shake...

A Tower day.


I as though we were having a picknick while around us everybody is packing and feeling the earth shake...

A Tower day.

Exactly :(
A Tower day.
I am trying to participate until the last moment, because I regret so much not joining sooner and I feel I have lost such precious time.... But you are right, it is difficult to concentrate with the ship sinking under our feet.
Your post was very informative and certainly not incoherent in the least ! I thank you for what it just taught me about german suits and Huson's work.

Cheers Nemia, and see you here hopefuly for the next two weeks, then see you on the Cartomancy forum !