The Marseilles birth and influences


A few years ago a friend wanted me to do a reading for her, I didn't have my deck with me, so I used hers. At first I thought, "This is not Rider-Waite, how will I be able to read it?" But I could, the interpretations and thoughts slid off my tounge so easily....flowing perhaps without even thought, at times.

It was a considerable time after this that I discovered that the deck was The Marseilles and I was fascinated by the age of the deck and that it is still used today.

I still don't own a Marseilles deck (shock horror), but joining Aeclectic has renewed my interest and I plan to buy one today in fact!

Am I correct in thinking that the French priest, Eliphas Levi, developed the deck along with the link of Tarot to the Jewish Kabbalah in the 1800's?

I understand that Fortune Telling became very popular in France in the 1800's and renewed an interest with the Tarot.

What were the influences of the Marseilles? What person(s)/cultures influenced its birth? What was happening in France at that time historically to influence Tarot imagery?

So many questions running around in my mind and I am sure there are so many facts, opinions and theories to answer them and I would love to hear them ALL. :D

Thanks everyone



I'm glad I'm not the only one just starting to learn about this deck. I'm waiting for my Camoin and Hadar to get here...and I can hardly stand it!! I'm anxious to start going through the old threads and start asking questions.


TemperanceAngel said:
Am I correct in thinking that the French priest, Eliphas Levi, developed the deck along with the link of Tarot to the Jewish Kabbalah in the 1800's?

Levi was, I believe, the first to link the Major Arcana of the Tarot to the Hebrew alphabet, but the Marseilles pattern predates him by a few centuries. There are many good sources for Tarot history online; here are a couple to get you started:

Andy's Playing Cards

Villa Revak

The Hermitage



Thanks Felicityk, I will look forward to reading the information that you provided.

Firestorm, glad I got a kindred spirit on board with me.

Thanks jmd, for encouraging me to post this thread.

If you don't ask well you don't get any answers! :D



With regards to the connection between the Majors and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (to take one point from the many wonderful questions contained in the post), E. Levi certainly appears the first to have articulated in a developed way how each of the cards may connect.

Preceding him, however, mention was earlier made by the Comte de Mellet in vol 8 of De Gebelin's Encyclopedia - but more as a side note.

Some of the more recent investigations by Mark Filipas suggests that there may very well be an intrinsically close connection between the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the, specifically, Marseille sequence (but not with the proto-Tarot Visconti type decks).

If this is the case, then Comte de Mellet's comment may have been made, though it seems highly unlikely given the context, in light of a half-forgotten tradition. This remains only a as yet-to-be historically confirmed, however plausible.

When one carefully considers the images, as Filipas has done, in light of the alphabetic sequence - ie, the ordinal value of the letters rather than their cardinal ones - then what emerges is certainly a strong suggestion that Marseille and Hebrew letter sequence are related.
With regards to the Fortune telling influence on deck design, this seems to have become particularly significant with the works of Eteilla, who undoubtedly also reflected the demands of the time.

As the twentieth century was dominated by the RWCS deck, so was the 19th century dominated by another - in this case, the Etteilla, which also deviated in many essential parts from the Marseille. This seems to have been 'rectified' following not only the works of E. Levi, but also the publication of the Grimaud deck in the 1930s.



Zowie, you have a way of asking the big questions.

Felicity already directed you to the best history sources on the web.

There have been a number of threads on this forum that address those issues. Here's one:

As for the question of whether there's a tarot/kabbalah connection, jmd already referred to the short, correct answer: only since the time of the French occultists, particularly Eliphas Levi.

Typical of the modern responses to this question is the one in Rachel Pollack's "Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot." After boldly (and accurately) stating that there is no historical connection between kabbalah and tarot, she goes on in the following few pages to explain kabbalistic approaches to the cards in some detail.

Go figure. I guess it's accurate to say that kabbalah is definitely an aspect of modern-day tarot. There are people who claim, some quite passionately, that it was part of premodern tarot as well, but none of their arguments have ever convinced me, since the one thing they lack is evidence.

The great debunker of the kabbalistic tarot myth is Michael Dummet, in his book (with Thierry DePaulis and Ronald Decker), "A Wicked Pack of Cards: History of the Occult Tarot, part I."


My Marseilles deck didn't manifest today, but it will and soon. Let me tell you once I get my teeth stuck into something, there is no stopping.....

The Gebelin referred to is Court de Gebelin (1723-1787) French cleric, linguist and occultist, YES?

I am going to look at the links mentioned over the next few days, I really want to study, not just glance.

I am still unsure, and please do excuse me if I do seem ignorant, about the Marseilles creator. OK so we all know about A.E.Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith, does history become scarce, dim or unknown regarding the Marseilles?

Maybe I'll answer my own question when I read the links...and it still begs the question where DID the Tarot originate?

The search has begun in the TemperanceAngels' universe...


Edited to note I shall make more sense and understand things far greater than I do now in my next post.


Hi TemperanceAngel,

The answer to the question of who created the Marseilles deck, and when, is this:

There's no one deck that we can point to as the first Marseilles. Rather, there was a slow evolution from the first printed decks from the 15th century until the Jean Noblet deck which Stuart Kaplan in his Encyclopedia of Tarot dates to the 17th century. The decks in between each have some features of the Marseilles but not all. The Noblet is cited by Kaplan as "one of the first known examples of Tarot of Marseilles decks." There are tantalizing single cards found at the Sforza castle which have Marseilles features which date to around 1500. A fragmented sheet of trumps from the mid-16th century is an early deck with some recognizable Marseilles features, specifically a Moon card with a lobster in pool of water with two towers. So the evidence we have showing the evolution of the Marseilles could be thought of as starting with the single cards found in the castle from around 1500, and finally being established more or less as the Marseilles we know with the Noblet deck from the 1600s.

You will find that there are some folks on this forum who believe that the Marseilles deck was created by a specific person or group to embody specific truths; however, unfortunately the evidence, i.e. the evolution cited above which is plain for anyone to see, does not bear this out, and I'm afraid this theory needs to be treated in a similar manner to that suggested by catboxer regarding the connections of kabbalah to the trumps, i.e., no historical evidence, and plenty of historical evidence suggesting otherwise.

If you're really fascinated by all this, you may want to consider buying Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot Vol. 2, which contains pictures of many, many early printed decks. I've spent countless hours with this book. I've spent a lot of time just staring at the aforementioned first known Marseilles Moon card. It's really something.

-- Lee :)


You mentioned marseilles specifically

It is at the bottom section of Tom Tadforlittle's site and while there's the Cary sheet (Italian), I thought perhaps you were interested in the later French patterns, as opposed to the earlier Milanese patterns.

However, if I can put a plug in, collecting wise, I started some years ago collecting samples of the Italian reproductions, then branching out to one or two of the evolved French, Swiss, German and Spanish designs of the Marseilles.

I am a great fan of design from the Visconti through Milanese, especially since II can get reproductions of many of the decks.

One site that reviews many of the Italian reproductions include:

It can become a great, delightful pastime that you might want to go slowly into...the suggestion of Volume II of Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia of the Tarot dwells a great deal on trump origins and is a delightful, if large read through the early patterns. The websites listed are good browsing to start your journeys...

Best wishes,

Mari H.


TemperanceAngel said:
The Gebelin referred to is Court de Gebelin (1723-1787) French cleric, linguist and occultist, YES?

Yes and no. Some people say Antoine Court de Gébelin was born in France. But it seems that he was actually born in Switzerland and did all his studies in Switzerland and did his seminary studies to become a Protestant pastor there as well. But everyone thinks he was French. His father had moved to Switzerland to escape the Church who didn't like him very much.

He added the name "de Gébelin" to his name - it was not his given name.

He left Switzerland and moved to France when he was about 40, and of course.... became a FreeMason.

Then he published his famous book called "Le Monde Primitif", which is what kind of made him famous all up to the 21st Century. In it there's a lot of interesting stuff, and also, of course, a bit of nonsense. But I think he was a really fascinating guy, and I'm pretty fond of him myself.

Now of course, some people will say "but there are records that he was born in Nimes". (Some people believe everything they read.) Now I know from personal experience that records cannot be relied on. I will tell you why, even if it's off-topic, but at the same time, it's not, because it shows how History can be changed and twisted by documents, and that sometimes oral history is truer than the written:

My father was born in Paris a few years before the First World War - of a Polish father and French mother. There is no trace of his birth there.... you can hunt through every single birth archive in Paris and you will not find it. However, there would be traces (if the Nazis hadn't destroyed everything) in the Warsaw archives that he was born in Warsaw on January 1st, 1910. We don't even know if that was his actual date of birth. But he was definitely born in Paris - and lived there for ten years before moving to Lithuania (not even Warsaw!).

So birth records and such are very easy to falsify if one has good reasons to do so (or even if one has bad reasons. Whether my father's father had good or bad reasons to lie, I cannot judge - but he chose to register the birth of his child in a country where he was not born.)

De Gébelin, like Oswald Wirth, was Swiss, with French origin.