Translation of Article: Le Mat (the fool) as the Giant Bel-Gargan


Translation of Article: Le Mat (the fool) as Bel-Gargan

The following is my (hurried) translation of Tarot de Marseille: Le Mat article on the lycos site.


Where is this strange character going who seems too big for the card. Apparently he does not belong anymore to this universe which is too little for him.

And besides he is the only one of the twenty two major arcane to not have a number. So the temptation is strong to make him the zero or the 22, and many have succumbed to this temptation.

But the card game specifies forcefully, the Mat does not play like the others. He must have no number, because he remains indifferent to all the other cards who oppose him.

And look closely, count the blades of grass, there are twenty-one and correspond to the twenty-one numbered cards.

Obviously, he has nothing more to learn from this world. The dog barks, the caravan passes. The dog, carrier of souls, guardian of the Styx (river in the Underworld) does not stop Le Mat. Would le Mat then be the initiator, and therefore an accomplished initiate himself?

Le Mat and the Gaulois myth of the giant Bel Gargan.

In a time so long ago that it is difficult to give a date, towards the Neolithic period, there began to exist in the minds of mankind, the image of a giant, who came from polar regions, the last person from a vanished continent. White of skin, of whiskers and hair, with a great beard with ice-cubes stuck to it, a bright body covered with the frost of great empty spaces where the glacial wind blows.

In France he came from the north-west, in spring he traveled distances in a great hurry, only stopping for a moment in a stream. He would float his giant body in the water to get rid of the ice cubes which covered him. Then at sunset, he would come out and again travel vast distances with huge paces. A single step was enough to go from Brittany to the Rhône. He loved the banks of the Rhône, the land of the Parisii (tribe that founded Paris) the current Ile de France, and especially Mont Tombelaine, where Mont Saint Michel is. Then he would disappear towards the south after having drunk a last throat-ful of water from the Rhône.

He always came back towards the end of summer, and went back up with huge paces toward the north, only to reappear six months later, at the beginning of spring. Little by little, the inhabitants who encountered him in his long walks, or who saw him during his rest in the river, got used to seeing him, grew bold enough to approach him and offered him gifts. The members of certain castes, the shepherds, and bateliers, traveled with him.

At the end of summer, they gathered together near a river, sacrificed an animal, dried its pelt, which they wore, they blackened their faces and took off on the shoulders of the giant towards the cold and mountainous regions of the north. When they returned in the spring, they had acquired wisdom, and a light which emanated from them made the other inhabitants of their villages respect them. Others, fewer people, who accompanied him on his journey toward the south did not return.

Little by little, this giant became familiar, and was given a name: Bel. (handsome). He came and went now on a golden horse. In France numerous tombs have been found where a knight is burried seated on a horse in areas called “Bois-de-Bel” (Bel’s woods), Mont de Bel (Bel’s mountain), Combe-Belin etc. Bel only carried men once in their life, and for the return trip, they walked, following their initiator.

This giant, without representation, gave way progressively to other gods, but the shepherds and bateliers remained faithful to him, and every year, they celebrated ceremonies in his honor. They came to the banks of a river, sacrificed an animal, a deer, or a wolf. A man would be chosen to wear the dried pelt of the animal, then his face would be blackened with mud. He symbolized the giant. The future initiate was not to put his feet in the water, so as not to soil it before the time of solitude and learning was over. The man representing the giant carried on his shoulders the "mystes" (initiates?), et carried them across the water to the place where their initiation would take place, in general an island in the middle of a river. In the spring, the men would return, led by their carrier, and following on foot. Those who desired to deepen their knowledge would remain on the island and became instructors the following year.

The Christian religion quickly attacked the myth of the good giant who carries people on his shoulders and initiates them. Around the year 1155, a monk Wace spoke of a giant “Gargan who makes Christianity tremble, crowns himself with (aubepine) and (eglantine) [plant names] and has commerce with the devil” The processions and the ceremonies at the banks of rivers seemed like wolf-packs “who carried the souls of the dead and prevented them from being saved”. But for Bel-Gargan, the idea of salvation was impossible and perpetual hell did not exist; the purety came as a matter of course, one obtained it by initiation, and the search for knowledge/wisdom. His disciples continued to give presents to the river and honor Mont Tombelaine. So the church borrowed from the east a knight of light who rode a shining horse, and fought with a dragon, a kind of sea monster. He became the luminous archangel teacher and healer, Saint Michel. Tombelaine and the giant who carries people on their shoulders Bel-Gargan were neutralized this way.


Soon thereafter, we see a giant appearing in Christian mythology who was a river-passer (one who carries people across the river), coming from the Chaldée. One night, while he was sleeping by the river, he was awoken by the voice of an child asking him to carry him to the other bank. The giant answerd the little boy who was about five or six years old, that at this hour, he didn’t carry anyone across. The child insisted and promised such a reward, that Christopher got up, took his walking stick and put the child on his shoulders. Little by little as the giant advanced, the little boy became heavier and heavier, to the point where Christopher thought he would never reach the other bank. He collapsed on the ground when he arrived. “Who are you to weigh so much?” “I am your god, answered the child, and became all luminous; by carrying me, you carried the world, and now you will be the carrier to paradise. “

Saint Christopher from Mont Athos in Greece was a giant with the head of a dog. He did not speak and guided travelers toward churches. Pagan at first, Jesus converted him and gave him speech, and the head of a man. Since then he guards doors of churches, leaning on a walking stick. But since he cannot remain still for long, he goes before travelers in need, in the passages of deep rivers. The animal head evokes the Egyptian god Anubis, also a carrier of the dead and of initiates.

(two more paraphraphs which follow discuss relation of le Mat to Hermes)

Rusty Neon

Re: Translation of Article: Le Mat (the fool) as Bel-Gargan

firemaiden said:


Where is this strange character going who seems too big for the card. Apparently he does not belong anymore to this universe which is too little for him.

Before hearing about the Le Mat association Firemaiden points out, the card which had Giant associations for me was the Knave of Sticks (Valet de Baton). The Knave is so tall, part of his head is cut off by the image border.

le pendu

Oh this might sound really "out there"...

And I don't want to take this off topic.. so just a few words. One of my interests has always been the development of the folk icon Santa Claus. This story reminds me so much of pieces of the early legends I can't help but wonder if they are connected. Common old names for him include Belsnickle and Pelznickel (because of the pelts/furs). The image of the traveler with the pack on his back, connection to gifts, and many other things make this really ring true to me. Early Santa Clauses were connected to both the "wild man" and to harlequin.

Thanks firemaiden for creating another link to another mystery I love.

Edited to add:
From everything I can find in English, it looks like the Bel of this story is possibly equivalent to the Celtic god known variously as Bel, Belenos, Belinos or Belenus. Bel, the Continental god of light, fire and healing is depicted as 'Apollo Belenus' (Brilliant Apollo) at a shrine at Sainte-Sabine in Burgundy. Referred to as "The Shining One", Bel=White. Coincidentally to the season, May 1st is often refered to by pagans as Beltane, a fire festival related to Bel.

Tombelaine seems connected as well, the best I can tell it is an older name for Mont St Michel and has something to do with the "fall of Bel".. obvious our French speakers will probably be able to translate this.



Robert, that's fantastically interesting! You know, as I was translating this, about the ice and snow, and coming from the north, and the white beard, I kept thinking about Santa Claus too. It did not escape me that I happened to be translating this on Beltane!

I'm not quite sure how the author sees the Fool as related to this myth (myth? who knows, it could have been historical figure, a huge Viking perhaps, why not?).


Thanks Firemaiden,

This is incredibly interesting. As I read the translation, the descriptions (the beard, the ice, coming from the North etc) also made me think of Santa Claus. I also wonder, could the giant actually represent Spring itself? A lot of the talk of melting the ice in the river and sacrifices of animals is reminiscent of the Spring festivals. Is it possible to relate the seasons more here too?



sorry if this is off subject or irrelevant but:

reading Roberts post reminded me of the Greenwood Tarot and the Judgement card (linking Santa Claus with Shamanism) I've attached a link to the Greenwood Tarot handbook - Judgement appears at the bottom of the page on the sevens (Greenwood has an unusual arangement of Majors):


Well, as Robert has pointed out, Bel - is a celtic sun god, so rather than one season, I'd say he represents the progress of the sun in the sky, and the changing of all the seasons.


Bel-gargan seems to be a conflation between two figures - Bel- the sun God and the famous giant, Gargantua - the main character in French Mythology, immortalised by Rabelais.

Yves Sagnier discusses Gargantua on his site: mythologie française , from which I have translated the following except:

[..] Outre des monts Gargan (ancien nom du Mont Saint Michel en passant), beaucoup de légendes locales attribuent à Gargantua la paternité de monts, de roches exotiques, de trous etc., qu'il aurait faits sans s'en rendre compte vue sa taille (qui varie d'ailleurs pas mal). A chaque fois, c'est parce que Gargantua est tombé là, ou a vidé ses chaussures (les grosses pierres étant des cailloux pour lui) etc. Gargantua lui-même est le fils d'un dieu pré-celtique, mais que ceux-ci ont repris en l'appelant Belen, noté Bélénos par les Grecs qui sont venus en Gaule, puis Belinus par les Romains (qui a donné le nom Belin en France). Ce dieu était à l'origine le soleil. On pensait que celui-ci sortait de la mer et finissait le jour dans des grottes lointaines (ou l'inverse).

translation of the above:

  • Aside from the mountains "Gargan" (old name for Mont Saint Michel), many local legendes credit Gargantua with the parternity of mountains, exotic rocks, holes, etc, that he would have made without realizing it, because of his size (which by the way varies quite a lot). Each time, it is because Gargantua fell there, or emptied his shoes, (the big rocks would have been pebbles for him). Gargantua himself is the son of a pre-Celtic god, but which the french people renamed Belen, noted as Belenos by the Greeks who came to Gaule, then Belinus by the Romans (which gave rise to the name Belin in France). This god was originally the sun. It was thought that he emerged from the sea and finished his day in far away caverns (or vice versa)

Acording to Yves Sagnier, the name Tombelain (another old name for Mont Saint Michel) comes from Tombe-belaine (Bel's tomb)

Sagnier thinks Gargantua and Bel form two of the three aspects of the sun.

Gargantua would be the setting sun, Bel would be the sun at it's zenith.

He suggests that the third part of the sun - morning - dawn, would be Morgan(t) -- related to german word "Morgen" - morning, and related to the fairy Morgana - who is associated with the Sleeping Beauty myth - (Sleeping Beauty's name is Aurora = dawn) etc. etc.

le pendu

Looks like he was spotted in England too!

This is a page about the history of Belgrave, Leicester:

It says:
"At the time of the Norman invasion the village was referred to as Merdegrave meaning Martin's Grove. With the the arrival of the French the name became associated with the French word merde! This element was soon replaced by the French word bel, meaning beautiful - the very opposite of merde. The new name is first found in a charter of 1082, in which the church is granted to St Ebrulf's abbey at Utica in Normandy - de ecclesiam de Merthegrave, que nunc alio nomine viz bellegrava dicitur. This is, therefore, one of the most interesting changes of name in England. Some, however, prefer to believe that the village gained its name from the giant Bel.

The legend tells us that in the age before history Bel boasted that he could reach Leicester (a distance of about seven miles) in three leaps. He mounted his sorrel mare at what became Mountsorrel and took one giant leap that took him to what is now known as Wanlip ('one leap').

The next leap was almost too much for horse and rider - both being severely injured in the jump that landed them at what has become known as Birstall ('burst all').

Not to be deterred Bel drove his spurs into the horse and took one final leap. It was, however too much for they fell a mile short of Leicester, both horse and rider dying on the spot. They were buried and the place became known for evermore as Belgrave (Bel's grave).

Mountsorrel he mounted at
Wanlip he leaped o'er
At Birstall he burst his gall
At Belgrave he buried all "


Edited to add:
BTW, here is a german image from 1850 of Pelzemartel, another version of Santa Claus. You can see some of the traits of the fool still entangled like the hat and feathers.


firemaiden said:
I'm not quite sure how the author sees the Fool as related to this myth (myth? who knows, it could have been historical figure, a huge Viking perhaps, why not?).

There is an old English word 'nowt', still common in Northern English dialects, which orginates from Norse and the Viking invasions. 'Nowt' means 'nothing', 'fool' and 'ox'. Strange coincidence!?