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Reading the Marseille Tarot (book cover)
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2016 philosophy course with Jean-Michel David
 

Jean Noblet tarot - a Paris made ‘Marseille’-type deck from 1650

¶432 Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life? – In use it is alive.
Is life breathed into it there? – Or is the use its life?
Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations

I shall justify neither my Hebrew letter correlations, nor my notes. I provide both in part as a work in progress, with my preferred connections shown. If (and it is a big 'if') there was any connection between trump development and Hebrew letters then, I suspect, it would more likely have taken the form of an abecederium as mentioned by Mark Filipas with, I would suggest, an ordinal reflection between both card and letter - which is what I present below.

 

Card images
from the 1650 Parisian
Jean Noblet

Ordinal value

Hebrew letter

Cardinal value

 

Notes

Below are minor notes only - more detailed explanation will be found in my book Reading the Marseille Tarot.

   

1st

Alef

Alef

1

 

I - Bateleur

A rascal by any other name - yet what an entertainer! One of the principal activities under the direction of the Moon, his mastery of illusion also engages the participant to cast his or her attention away from that which may be of central importance. Prestidigitation at its best!

Professions of the Moon

   

2nd

Bet

Bet

2

 

II - Papess

Reminiscent of scenes of Mary at the Annunciation (and triple-crowned as Queen of Heaven), and reflective of the Lectio Divina practiced across Europe as sacred reading and imaginative entering of the scenes brought to mind by the text. At her foot appears a spinning wheel, as also here with book as well:

Virgin at Spinning WheelMary triple-crowned at her ascension

   

3rd

Gimel

Gimel

3


 

III - Empress

The Empress, Isabella of Portugal, representing the breadth of Europa and calling to mind the immortal imagery and power of Isis and Harpocrates and thence the Madonna and Child.

Isabella of Portugal, EmpressEuropaIsis and harpocrates, Roman form, calling to mind the Madonna and Child

   

4th

Dalet

Dalet

4


 

IIII - Emperor

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

   

5th

Heh

Heh

5


 

V - the Pope

Podium, rather than throne, is here likely depicted. Yet in this image is also a semblance of depictions of God as bringing forth both the Torah and the Gospels (or rather, the Old and New Covenants), as, respectively, the Jewish and Christian spiritual impulses.

God as Pope

   

6th

Vav

Vav

6


 

VI - L'Amoureux

Marriage has both an earthly and divine aspect. Its earthly part seeing the social fabric weaved in a manner that sees the joining of two individuals towards a new family unit, and the divine as that opening of the power of Love, that greatest of Virtue, according to the writings of St Paul.

wedding mediaeval

   

7th

Zain

Zain

7


 

VII - the Chariot

Plato, in the Phædrus, uses the metaphor of the three parts of the Soul as Charioteer whose chariot is drawn by two horses, the one on the right comely and white, the one on the left malformed and disobedient. I'm allowed one of my own images, I trust!

Plato's three parts of the Soul as Chariot in the Phaedrus

   

8th

Heth

Heth

8


 

VIII - Justice

Justitia as derivative of Themis and Dike, reflecting an Aristotelean view of the concept.

Justice by Lorenzetti, 14th C. fresco in Siena

   

9th

Tet

Tet

9


 

VIIII - Hermit

Though an aspect of Diogenes is well brought to mind, it is St Antony that brings to light the eremetic impulse and its living qualities.

St Antony the Great

   

10th

Yod

Yod

10


 

X - Wheel of Fortune

From Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, both the image and its popular transformation into the Ferris Wheel take their foundation. The text remains one of the most influential philosophical works on Europe's historical landscape.

Boethius Consolation of Philosophy - Wheel of Fortune

   

11th

Kaf


Kaf

20/500


 

XI - Fortitude

Fortitude, with remnants from Samson, the latter taking the honey from the mouth of the Lion.

Samson removing honey through the Lion's mouth

   

12th

Lamed

Lamed

30


 

XII - Le Pendu

Torture and death of a Jew. Humanity's brutality to fellow human beings (and the animal realm) takes numerous forms, yet none so brutal and inhumane, it seems, as when focussed on casting fellow human beings as minority scape-goats, whether to account for bringing the Black Plague, or the dire economic circumstances faced in early 20th century Europe.

Reversed hanging of a Jew with dogs

   

13th

Mem


Mem

40/600


 

XIII - Death

Reaping of the fruits of life, there are not too many depictions of skeletal deaths with scythe from the period - even in the numerous Dance Macabre (that, admittedly, does at times include one of the numerous skeletal figures with scythe). Below is an extract from Brueghel the Elder (1562), and a far more common representation of seasonal work found in numerous places, including 13th century Cathredral petroglyphs and Books of Hours.

Brueghel the elder, 1562Book of Hours - 1250

   

14th

Nun


Nun

50/700


 

XIIII - Temperance

Water and Wine, ∴ 'Water' and 'Fire', Temperance remains one of the cardinal virtues of self-restraint, often depicted with bridle(s).

Temperance as depicted in ann illuminated manuscript of Plutarch's works

   

15th

Samek

Samek

60


 

XV - Devil

Much of this image calls to mind Hephæstius, together with his two created automata. Yet other aspects combine iconographic representations of Lucifer (with wings and claws) and Satan (or Ahriman) with dual face, the second on his belly.

Below are Lucifer sitting atop the Gates of Hell (Sorat), with Satan (Ahriman) directing people into its jaws.

Lucifer, Satan (Ahriman) and the gates of hell (Sorat)

   

16th

Ayin

Ayin

70


 

XVI - La Maison Dieu

Taken from the Infancy Gospel of pseudo-Matthew, who writes: "when the most blessed Mary, with her child, had entered the temple [in Hermopolis, Egypt], all the [365] idols were thrown to the ground, so they all lay flat,, convulsed and with their faces shattered. Thus they revealed that they were nothing. That that which was said by the prophet Isaiah was fulfilled: ‘Behold, the Lord shall come on a swift cloud and enter Egypt, and all the idols made by the Egyptians shall be moved from his face’."

Amiens Cathedral quadrefoil Escape to Egypt, fall of idols Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew

   

17th

Peh


Peh

80/800


 

XVII the Star

Originally a representation of Aquarius, the figure progressively altered to a feminine form, bringing to mind various Egyptian connections: Hapi, the breasted male Nile God, and the annual flooding of the Nile and Sirius and the Pleides. As Gynamedes-Aquarius, the gender appears again ambiguous.

aquarius medievalhapi from Vatican Museum, God of the Nile

   

18th

Tzadi


Tzadi

90/900


 

XVIII - the Moon

Cancer in its essential characteristics... yet an image so rich in its composition. Below is an alchemical emblem from the frontispice of the Triomphe hermétique of Limojon de saint Didier.

from Triomphe hermétique, Limojon de saint Didier

   

19th

Kof

Kof

100


 

XVIIII - the Sun

At one level, the Sun over Gemini - yet clearly referencing the Paradisiacal Garden of Eden and, by association, the Golden Age.

Golden Age in paradisiacal garden

   

20th

Resh

Resh

200


 

XX - Judgement

Final or Last Judgement

Provost Last Judgement

   

21st

Shin

Shin

300


 

XXI - Le Monde

Christ in Glory, descending at the second coming, calling to mind the manner in which he was described as God incarnating within the world, the four Evangelists in their 'natural' astrological order, adding to twenty-six, the value of YHVH. With Shin therein, transforming His unspeakable name to YHShVH: Yeheshuah.

sforza castle world card

   

22nd

Tav

Tav

400


 

Fou (Mat)

The Feaste of Fools sends its crowned Fou on an improbable journey or errand.

Rahere, fool and jester to Mathilda

Recommended Marseille deck resources

Please also check my Tarot Studies site for broader resources.

Marseille-deck specific sites

Jean-Claude & Roxanne Flornoy's site

for other Tarot pages on this site

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