Tarot Tutorial: Reading the Pip Cards in the Tarot de Marseille
By Martin Goodson, known on the forum as Squareye
For this Tarot Tutorial, I’d like to show what I’ve learned about reading with the Tarot de Marseille (TdeM).
I started reading cards as a teenager with the Morgan Greer Tarot back in the 1970s. The Morgan Greer, like many other Tarot packs from the last century, is based on the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) pack. My formal training as a reader was with the RWS; learning the correspondences used by Pamela Colman-Smith from the 19th century group of magicians known as the Golden Dawn, A.E. Waite being a founder member.
Although I was drawn to the the TdeM and its more antiquated style, I was uncertain about my ability to read it because it lacked the ‘baked-in’ meanings conveyed by the more image heavy RWS and its derivatives. However, I’ve come to appreciate this lack as an opportunity to develop a different way of card reading than I use for the RWS.
Before we jump into our task for this tutorial, I want to give you some important resources that helped me tremendously with this different way of reading. Firstly, Gordon White’s Runesoup website. He has a premium membership and he has produced a number of fine magical courses, including a tarot course. This really opened my eyes to a different way of reading cards. Then there is Camelia Elias who I’ve seen name-checked on TABI’s forums. Her Read Like The Devil website has her articles and books on reading the pips of the TdeM. Also there is Enrique Enriquez in Tarology, a film about this New York based poet. Enrique uses the TdeM for story-telling and completely ignores any pre-loaded meanings for the cards. Finally we have The Castle of Crossed Destinies a 1973 novel by Italo Calvino. In his book, Calvino has a series of characters meet up at a castle who find they cannot speak. Each tells his or her own tale using a pack of TdeM cards. The book shows the card spreads as well as the narration by one of the characters who interprets each spread for the reader. Calvino’s free-form interpretations of the cards is quite different from the meanings often found in the ‘little white book’ that most packs of Tarot cards contain.
In fact it is this free-form nature of the TdeM that is both its difficulty and its strength. Unlike the RWS and derivative Tarot cards, which have ‘oven-ready’ meanings designed into each one, the TdeM pip cards have no obvious meanings at all! The TdeM has no elemental, Kabbalistic, astrological or colour-scale meanings except those the reader consciously brings to them.
Camelia Elias likes to say that she can read the RWS when she is “dead drunk,” because the images give a clear meaning for each individual card. The TdeM however gives no essential clue. If we take, for example the 3 of Swords, without the pierced heart what does the TdeM version tell us about its meaning?
For me, the meaning for a card comes from its relationship to the spread as a whole. The sort of thing I’m looking for, initially, is whether there is a trend with the suits or the numbers. Do they increase or decrease? How does the first card ‘change’ to become the second card and then ‘change’ again to become the third?
One important aspect is when a Court Card appears, each figure has a line of sight, is looking towards something. Which card does the figure face and which card does s/he have his/her back to? Of course, we use these clues for the RWS readings too, but because of the absence of individual card meanings with the TdeM I find they have more emphasis in a reading.
So let’s jump in and look at a couple of readings. To begin with, we’ll look at a familiar story that we all know — but how does the TdeM speak to us about it?
All cards were drawn randomly in response to the question asked.
For simplicity I will use a line format of 5 cards which read from left to right.
A line of 5 cards for the Tarot to tell us about the story of Cinderella?
Our five cards are: 2 of Cups, 10 of Cups 7 of Swords Page of Disks, 10 of Swords
If we are looking for the subject-matter of this story then this first left-hand card gives it. The 2 of Cups I read as our two main protagonists, Cinderella and the prince, in a story about their relationship.
Interestingly though, the rest of the cards do not tell the story, rather, they tell us about this story, as the question requested.
The second card is the 10 of Cups and indeed could be interpreted as the successful outcome for our two lovers. However, my attention was drawn by that overturned cup at the top of the image. It seems to dominate the smaller cups and suggests an impasse, a problem in the affair. Its length is also suggestive of a phallus, a symbol of power, especially of a sexual nature, giving an emphasis to the sexual tension that underpins this story.
These tensions appear again in the central card, the 7 of Cups. A ‘7’ card, if we were to project a numerological meaning onto these cards, indicates difficulties. Even if we stay with what we see, those cups have now turned into swords. (Jean de Noblet uses curved scimitars as well as the more conventional European longsword). Six of them form a vesica, a shape that is reminiscent of a vulva, but the seventh longsword is wedged and cannot act freely. Here is the central motivation for the action. As we know, it is jealousy that provides the tension from our stepmother who fears usurpation by Cinderella and so enslaves her. She is enabled in this strategy by a weak father and the two step-sisters who are jealous of the prince’s affections. The symbol of the sword/phallus in this central card trapped by the vulva and prevented from entering it pictures, simultaneously, the power relationship between Cinderella’s father and stepmother and the powerlessness of the prince and Cinderella to consummate their love.
The last two cards take us to the denouement. The Page of Disks, who represents the prince or his messenger, carries the ‘shoe.’ He seems to be taking aim at the two swords (the step-sisters), who bar the prince’s way. As we know, it is the shoe that finally breaks the tension which allows the lovers to unite.
A somewhat psychological telling of this well-known tale, but interesting nevertheless, I hope!
So, let’s try a different ‘story’ that takes us into the area of the more traditional ‘fortune-telling’ function of the TdeM.
Will the U.K. Government successfully complete a Free Trade Agreement with the E.U. by the end of 2020?
This is a more simple yes/no type of question and so we will just use a three card spread for it.
Our three cards are: 9 of Swords, 3 of Batons, Queen of Batons
Swords open our story and are implicit in both power and conflict. We have two sides locked in negotiations with a single sword wedged in the middle barring a ‘way through.’ This is how the story starts out and sums up the present circumstances.
Our middle card is the 3 of Batons, a much less ‘busy’ card, with those swords seeming to have turned to wood. The shouting is less shrill, the feeling is more cordial when compared to the first card; however the number ‘3’ and the fact the batons are barring the way to the single baton behind suggests to me no agreement. There is progress (again using the number ‘3’ suggests incremental gains), but no apparent resolution. The final card is the Queen, which suggests to me ‘Her Majesty’s Government,’ but where is she looking? She does not have her eye on the negotiations behind her, rather she looks off into the future. I think this suggests that she does not expect completion of an FTA in the next 12 months, but is looking further ahead.
So, this may or may not come to pass, but we do have our story and it does come from reading what we see on the cards. One thing to point out is the importance of knowing the question ahead of the reading. It is this which helps ‘fix’ the meaning and stimulate a whole response.
You may like to look at the card spread above and see what your interpretations are. What do the card forms and the way they change from left to right suggest to you?
I find this freedom not to use ‘baked-in’ meanings refreshing, and a great aid in story-telling practice. I hope you do too!