Before anyone flees for the exit, this 78-card extravaganza is NOT a spread for divination, it’s a systematic way to assign interpretive meaning to the suit cards of the Tarot de Marseille (TdM) by “borrowing” it from the “trump” cards of the same number (up to a point).
Finding meaning in the numbered small (or “pip”) cards of the TdM, with their nondescript suit symbols and formulaic ornamentation, is a daunting task for those weaned on the suggestive scenic minors of the Waite-Smith deck, or even the semi-scenic suit cards of the Thoth deck. While it is possible to import aspects of the elemental and numerical symbolism developed by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn to alleviate this situation, experienced TdM practitioners – when they aren’t trying to impart significance to the quantity and condition of the leaves and flowers in the ornamentation – have hit upon the idea of relating the qualities of the 22 trump cards to the pips of their corresponding number, sometimes referred to as the “Pips-as-Trumps” method. For example the Magician (Trump #1) has a meaningful relationship to all of the Aces, the first cards of their respective suits, since both convey the idea of “drawing power from above” with the goal of manifesting it. This innovation works well as far as it goes – which is up to the tenth trump, the Wheel of Fortune – after which it breaks down.
I recently started working with Jean Michel David’s course material, Reading the Marseille Tarot, and the first thing I latched onto was laying out the cards in novel combinations to look for interesting connections between them. I had the “Pips-as-Trumps” model in the back of my mind, so I started from there by laying out all the trumps in two lines (Magician through Wheel of Fortune above and Hanged Man through World below), with Fortitude centered between the two lines as a kind of “fulcrum” for the cards above and a “suspension hook” for those below. (See the included photograph.)
This brings Trump XI into high focus. It sits at the divide between the Pope (V) and the Lover (VI) above, and the Tower (XVI) and the Star (XVII) below. I noticed that 5+6=11, while 16-11=5 and 17-11=6; this creates a numerological resonance between these five cards, centered on the pivotal number Eleven. Furthermore, the balanced pairs on either side add to 11: Emperor + Chariot; Empress + Justice; Popesse + Hermit and Magician + Wheel of Fortune. But the most interesting revelation was that subtracting 11 from all of the trumps below (Hanged Man through World) yields the number of the trump card immediately above in the upper row (12-11=1, 13-11=2, 14-11=3, 15-11 =4, etc). This brings the cards in the lower tier into the fold by giving them a secondary correspondence to the numbers One through Ten.
Fortitude becomes a kind of “conductor” or “translator” linking the energies of the first ten trumps to the last ten. If the Magician is, in Aleister Crowley’s words, an expression of “Energy sent forth” into the realm of the four elements, and the “electric charge which is the first manifestation of the ring of ten indefinable ideas” (the ten “emanations” which underlie the meaning of the Minor Arcana), the Hanged Man reflects a submergence/emergence cycle from which a new direction arises (similar to the transition from the Ten of one suit to the Ace of the next as a “new beginning”).The image suggests a “cocoon” suspended from a branch, awaiting metamorphosis. Esoterically, Crowley considered this a card of initiatory redemption rather than sacrifice, a state of darkness in which “the serpent of new life begins to stir.”
To continue in a less lofty vein, I then lined up all the pip cards (Ace through 10) with the two rows of trumps, placing the active, positive, “hard” suits above and the passive, negative, “soft” suits below.
The upper pips (Batons and Swords) line up directly with the “Pips-as-Trumps” model, and the lower pips (Cups and Coins) can be related to the same model by subtracting 11 from the second-line trumps directly above them. In use, I would relate two trump cards to each of the ten pips: the Aces would echo some of the qualities of both the Magician and the Hanged Man; the Twos would align with the Popesse and Death; the Threes correspond to the Empress and Temperance; and so forth. All of this gave me a new appreciation for the significance of Trump XI (or at least the number 11). I have yet to work out all of the connections in practical terms, since they are less intuitive than the numerological approach of the original model. At this point, I’ll resort to Crowley’s clever escape and just say “work out for oneself the correspondences” between the symbolism of the paired trumps and the associated pips.
Next, for no other reason than completeness and not as an elaboration of the “Pips-as-Trumps” paradigm, I put the more active court cards, Valets and Cavaliers, to the left at the low-numbered end of the pip sequences, thereby acknowledging that the Aces are the most energetically potent expression of each suit’s elemental force, and the Queens and Kings at the other end, with the understanding that the Tens represent the most established manifestation of that same power. This perception is reinforced by the fact that the Valets and Knights are standing and mounted, respectively, while the Queens and Kings are both seated on thrones.
Finally, I placed the Fool off to the left and centered between the “above” and “below,” envisioning it as a kind of precursor or “mentor” for Trump XI. It’s a little imaginative, but it’s giving me good food for thought. Right now I’m thinking I might swap Batons and Swords so the descending series would flow as “head, hands, heart” and . . . umm, “hoof?” (suggesting animal instincts).
What I’m doing here has a certain numerological integrity and structural elegance, but it’s far off the beaten path. It may ultimately amount to nothing more than an engaging curiosity, but I’m of the belief that there are no coincidences when it comes to tarot. As the late, lamented Yoav Ben-Dov was fond of saying ,“Everything is a sign.”