A Tarot de Marseille “Pips” Overview: The Ambitious and Combative Batons

Although the Tarot de Marseille suit of Batons (our modern Wands) has similarities to the Swords in that both are considered “hard” suits, there are flourishes of a more nuanced individuality in the pip cards that the Swords pips lack.  Alone among the suits, the Batons have a very limited “inner landscape;” their agenda involves the external world of action and its consequences, and their motto could very well be “act first, explain later.” The exocentric pattern of staves is reminiscent of the schiltron, a defensive circular or rectilinear combat formation of spear-or-pike-wielding infantrymen who held the business end of their weapons pointing outward on all sides like a porcupine toward the encroaching enemy. In short, “The best defense is a good offense.”

All images copyright Editions de Mortagne/Kris Hadar

The even-numbered cards other than the Ten have no vertical staff, and the arrays appear to be leaderless autonomous units operating at will, while the odd-numbered cards show a single vertical staff that implies the presence of front-line leadership. The Ten of Batons features a doubling of the upright staff that may have been strictly a design necessity but could also symbolize a meeting of war chiefs prior to battle; the two crowns lead to the assumption of higher-ranking participation. Thus, the even-numbered cards II, IIII, VI and VIII can be interpreted as showing situations that ignite an automatic or unplanned response, while the odd-numbered cards convey a strategic “stop-and-think-before acting” philosophy. The 10 of Batons seems to be saying “think twice.”

The lattice-like intersection of the staves suggests the tactical “nerve center” of the operation. The more complicated grids echo the labyrinthine corridors of palace intrigue, while the simpler ones provide a convenient handle by which to grasp and wield the potency of the aligned forces. In the Hadar TdM they are blue, implying that “cooler heads prevail.” Consequently, the higher-numbered cards suggest rear-echelon scheming while the lower-numbered ones convey “field smarts.”  The introduction of the vertical staff provides the neural network with a “backbone” that shores up what might otherwise be a wavering offensive. This reinforces the archetype of the odd-numbered cards as exemplars of steadfast action while the even-numbered cards, in their reactive zeal, take a less committed stance. At their simplest, the Batons exhibit a stripped-down military bearing that offers little room for the niceties of diplomacy or subtlety. In civilian terms, that singularity of purpose is more likely to manifest as overweening ambition and a relentless drive to succeed at all costs. Our modern slant is often more psychological and tends toward exploring complex aspects of self-identity rather than simply assuming that, in any given situation, each of us acts instinctively in our own best interests, and then extrapolating from that assumption. The historical take is decidedly more visceral and uncompromising

But this is where things get interesting. What sets each card apart from its neighbors is the presence of an abundance of flowers and foliage in the margins of the image, none of which are identical in appearance. Unlike those in the Coins and Cups, these growths are not sinuous and sensuous but rather a vigorous eruption of color and movement. The arrangements break down into three broad categories: those cards with both flowers and leaves; those with only flowers; and those with only leaves. The first three-even numbered cards comprise the first set and have an aura about them of Jeremy Bentham’s “carrot-and-stick” motivational theory (the flowers are the enticement and the whip-like foliage is the goad). The 8 of Batons has only flowers at top and bottom that are suggestive of “Flower Power,” the famous Vietnam-War-era photograph of an anti-war protester sticking a carnation in the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle: in other words, a symbolic gesture that is inspiring but ultimately ineffectual. All four of the odd-numbered pips and the 10 of Batons populate the third set, with leaves at both sides of the bundle of staves (the Nine has only vestigial leaf-buds) implying the necessity or advisability of a flanking maneuver (in sports terminology, an “end run”). The additional crowns accompanying the leaves in the 10 of Batons give the impression of a “castling” move in chess, by which the King is relocated into a more secure position.

Here are a few thoughts on practical interpretation of the Baton pips based on my own experience:

the Ace shows the simple urge to act according to one’s instincts, unmindful of obstacles or consequences.

the Two suggests reciprocal action in the service of mutual self-interest: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”

the Three reflects the frictionless momentum arising from perfectly balanced and coordinated action; it invokes the vision of a child’s top spinning effortlessly on a table.

the Four indicates the opportunity for purposeful, well-chosen and timely action; “strike while the iron is hot.”

the Five conveys the misfortune of poorly coordinated, uninspired or ill-timed action that is likely to incite stiff opposition .

the Six depicts action for the simple  joy of acting; the “green light” or “all systems go” card signaling no need for hesitation, “just do it.”

the Seven implies having one’s hand forced by circumstances; it shows acting in spite of serious doubts about that course of action.

the Eight displays precipitous action with no backup plan or safety net; a “seat-of-the-pants” scenario that, due to a lack of groundwork (no foliage), can signify retreat as easily as advance..

the Nine advises pulling in one’s horns and waiting for a better opportunity.

the Ten foresees a hard-won victory after “pulling out all the stops.”

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