This essay is both a synopsis and a further exploration of some of the ideas I covered more fully in my “TdM Thumbnail” series of posts.
Those of us who spend a good deal of time “navel-gazing” (by which I mean, of course, contemplating “the world in a grain of sand” . . . or speck of belly-button lint) know the difference between an “innie” and “outie” when it comes to the “pip” cards of the Tarot de Marseille (although I doubt anyone else thinks of them in those funky anatomical terms). To my mind, the distinction comes down to the interplay between the visual arrangement of the suit emblems and that of the ornamentation on almost every minor card except the Aces (which are a different animal). Gallons of ink have gone into attempts to make sense of the quantity, orientation and condition of the various flowers, buds, leaves, vines, branches and the occasional shield on the pips, but I can’t remember ever seeing an analysis of their intersection as cordial adversaries in a kind of philosophical tug-of-war between the “action mode” ascribed to the cards and the stresses of the “working environment” in which that action takes place. The botanical decorations suggest the situational landscape within which the suit emblems function, while the emblems themselves convey the nature of the activities that occur there, in both kind and number. I see a stimulating dynamic tension in their relationship.
The “innies” have design features (typically tendrils of foliage) that suggest a common theme, either wholly or partially enfolding the suit emblems in their embrace. (The Swords are a special case, in which the suit emblems themselves form the enclosure). These cards pursue a more inner-directed focus in their operation. The “outies” (with a few exceptions that are limited to the even-numbered Batons and Swords) sport orderly bundles of erect suit emblems that aren’t crowded or constrained by the botanical details. Their emphasis is on the outward expression of the energies symbolized by the suit. By-and-large, the “flower-bearing” Swords, the Cups and the Coins are the most inwardly self-involved while the Batons (and the population of assertive Swords) unapologetically face the outside world, ready for anything. The exceptions in each suit are where it gets interesting.
Almost all of the Baton emblems escape the clinging grasp of the foliage in their outward thrust. However, the even-numbered cards II, IV and VI are significantly encumbered in their natural expression. The leafy tendrils and accompanying flowers threaten to wrap around the ends of the staves, giving the impression that the latter are torn between whether to act impulsively as befits their headlong tilt or to first ponder the consequences of that action for their immediate environment. (I previously posted a famous photo of a 1960s “flower child” poking a blossom into the business end of a soldier’s rifle). In the III, V, VII and X, the lateral foliage is plainer and less obtrusive; in the VIII it has been replaced with clipped flower-heads at top and bottom; and in the VIIII it is absent altogether, giving the untrammeled power of the suit free rein. The matrix of biotic “form” has disappeared completely and only the naked “force” endures.
All images copyright Naipes Heraclio Fournier, S.A.
In nearly all of the Cups, the vines, leaves and flowers insinuate themselves around and between the suit emblems, creating an organic whole that seems entirely cooperative in delivering the nurture implied by the suit. In the VI the chalices look like they’re performing a “flanking” maneuver on the foliage, suggesting that their mission will bypass any environmental considerations. The X is devoid of all embellishments and is therefore free to express its true nature; however, lacking any boundaries other than its own internal sense of order, it can cast too wide a net and either come up completely dry or drown in an overflow of self-indulgence; there is no happy medium. All of the other cards (like the VIII shown) seem to be firmly “in the fold.”
The Swords are perhaps the quintessential “innie,” which affirms the purportedly cerebral nature of their energy. The curved suit emblems form a closed fence around a central arena where most of the action takes place. Without exception, the cards bear severed flower-buds lying outside of the veil of swords, suggesting that they are broadcasting “seed-ideas” to propagate in the outer world. But in the even-numbered cards, the gestation of those ideas (shown as nested flowers) is content to remain personal and private until the mature insights are called on to burst into full voice, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. (I realize I’ve used that metaphor before, but I still love it.) In contrast, the odd-numbered cards depict interior thought-forms as raised swords intent on piercing the capsule and giving external vent to their own version of the truth. Kind of like the old freeze-dried foods: just add water (or, in this analogy, inspiration and mental agility) and you’re in business.
In the Coins, the suit emblems are, almost without exception, integrally bound to their botanical counterparts, either fully or peripherally engaged. Many of them seem to be “half-in and half-out” like they don’t know whether they should be coming or going, and in those cases they offer a somewhat murky situational outlook. (See especially the VIII; does it show a “loaded magazine” or just a box of “spent shell casings?” It would be good thing to know in a shoot-out.) Only the VII has two free-floating “outliers,” making it the most original of the bunch (the VIIII almost gets there but can’t quite pull it off). Those wayward coins carry the impetus of the “new direction” that has been attributed to the number Seven, externalizing the suppressed vigor of the five captive emblems. Rather than the notion of stalled progress implied by other decks, this VII seems to offer a chance to go “outside the box” in any practical pursuit. With the rest of the Coins, the influence of the “playing field” (environment) looms large in all pragmatic play-making decisions.
As a postscript, I just learned a new word that seems to neatly describe what I’m doing here (even though it’s an agricultural term that has most likely been divorced or at least distanced from its metaphysical roots): biodynamics, Dr. Rudolph Steiner’s 1924 concept for a “new way to integrate scientific understanding with a recognition of spirit in nature.” Come to think of it, those coins do resemble fruit.