marteau's tarot of marseille

Translation by Kitos Digiovanni from

Tarot of Marceille

Paul Marteau's book about the Marseille deck is a milestone in the history of Tarot interpretation, but little known in the Anglophone world where Tarots in the Rider-Waite-Smith genus have dominated the scene. In recent years, however, there is a growing interest in the Marseille deck.

table of contents

Foreword by Eugène Caslant
Introduction by Paul Marteau
Orientation of Figures and Symbolism of Body Parts


Card I: The Juggler (Le Bateleur)
Card II: The Priestess (La Papesse)
Card III: The Empress (L'Imperatrice)
Card IIII: The Emperor (L'Empereur)
Card V: The Pope (Le Pape)
Card VI: The Lovers (L'Amoureux)
Card VII: The Chariot (Le Chariot)
Card VIII: Justice (La Justice)
Card VIIII: The Hermit (L'Hermite)
Card X: Wheel of Fortune (La Roue)
Card XI: Strength (La Force)
Card XII: The Hanged Man (Le Pendu)
Card XIII: Death
Card XIIII: Temperance (La Temperance)
Card XV: The Devil (Le Diable)
Card XVI: The Tower (La Maison-Dieu)
Card XVII: The Star (L'Etoile)
Card XVIII: The Moon (La Luna)
Card XVIIII: The Sun (Le Soleil)
Card XX: Judgement (Le Jugement)
Card XXI: The World (Le Monde)
The Fool (Le Mat)


General Comments About The Minor Arcana
Representation of the Numbers on the Minor Arcana
General Observations About The Numbers 1 - 10


Ace of Swords
Two of Swords
Three of Swords
Four of Swords
Five of Swords
Six of Swords
Seven of Swords


Ace of Cups


Ace of Coins


Ace of Batons

Introduction to the Court Cards of the Minor Arcana


Page of Swords
Knight of Swords
Queen of Swords
King of Swords


Page of Cups
Knight of Cups
Queen of Cups
King of Cups


Page of Coins
Knight of Coins
Queen of Coins
King of Coins


Page of Batons
Knight of Batons
Queen of Batons
King of Batons

foreword by eugene caslant

If one were to attempt to show a man of science the value and the divinatory properties of the Tarot, it is likely that the demonstration would be met with skepticism, if not irony, since the Tarot would provoke in him the memory of card readers, fortune tellers, and he would regard it entirely as a product of superstition and a means of exploiting human credulity.

Perhaps he would change his mind by considering that it necessary to challenge one's preconceived notions, that more often a remnant of the past as enduring as Tarot conceals an original and profound meaning which may have been obscured by the notions of the present. Possibly, when remembering that the Tarot has engendered the cards, that is, one of the principal instruments of passions of gaming, would he seek out the cause for the role which they play in humanity, and would he want to know why people would submit themselves to risks of their own devising, with the hope of obtaining from them their fortune, whereas too often they only reap disappointments? And wouldn't he be inclined to wonder whether this attraction of the cards for people came from profound sources?

People will receive a response if they take the trouble to examine how they arrive at knowledge; then they will recollect that the logical modes which they employ in the search for knowledge are primarily reasoning based on identification and reasoning based on analogy. The former serves as the basis for the modern sciences, from which are derived mathematics and most branches which are taught in our schools. The second is used by Nature; this one ignores our so-called exact sciences, which in reality are nothing but abstract methods, born from our heads, chosen by us because their mechanism is easily adapted to the imperfection of our faculties. Nature does not accept rigorous reasoning, whose lack of flexibility would paralyze its efforts, since it never creates two things which are identical; it only knows qualities and, to organize these qualities among themselves, it is based on analogies and proceeds by affinity.

Also, to understand the laws and principles of Nature, it would be necessary to determine the analogical links which connect everything. But this operation, by the immensity and complexity of the elements which it encompasses, beyond the reach of human understanding, so that it can only be realized by limiting it to the study of the simplest and most accessible connections to our spirit. However, those who meet these conditions must enter the framework of tangible things and, therefore, take the aspect of the forms which are familiar to us. They then serve as a basis and allow a glimpse of other levels through their similarity. This is how people have been driven to resort to symbolism, which is to say to the transference of cosmic laws to the physical world, by making them concrete, in the form of pictorial scenes. Such are the causes which have led people in times past to conceive of the images of the Tarot.

What knowledge do we have about the origins of the Tarot and the vicissitudes of form and interpretation which it has undergone across the ages?

A chronicle of Giovanni de Juzzo de Caveluzo, preserved in the archives of Viterbe, fixes the time when the cards appear in Europe in the following passage:

"In the year 1379 was introduced to Viterbe the game of cards which came from the land of the Saracens and which is called “Naïb” among them.

This shows that the cards have a very foreign origin. If we put historical writings aside and look to the oral tradition and to certain books such as those of Paravey[1], or Moreau de Dammartin[2], the Tarot goes back to the Egyptians who themselves may have borrowed it from anterior races. We may suppose that the elite of these peoples, in contemplation of the heavens, perceived in the groupings of stars and the movement of the planets, the manifestation of cosmic laws, which their sense of symbolism expressed in a series of images. Each of these, through the arrangement of their colors, objects, and figures, highlighted, with their implications, the principles which their authors had recognized. Their number and their sequence was determined by the rules of analogy, and their organization, to which was given the name of Tarot, constituted a synthesis, which offered a summation of the evolution of the universe. According to the authors whom we have cited, these images, schematized to the furthest extent, have been the origin of hieroglyphic writings. Moreau de Dammartin, in support of these ideas, combines many constellations and draws them in such a way so as to represent The Bateleur in the sky and some other Lames of Tarot along with the alphabetic signs which correspond to them.

Anyway, according to oral tradition, the Lames of the Tarot constitute a pictorial representation of the history of the world and their combinations express the undulating and various play of universal forces. This is why those who wielded these Lames felt that their combination, if it were done in affinity with the mental or emotional projection of the querent, would be able to detect the cosmic law in play and revel, up to a certain point, his or her destiny.

The consequence of these origins was to present the Tarot in three aspects: one symbolic, another divinatory, and the third related to various combinations. From these result three currents: the initial one, accessible only to analogical minds, represents the Tarot proper; the second, called fortune telling, used by cartomancers, is translated by the figures derived and degraded from the original Tarot; the third, which is only concerned with selection and creating combinations, constitutes playing cards.

This triple current has given birth to innumerable images varying by particular details, by the nature of the figures, by meanings philosophical, ritualistic, or humorous which we have wanted to attribute to them, but relating with some degree of fidelity and fantasy to the principles of Tarot. Thus, besides playing cards, we find either a multitude of decks representing scenes and historical, political or satirical figures, or groups of symbolic images suitable for facilitating divination, such as those of Mademoiselle Lenormand who, it is said, had predicted to Bonaparte his destiny; or finally, drawings intended to reconstruct the original Tarot, as much from personal inspiration as from the data of ancient works, such as those of Etteila, Eliphas Levi, Papus, Stanislas de Guaita, or Oswald Wirth, composed in the previous century and at the beginning of this one.

What must one think about this mass of images, which of them are the most interesting? Does there exist one of them which stands out among the others and which deserves particular attention? It was up to Paul Marteau to answer that question.

Paul Marteau, grand master cartier of France, is one of the directors of the House of Grimaud whose renown for the manufacture of decks of cards is worldwide. He ignores nothing of what has been said or done with respect to cards. Merely to walk into his office, lined with decks of every kind and from all periods, is sufficient to attest to his competence in such a field. He recognizes their value, he knows how to describe all their particulars with humor. But in his eyes no deck is comparable to the ancient Tarot called Marseilles, because, according to him, it conforms most to the tradition and is the richest in analogical meanings. As its design is mystifying and the profundity of its symbols, which can only be appreciated through minute analysis, has resulted in its neglect, Paul Marteau has thought it advisable to call attention to it and to present his interpretation of it to the public.

This is why he first re-edited it with such care, then composed the present book in which he is eager to show to the reader that nothing in this Tarot has been left to chance, that the designs have been conceived in such a way so as to give a meaning to the smallest details, that the colors are always appropriate for the master idea of each Lame, and that the whole thing reveals a transcending philosophy. His work does not cover, therefore, either the history of the cards or even any critical commentary about the conception of the Tarot of Marseille. He treats solely of its symbolism.

A delicate operation, which is easily made apparent when considering the difficulties of the problem. Few are the things which one can use as a starting point or for support. As a point of departure, there are some rules of symbolism: it is known, for example, that in general yellow signifies intelligence or spiritual things, blue psychism or a mystic state, red the passions or the appetites. In support of this, there are commentaries published on similar Tarots, but besides that most of them are only concerned with the 22 Majors and leave the 56 Minor Arcana in the dark, they scarcely go beyond the philosophy of their authors and their designs are incomplete or distorted, since they have neglected to represent that which they have misunderstood. On the other hand, little is known about the origins of the Tarot of Marseille. Certain characteristics of design, the form of costume and of the faces lead one to suppose that it goes back to the middle of the 16th century and that it has been traced to Germany. According to the occult tradition, it would a reproduction, adapted to the clothing of the present epoque, of a more ancient Tarot belonging to the Greeks in Phocee - the ancient Marseille - who themselves had taken it from the Egyptians.

Faced with such meager information, it was necessary to proceed often with a minute analysis, often through synthesis, in order to interpret the minor nuances of the images and organize them in a way so that the results form a coherent and rational whole. This arduous work still remains insufficient if we consider that the Tarot, in order to make flexible all the laws of nature and of the Cosmos which it purposes to reflect, had to adapt the elements of its design, its colors, shapes and presentations, to the specific meaning of each Lame, without however deviating from their principle meaning. The white, for example, a synthesis of all colors, indicates among other nuances, the abstract, nothingness, or repose; the abstract, if the card envisages it as a symbol of the universal; nothingness or a negation, if it is considered from a material and tangible point of view where there is no abstraction; repose, if it is attached to some idea of action or inertia. The red signifies, sometimes, the stagnation of the soul in matter, and sometimes, in a more concrete sense, the impulsivity of the instincts and animal passions. This results in a multitude of nuances which are not only difficult to appreciate, but also are beyond the means of expression of the French language, rich as it is.

Another difficult lurks in the extent of the meanings which a single symbol may indicate. For to interpret a symbol is to discover by analogy the idea which is attached to this or that pose, this or that contour; more exactly, it is to establish the passage from the concrete to the abstract; but this is a passage from the most down-to-earth meaning to that which derives from the highest metaphysics, and it travels from one extreme to the other through an indefinite series of levels. Consider, for example, the first four Lames of the Tarot which form an ensemble: the Bateleur, the Papesse, the Imperatrice, the Empereur, and let's consider them first in their higher sense.

The Bateleur signifies the first emanation, and, consequently, it represents the nebulous laws which preside over its development. The Papesse symbolizes the universal matrix, and with the book which she holds on her knees and which describes all the cosmic combinations, she draws the ideograms, which she projects in space and they become the germs of worlds. The Imperatrice is the universal Fate and she weaves the threads of cosmic destinies with which the Empereur constructs worlds.

In their lower and concrete meaning corresponding to human undertakings, the Bateleur is no more than just the beginning of something, whose outcome is indicated by the cards which surround him, the Papesse becomes the appearance of something unexpected, the Imperatrice is a gestation, an unknown factor which one must await to emerge, and the Empereur is domination over the unstable, an ephemeral power, a momentary plan.

We can arrive at another interpretation of the Lames, then, purely abstract, when interpreting by analogy the significance of the numbers inscribed at the top of each card. The I (Le Bateleur) signifies the beginning of all things, the primordial principle, the action taken in its essence; the 2 (La Papesse) constitutes, on the contrary, the essence of passivity, because the two things united which comprise it, from a qualifying point of view, are taken in an inverse sense, they are opposed to each other. They engender, through their collision, a movement in place, a dynamic stabilization, which symbolizes any substance with the mysteries which she contains and which she owes to the effect of her receptivity to universal forces. The 3 (L'Imperatrice), which characterizes the notion of "succession" (1 + 1 + 1), symbolizes the evolutionary passage from one plane to another; there is, in the Trinity, the current which goes from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father through the Holy Spiri. The 4 (L'Empereur), or 2 opposed to 2, indicates a double polarity which, depending on whether or not they oppose or conciliate each other, are represented by the square and the cross, expressing matter with its four elements (fire, air, water, earth), or the balance of forces in constructive action.

Between these extremes there are multiple transitions. Paul Marteau could not think of touching on all of them; he had to make a choice and stick to an arena accessible to the public and likely to be of interest. He stopped at the psychic level, as the Tarot had led him to it, that is to say, at the oscillations of the human soul between the embracing of matter and the call of the Divine.

Added to this limitation is another: the Tarot subordinates its philosophy to that of numbers, that is to say, to their analogic laws. Logic would have liked for Paul Marteau, in order to make his deductions comprehensible, to offer a preliminary presentation on the symbolism of numbers. By doing so, he would have satisfied readers eager to see the interpretations resting on a logical base. Besides the fact that this would have been a tedious task because of its abstraction, it would have required a supplementary volume; so he had to reduce his examination of numbers to that which was strictly necessary for the understanding of the Tarot.

Besides, criticism is easy in a field which does not include the rational form of our contemporary sciences. This is why, we repeat, Paul Marteau did not want to conduct a reasoned study of Tarot in general, nor criticize what may be good or defective, complete or incomplete, in the Tarot of Marseille; he has sought out the meaning and has revealed it to the reader so that he may appreciate for himself a work which human wisdom has given birth to over the centuries.

Eugène Caslant

L'Ecole Polytechnique

[1] (Le Chevalier Charles -Hippolyte de Paravey, orienataliste français, 1787-1871. —Différents ouvrages: overview of the manuscripts which were still handwritten, about the origin of the globe, the age of the Zodiacs, etc., Paris, 1835. — Confirmation of the Bible and the Egyptian and Greek traditions, by the hieroglyphic books discovered in China, Paris, 1838. — Astronomical knowledge of the ancient peoples of Egypt and Asia about the satellites of Jupier and the rings of Saturn, etc., Paris, 1835— Hieoryglyph documents seized by Assyria and preserved in China and in America about the first Flood of Noah, etc., Paris, 1839. — Essays on the unique origin and the hieroglyphics of numbers and letters of all peoples, preceded by a quick glance at the History of the World, between the age of the Creation and the Age of Nabonassar, and about certain ideas about the Formation of the First of all writings, which existed before the Deluge, and which was the Hieroglyphic system. Paris, Treuttel nad Wurtz, 1826.— Illustrations of Hieroglyphic Astronomy and the Planispheres and Zodiacs discovered n Egypt, in Chaldea, in India and from Japon, Paris, Delabaye, 1835. —A new consideration about the Planisphere of Dendera, etc., Paris, Treuttel et Wutz, 1835. — On the Sphere and the Constellations of the ancient Hieroglyphic Astronomy, etc., Paris, 1835.

[2] Origin of the shape of the alphabetic characters of all nations, the Chinese keys, the Egyptian Hieroglyphics, etc., by Moreau de Dammartin, member of the Historic Institute, Paris, 1839.

introduction by paul marteau

The Tarot is a collection of figures who symbolically express the struggle of Man to realize his evolution, that is to say, to arrive at the prescribed purpose of his destiny, an evolution which requires of him struggles, effort, joy, and suffering, depending on whether he accepts or does not accept universal laws.

Having chosen the Tarot deck which best expresses this destiny, the Tarot de Marseille,[1] you will find in this volume a symbolic interpretation of it.

The 78 cards of this Tarot are presented in two different parts. First, the 21 cards ( + 1) traditionally called the Major Arcana, and then the 56 minor cards arranged in four series of 10 cards each, according to the four suites.

To arrive at a symbolic interpretation of this Tarot, you will note that each Major Arcanum[2], save the Fool, bears a number located on the upper part of every card, all of which also have pictures of people, animals, and objects in the middle part, and a name at the bottom, except for card XIII.

The 10 Minor cards - of Swords, Cups, and Batons - with the exception of the Aces, all bear numbers, but no names. The 10 cards of the suit of Coins have neither number nor name, while the 16 court cards that follow have no number, but generic names.

The number, understood symbolically, revels the philosophical principles which allow us to understand the articulation of the construction of the Cosmos with all its laws and principles.

The meanings which each number is able to provide are infinite; the comparison of the principle represented by the number with the figure makes it possible to speciy the point of view from which each one has been envisaged et, on the other hand, also provides the bases of interpretation with the nature of its colors, the relative arrangement of the objects depicted, and the particular meaning which presides over the illustration on the card.

The colors of the clothing of the figures which can sometimes seem incoherent, or the naive way in which some of the figures of this Tarot have been drawn are not, as certain commentators have apparently supposed, mistakes or oversights, but they contain a very precise symbolic value which I shall endeavor to reveal.

Finally, the nomenclature, because of its exact characterization, symbolizes the concrete and tangible aspect that each card can express, whereas the number endows it with its Principle. The study of this nomenclature will make it possible to be precise about the material meaning of each card.

We shall study, therefore, each Major card in the following order:

  • 1. The analogic meaning of the particular number specified by the card or Principle;
  • 2. The abstract[3] meaning extrapolated, which gives us the general character of the card;
  • 3. The development of the details through the interpretation of the attributes, colors, and particulars of the card;
  • 4. The orientation of the figure;
  • 5. The significance of the name used for the card, the relevance of this meaning to its concrete aspect - this significance being subordinate to its abstract meaning.

As the positive significations which can be derived are too numerous to consider all of them, we shall limit ourselves to offering a few meanings in each element of the Human Ternary: that is, the MENTAL, or intelligence; the SPIRITUAL, in other words, emotive feelings, and finally, the PHYSICAL, the utilitarian aspect of life.

Then, as each thing also presents its opposite, we shall express the significance of the card when it is inverted.[4]

We shall then conclude with the description of the Basic Meaning of the card.

The circumstances under which the Major cards have been studied, modified by the Minors, a new study of the symbolism of the numbers on the one hand, and of the names on the other, will be reviewed before their interpretation.

The Tarot is a universal vibrating instrument and becomes a source of energy for the flowing projection of our thoughts.

By giving us the symbolic keys of the universal laws that preside over the destiny of Man, the Tarot allows us to make present associations and, consequently, to predict certain events through analogy or affinity.

To make it possible to take advantage of the cards in this conception, we will finally present the method of using card combinations to deduce form them the events which will result from any concerns one has when laying out the cards, as well as the elementary rules by which it is possible to derive useful meanings.[5]

Paul Marteau, Paris, 1928 - 1948

[1] This Tarot is that which was edited in 1761 by Nicolas Conver, a master cartier in Marseille, who had conserved the wooden stamps and the colors of his distant predecessers. This Tarot is now edited by B. P. Grimaud, who acquired the estate of Conver, and was also able to continue printing the traditional Tarot in its original form.

[2] [Translator's note: it is my thought that, when speaking of a single card, the correct word would be Arcanum in accordance with the rules of inflection governing a Latin 2nd-declension neuter noun. Marteau's French simply reads Arcane majeur.]

[3] The general meaning or of the principle which we shall call abstract, as opposed to its material or utilitarian meaning, which we shall call concrete.

[4] [Translator's note: Marteau actually says renversée, reversed, but by this he means inverted. One reads the card upside-down, not the back of the card.]

[5] The reader will kindly excuse the repetitions and the slightly ponderous phraseology. It is difficult to translate the abstract into the concrete while remaining faithful to the interpretation of the subjective idea. The various words available for this are insufficient in number and are overused. You might want to regard this book as a kind of dictionary or even an encyclopedia where explanatory details about each card may be found.

orientation of figures &
symbolism of body parts

The orientation of the figures indicates the nature of the action, according to whether the figure is seen in profile on the left, straight on, in profile on the right, or there is mediation, responsive action, direct action, or evolution (that is to say, training action). If the figure is standing, it is an indication of some hidden travail: activity, giving orders, energy. A seated figure's action is executed in a passive mode: inertia, resistance or internal planning.

In this interpretation, the head plays the capital role, because it gives indication of tendency or will; if, for example, the body is presented standing in a frontal view, but the head is turned to the left, as we see in the Juggler, this indicates some sort of reflection preceding a direction action which is being prepared.

The HEAD in the Tarot express the will, the act of commanding.

The COVERED HEAD corresponds to figures who are not expressing their will with their bodies, because the headdress, being a material thing, the will is expressed in an set of ideas symbolized by it. For example, a crown represents a very powerful outward expression, but one originating in more subtle planning, owing to the jewels which draw our attention. The will is more impersonal in the other head coverings which represent things engendered by the personal will.

The HAIR expresses a flowing of effusion. If it lacks color, a strong force of will is not present, but if it is colored, this is a greater manifestation of mental activity. If it is the color of gold, it represents a mental realization more formed, more concrete, more realized; if blue, the force is more located in the spiritual and tends to stay there.

HAIR IN DISORDER is an indication of a will with great power behind it.

HAIR CAREFULLY STYLED has no one particular meaning. The expression of will may be more contained - for example, JUSTICE, which is closely directed state of mind.

A BEARD indicates the will, a willful and more focused concentration.

The NECK is a passage between the mental (the head) and the spirit (the chest).

COVERED, it indicates a simple communication between the two planes; COVERED, it re-enforces, according to its color, the difference between the mental and spiritual intensities.

The NECK needs to have a high neckline if it is to avoid excessive letting go and losing composure.

Completely uncovered, it represents freedom, independence.

The TORSO represents the spirit; buttons and ornamentation are spiritual enrichments, specific aspects. if the clothing is of two colors, the spiritual has a double meaning.

The whole torso represents the spirit, with its spiritual side represented by the breast, and the material side by the stomach - for example, instincts and maternal love.

The BELT is the reasonable aspect of the psyche: a being does not give in and impose reasoning on his dispositions.

The ARMS specify thoughtful, reasoned actions. They are the interpreters of the mind and of the mind (their color indicates whether the mind is prevailing over the spirit.

The LEFT ARM is the conveyance of a spiritual message which is altruistic and emotional; psychic power directs it.

The RIGHT ARM conveys decisions, volitions, hopes, the realization of action.

The LOWERED ARM signifies an action which has born fruit or an impediment to action: the arm directed downward of the Juggler underlines his indecision and submission.

The RAISED ARM indicates a connection with the High, the seizing of forces.

ARMS ON THE BELT at the midriff represent a circulation between the spiritual and the physical, as if untying or letting go, or making a decision about something.

The LEGS indicate the realization of something through action. If the entity is standing firm, the action is firmly based; crossed legs represent waiting or the status quo.

If a FOOT is in the air, as the Emperor's is, it's an indication of a beginning and decision making.

[1] The given descriptions are general, but they can be attenuated or accentuated by certain details of a figure's clothing.

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