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Tarot Hermeneutics

Exploring How We Create Meaning with Tarot

Session One Readings

Sections of readings only being provided for people who are unable to get the book.

Jodorowsky-Costa: pp vii-viii,

How does one write a book about the Tarot? It is like trying to empty the sea with a fork.

For more than forty years, Alejandro Jodorowsky has been investigating the dynamic and multiple aspects of the Tarot through readings, lessons, discoveries, conferences . . . If it had been necessary to transcribe this work in its entirety, we would have ended up with tens of thousands of pages—each equally impassioned and disorganized, each touching on the various aspects of this art that refuses to let itself be imprisoned within any kind of rigid structure.

As this was not possible and we needed one book, and only one book, Alejandro and I chose to present the Tarot from a variety of different perspectives that would allow this book to serve both as a manual for beginners and a serious tool for experienced Tarot readers, while giving all its readers a work that would be a pleasure to read.

This is why all the parts of this book include an introduction written in the first person by Alejandro, retracing the unique path he has carved out over a lifetime in the company of this demanding teacher and powerful ally known as the Tarot.

With respect to all the technical parts, our chief concern was to be faithful to the extreme plasticity of the Tarot, which is light and profound, linear and multidimensional, gamelike and complex. It refuses to be reduced to any one of the countless possibilities it opens. This is why we sought to create a book that could be read either in sections or straight through, in which each subject is both summed up briefly and discussed in great depth, and whose illustrations provide a ceaseless echo to the text, based on the truth that the Tarot constitutes first and foremost an apprenticeship in seeing.

The book has been organized into five parts. The purpose of the first part is to familiarize the reader with the overall structure of the Tarot and its numerological and symbolic foundations. The second part examines each card of the Major Arcana, while the third does the same for the Minor Arcana. The fourth part represents what we intend to be a first step in the dynamic reading of the Tarot: the study of pairs, the various combinations between two and more cards. For all intents and purposes, every element of the Tarot is linked in this fashion to all the others. Finally, the fifth part is dedicated to the actual art of reading the cards.

We want to take this opportunity to thank Barbara Clerc in particular, who has been transcribing and archiving the unpaid lessons and readings given by Alejandro Jodorowsky. She put all these archives at our disposal. Without her, they would have remained only part of oral tradition.


Note: The cards reproduced in this book are taken from the Tarot of Marseille restored by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Philippe Camoin, and reproduced here with the generous permission of Camoin Editions (sales@camoin.com). Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

Jodorowsky-Costa pp 1-18

I first met the cards when I was seven years old living in Tocopilla, a small Chilean port town nestled between the glacial Pacific Ocean and the mountainous plateaus of Tarapaca, the driest region on Earth, where not a drop of rain has fallen in centuries. The town merchants would close up shop at noon until five every afternoon because of the extreme heat. My father, Jaime, would lower the metal shutter of his Casa Ukrania [Ukraine House]—which sold feminine undergarments and household items—and go play billiards at Crazy Abraham's, a Lithuanian Jewish widower who had washed up here under mysterious circumstances. In this warehouse where women never set foot, the normally competing merchants declared a momentary truce and gathered around a green table where they showed off their virility by making cannon shots. According to Jaime's philosophy a child's brain was already formed by age seven, and should be treated as an adult. So on my seventh birthday he allowed me to go with him to play billiards. The deafening noise made by the balls striking each other and the white and red trails they left across the olive-green felt failed to impress me. What did catch my eye and fascinated me was a card castle. Crazy Abraham was obsessed with building large castles out of cards. He would leave these huge and imposing constructions, no two of which were ever alike, on the bar counter far from any drafts until he got drunk and intentionally knocked them down, only to immediately begin building another. Jaime would mockingly tell me to ask the "loony" why he did this. Smiling sadly, he would give a child the answer he did not wish to give to adults: "I am imitating God, little one, the one who creates us, destroys us, and with what's left of us, he rebuilds."

As an antidote to the boredom of provincial life, my father would invite a group of friends over to play cards for hours on Saturday evenings and Sundays after lunch while my mother, Sara Felicidad, the only woman present, served beer and canapes, like a shadow. The rest of the week the cards slept under lock and key imprisoned in a dresser. These decks fascinated me, but I was forbidden to touch them. According to my parents, they were only for adults. This gave me the idea that cards, wild beasts that could be tamed only by a wise man—Jaime in this instance—had magical powers . . . As the players used beans instead of chips, every Monday my mother, perhaps to release the pain she felt at being excluded from the game, boiled them for soup, which I would slurp down with the feeling that it was giving me some of their powers.

Being the son of Russian immigrants, my physical appearance was quite different from that of the native Chileans and left me without any friends. My parents were wrapped up for ten hours a day in the Casa Ukrania and had no time for me. Weighted down by the silence and solitude, I began examining the furniture in their room in hopes of finding a detail that would would reveal the faces hidden behind their masks of indifference. In a corner of the closet, between the perfumed clothes of Sara Felicidad, I found a small rectangular metal box. My heart began beating faster. Something told me I was about to receive an important revelation. I opened it. Residing inside was a Tarot card called "The Chariot." It showed a prince driving a flaming vehicle. Tongues of fire had been added with lines of black ink and colored with yellow and red watercolors. Who had gone to the trouble to transform the original drawing by adding flames? Lost in my thoughts, I did not hear my mother coming in. Caught in the act, I confessed my guilt and handed her the card. She took it from me reverently, clutched it to her chest and broke out sobbing. When she recovered her calm, she told me how her late father had always carried this card in a pocket of his
shirt, close to his heart. He had once been a Russian ballet dancer who was over six feet tall and had a leonine mane of blond hair. He fell in love with my Jewish grandmother and followed her into exile, although under no obligation to do so. In Argentina, clumsy as he was in everything concerning the details of everyday life, he climbed on top of a barrel full of alcohol to try to adjust the flame of a lamp. The cover of the container gave way, and he fell into the alcohol, still holding the oil lamp in his hands. The liquid burst into flames, and my grandfather was burned alive. Sara Felicidad was born one month after this atrocious death. One day, her mother, Jasche, told her how she had found the card, intact, among the ashes of her beloved husband. One night after the burial, the flames of The Chariot appeared without anyone having drawn them. My mother harbored no doubt about the veracity of this story. In my own childish innocence, I believed it too.

When I was ten years old, my parents sold their business and announced that we were moving to Santiago, the capital. Losing my home so abruptly plunged me into a venomous mental fog. I expressed my suffering by growing fat. Transformed into a little hippopotamus, I dragged myself to school, eyes glued to the ground, under the impression that the sky was a cement vault. My pain was compounded by the rejection of my classmates when they noticed that my penis had no foreskin in the showers after gym class. "Wandering Jew," they shouted, while spitting on me. The son of a diplomat recently arrived from France spit on the back of a card and stuck it to my forehead. Bursting with laughter, my classmates shoved me in front of a mirror. It was one of the Arcana from the Tarot of Marseille, "The Hermit." I saw in it my infamous portrait: an individual with no territory, alone, numb with cold, feet injured, walking for an eternity in search of . . . what? Something, anything at all, that would give him an identity, a place in the world, a reason to live. The old man was holding up a lamp. What held up my millennial soul? (Faced by the cruelty of my companions, I felt that my weight was a pain that had been transported for centuries.) Could this lamp be my consciousness? And what if I was not a vacant body, a mass inhabited only by anguish, but a strange light that traveled through time, borrowing various vehicles of flesh in search of that unthinkable being my grandparents called God? What if the unthinkable was beauty? Something like a pleasant explosion broke through the barriers imprisoning my mind. My sorrow was swept away like dust. With the anxiety of a shipwreck survivor, I set off in search of a port where young poets got together. It was called the Café Iris. Iris, the messenger of the gods: she who united Heaven and Earth and was the feminine complement of Hermes! And someone had stuck upon my forehead a Hermit! This was the café-temple where I would meet friends: actors, poets, puppeteers, musicians, and dancers. I would grow up among people who were desperately seeking beauty like me. During the forties, drugs were not in style. Our conversations, fueled by creative fervor, lingered over a bottle of wine that no sooner empty would be replaced by another one. At the break of dawn, famished and drunk, we would run to the Botanical Gardens to burn off the alcohol. A sixty-year-old Frenchwoman, Marie Lefèvre, lived with her eighteen-year-old boyfriend, Nene, in a narrow basement apartment facing the park. She was poor, but there was always a full pot of soup simmering in her kitchen, a chaotic magma that contained the leftover food the neighboring restaurant gave her in return for card readings for its customers. While her naked lover snored away, Marie, wrapped in a Chinese dressing gown, served us full bowls of the delicious broth in which we could find fish, meatballs, vegetables, grains, noodles, cheese, chicken livers, beef belly, and lots of other delicacies. She would then do a Tarot reading, using cards she drew herself, on the stomach of her lover, who even a cannon blast would not wake up. This bizarre contact with the cards was decisive for me; thanks to this woman, Tarot remains forever connected with generosity and boundless love in my heart.

Sixty years have gone by since then, and, following her example, I have always given card readings for free. At a time when I felt like a prisoner on the cultural island that my country was then, Marie Lefèvre predicted: "You will travel across the entire world, without stopping, until the end of your life. But hear this well, when I say world I am talking about the entire universe. When I say end of your life, I am talking about your current incarnation. In reality, you will live in other forms for as long as the universe lives."

Later in France I worked with Marcel Marceau, who bestowed on me the greatest honor ever granted in his troupe: to show, while
motionless in a suggestive pose, the placards announcing the title of his pantomimes. This was how, transformed into a statue of flesh, I traveled through a number of countries for five years. Marceau put all of himself, body and soul, into each performance. Afterward, exhausted, he would lock himself away in his hotel room for many long hours. On the next day, without visiting the city, he returned to the theater to rehearse a new sketch or to correct the lighting. Alone in these countries where often I did not even speak the language, I visited museums, picturesque streets, and artist cafés. Little by little I took on the habit of looking for esoteric bookstores where I could buy Tarots. This was how I managed to put together a collection of more than a thousand different decks: alchemical, Rosicrucian, kabbalistic, gypsy, Egyptian, astrological, mythological, Masonic, sexual, and so forth. All of them consisted of the same number of cards, seventy-eight, divided into fifty-six Minor Arcana and twenty-two Major Arcana. But each of them was illustrated differently. Sometimes the human figures were transformed into dogs, cats, unicorns, monsters, or gnomes. Each version included a booklet in which its author proclaimed himself to be the bearer of a profound truth. I did not grasp either the meaning or the use of these very mysterious cards, but I bore a great affection for them, and finding a new deck filled me with joy. Naively, I was hoping to find the one Tarot that would transmit to me what I was so anxiously searching for: the secret of eternal life. During the course of one of my journeys to Mexico as Marceau's assistant, I made the acquaintance of Leonora Carrington, a surrealist poet and painter who had had a love affair with Max Ernst during the Spanish Civil War. When Ernst was imprisoned, Leonora went mad, with all the horrors that implies but also with all the doors that this malady opens in the prison of the rational mind. Inviting me to eat a skull made from sugar with my name carved on its forehead, she told me: "Love transforms death into sweetness. The bones of the skeleton of the Thirteenth Arcanum are made of sugar." When I realized that Leonora used the symbols of the Tarot in her work, I begged her to initiate me. She answered: "Take these twenty-two cards. Examine them one by one and then tell me what you feel is the meaning of what you see." Overcoming my shyness, I obeyed her. She rapidly wrote down everything I said to her. When I finished, with my description of The World, I was soaked in sweat. With a mysterious smile on her lips the painter whispered to me: "What you just dictated to me is the secret. As each Arcana is a mirror and not a truth in itself, become what you see in it. The Tarot is a chameleon." She then immediately made me a gift of the deck created by the occultist Arthur Edward Waite with its nineteenth-century-style drawings that later became very fashionable among the hippies. I believed that Leonora, whom I viewed as a priestess, had given me the key to the luminous treasure at the core of my darkened interior without realizing that these Arcana only act as stimulants of the intellect.

On my return to Paris, I began frequenting a café by Les Halles, La Promenade de Vénus, where once a week André Breton would meet with his surrealist group. I allowed myself to offer him this Waite Tarot, expecting his approval while hiding my pride. The poet examined the cards of the Arcana attentively with a smile that gradually transformed into a grimace of disgust. "This is a ridiculous deck of cards. Its symbols are lamentably obvious. There is nothing profound in it. The sole valid Tarot is that of Marseille. Its cards are intriguing and moving, but they never surrender their intrinsic secret. One of them inspired me to write Arcanum 17."

An ardent admirer of this great surrealist, I threw my card collection into the trash, keeping only the Marseille Tarot, or more specifically the version published by Paul Marteau in 1930.

But if, like Breton, I grasped very little of the meaning of these cards—which, next to Waite's seductive images, seemed hostile, especially all those of the Minor Arcana—I decided to engrave them in my memory, hoping thereby that whatever my intellect was incapable of deciphering would be understood by my unconscious. I began memorizing every symbol, every gesture, every line, and every color. Little by little, aided by my stubborn patience, I managed to visualize, although imperfectly, the seventy-eight Arcana with my eyes closed. During the two years this experiment lasted, I went every morning to the National Library of Paris to study the Tarot collections donated by Paul Marteau and the books devoted to this subject. Until the eighteenth century, the Tarot had been incorporated into a game of chance, and its profound meaning went by unnoticed. Its drawings had been mutilated or changed, decorated with portraits of nobles, using the deck to reflect the pomp and ceremony of the royal court. Each line said something different, often contradicting the others. In reality, instead of speaking objectively about the Tarot, authors turned it into their self-portrait interwoven with superstitions. I found Masonic, Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, astrological, alchemical, Tantric, Sufi beliefs, and so on.

It could be said that the Tarot was a domestic servant eternally working for a doctrine that was external to it. But the most surprising fact that I discovered was this: ever since the Protestant pastor and Freemason Court de Géblin (1728-1784) published the eighth volume of his encyclopedia, Monde Primitif [Primitive World] in 1781, which attributed characteristics to the Tarot that were esoteric and not merely related to games, nobody had truly examined the Arcana, neither he nor his disciples. Not realizing that these cards are a visual language that demands to be seen in its entirety and in every detail, Géblin mistook his fantasies for realities and stated that the Tarot came from Egypt—"Hieroglyphs belonging to the Book of Thoth salvaged from the ruins of an age-old temple." He published a poor copy of the Marseille Tarot from which he eliminated many details; he granted a zero to Le Mat* (*Mat also means "Death" in Arabic and Hebrew, and has come into the common French through the game of chess, meaning checkmate. The posture of Le Mat and Arcana XIII are exactly the same, as if Arcana XIII was an X-ray of Le Mat. The main thing is, many of the Tarot's names have plural meanings in French. For instance le mat d'un navire is the mast of a ship. [Mat is an archaic word meaning "madman" or "beggar." —Trans.]) and baptized it "The Fool" to give it a negative meaning: "It has no value save what it gives to the others, exactly like our zero, thereby demonstrating that nothing exists in madness." He added a leg to The Magus's table; changed The Emperor and The Empress into King and Queen, The Pope and Female Pope into High Priest and High Priestess; baptized the nameless thirteenth Arcana "Death"; was mistaken about the number for Temperance, on which he printed a XIII; decided that the person in Arcana VII driving The Chariot was Osiris Triumphant; named The Lover "The Marriage," The Star "Sirius," The Devil "Typhon," The World "Time," and The Hanged Man "Prudence" (while placing him right-side up); he removed the original colors as well as the original framing that consisted of an initiatory rectangle formed by two squares. He claimed he was correcting the "errors" of the original by doing this.

Following this publication of the first esoteric treatise on the Tarot in Monde Primitif, occultists began raving in earnest, neglecting to give any deeper examination to the drawings of the Tarot of Marseille, believing Court de Gébelin's copy and his Egyptian explanations to be the authentic esoteric truth. In 1783, a then-fashionable seer, the barber Alliette, under the pseudonym of Eteilla (1750-1810), created a fanciful Tarot with links to astrology and the Hebrew Kabbalah. Then Alphonse-Louis Constant, alias Eliphas Levi (1816-1875), despite his vast intuition, turned his nose up at the Tarot of Marseille, which he deemed "exoteric," and, in Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual,' drew "esoteric" versions of The Chariot, The Wheel of Fortune, and The Devil. He established that the twenty-two Major Arcana were illustrations of the Hebrew alphabet and discarded the fifty-six Minor Arcana. This idea was adopted by Gérard Encausse, who, under the pseudonym of Papus (1865-1917), created a Tarot with Egyptian figures illustrating a Hebraic kabbalistic structure. Following these attempts to graft all sorts of esoteric systems onto the Tarot, thousands of books based on a nonexistent "tradition" were written seeking to prove that the Tarot was the creation of the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Hebrews, the Arabs, the Hindus, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Maya, or extraterrestrials. Some even mentioned Atlantis and Adam, to whom was attributed the sketching of the first cards under the instructions of an angel. (For religious tradition, sacred works are always of heavenly origin. The realization of the symbolic system was not left up to personal inspiration of the artist but was granted by God himself). The word Tarot would be Egyptian (tar: way; ro, rog: royal); Indo-Tartar (tan-tara: zodiac); Hebrew (torah: law); Latin (rota: wheel; orat: speak); Sanskrit (tat: the whole; tar-o: fixed star); Chinese (Tao: the indefinable prin ciple); and so forth. Various ethnic groups, religions, and secret societies have claimed to be its father: Gypsies, Jews, Masons, Rosicrucians, alchemists, artists (Dali), gurus (Osho), and so on. In it can be found influences from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Gospels, and Revelation (in cards like The World, The Hanged Man, Temperance, The Devil, The Pope, Judgment); teachings from Tantra, the I Ching, the Aztec Codices, Greco-Latin mythology . . . Each new deck of cards contains the subjectivity of its authors, their vision of the world, their moral prejudices, their limited level of awareness . . . As in the story of Cinderella, in which each of her half-sisters is prepared to cut off one end of her foot so she can wear the glass slipper, every occultist alters the original structure.

To make the Tarot conform to the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life that join the ten Sephirot of kabbalistic tradition, A. E. Waite exchanged the number 8 of Justice for the number 11 of Strength, transformed The Lover into The Lovers, and so forth, thereby falsifying the meaning of all the Arcana. Aleister Crowley, an occultist belonging to the Order of the Temple of the Orient (OTO), also changed the numbers and the drawings (and thus the meaning), as well as the order of the cards. Justice became Adjustment; Temperance, Art; and Judgment, Aeon. He eliminated the Knights and the Pages and replaced them with Princes and Princesses. Oswald Wirth, a Swiss occultist, Freemason, and member of the Theosophical Society, drew his own Tarot, into which he introduced not only medieval costumes, Egyptian sphinxes, Arab numbers and Hebrew letters in the place of the Roman numerals, Taoist symbols, and the alchemical version of The Devil invented by Eliphas Levi, but also drew inspiration from the clumsy version of Court de Gébelin (see his Tower, his Temperance, his Justice, his Pope, his Lover), appearing to assert that the Tarot of Marseille was a folk—or, in other words, common—version of Gébelin's Tarot. The thousands of adepts of an American Rosicrucian sect declared that the Egyptian Tarot of R. Falconnier—a shareholding member of the Comédie-Francaise, who drew and published it in 1896, dedicating it to Alexandre Dumas the younger—was an original sacred deck. Three centuries of dreams and mystification!

A sacred work is by essence perfect; the disciple should adopt it in its entirety without attempting to add or subtract anything whatsoever. No one knows who created the Tarot, nor where, nor how. No one knows what the word Tarot means or to what language it belongs. Nor does anyone know if Tarot was like it is from the beginning or if it is the end result of a slow evolution that would have begun with the creation of an Arab card game called naibbe (cards) to which the Major Arcana and those whimsically called the Honors or Court Cards were added over the course of the years. Simply creating new versions of the Tarot of Marseille, anonymous like all sacred monuments, by imagining it is enough to change the drawings or the names of the cards to achieve a great work, is pure vanity.

What was the intention of the creator of this nomadic cathedral? Was one lone human being capable of giving shape to such a great encyclopedia of symbols? Who was capable of amassing such knowledge in a single lifetime? The Tarot is crafted with such great precision, its internal relations and geometrical unity are so perfect, that it seems impossible to believe that this work was achieved by a solitary initiate. Merely the invention of the structure, the creation of the personages with their dress and their gestures, and the establishment of the abstract symbology of the Minor Arcana requires a great many years of intense labor. The short span of a single human lifetime would not be enough. Eliphas Levi, in his Transcendental Magic, if we read between the lines, expresses this insight:

It is, in fact, a monumental and singular work, strong and simple as the architecture of the pyramids and consequently enduring like those—a book that is the sum of all the sciences; that can resolve every problem by its infinite combinations; that speaks by evoking thought, is the inspirer and regulator of all possible conceptions, the masterpiece perhaps of the human mind, assuredly one of the finest things bequeathed to us by Antiquity, a universal key. It is a truly philosophical machine that keeps the mind from straying while leaving its initiative and liberty; it is mathematics applied to the absolute, the alliance of the positive and the ideal, a lottery of thoughts as exact as numbers; it is finally perhaps the simplest and grandest conception of human genius.

To imagine the Tarot's origin (card games had already been banned in the statutes of Saint-Victor of Marseille Abbey for those pursuing a religious vocation in 1337), we need to go back at least to the year 1000. During this era in the south of France and in Spain, it was possible to see a church, a synagogue, and a mosque cohabitating in healthy conditions of peace and in close proximity to one another. The three religions respected each other, and the wise men of each had no hesitation about discussing things with their counterparts and learning from their contact with one another. The Christian influence is obvious in Arcana II, V, XIII, XV, XX, and XXI. The four Hebrew letters, Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay, which designate the deity, can be distinguished in the head of the skeleton of the nameless Arcana, and the ten Sephirot of the kabbalistic Tree of Life can be seen on The Hanged Man's chest. Muslim symbols appear in the Minor Arcana. For example, on the top of the Ace of Cups there is a circle with nine points that by all evidence represents the initiatory enneagram. It is possible that a group consisting of sages from the three faiths, foreseeing the decay of their religions—which, out of a thirst for power, would inevitably stir up hatred between the sects—and the forgetting of the sacred tradition, worked together to deposit this knowledge in a humble card game, which amounted to preserving and concealing it so that it could travel through the darkness of history until it reached a remote future where individuals of a higher level of consciousness would decipher its wonderful message.

René Guénon, in Symbols of Sacred Science, writes:

The people thus preserve [in their folklore], without understanding them, the debris of ancient traditions sometimes even reaching back to a past too remote to be determined. In so doing they function as a more or less "subconscious" collective memory, the content of which has manifestly come from somewhere else. The things so conserved are found to contain in a more or less veiled form a considerable body of esoteric data.

J. Maxwell, in Le Tarot, le symbol, les arcans, la divination, is the first author to have gone back to the Tarot's origins, recognizing that the Tarot of Marseille (the one by Nicolas Conver) is an optical language and needs to be looked at in order to be understood. Later, Paul Marteau, in his book Le Tarot de Marseille, in imitation of Maxwell, reproduced the cards, analyzed them one by one, detail by detail, taking into consideration their number, the meaning of each color, and that of each gesture of the figures. However, although he pursued the true path of Tarot study inaugurated by Maxwell, he made two mistakes. On one hand, the deck he uses is only one variation of the original. His drawings are exact copies of the Tarot of Besancon published by Grimaud at the end of the nineteenth century; Grimaud was only reproducing another Tarot of Besancon published by Lequart and signed "Arnoult 1748." Marteau also permitted himself to alter certain details, as this made it possible for him to commercialize the deck and receive royalties from it as the author. On the other hand, he kept the four basic colors imposed by the printing machines, instead of respecting the old and more varied colors of the hand-painted decks.

Unable to find any Tarot closer to the authentic one than that of Paul Marteau, I devoted myself to it reverently. I realized that if anyone could teach me how to decipher it, it would not be a teacher of flesh and blood, but the Tarot itself. Everything I wanted to know was right there between my hands and before my eyes, in the cards. It was essential to stop listening to the explanations founded on the "tradition," the concordances, the myths, the parapsychological explanations and allow the Arcana to speak for themselves. To integrate the Tarot into my life, beyond memorizing it, I performed actions with it that rational minds would probably consider childish. For example, I slept every night with a different card under my pillow, or spent an entire day with one of them in my pocket. I rubbed my body with the cards; I spoke in their names, imagining the rhythm and tone of each of their voices. I visualized each figure naked, imagined its symbols covering the sky, completed the drawings that disappeared in the frame: I gave full bodies to the animal that accompanies The Fool and to the Pope's acolytes, extended the Magician's table until its invisible fourth leg was revealed, imagined from where the veil of The High Priestess hung, saw toward what ocean flowed the stream that nourished the woman of The Star and where the pool in The Moon went. I imagined what The Fool was carrying in his pocket and The Magician in his pouch, the undergarments of The High Priestess, the vulva of The Empress and the phallus of The Emperor, what the Hanged Man was hiding in his hands, to whom belonged the decapitated heads of Arcanum XIII, and so on. I imagined the thoughts, emotions, sexuality, and actions of each figure. I made them pray, insult, make love, recite poems, heal.

As the word Arcanum—Major or Minor—is not printed on any part of the deck, we should not see the cards as "a secret, hidden thing, a thing that is occult and extremely difficult to know." It was up to me to give them a name: Engravings, Cards, Figures, Arcana, Victories, the choice was open. As the words Epee [Sword], Coupe [Cup], Baton [Wand], and Deniers [Pentacles] were already there, I opted for Arcana (Major and Minor), then for an alphabetical order: A for Arcana; B for Baton; C for Coupe; D for Deniers; E for Epée; F for Figures.

I developed my knowledge of Paul Marteau's Tarot for more than thirty years, organized workshops, and gave classes, teaching it to hundreds and hundreds of students. In 1993 I received a postcard in which Philippe Camoin, direct descendent of the Marseilles family that had been printing Nicolas Conver's Tarot since 1760, told me about the auto accident in which his father, Denys Camoin, had died. This tragic death had affected him deeply, especially as the municipal authorities had taken advantage of the tragedy to expropriate the property of the printing house, demolish it, and erect a dental school. He could not get past his mourning and following futile attempts to rejoin society, Philippe Camoin became a hermit. He spent ten years shut up in his father's house in the small town of Forcalquier with no other communication with the world except that provided by a satellite antenna that allowed him to receive more than one hundred different channels on his television. This was how he was able to learn the basics of a dozen languages. The cathode screen became his interlocutor. He thought he could smell the odor of the people appearing on the screen. When he had a problem or a question, he pressed his remote control at random and, as if by magic, an image, a broadcast, gave him a response. One sleepless night, when the clock said three o'clock, he asked this question: "What should I do to continue the family tradition interrupted by the death of my father?" and he pressed a button. I appeared on the screen responding to a journalist. Philippe had the feeling I was addressing him in particular. Several days later he repeated his question, and I reappeared on the screen. This phenomenon occurred a third time. This was why he decided to return to the world and write me to request a rendezvous.

When I saw him arriving, it was impossible to tell his age. He could have been fifty years old or twenty; one could have described him as a sage as easily as one could have said a child. He had difficulties expressing himself. Long silences interrupted every word that fell from his mouth. He gave the impression of saying nothing that was personally inspired, as if everything was being dictated to him from a faraway dimension. The transparency of his skin revealed that he was a vegetarian. He had a tattoo at the base of each of his thumbs. There was a moon on the left and a sun on the right. He wanted to attend my Tarot classes. The other students wondered if Philippe was mute. He had immense difficulty establishing relations with human beings. It was easier for him to communicate with beings from other worlds. The god Shiva moved him because, although he was a divine entity spreading love and fertility, all the demons obeyed him.

I decided to undertake a therapeutic initiative using psychomagic. If the death of his father had broken the bonds connecting his son to the world, it would be necessary to reconnect Philippe to the family tradition in order to restore them. To do this, I suggested we together restore the Tarot of Marseille. At this time, I was under the impression that this task would simply involve eliminating the small details added by Paul Marteau, and perhaps refining some of the drawings that, over time, copy after copy, had eventually been passed down in a confused fashion. Philippe welcomed my proposal enthusiastically. He realized that this was the reason he had sought me out. I spoke with his mother and asked for her help. After the death of her husband, she had donated a considerable collection of Tarots to different museums, and she provided us with letters of recommendation. We were always warmly welcomed, and we were allowed to obtain slides of all the cards useful for our research. Madame Camoin also kept an important collection of printing plates dating from the eighteenth century. At the end of a year of research, we realized just how immense was the task awaiting us. It was not a question of changing a few details or giving a few lines greater precision; it required the entire restoration of the Tarot by giving it back its original colors, painted by hand, and the drawings that generations of copyists had erased. Fortunately, while only fragmentary portions survived on some copies, parts that supplied the missing pieces appeared on others, allowing the entire image to be completed. We had to work with powerful computers, thanks to which we were able to compare the countless versions by placing one image on top of the other, versions that included those of Nicolas Conver, Dodal, Francois Tourcaty, Fautrier, Jean-Pierre Payen, Suzanne Bernardin, Lequart, and so on.

We worked together on this restoration for two years. Philippe reconnected with the world and showed evidence of extraordinary skill. He used a computer like an expert. The complexity of the task required more powerful machines. With no worry about expense, his mother provided the technical elements we needed. The difficulty of this restoration work resided in the fact that the Tarot of Marseille is made up of symbols that are closely intertwined and connected to one another; if a single line is altered, the entire work is adulterated. A large number of printers of the Tarot of Marseille existed during the seventeenth century. Eighteenth-century Tarot decks were copies of the earlier ones. We therefore cannot accept that any eighteenth-century Tarot could be the original. It is extremely likely that Nicolas Conver's version from 1760 contains errors and omissions. While the drawings were hand painted originally, the number of colors the industrial machines used by eighteenth-century printers could produce was limited. Depending on the printer, the lines and colors were reproduced with varying degrees of fidelity. Those who were not initiates simplified the symbols tremendously. Those copying them added errors to errors. On the other hand, we observed that some Tarots have identical and superimposable drawings, and yet each contains symbols that do not appear on the others. We deduced that they had been copied from the same Tarot, an older version that is now missing. It is this original Tarot that we wanted to restore.

We had stumbled upon an apparently insurmountable problem: no museum owned a Tarot of Marseille that was complete, ancient, and hand painted. Our work was halted for a time that seemed like an eternity. Suddenly I remembered that on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro in Mexico City, sixty yards from the house I used to live in, lived the antiquarian Raul Kampfer, a specialist in Aztec and Mayan relics. In 1960 he had tried to sell me an old "French" Tarot painted by hand, for which he wanted ten thousand dollars. Obsessed with the Waite version at that time, I did not find it interesting, and in any case it was far too expensive. And then I forgot about it . . . Miracle: near to where I once lived was perhaps the valuable example that we so desperately needed!

Philippe and I left for Mexico and, gripped by excitement, knocked at the antiquarian's door. A young man answered: it was the son of Raul Kampfer, who had died. The young man kept the objects left behind by his father religiously in one room. He did not know if a Tarot was hidden among them. He asked us to help him look for it. After a long and extremely anxious time, we finally discovered it in a cardboard box at the bottom of a suitcase. The boy sold it to us for a reasonable price, and we returned to Paris with our prize. This Tarot served us as the essential guide for restoring the former colors by computer.

As our work advanced, I was going through a series of actual spiritual short-circuits. I had spent so many years grafting Paul Marteau's Tarot onto my soul, giving every detail the deepest meaning possible—something I could do by placing a boundless love in the Arcana—that certain changes affected me like stabs from a knife.

Basically, the restoration work demanded that part of me, in the name of change, accept its death. By transforming the two dice of Paul Marteau's Magician—one showing the 1 and the other showing the 5 (making 15, the number of The Devil), and hiding on their opposing faces a 2 and a 6 (Yod, 10 + He, 5 + Vav, 6 + He, 5), which allowed me to say that the demon was only a mask of God—into three in the restored version, the three faces adding up to seven (3 x 7 = 21, The World), compelled the alteration of these symbols into absolutely different ones, which forced me to make exhausting mental efforts to substitute them for the ones I cherished.

The same thing happened to me with The Emperor's white shoes. I was used to thinking that the powerful monarch took steps of irreproachable purity as full of wisdom as his white beard. But in reality the shoes were red and his beard as blue as the sky. These were the steps of a conquering activity, similar to the cross on the scepter that imposed its mark on the world, and the beard of a man who was sensitive, spiritual, and open, one more intuitive than intelligent. In The Lover, to my great chagrin, I had to forget the parallel I had drawn between the central figure, whom Marteau depicted barefoot, and Moses, who took off his shoes in order to hear the voice of Him on High in the burning bush. It was painful to accept that this figure had red shoes as active as those of The Emperor or The Fool, which gave his love a less divine and more earthly appearance. Marteau's Hanged Man was not suspended by one foot, whereas he was in our version. I had to transfer from a figure who had freely decided not to act to another one who welcomed his bonds like a cosmic law against which he could not rebel, which signified that freedom was, for him, obedience to this law. In Marteau's Arcanum XIII, the skeleton is cutting off his own foot: self-destruction. In ours he has a blue foot as well as one arm and a spinal column of the same color, a constructive action repeated in his scythe, where the old red was blended with this heavenly blue, signifying a seeding of the spirit. Marteau's Devil brandishes a sword by the blade, stupidly wounding his hand, whereas in ours this hand is holding a torch, casting light in the darkness. In The Tower three initiatory steps and a door appear, which implies that the two figures are not falling but have left joyfully and of their own free will . . . and so many other details that changed my vision.

Of course, I needed time to abandon Marteau. I began by mixing the two decks, which I presented all together to the consultant. Gradually the old deck appeared to wither like autumn leaves, while the new one seemed to acquire a more intense energy each day. One Wednesday morning, in the garden of my home in Vincennes, I buried my beloved Paul Marteau Tarot at the foot of a bushy lime tree with the sorrow of a son burying his mother, and planted a rosebush on top of it. That very evening at the café Saint-Fiacre where I gave my free Tarot readings once a week, I used for the first time—and forever after—the restored Tarot. This first time coincided with Marianne Costa coming to my table. My meeting with her was just as important as that with Philippe Camoin. Without Marianne, I would never have written this book. Even if it is difficult for the rational mind to accept that nothing is accidental in nature, that everything that happens in the universe is caused by a pre-established law, that certain events are written in the future, and that the effect precedes the cause, the appearance of my collaborator seemed like the work of a destiny established by an inconceivable being.

Marianne was first my student, then my assistant, and we ended up reading the Tarot together, therefore fulfilling what was indicated by the Arcana: The Emperor—Empress, The High Priestess—Pope, The Moon—Sun. The initiate needs his female complement, and vice versa, for both to attain a reading guided by Cosmic Consciousness.

A. J.

Rachel Pollack: pp ix-xi


I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Tarot in early 1970 when a friend read my cards. By the time you read this, I will have worked, studied, and played with Tarot for more than forty years, the total of the numbered cards—ace through ten in each of the four suits—in the part of the deck known as the Minor Arcana. Because of Tarot, I have learned about spiritual and esoteric traditions I did not even know existed. I have seen many subtle surprises and truths in human behavior and have come, I think, to a better understanding of subjects like free will and even what we mean by "sacred."

Having written stories all my life, I became a nonfiction writer to tell people what I understood of the cards (my first Tarot book and my first novel were published at the same time). Through Tarot, I have traveled to many countries at the kind invitation of people who wanted me to teach. And I have met dear friends who have remained close to me for decades, no matter where we live.

That first book on Tarot, published in two parts in 1980 and 1983, was Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom. It came out of a weekly class I was teaching in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, where I lived for nineteen years. It seemed to me that I had developed an approach to the cards that I had not seen anywhere else at that time. Part of that approach involved using readings as the primary mode by which we entered the deepest levels of the cards' meanings, including spiritual and metaphysical truths and secrets. At that time, people tended either to do readings with formulaic meanings for each card or else study the cards according to a strict system of occult ideas. My own approach stressed psychology, myth, esoteric philosophy, and the interpretation of the cards that came up in readings as moments in someone's life, or a story, or a dream.

Over the years, many people have told me they found Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom of great benefit. And yet, much has happened in Tarot since then. A vast number of new decks have been published, including my own Shining Tribe Tarot. Brilliant interpretations have emerged, along with decks and books that link the cards to specific mythologies or esoteric traditions. Material that had been kept secret for generations was finally published. We also know a great deal more about Tarot's history, so that statements I made in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom —for example, that regular playing cards derived from Tarot—I now know as simply not true.

Because so much has happened and my own ideas have developed so much, I thought it might be time to do a new book that would once again give a detailed interpretation of the entire deck, card by card. Actually, just as Seventy-Eight Degrees came out of my Amsterdam class, so Tarot Wisdom comes from a series of day-long workshops I taught called Tarot Intensives. In these classes, we spent an entire morning or afternoon looking at just one or two cards, bringing in a whole range of approaches—from comparison with many decks, to a look at how the historical meanings of the cards have evolved over the past two centuries, to readings inspired by the core ideas of a single card.

One of the special things we did in the Intensives was to go back and see what the early cartomancers (people who do readings with cards) gave as the meaning for each card. In this we were greatly aided by a recent book [Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage] by Paul Huson, whose early work on Tarot, The Devil's Picture-Book, was one of my favorites when I was first learning the cards.

Huson's new book, Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage, is one of a group of exciting new works by various authors that attempt to bridge the gap between historical scholarship on Tarot and the tradition of occult or spiritual interpretation. Knowledge of Tarot history has taken huge leaps in the last decade. We now know far more about not only the origin of the deck but also the likely source of most of the pictures. At one point, the people doing this research seemed to have a kind of anti-occult agenda. That is, if they could disprove the claims of Tarot having a secret origin as a mystical doctrine, then all of the concepts and symbolism built up around it would be seen as meaningless. All of us who believe we see spiritual truth in Tarot cards would have to realize that it's just nonsense, that Tarot was invented as a game, nothing more, and all the rest is foolish fantasy. In reaction against this extreme view, some Tarotists have steadfastly ignored historical evidence. To them, Tarot comes from ancient Egypt, or Atlantis, or wherever else they have heard (see below for some of the examples), no matter what all those researchers say.

Huson and others, notably Mary K. Greer and Robert Place, have taken a different approach. They use what researchers have found out to create a fuller picture of the cards, recognizing that that picture should include the concepts that have built up around the Tarot since the eighteenth century (see below for a brief history) and the intriguing possibility that those first inventors of the game of Tarot may very well have conceived of the pictures as allegorical lessons.

One of the things that Huson has done in his book is list for each card in the deck the meanings given by the early cartomancers, beginning with "Pratesi." The name actually belongs to a contemporary historian who found a manuscript on Tarot that gave simple meanings for a fair number of the cards. The manuscript dates from around 1750, and since the earliest published meanings date from 1781, the anonymous text is the first known list of what today we call "divinatory meanings," and the earliest sign that Tarot cards were used for fortunetelling.

When I began to read through the various historical interpretations for each card— Huson takes us from Pratesi to the beginning of the twentieth century—I realized something amazing: for many of the cards, the older meanings were nothing at all like what we believe the card means today. Consider the Fool. Today we view this figure as a wise innocent making his intuitive way through the world. In earlier times, however, people saw him as a sort of schizophrenic homeless person. And I'm not referring here to card readers who knew nothing of Tarot's spiritual or occult meanings. These interpreters were in fact the very people who wrote the books and designed the cards. As I made these discoveries, it seemed worth our attention to look at how the interpretation of each card has evolved over time.