Tarology: Enrique Enriquez and the Tarot de Marseille

After watching the documentary Tarology, I’ve decided that – although I’m probably a quarter-century older than he is – I want to be Enrique Enriquez when I grow up. He finally gave me a sound rationale for why I’ve staunchly resisted applying esoteric symbols from Qabala and astrology to my study and practice of the Tarot de Marseille, despite the exhortations of those post-modernists who say “just do whatever works for you.” I’ve  gotten on well enough with such symbolism for too long with decks that were designed around it to call it “nonsense” and “rubbish” in a purely reactionary way (although, if we’re being honest, such decks might justifiably be considered oracular rather than truly tarot-centric), but I’m perfectly agreeable with  considering it irrelevant in this one instance. Enriquez has a simplicity and directness that make reading the images in the TdM as visual poetry with “rhyming” elements between the cards so compelling that I can’t believe I didn’t see it this clearly before. His way of piecing together stories from posture, gesture and gaze and mining the emotional content seems like nothing short of genius in what is by most accounts a sparsely-furnished interpretive landscape.

I never had much use for parsing all of the decorative embellishments (flowers, leaves, branches and such) into discrete tidbits of meaning, so I can see how the art of finding inspiration in the organic form and structure of the figures and their surroundings is going to be a valuable key for me. Saying that the Tarot de Marseille wants us to be “dumb” in order to appreciate its spare elegance, and demonstrating how mimicking the posture of the figures on the trump cards can open up their meaning for us  were two examples of his unique viewpoint that speak volumes to me. “Just read the pictures and pay attention” is good advice that seems entirely too obvious to be need elaboration, but apparently it’s a rare skill. His approach is almost totally visual: the Batons are living things, the Cups are there to be filled, the Swords are sharp and combative and the Coins are an expression of wealth. As Dan Pelletier, owner of Tarot Garden, said in the video:  a single Sword spells trouble,  a card with several Swords brings “massive trouble.” An increasing number of Cups describes a party that is getting livelier and louder until, in the Ten, one of the party-goers falls down drunk and the party is over. The lion in Fortitude and the dog in the Fool are the same beast: the former is in front of the woman, blocking her progress until she masters it, while the latter is being left behind by the Fool. Simple, really. I like to think that, through my creative use of metaphor and analogy in my reading, I’ve already made it part-way there.

Although I find that Pythagorean number theory still has a place in my TdM  practice since geometric significance (the Point, the Line, the Trigon or Triangle, the Square, etc.) is universal and predates the tarot by centuries, Enriquez strips it down to its visual basics by showing how the juxtaposition of the figures and suit symbols – both within and across card boundaries – adequately defines their meaning without getting into the metaphysics. This is refreshing and immensely appealing. He makes Alejandro Jodorowsky – who also had the stated objective of steering away from esotericism with his book The Way of Tarot and his collaborative deck with Philippe Camoin – seem positively Baroque.

I will have more to say after I watch the film again, and will update this post with more observations at that time. By way of full disclosure, I should add that although my (admittedly limited) prior exposure to his ideas had me prepared to be dismissive of Enriquez, I wound up admiring him.

Just a couple more random thoughts from my second viewing. His word-play at first seems incidental to the main thrust of the film, but it makes perfect sense when he talks about the Marseille tarot speaking the “language of the birds” (which Rachel Pollock – also present here – equates to the language of prophecy). Through some clever transposition of letters he comes up with “Birds are beautiful thoughts,” which vividly captures the kind of inspiration that can be found in the cards. He also mentions that constantly “looking down” on the cards during the course of a reading seems almost disrespectful; we should raise our sights to the wider world and find the images repeated there. The reason for his wandering around the streets of New York City placing tarot cards on doors and walls finally clicked for me.

2 thoughts on “Tarology: Enrique Enriquez and the Tarot de Marseille

  1. I like to read opinions from people who’ve started with Thoth. It is the hardest system to grasp – I did with determination and no small amount of pain. I really liked Enrique in the movie, and am totally enamored with Camelia Elias…my mind seems to only be able to absorb so much, then the rest just drops to the floor or blows over my head. I do feel that the systems overlap quite a bit. As I am the filter, I keep placing myself amidst the cards, picking up pieces as space opens up in my brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I started with the Thoth in 1972, I didn’t know any different; it was all I had. When I met my wife in 1977, she had a “Tarot Classic” TdM, which is when I realized how closely some of the Thoth minor cards mirror the TdM pips. I didn’t get a Waite-Smith deck until 2011, and I treat it as my secondary deck after the Thoth. I’m going to get my hands on Caitlin Matthews’ TdM book soon, since the TdM is my next challenge.


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