Gaze: Cooperation, Confrontation or Indifference?

Since I’ve been working with the Tarot de Marseille lately, I thought I would revisit the concept of facing, which in older terminology defines the “gaze” or “regard” of the central figure on each of the trump and court cards. (Is it looking, gesturing or posing toward the left, the right or straight out at the observer?) This concept delivers its greatest value when the cards are randomly paired in a spread, showing by their reciprocal or divergent glances that the two figures are: 1) actively engaged with one another (joined either in cooperation or conflict); 2) clearly disaffected or estranged (both turned away); or 3) in some middle state of disregard (one actively attempting to disengage or gazing straight out of the scene in idle disinterest). In the TdM, all of the court cards exhibit a distinct left-or-right facing, while more than a third of the trump cards either have no central human figure, or that figure is looking directly out of the picture, intent on its own agenda.



The court cards render their testimony most effectively in relationship readings, where assumptions can be made about the relative accord of the parties involved. Both partners looking askance could show that their future together is in doubt, while one facing away from the other could mean that the individual is reluctant to cooperate or is seeking outside opportunities. These don’t have to be romantic situations, they can reflect any interpersonal alignment involving common cause.

The trump cards have long been viewed as portending the advent of major, seismic shifts in external influences that enter the matter unbidden, “for good or ill” as the saying goes. In combination, it can be a case of competing (and sometimes warring) forces, each trying to assert its ascendancy. They are uniquely individual enough to make outright cooperation less likely, although the breakdown of nominally positive, negative and neutral cards can be applied to show relative ease or difficulty of expression when they are juxtaposed. For example, the Sun and the Empress are agreeable and mutually supportive, while the High Priestess and the Emperor might be at each other’s throat; Death and the World – two aspects of “completion” – could split the pie between them, each getting its due. In all cases, the querent’s self-interest is secondary to universal prerogatives, and the reader’s challenge is to reduce the cosmic interplay to human dimensions.

Those trump cards that have no central human (or humanoid) figure are a special case. Here the emphasis is entirely divorced from the human equation, representing primal urges that intrude unexpectedly and unnervingly within the fabric of personal experience. These include the Wheel of Fortune, the Tower and the Moon. Those trumps bearing a human (or humanoid) figure looking straight out at the observer are at least approachable on individual  terms, although we may not always appreciate their import. These are Justice, the Hanged Man, the Devil, the Sun and Judgement. We can at least comprehend their message and something of its purpose.

2 thoughts on “Gaze: Cooperation, Confrontation or Indifference?

  1. I am not certain that ‘facing’ is a better choice than ‘gaze’ overall, since it only involves direction, while gaze – at least to me – is more precise and focused, since the eyes may be angled slightly and interpreted as looking at an object in particular on a neighbouring card, rather than at the next card as a whole.

    As far as the court cards are concerned (you make an excellent point overall), I will also note that the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said that” “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” – i.e. Nuance…

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    • The idea of looking in the same direction raises all kinds of possibilities: is one party focused on the road ahead and the other trying to catch up, or is one fixated on the past and the other trying to coax the laggard to move on? I think I would only occasionally see it as both of them pulling in the same direction.


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