A Horse of a Different Color

To my knowledge, other than the small dog in Le Mat, the lion in La Force, the two canines in La Lune and the two horses in Le Chariot, there have been few attempts to rope the Tarot de Marseille animals into the narrative of a reading and give them a starring role. I was recently struck by a bit of appealing (although mildly scatological) whimsy when studying an otherwise entirely earnest missing-person spread (my apologies to the victim’s family in the unlikely event they happen to read this).

But first the serious stuff (you did realize there would be serious stuff, right?) Before there was the “Fool’s Journey” and its psychological baggage, there were only visual, historical and cultural cues to go by when trying to forge meaningful connections between the TdM trump cards. I’ve read in more than one place that the trumps can be linked visually by looking for common elements across two or more adjacent cards: horizontal or diagonal features that cross card boundaries uninterrupted; identical or mirror-image angulation in the position of objects; similar gestures, raiment or emblems of office; shared direction of flow or movement; etc.  The assumption is apparently that such arbitrary bonds can be significant from an interpretive standpoint. I decided to have a closer look, since I’ve never seen any compelling evidence of these “in the wild” during my heretofore infrequent TdM readings, with the obvious exceptions of L’Imperatrice and L’Empereur. Although I did consider all of the above,  about the only commonality I noticed among the majority of the cards was the “horizon line” behind the figures.

Seventeen of the 22 trumps exhibit discernible horizon lines while the other five do  not. I took these seventeen cards and laid them out, looking for matching ground levels at the left and right edge of each card. Then I spread them out in a row such that every card shared an “on-grade” horizon line with the card to its left and right. In some cases the horizon descended from one side of a card to the other; in a few situations it ascended; and across several  pairs (and even triplets) it remained fairly level, but overall it showed a declining left-to-right slope. There is no particular order to the series other than that accidentally imposed by the topography of the landscape.


Since the graphics are too small to see exactly what I’m talking about, I used a Sharpie pen to highlight the rising and falling of the continuous horizon line. Note that the line breaks at Le Pendu, which sits at the exact center of this layout, and then resumes with Le Chariot.

Landscape Links Markup.JPG

The running pairs I came up with were (using modern terms since looking up and repeatedly typing the exact French spelling is tiresome):

Moon and Star
Star and Death
Death and Tower;
Tower and Judgement
Judgement and Temperance
Temperance and Magician
Magician and Justice
Justice and Hanged Man

After the “great divide,” the series picked up with:

Hanged Man and Chariot
Chariot and Lovers
Lovers and Devil
Devil and Wheel of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune and Emperor
Emperor and Empress
Empress and Fool
Fool and Hermit

I have no idea what I’m going to do with this beyond noting that the matched sets are on an equal footing, especially when that occurs across triplets where the horizon line remains level. (The effortless “hand-off” of energy across a bilateral plateau seems like it might be a useful idea.) Some of them are already paired in a more traditional sense; for example La Justice and Le Pendu, the trial and the punishment. We might say that “all of the trump cards are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Perhaps we could assume that the adjacent trumps “see eye-to-eye” with one another, which may or may not be a good thing depending on their status in a reading. (Death, the Tower and Judgement in cahoots would not be an inspiring trio in any spread.)

But about that title . . . The practice of looking at the gaze, posture or gestures of the court cards is well-established. It is normally used to determine whether two court cards that are regarding one another are (or could be) sharing an experience of some kind. I recently had  such a situation in a reading that was both instructive and entertaining.

I was examining a missing-person spread and noticed that the Valet de Deniers (representing the absent individual) and the Cavalier de Baton (a still-unknown “person of interest” in the disappearance) were adjacent and facing one another.

All images copyright U.S. Games Systems, Inc, Stamford, CT

The Cavalier appears to be waving his big club threateningly in the Valet’s face, while the latter looks ready to throw a rock at the Cavalier (or maybe a horse-turd, but I’m getting ahead of myself). The notion of a baseball pitcher/batter match-up crossed my mind briefly, but people don’t usually go missing while engaged in team sports. Maybe the Valet is going to try knocking the Cavalier off his horse, which would have some relevance in this obviously confrontational vignette. I get the distinct impression of animosity between the two, with the mounted Cavalier holding the upper hand. My bet would be that there was an altercation with unfortunate consequences for the missing person.

But then we come to that smug-looking horse. While the two antagonists are staring each other down, the horse seems to have slyly excreted something unpleasant that is about to land on the Valet’s shoe (the trajectory of the missile seems about right), and its sender appears to be faintly amused about it. Let’s call it a clear case of “adding insult to injury.” Or maybe it’s what started the fight in the first place? “Arrrgh! Your horse just crapped on my foot!”

3 thoughts on “A Horse of a Different Color

  1. This exercise was also promoted by Tchalaï, who gave the suggestion of placing The Star-The Tower-Judgment next to each, left to right, to begin with, and of seeking significance in these scenic placements.

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  2. Yes, the translation is a work in progress. Incidentally, Tchalaï also wrote of the peculiarity of the animals in the Marseilles Tarot, especially the horses, some of which are rather bovine, and one which would be a unicorn! The characteristics of the Fool’s dog also veers towards the feline, in some Marseilles-type decks too. Hopefully we will be able to get this material published somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

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