Pips, Courts and Trumps: A Short, Simple Guide to the Tarot de Marseille

UPDATE: Success! I was finally able to publish my book on Lulu, the only platform I could find that will accept OpenOffice “ODT” documents without a lot of reformatting effort. I should mention that this is not a work for the absolute beginner since it’s aimed it at the “experienced TdM generalist and serious student” and won’t be particularly useful to the “RWS novice.” But I didn’t price it too high ($5.99 USD and its equivalent in CAD, EUR, GBP and AUD) so it may be worth taking a chance. It’s only available right now as an EBook on the Lulu Store. Revision 3 is the current version; it’s 90 pages of text and around 46,000 words, about the size of an average non-fiction work.

Original Post:

I just finished compiling my Tarot de Marseille essays into a single document but was unsuccessful in my attempt to publish it as an ebook on Amazon. The Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program was unable to handle the .pdf version of the file, was almost as bad with the .doc version, and failed miserably when trying to create an integrated Table of Contents since it didn’t know how to handle a collection of essays that isn’t “chapter-based” in format. I wanted it to look like the .pdf version that I spent hours grooming but couldn’t make it happen. I will have to find another self-publishing platform. In the meantime, here is the “Forward” to the book for your information.


As an active blogger, I’ve been pondering the transient and fragile nature of online content. Unless the information we gather through our internet searches is promptly downloaded and saved for future use, we may never be able to find it again (and certainly not if the source page is taken down and our digital links are voided). I came to this realization when I noticed that someone in Japan has been diligently mining my Tarot de Marseille blog material. Perhaps I’m flattering myself or maybe I’m justifiably nervous about intellectual property theft, but I can only assume that they’re either compiling it for private study or planning to translate it and publish it under their own name. I thought it would be prudent to organize all of it into a single document to both stake my claim to it and affirm the copyright that was established upon its original electronic publication. In doing so I will ideally have produced something of value for both the experienced TdM generalist and the serious student who hopes to penetrate its mysteries.

Consequently, I spent some time assembling the material into this “short, simple guide,” so named because I’m not nearly as effusive as some Tarot de Marseille scribes when characterizing the array of suit emblems and ornamental decorations on each “pip” card. I’m thinking particularly of those authors who have sought to render every minor artistic detail into some kind of symbolic meaning. As a graphic artist I’ve taken a slightly different approach that looks at “design language” (for lack of a more precise term): What do the recurring motifs, the shapes and styles, the figured areas and the “white spaces,” the visual interplay of features suggest in the way of intelligible hints about their collective significance. Think of it as a creative “Rorschach ink-blot” premise that goes for overall pattern recognition rather than individual highlights.

“Simple” may be in the eye of the beholder, and some readers will no doubt find the more abstract essays dry and difficult despite my best efforts at lively presentation. As far as “short,” we shall see. Over the last few years I’ve been encouraged by tarot author Lee Bursten to “write that TdM book,” so this may be the informal precursor to it. To that end, I’ve rearranged the Tarot de Marseille content of my longtime blog into a logical sequence that begins with the pips, continues on through the court cards and concludes with the trumps; included are both practical guidelines for prediction with the cards and broader philosophical commentary.

Although I maintain a skeptical attitude toward the growing culture of tradition-shunning “intuitive” divination (I like to call it “psychism with props”) and have often vented about it, you’ll find little evidence of that in my TdM writing; the small amount of “curmudgeonly” content to be found here I’ll warn you about now. On the other hand, as a 21st Century tarot enthusiast trying to unravel the metaphysical archaisms of a 17th Century cultural artifact, I have dropped more than a few disclaimers and caveats about my contemporary lapses into the narrative, usually couched in phrases like “esoterically speaking” to acknowledge their non-historical derivation.

These brief essays were written over a period of ten years as I gradually familiarized myself with the Tarot de Marseille. Thus there is a certain amount of redundancy scattered throughout the text, but I’ve done my best to pare it down wherever it seemed too repetitious. (That said, it shouldn’t be hard for the alert reader to tell what some of my favorite words are even though I’ve gone back and expanded the range of expression.) Portions of this work were extracted from my “Tarot 101” teaching curriculum and, except for the changes I made to some of the card titles for this document, my study material is not unique to the TdM. However, in the absence of specific card-by-card instruction dating from the time of the deck’s creation, it should be sufficiently detailed in a non-sectarian way to justify its use with the TdM in card reading.

It will quickly become obvious that “period authenticity” is not my goal here. I set out to create a bridge between the less-accessible aspects of the TdM and the mainstream methods that dominate the modern card-reader’s modus operandi without recklessly importing the latter’s mystical baggage. I wanted to establish a conceptual framework for the art of divination using the older tarot, and any discussion toward that end will necessarily be fraught with ideas and terminology from more recent practice. This occurs primarily with the trumps and court cards that stand apart from the “suit-and-number” principles commonly applied to the pips. Accordingly, for comparative purposes there will be occasional mention of the popular “occult” decks and the Hermetic theories underlying them that arrived on the scene long after the TdM.

The opinions herein are entirely my own, although I’ve benefited from numerous enlightening conversations with several distinguished writers in the field of tarot, both in online forums and privately. I would particularly like to thank Lee Bursten, Andy Boroveshengra and Mary K. Greer for their valuable insights.

There are no tarot-card illustrations to break up the text since I don’t want to pay deck publishers a recurring fee for permission to use their images in a commercial venture (not to mention the cost of color printing). I had to exclude a small number of essays because they couldn’t stand alone without the associated pictures. If you’re interested you can find them on my blog, where I’ve tried to follow “fair use” rules:


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