The Power of Leaves

Another idea that I picked up from Paul Marteau’s Tarot de Marseille book is that the leaves forming part of the decorative ornamentation on the TdM pip cards represent storehouses, repositories or reservoirs of force in its potential form (much like the way foliage works in nature); depending on their color, these “energy wells” are variously spiritual (white), mental (yellow), emotional or “psychic” (blue) and material (red) in essence. This latent force has its first kinetic “stirring” in the flower buds and reaches full, fruitful expression in the blossoms.

Marteau gets more than a little anal about the variegated colors and striations on the leaves of the particular deck he was using (which some believe to be a Grimaud variant), but as I see it “a leaf is a leaf:” they receive stimulation (sunlight) and turn it into energy (chlorophyll) that begets action and generates results (growth and flowering). They really should be green, the color of natural processes, but I could accept different shades representing “new growth” and “old growth” as part of those processes. There is ample opportunity to use the rest of the color palette in the buds and flowers as well as in the suit emblems.

This experience reveals something about many Tarot de Marseille writers that I’ve pointed out in my own essays. They drastically overthink the symbolic meaning of every tiny detail on the pip cards, perhaps to fill the void left by the lack of scenic content with which to craft storytelling narratives in a reading. Some are better than others at taking a more impressionistic view of the abstract designs, what I call a “soft-focus” approach that looks more at overall patterns than the proliferation of minutiae, but all of them seem compelled to overstate the case for an interpretive eloquence that was almost certainly never intended by the original creators of the TdM “style.”

I don’t see why we can’t keep it simple, and Marteau does have his moments of inspiration. His idea that a vertical orientation of the decorative features represents aspiration for either spiritual awareness (toward the top of the card) or material achievement (toward the bottom) seems perfectly valid, as is his thought that a horizontal alignment suggests “flat-lined” energy that shows both equilibrium and inertia. I also have little problem with the fundamentals of his color theory as explained in part above, although he does seem a bit indiscriminate in his use of both white and yellow to describe the intellectual activity of the mind, and he makes little mention of blue as the color of emotion, preferring to abstract it into the functioning of the “psyche,” to which he ascribes both spiritual (also attributed to white) and “animistic” (entirely human) qualities. One idea new to me is that the use of black in the line work implies delimiting factors such as boundaries between the various modes of expression and the operation of “Universal Law,” something I think I can work with.

Personally, I stick mostly with suit-and-number theory when I read the TdM pip cards, with a little imaginative insight drawn from the patterns formed by the suit emblems and the incidental embellishments (Jean-Michel David calls them “arabesques,” a wonderful way to put it). Color schemes vary so much from deck-to-deck that I don’t look at much more than the broad themes of yellow, blue and red; however, I can’t buy into some of Marteau’s novel observations, such as his notion that the yellow of the Coins represents mental activity (unless it’s limited to the realm of business), since I always took it to indicate the fiduciary nature of gold. Which brings me back to the leaves (and by extension every other nuance of Marteau’s pip-card arboretum): why load them up with obscure symbolic significance when there is a perfectly organic way to describe their working in both inner and outer manifestation?

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