Discover the origins of the Marseille Tarot and the symbolism of the Cards in this deck, from the Major Arcana to the Minor Arcana.
Although you are a beginner in the art of Tarot, you have surely noticed that there are different versions: the Egyptian Tarot, the Marseille Tarot, the Rider Tarot, the Belline Tarot, and the Esoteric Tarot, among others.
Traditionally, the Tarot deck contains 78 Cards, grouped into 22 trumps (the Major Arcana ), and four suits (Wands, Cups, Swords, Pentacles), with a total of 56 Cards that make up the Minor Arcana. Although the images may be different, the symbolism of the Cards is always the same. In this article, we will learn about the origin and symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille.
Historical Origin of the Tarot of Marseille
The Marseille Tarot, also known as “the Marsellés” or the “French,” is one of the oldest versions of the Tarot and perhaps the most traditional. It is also known as “the Tarot of the Imaginaries of the Middle Ages.” Due to its name, its origin is associated with the French city of Marseille, although there is no certainty of the effectiveness of this link.
Some experts believe that the Tarot was born in the area of the Nile River, in Egypt, or in Asia Minor and that it reached Marseille through the trade routes of the Mediterranean Sea. However, there is another version that suggests that this deck actually arose in Marseille in the 18th century.
The Marseilles Tarot is probably the most famous of all the decks. The Cards have simple and powerful images outlined in primary colors, which reveal secret truths or of great depth and universality. The oldest decks featured Roman numerals, and, later, the names of the Major Arcana were written in French, although the Italian suits of Swords, Pentacles, Wands, and Cups (Minor Arcana) continued to be used.
The use of this deck is a wonderful experience when you have more practice due to the depth of reading it allows, considering the richness of the meaning of its various archetypes.
The Tarot of Marseille
The Marseilles Tarot is composed of 78 Cards, which are subdivided into two groups: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana (or Trumps) is 22, and the Minor 56.
The Arcana of the Tarot, or archetypes, represent essential aspects of the path that we have to follow after being launched into the world. As pilgrims of life, it is up to us to make life enlightened and that the traveler and the path meet as complementary parts of the same reality.
The Marseille Tarot is based on tradition and presents various aspects of the human psyche. Its reading can be at a spiritual, psychological, or practical level, depending on the interpretation made of the symbols of each of the Letters in conjunction with personal circumstances (learn more about this topic in this article).
The Major Arcana
The Major Arcana is made up of 22 illustrated Cards, each of which represents a character or a symbolic scene. At the top of each Card, there is a grid with the number of the order, and at the bottom, another grid with the name of the Arcanum that reveals the hidden meaning of the Card.
However, there are exceptions. One of them is illustration number 13, that of La Muerte (also known as the “unnamable” perhaps because of the anxiety and fear it arouses when it is placed on the reading table), and which has no written name.
Another exception is the El Loco Card, which does not have the number grid. Some fortune-tellers place The Fool at the beginning of the deck and others at the end. The former assigns the value zero, and the latter the value 22.
The Major Arcana of the Marseilles Tarot predict important events in people’s lives. They are considered archetypes because they are considered universal or mythical. If you notice the name of the Cards below, they all reflect widely recognized concepts, regardless of beliefs or cultures. Knowing the symbology of these Cards is particularly relevant for Tarot practitioners.
The Major Arcana have subdivided into two blocks: The first starts at El Loco (Card zero) and ends at The Wheel of Fortune (10); the second begins in La Fuerza (Letter 11) and ends in El Mundo (Letter 21).
These Cards represent the different phases of the evolution of the person through his life path. It is like the journey that each one makes throughout his life, representing the different phases that he goes through throughout the process.
The Fool represents birth, the initial moment, the starting point from which the person is guided and related by pure instinct. With The World, the last Letter, the person reaches his full self-realization, the maximum level of his spiritual evolution. Letters I to X represent earthly lessons, while Letters XI to XXII represents spiritual lessons.
The 22 Major Arcana
0 - The Fool - The figure’s face expresses naivety and innocence. It is the image of a traveler or a pilgrim of life who returns to the parental home. In its freedom, it reflects eternal love and power. Like Letter Zero, it represents the end and the beginning.
I - The Magician - Holds a magic wand that allows you to open all the doors of the unconscious. The dagger at your disposal allows you to fight the shadows and conquer the light of universal wisdom.
II - The Priestess - Presented as a portly woman who, with her imposing appearance, seems to challenge male supremacy. She is the ancient goddess of the feminine universe that transmits tranquility and wisdom.
III - The Empress - Symbol of work and efficiency, radiates resolution and determination. Persuasion, affection, vanity, and seduction are some of the associations with this archetype. It gathers together all the women: the mother, the wife, and the daughter.
IV - The Emperor - Represented by a middle-aged man, leaning on the throne, with his legs crossed, from where he observes his kingdom with a posture that exudes security and dominance. Your crown is humble because you don’t need to flaunt your power or status.
V - The Pope - This character holds a triple cross, a symbol of the creative force in the divine, intellectual and physical domains. It represents the bridge between heaven and earth, between God and Men.
VI - Lovers - Represents the essence of love and affection that unites human beings. It also expresses the desire of the other as a stimulus for self-knowledge and the conflict that the person must resolve within.
VII - The Chariot - In this archetype stands out the figure of two horses that seem to want to move in opposite directions. It symbolizes restlessness, anguish, and also the negative and the positive.
VIII - Justice - Despite not appearing with a blindfold, this Card represents the ability to distinguish between what is fair and what is unfair in an impartial way. His reason is not disturbed by temptation and envy. In the Rider Tarot, this Arcanum is equivalent to the Force Card.
IX - The Hermit - Represents an old and serene man graced with the wisdom granted by age. She is the archetype of the figure who is willing to share her spiritual wisdom to guide others.
X - The Wheel of Fortune - Symbolizes the perpetual cycle of life. It is energy in continuous evolution. Represents the beginning of a new cycle. Everything happens; everything repeats itself.
XI - The Force - This archetype symbolizes the fusion of the conscious with the unconscious and the force of feminine power. This Arcanum is equivalent to the Card of Justice in the Tarot Rider.
XII - The Hanged Man - Symbolizes salvation and redemption. The eyes of this figure are open, and his gaze is lively and attentive, observing and knowing everything that surrounds him.
XIII - Death - This archetype symbolizes all the misgivings and negative superstitions associated with the number 13. Death mercilessly blinds everything that appears in front of it. To evolve, it is necessary to die and be reborn. But after death, there is always rebirth.
XIV - Temperance - Represented by an angel who pours the liquid from the amphora that he holds in his hand without spilling a single drop. It symbolizes discipline and self-control. The spilled liquid is the essence of life, just as the past flows into the future through the present.
XV - The Devil - Instinct and desire, in its most perverse and exuberant forms. This archetype is associated with human suffering, evil, and addictions and can be a harbinger of misfortune.
XVI - The Tower - Symbolizes the past that undergoes destruction and change. There is a fall, but there is also a release. This Card has different names in the different Tarot games, such as The Hospital, The Destruction, the Tower struck by lightning, or the Tower of Babel.
XVII - The Star - The trees and the bird symbolize a new life and open possibilities for the future. The water that the girl pours heralds the appearance of new ideas. It is the present steeped in the future.
XVIII - The Moon - This Card shows the dogs that bark at the Moon. This shows an artificial light that symbolizes the strength and the dangers of the world of appearances, rumors, and scandals. It symbolizes the imaginary world.
XIX - The Sun - Represents reason, reflection, and objectivity. Its rays, luminous and warm, are a source of positive energy that gives rise to a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure.
XX - The Judgment - Symbolizes the expiation for the negative actions of the past and, at the same time, a warning for the future. The greater the regret, the greater the satisfaction.
XXI - The World - The double-ended wand that appears in the Safe World Card symbolizes infinite power, fullness, inner harmony, and altruism in love. It is the encounter with the true “I.”
The Minor Arcana
The Minor Arcana of the Marseille Deck designate more complete, more practical situations. They are made up of 56 illustrations, which are divided into four groups of 14 Cards each. These different groups can be compared to the suits of the deck: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Coins.
Their combination is based on the four primary elements (also considered in Astrology to define the archetypes of the Zodiac Signs ) and on the four psychic functions that establish a relationship between them:
- Wands - Element Fire and Intuition - relationship with the idea of power, fire, and trust.
- Cups - Water Element and Feeling - cups contain liquids, and water is related to emotion.
- Swords - Air Element and Intellect - swords are a weapon, and what leads to discord and inner conflict is intellect and thought.
- Coins - Earth Element and Sensations - money and material goods allow relationships between people and action in the material world, in conjunction with the physical dimension of the body and tangible things.
Each suit of the Minor Arcana contains 10 Cards numbered from 1 to 10. This order is related to the ten levels of the Tree of Life of the Hebrew Kabbalah. Each suit ends with four characters: Jack, the Knight, the Queen, and the King.
The Tree of Life symbolizes human life and its different phases. Its branches ascend towards the sky to receive the light and energy of the Sun. The roots are buried in the ground, a source of food but also of security, holding it to the ground when storms arrive.