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Another TdM Reference


Forum discussion of available reference material for the Tarot de Marseille centers on works by Camelia Elias, Yoav ben Dov, Enrique Enriquez, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Lee Bursten. I'd like to add another one (The Tarot by Joseph Maxwell) that I always thought of as primarily an analysis of esoteric number theory and its relevance to the tarot, but recently discovered that the interpretive text at the back - especially for the minor cards - is built almost entirely upon the TdM as understood by Maxwell. Here's an example of his style that brings together the generic imagery on the cards with practical and thought-provoking insights.

7 of Cups -

"Seven is the number of triumph, plentitude, strong movement in new direction of which full cognisance is taken - that is, blind forces no longer work in the field of consciousness.

The free-flowing curves of the white branches in the ornamentation show the pure intelligence at work to produce its own harmonies. This creative action is not without risk, needless to say, but it is full of promise and moves in the right direction with the concourse of energetic ideation and liberated feeling.

This is an extremely active card, in contrast to the previous one, which is receptive." (For Maxwell, odd numbers are active and even numbers passive.) "Any positive project involving the creative and intellectual capacities is symbolized in the 7 of Cups. Reversed, there will be a tendency to lack confidence or faith, giving rise to doubt and danger of inaction or wrong action."

Note that this has nothing to do with the Thoth meanings or the Golden Dawn's Liber T, and very little in common with the usual understanding of the RWS. Maxwell seems to have been his own man. I like his observations a great deal and am looking forward to getting the Hadar TdM to explore with the book (which I've owned for around 30 years).
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I have the french original text before me and I must say it's pretty different than your quotation, as if the translator felt the need to paraphrase and summarize this original (2 pages for the 7 of cups). Did Maxwell translate his own work or was it someone else ?

When reading attentively the considerations about colours you understand that he uses the ThunderBay or Octopus edition (ie a deck existing in the late XIXth century similar in colours to the Camoin bicentennial). He finds it rough but prefers it to the tarot d'Arnoult. Curiously he is unaware of the Bibliothèque Nationale's Conver(s).
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Need to give this another shot. I swear I've seen less than glowing reviews here for it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Philippe View Post
I have the french original text before me and I must say it's pretty different than your quotation, as if the translator felt the need to paraphrase and summarize this original (2 pages for the 7 of cups). Did Maxwell translate his own work or was it someone else ?

When reading attentively the considerations about colours you understand that he uses the ThunderBay or Octopus edition (ie a deck existing in the late XIXth century similar in colours to the Camoin bicentennial). He finds it rough but prefers it to the tarot d'Arnoult. Curiously he is unaware of the Bibliothèque Nationale's Conver(s).
Interesting. The translation was by Ivor Powell and published in 1975. My French is too rusty to read the original, but this translation doesn't seem to describe which deck was used as a reference (or maybe I just haven't found it). Since I have a number of TdM variants with very different colors, I don't pay a huge amount of attention to the coloring (I'm neither a purist nor a traditionalist at this point, although in the example "white" seems to be a non-controversial mention), but I'm highly interested in anything that sheds any kind of interpretive light on the "ornamentation." I like ben Dov's book and find the Elias book passable, but they don't seem as meticulously thought-out as Maxwell's contribution.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Jean-Michel David's contribution to the literature.
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Originally Posted by 3ill.yazi View Post
Need to give this another shot. I swear I've seen less than glowing reviews here for it.
The book divides kind of naturally into two parts: the occult number theory section, and the card interpretion section. Trying to plow through the first part is brutal for the arithmetically challenged (I thought if I saw the word "isomorph" one more time, I'd scream - even after I found out exactly what it means.) That section is mainly of academic interest, in my opinion.

Regarding the interpretations, his rearrangement of the astrological associations for the "Major Trumps" (Maxwell's term) really threw me, and I chose to ignore them since I don't see them as vital to the TdM. For me, the real value in the book is in the "Minor Trumps" section, where he ties together numerical values and visual cues to come up with some useful insights. As I said, for an RWS or Thoth fan it doesn't offer much that's familiar, but I try to distance my TdM study from those models anyway.
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A member of this forum remarked previously that the English edition was truncated and somewhat unclear in translation, which is unfortunate as Maxwell's work has its place in the French TdM tradition, alongside Marteau, Van Rijnberk, Wirth, and so forth.

I think that the English-speaking Tarot world would gain a lot from exposure to non-Golden Dawn or Thoth-based systems of thought, or from what we may simply term different "approaches."

Luckily, none of the French occultists managed to impose themselves as being *the* reference in these matters, most notably Papus, (or Wirth, for that matter) which means there is a lot more leeway as far as interpretation and methodology are concerned. (Incidentally both of these authors have been translated into English.)

Prefiguring Marteau in his use of a unified approach to interpretation, Maxwell used a combination of numerology, colour symbolism, astrology, iconography and visual cues to provide an interpretation to the Tarot. For this reason alone his work is important.

For my own part, I prefer the early 20th century French works to the occultist speculations of the 19th century or the later overly psychologizing tendencies of more recent material, I simply find them to be much more interesting, and dare I say, useful.

We may return to this.
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Originally Posted by _R_ View Post
A member of this forum remarked previously that the English edition was truncated and somewhat unclear in translation, which is unfortunate as Maxwell's work has its place in the French TdM tradition, alongside Marteau, Van Rijnberk, Wirth, and so forth.

I think that the English-speaking Tarot world would gain a lot from exposure to non-Golden Dawn or Thoth-based systems of thought, or from what we may simply term different "approaches."

Luckily, none of the French occultists managed to impose themselves as being *the* reference in these matters, most notably Papus, (or Wirth, for that matter) which means there is a lot more leeway as far as interpretation and methodology are concerned. (Incidentally both of these authors have been translated into English.)

Prefiguring Marteau in his use of a unified approach to interpretation, Maxwell used a combination of numerology, colour symbolism, astrology, iconography and visual cues to provide an interpretation to the Tarot. For this reason alone his work is important.

For my own part, I prefer the early 20th century French works to the occultist speculations of the 19th century or the later overly psychologizing tendencies of more recent material, I simply find them to be much more interesting, and dare I say, useful.

We may return to this.
I was under the impression that Papus and Wirth weren't fully in the TdM tradition, but I don't have either Tarot of the Bohemians or Tarot of the Magicians in my library. Would it be fair to say that there are many (or even a few) more published Tarot de Marseille-based works in French that would make it worthwhile to refresh my fluency with it? I would love to read Maxwell in the original (or the French Lenormand writers, for that matter).

I've been cautious about importing astrology and qabalah into my TdM studies; number and color symbolism seem to have validity.
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The thing is, unlike GD or Thoth, there is *no* definitive French *tradition* as such - at most we can say there is an analogous approach by various French writers, an approach which includes the basic factors we mentioned earlier, though not necessarily in the same way.

For example, Maxwell and Marteau's elemental attributions are different. As to astrology and kabbalah, Van Rijnberk included a table of the various correspondences between tarot and these various other systems, as given by a dozen or so authors, and practically none of them agree on anything. I think we can see what the underlying significance of this is: if there is any meaning to be drawn from assigning these correlations, then it is more or less of our own devising.

How would we define such a French tradition and where would we begin? Court de Gebelin? Paul Christian/Pitois? Eliphas Levi? You see what I mean. While we can say that there is a very loose French tradition, Papus is definitely on its outer fringes. There are a couple of useful insights in his 2 Tarot books, though if you found Maxwell heavy going, you'd be better off avoiding them. It's a lot of work for very little gain.

No more than in English, there are a lot of books in French on the Tarot, but most of them are pop works on the divinatory Tarot, or its symbolism, and most of them rehash the usual cliches without much thought. Having said that, a handful of those books have useful applications and thought-provoking takes. E.g. Claude de Milleville.

The real gold is to be found in obscure books and old journal articles, and it is a great pity that no one seems to be really interested in this stuff, not even in France.

I'm afraid I am not at all familiar with the Etteilla or Lenormand material so can't comment.
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I am of the opinion that if an interpretative system is to be imposed on the TdM, it should be whatever appeals to the reader, be it esoteric or otherwise. It apparently is impossible to determine exactly how the deck was commonly used, and anyhow divination is not an exact science. Whatever works for the reader is the proof of the pudding.
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