Errors in post-1927 versions of Wirth's "Imagiers"


Thanks for the references, _R_. It just occurred to me--If Wirth did the translation of 'Introduction", he probably did the translation of "Tarot des Imagiers" too. That would account for the lack of a translator's name in the publication and also for why no one would bother to check the translation, perhaps even allowing typos to pass. Well, no one's perfect.


.... It just occurred to me--If Wirth did the translation of 'Introduction", he probably did the translation of "Tarot des Imagiers" too. That would account for the lack of a translator's name in the publication and also for why no one would bother to check the translation, perhaps even allowing typos to pass. Well, no one's perfect.

?? I don't know of any reason to think the translations were made any earlier than the '80s. Wirth did translations from German to French, but I am not aware of him translating or publishing anything in English. If the translations were made in his lifetime, why were they not published earlier? What was the point of making that effort if not for publication?

It is odd that neither of the books in English acknowledge the translator. I presume copyright in the translations are with Weiser? (Originals would be now in public domain? If copyright in them was 70+ years following death of author?)


I thought I had read that on some website, that Wirth did the translation of "introduction". But now, trying to retrace my steps, I can't find it. Well, there seems to be a forward by Stuart Kaplan. Maybe I will know more when my copy arrives ($2.97 for an out of print book by a famous author isn't bad). This isn't a bad time to buy a copy of the original, by the way. I saw it for under $30 plus postage on Abe Books. That's for a book that only exists in one library in the U.S., according to WorldCat, the Beinecke Library at Yale, as a "rare book", unloanable.


My 1985 copy of Weiser's Tarot of the Magicians gives special thanks to Richard Gardner and Diana Faber for their 'help' with the translation. I have often wondered if that is the same Richard Gardner who wrote The Tarot Speaks and Evolution Through the Tarot. The guy who put his name to the Insight Institute deck.


One of the problems is that the Weiser English edition of Wirth's book is a translation of the modern French Claude Tchou 1966 or 1970 rather than of the original. It turns out that some of the problems are due to not going back to the original Wirth.


Sumada: "Help" does not mean that they did the translations, of course. The identity of the main translator is still a mystery.

Teheuti: I don't remember any such problems, i.e. mistranslations due to miscorrespondences between the Tchou and the original. If there are any, that's important. I found only 2 discrepancies. In one case, the arrangement of pages, the translation corrected an error in the Tchou. In the other case, the word "fire" instead of "froid" (cold), it seemed to me that the substitution was a correction of an error in the original. These are not mistranslations, although to be sure I would have preferred that the translators' corrections have been noted in a translator's footnote.

Where the Weiser editions should have gone back to the original, as opposed to the Tchou, is in regard to the illustrations.


Where the Weiser editions should have gone back to the original, as opposed to the Tchou, is in regard to the illustrations.
Agreed. I didn't find out about the different illustrations until very late in the project when I finally saw an original edition. I then asked if they could include those but was told it was too late and they were essentially just reprinting their earlier translation. I don't remember at what stage the word "pantacles" had been changed - if it was in Tchou or the English translation. I had only been asked to write an introduction - not have anything to do with the production - although I did convince them to include the cards in the back.


I got my copy in the mail of the English translation of Introduction to the Study of the Tarot, Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northhamptonshire, 1981. The title page has on it "Translated from the French by Transcript". Kaplan's introduction says nothing about the translator. However it seems not to have been Wirth himself, because there are a couple of "Translator's note" footnotes. One comments on Wirth's quoting of an old proverb, that "the naked Truth lies hid at the bottom of a well, noting that "Oswald Wirth has combined two old proverbs here" (p. 14). Another (p. 15) comments on Wirth's remark that the 22 "philosophical keys...comprise a set that is quite distinct from the game of cards with which it is associated". The translator objects:
Wirth is perhaps a little too dismissive here. Papus and others have certainly attached great importance to this o-called 'game of cards' or the 'Minor Arcana' as some prefer to name them there. Contemplation of their design as preserved in the best packs can be quite instructive.
Here the translator reveals himself or herself to be a native speaker of French. The French "jeu de cartes" can be translated either as "game of cards" or "pack of cards". It is clear that the translator, at least, is talking about the "pack of cards" associated with the "Major Arcana". Wirth is probably also talking about the pack, but it is not as clear.

This translator uses the term "Popess" for Wirth's "Papesse", unlike the one of 1927.

I did not notice any differences between what Wirth said in 1927 and 1931. He says much less in 1931, of course.

Kaplan states in his introduction that the 1966 cards were "reprinted" in 1966, not mentioning all the rather obvious differences. He is vague about whether Wirth considered the "minor arcana" as part of the pack (although he does mention that the whole 78 card pack is available for purchase from U.S. Games, his company). He lists some differences between the 1889 cards and the revised ones of 1927, which he says Guaita approved before his death. He says:
For example, two of the three coins on The Magician's (1) table have been eliminated and the design on the remaining coin has been altered from a six-sided pentacle to a crossed line with four distinct points; The Popess (2) changes slightly the position she faces and the left arm of her throne now depicts a sphinx; the Empress (3) rests her foot on an inverted, instead of upright, quarter moon; The Emperor's (4) knee armour is removed, his upraised staff is more ornate, and the throne upon which he sits is turned so that one side faces the viewer; the figure of winged Cupid in The Lovers (6) card is no longer blindfolded; and the figure of Justice (8) wears a necklace of loosely interwoven chain instead of the metal links. Additionally, the lion in the Strength (11) card has a tithgl curled mane of hair instead of a wavy mane and the claws on his right front paw are extended as they grasp at the ground; the skeleton figure of Death (13) is shown with a smile and the decapitated heads on the ground are larger in size. The Devil (15) appears with a large pentagram on its forehenad; the original Tower (16) card with its sixteen falling bricks and sixteen falling wavy droplets is changed to show seven falling bricks and sixteen multi-coloured circles; and the World (21) card depicts a nude, female figure that is less attractive and detailed than the original version. Generally speaking, the revised version of Wirth's cards depicts figures with more attractive facial features and the overall artwork is more artistically executed.
He does not mention the change in color of one of the jugs in Temperance and the Star, nor the addition of the yin-yang symbol to the Popess's book.


Thanks for the report. Do you think it would make a good primer for someone with no background in Wirth's philosophy?


I would say that it is what it says: an introduction to the study of the tarot (as he sees it, of course). It is not a distillation of his ideas, rather, it is enough to get you going, so you can make your own discoveries and you don't have to read the chapters of "Imagiers" in any kind of order, but can consult it as a reference and way of going deeper.

A large part of the book, or booklet, is a rewrite of chapter 2 of "Imagiers", which, frankly, was a hard nut to crack, and extremely dry and formalistic. "Introduction" goes over the same material, but using black and white pictures of the cards, reproduced not once but twice, in different configurations with other cards, instead of the abstract diagrams of "Imagiers", and uses the relationships to bring out various aspects of the cards' meaning. He leaves out some of the relationships of "Imagiers", but it doesn't matter. Then he goes over the 22 again in consecutive order, just once instead of 3 or 4 times as in the later chapters of "Imagiers". You really do get an introduction to the whole 22. But if you want a separate account of each card in detail, you have to go to "Imagiers".

After that he restates some of his ideas about divination with the cards in what I think is a more practical and down to earth way than in "Imagiers". It seems to me that there is less emphasis on magic here than in "Imagiers"; in fact, I couldn't find it mentioned. There are cautions "not to claim the ability to pick up every vibration", and "quack promises are unworthy of the serious diviner, who should keep his statements within reasonable bounds" (p. 51). He warns against being too precise; it is rather that the reading should be such that "the client can then help to sort out his impressions and find the road to a satisfactory solution", perhaps thereby avoiding a mistake he was on the point of making. And if nothing else, "The sensible client will accept what is said with caution and wait until the import of the reading suddenly becomes clear to him." This last inspires the translator to give a long footnote about the self-deceptions of those who interpreted in their favor the vague oracles of Delphi and later realized their errors. A more familiar example would be the sudden realizations of Macbeth about the true meanings of the witches' predictions. I am not sure this is what Wirth had in mind.

So it's a good book to have, especially at $3 plus postage for a book long out of print and not in libraries. I ordered the original French, to see if the translation is accurate (it, too, was cheap, well, 30 Euros, not bad for a book that in the one U.S. library listing it is confined to the "rare book" room). I'll let people know. I didn't notice anything odd in the English, like I did with "Imagiers".