Is Old English a Marseilles' clone ?


Hi all,

First let me apologize for giving a few of you a real scare with my stupid question... I was just wondering: I have a Tarot de Marseille (reproduction of a Paul Marteau edition, 1930) which is basically a Conver's cover. I got it as a freebie and never used it, I always preferred the Rider Waite clones, illustrated pips.

Yesterday though, I suddenly decided to watch TdM thru and got quite impressed. I then watched my Old English Tarot and found out that the Majors are very similar (BUT Strength is VIII and Justice XI !!!). The Minors offer a little scene at the bottom of the card, sometimes referring to the meaning in the LWB, sometimes not.

Well, the best is you have a look by yourself at these links :

Once again, some of you will disagree and wonder why I posted in this forum but, would it be so bad if I study the Marseille (sorry, I'm french, cannot put myself to add an "S" to the name of this city ... my former French + geography teachers would all kill me ...), so would it be so bad if I study the TdM on my Old English ?? (I can hear some of you laugh that definitely my geography teachers would get mad at me if I study Marseille on an ancient English tapestry ... ;-) It's just that the Old English is IMHO more pleasant to watch at !

Thanks for your opinions,



I wouldn't say it's a "Marseilles clone," but it is a rather intriguing historically styled deck with which I was not familiar.

The Swords in one of the cards that I saw were arranged in a geometric pattern that doesn't really look like a Marseilles pattern, but does resemble the way they are arranged on a Florentine Minchiate deck that I am familiar with. The Clubs are discrete clubs, like on a Spanish style deck of playing cards. (In the Marseilles tradition, the swords are distinguished from the clubs mostly by the fact that the clubs are straight and the swords curved.) If Justice and Strength are reversed, it is a post-Waite deck.

I must say that if you like illustrated pip cards, the illustrations at the bottom here look more like the border decorations of an illuminated manuscript, and give the pip cards a more familiar and traditional appearance.

Strictly speaking, there is no "Old English" Tarot of which I am aware. Tarot cards were unknown in England as far as I can tell until the mid to late nineteenth century, when they were imported by occultists, along with the French esoteric tradition.


Kissa, I have got over my fright now! - lol -

No, I wouldn't call the Old English a Marseilles clone (it took me some time also to write Marseille with an "s" when I was writing English!).

Some of the cards are sort of similar - like the Moon. The Fool is very different though - he's nearly walking over a cliff like in the Rider Waite decks.

And you just cannot have illustrations on minors on Marseilles decks. No way. The pips do have meanings, you know - they're not just things stuck in the sky to make up the sufficient number of swords, or coins, or whatever (which is what has been done in the Old English, as far as I can make out.) They have plants, and flowers, and stems and what-not which actually help in the interpretation of the cards.

The Old English is pretty though. And I can't see what harm it will do if you study it based on the Marseilles decks. But honest, Kissa, once you start studying the Marseilles, you'll see that the minors are beautiful, even without the illustrations.

Take them out. Lay out a whole suit in front of you - the Cups for instance. Look how each card grows into each other, how the Cups are laid out, the colour of the flowers, etc. etc. And suddenly you'll realise that they are as exciting, nay, more exciting, than most illustrated minors.

Notice I didn't mention the position of Strength and Justice! As Laurel (or was it Hardy) would say: I have NOTHING to say. :D



It's kind of hard to tell, although as ihcoyc said, the positioning of Strength at VIII and Justice at XI is definitely a post-1880's marker, that order having only originated in England with the Golden Dawn. On the other hand, some touches do seem Marseilles-derived, such as the horses (rather than sphinxes) on the Chariot, and the random collection of indistinguishable thingies on the Magician's table, as opposed to the objects denoting suit signs that always appear in modern decks.

It seems like Maggie Kneen wants it both ways, since she's drawn the numbered suit cards as mainly pips, but with little illustrations attached, almost like footnotes.

I visited several sites, but couldn't find trumps II and V on any of them, and those would be most important (besides Strength and Justice) in making a determination whether this pack is heavily influenced by the old traditions or thoroughly modern. If II and V are the Papesse and the Pope, then I would say the Old English is at least somewhat Marseilles influenced. If they're the High Priestess and Hierophant, then the deck is thoroughly modern.


II and V of the Old English deck do indeed very much show a Papess and a Pope, at least pictorially; but I believe they're actually titled High Priestess and Hierophant.

-- Lee


The English titles aren't necessarily dispositive. I have seen Hierophants and High Priestesses on several Marseilles-derived decks with English labels, including the (Japanese) Angel Tarot. On the English version of the 1JJ Swiss, and in the Tarot Classic deck, clubs are "wands" and coins are "pentacles." Like it or not, we're stuck with 'em.


more info

ihcoyc said:
Strictly speaking, there is no "Old English" Tarot of which I am aware. Tarot cards were unknown in England as far as I can tell until the mid to late nineteenth century, when they were imported by occultists, along with the French esoteric tradition.

My mistake ! I should have been more clear about this. Now let me take out the LWB and quote litterally : "The very oldest of Tarot decks are my favorites; and so, to inspire the creation of the Old English Tarot, I turned to one of the most remarkable medieval English manuscripts in the British Museum, the Luttrell Psalter, written and illuminated in the 14th century for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, a wealthy landowner." Maggie Kneen, creator of the Old English Tarot, published by US Games in 1997.

So ihcoyc you were definitely right about the scenes on the pips looking like border decorations of an illuminated manuscript. You can view a pic from this original manuscript on this link :

As far as the majors go : II is High Prietess, V is Hierophant (although, as Lee mentioned, very close pictorially from a Papess and a Pope) and as you already know, VIII is Strength and XI Justice.

I very much appreciate the input from all of you. I will, as Diana prescribed ;-) take a full suit from my TdM (the real one) and lay it out to see how it looks. I must admit I only took a close look at the majors the other night, as I remembered the minors were sooo dull ;-) !!! --- Another fright ??? ;-)