Marseilles being used for Divination originally?


by DianaExcept I am tired of being politically-historically-documented correct.

The Marseille Tarot was never designed as a "game". This is obvious to anyone who has studied it and has an inkling of French history. But because there is no written documents, they are shouted down by those who need written proof.

There can be no written proof for it was destroyed a long time ago.

The Marseille so-called Major Arcana were never any game........

The very idea is quite ridiculous.

Diana said this in the thread about the progression from the Visconti decks to the modern Jeu de Tarot decks, and it seemed a very interesting assertion to make. I would like to see this idea discussed a little further...

What aspects of French history would point to this use of the Marseilles deck? And how come it bears so much resemblence to gaming decks, if it wasn't used for gaming purposes?

I also see no reason why (with all due respect to my friend Diana) the Trumps of the Marseilles would be any different to the trumps of the gaming decks. And even to the 'trumps' we use today in the game of Whist, which aren't actually a set of themselves, but one of the suits of a regular playing deck is chosen at the start of the game. A set of trumps in a game like Whist is essential for it to work. The Tarocchi games are like Whist: All trick-taking games, and thus there is a necessity for some set of cards which 'trump' all others, and some set of cards which has a scoring value.

I look at the Visconti decks and other early decks, and find very similar images to those found in the Marseilles deck. Can it be possible that decks used for entirely different purposes (Gaming and divination) have exactly the same images in them?

Diana, when you speak of all the proof being destroyed a long time ago, are you referring to a specific event in history which caused it? (Such as the Library of Alexandria, as an example, not that it happened in the time frame we are looking at, but it's an example of what I mean! :D) Was it deliberate, or an accident? If it was an accident, what are the chances of every single scrap of the evidence being destroyed? And if it was deliberate, why do we have other records of the Tarot deck being used for divination?

These are all burning questions, and I look forward to the responses!



If any of you do decide to touch on history---which was not Diana's original purpose, but is wonderfully approached by Kiama here, may I suggest some Italian-French crossroads to begin? They may be dead-ends, but they may also help touch on the variety of tarocchi patterns with Milanese influences.

What seems to be substantiated at the very least by the card-playing historian Michael Dummett:

He observes that the Visconti Milan pattern known as the Pierpont Morgan had a very direct effect on Marseilles patterns after the circa 1450 date that Michael Dummett specifies, under Francesco Sforza-Visconti, husband of Bianca Maria.

I'm too wrapped up in the Italian Ferrara side to investigate, but I suggest that if people do start, it might be with the previous generations of the Visconti interacting after the marriage of the French Duke of Orleans and Valentina Visconti. Another crossroads would be through the invasion of Italy by the French king in 1497, the first invasion of successive conflicts where the French were sweeping through Milan.

For interested people, one of the Marseilles/Milan pattern endpoints at least with French-Italian patterns might be the Neoclassical Tarot of 1806 or circa 1811 by Di Gumppenberg---Di Gumppenberg was given the printing approval (?) or at least has the last recorded tax stamp in the Napoleonic regime to do Milanese style card printing.

These are ideas that may bridge to large a timespan, but at least these are easily available tarots to begin your studies...Mark Filpas' Pasteboard Masquerade does review some available reproduction/recreations that include an earlier (1999) Visconti Gold and two of the reprinted Di Gumppenberg tarocchis. These reprints do not seem to have game rules, with the exception of the small book by Giodarno Berti in the set of Ancient Tarots of Lombardy, only available through Trigomo.

Giodarno Berti's English/Italian site might also be a starting point.

Best wishes,

Mari H.


Kiama: I am not a Historian, nor a Scholar. It is one of my regrets, but I am just not talented for such things.

But I can give you a clue, and then you can go and do some research.

I am talking here of the Tarot of Marseilles, but I do believe that it is just a continuation of something started a long long time before.

The Templars were destroyed by Philippe le Bel and the Pope Clement V in 1307, accused of not being Christian (but also because they were getting far too powerful due to their great riches and their patronage of various movements, one of which probably became what we know as FreeMasons). They were bearers of ancient initiatory and esoteric knowledge. That seems to be pretty established fact. Stuff that the Church would NOT have wanted anyone to know about. Definitely not. Would shake their very foundations! (Like a Tower....) The Tarot of Marseilles, as is known today, was probably re-designed by the Templars. They did this in the form of symbols and codes that only the initiates would know about. This would ensure the perennity of their knowledge so it would not disappear forever.

Not long after the brutal destruction of the Templars, Tarot was forbidden by the Church in most European cities (including Marseilles). Did you never wonder why they forbade a simple game?

I think you have a Tarot of Marseilles. Look at the card XIII (The Card that has no name). Most intriguing to see whose heads have been chopped off. Then you have the Papess - believed by many to be Mary Magdalene, who was Jesus' wife. There are other clues too. Like the Devil. And others.......

Oh yes, any documents concerning this affair would have been definitely destroyed along with the Templars. Burnt like they were. The Church had far too much to lose by keeping any of it. Far far far too much.

But they have not won yet. They cannot win you see. How clever to make sure that Tarot becomes part of popular culture through a vulgar game played in the local inns……

And then along came de Gébelin. (I often wonder about de Gébelin's blood-line.) The Church tried to kill him too.

They really never stop trying, do they?

(Just a thought: In French we never refer to the Majors as "cards". Always they are referred to as "Arcanes". Which means mystery/secret...... and with what reverence are they spoken about. It would move you to tears! :D )


But... the Church was forbidding the playing of tarocchi (as well as other forms of gambling) for centuries before the Marseilles deck existed...

-- Lee


Both O'Neill/Payne-Towler essays

Both Robert O'Neill's iconigraphic essays card by card and Christine Payne Towler's essays on esoteric tarots are here. Christine Payne Towler surveys the esoteric and occult tarots and raises questions, some about esoteric symbolism, based on her looks at many different designs and styles of historic decks.

Christine Payne Towler does point out her essays are a beginning point and her suggestions give one food for thought.


Diana said:
Not long after the brutal destruction of the Templars, Tarot was forbidden by the Church in most European cities (including Marseilles). Did you never wonder why they forbade a simple game?

You have an interesting theory there, and it is such a shame that we can find nothing to add to it or back it up... Which is why so many people would disagree with it. These days, it's unfashionable to talk about the Templars in connection with the Tarot! With reference to your point I have quoted however, I believe that the Tarot was banned then because it was gambling, which had been seen as unholy for a long time in that area. Even these days some Catholics I know find gambling abhorrent.

I'll go and read that essay you linked to now...!

Thanks for responding to this thread. I find it interesting to know where other peopel are coming from when they discuss Tarot's origins.



Kiama: of course it's unfashionable. But fashions come and go....

I remember once Holmes getting a bit annoyed in the Chat Room with someone because that person was saying that one needed Written Documents to prove something.

He tried to explain that there is nothing written down to back-up the Native Indian's history. Does this mean that it is to be dismissed with a flick of a finger?

And African history? They never wrote it down. Does that mean we cannot give credence to their stories? Or did their history begin when the White Man appeared on their continent.

There is something called Oral History. Oral tradition.

Anyway, just because it's written down, doesn't mean it's true.

If I write here "Switzerland is a country in Asia." In two hundred thousand years time, someone finds my words written here and they formulate a whole theory about it. Doesn't make it true.

Propaganda and lies can also be spread by the written word. It's actually a perfect way to spread lies.

Did you look at the cards and their details like I suggested?

I quote Christine Payne-Towler from her article:

"Nor can we afford to hold out for manuscript evidence before we decide where Tarot "came from." Unfortunately, many of the manuscripts where we would expect to find records that are contemporary with the earliest cards and their underlying images have been destroyed. This was a calculated effort undertaken by the Roman Church over several centuries, designed to keep the European people from turning away from Catholicism and toward the Gnostic heresies of the Middle Ages. The devastation that the Church visited upon the culture of southern France in the twelfth century obliterated the conditions that germinated the Tarot as we know it now. We are infinitely lucky that the cards themselves survived.

Now we have to learn how to "read" the surviving images in all the glory and variety that they still show. In them we can see the ideas flowing and evolving in "pictures worth a thousand words." We must cease viewing the images and symbols on the faces of the cards as secondary evidence, and learn to follow the protocols of the Art Historian when we investigate the Tarot. Insisting on text evidence for proofs of our theories is illogical given tthe underground status of its originators and the persecutions that it engendered."


It is also worth noting that the northern Italian region, when under French rule, was referred to as the department of Taro (after one of its rivers).

That the Jeux de Tarau/Taro/Tarot may have originated as a game there does not indicate that its iconographic provenance is there also.

'From whence did it come' has a number of meanings, only one of which is 'where was the first deck physically made'. The others includes 'from whence do the images come', and 'from when were they combined into specific Tarot number and sequence'.

Esoterically, one may also question Tarot's raison d'être, and the spiritual impulse guiding Tarot's manifestation and transformations. It is also quite interesting that the Marseille's own rebirth occurs in the 1930s with the Grimaud Marteau rendition, quickly replacing, in France, the earlier more personalised and popular renditions of the Eteilla (which, in many ways, was the francophonic equivalent to the RWCS) and others.

But I too will wish to make further comments when I have a little more time...


Diana said:
There is something called Oral History. Oral tradition.

I'm all for an oral tradition (I'm from Britain: Nearly all our early history began as an oral tradition!) However, the problem with an oral tradition is that it is prone to the Chinese Whispers Syndrome... The oral tradition may have started as:

"The Tarot is a pack of cards which we use for gaming purposes. It has pretty pictures of some states of humanity on it."

It may then have progressed through time to...

"The Tarot is a pack of cards which we use for gaming purposes. It has mysterious and powerful pictures of some states of humanity on it"

"The Tarot is a pack of cards which we use for gaming purposes. It has mysterious and powerful pictures of some states of humanity on it, and these are there to secretly reveal hidden knowledge to those that study the cards..."

"The Tarot is a pack of cards we use for gaming purposes, but it is also used to see into the future. You see, it has mysterious and powerful pictures of the states of spiritual enlightnement embedded in it, and if we study them pictures enough, the hidden knowledge will be revealed to us..."

And finally we end up with...

"The Tarot is a pack of cards we use for gaming purposes, but it is also used to see into the future. You see, the Knights Templar embedded within it secret knowledge for the initiated, so that their oppressors would not know that the knowledge was still being made avaiable... If we study the cards enough, the hidden knowledge will be revealed to us..."

It is well-known that an oral tradition changes over time. Look at the Irish. Their Gods, the Tuatha de Danaan, gradually became immortal beings, then they became demi-Gods, then they became humans, but a different race... Finally they became mischievous fairies. The point of an oral tradition is that not only does one get across the history of the world, etc, but one entertains (Thus making it easier to remember). But to entertain, one needs to add bits which aren't necessarily true to it. This is what could have happened with the Templar theory of Tarot. (This might not be my view on it: I'm just expressing what many would say! I haven't made my mind up yet...)

Also, it is true that there is no written history of the Native Americans or Africans... But we do have archaeological evidence which helps us track their history. With the Templar theory of the Tarot, there is no such archaeological evidence.

When people ask for proof, they don't just mean written documents... They also mean evidence... Bits of stuff. Basically! (Us humans like our 'bits of stuff! :D)