Re: The World

Hi Mike,

is night here (04 am), I respond quickly and go to sleep i-) .

I dont say in the tarot of Marseille is represented Fortune, but the Divine Providence. But I think it is the result of a mix of traditions: the fortunes of some cards (such as tarot Paris) + Fortuna identification with the Divine Providence (Machiavelli, Juan de Mena, Feijoo ...) + Tetramorph.
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: The World

These words "Divine Providence" help to clarify your view. However it is still problematic. The line of associations and development you present makes sense for a person who knows the "Tarot of Paris" and the similar Belgian World card you presented, who then makes the leap from Fortuna to Divine Providence based on the tetramorph as manifestation of the divine. But the Tarot of Marseille 2 was in the South, Marseille, a long way from Paris and Belgium. People in one region didn't know about the cards in another, except perhaps for artists in that line of work and a few aficionados. There is no way to get to Divine Providence from the girl in the almond, without a ready familiarity with other tarots. By themselves, the Durer and Alciato, with their ladies on spheres, are too distant from the scene on the Conver card.

It seems to me that a "common Marseillais" interpretation of the card can appeal only to well-known symbols then and to the other cards in the same sequence. Since it comes after Judgment, he would naturally see the card as about going to heaven. The symbols for the four evangelists reinforce that sense: they are the four cornerstones for getting there. He might recognize the oval wreath as the almond that surrounds a heavenly figure such as Jesus or Mary, especially since there were many religious depictions of Jesus in an almond with the four animals in the corners of a surrounding square.

He might also, if he thought about it (or got into an argument with someone about his view), connect the four animals with the four suit-signs on the Bateleur's table, and the lady's wand with the Bateleur's. In that sense, besides representing the entrance to heaven, the card might mean to him a return to the beginning, the Heaven from which souls descended to earth, and to sources more generally (i.e. his home town, the house he was born in, his first employer, etc.). The number XXI or 21 is also a kind of return, since it repeats the I or 1 of the beginning. There is a similar sense of return in XX and X, 20 and 10, as the end of a cycle, depicted as such in the Wheel. And hadn't our Marsaillais heard about the alpha and the omega being the same?

The identity of the lady herself would remain a mystery to our Marseillais (she has a queen's scepter, perhaps, but surely Mary wouldn't walk around naked in heaven!). He also would have no idea why the card was called "Le Monde." He wouldn't know that other versions had a world-like globe with a lady standing on it. He might hypothesize, if an answer was demanded of him, that the word "Monde" signified leaving one world and entering another, in a very poor way of expressing that idea.

And even if some traveler did show him these other cards, he would just say, well, the lady and the globe are traditional, that explains the title and the naked lady here; but still, they don't fit this card and this deck very well.

Re: The World

He might also ... connect the four animals with the four suit-signs on the Bateleur's table
I don't know about this. There's some pretty strange stuff on those tables.

Re: The World

debra wrote:
He might also ... connect the four animals with the four suit-signs on the Bateleur's table
I don't know about this. There's some pretty strange stuff on those tables.
Right, and as far as I know, no set of suit signs until much, much later decks.
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

Re: The World

mikeh wrote: He might also, if he thought about it (or got into an argument with someone about his view), connect the four animals with the four suit-signs on the Bateleur's table, and the lady's wand with the Bateleur's.
Well, going for example via the attributions to the four cardinal virtues in Agrippa, we may assign them in accordance with the emblems of the virtues thus:

Lion = Justice = Swords
Eagle = Temperance = Cups
Man = Prudence = Coins
Ox = Fortitude = Batons

The association of a sword as an emblem of Justice, a cup for Temperance, and Batons with Fortitude are all pretty old hat - coins not so sure, but in some decks there seems to be a play with coins as a mirrors, which has some history to it - but I think it is a hard case to make though that there are four suit signs on the Bateleur's table, excepting in relatively modern decks.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: The World

Debra wrote, in response to me,
He might also ... connect the four animals with the four suit-signs on the Bateleur's table
I don't know about this. There's some pretty strange stuff on those tables.
Yes. I was only talking about the non-strange stuff. They are pretty clear on the PMB card (left below): the wand is his baton, and on the table is a knive for swords,a cup, and coins. There is also the weird cloth and whatever it is covering. I didn't mean to be referring to that. (I think it is a reference to the Eucharist, making this figure a magician-priest; that is just my speculation.)


Another example is the Cary Sheet, less weird. The PMB and the Cary Sheet are considered predecessors to the Marseille.


But the Conver (at right, 2nd above) is the actual card at issue in relation to the World, and also the earlier "Chosson" of 1572, which has a quite similar table. These are the decks that have the lady in the oval on the World Card. Again, there are baton, knives--two of them now--cups and coins. One coin is in the purse, others are on the table.

What is weird, on the Conver, is the purse itself, and especially the curvy thing coming out of it, presumably a kind of knife, also the fact that some of the round objects, the size of coins, have lines connecting them to other such objects, or are very close together. Well, coins were joined sometimes on strings. If i remember correctly, the old English sixpence used to have a hole in it for that purpose (or was it the threepence?). But the three on our left look more like a device to blow bubbles with. It is clearer on the Noblet, which I have put in the center between the PMB and the Conver 1761. Well, I wasn't thinking of these weird things. Just the more obvious things.

Why the weird things were added is a topic worth exploring. I have my theories, of course: I have discussed them a bit on the "Bateleur" thread, but I will mention them here just to emphasize their weirdness, quite different from the other objects on the table, and also for their relevance to the general issue of "exoteric" vs. "esoteric" interpretations.

I think the bubble-blower was added because of its resemblance to a Kabbalist magical device, as depicted in a book that circulated in Latin in the 16th century, which I reproduce below, along with a modern image from a rabbi's website (; This image is on the Bateleur's table because, after all, he is a magician, and more importantly, I think, to tell us to look for Kabbalist meanings in the images.


And I think the purse with the curved knife was added because of its resemblance to a basket with a snake coming out of it, as with snake-charmers and also the depiction of such things on Dionysian sarcophagi, engravings of which were published in the 16th and 17th century. An example is below, from Daimonax's site; one closer to the image on the card is at the Met in NY, but I can't locate my photo of it at the moment; the image on their website is of the whole sarcophagus, and the snake is barely visible. The particular way in which the purse and knife are drawn tells us to look for intimations of the "mysteries," as they were called--Dionysian or Orphic--on the cards.

These Suggestions would be part of the "hidden" or "esoteric" meanings of the card. So I'm not talking about them in relation to what the average Marseillais would see. To him, these are just bubble-blowers and purses with knives coming out of them. He might make the connection to snake-charmers, another kind of magician at street-fairs.


As part of the connection of the four evangelists on the World to the four types of non-weird objects on the table, there was also their relationship to the four temperaments and the four elements. There were various ways of making the correlation. John was usually sanguine, because of his youth; Mark was fire and choler, because of his lion. They are that way, for example, in Durer's "Four Apostles" ( (Durer's others are Peter and Paul, who of course aren't on the World card.)

The suit objects were also associated with the elements and temperaments. Somewhere on this forum are some quotes from 16th or 17th century authors giving various ways of doing it. Below I give a c. 1476 woodcut of one way (my source is Laurinda Dixon, Bosch p. 81. The association is clear for coins and swords.


The association of cups with water and batons with the wooden falcon-roost the young man has in his hand is more of a stretch. For our purposes it doesn't matter how it was done, only that it was done. Whether this association to elements and temperaments would have been "exoteric" or "esoteric" by the time of the "Chosson" and Conver I don't know. It might be an example of where this distinction, as a hard and fast line, breaks down.

Re: The World

Debra: In the Cary Sheet, that is possible, since the man has his cup already raised. Although they don't look much like shells. In the others, they look more like flat discs. In any case, they are coin-like. Just as knives are sword-like, and wands are baton-like. They suggest the four suit objects, even if not depicting them exactly.

I found the photo I took of the basket on the Met's sarcophagus, showing the curving snake protruding from the top. Here it is:


Dionysus is keeping the lid on with his foot. For the whole sarcophagus, see the Met's picture at ... =130015320. It was found in the early 18th century, the blurb says, which is too late to have influenced the Marseille designs. However the Met might just mean, found by the British. In any case, other Dionysian sarcophagi were already widely known in the XV-XVI centuries. Mantegna was inspired by them, also Giulio Romano.

On the legitimacy of advancing such "esoteric" interpretations, I have been reading Decker, Depaulis and Dummett's A Wicked Pack of Cards. Here is one passage (p. 43):
In the XV and XVI centuries, the exoteric symbolism of most of the Tarot trumps would have been apparent to all educated Italians. For them, their symbolic meanings would have been as obvious as it is to us that a woman with a sword and a pair of scales represents Justice; it is these meanings that constitute the exoteric symbolism of the cards. The presence of this exoteric symbolism in no way rules out that of a deeper level of esoteric symbolism needing specialized knowledge, not possessed by all educated people of that time, to discern; a surface meaning often coexists with another buried beneath it.
They are talking about the XV and XVI centuries; however I can't see that anything much would have changed by the XVII century, except that the sophistication of Italy had spread to other countries. Educated people still knew the same symbolism, as evidenced by the art that was produced in France and elsewhere at that time, at Versailles and elsewhere. The only other consideration might be that the use of tarot cards extended more to the uneducated classes than formerly. These people would not have been as sophisticated as the educated ones, from lacking the means to read widely. Also, they probably wouldn't have had the exposure to non-Christian symbols in art that the educated Italians had. So in that way some of what had earlier been "exoteric" might now have become "esoteric," in the sense of requiring specialized knowledge--but I'm not sure where the line would have been drawn. For example, would knowledge that a naked lady holding a sail represented Fortune be esoteric or exoteric? Well, such an interpretation requires specialized knowledge. But perhaps it would be considered exoteric all the same. More needs to be said.

Then there is the question about how one would determine whether a given interpretation one might advance--astrological, say, or Kabbalist--was merely a conception in one's own time projected back onto former times, or on the contrary was a legitimate possibility or probability within that former time. Decker et al address this point on p. 33f (I have highlighted the most important part in red):
There is no questioning the symbolic character of the images on the Tarot trumps. If you represent the virtue of justice as a woman holding a sword and a pair of scales, you are making heavy use of symbolism. This is exoteric symbolism. It happens to be an instance in which the symbolism has remained familiar to us, but symbolism embodied in others of the Tarot trumps would have been equally familiar to Italians of the Renaissance. The only question open to dispute is whether there is esoteric symbolism as well: symbolism intelligible only to those instructed in astrology or other arcane subjects. It is intrinsically plausible that there should have been such symbolism in a special pack of cards invented at that time and in that milieu. People of the Renaissance reveled in hidden symbolism, and the occult sciences enjoyed greater prestige in the Christian world than at any other time before or since. Any theory to this effect must pass a severe test, however. It must depend, not on any direct evidence that can be cited, but on the intrinsic plausibility that of the particular interpretation proposed, which must draw on nothing that was not available at that time and place. But it ought not to be too plausible; it cannot be anything which, if present, would leap to the eye of a man of the Renaissance looking at the cards. The reason is that, if the trump sequence was designed in accordance with any esoteric symbolism, this fact was very quickly and generally overlooked. None of the XV and XVI-century sources so much as hints at such a thing, and the absence of such a hint from some of these sources would be very surprising if their authors had had any inkling that any such symbolism was there to be found. This applies to the sermon in which Tarot, together with other card and dice games, was denounced as an invention of the devil; the preacher would not have lost such an opportunity to reinforce his point. It applies equally to Lollio's Invettiva, in which both the game and the cards are ridiculed; the poet, likewise, would not have lost so good an opportunity to ridicule the cards still further, instead of saying somewhat lamely that their inventor must have been drunk.
I can think of other reasons why someone writing about tarot might keep quiet about an esoteric interpretation. If he was hostile to the particular esoteric context, he might not want to draw attention to it, because people might want to investigate that interpretation for themselves. If friendly to the esoteric context, he might not want to cause trouble for the cardmakers and sellers. The later 16th and most of the 17th century were repressive times, in both Catholic and Protestant countries.

Also, there is the consideration that what would have been esoteric to some, in the sense of requiring specialized knowledge to which they were not privy, might have been exoteric to others, in the sense that the specialized knowledge required was not of a suspicious and secretive kind. Groups with specialized knowledge, but not "secret" knowledge--people who knew the untranslated but freely published Greco-Roman literature about the gods, for example--might not have been considered devilish, and so not worth attacking on those grounds. Only if a critic saw the cards as themselves promoting pagan cults would he be concerned; and that indeed is not obvious.

In this regard I find it interesting that astrology, which mmfilesi considers as part of the common knowledge of the times, is by Decker et al considered "arcane" and esoteric. Perhaps they have a very narrow view of what people knew about and accepted in those days. Or perhaps they have in mind the very technical and specialized astrology that professional astrologers used, with its decanates, its exaltations, detriments, and so forth, and their claims to predict "favorable" and "unfavorable" days, etc. That is as opposed to ordinary people's rudimentary knowledge of signs of the zodiac, houses, and planets (including how planets relate to the zodiac and houses). At least that's the limit of my knowledge.

However the basic criteria that Decker et al suggest seem to me quite sound: intrinsic plausibility of the interpretation proposed, not too obviously pointing to specialized knowledge (of a strange, secret, and suspicious kind, I would add), and drawing on nothing not available at that time and place. "Direct evidence" is not required. Theirs are quite the criteria that I try to use myself, when I develop interpretations: of the trumps, in terms of Greco-Roman religion, alchemy, and Kabbalah; and of all the cards, in terms of Neoopythagoreanism. What they offer are the criteria I would want to be judged by. To some, Decker et al's criteria might seem like a reductio ad absurdum of any pre-de Gebelin "esoteric tarot." To me they constitute a challenge to be met.

Re: The World

mikeh wrote:Debra: In the Cary Sheet, that is possible, since the man has his cup already raised. Although they don't look much like shells. In the others, they look more like flat discs. In any case, they are coin-like. Just as knives are sword-like, and wands are baton-like. They suggest the four suit objects, even if not depicting them exactly.
I don't understand. The "shell game" isn't named for seashells. The "shell" is whatever small cup-like object is used to cover the "pea," which need not be a pea. I remember it being done with 1/2 walnut shells and small metal cups. It's also called thimblerig, presumably can be done with thimbles. Seashells as the "cover" would be another option if the con happened to have some.

In the Visconti Sforza, it's not obvious that those little objects are coins.

Some early decks show the guy in Card #1 with objects one might construe as coin-like, sword-like, baton-like and cup-like. Others include "extra" objects not of this sort, and still others are missing some. This is one reason I'm not persuaded.

Re: The World

Debra: Sorry, I wasn't thinking. Yes, the shells are the covers, not the objects under them.

I know that some Magician cards don't have these suit object-like objects. I was only concerned to show the ones in the so-called "C" tradition, meaning mainly Milan, from which presumably the Marseille is descended.

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