The TdM Tarot Wheel


At this stage, you might admire the structure of the Tarot Wheel as presented on the previous pages. Or on the contrary, you might ask yourself an important question. If the structure of the Este Tarot is the original, then how to explain that other versions are existing with significant variations in the ordering of the Trumps, differences that are much greater than those observed with the Visconti Sforza?

To answer this question, we will consider the best known of all historical Tarot versions, the Tarot of Marseille. In fact, the Italian Tarot was specially made for the Italian aristocracy. From every deck, there existed only one single hand-painted version. This aristocracy was well-educated, and they were very well aware of the classic writings of Plato. The Tarot of Marseille, on the contrary, was a printed deck, with as target anyone loving card playing. To make the principles of the Tarot accessible to less educated people, simplifications where necessary. And together with the simplifications at the same time some clearer symbolism appeared on the cards, certainly to reinforce the ideas behind the cards.

The most difficult task was to translate the hand-painted Italian Trionfi structure, based on classical theories that few people knew, to understandable images for less educated people. While making little changes to the 22 images of the Trumps, links to classical writings had to be avoided, to give more understandable symbols related to daily life. The Roman Catholic Religion had to replace the classic philosophy. With these terms of reference, the Italian aristocratic Trionfi decks evolved to printed Tarocchi decks, and later to the Tarot of Marseille.

The order of the  trumps on the Tarot of Marseille does not at all correspond with the order as we have seen on the original deck made in Ferrara. The key to the order that is used here is every third card. Because the trumps start with number 0, these numbers are 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17 and 20. Every one of these cards represents directly or indirectly one of the seven Virtues:

  • 2 The Popess. When looking at the Popess and the Pope as a pair, we have seen the resemblances of the Popess with Faith. The Popess on the Visconti Sforza deck represents probably the Franciscan saint St Agnes, follower of St.Clara. St. Agnes was a very faithful person, from origin a Bohemian  princess and probably sister of Guglielma di Bohemia, a holy woman who was based in the region of Milan.  For more details about this story, see the page about the Popess.
  • 5 The Pope. The Pope is the successor of St. Peter, the first disciple of Jesus who continued preaching the message of Christ after his crucifixion. With his Death and Resurrection, Jesus gave back to humanity, the Hope in Eternal live. The Pope is often portrayed having the keys to Paradise in his hands, representing thus Hope for eternity. 

My conclusion is that the cards numbered 2 and 5 represent the theological Virtues Faith and Hope.

  • The next cards are direct, 8 Justice, 11 Strength and 14 Temperance, all three cardinal Virtues.
  • 17 The Star. The Star can be interpreted in two ways.  On the Visconti Sforza deck, we see the Goddess Venus holding the Star in here hand. Venus is also called the Morning Star. In Revelations, the last book of the Bible,  appears the following text:

Revelation 22:16 - I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.

I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright and morning star.

The Morning Star is a direct reference to Jesus. On the Este deck, we see two astrologers making calculations when they see the Star of Bethlehem appearing, announcing the birth of Jesus. On both cards, the star is a reference to Jesus. Jesus by himself symbolizes the Love of God, who has sent his one son to Earth, to die to save humanity. The Love of God, Charity, is the third theological Virtue.

  • 20 The Angel. The Angel announces the final judgement. She is clearly a creature of Heaven, related to God. We can see here as the missing virtue, Prudence, combining all other virtues.

In conclusion, the trump cards in each third position, represent the seven Virtues, respectively Faith (2), Hope (5), Justice (8), Strength (11), Temperance (14), Charity (17) and Prudence (20). We still easily recognize the three levels of the Soul, the first six cards representing Society, the next nine cards the Hardship of Life and the last six cards the Ascent to Light. So at the base level the three groups of seven cards have changed in size, and we have to organize them differently. The Tarot of Marseille is clearly subdivided in seven groups of three cards, with every group consisting of one pair of two closely linked cards, topped up by a Virtue. In fact, it goes even further.  The last two Virtues, together with the World, relate directly to the Trinity. The Star represents God the Son, the Angel the Holy Spirit and the World God the Father.

After this introduction, let us recall the order of the Tarot of Marseille using the spelling used on the Tarot of Jean Noblet:













































(the Fool)

(the Conjurer)

(the Popess)

(the Pope)

(the Empress)

(the Emperor)

(the Lovers)

(the Chariot)


(the Hermit)

(the Wheel of Fortune)


(the Hanged Man)

(the Death)


(the Devil)

(the God House)

(the Star)

(the Moon)

(the Sun)

(the Judgment)

(the World)

As we have seen, there is a clear trinary structure in this order. In the Tarot de Marseille, seven groups of three cards represent each a specific entity, with a closely related pair on the base, and a third card who represents a Virtue

  • The first pair is formed  identical to the Este tarot with the Fool and the Conjurer. Numbered II, the Popess symbolizes Religion and  the theological Virtue of Faith, faith in God.
  • The second pair is formed by the Empress and the Emperor. Numbered V,  the Pope is a symbol for the Roman Catholic Church and as the successor of St Peter he incarnates the theological Virtue of Hope.
  • The third pair is formed by the Lovers and the Chariot, representing internal lust and desire that you can control. Above this pair with the number VIII is the cardinal Virtue of Justice, to remember you that if you do fail to control yourself, Justice will do its job.
  • The fourth pair is formed by the Hermit and the Wheel of Fortune, remembering to you that life is cyclic and that time is ticking. No matter how high your post or responsibilities are, one day other people will replace you. This is your destiny, and you can't do anything about it. On top of this pair, figures the cardinal Virtue of Strength, numbered XI, to give you courage to face the future.
  • The fifth pair is formed by the Hanged Man and Death. The Hanged Man to remember you, that inevitably one day or another, your life will be turned upside down, never to be the same again. In any case, you have to be prepared for your last days in your earthly body. The card governing this pair is numbered XIIII, representing the cardinal Virtue of Temperance, to remember you that you have to be humble when Death is approaching. On the Marseille Tarot, Temperance has wings, to visually transform the Virtue in an archangel, that you will meet after you die, before facing the final judgement.
  • The sixth pair in the Marseille Tarot is made up by the Devil and the Tower. The Devil to remember you that Hell is waiting for people who did not obey the laws of God. With the Tower, you are remembered to the Anger of God against all the sins committed by humanity. Above of this evil pair, we see the Star, representing Jesus, the son of God, send to Earth by his father to save through his sufferings and death humanity.  In this way the card represents the theological Virtue of Charity, the Love of God that in the end is stronger than the Anger of God.
  • Finally as a last pair the Moon and the Sun, the big lights in the sky. The Moon to remember you that you have to purify your Soul before you can ascend to God and the Sun, origin of life, to prepare you for Paradise. On top of this pair, we see an Angel calling the Souls of the Dead, for the final Judgement. This card incarnates the Holy Spirit because if your life was guided by the Holy Spirit, the final Judgment will lead you to Paradise.

The last card of the Marseille tarot is the World. We see a naked figure in a Mandorla, man and woman at the same time, representing God the Father, with around him the four living creatures representing the four evangelists. The card is called the World. This name is due to the limited knowledge that the ancient people had about our environment. In fact, this card represents the unlimited Universe, Eternity and God himself.

As we arrange these seven pairs in a circle, with the seven spiritual cards as spokes of a wheel above them, and we place the World card in the axis of the Wheel, then we have the Tarot of Marseille version of the Tarot Wheel.  Again, we have three levels of cards, each with their proper order. On the first level, we have a wheel representing the journey of the Human Soul through Society and the Afterlife, all the way up to God and Reincarnation. On the second level, where we have the spokes of the Tarot Wheel, we see the seven Virtues representing the moral values. Finally, on the third level, in the axis of the Wheel, we find a figure representing the Universe and thus God himself.

The World card, in the axis of the Wheel, representing the whole Universe and thus God, summarizes by itself all elements of the Tarot.

As a conclusion, we can say that the Tarot Wheel, using the concept that the Tarot is representing the human life cycle, the moral values and God himself, can be applied to very different versions of the Tarot. This representation goes very well with the Neoplatonic versions of the Tarot, as imagined by Italian aristocracy as we have seen with the Este Charles VI Tarot and the Visconti Sforza Tarot, but it is also the perfect representation of this cycle for the Tarot of Marseille, a version of the Tarot adapted to the printing press and accessible to a much wider and lesser educated audience.

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