THE TAROT WHEEL ACCORDING THE MARSEILLE TAROT
At this stage you might admire the structure of the Tarot Wheel as presented on the previous pages. Or on 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 important variations in the ordering of the Trumps, differences that are much more important than those 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. In order 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 some clearer symbolism appeared on the cards, certainly to reinforce the ideas behind the cards.
So the very difficult task was to translate the hand painted Italian Tarot, 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 of 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 on of the seven Virtues.
2 The Popess. When looking at the Popess and the Pope as a pair, we have seen the ressemblances 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 faithfull person, from origin a Bohemian princess and probably sister of Guglielma, 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 Ressurection, Jezus 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 interpretated 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.
So 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 send his one son to Earth, to die in order to save humanity. The Love of God 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, ressembling in her all other virtues.
Conclusion, the trump cards in third position represent the seven Virtues, respectively Faith (2), Hope (5), Justice (8), Strength (11), Temperance (14), Love (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 to God the Son, the Last Judgment to the Holy Spirit and the World to God the Father.
After this introduction, let us recall the order of the Tarot of Marseille using the spelling on the Tarot of Jean Noblet:
(the Wheel of Fortune)
(the Hanged Man)
(the God House)
As we have seen there is a clear trinary structure in this order. In the Tarot de Marseille, seven groupes of three cards form each a specific entity with a closely related pair on the base and a third card who represents a Virtue
The last card of the Marseille tarot is the World. We see a naked figure in a Mandorle, man and woman at the same time, representing God the Father, with around him the four beasts representing the four evangelists. The card is called the World. This name is due to the limited knowledge the ancient people had about our environment. In fact this card represents the unlimited Universe and thus Eternity and God himself.
As we dispose this seven pairs in a circle, with the seven spiritual cards as spokes of a wheel above them, and we dispose the World card in the axis of the Wheel, then we have the Tarot of Marseille version of the Tarot Wheel. So we have three levels of cards, each with there proper order. On the first level we have a wheel representing the journey of the Human Soul through Society and afterlife, all the way up to God and Reincarnation. On the second level, representing the spokes of the Tarot Wheel, we see the seven Virtues representing the moral values. Finally on the third level, the axis of the Wheel, we find a figure representating 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 neo-platonic 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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