Playing with a Full Deck?

Justice, Strength, and The Star from the Marshmallow Marseille

Consider this a PSA for Tarot readers and the Tarot-curious, especially those new to Tarot.

I’ve got an Amazon cart full of Tarot decks and books, but as usual I’ve been waiting a few days before hitting the “checkout” button just in case I change my mind on something or think of something to add, or with any luck at all the price on something will drop. This can backfire, as more than once an item I had in my cart sold out while I was dithering about hitting the button. Such is life.

So I was searching around Amazon some more this morning to see if they had any other interesting decks before I call it good, and decided to take a look at the Marseille Grand Trumps offered by Lo Scarabeo. This is not a new deck but my Tarot de Marseille obsession is, and so I never really considered this deck before. I scrolled down to check the size of the cards, and then on down to the reviews to see what people thought, if there were any problems with the quality, or whatever. Here are a couple of reviews:

And this:

And I had to laugh.

Well yeah, it’s “ONLY” the 22 Major Arcana. Those are the Trumps. The rest of the deck, the 56 minor arcana, are not Trumps. If it says “Trumps” it is by definition only the first 22 cards:

  • Fool
  • Magician
  • High Priestess
  • Empress
  • Emperor
  • Hierophant (or Pope or High Priest)
  • Lovers
  • Chariot
  • Justice (8 in Marseille style decks, 11 in RWS decks)
  • Hermit
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • Strength (11 in Marseille decks, 8 in RWS)
  • Hanged Man
  • Death
  • Temperance
  • Devil
  • Tower
  • Star
  • Moon
  • Sun
  • Judgement
  • World

The word “trump” comes from “trionfi” or “triumphs”.

From Wikipedia:

Trionfi was the 15th-century card game for which tarot cards were designed. Trionfi were a fifth suit in the card game which acted as permanent trumps.

As far as the art style, most of Tarot de Marseille decks we have today are created or reconstructed from the first tarots which were done using wood block printing so they are crude by today’s standards, but beautiful in their own right. There are also a number of very modern decks that are only the 22 Major Arcana with very fine art if you don’t care for the woodblock style of printing but want to give them a whirl. The best way to save yourself some grief, though, is to do a web search on a deck before buying. There will be tons of images out there that you can see before laying out any cash. Also check YouTube for unboxing videos and reviews. There are scads of them including on my own channel, Souls Journey.

As to the final point of them begin useless for readings… well, that’s just not true.
You can absolutely do a reading with just the Major Arcana. There is a great deal of historical precedent for using only the Trumps for reading. You can still find spreads that are specifically designed to use only the Trumps, and even a full Celtic Cross spread can be done using just the Trumps. Here’s a link to one old style spread called the “method of Peladan” on Anthony Louis’s blog. Vincent Pitisci has it in one of his books under the name “Four Winds Spread” I believe (I don’t have his book yet), and he demonstrates it here. There’s at least one book specifically focused on using the Majors for reading, by Cherry Gilchrist. I don’t have it so can’t speak to the quality, but it sounds promising from the description and reviews. There’s also a very generous amount of the book available in the “Look Inside” function.

Having said all that, I realize not everyone is going to like the Tarot de Marseille style or only want to work with Trumps. You don’t have to choose Marseille over RWS or Thoth, you can study them all. Whatever floats your boat. Tarot de Marseille a very recent interest of my own, so I understand where you’re coming from, but I wish I hadn’t waited so long to start learning these beautiful old decks.

What do you think?

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