Véritable Tarot de Marseille by Kris Hadar
Review by Thijs Dekeukeleire
This 78-card deck is a modern restoration/recreation of the Tarot of Marseilles, like the Camoin. According to Hadar, his work consisted of “hunting down, behind the exterior of each card, the thread and the forgotten detail that suggested what the original had to be.” As far as I can tell, Hadar is quite consistent in doing so and clarifies some of the more ambiguous details. One of the oddest additions Hadar has made, though, is the beam of light above the head of some of the figures, such as La Papesse (The Papess).
The Tarot of Marseilles is usually determined to have come into being around the 18th century, but Hadar is convinced that its origin lies in the 12th century, as a way to protect the knowledge inherited from the French Occitan culture that the church sought to suppress. Hadar considers Tarot to be “the first book that allowed illiterates to be able to reflect and meditate on their eternal salvation and their quest of the self.” This sure is an interesting and tempting theory, but keep in mind that it’s still only a theory: there is no definite historical proof to back it up.
The Tarot of Marseilles was one of the primary sources for the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS), but so many changes were made both in meaning and sequence (e.g., in the Marseilles, Justice is VIII and Strength is XI), that it wouldn’t be a good idea to approach this deck with the RWS in mind. The influence of the Tarot of Marseilles is visible in other decks as well, such as the Tarot Nova, the Lo Scarabeo Secret Tarots, and even the Fey Tarot.
Although naming one’s deck “the authentic Tarot of Marseilles” seems rather pretentious, it’s natural that Hadar is proud of his work. It’s clear that this was a labor of love and that a lot of care went into the choices for the cards--let’s not forget that Hadar spent more than 20 years researching his deck. The cards are more detailed than other versions and are shown in their full beauty. Particular attention has also been spent to the reversible card backs; they are a true pleasure to view. The use of color in the deck is very attractive and a lot softer on the eyes than the glaring hues of the Camoin, yet the original woodcut-like feeling is still preserved. This is especially evident when compared to the standard Grimaud Tarot of Marseilles (see the images of La Maison Dieu and the Seven of Swords for a comparison).
As one can expect with a Tarot of Marseilles, the titles of the cards are in French. The pip cards don’t have a title, but one can simply count how many of the suit symbols are portrayed.
In the Marseilles, the Major Arcana takes off with Arcanum I, Le Basteleur (in modern spelling, Bateleur) - not with The Fool. Bateleurs used to travel from town to town, entertaining, telling stories and performing tricks. Like all the figures in the Tarot of Marseilles, this guy looks very approachable. He’s dressed in bright colors and no doubt has an equally colorful personality. There are all kinds of tools on his little table and in his hands: there are coins, a stick, knifes and goblets, as if they are the elements and suit symbols in their most practical form. An interesting detail is the fact that his table only has three legs - maybe there’s still something missing?
Each card has a mysterious depth to it, so that studying this deck can feel like a treasure hunt. La Roue de Fortune (The Wheel of Fortune) is especially intriguing. Together with La Lune (The Moon), they are the only cards of the Major Arcana that show no human figures; instead, in Trump X, there are animals dressed up in skirts and capes, crawling over a wheel that appears to float on waves. Ironically, no one controls the handgrip, but the wheel turns by their own doing. A crowned and winged sphinx sits above, bringing to mind the myth of Oedipus.
There’s no gloomy Tower in this deck - Arcanum XVI is named La Maison Dieu (The House of God) and shows a tower bursting open while the sky is filled with brightly-colored dots, with two people suspended in the air, smiling. They reach for the ground as if they are very pleased to be brought back down to earth.
Le Fol (The Fool--at top) is unnumbered in the Marseilles - aptly, it’s the only card that is not part of any sequence or structure. The man depicted looks up towards the sky and seems unaware of the animal scratching his buttocks, so that there’s something about him that is not entirely human, as if he’s already gone “beyond.” Then there’s his uncanny resemblance to the skeleton in Arcanum XIII, a card that is unnamed and thus sometimes referred to as L’Arcane Sans Nom (The Arcanum Without a Name).
The Minor Arcana offers a challenge because of their non-scenic pip cards, but I found them to be quite evocative and meaningful when I spent some time with them. Bear in mind, however, that when you approach the cards with an open mind, you’ll come up with very different meanings than those of the RWS.
The four suits are Bastons (Batons), Coupes (Cups), Deniers (Coins) and Espees (Swords). (‘Wands’ and ‘Pentacles’ were an invention of the Golden Dawn.) The court cards consist of Vaslet (Page), Chevalier (Knight), Royne (Queen) and Roi (King). Here, too, the older French spelling of the words is respected.
The flower and plant patterns on the pip cards help uncover the meaning. Each can also easily be connected to its numeric equivalent in the Major Arcana and its elemental attribution. For example, the Four of Coins shows, amongst other things, a shield, and strong, not very pliable stems which convey security, protection and stability. The card can also be associated with the fourth Arcanum, the Emperor, and with the Earth, reinforcing thoughts of being down-to-earth, reliable, and grounded.
The colors enhance our understanding of the card, as well. Unlike the Grimaud, the central sword on the Hadar Seven of Swords has a bright red blade, reminding me of warmth and virility. I imagine it could depict a heated discussion, the flame of a fight, or even sexual attraction. It makes me think that a combination has been reached of passion (the heart) and intellect (the mind), which again is reinforced by the connection with The Chariot (Arcanum VII) and the number seven itself (as it can be broken down to three and four).
The Baton court cards are particularly interesting. The baton of the Page of Batons is still a crude branch, and the boy doesn’t look directly at the suit symbol (none of the Pages do), but gently holds it in his hands and points it towards the ground. You just know that the branch is full of potential, but that he’s still familiarizing himself with its/his energy. The Knight, however, unlocks its power and holds it aloft. And when you look at the Queen and King, you’ll find that their batons have evolved into polished and refined attributes...
The deck comes with a Little White Booklet in French--all the quotations in this review are my personal translation. The LWB shares information about tarot history and readings, and offers short, very limited keywords for each card. For example, the Bateleur is interpreted as: “The principle of the active creator, potential, impulse and origin. Upright: An event that starts well. Reversed: Difficult starting point.” In a particular section of the LWB, Hadar explains the pregnancy of the Queen of Swords and the winding stairs featured on the card as symbols of the descent into the deepest parts of oneself. That’s a lovely thought and I would have liked to see similar information about the other cards as well, but, at the same time, I am grateful that much remains a mystery, left up to us to find out.
Overall, I think this is a wonderful deck, superior to many other decks on the market today. The long tradition of the Tarot of Marseilles combined with the care and work of Hadar creates an amazing profundity and guarantees that you’ll never know everything there is to know about it. I would recommend it to any tarot enthusiast who feels drawn to these images and is willing to think outside of the RWS (or Thoth) box...
You can purchase The Hadar Tarot of Marseilles at www.amazon.ca, www.playingcardsales.co.uk, and www.fnac.com (French).
You can join an online forum devoted to the Tarot of Marseilles here.
Le Véritable Tarot de Marseille by Kris Hadar
Publisher: Editions de Mortagne
ISBN #: 2890748197
Thijs is eighteen and currently studying in Ghent, Belgium. His love for Tarot blends in perfectly with his interest in history, art and mythology. Thijs is also a member of the Tarot of Marseilles Study Forum.
Review © 2005
Images © 1996 Editions de Montagne
Page © 2005 Diane Wilkes