Le Tarot du Chien - Text by Carole Sedillot; Art by Claude Trapet
Review by Paula Gibby
Have you ever read a book so satisfying, so absorbing, that each character assumed a special life of its own and became almost a part of your own reality? If your answer is yes, then perhaps you found that you became particularly fascinated with one of the more minor or obscure characters. One of those fleeting cameos which are short in length, but leave an indelible impression on you. And you wonder to yourself – whatever happened to that person? Where did he go? What happened to him as he walked into your reality and then out again one or two chapters later?
Never to return.
Well, if this has ever happened to you, then perhaps you will understand a rather lasting fixation I have carried with me ever since I purchased my very first tarot deck and began my endless fascination with, and exploration of, the cards.
This is my fixation:
Whatever happened to the dog?
What dog, you ask? You know…THE dog. The one in the Fool card. Being the driven person I am, I of course began my intensive study of the tarot, card by card. And, being the orderly person I am, I started with the Fool card. And, not being content with just one Fool card, I have studied and ruminated over hundreds of them and most of them have that little dog. Yes, yes, there are plenty of other decks that use other symbols besides the dog, but for me, the dog is the best. For reasons I will get to shortly.
Usually, we concentrate so much upon the Fool himself (what he’s wearing, what direction he’s facing, that cliff he’s standing on, that pack he carries, what it contains, etc., etc.) that we usually give only the most cursory attention to the little being that is really just as important as the Fool himself. The being who actually begins it all. The being who gets the Fool going on his journey.
I have discussed this in other articles…the analysis of what actually starts each of us on our own particular journey. In most, if not all cases, there is some catalyst which sets the play into motion. It can be a small feeling born within the innermost recesses of our souls, or it can be an event or another person. Something joyous, or something tragic. Whatever the source, make no mistake about it, there is that itch, that spark, that seed idea that compels us to set foot upon the path and begin our journey.
The essence of that lightning flash of inspiration is encapsulated in the little body of the Fool’s companion. The little being that nips, jumps and just plain annoys the Fool until he can ignore it no longer. The little being that makes it clear to the Fool that he will know no peace if he tries to turn back or stand still.
Kind of an important character in the play, wouldn’t you say?
So, my question again…what in heaven’s name happens to the dog? So pivotal…the symbol of what is truly the beginning of it all. And he makes his appearance in just one card and then disappears. Which of course has always set my mind to wandering. This is a companion that I certainly would want to keep with me on my journey. Selfless, devoted, persevering and loving. I’d be crazy to leave a companion like that behind. And for what reason? To walk alone?
Which is the reason why the dog is my favorite symbol used to represent the Fool’s catalyst. The Dog. Man’s Best Friend. Companion. Loyal. Utterly and completely devoted. Concerned only with the well-being of the master. Always there.
And so, I have always been surprised that there are so few tarot decks devoted exclusively to our canine friends. Offhand, I can only think of two…one drawn by Menegazzi and published by Il Meneghello…the other being the Sedillot/Trapet deck we will discuss in this review.
The Tarot du Chien is not Sedillot and Trapet’s first foray into the world of tarot. Sedillot has written quite a few books on the tarot, and she and Trapet collaborated in 1989 to produce their first edition of the Tarot du Chat (a deck of majors). This was followed in 1994 by a complete, 78-card deck of their pretty little felines. Give yourself a treat and read Diane Wilkes’ excellent review of this very attractive deck.
In 1992, Sedillot and Trapet teamed together once again and produced the Tarot du Chien. This deck reflects an interesting maturation process in the development of ideas and symbols represented in the trump cards when compared to the Tarot du Chat. Although Sedillot states that the Tarot du Chien emulates the basic design and structure of the standard Marseilles deck, make no mistake about it, this is a deeply esoteric deck, quite interesting and stimulating. There are a myriad of cunning little details woven into the card images that I quite enjoy stumbling across and which really add to the depth and complexity of the images than is apparent at first glance.
Unlike the later edition of the Tarot du Chat, which is available for purchase as a stand-alone deck, the Tarot du Chien can only be obtained as a book and deck set. The deck itself does not arrive in its own box; rather, it is loosely packaged in plastic, along with the lengthy and extremely well-written book.
Before we get to the cards, let’s talk about this book. First, the aesthetics. Well, for one thing, the book is just beautiful. Yes, it is softcover, but the publisher, Noeme, has done a first class production of this volume. The quality of the paper is excellent…heavy and glossy. Every single card is presented in full color, with the majors and the aces being full-sized reproductions.
My French is really not very good, but I had no trouble following what is one of the most organized, well-written, clearly articulated tarot books currently residing upon my shelves. I may not agree with, or find important, all of Sedillot’s many correspondences and attributions, but I am never left in any doubt as to her approach and the reasoning behind it. The Tarot du Chien contains many esoteric symbols in its images, covering a wide range of attributions from numerology, astrology, the elements, the four directions and even color. Each series of correspondences is clearly introduced and defined in the early chapters.
Sedillot then devotes a complete chapter to each of the major arcana. First, there is the full-size, color reproduction of the card itself. Next, there is a discussion of the key symbols rendered in the images. And lastly, there is a very nice summary box which gives a synopsis of the planetary and astrological correspondences, in addition to the upright and reversed divinatory meanings. This is helpful information since Sedillot has developed her own system of attributes with regard to the zodiacal and planetary assignments.
As I said, my French is only fair, but even I can appreciate the enthusiasm and lyric quality of the prose. Sedillot provides much information, but does so in a way that is never ponderous or tedious and, when you consider the heavy esoteric symbolism in the cards and the great detail she devotes to them in her text (she rivals Paul Case in this respect), her ability to keep the prose moving right along is impressive. She has also interspersed at least several hundred individual quotes from various poets, authors and playwrights, as well as the Bible. These quotes provide additional food for thought and add to the interest and vitality of the text. This is a very substantial tarot volume.
The last chapter in the book is devoted to reading the cards. There are several spreads pictured and described in great detail, along with samples of actual readings done with each spread.
So, now let us move on to the cards and allow these series of canine companions to present themselves. Our dear companion, the faithful canine, moves with us through the series of cards, not only accompanying us on our journey, but also taking an active role in presenting each image for us to experience and learn from.
Exoteric and esoteric concepts are married seamlessly in the presentation of Le Bateleur. A veritable wealth of symbolism is portrayed, and digesting this card takes a great deal of time and reflection. Hats off to Trapet for being able to incorporate so much symbolism, but yet still present a charming, whimsical and entertaining aspect to the card, as well.
Our Magician is a poodle, a breed that enjoys the reputation of being one of the most trainable, with an ability to learn quickly and attain mastery over a number of complex activities. Good choice for this card, because the tools of the Magician are the very elements themselves (represented by cup, wand, sword and ring). Evidence of his mastery and control are evident by the careful balance he maintains as he uses his tools. Notice the coloration of the elemental symbols. The cup is blue, representing the receptive, the inner nature, the subconscious. The wand is red. Red for fire, for inspiration. The ring is yellow, another base color representing consciousness, light and the sun which nurtures and sustains corporeal life. Very interesting coloration in the sword, which is green. Green is not a base color; rather, it is a combination of yellow (consciousness and life force) and blue (subconsciousness). The result is a marriage of consciousness and subconsciousness, inner and outer awareness. The product is the ultimate intelligence which is both corporeal and spiritual.
As I said, exoteric and esoteric symbols combine together to form a most satisfying whole in this card. Part illusionist, part spiritual magic maker, this Magician has taken center stage in the circus of life under the Big Top itself. A banner of lemniscates graces the tent and the Magician’s elemental tools are just some of the tricks he has at his disposal, for we also see his magician’s hat from which springs a set of dice.
In La Papesse, we see a lovely rendering of the cocker spaniel, her large, soulful eyes gazing calmly and quietly. In the background is a beautiful Greek temple dedicated to Athena, goddess of the Moon and guardian of inner intelligence. The inscription states (forgive my poor translation): "I am all that has been, all that is and all that will be. No mortal can penetrate my veil."
The columns of red and blue represent the duality of conscious and subconscious. More interesting is the key which hangs from her neck. It represents the key of inner awareness which ultimately provides access to the great mysteries and knowledge contained within the book standing open before her. Once that key is obtained, the book and all of its contents opens to us. Notice that the Papesse does not look at the book. She does not have to. Every line, thought and idea is indelibly imprinted within her own subconscious. The book is for us to attain, she has no further need of it for herself.
Discussion of the Bateleur and Papesse cards should give you a pretty good idea of the depth of symbolism in the majority of these cards; however, lest you think each image is completely weighted down, there are other cards which are more succinct in their imagery and some which manage to get their ideas across in a delightful and amusing way.
Sedillot and Trapet usually do not use any great rhyme or reason for selecting the breeds for each card. It is only on a few of the cards that the selection is deliberate, but this is the case in the Strength card. Here we see the Chow Chow, selected for its lion-like mane and stocky stature. He sits before a great oak tree. For the Greeks and the Celts, the oak tree was a symbol of strength and wisdom, as well as a link between earth and sky (linking the corporeal and the spiritual). Scattered about are tiny acorns which have fallen from the mother tree. Deceptively small and helpless, they are fiercely tenacious seeds of potential that will grow into tall, strong trees, as strong and ageless as their parent.
As much as I enjoy dissecting the symbolism layered into so many of these cards, I have to say that my very favorite uses almost none of these devices to get its message across. La Maison-Dieu (Tower) is not generally a card I spend much time studying, but this one is a delight. Jagged lightning erupts from the stormy skies and strikes the tower of…the Doghouse. Its two little dachshunds spring from the doorway just in the nick of time.
La Lune is one of the loveliest cards in the deck. A triple-tiered fountain, supported by the graceful statues of the elegant greyhound, provides lovely sprays of water glowingly lit by the moon which softly gleams from the cloudy night sky. The Moon is replicated in the foreground of the fountain, only this time it is represented in its quarter phase. Balanced delicately upon this crescent moon is a mask, reminding us that not all things can be seen or ascertained at first glance. Who and what is behind the mask? The crescent reminds us of the many phases of the Moon…its cyclical nature. The sign of Cancer is attributed to this card and we are reminded of this by the rings of crabs etched in bas-relief fashion upon the base of the fountain.
And finally, Le Monde. Upon the World sits the Wolf, another very deliberate choice of breed. The wolf signifies duality and embraces the nature of the dog (tame and loyal) with its own essence (wild and savage). Depending upon cultural beliefs, the wolf can symbolize evil or good. Darkness or light. Sedillot knows her symbolism and has carefully chosen a breed that strongly embraces all aspects. For how can there be good, if there is no evil? How can we understand, value and love the light if there is no darkness? And how can we deny that, at the end of the day, at the end of the cycle, we carry that duality and complexity within our very selves? How can we be whole, fully-integrated, spiritual beings unless we embrace our life experiences, learning from and accepting them?
Encircling the central motifs are renderings of the four seasons, winter, summer, spring and fall. It is a further reminder of the cyclical nature of life…and of the Fool’s Journey, for now it is time to begin again.
The minors in the Tarot du Chien, when considering the wealth of symbolism in the majors, are rather a disappointment, being pips only. However, they are quite beautiful, as pips go, and some attention has been paid to placement of the suit motifs to achieve numerological and esoteric significance. Still, it would have been nice to see what author and artist could have come up with had they chosen to create illustrated minors.
By no means did Sedillot merely intend to create an art deck with a cute substitution of canine figures. As she states in her book, Sedillot’s intent is to present the concept of the dog as the constant companion on the Fool’s journey. To accomplish this, she has cast the canine as the central figure of the cards, which becomes a series of vignettes presented to the Fool in order to assist, teach and enlighten him as he proceeds on his journey. The goal? To take this Fool, this neophyte, and, through the lessons of the cards, guide him through the spiritual maturation process and help him become an initiate to the great mysteries. The awesome importance of the dog in the Fool card is maintained throughout the entire series of images. It is the dog, the catalyst that began the entire journey, who continues to guide the footsteps of the Fool until the cycle has been completed and a new one prepares to begin.
This is quite an ambitious goal and a rather tall order. And not wholly successful. The concept is excellent and the text and symbolism combine for a solid foundation; however, it is the art, the images themselves, that, although quite lovely to look at, fail to live up to their potential.
The biggest weakness lies in the images of the dogs themselves. While the renderings are quite lovely and impressively detailed, they are rather static, too "posed" and more like portraits you would see staring glassily out at you from some high quality reference book on the different breeds. They do not live and breathe; neither do they have the vitality to take command of center stage and carry the ideas of the cards.
Consequently, it is left up to the interesting and complex symbols and colors to bring these cards to life, which is a difficult task when the central figures themselves lack an intrinsic sense of vigor and vitality. Surely the creative talents of Sedillot and the artistic ability of Trapet could have breathed a little more movement and imagination into their cards. Such great ideas, but the central characters seem so lifeless.
The interesting concepts, sparkling lyricism and poetic prose of the book just don’t quite translate into the images themselves. Although the cards are really quite pretty, they just don’t live up to the mental images inspired by the book. It is a pity that Sedillot is not also an artist of the brush (as she definitely is of the pen) I think if she was, the paintings of the cards would be stunning.
Still, all in all, it is very well done. The deck lends itself to study but is also more than capable of providing in-depth and insightful readings. Dog lovers will want to have it, if only for the excellent renderings of the different breeds. If you want to learn more about occult, esoteric symbolism and you’re tired of the same old boring humans occupying center stage, this is a good deck to explore.
I purchased this book and deck set from Somerville of France.
Le Tarot du Chien
Text by Carole Sedillot; Art by Claude Trapet
Publisher: Editions Noeme (1992)
Book, 251 pages + 78 cards
Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life. She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot. She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks. Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements. Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she plans to create a tarot deck sometime in the future, but is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.
Art © 2001 Claude Trapet
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes