Marseilles Tarot                                                                                          Review by Michele Jackson

Try as I might, I could find no information on when or where the Tarot de Marseilles first appeared. The Encyclopedia of Tarot Volume One states:
"There are numerous varieties of the Tarot of Marseilles pack owned by museums and collectors. The Tarot of Marseilles packs, wherever they were produced in Europe, generally bore the titles of the Major Arcana cards in French and continued to use single headed figures on the trumps and court cards rather than the double headed figures of the Piedmontese Italian packs." (1)

Kaplan places the Marseilles deck in the section on Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century tarot decks, so it is safe top say that the Marseilles was available at that time. Per A Wicked Pack of Cards, the traditional version of tarot available to the early French occultists in France and Switzerland has been known as the Tarot of Marseilles from 1930 onwards.

The Tarot of Marseilles is available today in several different versions. Some older readers learned on this deck because it was one of the few readily available. I have read that some readers feel that this deck is the "true" tarot, with everything that came after being bastardized revisions. Some of the more advanced tarot books use the Marseilles for illustrative purposes citing the purity of the symbolism.

The Marseilles deck usually has the Fool unnumbered and Death unnamed. The art consists of simple line drawings suitable for wood block printing methods. Colors are usually limited. Swords and Wands can be confusing at first, but swords are curved and wands are not. You can get versions today that are more colorful than their forebears, and you can get reproductions of older versions that look very authentic. Most beginner tarot books are written for the Waite-Smith deck or one of its clones, but the interpretations could be applied to the Marseilles as well. Modern books like Choice Centered Tarot, by Gail Fairfield are well suited to learning the Marseilles as the interpretations for Minors are based on numerology rather than symbolism. Of course books written before the appearance of the Waite-Smith deck were usually written for the Marseilles. Intermediate to advanced texts such as Jung and Tarot by Sallie Nichols, Qabalistic Tarot by Robert Wang, and Tarot and Individuation by Irene Gad, also feature the Marseilles.

US Games publishes several Marseilles decks: Tarot of Marseilles, and my favorite, the colorized Fournier's Tarot of Marseilles. I recommend this deck for collectors, and those who are interested in Tarot history. As one starts reading more advanced tarot texts, it is good to have a copy of this deck handy to refer to.

See the Tarot of Marseilles

See Fournier's Tarot of Marseilles

Tarot of Marseilles ISBN 0-913866-60-1
Fournier's Tarot of Marseilles ISBN
Available from US Games, 179 Ludlow St, Stamford, CT 06902 (800) 544-2637, Fax (203)353-8431

(1) Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume One, by Stuart Kaplan

This page is Copyright 1997 by Michele Jackson