The tarot of Paris

Tarot of Paris

The Paris Tarot is an ancient tarot kept  in the Bibliotheque National de France.  It is, like the Viéville tarot, one of the very rare complete tarots of the XVII century.  It is more commonly known as the anonymous tarot of Paris because the name of the master card maker does not appear on the cartouche of the Two of Denier.

This tarot can be considered atypical because it is quite different from the usual form  of the tarot of Marseilles, traditionally the most well  known and wide spread.  Even if it does have some points in common with the tarot of Viévile, some of the arcane majors are very different.

One might assume  that the interest of this tarot is limited to this point, and that it is only of interest to a restricted circle  of ancient tarot cards collectors.  However, an attentive examination of the arcane majors reveals a surprising complexity.  For instance the arcane XVI “LAFOVLDRE” appears especially disturbing : through a magma of yellow, red, blue green  and the colour of flesh,  we can make out, in the little bit of white of the card, an elf .

Then we see appear a strange personage, nude, with the face of an animal tapping a tambourine.  Further down in the card is another personage, a man with a ram’s head,  in a posture that we  feel  instantly  is fearful.  Then there is a man who seems to be consumed by flames.  To add to this disturbing scene, we suddenly see, emerging from the general confusion, an eye!

It is at this precise instant that you should be able to see the head of the monster , revealing the inoui  bizarre  complexity of this scene:  flames are leaping out of the mouth of the beast, where a man is on fire.

But where is the lightening ?  Because this is the name of the Arcanum.  An extra surprise is to be found here :  the posture of the creature with the ram’s head crouching at the very bottom of the card, seems to suggest that he is trying to protect himself from the destruction which he is witnessing.   Even if one knows the dangers of lightening, one doesn’t necessarily know lightening actually works.  According to, you must never stand up with your legs spread apart, or walk with large steps when you find yourself in a storm.  You risk being  en commotion, or electrocuted by a  difference of electrical potential introduced by the length of the step.   The safest position is curled up on the ground.  This is exactly what the creature at the bottom of the card is doing :  he is protecting himself from lightening.

But what is the real nature of this lightening ?

The beast is easily identified as the Leviathan that is seen on many  enluminures  and which represents the mouth of hell,  the entrance to hell   (Descente aux limbes,   Arsenal 3479 f109, Bibliotheque Nationale of France).

What is new in this representation is that instead of Christ saving the tormented souls in the mouth of Leviathan, we have a creature with a human body and an animal’s head  who emerges with an amused air.  The animal mask represents bestiality but also anonymity :  one can hide behind a mask.  He is beating the drum, that is to say that he is imposing his rhythm, his beat.  This could be seen as a note of leading to  confusion, the diabolical rhythm that changes behavior, turns heads.    The orchestra leader is perhaps this strange elf on the muffle of the Leviathan because he is hierarchically at a higher level.

Finally the creature at the bottom protects himself as best he can from the lightening, which is none other than the unleashing of a wave of chaos, the forces of disintegration become uncontrollable due to the weaknesses of the forces of construction.

The  creature with the ram’s head perhaps represents (which raises more questions than answers)  the Egyptian  god Khoum, the ram god ,  who formed on the potter’s wheel the egg of the world and all living beings. (Photo :  ” The god Khoum,  Veille Charité Museum, Marseille, France”) .

His generative force associates the idea of  fertility & creation.  If it is really the Egyptian  god represented in this scene of the Paris tarot, we can deduce that he is surpassed by his creation.  In this way the Arcanum XVI of the Paris tarot presents a very original vision, very far removed from that of the “Maison Dieu” “house of God  of the tradition of the tarot of Marseille, and also that of “LA FOVDRE” “ the lightening” of the tarot of Viéville.

The major arcana of the anonymous Tarot of Paris are unique in their kind, like the XIIII Arcanum where fire is at the heart of the scene.  ATREMPANCE – a very strange way of spelling temperance – seems to put out the fire with water from a vase.  Of course the fire shown in the picture is not the usual fire,  and the water from the fire  is more of  a  psychic  rather than a physical  nature.

The stream of water divides the card diagonally in two, to show that there are two cohabitating scenes in the one image:  the world of fire and the world of earth.  The world of fire, or the subtle world designates in the occult the planes parallel to the earth plane, what the Theosophists called the astral plane and the mental plane.  It is necessary here to make a small aside to say that the tarot, before being divinatory, was fundamentally esoteric and the appellation of the “esoteric tarot” describes accurately the first and true nature of the tarot.

Another very original card is the Arcanum XVII, LESTOILLE, where we can see an astronomer/ mathematician/architect at this desk.  The same Arcanum from the Viéville tarot represents also an astronomer holding a compass in his hand, his left hand;  (ARCANDE XVII LESTOILLE)


Here the astronomer indicates with his index figure his strange hat, which is nothing less than a miniature Pyramid of Cheops.  He is measuring the Apothem of the pyramid, and his hat shows that his mind is in the form of the wonderful pyramid.  The top of the hat/pyramid is in contact with the angle of the pediment of the temple.  We can note six directions at the point of junction which corresponds to the top of the head.  This signifies that the conscience of our human knowledge, connected to the star that shines brightly in the firmament, elaborates earthly constructions according to sacred measures and numbers, transforming divine proportions into the forms of the material world.    The cup, at the height of this perspective is reminiscence of an inaccessible Grail, such as the mythical fourth dimension.

The IVGEMENT of the XX Arcanum is also worthy of interest, with what is undoubtedly the greatest discovery of this composition : the angle’s leg sticks out of his clothes and touches the ground of the earth (XX LE IVGEMENT)

This could signify that   heaven and  earth are one and the same thing, and what happens in one or other sphere has repercussions  in the other spheres, thus illustrating the famous saying of the “ Emerald table of Hermès  Trismégiste” “ what is at the bottom is like what is at the top and what is at the top is like what is at the bottom” .  But rather  than the usual scene of the last judgment that we are used to recognizing in the tradition of the Marseille tarots, here  it seems to be something different.  There are four figures that form a square, and the figure to our right seems to be burning something in a container.  Is it an offering or a divination ritual as in the Delphic Temple , where the smoke of the laurel which burns was supposed to inspire the devine, the Pythie?

The figure in the ditch imploring the sky  with upheld hands,  seems to be the chief of ceremonies.    He is lifting up the dress of the angel with his right hand, as if unveiling it, showing it to the participants.  He is touching the angel’s leg,  showing thus   “a proximity of conscience” – while his right hand is coloring (?) the mouth of the trumpet with an undefinable  object, in the three  colours of the   Alchemical masterpiece , black, white and red.    We notice also that the right hand of the figure with hair (a woman?)  who is plunging into the side of the main character as if he wanted to pluck out his heart.  This gesture reminds us of an image – is it not true that the imagination is a vision caused by an image? – of the human sacrifices where the Aztec priest removes the heart of the victim?  Let us examine the faces of the figures.  Two are obscured by green, and the officiate seems to be wearing a death mask.  Is this an allusion to the ceremony of the Mysteries  where the participants hide their identity?

The devil  in the XV Arcanum more ridiculous than terrifying, is  remarkable strange:  he is brandishing a chain at the end of a red handle, which supports a trident.  The chain  is undoubtedly  an allusion to the logical chains of reason /sequencing , which seem illogical to us , like an effects when  we don’t see the cause, and by extension suggests the Law of action and reaction, more commonly known as the law of Karma.  Unable to remember our former lives, we cannot know the origin of an action,  so similarly, we cannot precisely count the number of links in the chain.  At the other end of the handle, the trident, usually associated with the god Neptune, leads us to the element of water, to the world of emotions.  Undoubtedly, this is   to signify that due to our ignorance of the initial causes, our incomprehension is expressed by a reaction on the emotional plane.

There are many other surprising Arcana such as the Hermit (IX LERMITE)

with a strange profile due to the absence of his nose (see the picture mounting that we have made, revealing a strange face).

He   is ringing a bell and is moving around the outside of  of the ramparts of a town, leaning on a stick.  Does he not look like one of those abhorrent lepers indicating loudly his passage as the law at that time required?  The necklace of pearls recalls the chain of the devil of the Arcanum XV.

Then there is the Arcanum LE FOVS where a third face is hidden in the picture.  The anonymous Paris tarot specializes in hidden images, what we have called “subliminal images”  in the Viéville tarot, which specializes in them.

The minor Arcana are also interesting and new, with for example the representation of the back of characters, such as this CHEVALIER D’ESPEE  whose face we cannot see.

This is probably  to signify  that he who is going to descend his sword and kill as an  instrument of destiny,  has not his own proper  identity.  We can note how much the knight is one with his horse, illustrating “ the mysterious union of the knight and his steed as a salutary regeneration”  as explained in our work “The mysteries of the Viéville tarot”  first part page 296.

The series of sticks , for example are given a different representation than that  found in the more well-known tarots, and are closer to the Spanish cards.  The baton is not stylized  but remains natural.

In these 3  cards of the series of the baton,  we can see clearly the articulation between the earthly square  and the heavenly square.

This division of the rectangle of the card into two squares, the heavenly square and the earth square, is a fundamental key  in understanding  the esoteric tarot.  The tarot, as ‘a miniature world’ mirroring the ‘big world’ reflects the primordial antagonism between the sky and the earth , the primitive  polarisation illustrating the antediluvian battle between  spirit and matter.

Thus with this key, we can attribute logically a sense to the minor Arcana because the sky is by its very  nature the object of a higher aspiration than the earth.  The sky is free of the weight (gravity)  of the earth.

So the five of batons with its two crossed sticks show clearly the stop/break  in the earth square and the balance of the three  in the celestial square.  If the card is turned upside down the two crossed batons would appear in the celestial square, and would express  an extra  complication  of a hampered spiritually.

The seven of batons is balanced but we can notice that in the celestial square, the brown stick is on the red and green sticks – the polarity of the green and red show nature’s powerful organization, with for example the red fruit clearly visible against the green leaves.

In the ten of batons , the balance of the figure is more contrasted, and diminished –  by the spacing and the way the batons are laid out.

In conclusion, through these few examples, this small study reveals the evocative power of this extremely interesting tarot, and it is only to be regretted that other decks of cards have not survived the vicissitudes of time.  The amateur will examine this anonymous tarot of Paris with great interest, and will give it as much  consideration as other tarots such as the Viéville tarot or the Dodal tarot.