Of monks and codes

The Tarot of Marseilles by Nicolas Conver

The Tarot is Benedictine’s work Here is a short essay who aims to discuss the secret coding of the names of the Tarot de Marseille.

We will meet the creator of the Tarot, the Benedictine monk Suger (1081-1151), protector of the Knights Templar and regent to the kingdom of France during the Second Crusade (12th Century). Suger is known as the father of Gothic art. He renovated the abbey church of St. Denis, an architectural masterpiece that is a silent hymn to light. I submit that his other main contribution is the Tarot, a luminous, silent book that can be seen as a temple, a portable miniature cathedral, an Oracle meant to bridge the gap between man and the Divine Will. It can be seen as a sacrament. Cutting the deck before reading, a sacred gesture!

ORACLE = ORA CLE, ORA T (cle (20) is substituted by the 20th letter, T), TARO. The added T symbolises the various known crosses. TAROT! We needed a T/cross here because Taro is also Rota, a wheel. A cross makes the symbolism complete. A wheel and a cross together, we have a whole symbolic story in the name. One of these types of crosses, the Cross Potent (Croix potencée) is alluded to in the context presented by Major XII, The Hanged Man. The gibbet is called in French, gibet or POTENCE=78! Cross Potent is also known as Jerusalem cross and, in Heraldic symbolism, as Tau cross. The whole scene in XII is exemplar to the presence of one of the numerous Crucis dissimulates (hidden crosses) one can find in Tarot de Marseille. ‘Hanging to wood’ is the Hebrew translation for the word crucifixion. This gives us an idea of who is represented here in XII. Note also that this famous character, the Tarot Hanged Man, has the shape of a compass and also a key, two potent symbols!


The Grand Wheel of Tarot

This is a summary of an article published by Rom in 1985 in the discontinued publication CRYSTAL (Montreal).

76 Arcana revolve around the World. The Fool is nowhere and everywhere in this system, such is his nature! Frame the World with the four Aces of the Minors as follows:

Ace of Wands (the Ace is worth I+II+III+IV=10) is in the position of the Angel.

Ace of Swords (worth VI+VII+VIII+IX=30) is in the position of the Eagle.

Ace of Cups (XI+XII+XIII+XIV=50) is in the position of the Lion.

Ace of Pentacles (XVI+XVII+XVIII+XIX=70) is in the position of the Ox.

This forms the centre of the Wheel.

Create a circle around this centre with the 20 remaining Major Arcana by placing

XX Judgement in the West,

X The Wheel of Fortune in the East,

V The Pope in the North

and XV The Devil in the South.

Place I Juggler (Magician), II Popess (High Priestess), III Empress and IV Emperor in a diagonal line running upwards between XX Judgement and V Pope.

In a diagonal line running down between V Pope and X Wheel of Fortune place the cards VI Lovers, VII Chariot, VIII Justice and IX Hermit.

In a diagonal between X Wheel of Fortune and XV Devil place XI Strength, XII Hanged Man, XIII Death and XIV Temperance.

From XV Devil to XX Judgement place XVI Tower, XVII Star, XVIII Moon and XIX Sun.

The Wheel is complete. Notice that the four Major Arcana of XX Judgement, XV Devil, X Wheel of Fortune and V Pope are situated in cardinal points that form a cross which fits into the circle formed by the other Majors. The World is the pivotal point to the system. The Fool is a peripheral!

Consider the Minor Arcana that are numbered 2 to 9. They will be grouped into pairs that add up to 11. That number seems to have a dual nature. 11 and its multiples are

called Shinning Suns by Hermetic thinkers of the time. Theologians call 11 the number of sin. 11 can be further reduced to the number 2, duality represented here by pairs. We have the following said pairs: 2 and 9, 3 and 8, 4 and 7, and 5 and 6. Each of these pairs is associated with one of the Major Arcana ‘groups’ indicated by the placement of the Aces at the hub. The pairs are then placed in ascending order going from left to right. Ex: The 2 and 9 of Wands with I Juggler (Magician), the 3 and 8 of Wands with II Popess (High Priestess)….

The 2 and 9 of Swords with VI Lovers, the 3 and 8 of Swords with VII Chariot…

The 2 and 9 of Cups with Temperance, the 3 and 8 of Cups with XIII Death….

The 2 and 9 of Pentacles with XIX Sun, the 3 and 8 of Pentacles with XVIII Moon….

The 10’s of each suit are assigned as

follows: 10 of Wands with V Pope, 10 of Swords with X Wheel of Fortune, 10 of Cups with XV Devil and 10 of Pentacles with XX Judgement.

The Court cards go into the suit groupings in ascending order similar to the Minor ‘pairs’ so that the Page of Wands is with I Juggler (Magician), the Knight of Wands is with II Popess (High Priestess); the Page of Swords with VI Lovers, the Knight of Swords with VII Chariot; the Page of Cups is with IV Temperance, the Knight of Cups with XIII Death; the Page of Pentacles with XIX Sun, the Knight of Pentacles with XVIII Moon…..

The Code

The principle alphabetico-numeric code of the Conver Tarot makes it possible to decode the name of each Major Arcana to associate with its Roman numeral allocation in the sequence of Majors. It is a very simple code. In the 12th Century occidental cryptology was still in its infancy. Since the fall of Rome, this military science had lost most of its sophistication. The 12th century marks a period of renewal for this science. Templars developed a coded accounting system. Suger’s code is less complex. But it is a code and as such it puts a veil of secrecy on his work as nobody suspects that there is something underneath the surface. In the Renaissance, coding systems begin to be more elaborated.

Here is the main cipher of the code:

A, C, E, H, I, L, M, O, P, R, T, V and X

(A=1, C=3, E=5, H=8, etc.)

For example, if you add the value of the letters for Le Bateleur the sum is 78, however, if one takes into consideration how the letter U was represented as the letter V (whose value is 22) then the total becomes 100 which reduces to 1 which is the placement of the Bateleur (Juggler/Magician) in the Major Arcana sequence!

LE bATELEuR (remember only to add the value of the letters that are in the code) becomes 12+5+1+20+5+12+5+18=78. Substituting U for V becomes 12+5+1+20+5+12+5+22+18=100 and 100 reduces to 1!

Certain Majors are easy, like L’HERMITE [which adds to 90 (reducing to 9, IX !)], because all of the letters are present in the code.

TEMPERAnCE (notice that the letter n is not in the code) becomes 20+5+13+16+5+18+1+3+5=86 which reduces to 14, XIV!

Tarot is first and foremost a celebration of language. Tarot requires us to explore and identify what it has to offer. Images bear names, in French, Latin and possibly Hebrew as the description of the scene in XII suggests. Arab input is also present as indicated by the coded zero in Le*Mat. The queen of Sciences at the time was Grammar. It linked many cultures, many planes. Tarot was born in that context. Latin inscriptions in various churches and cathedrals in France take on new. Several words of the 12th century French language are crafted along the Tarot code. Grammaire and Eucharistie are 78s! As is Catharisme… And Cabale is 22!

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À propos de Rom

Je me nomme Marc Olivier Rainville. Je suis connu sous le nom de Rom depuis mes débuts dans la Tarotsphère en 1998. Je suis Bachelier en Animation et recherche culturelle, mineure en Histoire de l’art, de l’Université du Québec à Montréal (Promotion 1982). Je m’intéresse à l’histoire du Tarot depuis 1985. J’ai eu la chance de bénéficier d’un concours de circonstances favorables qui m’a permis d’approfondir mes recherches sur le sujet. J’en livre le fruit ici.
Bienvenue sur Tarotchoco !

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