When first getting acquainted with tarot, you’ll most likely hear about the Rider Waite Smith as the standard tarot card deck to work with for beginners. And indeed, that is the most common deck in the English-speaking world that many artistic interpretations of the tarot seem to be based on, including some of mine. But there’s a deck that is older than that - and if you trace the history of the Rider Waite Smith deck, you’ll most likely encounter another standardized deck - the Tarot de Marseille.
Just a heads up - this is a sneak peek of the upcoming Seventh Sphere Tarot deck - a Tarot de Marseille companion to the Seventh Sphere Lenormand. To get updates, sign up for our newsletter!
How the Tarot de Marseille and Rider Waite Smith Tarot Are Different
The Tarot de Marseille was originally designed as playing cards - and as such the minor arcana is reflective of that. While you may be more familiar with detailed scenes and symbolism within the minor arcana, you might be a little nervous to see that the pips, as they are known, have no such depictions. Rather than following an symbolic story arc, as they tend to do with the Rider Waite Smith, they gather their meaning from esoteric numerology.
The cards are much less likely to press on you with distinct meanings or interpretations. Because of that, the majority of the meaning that emerges from the minor arcana will be dependent on your ability to follow your instinct, your knowledge of the suits, and numerology. The tradeoff however, if you manage to clear your mind of the meanings of the cards from the Rider Waite Smith system, is that your interpretations can be more personal. From my own experience, working with the Tarot de Marseille has been a lesson in unlearning - stripping meaning down into its most basic of elements.
In This Post: The Seventh Sphere Marseille
Full color plastic Tarot de Marseille deck with rose gold details. Companion app included.
Understanding the Suits in the Tarot de Marseille Minor Arcana
One thing that remains similar between both Marseille and Rider Waite Smith systems is that the suits remain unchanged in their meaning. More or less, they both correspond to the following:
- Wands: Creativity, Action, Willpower
- Cups: Feelings, Relationships, Love
- Swords: Intellect, Thoughts, Ideas
- Coins: Finances, Home, Body
Numerology Within the Tarot de Marseille Pip Cards
When we talk about the pips here, we’re talking about the 40 cards that range from ace to ten for each of the four suits. The court cards are not counted here, and they have their own system of sorts, that we can go over in another date.
The numerology that guides the pip cards is the very same one that we actually see in the first 20 cards of the major arcana for for the Marseille. What happens here is that we’re going to use the first 10 major arcana cards as a foundation for the themes that we see in the pip cards that match their number. For example, the Magician and the Aces are all about beginnings and potential. What you’ll start to notice (hopefully!) is that they actually go through a the same precise and orderly principles.
Aces in the Tarot de Marseille: The First Degree - The Magician
Potential is the main theme here - there is the promise of much to be achieved, but it is still in its latent stages. The archetype is the Magician, who represents willpower, energy, creativity and vitality. We see the same themes applied to the aces but in each of their suits.
- Ace of Wands: New desire to play, move or create. A potential for action.
- Ace of Cups: New desire to socialize, to give, to empathize. Stirrings of love.
- Ace of Swords: New desire to explore ideas. Coming of inspiration.
- Ace of Coins: Something is ready to be cultivated or enriched.
Twos in the Tarot de Marseille: The Second Degree - The High Priestess
From potential, we need time to gestate and develop. The twos represent the quiet gathering of strength, or preparation for the move forward into action. The archetype is the High Priestess, who looks within herself for answers.
- Two of Wands: Preparing for a creative endeavor. Developing abilities.
- Two of Cups: Being reserved about one’s feelings. The beginning of a relationship, acquaintances.
- Two of Swords: Reflecting or researching ideas. Preparing by gathering knowledge.
- Two of Coins: Rest and restoration. Self care and nurturing.
Threes in the Tarot de Marseille: The Third Degree - The Empress
At this stage, the energy that was latent and building in the prior degrees is unleashed - something raw and untamed is coming to fruition - usually a joyous occasion. This suggests the archetype of the Empress, who represents fertility and expression into the material realm.
- Three of Wands: Impulsive and spontaneous action. Start of a voyage or project.
- Three of Cups: Expressing emotions frankly. Sudden outburst of socializing and new friendships.
- Three of Swords: Expressing a new plan or set of ideas. New communication.
- Three of Coins: Making an investment of some kind. New purchase, explosion of physical vitality.
Fours in the Tarot de Marseille: The Forth Degree - The Emperor
Once in the fourth degree, we are firmly rooted in the world - the previous untempered state has developed and been shaped by the laws of nature. There is a certain stability and organization here, represented by the archetype The Emperor, whose task is to bring order, structure and protection to his kingdom.
- Four of Wands: Stable and predictable work. Developing habits and routines.
- Four of Cups: Controlled and stable emotions. Relationships amongst family or community.
- Four of Swords: Orderly analysis of something. Clarity and consistency in ideas and communication.
- Four of Coins: Financial stability. Maintaining health. Keeping an orderly home life.
Fives in the Tarot de Marseille: The Fifth Degree - The Pope
At the fifth degree, we have reached the limits of our earthly realm, and in order to grow, we must look upward. The archetype of the Pope is the mediator between the realms of heaven and earth, and so this degree is about transition, about leaving what is familiar to explore new realms.
- Five of Wands: Expanding and exploration in your projects. Experimentation.
- Five of Cups: New adventures in love and relationships. Exploration of your feelings.
- Five of Swords: Open-mindedness. Willingness to accept new ideas and points of view.
- Five of Coins: Innovation in financial matters. Pushing your body to new limits.
Sixes in the Tarot de Marseille: The Sixth Degree - The Lovers
Pleasure and enjoyment is referenced here in the sixth degree. Here the primary motive is to find that which we are attracted to, and take in the beauty that the world offers us. The archetype of this degree, the Lovers too is concerned with the appreciation of beauty and pleasure.
- Six of Wands: Joy in creativity. Do what you find pleasure in. Enjoying playful activities.
- Six of Cups: Joy in relationships. Nurture connections. Pleasure comes from community or romance.
- Six of Swords: Joy in intellectual stimulation and knowledge. Appreciating communication.
- Six of Coins: Joy in comfort, home, and all things offered by the senses.
Sevens in the Tarot de Marseille: The Seventh Degree - The Chariot
After experiencing the delights of the world, the next step in the journey of spiritual development is taking action - to give back towards the world. This action is typically inspiring and dynamic. In a sense, it is also a mirror of the third degree, but made instead of wild and explosive, it is tempered and focused. The archetype here is the Chariot, which represents all the of qualities defined before.
- Seven of Wands: Trailblazing in your creative projects. Hard work leading to success.
- Seven of Cups: Humanitarian efforts. Giving kindness and love to those who need it.
- Seven of Swords: Teaching, educating others. Sharing knowledge with a larger community.
- Seven of Coins: Expanding your business while running it with compassion and generosity.
Eights in the Tarot de Marseille: The Eighth Degree - Justice
With the eighth degree, we are approaching harmony and full maturity. There is a strong sense of equilibrium here - and as with it’s archetype, Justice, the scales are balanced - all actions have yielded their consequences.
- Eight of Wands: Unimpeded action. Work on your projects is effortless. Actions are in harmony with world.
- Eight of Cups: Compassion and Empathy. A loving and humble nature marked by gratitude and love.
- Eight of Swords: Clarity of thought. Intelligence is expanded. Intuition is open to inner knowledge.
- Eight of Coins: Living in tune with nature. Nourishment of the body and home.
Nines in the Tarot de Marseille: The Ninth Degree - The Hermit
From balance and harmony, inevitably transition must come. The cycle is drawing close to an end, which though is only natural, can also be felt as a loss or a crisis. The key parts of this degree are about letting go, and bringing something to a close. The Hermit is the archetype of this degree, and shepherds you through this stage of isolation and withdrawal from the world.
- Nine of Wands: Ending a creative project. Declining energy or motivation.
- Nine of Cups: Ending a relationship. A period of sadness and mourning.
- Nine of Swords: Releasing old ideologies or beliefs. New doubts.
- Nine of Coins: Decline in health. Closing a business. Moving homes.
Tens in the Tarot de Marseille: The Tenth Degree - The Wheel of Fortune
Here the cycle comes to a close. This degree is about the turn of the wheel that starts this cycle anew - as represented by its archetype, the Wheel of Fortune. It is the degree of both endings and beginnings, which can bring about mixed feelings of completion, fulfillment, excitement, anticipation all at once. In this degree, we find transcendence.
- Ten of Wands: No action is required. Completion of a project. Accomplishment.
- Ten of Cups: A mutual separation. Emotions are resolved. Closure.
- Ten of Swords: Compromise is reached. No longer attached to ideas.
- Ten of Coins: Financial or health goals have been met.
Do you have any other questions about the difference between Marseille and Rider Waite Smith systems? What is the most confusing to you? Leave your question here and I’ll do my best to answer!