Jailbreaking Tarot of the Bohemians by Papus

Tarot, Astrology, and the Four Seasons. Reference diagram from Tarot of the Bohemians (Papus). Click to download high-res image file.

This is a two-part installment of Sightsee the Tarot as we take a tour of Tarot of the Bohemians by Papus, the pseudonym of Gérard Encausse, a French physician and occultist.

Part 1 is lecture only, summarizing the entirety of the text, Tarot of the Bohemians. Part 2 is a hands-on guided workshop of a reading method taught by Papus.

You don’t have to watch Part 1 (lecture only) to work through Part 2 (guided tarot reading method). The two parts can be standalone videos that you watch without the other.

So if you just want to try out the late 19th century reading spread instructed by Papus and don’t much care for an audio-visual summary of Tarot of the Bohemians, then skip Part 1 and go straight to Part 2.

If you’re just here for the audio-visual summary of Bohemians but aren’t in the mood to do a tarot reading right now, then just watch Part 1.

Part 1: Tarot of the Bohemians, Condensed

Skill Level: General (All)

Let’s attempt to jailbreak Tarot of the Bohemians (1889) by Papus, roughly a 400-page book, in under 30 minutes.

I take on the challenge of summarizing the 19th century text in easy, accessible terms (or at least that is my ambition). This installment of Sightsee the Tarot is lecture only.

Fair warning of foreseeable boredom: Papus himself writes in his book that this “first part of our study of the Tarot, full of numbers, of Hebrew letters, and abstract deductions, is not calculated to attract the attention of the ladies.”

So, ladies, you’ve been warned. According to Papus, you’re probably going to find this video boring. =)

Papus makes reference to the three septenaries of the Major Arcana. For a quick and cursory overview of the three septenaries, refer to the below linked PDF handout.

The Three Septenaries

Holistic Tarot Study Guide Supplement

I get into the three septenaries in the free tarot book download, the Medium White Book to the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot deck. Check out the link below. From the Vitruvian Edition of the text, you’ll find a brief overview of the concept starting on p. 24. Then the First Septenary is covered on p. 25; Second Septenary, p. 38; and Third Septenary, p. 50 of the Medium White Book.

SKT’s Medium White Book

Free Tarot Book Download

Tarot of the Bohemians is one of those classic 19th century esoteric texts that die-hard tarot enthusiasts say they want to get around to reading at some point. And then rarely do because most folks today ain’t got time for that. So let me help you out. Sit through this video and it’ll be the next best thing to having actually read the book for yourself.

Part 2: Tarot Divination with Papus

Skill Level: Intermediate & Up

In the last episode, Part 1 of our tour of Papus, I lectured at you and you may or may not have listened to me summarizing the Tarot of the Bohemians in all its arcane glory.

In Part 2 of our Papus tour, we’ll walk through a divination approach from Tarot of the Bohemians where you separate the Minors into the four suits, choose a suit based on the subject matter of the inquiry, cast cards from the suit only, then cast cards from the Majors, all working within a spread that calls upon the Holy Trinity and the quarternary ROTA.

Although you don’t need to have watched the Part 1 lecture to follow along with this reading method, why you’re first forming the quarternary or four-card wheel of cards, then forming the inner trinity of cards, and then, at your option, forming the outermost ring of twelve cards is explained during the lecture.

So Part 1 is theory and here, Part 2 is practicum.

Part 2 is a hands-on guided tarot reading as we workshop the Papus divination method of three tiers. Have your favorite tarot deck and tarot journal on the ready.

For this reading technique, you will need a specific question to read on, so you may want to have that figured out ahead of time as well.

I’m also providing the Meanings of the Cards according to Papus.


TdM Card Meanings Reference

Tarot of the Bohemians (1889)

In the above handout, the sequential order of the cards are in the same order found in Tarot of the Bohemians. The card meanings are consolidated from multiple sections in the text where he makes reference to the noted arcana, with most of it sourced from Chapter XX.

So, following card interpretation instructions from Papus and the provided card meanings handout linked above, to interpret the pips, connect the numerological correspondence with the elemental correspondence.

Papus keeps the card meanings simple. For example, the Five of Sceptres (Wands) would be his indication for Fives (left column above) linked to his indication for the suit of Scepters (right column above), or “Opposition to the obstacles faced in a creative undertaking or enterprise.” In other words, given the double negative here, the Five of Scepters portends victory in overcoming your obstacles.

The Two of Cups would be “Opposition to the commencement of a romantic relationship, spiritual instruction, or the querent’s pursuit of happiness.” Thus, rather than be positively indicative of love as the Two of Cups is commonly interpreted in modernity, according to Papus, the Two of Cups indicates minor challenges or obstructions between lovers, or the start of a love affair being blocked.

The Eight of Swords is “Due to oppositions, partial success of a misfortune, antagonistic force, or adversary.” In Bohemians, Papus further writes out the card meaning for the Eight of Swords as “The enemy only partially triumphs.”

The Six of Pentacles– “Realization of the opposition to a money matter or commercial venture”– is thus misfortune in financial matters. Again, note how the Six of Pentacles is commonly interpreted today compared to what Papus says about the card.

Extra Credit: Compare the Papus handout of card meanings to the earlier Mathers handout. Do a quick two-card paired tarot reading. Consult the previous card meanings from Mathers to interpret your pair. Then consult today’s handout to see how the pair would be interpreted under Papus.

Tier 1 of Your Papus Reading Spread

The four cards a, b, c, and d in the above diagram are the first four cards of your reading spread, completing the first tier or first round of your divination. As the video instructions noted, you set the cards down in the sequence of a, b, c, and d, counter-clockwise, but you will then read the cards clockwise, or a, d, c, and then b.

These cards should be from your selected Minor Arcana suit only. Reminder: You select the suit based on the subject matter of your inquiry, or the subject you want to do a reading about.

From Tarot of the Bohemians (1896) by Papus, trans. A. P. Morton

The Four Card Positions

(a) Current forces at play; the start of the matter; commencement; early development stages

(d) Highest possible point the matter can reach based on current forces at play, based on card (a). Greater purpose of why things are going the way they are.

(c) Most likely outcome at point of maturation; possible challenges, oppositional forces, limitations, or negative aspects may be revealed here.

(b) What’s next; transition period to come after the present cycle comes to its close; matters relating to the turning point or revelations of that point of no return may come up here.

Tier 2 of Your Papus Reading Spread

The three cards I, II, and III forming the trinity within the quarternary will complete the second tier or second round of your divination.

These cards should be from the Major Arcana only.

From Tarot of the Bohemians (1896) by Papus, trans. A. P. Morton

The Three Card Positions

(I) Past influences that have an impact on the matter at hand; what has been created (“The Creator” archetype)

(II) Present position; what has been received (“The Receiver” archetype)

(III) Foreseeable future, most probable outcome, and what the cards are predicting; what’s up ahead and what can be anticipated; how the matter will be transformed (“The Transformer” archetype)

Optional Tier 3 of Your Papus Reading Spread

The “quick reading method” taught by Papus is just Tier 1 and Tier 2 combined. If, however, after completing both rounds you decide you want more information or want to broaden the reading to reveal all aspects of the querent’s present life path, then the third tier or third and final round of the divination consists of twelve cards arranged into the astrological wheel.

These cards are drawn from all remaining unused Minor Arcana cards (all the Minor suits combined and shuffled).

From Tarot of the Bohemians (1896) by Papus, trans. A. P. Morton

The below supplemental handout is intended for those with no background in astrology who still want to give the Tier 3 reading a try. This reference guide will provide rudimentary correspondences for the twelve astrological houses and how to interpret it as a card position in the overall twelve-card spread.


Twelve Houses Reading Spread

Reference Tables and Reading Template

Interested in learning more about the twelve astrological houses and basic Western astrology? The below linked guides can help supplement the above reading template.

The Twelve Houses

Web page Under ‘Astrology Basics’

Understanding the Twelve Houses

Free Astrology Study Guide

Significators (I call them Signifiers)

Traditionally a card, called the significator, is chosen from the deck to stand in for the querent. The below PDF reference guide offers some different methods for choosing a significator card.

Reading with Signifiers (Significators)

Holistic Tarot Supplement

Here are some great articles I found that explain the significator card:

Sightsee the Tarot: Series Page

Click on the Series Page for a List of All Episodes

4 thoughts on “Jailbreaking Tarot of the Bohemians by Papus

  1. Pingback: Sightsee the Tarot: Video Series – benebell wen

  2. Tamara C.

    Here I am again, sightseeing….playing with cards…and down the rabbit hole. This was a very illuminating reading…of course I knew what the cards are telling me, but it was really helpful in that it made me admit some things I didn’t want to look at, and it illuminated – made clearer, steps for me to make this wish of mine…a reality. Thanks again for all you share.
    Love, Tamipie


  3. Pingback: Court de Gébelin’s Tarot Reading Method (1781) – benebell wen

  4. Pingback: The B.O.T.A. Tarot and Paul Foster Case – benebell wen

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