It’s not as easy to find good foundation primers on the Marseille system of tarot, so I’m pleased to share Reading and Understanding the Marseille Tarot by Anna Maria Morsucci and Antonella Aloi first published in 2018 by Lo Scarabeo and distributed by Llewellyn.
Morsucci is an Italian writer, former journalist, spiritual and life coach, who has organized numerous astrology and tarot conferences throughout Italy. Aloi is a psychologist, counselor, and director at the Italian Humanistic Counseling Center, with a background in communication sciences.
This is a comprehensive beginner’s guide to the Marseille Tarot that begins by defining what the tarot is: a deck of 78 cards grouped into 22 Major Arcana numbered 1 to 21 with an unnumbered or designated 0 Fool card, placed either at the beginning or end of the Major Arcana sequence, plus 56 Minor Arcana cards subdivided further into four suits– Wands, Swords, Chalices, and Pentacles.
The Wands (or Staves) represent energy, creativity, progress, ambition, and strength. This is the manual activity of peasants and laborers.
The Swords are connected to mental and spiritual development– humanity’s intellectual capacity and courage to overcome obstacles. They also represent armaments– our weapons for battling the conflicts we face, and in terms of social class, designate the nobility and the military.
The Chalices (or Cups) are the clerics, and further, are connected to female aspects, the uterus, the breast, the functions of a mother, maintaining life, and nourishment.
And finally, the suit of Pentacles (or Coins) are connected to the social class of merchants, the material world, finances, resource security, the physical body, friendships, your work, and family stability. These are the attributes assigned to the four suits, as noted in the book.
In each suit there are 10 numerical cards, Ace to Ten, and four court figures: the Page, the Knight, the Queen and the King.
“A tarot deck is a book of images where the interpretation is connected to a precise narrative and symbolic code that has passed through the centuries,” writes Marsucci and Aloi. A quote from Carl Gustav Jung describing the tarot is given:
“These are psychological images, symbols you can play with, just as the subconscious seems to play with its contents…they combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of certain events in the story of humanity….and therefore [the game of Tarot] is adapted to an intuitive method that aims to understand the flow of life, perhaps also to predict future events, events that present themselves to the reading of the conditions of the present moment…”
The tarot, writes the authors, began during the Renaissance as a game of entertainment, from taverns to princely courts. Images and symbols are taken from common tropes of the time and the sum of traditions that make up “a figurative repertoire” of the West. The Trumps were a Biblia pauperum, or a poor person’s Bible, and so the tarot was intended to be as instructive and educational as it was intended to be recreational.
I love seeing the association the authors made between XV Arcanum, the Devil and the Burney Relief of the winged goddess Inanna. Arcanum VII The Chariot as depicted on the Marseille is compared to a stone relief of Alexander’s Flight.
The title “Marseilles Tarot” wasn’t introduced until around 1930 by the Grimaud company under its director, Paul Marteau. The “Marseilles Tarot” by Grimaud was a new version of the 1760 Conver deck, whereby its full printed title was “Ancient Tarot of Marseilles.”
Numerology is one of the key cornerstones to interpreting the Marseille, and this book gives a great breakdown of anchoring your understanding in the numbers. Geometric attributions, keywords, and the role each number plays in the tarot architecture are provided in an organized, cogent format.
You then get a breakdown of the recurring symbols in the Arcana, sourced from the Bible, natural elements, astrology, mythology, and Platonic themes, such as what angels depicted in the cards indicate, or when figures feature a beard, or belt, cloak, collar, columns, etc.
For each card entry on the Major keys, you’ll see a full-color image of the card for reference, a description of the imagery in italics, a section titled Interpretation, followed by Questions to reflect on when the card comes up for you, some Keywords for quick reference, and then the card image deconstructed into its main Symbols.
In The Empress card, for example, the four main symbols are the throne, the crown, the scepter, and the shield. Finally, the entry concludes with a Message from the personality or character of the card.
The Minor Arcana cards are given due treatment as well. Again, there’s the italicized full description of the symbols on the card, then a section for Interpretation, followed by Keyword, and the essential Message conveyed by the card. The Message of the Two of Wands, for example, is: “Every action must take into account the reaction that it is able to generate.” For the Three of Wands: “It’s time to act. The ideas and projects should be put into practice.”
The numerical (pip) cards don’t feature the Questions section like the Major keys, but this section returns in the court cards. For example, in the Knight of Swords, the question for self-reflection is: For whom or what is [the Knight of Swords] fighting? How you respond to that question will frame how you interpret this card in your reading. For the Queen of Swords: How will she deal with her condition?
The book concludes with really great pointers on how to interpret a card reading. You can approach a reading through a series of thought-provoking questions. Some of those questions to integrate are:
- How does this card resemble me?
- To what extent do I feel similar to this person or situation in life?
- Which are the more benevolent meanings I can attribute to this card?
- Which are the more critical meanings I can attribute to this card?
- What about this card is inspiring hostility or resistance from me?
I also love the quick metaphysical and spiritual practice tips the book provides, like keeping heliotrope close to your deck to amplify its clairvoyant abilities, or lapis lazuli to increase psychic connections, agate to combat anxiety, tiger’s eye to increase success, etc.
Finally, there’s a short chapter that instructs on a handful of spreads.
The book concludes that the tarot “cannot be viewed as a mere parlor game or bait for the gullible,” but these cards “are friends that ease the process of listening to ourselves and others.”
This gem of a hardcover book by Lo Scarabeo is a great go-to for those who want to learn the Marseille deck. The card meanings section is comprehensive, diverges from how you read the more popular Rider-Waite-Smith, and will walk you through the different building blocks to interpreting Marseille.
There’s a focused study on the elements, the numerology, the key symbols you’ll find on the cards and how to work with recurring symbols. For anyone looking to stock their personal library with tarot books specific to the TdM, you’ll want to get Marsoucci and Aloi’s Reading and Understanding the Marseille Tarot.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received this book from publisher for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the book.
3 thoughts on “Reading and Understanding the Marseille Tarot by Marsucci and Aloi”
Dear Benebell, thank you, great information, Ed
Have you read The Marseilles Tarot Revealed by Ben-Dov? If so, how do you think they compare?
Wow, thanks for this tip! Looks like a must-have. When I first started getting into Tarot many (many) years (decades) ago, I could not connect with most ‘TdM’ decks – except the early Visconti decks, which have always been my favorites. But in recent years I have become obsessed with all the various (minor and major) differences between these ancient decks, This book seems like it pulls a lot of that together.