Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

September 2006

Tarots of the French “Marseilles” tradition:
Symbolic Organization of the Major Arcana
Jean-Claude Flornoy

Jean-Claude Flornoy was born in 1950 in Paris. He studied philosophy and worked 15 years as a potter-ceramist while also operating an hydraulic power station. He invested 20 years in the study of the Tarots of the French (Marseille) Tradition, and has re-edited hand-colored restorations of the Noblet (Paris, 1650) and Dodal (Lyon, 1701) major arcana. Much of his French-language website ( can be found in English at



The 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot portray by means of images the journey through life, from incarnation to liberation, of an individual. It is a geographical map which describes the inner itinerary of a being over the five phases of existence: childhood, apprenticeship, compagnonnage (the traditional French recognition of competence and technical maturity), mastery and wisdom. The Fool has a special status.

Each arcanum represents a stage along the way, a level of achievement. By examining them one after the other, in order and by groups of four, each with its own phase activator and general atmosphere, we can feel the particular energy which emanates from these images. One may "play at remembering", and find oneself saying, "I, too, have experienced this..." In the end, the reader will perhaps realize that the Tarot is telling the story of his own life.

(click chart to enlarge)
The Tarot “of Marseilles” employed in this arrangement is that of Jean Noblet (Paris, 1650), restored by JC Flornoy from the original preserved in the French National Library.

The Mountebank stands at the entrance to life, and opens the way to the four stages of CHILDHOOD (Papess, Imperatrice, Emperor and Pope). When the teachings of these four models have been assimilated, the child is ready to fly on his own wings.

For the youth, the time of APPRENTICESHIP is signalled by the Lover. Once the heart is open, an individual begins to emerge (Chariot, Justice, Hermit, Wheel of Fortune). This requires severing the bonds of childhood, and embarking on the disordered and often painful quest “to exist”. After the necessary, inevitable deconstruction encountered in X, something new can finally emerge.

Force, which teaches that worldly achievement is not an end in itself, opens onto the phase of COMPAGNNONAGE (Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, the Devil). The being allows space for a plunge into himself and confronts the purge which will permit his deepest energies to at last flow freely. Now in greater harmony with both outer and inner worlds, he finally begins to feel that he really does exist.

The fundamental unifying experience depicted by The House of God opens the way to the phase of MASTERY (Star, Moon, Sun, and Judgement). Henceforth, the being is directly inspired by the celestial worlds. The capacity to employ the forces of matter in the sacred mode has arrived. But he must effect the metamorphosis which will permit him to exert himself in the world, entering into the direct vision of others' suffering and called to help them transform themselves.

With the World, the evolution of the being is complete. WISDOM, the fifth and last phase, depicts a dancing figure. This personage is the anima mundi, or soul of the world, and stands in the center as synthesis and successful realisation of life’s way, an immobile actor, capable of balancing (through him, but without him) the world’s four components of creation.

The Fool stands apart. In conferring no number on him, our past masters wished to indicate that the Spirit could permit the being to awaken at any moment of his life, without having to follow the habitual route. The Fool's total refusal to act and evolve assures him total liberty as well. The being becomes a celestial bum. It is as though materiality fades away, and with it both past and future, leaving only the moment: here and now.

This arrangement has the advantage of harmoniously presenting the various phases of an inner itinerary. Amateurs of numerology and mathematical games will find many curious correspondences.

The mathematical base is 4.
The number 7 is also very important.

If, for example, you add together the outer cards (or inner cards) of each group, you obtain:
first group:7 second group:17 third group:27 fourth group:37

You can also add between opposite groups:
Papess + Devil = 17
Pope + Hanged Man = 17
Judgement + Chariot = 27
Hermit + Moon = 27

There are surely more numerological harmonies to discover in this arrangement.

A more detailed development of the first phases of the “Journey of the Soul” can be found at



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