There’s a very good new book out written by Camelia Elias, a professional tarot reader and professor of American Studies who lives in Denmark. It’s called Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading, published by EyeCorner Press and available through Amazon. There are seven sections: A Question for a Story, The Trumps, The Court Cards and the Suits, The Reading, The Diviner, Carolus Zoya’s Time, and References. It’s illustrated with a one-of-a-kind deck, the Carolus Zoya version of the Tarot de Marseille, ca. 1790 – 1800, from the collection of K. Frank Jensen.
“A Question for a Story” opens with a full-on reading for a woman who sees the reader using her/his cards in a café. We’re immediately drawn into the wonder of what can happen as a tarot session unfolds. Camelia Elias’s attitude in this chapter is a gust of fresh air, remaining open to both the counselling and fortune-telling schools of card consulting, not picking sides. She reminds us that when we read cards we are creating stories based on a dynamic sense of looking at what’s right in front of us. Another gorgeous idea in this chapter is that “The suggestions from the cards don’t always follow the rules of society, and that is a good thing…The cards ring the bell of poetic alternatives.” Liberating!
“The Trumps” is the longest section because the author devotes an average of three pages to each of the 22 major cards. For every one, there is a picture, a succinct reflection based upon the card’s description, some possible keywords, the function of each trump character, health indicators (for health-related readings), and public roles or professions that can be indicated by the card when paired with another. Elias also provides real-life sample readings in which each card played a part, breathing life into the pasteboards and already giving us a glimpse into her mind as a practitioner of tarot. I like that she emphasises the urgency of asking a specific, open-ended question and paying heed to how each card’s figures embody a response to that question. It’s all very grounded.
“The Court Cards and the Suits” focuses, as one might expect, on the 56 non-trump cards. Elias writes that reading the suits relies on common sense — What is a stick for? How does one employ a cup? What were swords designed to be use for? How do people use coins? The qualities and characters of colours, the quantity of emblems on a card, and the natural progression of one state to another — tension and release, increase and decrease, and expansion and contraction — also come into play. The author relies on these logical components in addition to the oral tradition of meanings she calls the cunning folk tradition. I appreciate that Camelia Elias tells us that it pays to be consistent with whatever system or method we choose. This chapter’s wisdom also includes going with tradition without necessarily buying the whole package and to treat the cards like a language rather than like a symbol.
In “The Reading’, we see four ways to lay out and read the tarot: the French Cross, Cards In a Line, Cards In a Line Plus Do and Don’t Do, and an elegant 13-card pattern called The Council. We’re instructed to always begin and end with the subject, to not get sidetracked, and to weave a chronological narrative that makes sense as we let the cards’ images, anchored by the question, unfold poetically. The facility with which the author performs a reading is evident here. “The Reading” is also the chapter in which we read about why we really want to read the tarot and/or have it read for us: to breathe and live freedom, to gain alternative windows into our possibilities, and because humans like to gamble (!). No matter how we lay out the cards, Elias advises us to “read the cards and think ‘life’.”
“The Diviner” takes us into Camelia Elias’s mind, offering us her views on the functions of reading cards and a series of helpful guidelines about how to do so as clearly and effectively as possible. We are counselled to stay close to the question and the cards rather than the person, not fall for a subject’s praise or criticism, be truthful, and not negotiate “meaning”. The reader is prompted to be clear, curious, and humble in order to get to the core of what querents need to know to help them “rise above the ‘impossible’.” In this chapter, I really felt the author’s ardent passion for reading cards.
“Carolus Zoya’s Time” is a poem based on three cards — Empress, Sun, and Stars — from the deck with which the book is illustrated. Upon reading it, I perceived a sense of purpose that bridges the centuries. Beautiful.
“References” is a comprehensive list of books, articles, and online resources including Camelia Elias’s own inspiring Taroflexions blog. From this inventory, you will find enough material to keep you happily reading for a very long time.
I appreciate the directness, clarity, and certainty of purpose expressed in Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading. These qualities renew my hope that there is more to be said and carried out in this enjoyable and noble profession.