Marseille Tarot 101: The Magician
Like most people who read tarot in the English-speaking world, I started with the the Waite-Smith deck. However, these days I prefer the Marseille Tarot more and more because it is straightforward and clear and not a convoluted mix of various occult disciplines and symbology as is the case with Waite-Smith (I go into more detail about my approach here).
In this series, I go through the cards of the Marseille Tarot one by one to show you how you can build up your personal interpretation for the cards so you can start reading the tarot with confidence all on your own.
A few tips before we begin
If you’re a beginner who has never read tarot cards in your life, throw out the idea that you won’t be able to understand what the Magician means. As you’ll see in a moment, you’ll only really need to use your eyes and common sense.
If you know how to read tarot, be prepared to put that knowledge aside. Although the standard interpretations for the Magician card aren’t necessarily wrong, they are just one version of what this card can mean, and the one on offer might not be helpful for the question you have. What good will it do you if you read the Magician means “creativity in action” when the question you asked it “Why hasn’t he called?”
The same is true for symbols and history. If you get serious about tarot, it’s important to know where it comes from. Recognizing symbols, like the four evangelists in the corners of the World card is definitely interesting. However, none of this information will actually help you read the cards – in fact, in most cases it will simply be distracting when you get down to actually laying a spread.
Last but no least, unless you are using the tarot to aid in spiritual evolution – which is a valid approach, but personally not my cup of tea – try to use clear, direct language that describes the card in concrete terms. Try to steer clear of abstract, symbolic ideas and archetypes. This last one is admittedly a pet peeve. I’m really sick of Jung…
Understanding the Magician card
Interpreting the Magician card in a Marseille tarot deck is actually really easy: you simply have to look at the card.
Here it is:
Who is this person and what are they doing?
Again, I don’t mean symbolically. The translation of the French will help out a little. Although we call this card the Magician in English (or sometimes the Juggler), according to the Collins French-English dictionary, le bateleur means street performer.
The Magician is a travelling performer, dazzling the crowds with his tricks, a Three-card Monte dealer conning his marks, a storyteller telling fantastically tall tales, short on truth, but long on entertainment.
With this in mind, fill out the following with your own keywords to describe the Magician card. I tend to mix the positive and negative all in one pile, but you can separate them out if you wish:
Other information (movement, gender, form, etc.):
Here’s my list – feel free to add other keywords or take some out. The goal here is to make a list that accurately describes this card, but that you also personally resonate with.
Verbs/actions: trick, deceive, entertain, cheat, act (as in actor), multi-task, perform, create illusions and sleight of hand
Adjectives/personality traits: confident, charming, enthralling, slippery, dishonest, extroverted, good at appearances, narcissistic, youthful, distractor, untrustworthy, adventurous, manipulative, good at reading people, quick, creative, witty, good at thinking on their feet
Professions: performer, con man, master of ceremonies, vagabond, advertising, copywriter, salesman, acting, marketing
Other information (movement, gender, form, etc.): The magician does not appear to be speaking, but is perhaps in the process of performing a trick. With one foot pointed in either direction, he is unpredictable and could go either way; as a vagabond, it’s likely he’ll stay anywhere for long. He’s looking to the right (in a reading later, it later be important to note what draws his gaze). The figure is human, appears to be male, but is rather androgynous and definitely leans towards the non-binary (although this won’t always matter, as “male” cards can represent women and “female” cards men, as well as objects, situations, etc., it still is worth noting).
Once you’ve made your list, jot it down in a notebook to help you later when we start telling stories with the cards. I’ll move on to the second card next week.