Jodo and Me: A Comparative Examination of the Tarot de Marseille “Pip” Cards
As I re-read Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Tarot de Marseille book, The Way of Tarot, I’m finding it more compelling than I did the first time through, when it seemed too quirky and surrealistic for my taste. I’m getting a better feel for his impression of the TdM pip cards and thought it would be a good idea to try reconciling my own unconventional take on them with his, recognizing that some of the differences may well be irreconcilable. Jodorowsky’s numerological basis seems to be essentially Pythagorean, while I have long drawn my own inspiration from the Qabalistic “Tree of Life” model and the ideas of Aleister Crowley in addition to those of Pythagoras. Jodo largely rejects esoteric correspondences, while I’m inclined to agree with my online acquaintance, Dan Pelletier of Tarot Garden, who once observed that, just because those correspondences don’t always make sense as presented in the Golden Dawn system, “it doesn’t mean they don’t work.”
Jodorowsky apparently constructed his basic keyword statements for the pip cards by combining suit and number theory with mystical and ontological reflection, while I expanded on that approach by bringing in my observations about the visual interaction between the suit emblems and the decorative embellishments as discussed in my previous posts. For the most part, I find Jodo’s suggested meanings rather slender from a philosophical perspective, to the point of being negligible in many cases; I doubt that I would use them in practice. It seems obvious that, like A.E. Waite, most of his interest lay in the trump cards and to a lesser extent in the court cards. My own insights were drawn from the following model:
Aces: An anticipated beginning.
Twos: A period of give-and-take.
Threes: A period of growth and progress.
Fours: A period of consolidation.
Fives: A period of challenge and upset.
Sixes: A period of harmony restored.
Sevens: A period of renewed initiative and testing.
Eights: A period of adjustment and reaction/overreaction.
Nines: A period of re-centering and reconciliation.
Tens: A period of rest and relative inactivity.
With that introduction I will plunge into a card-by-card analysis of the two approaches. After each pair I have provided my comments on their relative congruity and sympathy or lack thereof. Before I start, though, I want to acknowledge that many of Jodo’s observations may seem drably pedestrian and philosophically bereft, but in truth they are intentionally limited in scope and don’t remotely reflect his complex and subtle intelligence. He was “thinking in monochrome” here in the interest of brevity and with the aim of delineating his numerological inferences for the purpose of divination; later in the book he goes into a much more nuanced analysis of the metaphysical underpinnings of the pips. To the same end, my sole objective here is “keyword matching” between his abbreviated definitions and my own, which are also backed up by more detailed discussion elsewhere. It will be advisable to leave any “Rider-Waite-Smith” baggage behind when entering here; this is purely a Tarot de Marseille deliberation.
Ace of Batons:
Jodo: Creative and sexual energy in the state of potential.
Me: The Ace shows the simple urge to act according to one’s instincts, unmindful of obstacles or consequences.
Commentary: “Creative potential” and an“urge to act” that is as yet unfulfilled are not incompatible ideas.
2 of Batons:
Jodo: Puberty, accumulation of sexual energy.
Me: The Two suggests reciprocal action in the service of mutual self-interest: “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”
Commentary: Jodo’s assumption that the Batons are predominately sexual in nature permeates his entire narrative, while I choose to take them into the realm of ambition and entrepreneurial acumen. Both assume the marshaling of creative energy, although where Jodo suggests a state of anticipation or tension in the 2 of Batons I see directed action.
3 of Batons:
Jodo: The first pleasure, the first creation. First sexual experience. Sometimes premature ejaculation.
Me: The Three reflects the frictionless momentum arising from perfectly balanced and coordinated action; it invokes the vision of a child’s top spinning effortlessly on a table.
Commentary: Jodo focuses on the realization or culmination of desire while I dwell on the dynamic symbolism of the number Three in the preeminent suit of initiative.
4 of Batons:
Jodo: Regular sexuality (routine?). A saint who always performs the same miracles, an artist who repeats the same works.
Me: The Four indicates the opportunity for purposeful, well-chosen and timely action; “strike while the iron is hot.”
Commentary: Jodo assumes a wasteful redundancy of effort while I see an “engine” of purpose and productivity.
5 of Batons:
Jodo: Appearance of a new desire.
Me: The Five conveys the misfortune of poorly coordinated, uninspired or ill-timed action that is likely to incite stiff opposition.
Commentary: Jodo’s take on all of the Fives is that they represent something “new” in line with the nature of the suit. I see the Fives as an unbalanced expression of forced change and its consequences; it may leave something new and different in its wake but it could just as easily yield conflict and turmoil.
6 of Batons:
Jodo: Total creative and sexual pleasure.
Me: The Six depicts action for the simple joy of acting; the “green light” or “all systems go” card signaling no need for hesitation, “just do it.”
Commentary: “Creative pleasure” and the “joy of acting” are not incompatible ideas.
7 of Batons:
Jodo: Total sexual and creative action toward the Other.
Me: The Seven implies having one’s hand forced by circumstances; it shows acting in spite of serious doubts about that course of action.
Commentary: Jodo sees this card as being outward-directed with collaborative intent; I think of it more as having little choice in matters of self-preservation.
8 of Batons:
Jodo: Concentration of the energy that allows the emergence of magic, desire and creation.
Me: The Eight displays precipitous action with no backup plan or safety net; a “seat-of-the-pants” scenario that, due to a lack of groundwork (no foliage), can signify retreat as easily as advance.
Commentary: Jodo views Eight as a number of “perfection,” so all his interpretations lean toward the positive. I see it as more reactionary or remedial in response to the off-kilter thrust of the Seven; the prudent action may well be compensatory rather than confirmatory.
9 of Batons:
Jodo: Fundamental creative choice: to leave one thing to make or do another.
Me: The Nine advises pulling in one’s horns and waiting for a better opportunity.
Commentary: Both of these suggest a judicious adjustment to circumstances, so there is no conflict.
10 of Batons:
Jodo: Creativity touches the spirit.
Me: The Ten foresees a hard-won victory after “pulling out all the stops.”
Commentary: Jodo’s interpretation seems too abstract and bland for the suit of Fire. I don’t see the Tens as “touching the spirit” until they are transmuted into the Ace of the next suit; in that sense they “prefigure” but don’t yet embody it. (This could just be a matter of semantics.)
Ace of Cups:
Jodo: Our entire emotional life is contained therein, with infinite possibilities for loving and hating.
Me: The Ace indicates a surge of emotion, a momentary rapture that can evaporate as soon as it peaks
Commentary: Although Jodo is more inclusive in his assumptions, I don’t see any incongruity here.
2 of Cups:
Jodo: Amorous daydreaming: “I don’t know what love is but I am getting ready for it.”
Me: The Two shows a nascent willingness to engage emotionally, more a besotted promise than a binding pledge
Commentary: These are compatible interpretations, although mine is less hopefully ingenuous.
3 of Cups:
Jodo: First ideal and romantic love — before the lovers move in together.
Me: The Three is passionate and ready to jump in with both feet
Commentary: The ideas of “ideal and romantic” and those of “passionate” and “impulsive” are not inconsistent.
4 of Cups:
Jodo: Emotional stability; family, fidelity, solid friendship.
Me: The Four brings a serene but spiritless sense of gratification
Commentary: “Stability and solidity” are conducive to “serene gratification;” “spiritless” speaks to the becalmed emotional state that can ensue. Any disparities in meaning are minor.
5 of Cups:
Jodo: Ideal love, emotional fanaticism. Amorous temptation.
Me: The Five seems pinched and duty-bound; we might say that “duty is the death of love.”
Commentary: Jodo’s sense of “ideal” romance does not square well with the tumultuous, driven nature of the Five (which he acknowledges elsewhere in the book), unless we see it as “fateful.” Fanaticism and temptation are more likely results of imbalance.
6 of Cups:
Jodo: Meeting one’s kindred soul, mirror love.
Me: The Six is wallowing in self-love and doesn’t care who knows it
Commentary: Seeing the Other as a mirror of the Self could be considered conceited and a distorted projection of self-love. (I should mention that I’m not a believer in “soul mates” or “twin flames.”)
7 of Cups:
Jodo: Love at work in the world: humanitarian activities, for example.
Me: The Seven is emotionally unresponsive and needs a crowbar to pry open its feelings
Commentary: Jodo’s assumptions are more optimistic than mine. I view this Seven as conflicted and provisional, more prone to false starts than proactively resolute in its expression. The glass is still half-empty and awaits “topping off.”
8 of Cups:
Jodo: Fullness of heart.
Me: The Eight is ambivalent and unsure how to feel, if at all.
Commentary: The “perfection” of the Eight looms large in Jodo’s estimation here, but I think that Nine better represents the perfection of its suit. This Eight “stands pat” and is not eager to act in its own behalf or that of anyone else.
9 of Cups:
Jodo: Leave one emotional world to establish another.
Me: The Nine has “too many fish to fry” and doesn’t know where to begin; it also suggests the “busybody” or meddler in other people’s emotional affairs.
Commentary: There is a sense of shifting priorities in both interpretations that is not incongruous.
10 of Cups:
Jodo: With one’s love life fulfilled, it is time to move into action.
Me: The Ten resembles a series of waves about to hit a breakwater; it could mean “running interference” for a major emotional breakthrough, although stubborn resistance to any such development is more likely — feelings are running high but the dam will most likely hold back the flood; in more positive terms, it can show the need to maintain a “stiff upper lip” in the face of an incoming emotional tsunami
Commentary: Jodo seems ready to “lower the lifeboat” here and escape to the next adventure, leaving emotional complacency behind, but I suggest that the “Captain is still manning the bridge” in the teeth of a gale.
Ace of Swords:
Jodo: All thoughts are possible. What we think becomes reality.
Me: The Ace is the “bright idea” card showing a thought process that is completely fluid at that point, unconstrained by practical considerations (the concept of “brainstorming” begins here).
Commentary: These ideas are not incompatible.
2 of Swords:
Jodo: Accumulation of thought. Reveries without action or mental structure.
Me: The Two with its robust central flower implies a strategic outreach or offer (one-on-one communication such as a visit, phone call, message or letter);
Commentary: Jodo sees the Twos as additive and relatively inert, while I think of them as weakly dynamic within their narrow sphere of influence (here it is intellectual dialogue).
3 of Swords:
Jodo: Budding, strong mental activity. Intellectual enthusiasm, fanaticism.
Me: The Three suggests a painful realization that accord is unlikely;
Commentary: Jodo invokes the creative vigor of the number Three in the mental realm, but for me the 3 of Swords suggests differing opinions, all of which must be heard and which might therefore lead to a stalemate.
4 of Swords:
Jodo: Rational ideas. System of thought that makes it possible to understand the world, “square” mind.
Me: The Four speaks of a bridge-building “good faith” follow-up to the Two, bringing good will and a spirit of compromise to the bargaining table, with each party negotiating from a position of strength;
Commentary: These ideas are perhaps more complementary than congruent. Having a “square mind” facilitates holding a “position of strength” in any battle of wits.
5 of Swords:
Jodo: A new knowledge appears, a new study presents itself.
Me: The Five sows argument and discord.
Commentary: Fundamental numerological symbolism from Jodo here: Five = “New” (more generally, a radical change) and Swords =“Knowledge” or “Study.” I see it more as disruptive of the status quo, acting as a kind of “wedge” to move stubborn adversaries toward a showdown.
6 of Swords:
Jodo: Joy of thinking.
Me: The Six shows the benefits of taking a strong-willed stance,“sticking to your guns” after examining all sides of an issue;
Commentary: Jodo at his most numerologically basic: 6 = “Pleasant” and Swords = “Thoughts.” I’m pursuing the exhaustive analytical angle myself.
7 of Swords:
Jodo: Thought finds its highest attainment in becoming receptive.
Me: The Seven alludes to a departure from the norm (highly original or visionary thinking);
Commentary: “Receptive thought” is not antithetical to “original or visionary thinking,” although I think that Jodo could be a bit less drily academic in his assessment.
8 of Swords:
Jodo: Realization of the empty mind during meditation.
Me: The Eight advises a well-reasoned equanimity, favoring the “benefit of the doubt” over adamant opposition; discretion is paramount (note the overbearing swords, the shrunken maneuvering room and the demure blossom shorn of its leaves);
Commentary: Jodo seems to be talking about the “perfect silence” of a quiescent mind that is the goal of Eastern meditation, in which ambition evaporates. Exercising discretion, on the other hand, is a matter of conscious choice.
9 of Swords:
Jodo: Illumination and positive crisis. New mental insight.
Me: The Nine imparts a sense of staving off oppression.
Commentary: The core principle in each case is a “crisis” that elicits a spirited reaction.
10 of Swords:
Jodo: The intellect, full of love, learns how to listen.
Me: The Ten implies the interjection of critical thinking from unexpected quarters (the flower is untouched and the intruding sword-points remain within the core, suggesting that their input will be “taken under advisement”).
Commentary: I can see the 10 of Swords as instructive but I certainly can’t see any “love” in it; Jodo’s perception of intellectual fullness seems more pathologically engorged and in need of a purge, something my interpretation furnishes.
Ace of Coins:
Jodo: Material potential: health, money, house, work . . .
Me: The Ace signifies a gambit, the first move in any deal-making scenario; it rewards self-reliance and grit of the “dirt-under-the-fingernails” ilk
Commentary: Jodo stays safely within the tradition here while I put a sharper point on it.
2 of Coins:
Jodo: A contract in preparation, not yet signed. Promises.
Me: The Two involves negotiation and a trade-off of some kind; it could also mean a juggling act, such as “balancing the books”
Commentary: “Contract negotiations” are central to both interpretations.
3 of Coins:
Jodo: New job, first clients, first day after an operation or house renovation, onset of puberty or menstruation.
Me: The Three symbolizes the need to “plan the work” and the ability to convert that plan into reality.
Commentary: Jodo seems rather blandly mundane here and doesn’t really capture the constructive potency of the Three. I see it as the quintessential card of “creative planning” with successful implementation to follow in due course.
4 of Coins:
Jodo: Good health, sufficient salary, stable company.
Me: The Four implies stability in all material things, but also the associated risk of succumbing to inertia
Commentary: “Stability” is the operative factor in both interpretations, so there is no disagreement in meaning other than the risk of stagnation in my case.
5 of Coins:
Jodo: Introduction of new consciousness into matter, new section of a company, yoga classes.
Me: The Five conveys poor judgment and wasted effort with little to show for it; in the worst case it could mean dishonesty, such as “cooking the books;” alternatively, breaking out of the financial doldrums without regard for consequences could be indicated (i.e. impulsively taking or quitting a job)
Commentary: There is little commonality here. Jodo implies that the disruptive nature of the Five ushers in an opportunity for innovation (i.e. “breaking eggs to make omelets”), while I see it as incompatible with economic common sense.
6 of Coins:
Jodo: Pleasure of prosperity.
Me: The Six shows the pursuit of success for its own sake, not for what can be accomplished with the proceeds; thus, a purely mercenary undertaking is indicated.
Commentary: The “pleasure of prosperity” and “success for its own sake” are entirely compatible.
7 of Coins:
Jodo: Materialization of the spirit and spiritualization of matter. Alchemical work.
Me: The Seven suggests leveraging one’s assets rather than simply hoarding them; unfinished business that needs to be concluded is another likely scenario
Commentary: Leveraging one’s assets (i.e. putting them to purposeful use) compares favorably to the decisive acts of “becoming” implied by “materialization” and “spiritualization.”
8 of Coins:
Jodo: Healthy prosperity, sound health.
Me: The Eight inspires cautious optimism about monetary matters; also, the possible need for a competent financial advisor or agent to assist with one’s affairs.
Commentary: Consistent with his understanding of the number Eight, Jodo sees no encumbrances in this card. I expect a measure of hobbled progress due to financial uncertainty.
9 of Coins:
Jodo: Birth as part of the end of the world.
Me: The Nine emphasizes gain from the disciplined pursuit of one’s goals; undeserved entitlement is not “in the cards”
Commentary: Jodo is alluding to the nine-month period of human gestation, where one way of life succumbs to another. I consider this card to show the rewards of persistence and thoroughness.
10 of Coins:
Jodo: Prosperity engenders creativity
Me: The Ten is a card of well-earned rest from labor, but also of humdrum domesticity
Commentary: Jodo is again talking about transcending an established but perhaps moribund state in favor of engineering a creative renaissance. I think this card is more about the wages of exhaustion that can shadow those of material achievement.