Subscribe below to receive notification of the latest update.

Subscription options



ATS Newsletters

by author


The Boiardo 15th c Poem
Tarot history in brief

quotations from various people

Functions of Readings
What is Tarot?


Med. on XVIIII

Emily E. Auger

Tarot and Other Meditation Decks

L. Atkinson

Orphalese Software review

S. Arwen

Memory & Instinct

Kathy Berkowitz

Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 1)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 2)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 3)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 4)

Nina L. Braden

Tarot in Literature

David Brice

Birth of Tarot

Colin Browne

Square & Compasses Tarot

Lee A. Bursten

Journeys in Tarot Creation
Vachetta review


Review: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Ross G. Caldwell

Tarot History

Bonnie Cehovet

Tarology - Poetics of Tarot
Review: Secret of Tarot
The Mystereum Tarot

N. Chishty-Mujahid

Concerning Ghisi’s Laberinto

Craig Conley

A House of Tarot Cards

A.B. Crowther

Rachel Pollack interview

Jean-Michel David

On Paneurythmy and Tarot
Tarot's expression of the numinous
Yarker, Tarot & Arcane Schools
Waite-Smith Sun card
The Fool as Wandering Jew
Tarot as Christian Art
Education through Tarot
Tarot: the vatical & the sacral
Fortuna, Ass & Monkey
Steiner and Tarot
1701 Dodal restored!
Enc. Tarot vol I-IV: review
Christ, World & Sin
Caveat Emptor:
       Visual Tarot

Tarot & AlefBeit
Review: Jean Payen Tarot
Tarot and Freemasonry
I-Ching and Pip Cards
Whither directing your course?
Tarot & the Tree of Life
Ovid, Egypt and Tarot
When the Devil isn't the Devil
Four elements and the suits
Court Cards & MBTI
Certification & Codes
Jean Dodal Marseille
Conference FAQs
Golden Dawn
Kabalah & Tarot
Golden Tarot review
Annual spread
Iraqi Museum
Two Brief TdM reviews
Meditations on the Tarot

Enrique Enriquez

The Joy of Wordplay
J-C. Flornoy interview
Embodied Tarot
Indirect Suggestions
Whispering to the Eye

Mark Filipas

History of Egyptian Decks
Lexicon Theory

Jean-Claude Flornoy

in memorium
from Oral Tradition

Roxanne Flornoy

Children and Tarot
from Oral Tradition

Mary Greer

Killing the Thoth Deck
On the Tarot of the Four Worlds
Egypt, Tarot and Mystery School Initiations

William Haigwood

The Sixties: Counterculture Tarot

Alissa Hall

Parlour Tricks

Kris Hadar

The Tarot

Claas Hoffmann

Crowley-Harris 'Thoth' deck

Michael J. Hurst

Tarot Symbolism review

K. Frank Jensen

Century with the Waite-Smith

Shane Kendal

A Poetry of Tarot

Ken J. Killeen

The Metaphysical Bible

Barbara Klaser

Language of Tarot

E. Koretaka

Cardinal Virtues

Dovid Krafchow

Kabbalistic Tarot

Lisa Larson

Perceptions of Spirituality

Suzan E. Lemont

Therapeutic Tarot Work

Eric K. Lerner

Diloggun and Tarot

N. Levine

Tarot of Prague review

C. Liknaitzky

Journey in Ceramics

Joep van Loon

Tarot Wheel

Karen Mahony


S.J. Mangan

Fool, Alef & Orion

Robert Mealing

Petrarch’s Triumphs
Jean Noblet Tarot
Hunting the "true" Marseille Tarot
Cary Sheet

Fern Mercier

Playing the Fool

C. de Mellet

Inquiries into Tarot

Sophie Nusslé

Fantastic Menagerie

Robert V. O'Neill

Tarot Symbolism
Tower Iconology

Michael Owen

Xultun Tarot

Dan Pelletier

Magic Manga Tarot
the Blank Spot

Robert M. Place

The Fool's Journey

Debra Rosenthal

Looking at the Jacques Vieville

Mjr Tom Schick

Tarot Lovers Calendar

Inna Semetsky

Counseling Reading for Spouses
Learning the language of images
Re-Symbolization of Self
Tarot (dis)contents

Diana Sobolewska

'Bateleur's tale'

Russell Sturgess

Jesus's New Testament

N. Swift

Sufism & Tarot

Arthur E. Waite

Symbols of Tarot

Review: The Secret of the Tarot

How the Story of the Cathars Was Concealed in the Tarot of Marseilles

Review by Bonnie Cehovet

Author: Robert Swiryn
Pau Hana Publishing
ISBN 978-061530438-0

The history of the Tarot is quite an interesting one, and one that is often traced by the imagery in the cards. In The Secret of the Tarot, Swiryn attempts to show that somewhere along the line the Marseilles Tarot (a specific style of Tarot that has its roots in early Italian decks) may have come to carry the story of the Cathars, a thirteenth century sect of religious heretics.

In his preface, Swiryn notes that in his opinion, the Marseilles Tarot carries what he terms a classical look, as opposed to more modern decks, which he feels have drifted away from historical authenticity. In his personal studies on medieval history, Swiryn began to recognize connections between historical characters and events of this time period and the images in the Tarot cards. He goes on to say that he feels that both the story of the Cathars, and their spiritual message, seemed to have found a place in the cards. The thesis he formed was that a person, or group of people, found a way to use the Tarot of Marseilles as an instructional vehicle to preserve the story of the Cathar persecution by the Roman Catholic Church and the King of France.

What Swiryn presents here is the story of the Cathars (a look at the Albigensian Crusade, the subsequent Inquisition and the fate of the Cathars), and the supposition that this story is concealed within the Marseilles Tarot imagery.

The book is in two parts: the first part covers the history of the Cathars through the lens of the Roman Catholic church, the medieval Languedoc and the Counts of Toulouse, the Cathars themselves, the Albigensian Crusade and the development of the Tarot. The second part covers the twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot, and attempts to look at what the creators of the Marseilles Tarot had in mind when they designed their cards. Through the lens of historical context, Swiryn attempts to show the connection between the spiritual beliefs of the Cathars and the imagery in the deck.

A great deal of research has gone into this book. People familiar with the Tarot world will recognize names like Robert O’Neill, Stuart Kaplan, Michael Dummett, Paul Huson, and Alfred Douglas. The specific Marseilles Tarot that is used throughout this book is the Nicholas Conver deck. Other illustrations are used to show the symbols and imagery used during this time period, such as a stained glass of the Virgin Mary in Majesty from Notre Dame de Chartres, the bell tower at St. Sernin, and the martyrdom of St. Sernin. These are all reflective of the times that the Cathars lived in.

Would it have been possible for the story of the Cathars to be imbedded in the Marseilles Tarot? On the surface, yes. Cathars could have worked amongst the artisans that cut the wood blocks for the Tarot cards. Probable – no. And if the story of the Cathars was embedded in the cards, it may have been done after their time, by someone else, to simply keep their story alive.

In Part 2, where the cards are presented, the connections that Swiryn makes between the Cathars and the Marseilles Tarot images are, in my opinion, tenuous at best. Tenuous, but worth considering. In the Lovers he attempts to make the case that the imagery was significantly altered from older decks to give it new meaning.

For example, Swiryn surmises that just as the two figures Lovers card in the Visconti-Sforza Tarot are generally accepted to represent the two families, the three figures in the Lovers card of the Marseilles Tarot may point to historical figures within the Albigensian story. He posits that the third figure may represent the French Regent (Blanche of Castille), intervening between Raymond VII (the middle figure) and Beatrice (the younger woman on the right). Another theory presented here is that the Marseilles version of the Lovers was sometimes referred to as the Two Paths, with the figure on the left representing the institutional church, and the figure on the right representing Love.

There are many other instances of information that is offered from a slightly different viewpoint than is generally considered. At the least it is interesting, including the thought that if Cathar history has been encoded in the Marseilles Tarot, that it was done hundreds of years after the demise of the Cathars, perhaps by Cathar sympathizers that were involved in the printing of the decks.

The Secret of the Tarot is written on a level that makes it readily understood by all levels of Tarot student. Between the footnotes and the bibliography, it is easy to see where Swiryn is referencing his material, so that anyone interested in following up with studies of their own may do so. There is one minor glitch, in that Robert O’Neil’s e-book Catharism and the Tarot was inadvertently left out of the bibliography, but it is acknowledged in Swiryn’s footnotes.

For anyone interested in the history of the Cathars, in the Marseilles Tarot, or in Tarot history, this is a book that I would recommend. The ideas presented here may not be universally accepted, but they do offer food for thought.

© December 2010 Bonnie Cehovet

You must be logged in to post a comment.