ISIS Tarot de Marseille

ISIS Tarot de Marseille

Artist: Tadahiro Onuma
ISIS (The Institute of Study on Initiation and Symbolism)
ISBN #978-4-88594-446-8

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I want to thank Alec Satin for bringing this deck to my attention. I saw he scans on his blog, and “had to have it”! I purchased the deck directly from Mr. Onuma, with not a little trepidation, because I was not that sure how well Japan’s postal system had recovered from their recent devastating tsunami difficulties. I need not have worried – it came through in record time, and in excellent condition!

The “ISIS Tarot de Marseille” is a traditional, 78 card Marseille-style deck, based on the Nicholas Conver Marseille deck (1760). Where the Conver deck was made from wooden block prints, and therefore appears two dimensional, the ISIS deck is three dimensional.

The colors are absolutely stunning – rich and vibrant, they pop right out at you. Primary colors are used – green, blue, red, yellow and light blue, symbolizing, as noted below, the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) plus flesh. There is a slightly different view of the colors presented by Jean-Claude Flornoy in his restorations. He presents the seven symbolic colors as white, the color of emotional saturation; black, representing the earth; red, representing blood and suffering; blue, representing blows to the body and soul; yellow, representing perseverance; green, representing hope; light blue, representing awareness;

There was no LWB (Little White Book) with this deck, but there was an informational card that reads as follows:

”The Tarot de Marseille is part of a World Heritage in which a spiritual tradition of Southern Europe has successfully been preserved and cultivated since ancient times. It is like a museum on paper where mystical wisdom from ancient Egypt, the Orient, Greece, India and the Celtic and Jewish traditions can be found hidden in symbolism. It is you who will discover the inherent value that resides within the cards.

The oldest Tarot de Marseille can be traced back to the beginning of the 17th Century. It is said that Francois Chosson’s 1672 version defined the basic structures of this particular tarot, and all versions of the Tarot de Marseille after that one include the following characteristics:

1. The proportion of the card is always the equivalent of two equilateral squares joined.

2. There are frames at the top and bottom of each Major Arcana card, containing a Roman numeral at the top and the name of the card in French at the bottom.

3. The number frame for the Le Mat card is blank and the Arcana XIII has no name frame.

4. Each image is depicted in a geometrical composition consisting of three circles, two squares, two triangles and two pentagrams.

One hundred years after Chosson, the Conver version was published in 1760. In the 250 years since, it has become the de facto standard of the Tarot de Marseille.

A wealth of esoteric teachings are embedded in the composition, colors and numbers of this tarot. The colors of the Conver version are green, blue, red, yellow and light blue, symbolizing respectively, earth, water, fire, air and ether of the 5 elements, plus flesh. The ISIS version restores these colors as faithfully as possible.

The Conver version was made with wooden block prints, representing each image two dimensionally. The ISIS version presents the images in third dimension. The ISIS version includes contemporary technology and Japanese aesthetics, making it the most beautiful Tarot de Marseille in the world.”

The cards are approximately 2 ½” by 5”, and the card stock is study and will stand up to use. The backs are a small patterned green, and are reversible.
The card faces show a ¼” white border, followed by a thin black line. The Major Arcana show the card number, in Roman numerals, at the top, with the card title across the bottom in French. The Pips (numbered cards) show the card number, in Roman numerals, centered on the left and right hand side of the card. The Court cards show the title and suit across the bottom. As this is a Marseille-style deck, the imagery on the Pips is limited to the suit icon and minimal embellishments.

The Fool and Strength have an interesting added detail of a bee prepared to sting! What I noticed immediately was the eyes in this deck – they stand out int hat they are focused in a definite direction, and they add emotion to the figures on the cards.

Several of the cards in this deck retain traditional markings: the Two of Deniers (Pentacles) shows the year of publication and the publisher. The Two of Coupe (Cups) shows a Cup in ayellow background at the bottom of the card, the the initials “G” and “M” to the left and right of the Cup as it faces the reader. Le Chariot shows the initials “V.T” on the chariot, between the horses. The Valet de Deniers is labled with the word “France” on the left hand side of the card, and he words “Conver” on the right hand side of the card.

I liked the feel of this restoration. The added dimension to the cards, along with the intensity of the color, makes for some very pleasant reading experiences. I would not hesitate to recommend this deck for any level of student/reader – there is something for everyone here. I also feel that it is an especially good deck for someone new to the Marseille tradition.

© June 2011 Bonnie Cehovet

17 comments on “ISIS Tarot de Marseille

  1. mystereum says:

    Great trepidation overcome with intent to have this deck, Bonnie. More and more I am loving Marseilles decks for their deceptive simplicity, like skeletons that are alive, structure evident and as well hidden for discovery, too. And, in that regard I love that you set up a slideshow in lieu of a group of pictures. Gives the opportunity to explore a sample set card by card in a very attractive and settled presentation.

    On another note, your blog is getting some attention from outside it seems. May be annoying in one sense, but the advertisement at the bottom was also animated and from HP, Packard not Priestess. ;-D The quality of the ad at the bottom that WordPress magnetizes to your page has moved into the mainstream which is positive I would say. . .in regards to ads. Who knows? When I wake up tomorrow and go to WordPress to log in I won’t be surprised if I see your blog featured on Freshly Pressed on the intro Home Page. 😀

  2. […] ISIS Tarot de Marseille Artist: Tadahiro Onuma ISIS (The Institute of Study on Initiation and Symbolism) 2010 ISBN #978-4-88594-446-8 I want to thank Alec Satin for bringing this deck to my attention. I saw he scans on his blog, and “had to have it”! I purchased the deck directly from Mr. Onuma, with not a little trepidation, because I was not that sure how well Japan’s postal system had recovered from their recent devastating tsunami … Read More […]

  3. Jordan –

    Thank you for the comment on the slide-show. I like to show several cards in a review, and to just put them out there, with my lack of techie skills, doesn’t work too well. The slide show is timed (by the app, not by me!) to show the cards for just enough time. 🙂

    Another giant thank you for explaining those ads! My sister brought t hem to my attention, and I was not too pleased, ut knew that I couldn’t do anything about them. You have shown me that there is a positive side to things! That is a huge relief to me!

    Now I have to watch the Freshly Pressed intro page? LOL I never do things like this … and I know that I should! Taking notes from Jordan!


  4. Corniss says:

    How might one order this from Onuma?

  5. Corniss –

    I will e-mail you Mr. Onuma’s e-mail addy.


  6. Corniss says:

    Thank you! We shall see whether I can afford this pretty, pretty thing. And how many of my children I may have to sell in order to do so…

    I always enjoy your reviews and have learned so much from them. They are nearly as addicting as some of the pretty, pretty decks you write about.

  7. Corniss –

    It is not all that expensive, and it arrives in record time. Mr. Onuma(I was concerned about the postal system in Japan after all of their troubles (the nations troubles), but ti got here very quickly, and in excellent condition.),

    Mr. Onuma will not ak for your firstborn. 😉


  8. Corniss says:

    Thanks for the tip-off! I am new to tarot, having started with the RWS, which I like. The Anna K is my second deck, and I am enjoying it too, but I wanted something different, and was advised by gregory on Aeclectic Tarot to “add Thoth and Marseille to [my] arsenal.” The ISIS was the first Marseille deck that spoke to me.
    Ordering in Israel by PayPal from Mr.Onuma is actually simpler than Amazon, as my credit cards are the “wrong”ones, and I like the idea of ordering from the artist, as well as doing my small part to improve Japan’s export trade. (“I” and “J” are next to each other in the alphabet, after all.)
    Anyway, thank you. I plan to continue to enjoy your most fruitful blog.

  9. Corniss –

    You are doing very well with your Tarot decks – taking the time to know what you want, and what will work for you. 🙂 Kudos! Yes, I htought about the fact that I was doing my very small part for the Japanese economy when I ordered the deck. I was very happy to do so, and Mr. Onuma was a delight to work with

    I hope that you continue to enjoy my blog! 🙂


  10. Frater Nm says:

    I would really appreciate being able to own this wonderful deck, as an Ikonographer, and magician this would be very splendid for my use. I have been painting a GD deck I have which is VERY interesting to say the least. But as you said.. this is one I just have to have.
    Caritas, Lux et Vita
    Fratres Navis magister

  11. Frater Nm –

    I have e-mailed Mr. Onuma’s address to you. This deck will be a wonderful addition to your work.


  12. Corniss says:

    My deck arrived today–arrived in Israel 9 days after posting from Japan, and spent 1 day in customs. Kudos to ISIS and the Japanese postal system.

    They are every bit as attractive as you said; the colors are clear without being garish. This is NOT a Disnified version of the Marseilles. The backs are especially pretty in a low-ley way, and the deck size fits comfortably in the hand. Stylish and charming; no wonder people are raving about them. As the song says, “Everything old is new again.”

    I expect learning to read with the Marseilles will be a challenge–no “prompts” fromthe cards themselves except tor the majors–but the ISIS is too pretty to be intimidating.

  13. Corniss –

    That is awesome! I agree with you – the Japanese postal system rocks – as does Mr. Onuma, and his attention to business matters. I am truly impressed!

    I thought that about the Marseille when I first tried to read with it – but I learned quickly to allow the readings to come to me. I would really like to see it used more. All decks have their place, but the Marseille style is minimalist, and encouraging in it simplicity.


  14. Frater Nm says:

    Well I just now ordered my Tadahiro/ Versailles tarot! I must say, he is very prompt, and polite in his e-mails!!! Nice to have a Japanese Hermetic contact!!! 🙂
    I cannot wait to have it!!! Then Im sure once I show all my fellow Golden Dawn/ Rosicrucian Fraters, and Sorors this deck many of them will want one too!! 🙂 After reading “Meditations on the Tarot- a Journey into Christian Hermeticism” a few years back me, and a couple friends went coocoo for the Versailles Tarot!! That is the best book on the esoteric meanings of the Tarot, it is astounding. So Bonnie I give you my thanks for posting this stuff!!! Do you do readings? I do them for myself, but I find that having another read them is beneficial, as it then can be interpreted by someone not as attached, and therefore it is more concise!
    Your friend in the Great Work-
    Frater Navis Magister

  15. Frater Nm –

    I love to see someone this involved in life, this excited about the work they are doing! 🙂

    Yes, I do read professionally, but only for the line that I am contracted to.


  16. Juju says:

    Hi Bonnie, lovely review of a beautiful looking restoration of the Conver version of Tarot de Marseille. A few points though. Chosson’s deck is still a source of dispute about its date of 1672. The decks dating back to these years (Noblet, Vieville and Dodal) have a type of layout and style that is different. The Jean-Pierre Madenie dating back to 1709 is very similar to the Conver and is one of the oldest remaining decks in that style. Many question the fact that almost 40 years would elapse between Chosson’s and other tarots in the same style.

    I also feel that the artist kept some of the Camoin/Jodorowski additions, some of which are really questionable (for instance, the egg behind the Papesse) and even added a bee on some cards like Strength.

    Otherwise I must say I find this deck really appealing.

  17. Juju –

    Thank you for some very interesting comments on this deck! 🙂


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