In 1940 and 1941 André Breton, widely considered the founder of Surrealism, and a group of like-minded individuals (René Char, Oscar Dominguez, Victor Brauner, Max Ernst, Jacques Hérold, Wilfredo Lam, André Masson, Benjamin Péret) decided to design their own deck of tarot cards. The deck they finally came up with was executed in a remarkably pleasing, almost ligne claire style. In accordance with the mindfuckery inherent to Surrealism, the group rejected the courtly/medieval theme of the traditional deck and nominated their own heroes to represent the face cards, including Hegel, Freud, the Marquis de Sade, Baudelaire, and so on.
(A quick clarification: It seems evident that this is a deck of playing cards or possibly a hybrid of tarot and playing cards. Sources seem unequivocal in describing the deck as a tarot deck, and so that’s what we’re going with too.)
The Surrealist deck of cards suggests a kind of post-Enlightenment, left-wing, revolutionary, intellect-based cosmology. So the royal hierarchy of King, Queen, and Jack was replaced with “Genius,” “Siren,” and “Magus,” this last word accentuating the occult roots of the project. Rejecting the traditional clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds as well as the traditional tarot suits (wands, cups, swords, and discs), the group invented its own symbolism, with flames and wheels constituting the red suits and locks and stars being the black ones. Flames represented love and desire; wheels represented revolution; stars represented dreams; and locks represented knowledge.
Brilliantly, for the joker, the group selected Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (bottom).
Genius of flames: Baudelaire
Siren of flames: Marianna Alcofardo (author of Letters of a Portuguese Nun)
Magus of flames: Novalis
Genius of locks: Hegel
Siren of locks: Hélène Smith (nineteenth-century psychic)
Magus of locks: Paracelsus (Renaissance physician and occultist)
Genius of wheels: De Sade
Siren of wheels: Lamiel (from Stendhal)
Magus of wheels: Pancho Villa
Genius of stars: Lautréamont
Siren of stars: Alice (from Lewis Carroll)
Magus of stars: Freud
Posted by Martin Schneider |