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Madeline Montalban & Tarot Divination 1

November 9, 2012

My associate Tony Willis has gathered together the divinatory meanings of the tarot Trumps from The Complete Book of Fortune. This is the book to which Madeline Montalban turned for inspiration when writing her tarot articles for Prediction. More often than not she quotes The Complete Book of Fortune verbatim. At other times she makes do with an edited version. She handles the major and minor arcanas alike.

I am only publishing the meanings for the Trump cards. The significances assigned to these cards in the 1930s and those associated with the Trumps today are in broad agreement. In both cases, The Tower indicates a calamity, great or small, though a modern book of instruction may dwell more on the psychological consequences of suffering from an upset or setback. Again, in both cases, The Empress denotes fertility on whatever level – the expansion of a business, growth of investments, the birth of a child.

No such parallel exists when we turn to the minor arcana. The meanings in The Complete Book of Fortune predate the advent of the Waite-Smith tarot cards. In no way do they derive their significance from the illustrations on the spot cards  that are such of feature of the Waite-Smith deck. The Complete Book of Fortune meanings are thus almost anachronistic in the eyes of the average twenty-first century tarot student. Readers interested in Miss Montalban’s methods will find all 56 meanings for the minor arcana cards posted on the blog over the coming months. Miss Montalban recounts every one of them in the second half of the series on Initiation and the Tarot. Anyone who cannot possess their soul in patience until the entire series has been posted here is advised to purchase a copy of the book, details of which can be found at the end of Tony Willis’s contribution. A.T.

The Magician or Juggler

In divining, the Juggler represents the inquirer himself, should the latter be a man; but if the inquirer is a woman, this card must be taken to indicate a change of position, favourable if the card is upright, but unfavourable if it is reversed. If this card is reversed in the case of a male inquirer, it signifies – unless modified by favour­able cards in the vicinity – that he will always be more or less at odds with life and the world.

[There is no indication that Miss Montalban used the Magician and High Priestess cards as significators in the way suggested by The Complete Book of Fortune. She took, instead, the other meanings it offered and applied them across the board no matter what the gender of the enquirer was. Depending on the question posed, she might take up the implication that the querent is, at the time of the reading, Fortune’s darling and give “You are in command of the situation” as Trump 1’s meaning. At other times, she leans in the direction of “a favorable change of position” and states that the card signifies a fortunate turn of events in the querent’s love life, financial affairs or health prospects according to the type of query under review.

Of the reversed card, she would say: “Your plans are not well favoured. Abandon if possible. If not, do not pin your hopes too high.” Alternatively, a negative turn of events was anticipated with the same advice attached: “Abandon your plans if possible. If you cannot or will not do so, do not hold out high hopes of success.”]

The High Priestess or Female Pope

The High Priestess represents the female inquirer, who cannot be regarded as Fortune’s favourite if this card is upside down. If the inquirer is a male, however, this arcanum stands for knowledge, occult science, mysticism, divination and esoteric practices. Reversed, it means unhappy consequences resulting from occult studies.

[For the High Priestess, Miss Montalban suggests the meaning: “inspired thought and action.” Given that she understands the card to signify occult messages, dream-learning or spiritual inspiration, the four word phrase is perhaps to be interpreted as “inspired thought prompts the right action.” In reverse, the opposite applies: “Occult messages, dreams, or spiritual inspiration may not prove reliable” and any action based on knowledge derived from the Inner Planes is therefore likely to lead one down a blind alley.

Today, the tendency is to speak, not of “spiritual inspiration”, but of “intuition” as an appropriate meaning for Trump 2. Upright: intuition guides you well. Reversed: intuition plays you false.

Miss Montalban also saw the High Priestess in reverse as a symbol of infatuation when the question concerned love matters.]

The Empress

She represents woman and the female principle embodied in fertility and domestic happiness, and from which spring action, initiative and life itself. Reversed, she presages disharmony and lack of union, leading to stagnation and sterility – conditions which, however, may be modified by any neighbouring cards of favourable influence.

The Emperor

This arcanum, which is the com­plement of the preceding one, represents man, together with his positive attributes, such as will-power, authority, strength and courage. Reversed, it shows the softer aspect of the stern masculine nature, and expresses benevolence, clemency and pity.

The High Priest or Pope, latterly called the Hierophant

The Pope, sometimes (erroneously) Jupiter, represents strength, wisdom, inspiration, intelligence, asceticism. Reversed, it counsels the inquirer to be on his guard against craftiness and guile.

The Lovers

This card expresses love and all that treats of the affections, as well as hesitation, indecision and instability, symbolized by the vacillating attitude of the youth [depicted on the card]. Reversed, the card shows love troubles, heartache and a broken romance, and extreme inconstancy of purpose.

The Chariot

This card symbolizes victory, triumph over snares and obstacles, and the help and protection of Providence. Reversed, it indicates discouragement, quarrels, defeat.

Justice (numbered 8)

This card stands for justice, right, integrity, imparti­ality, balanced judgment and arbitration. Reversed, it means legal trouble, loss and an adverse judgment or decision.

The Hermit

Prudence and wisdom are the leading ideas conveyed by this card; badly aspected by other cards, however, it enjoins the necessity of secrecy, watchfulness and caution against hidden enemies and subtle intrigues. Reversed, it signifies timidity, fear and excess of caution.

The Wheel of Fortune

This card . . . illustrates how both good and evil in turns have equal shares in determining the destiny of man, and how one may be lifted from obscurity to a pinnacle of good fortune and let fall remorselessly when this apogee has been reached. Thus, in a good position, it is very favourable indeed; but if badly aspected by other cards or reversed, unfortunate influences will delay the achievement of one’s aims.

Strength (numbered 11)

It promises victory and the attainment of the end in view to those who know how to direct their natural gifts and will-power into the right channels, and who persevere in their efforts with unflagging energy. Reversed, it means vain and fruitless striving, dissipation of energy and abuse of power.

The Hanged Man

He represents trials, vicissitudes, charity and, above all, self-denial and personal sacrifice. A reversed card implies that this sacrifice is wasted; it also gives warning of accidents and the risk of violent death.

[In her Tarot articles, Miss Montalban repeats all the above meanings with the exception of ‘charity’. It is a significance that comes into British tarot lore from France and it was not well understood on the British side of the Channel. Little wonder, then, that Miss Montalban laid it aside when she came to write about this card in Prediction. It refers, not to the giving of alms, but to love. (Charity comes from a Greek word meaning Love.) In particular it signifies love of one’s fellow human beings. Almost every type of sacrifice made is rooted in this kind of love – the love of a parent for a child, of a sister for a brother, a husband for a wife, a soldier ‘for king and country’.]


This arcanum is a very evil omen, as the number of the card – fateful 13 – portends; it threatens serious loss, and should serve as a warning to the inquirer to postpone for a time any important action or enterprise which he may have been contemplating. If the card appears reversed, its portent is more sinister still; the inquirer should look to his health.

[We are given a rare insight into Miss Montalban’s adaptation of The Complete Book of Fortune meanings in her article The Tarot and the Change called Death (Prediction, July, 1957). First she tells her readers:

“More often than not, when this card comes up in a Tarot reading, it does not imply the death of a person, but only a complete change of circumstance.”

Later she adds:

“When Death shows up, and [the meaning ‘a death’] is not supported by other testimonies, what does the card portend? It is safe to say that it usually forecasts the passing of certain conditions; or even a removal from one place to another; or again, the ending of one thing to allow another series of events to begin.”

A disruptive influence, Trump 13 tends to upset one’s plans when it appears in a reading, as the entry in The Complete Book of Fortune makes plain. When reversed, the card is even more disturbing in its effects, though it will still fall short of signifying death if other factors in the spread countermand this interpretation.]


This beautiful allegory stands for fruitfulness, action, life and vitality, tempered, however, with wisdom and restraint. It is a fortunate card and often fore­shadows a rich marriage. When in a reversed position, the symbolism of this arcanum loses its restraint, and fruitfulness degenerates into dissoluteness, vitality and action into mere restlessness and changeability.

The Devil

This card is eloquent of temptation – not necessarily itself an evil omen, but evil if the fatal enticement is not resisted. Illness, weakness, and an unprotected condition are also implied. If the card is reversed, the temptation comes with a vast and malign power, and he will be a strong man morally who succeeds in repulsing it.

[In her Tarot articles, Miss Montalban focuses on Temptation as the key significance of Trump 15. In The Complete Book of Fortune, sickness, weakness of some kind and “an unprotected condition” are also put forward as interpretations. In the first half of the twentieth century all these meanings were regularly associated with the Devil card. The rather obscure “unprotected condition” can be translated as: vulnerability to attack by outside agencies whether these be business rivals, personal enemies or airborne infections.]

The Tower struck by Lightning

Surprise is the keynote of this card, symbolized by the flash of lightning. Unhappiness, deception, disgrace and ruin are its portents, and the evil which it brings usually takes the form of a sudden and unforeseen calamity. If reversed, its evil influence is lessened considerably. If placed near a card of deniers, especially a seven, it foreshadows, strangely enough, an unexpected legacy.

The Star

Hope is the spirit breathed by this arcanum. As hope re­awakened in the hearts of the ancient Egyptians when the tears of Isis mourning for her lost spouse Osiris caused the annual rising of the Nile and the regeneration of the world, so may fresh faith and renewed courage enter into the hearts of those who have this card well placed.

Reversed, however, it expresses the negation of hope, and presages difficulties and loss.

The Moon

Deception, involved and obscure dealings, trickery, hidden enemies and concealed dangers and a generally murky and unsatisfactory state of affairs, represented by the misty and reflective light of the moon, are the meanings accorded to it by tradition.

In a reversed position, its evil influence is strengthened and brought nearer to the inquirer, who will probably come to grief through his own duplicity.

The Sun

A very lucky omen, as might be conjectured, signifying peace, contentment and a happy marriage. Even if reversed, this fortunate card does not lose its benign influence, but suffers only a slight lessening in the force of its imports.

[In addition to the above meanings, Miss Montalban sees Trump 19 as symbolizing success and attainment. In doing so she agrees with other authorities on the Tarot, such as Papus, who assign the Sun meanings such as “material good fortune”.]


. . . this card heralds a change of position, which may be favourable or otherwise. If reversed, however, this change is definitely unfavourable.

The World

From the divining point of view, this card is a very happy omen, signifying health, consistent success, fertility and a well-ordered life. If reversed, these good omens will be hampered and delayed in their fulfilment, but not extinguished.

The Fool

In fortune-telling, the Fool represents want of thought and heedlessness of action, giving rise to unhappiness and leading to degradation. If reversed, it is more unfortunate still, and presages a neurotic condition, disordered mental faculties and insanity.

[This is not the meaning of the Fool that is most popular today, at least within the Anglophone world. It was, however, the uncontested significance of the card in the 1930s, had been for some considerable time, and continued to be until the mid ’60s. It tends to remain the meaning of the Fool in those parts of Europe where Romance languages are spoken and in those countries across the globe to which these languages have migrated – Brazil and Argentina, for instance.

Miss Montalban continued writing on the Tarot through the occult revolution of the ’60s, but she did not alter her view of the Fool. She always maintained that spiritually it could represent the Fool who knows nothing or the Adept who is willing to admit that, however much knowledge he has absorbed, compared to all that remains to be known, he knows nothing. In divination, she gave the card the meaning described above, never wavering from that stance.]

[The Complete Book of Fortune Telling, Bracken Books, 1970 – first published 1936 by Associated Newspapers Ltd.), pp. 28-41. Pictures of the Trumps take up all of pp. 30 & 31.]

  1. Auntie,

    My plea has been heard! I asked for the meanings of the cards and here they are! As, like, an added bonus, there are some clues as to how to interpret the cards according to the nature of the question. That is so helpful! Actually, could we have more about interpretation on the blog, please?

    I have ordered the Complete Book of Fortune as I really want to study Miss Montalban’s meanings for the minor cards. In the meantime I’m just as happy as can be.

    Shona Cradock

  2. Hey there, Auntie,

    I wish we could have the meanings for the minor cards too. Particluarly if Tony would comment on them the way he’s done with the trump cards.

    Can I add my voice to Shona’s and say I’d appreciate it so much if there could be some posts on how to interpret the cards. In a layout, they tend to contradict. Any way of sorting out the strongest card or the strongest possibility would be welcomed by me.


  3. Fredrik permalink

    Hi there,

    Can I ask you what that the name is of the Tarot deck to which those images belong?


    • Hi Fredrik,

      The cards are from the Thomson-Leng Tarot Fortune Cards. They are not that well-known and are quite rare these days. Here is what one site on Net says of them. “The Thomson-Leng Tarot Fortune Cards, like the Romany Fortune-Telling Cards, were published in 1935 for readers of women’s magazines of the day and printed by The Universal Playing Card Company, Leeds.”


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