Interview With Jean-Claude & Roxanne Flornoy

by Bonnie Cehovet

I recently had the great honor of being introduced to the work of French Tarot historian Jean-Claude Flornoy. His body of work includes hand-colored restorations of the 22 card Major Arcana from the Jean Noblet Tarot (Paris, 1650) and the Jean Dodal Tarot (Lyon, 1701), along with a recently release complete 78 card re-editing of the Jean Noblet Tarot, thought to be the oldest existing Marseille style Tarot. This is more impressive project than one might think, because he had the challenge of recreating missing cards from the deck - the Six through Ten of Swords. The renditions are quite in line with the rest of the deck - well researched, and of excellent quality.

Jean-Claude also maintains an Internet site in French regarding his work, which Roxanne Flornoy has translated with great skill and insight into English.

The podium is now turned over to Jean-Claude and Roxanne!


BC: Jean-Claude, I must say that I admire your work greatly. How did you first become interested in the Tarot?

J-CF: I bought my first tarot, a Paul Marteau, when I was 18 years old. I also tried to read Marteau’s book. After 20 pages I gave it up as incomprehensible. At the age of 33 I pursued a recapitulation (exercise focused essentially on the mission of Arcane XIII, finding and purging the charge of the past, to liberate energy for the present and future), and a tarot card accompanied each day of the three weeks that I spent with the therapist. I had already explained to him that I was totally uninterested in the tarot, that it was too complicated. He was unperturbed by this remark, but wanted to know if I liked the stories he told? He had a great stock of experiences and adventures to relate; these fascinated me. Four and one-half years later (1986), I got up very early on a dreary winter morning, and while drinking my coffee the tarot, its representation of each of the stages of existence, became suddenly coherent. This vision, since described in my text, the Journey of the Soul, has remained my basic approach to the tarot and is what motivates me to see it as an invaluable tool for spiritual evolution .

BC: What drove you to begin the study of the French Marseille tradition, and to continue this on to the re-editing of the Dodal and Noblet Tarots?

J-CF: In the tarot I found an Occidental, or 'western', presentation of an inner itinerary which is based on a cyclic perception of time, of the mother (Plato) and woman (the 'old religion'), as opposed to the linear time of the father (Aristotle), which was taken up by Christianity. The French Marseille tradition is uninterruptedly bearer of what one could call a shamanistic vision of the world. The tarot assimilated this basically pagan information and adapted it to a Christian world. It is perthaps just for this reason that it has survived. It is the only 'native' European tradition still alive, at least, in its original form. Since this support has persisted, it bears with it the possibility to re-penetrate the soul of the old masters. These cards are a link to them, and constitute a sort of magic access to their knowledge. Re-editing Noblet and Dodal permits this tradition to stay alive and active in today’s world.

BC: You present, on your sites and in the pamphlets that accompany your decks, your work on the journey through the Major Arcana, called the "Journey of the Soul". Can you tell us how you see this journey, and why the "gateway" cards are so important?

J-CF: The Journey is the voyage that each of us undertakes, whether he wants to or not. Following a path to knowledge entails that conciousness accompanies the process. Keeping as much as possible out of the fog helps to stay focused. The tarot presents the successive phases of existence and addresses itself to the unconscious through images. Meditating on these masters’ images, and it is only these which can be operative, little by little prepares the ensemble of psychic forces (conscious and unconscious) to live and integrate an ever wider perspective on the way we exist in the worlds which surround us. The gateway conveys the general atmosphere of a phase. It should surprise no-one that the period of life’s apprenticeship should begin under the sign of the Lovers. The mature phase of life begins with La Force, in which we are constructed in the social world through a profession, house or family. This leads to a progressive opening to one’s inner world, (XII and XIII). We are still in the social world, but other preoccupations appear. The necessities of the inner world are progressively brought into balance with those of the outer sphere. With Temperance, it seems to me that here real life choices come to the fore; one follows the signposts of heart and personal radar. The gateways are indispensable for the initiation into each phase. If the heart has never opened, the apprentiseship to life cannot begin, and the person will remain in a state of childhood : the collective and familial « we ». Individuation can only be accomplished once the Lovers has been lived. Maturity (or commpagnonage – a professional recognized for his competence) is only accessible with a passage by Force, where savoir faire (knowing how to 'do') is established.

This transforms, over the phase of Mastery, into savoir-etre (knowing how to 'be'), The gateway to the phase of Mastery, Maison-Dieu, signals the passage into the other world of reality : one is literally born again. From this stage on, all takes place in this other world. This structural organisation appeals to me. Others may find it too structural. But for me, my sudden understanding of the tarot arrived in this form, fine precise stages like slices, periods I could date, with a beginning and an end. It is the work of the old masters which I have integrated in this way. Their images speak more than any I could imagine creating myself.

BC: Can you tell us what the process was like in re-creating the missing Six through Ten of Swords for the "Jean Noblet Tarot"?

J-CF: I looked at the few contemporary designs still accessible, and studied the iconography of the deck itself. A variant of the flower on the Four of Swords was used again on the re-created Six. This was habitual in decks at that time. The little flowers from the existing Swords were an obvious inclusion. The great luck factor was that none of the Court cards were missing. Had it been necessary to re-draw one of them, I don’t think I would have undertaken the re-edition of this deck. Note: I consider it a great gift to the Tarot world that the Court Cards were intact, so that we now have this tremendous deck to work with!

BC: All of the sections of your site fascinated me, but one stood out in particular - the section on Maitre Jacques, founder of the Compagnons. Can you tell us a little about this gentleman, and about the Compagnons?

J-CF: Maitre Jacques is the mythical founder of the spiritual and practical path of knowledge known in France as compagnonnage. Legend attributes the construction of the first Temple of Jerusalem, (that of Solomon, around 800 BC) to him. Maitre Jacques remains the Symbolic Person for the Compagnons up to this day. The secrets of how to discern and use the forces which issue from the earth had continued to be transmitted, even during most troubled times, from the Megalithic period. The early medieval constructors’ aim was to render these earth forces beneficial to man. They thought of themselves as builders of machines for the transmutation of human beings. This was the purpose to which they devoted their science. Romanesque churches of the 12th Century, if they have not been altered, remain operative. They still capture the telluric energy which is particularly strong on these selected «nodal points», and irrigate the persons within the building with its vitality. At the time of their construction, ceremonies which led the entire assembly in a collective trance of healing and heightened awareness were held in these « machines ». Noticing (and fearing) the intensity of this dynamic, early religious powers saw in it a real threat and put an end to such practices by the beginning of the 14th century. The Knights Templars were no longer there to protect and finance the builders’ projects, and most Compagnons fled the country with the Inquisition. I have explained on my site the way I think these exiled builders travelled, first to the Middle East, then over time back up to France through Italy. The images of the tarot are issued from the knowledge of these errant professionals. The image-makers and sculptors of the period preceeding the Inquisition are the spiritual and technical fathers of the old tarot masters.

BC: Jean-Claude, you are a "cartier-enlumineur". Can you explain what this is, and what you do?

J-CF: A Cartier is a card-maker . An enlumineur is someone who "puts into color" or "puts into Light". An illumination evokes mostly hand-calligraphy on parchment with colorful painted capitals and decorations - old manuscripts. But illumination in the larger sense covers all types of artisanal application of color. Hand-stencilling was the method used for the majors-only editions of the Tarots of Jean Noblet and Jean Dodal.

BC: Jean-Claude, where do you see yourself going in the future with the Tarot?

J-CF: If the results of distributing the Complete Noblet edition are encouraging, I plan to continue with one of the three other decks most worthy of ressuscitation: the Viéville, Dodal, or Conver. In the meantime, I’m finishing work on a book (in French) planned to come out in September. It is an extended development of the 'Journey of the Soul'. Note: I would love to see an English translation of this book. Sending out thoughts to Universe that this may be so !

BC: Roxanne, you have played a very important part in making the work of Jean-Claude available to English speaking Tarot enthusiasts. I want to take this time to thank you for doing that. it has opened up a world that would not have otherwise been open to non-French speaking Tarotists. The English rendition of is quite well done. How did you feel about taking this project on, and what has it meant to you?

RF: I had had no contact at all with the tarot before translating Jean-Claude’s 'The Journey of the Soul'. That text, already a dense synthesis of years of reflection, was a daunting exercise in comprehension and precision. From there, it seemed evident that the French site needed an English version, even though it is in the English-speaking world that there is the most activity and information concerning the Tarot. This said, relatively little attention has been devoted to the TdMs, and most of it centered around late 19th century derivations far removed from early materials. This is only natural, as these references have long been fairly inaccessible. Participating in the re-integration of these decks into the tarot landscape, especially since the complete Noblet has become available, is a fine adventure. I am discovering the extent of New World interest in what the Old World can furnish with respect to sources. Prying the material out of museums and other august repositories can require perserverence,. You have to have a good reason to get into the Cabinet des Estampes at the Bibliothéque Nationale (a sort of Very Cultural Fort Knox), and for an immigrant from the New World this is an exploit in itself.

Since the tarot speaks through images, it was by a natural transition that I extended from verb to the domain of colors and paper, my other basic affinities. I learned stencilling from an adept of long experience, and have brought the last two editions of the Dodal 'into light' myself. It is an activity requiring perserverence and attention, important in that the colors themselves and their placement are central to way the unconscous apprehends the images. It is satisfying to re-invest the old masters’ lines with the living color they need to become truly operative once again.

BC: This question is for both Jean-Claude and Roxanne: Can you tell us a little about your work with schoolchildren, and your workshop on early printing and coloring methods?

J-CF & RF: Most of the groups visiting us have requested the workshop in hand-stencilling, enluminure au pochoir. They are reminded at the outset that 17th and 18th century ateliers often used child labor for the coloring work, but that since young people these days are better fed and less overworked, they can expect, with some attention, to furnish better quality than their forebears. And they do. Stencilling at its cleanest is not that easy to obtain, but lesser levels yield good results. Since 'made in China' seems to be on all labels these days, we also point out that this is nothing new. Paper came to us from China (invented there in about 105 AD), via the Silk Roads and the Crusades. The Chinese had developed moveable type in wood long before Mr. Gutenberg’s employee suggested making it in metal. We have a variety of woodblocks to show, as well as examples of parchment and hand-made textile-based paper. The card industry was very important at one time, and the children see the type of square-cornered, plain-backed cards that were used as visiting cards once they were no longer fresh enough for betting games. At the Museum of the City of Paris, the Musée Carnavalet, there is a King of Hearts inscribed on the back with an order for the destruction of the Bastille. Others bear the king’s invitation to be present at his levée – it seems that being allowed to watch him get out of bed was a great honor. Preliminaries accomplished, the children get to work on enlargements of 3 Dodal cards. They must place the stencil exactly and not let it move. The brush must be as dry as possible, but wet enough to apply the gouache. Having done the series of 6 colors, a second card, enlarged from a conventional locally-produced deck (1792), seems a snap with its 4 colors. There is no need to explain to them that stencilling was a way to mass-produce colored prints at a time when the only alternative was always-expensive hand-painting with a brush. So, Dodal’s Hermit, Empereur and Papess have gone home with quite alot of children to date.

BC: This question is also for both Jean-Claude and Roxanne. Is there anything that you would like our readers to know about the work that you are doing, or about Tarot and how it relates to our lives in general?

J-CF & RF: We are pleased that the diffusion of this new old deck will make viable, authentic material available to a much wider sphere of tarot enthusiasts.

BC: I would like to thank both Jean-Claude and Roxanne Flornoy for taking the time to join us in this interview. Jean-Claude's sites are well worth visiting ... indeed, you will find yourself returning again and again!


Bio: Jean-Claude Flornoy

Jean-Claude Flornoy was born in 1950 in Paris. He studied philosophy and worked 15 years as a potter-ceramist. Also during this period, he participated in the creation of several hydraulic power stations. He has devoted 20 years to the study of tarot. In 1996 he undertook the restoration of the tarot of Nicolas Conver (Marseille, 1760), painting each arcane on giant canvases (220 cm by 110 cm). His aim was to faithfully bring this traditional imagery back to (larger than) life in all its original freshness. He then progressed to large-sized versions of other historic tarots derived from originals preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris: Jean Noblet (Paris, c. 1650), Jean Dodal (Lyon, 1701) and a number of trumps from Jacques Viéville (Paris, c. 1650).

It was in spending the necessary weeks on each outsized arcane that he was able to come to 'understand' the way the images are operative in themselves. He regularly transports these large canvases for exhibitions, and proposes conference-workshops in a variety of tarot-related contexts.

The next step was to publish, in traditional hand stencil-coloured versions, the 22 trumps of the tarots of Jean Noblet and of Jean Dodal. These are intended to correspond in every respect as closely as possible to what they resembled when new.

In a step away from artisanal productions, but moving old tarots closer to a wider audience, an industrial, Complete Jean Noblet Tarot has just been published.

Bio: Roxanne Flornoy Roxanne was born and raised in Manhattan. Liberal arts education, with a penchant for English. She feels fortunate to have come of age in the late 60s (they didn’t send girls to Vietnam, at least). Left town eventually and moved upstate to the country, where she spent 3 years gardening intensely, never seeming to go anywhere without a wheelbarrow. Allied with a percussionist, she left the US in 1973 with nary a backward glance. In Europe she spent 15 years as roadie/interpreter/organiser in the music world. Three children, lots of homeschooling, more gardens. Her French became good enough to translate it into English, so she moved into translations, and helped create the local library. Now she’s still translating, has learned stencilling, hopes to become tarot-competent, keeps gardening, and is thankful for the variety that has indeed spiced her life.

© Bonnie Cehovet

Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.

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