Why call it Maison Dieu ?!

jeudi 22 janvier 2004 

First of all, a bit of French semantics. During the Middle Ages in the West, the hospital was called "hôtel Dieu" and not "maison Dieu". The hospital track seems to lead nowhere, though much may depend on what period we're looking at.

The church, at one time at least, was called " maison de Dieu" and not "maison-Dieu".

The Order of the Knights Templars, ziggurats, the tower struck by lightening…

Having consulted Kaplan, I feel confident in saying that the first "lightening-struck tower" which appears on 15th century Italian tarots is the Charles VI (c. 1480), that is to say a century, or 4 generations of card makers and painters, after the appearance of the naibis. We have no example of the work of popular card makers, apart from the Cary sheet which presents a fantasy TdM model (no card named), before the Noblet, Viéville, anonymous Parisian, Dodal, Payen series. To see the images, consult 

(text in french only, for the moment).

Charles VI

The principal difference between the popular French tarots and the Visconti family resides in this Maison Dieu Arcanum. The "ancestors" Noblet and Dodal portray flames rising from the tower. From Conver on, the flames descend towards the tower.


I have entered a link to a lineup of the Maison Dieu cards of Viéville, Noblet, Dodal and Conver on the opening page of my site http://www.letarot.com

As for Viéville, emerging from the Rouen-Brussels or piémontaise tradition, he depicts a sort of shepherd, a tree, a herd of sheep and goats and a source of light. This light source is correctly represented in the "old" Noblet and Dodal imagery, and only suggested in the later Conver.

What might all this mean?

Viéville :
A herd of goats and sheep is the traditional representation by the Romanesque people and the cathedral image-makers of "past" lives, while the tree designates growth and the expansion of consciousness. The source of light indicates where conscious illumination resides.

With other TdMs:
The tower is the fortress of the ego, the open crown at its top indicates that the mental has relaxed its grip, the ascending flame speaks of the individual's capacity to fuse with the divine. We are in Platonic immanence, as opposed to Conver who presents Aristotilian transcendence with a descending flame. Conver nevertheless retains the three traditional spheres which form the light-source: abred, keugant and gwennwed. The outer circle where nothing exists, the middle circle of incarnation, and the inner sphere of the white light of illumination.

With arcanum XVI La Maison Dieu, we find ourselves in the traditional representation of the experience of illumination. It is the place of consciousness, of fusion with the divine. These old tarots convey a simple message: each of us can, by his own efforts and with no help from without, have access to the state of consciousness in which he is illuminated by the white light of what believers choose to call the "Divine", but which in fact has nothing to do with religion. We are dealing here with what the French call "la connaissance".

The motto of the Order of Teutonic Knights (1198-1410) simplifies matters, albeit abruptly:

Si tu ne meures pas avant de mourir, tu mourras en mourant.
If you do not die before dying, you will die when you die.

So: the Maison is the house or place where consciousness resides, and Dieu refers to the higher worlds of the spirit of light (nothing to do with deities).

It seems the titles for the TdM images probably appeared in the early 16th century, after the tarot came back from northern Italy in the soldiers' pockets and was taken up by the card-makers issued from Compagnonage. This brings us to Ross Cauldwell's suggestion that an ambitious soul investigate how Hotel Dieu, Maison Dieu etc.were applied at that time (c. 1520). Diana has been able to substantiate her recollections, and I am dazzled by the linguistic erudition expressed through the diverse messages. So finally I am at a loss for words.

Go to Maison Dieu home in french
feb 20 2010