Cartomancy - Predicting the Future with a Deck of Cards


One of the most common questions that has linked mankind across time and space is ‘what will happen in the future’. In order to find answers to such questions, human beings developed the art of divination which not only helped them to see into the future but more often provided answers to perplexing questions. And one of the most popular of such practices is Cartomancy which is practiced in some form or other even today.

Cartomancy is a kind of divination which uses decks of cards to read a person’s future. The term comes from Latin word carta, which means papyrus or paper and Greek manteia, meaning prophecy. Practitioners of cartomancy are generally known as cartomancers and card readers.

Even though fortune-telling using a deck of cards seems to have been popularized by Gypsies at carnivals and fairs, the practice of Cartomancy began as soon as playing cards first appeared in Europe at around fourteenth century. There are plenty of references to playing cards from 1377 onwards; however it seemed to have been brought to Europe from Middle East. At the same time tentative connections have been made with very early cards found in China from the tenth century onwards.

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Playing cards vary from country to country according to the number of cards included in each deck, the suits used and which court cards appear. It is thought that European playing cards are based on Mamluk playing cards. These Islamic playing cards do not have pictures, instead there is an elaborate suit sign with a title: the King is denoted as Malik, the Viceroy as Na'ib  dan and the Second Viceroy as Na'ib Thani. The suits are Cups, Polo Sticks, Swords and Coins. In English-speaking countries, a standard deck is made up of Anglo-American bridge or poker playing cards which contain a 52-card and a four-suit set. This is commonly used in the cartomancy reading just as in France the 32-card piquet playing-card deck was used for divination purposes. Then there is the Spanish deck also known as the Baraja Espanola which is made of fifty cards. Usually the jokers are not included in divination but some readers choose to use them and give them Joker the meaning of the Tarot Fool which implies new developments, fresh starts as well as taking a risk. The most popular method of cartomancy using a standard playing deck is referred to as the Wheel of Fortune. Here, the reader removes cards at random and assigns significance to them based in the order they were chosen.

A Cartomancy reading entails a lot of spreads like Single Card, Destiny Square, 3 cards and many more. Various spreads are employed for diverse types of readings. The querent can also choose the type of spread one wants to make use of for the reading. Though the exact reading may vary according to region, some of the most common interpretations of cartomancy equate the King of Hearts with a Fair Man, the King of Clubs with a Dark Man, the King of Spades with a Widower and a Queen of Spades with a Widow. Certain cards lend themselves to alternate meanings, for instance the Queen of Hearts may signify an Unmarried Woman or a Blonde Woman; then again the Queen of Diamonds may refer to a red-haired or a light brown-haired woman as well as a young married woman; likewise it is possible that the Queen of Clubs implies a dark brown-haired or a black-haired woman as well as an older married woman. Even in case of the same card, the meanings can vary drastically from one area to another. For instance the Seven of Hearts can be variously interpreted as false hopes or an unreliable person, a Close lady friend, Jealousy from a lady as well as Happy events according to traditional English deck, traditional French deck, traditional Italian deck and the traditional Spanish deck respectively. Expert cartomancers advise that the sheer variety of interpretations should not result in losing faith in the divination system. The practitioner simply needs to decide which system he/she will use and stick to it. As long as he/she are consistent and has faith in the system, cartomancy is like to clear doubts and show the way to a believer.

A far more popular version of cartomancy makes use of Tarot cards to read the future. The earliest unambiguous mention of a tarot trump which is the Major Arcana seemed have been in 1442 at Northern Italy. This exotic and impressive deck of cards thus probably originated in Renaissance Italy. The Tarot deck consists of 78 cards which are broken down into 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana are the trump cards, the Minor Arcana are the pip cards. Many versions of the Tarot exist of which the most familiar seems to be the Rider-Waite Tarot even though other well-recognized systems are the Thoth Tarot and the Marseilles Tarot. Interpretations can vary between the various Tarot decks. Most people use the interpretations set out by Waite in 1909. However, there are alternate systems in use by various sections of Tarot card readers. For example, the Seven of Coins (Pentacles, Disks, Stones) can be interpreted as perseverance and long-term success in the Rider-Waite system, disharmony or possibility of failure according to the Haindl deck, rest after fatigue and recovery according to the Tarot of Ancient Minchiate of Etruria or money, silver, purity, moon, innocence as in the system of Etteilla Tarot. Though core themes and general meanings have remained unchanged for some cards, the tone and specific depiction of each card can vary wildly depending on the time period, culture, and personal interpretations of the reader. He or she determines which meaning to apply based on the card's location in the spread and the meanings of the cards that are turned up around it. Common sense is also used to discard meanings which have no relevance to the question asked.

In both Tarot and other cartomantic readings, deck of cards is typically shuffled by either the subject or a third-party reader, and is laid out in one of a variety of patterns, often called "spreads". Sometimes in Tarot readings, instead of being randomly selected the initial card in a spread is intentionally chosen to represent the querent or the question being asked.
This card is called the significator. The spreads are then interpreted by the reader or a third-party performing the reading for the subject. These could include the subject's thoughts and desires, both conscious and subconscious as well as events of the past, present and future.