Playing Card Divination for Beginners: Fortune Telling with Ordinary Cards

Playing Card Divination for Beginners: Fortune Telling with Ordinary Cards

by Richard Webster


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Now anyone can practice a six-hundred-year-old tradition of fortune-telling that survives to this day. Chances are you already own the cards. You will learn the meaning of each card, how to interpret groups of cards, special spreads to answer questions about love and romance, and much more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780738747392
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.
Publication date: 07/08/2015
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 493,665
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Richard Webster (New Zealand) is the bestselling author of more than one hundred books. Richard has appeared on several radio and television programs in the US and abroad, including guest spots on WMAQ-TV (Chicago), KTLA-TV (Los Angeles), and KSTW-TV (Seattle). He travels regularly, lecturing and conducting workshops on a variety of metaphysical subjects. His bestselling titles include Spirit Guides & Angel Guardians and Creative Visualization for Beginners.

Read an Excerpt


People have always wanted to see a glimpse of the future. Primitive people lived in a state of constant anxiety, as so many things were out of their control. Earthquakes, droughts, floods, thunderstorms, and wild animals were just some of these forces.

It is not surprising that primitive peoples sought ways to find out in advance what was going to happen. If they knew that, they could store food to sustain them during a drought, just as the pharaoh did at the time of the seven-year famine. They could move to higher ground before a flood occurred, or move away from an area that was to be destroyed by fire.

Of course, even though life has changed enormously, we still live in uncertain times. The fast pace of the lives we all lead creates as much anxiety as anything our ancestors experienced. People want to know if their jobs are secure, if relationships will last, if they have enough money for retirement. At every stage of life, people have questions about the future.

Nothing could be more fascinating and intriguing than the unknown, especially the mystery that surrounds the future. During the last few thousand years, many different systems have been used to predict the future. The movements of the planets, extremes of weather, lines on the palms of hands, bumps on the head, crystal gazing, dreams, and omens of all sorts are just some of the ways that have been used by people in attempt to part the veil of the future and see beyond now.

The Bible mentions a variety of methods of divination, including dreams, signs, and prophecy. Joseph saw visions from his early childhood (Genesis 37:5-11). Saul visited the witch of Endor (I Samuel 28:7-25). The king of Babylon consulted the teraphim, which were images used for the giving and receiving of oracles (Ezekiel 21:21).

A History of Playing Cards

No one knows exactly how or when playing cards were invented. However, there are two legends that may, or may not, describe their origin. The first claims that playing cards were invented in the twelfth century in the harem of the Chinese imperial palace. The women living there led lives of incredible boredom waiting to be summoned to the emperor''s bed, and the legend says that in 1120 c.e. one of them invented playing cards to help pass the time.

The second legend claims that playing cards were invented in India. Apparently, one of the maharajahs constantly pulled at his beard. This habit annoyed his wife so much that she invented a game to utilize his hands.

These legends are charming, and may even hold a kernel of truth. However, it seems more likely that playing cards originated in Korea and were descended from a Korean divinatory arrow. At least two experts on the history of playing cards, Sir William Wilkinson and Dr. Stewart Culin, made a study of the Korean connection and were convinced that this is where playing cards began.1

Wilkinson and Culin were certain of this origin because the original Korean cards were similar in shape to the slips of bamboo that were used as arrows in divination rites. A scroll in the shape of a heart on the backs of the cards was thought to represent an arrow feather. Finally, it is thought that the numbers on the cards were related to the cock feathers on the arrows.2

It is possible that playing cards reached the West through Persia, as the designs on their cards included young men and women, and kings and queens on thrones. However, no one knows for certain if modern-day playing cards came from Korea, China, India, or Persia. In fact, it is possible that they were invented by a European, perhaps after seeing an Asian deck of cards.3

No matter where they came from, playing cards quickly spread throughout Europe in the second half of the fourteenth century. No one knows if they arrived in Italy or Spain first. The Moors occupied large parts of Spain at that time, but Italy was busy trading with the East, making it the more likely candidate.

Certain segments of the European community opposed playing cards from the start. The first prohibition against playing cards was probably issued in Bern in 1367. However, this is not based on conclusive evidence; it is mentioned in a list of legal documents that dates back to the end of the fourteenth century.4

A German monk named Johannes von Rheinfelden also mentioned playing cards in a Latin manuscript found in the British Museum. It says, "The game of cards has come to us in this year, viz., the year of our Lord 1377." 5 Rheinfelden described six different packs of cards, containing from fifty-two to sixty cards, each with four suits. Although he did not describe the suits, they were probably the traditional cups, swords, money, and clubs.

A few years later, playing cards were being mentioned in places as widespread as Paris, Florence, and Barcelona, usually because of a prohibition against them. It did not take the Christian church long to pronounce playing cards the work of the devil.

It is unlikely that playing cards were seen in Europe before about 1370, as Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374), Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) and Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) did not mention them in their writings. From all accounts, these men were enthusiastic about games and gambling, and it is inconceivable that they would not have mentioned playing cards if they had known of them. Petrarch wrote a treatise on gaming, and did not mention playing cards. Boccaccio and Chaucer both referred to other forms of gambling in their works, but failed to mention playing cards as well.

In 1363, an ordinance of the Catholic Church prohibited clerics from participating in games of chance. However, it did not specifically mention playing cards. Neither did an edict of King Charles V of France, dated 1369, which forbade certain sports and pastimes by name.

Many people believe that it was the Gypsies who introduced playing cards to Europe. However, this is not the case as playing cards preceded the Gypsies'' arrival in Europe by more than twenty years. (The first Romanies appeared in Europe in 1398.) Other people claim that Marco Polo brought them back from China. Although the Chinese did have playing cards, they were totally different from the cards that were introduced into Europe. Another story is that the crusaders brought them back from the Holy Land. Unfortunately, the Crusades were over some seventy years before playing cards were first mentioned in Europe.

The oldest Tarot cards in existence were made for Charles VI of France. This has led people to speculate that Jacquemin Gringonneur, the man who made three decks of Tarot cards for the king, invented playing cards. This is not true either, as playing cards were well established by the time he made these decks in 1392.

The story of Charles VI and Tarot cards is an interesting one. Apparently, Charles VI suffered from periods of depression. Odette, his beautiful mistress, played the harp, sang, and read to him. She also constantly searched for anything that might amuse the king. One day she heard about playing cards, which were new to the city. After seeing them, she asked Jacquemin Gringonneur to design a special pack in which the principal cards depicted important people in the royal court. The deck is alleged to have brought the king out of his depression (at least temporarily), and the picture cards became known as "court cards."

The legend does not finish here. Shortly after the king had been helped by the playing cards, a Saracen woman visited Odette and taught her how to interpret and read the cards. Although Odette was supposed to keep her new skill a secret, word quickly got out, and fortune telling with cards became hugely popular. Some people were unhappy with this, especially when the cards picked out their infidelities. Consequently, they told the king that the cards created huge gambling losses and succeeded in having them banned.

A famous knight named Etienne de Vignoles—better known as "La Hire"—was unhappy with this ban. The cards had successfully told him that a certain lady loved him, something he would not have discovered on his own, and he resolved to repeal the king''s edict. He succeeded by asking Jacquemin Gringonneur to create a patriotic deck of cards showing mythological gods and goddesses, Biblical figures, and past and present heroes. The four kings were Julius Caesar (diamonds), Charlemagne (hearts), Alexander the Great (clubs), and King Charles VI (spades). The queens were Pallas (also known as Minerva), the goddess of arms (spades); Judith the great biblical heroine (hearts); Rachel (of the Bible) (diamonds); and Argine the fairy (clubs), who looked exactly like Odette. (Argine is an anagram of "regina." )

La Hire also included himself in this pack of cards. He became the jack of hearts. The other jacks were Hogier the Dane (spades), Hector of Troy (diamonds), and Lancelot (clubs).

La Hire even gave the suits a military theme. The clubs depicted the sword crossguards, the hearts the tips of the crossbows, the diamonds the heads of the arrows, and the spades were the tools that were so useful in a siege. The king was delighted with the new pack and repealed the edict. In no time, cards were available everywhere again.6

The oldest known decks of cards are Tarot decks, and the standard decks of playing cards that we use today derive from them. Within a few years of their introduction, entrepreneurs began mass-producing playing cards using stencils. By eliminating the major arcana and the knaves, the pack was reduced to a deck of fifty-two cards, making them less expensive to manufacture and purchase.

The spread of playing cards alarmed the church and they began burning them in huge bonfires. This did nothing to diminish the demand for cards, and mass production brought the cost down to a more affordable level. In fact, in 1454, a pack of cards was purchased for the dauphin of France for five sous tournois. This was one-thousandth of the price the duke of Milan had paid for a deck thirty-nine years earlier.

As playing cards spread across Europe, different regions made changes to them. For instance, in the Italian decks the kings are depicted sitting down. In Spain, the kings are standing up. The Germans changed the suits entirely, choosing to use bells, hearts, leaves, and acorns, instead of the Italian swords, cups, coins, and clubs.

Wood engraving enabled playing cards to be produced more quickly, and with greater quality, than before. Then the invention of copper engraving enabled artists to incorporate more and more detail into the cards.

The first known copper engraver, known as Master of the Playing Cards, was born in the early fifteenth century, and had a major influence on the quality of playing cards. He was working in Mainz, Germany, at the same time as Johann Gutenberg, and it would be amazing if the two men had not known each other. In fact, it is possible that the Master of the Playing Cards worked for Johann Gutenberg.7 If so, this shadowy figure is connected with two of the most important events in the history of playing cards: the invention of copper engraving and printing.

It was the French who gave us the suits that we know today.8 Legend attributes this to Etienne de Vignoles, the French knight we have already met, who died in 1442. If this is true, the suits we know today were created in the first half of the fifteenth century.

The heart and spade were copied from the German heart and leaf. However, the leaf was turned ninety degrees to make it an upright spade. The club is probably an adaptation of the German acorn. The diamond, however, was an original creation. This shape was popular in France between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in ecclesiastical pavements, and was chosen deliberately to depict the major divisions of society in a single deck of cards.

Consequently, hearts represented the church; spades could be read as spearheads, and represented the aristocracy, because spears were the weapons of knights; diamonds represented the chancel of the church, which is where the wealthy were buried; and clover (clubs) represented the peasantry, as it was a food for pigs.

The French card manufacturers were highly innovative. They quickly discovered that they could make the four kings, queens, and jacks from one woodblock or copper engraving, and simply stencil in the four suits later. This enabled them to create packs of cards much more quickly than their rivals in other parts of Europe. Not surprisingly, it wasn''t long before card manufacturers all over Europe began using generic kings, queens, and jacks too.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the jacks were called knaves. At this time, the card manufacturers began placing indices on two or four corners of each card to indicate its value. The familiar K for king and Q for queen began at this time. However, Kn for knave was potentially confusing, and the card''s name was changed to jack. Nowadays, of course, a knave is considered a rogue.

The joker is a nineteenth-century American addition, and can be related to the Fool card in Tarot. Euchre used to be an extremely popular card game in the United States (and still has a strong following today). In this game, the jack of the trump suit and the other jack of the same color are called the "Bowers." When euchre was first invented, another card was introduced, called the "Best Bower." Ultimately, it became known as the joker.9

The Gypsies were probably the first to use playing cards for divination purposes, and greatly aided the spread of playing cards throughout Europe. One of the first books on fortune telling with playing cards appeared in Germany in the 1480s. It is called Eim Loszbuch Ausz der Karten. The instructions tell the reader to shuffle the cards and remove one. He or she then looks up the meaning of the card in a book of fate.

In 1540, Marcolino da Forli published a book on card reading in Venice. This was the first book to explain the different layouts and interpretations that can be made with playing cards. His system, which appears to be entirely his own, used only the number cards.10 Marcolino da Forli''s system split the cards into various groups such as goodness, beauty, intelligence, death, wedlock, sloth, and humility. His system was able to answer almost any question. The questions answered in his book include: "Is the lady valued by him she adores?" and "Will he do better to take a beautiful or an ugly wife?" 11

The origin of one of the earliest decks of playing cards devised for fortune-telling purposes is not known. John Lenthall, a famous English producer of novelty cards, reprinted it in 1712. It seems likely that the original version appeared in the late 1600s. Lenthall was good at promoting his products, and advertised these as "Fortune-telling Cards, pleasantly unfolding the good and bad luck attending human life. With Directions of the Use of the Cards."

The method for interpreting these cards is unusual and complicated. A list of questions is printed on one of the kings. Each question also contains a number. The enquirer uses this number to receive an answer on one of the odd-numbered cards. He or she is then referred to an even-numbered card for a quotation allegedly from a famous sibyl of antiquity. As well as this, each card contains a great deal of symbolism. For instance, Merlin appears on the ace of clubs, and Hermes Trismegistus on the ace of spades. Dr. Faustus appears on the three of clubs. The king of hearts depicts Herod. Nimrod is on the king of diamonds. Pharaoh is on the king of clubs, and Holophernes is on the king of spades. The choice of famous people, both real and imaginary, is strange. Even Wat Tyler and Cupid are represented.

The John Lenthall fortune-telling cards were extremely popular from the first half of Charles II''s reign until after the death of Queen Anne. Numerous editions of them, official and pirated, were made. Despite the success of John Lenthall''s pack, however, cards made purely for fortune telling did not become popular in the rest of Europe until the end of the eighteenth century.

Arguably, the catalyst for this interest began with the publication of Monde Primitif by Antoine Court de G(1725-1784) in 1781. He claimed that Tarot cards were directly descended from the Book of Thoth, the mythical book that was believed to have been written by the Egyptian deity. A wave of books followed, which increased the interest in fortune telling with both Tarot and playing cards.

Court de Gbook inspired thousands of people, including a wig-maker and fortune-teller named Alliette. He wrote Manide se ravec le jeu de cartes nomTarots in 1783, and then produced his own deck of Tarot cards, known as the Etteilla deck. "Etteilla," his pseudonym, is a reversal of his own name. The Grand Etteilla Egyptian Gypsies Tarot deck is still available today.

Etteilla, in turn, inspired others. Throughout the nineteenth century many fortune-telling decks were produced. Probably the most famous of these was the Mlle. Lenormand deck, which is also still available.

Marie-Anne Lenormand (1768-1842) achieved both fame and fortune because of her skills at reading cards. She was considered the best fortune-teller in Paris when a young mother of two named Rose came to her for a reading. Rose had disguised herself as a maid, and watched with interest as Mlle. Lenormand cut and dealt the cards. In the European tradition, Mlle. Lenormand used a pack containing thirty-two cards. Rose listened silently as the fortune-teller told her that although there was sorrow ahead, there was also greatness. She was told that she would soon meet her second husband who would become the most powerful person in Europe.

Shortly afterward, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte came for a reading. Mlle. Lenormand told him that he would marry a beautiful woman with two children. She also said that he would go to war in Italy, and return so triumphant that everyone in the country would know his name.

Napoleon did meet Rose, and fell in love. He did not like her name, though, and persuaded her to change it to Josephine. Shortly after that, they married. Josephine introduced the palm reader to the French court, and Mlle. Lenormand''s practice thrived.

Joachim Murat, the king of Naples, came to Mlle. Lenormand for a reading. He was also the leader of Napoleon''s cavalry. Mlle. Lenormand asked him to cut the cards. Murat turned over the king of diamonds. This card traditionally means treachery and deceit. Mlle. Lenormand replaced the card, shuffled the deck, and asked Murat to cut the cards again. He cut to the king of diamonds. The same thing happened on his third attempt. Mlle. Lenormand was furious and threw the cards at him, telling him that he would die on the gallows or in front of a firing squad. Her prediction was correct, and Murat was executed by firing squad in 1815.

Some years after his first consultation, Napoleon consulted Mlle. Lenormand again. Mlle. Lenormand told him that he was considering divorcing Josephine. She also told him to be careful of pride, as it could sweep him to the heights, but also bring him back down again.

Napoleon found Mlle. Lenormand too accurate. She was arrested on December 12, 1809, and imprisoned for twelve days. She was released only after the divorce had been finalized.

These events all helped to promote Mlle. Lenormand''s practice. In 1818 she wrote a best-selling book titled Mhistorique et secrets de l''Imperatrice Jos(Historical and Secret Memoirs of the Empress Josephine).

Mlle. Lenormand''s deck contains a central picture, with three smaller pictures at the bottom of the card. The middle one of these is a plant or flower. The other pictures show domestic scenes, such as a man writing a letter, or a tutor teaching two children. In the top left-hand corner of the card is a playing-card index. Next to this is a planetary arrangement, and on the right-hand side is a letter and a planetary sign. This deck is commonly confused with a more modern German deck, known as the Lenormand fortune-telling deck. This deck of thirty-six cards contains pictures of different interpretations, with playing-card indices in a square or oval at the top of the cards.

The Book of Fate is an attractive French deck that dates from about 1890. It is still available today, but is now called The Book of Destiny. It contains thirty-two cards (each suit from eight to king, including aces), and an extra blank card to represent the querent. Each card has a picture that illustrates the meaning of the card. The nine of clubs, for instance, represents a gift or surprise. The king of hearts depicts a man of law, and ten of hearts represents marriage. The meaning of each card is printed in French and English at the bottom. In the top left-hand corner is a miniature playing card.

Special fortune-telling decks are still being produced today. However, most card reading over the last six hundred years has been done with a regular deck of playing cards.

Not surprisingly, a large amount of superstition is connected with playing cards. For instance, it is considered a sign of grave danger ahead if you drop an entire deck of cards on the floor. It is considered dangerous to carry a deck of cards on your person if you work in a potentially dangerous career, such as mining or seafaring. It is considered bad luck to throw old packs of cards away. Instead, they should be burned. While the old pack is burning, a new pack should be taken from its box and waved three times in the smoke. Cards that are used for fortune telling should never be used for card games, and vice versa. It is considered good luck to blow on a deck of cards before using them. Conversely, it is a sign of bad luck if a single black card drops to the floor. A run of black cards, either in a game or in a fortune-telling spread, is considered to be an omen of major misfortune.

Table of Contents

1. Essential Requirements
2. The Meanings of the Cards
3. Learning the Cards
4. How to Interpret Groups of Cards
5. How to Read Your Own Cards
6. How to Read the Cards for Others
7. Love and Romance
8. Other Spreads
Suggested Reading

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