Cards of Joy and Sorrow

I believe I’ve reached a tipping point in my growing desire to begin working with playing cards in cartomancy. I’ve accumulated a number of online sources for reference material (most notably that of Kapherus and “Auntie Tarot”), and I also have a few names to explore (Regina Russell, Cecily Kent, Sepharial) although I own none of their works yet. But the thing that pushed me over the edge is reading Jonathan Dee’s Fortune Telling Using Playing Cards. Although it doesn’t exactly cleave to the tradition (he uses astrological associations that square perfectly with the Golden Dawn system), it’s a very level-headed and enjoyable read that pretty much agrees with everything else I’ve gathered about the subject and adds some new wrinkles. I’ve also looked at Arthur Edward Waite’s A Manual of Cartomancy, Fortune Telling and Occult Divination (written under the pseudonym “Grand Orient”) but – as is typical of my reaction to almost anything Waite – I find much of the cartomancy section peculiarly personal rather than in agreement with historical convention, much of which he dismisses as “charlatanry” from which it is his duty to “rescue practical occultism.”

Playing-card interpretation strikes me as very similar to the literal nature of reading the Lenormand and Kipper cards. The keywords and concepts are economically brief and relatively single-pointed with a small amount of amplifying detail. Some have established associations: the 9 of Hearts is the “wish” card, the Ace of Spades is the “death” card (although not usually all by itself), etc. A few of these cartomantic meanings have made their way into the tarot lexicon, but I’ve found that suit alignment with the Lenormand playing-card insets is not precise. The red suits are fairly similar in import, but in the black suits the unfortunate nature of Spades and Clubs is for the most part swapped. Spades are more dire in playing cards, while Clubs have that distinction in Lenormand. In general (that is, stand-alone) terms, the positive and negative qualities of the suits seem to be fairly well-stated by Caitlin Matthews: Hearts are an emphatic “yes;” Diamonds are “probably yes;” Clubs are “probably no” and Spades are definitely “no.” The Spades coincide well with the suit of Swords in tarot, while the Hearts have much in common with the tarot Cups; Clubs and Wands are consistent to the extent that they both apply to enterprise, and Diamonds and Pentacles are less persistently congruent (both can stand for money and material things, but the secondary meaning of Diamonds as “communication” is not shared by Pentacles).

I’m looking forward to the adventure. After spending nearly 50 years using the tarot and the last nine years with Lenormand, I’m seeking a new challenge. I’ve been nibbling at the edges of cartomancy for the last couple of years but now I’m going to take the plunge. Expect to see some example readings here in the near future.


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