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Divination - Cartomancy

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Cartomancy is a form of fortune-telling or divination using a standard deck of fifty-two playing cards, i.e. without the two jokers.  Forms of cartomancy appeared soon after playing cards were first introduced into Europe in the 14th century.  However, some cartomancers claim its true origins date back to Egyptian times, the art itself being derived from wisdom given to the ancient Egyptians by the god Thoth (also known as Tehuti).  Thoth, self-conceived at the beginning of time and as the 'inventor' of the spoken and written language, was reputed to possess great knowledge and be extremely proficient in divine speech.  This Lord of Books was the scribe of the gods and patron of all scribes.

Cartomancy using standard playing cards was the most popular form of providing fortune-telling card readings in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  The standard 52-card deck is often augmented with jokers or even with the blank card found in many packaged decks.  In France, the 32-card piquet stripped deck is most typically used in readings, although the 52-card deck can also be used.  A piquet deck can be a 52-card deck with the four 2s through the four 6s removed, leaving the 7s through to the 10s, plus the face cards, and the aces.

Meanings of the Cards in a Standard Deck

Each of the 4 suits in a standard deck corresponds with one of the 4 seasons in a year, hearts with summer, spades with winter, diamonds with autumn and clubs with spring. Each of the 52 cards corresponds with one of the 52 weeks in a calendar year, and can be linked to a particular week in its season. For example, the two of clubs would be linked to the second week of spring, the five of hearts to the fifth week in summer and so on. Who remembers Wink Martindale’s Deck of Cards from 1959?

When using playing cards for Divination purposes, the suits are aligned with the basic 4 elements and have significations as follows:


Hearts reflect your emotional state, the status of your relationships, and your ideals and wishes.  They depict your feelings and concerns for others often relating to partnership, group or domestic concerns.   Generally speaking, they are known as favourable cards.
Spades reflect areas where you are experiencing blockage, conflict and a need for change and elimination.  They signify hardship. gossip, challenges, messages, illnesses and upsets.  They are considered to be unfavourable cards.
Diamonds reflect your sense of financial and emotional security along with issues concerning structure and stability.  Diamonds will reveal what brings you comfort and satisfaction, and usually relate to concerns about money, possessions, home and family.
Clubs reflect the drive, energy and ambition you put forward to reach your goals.  Clubs signify opportunity, generally in business, ambition, and achievement issues, and tend to indicate success and happiness.

It is not only handy, but vital to know the basic meanings of each playing card before you can choose a spread that is right for you.  The next section will provide a general meaning for the face cards (Jack, Queen and King), followed by what are known as the spot or pip cards (ace through to ten).

Face Card

A Jack represents youth and youthful attitudes.  Jacks can represent people of either sex who are younger or less experienced than the querant.  They can also relate to issues of movement and change, because, like children, they are restless and have a need to travel and explore.  They are gaining experience and maturity so therefore cannot be counted on to commit to anything or anyone but themselves, and are incapable of making a decision.
Queens represents women and issues of nurturing or cultivating traits and projects.  Queens often represent the growth stage of a project or goal and relate to helpful people who can assist the querant.  They react to external impulses, judging them, and based on that judgement either cherish or reject them and are thus good arbitrators or mediators.
Kings represent men and issues of authority and control.  They also stand for the ending of a project or goal, and reveal successful endeavours.  Kings are often considered aggressive-natured and outgoing, but unlike Jacks, they have matured and have gained experience along the way.  Kings tend to display little emotion, and view life from a particularly practical standpoint, regardless of which suit.

Spot/Pip Card

An ace represents new beginnings, ambitions, fresh opportunities, and planting of new seeds which may have long-range developments.  Aces also signify the right time to begin a new venture, or they can reflect a deeply held desire.  They indicate that it is a time of leadership, independent thought, and progress.
Twos represent partnership issues, co-operation, receptivity and the need to make a choice or decision.  They often herald a period of waiting and being passive, and the need to develop patience.  Twos can often relate to the traits of sensitivity, gentleness, and shyness.
These represent growth, creativity and expansion, and signal a time where self-expression and self-promotion are likely, such as the possibility of recognition and expression through the written or spoken word.  Threes represent groups and shared interests, so they can also reflect increased social activity.
A four represents stability, order and structure, suggesting a time to lay the foundations for future success.  They may also reflect a period of restriction and burden where you feel you are faced with making important decisions.  Fours relate to self-discipline and hard work.
A five represents a desire for freedom and independence that makes you rebel against the status quo.  It can signal a time of nervous energy, challenges and conflicts with others, along with adventure and impulsive actions, suggesting travel and expansion as well as fluctuations in many areas of life.
Sixes represent a transition from the past to the future, and also relate to responsibilities to others, and duty to home and family.  Six is a number associated with peace and harmony and its vibration tends to settle any past debts.
A seven represents a need for introspection, independent self-discovery and inner growth.  Sevens signify taking an original approach to learning, meditation, retreat, and re-evaluation of one's life, often signalling a time of slow growth.  They may also suggest an attitude of defiance.
Eight represents power, leadership, money and career issues, and relate to the focus and control necessary to direct your energy toward achieving your goals, indicating movement and changes of direction.  Eights signify change in the external world such as property issues and material gain.
Nines represent completion and self-fulfilment, i.e. letting go and moving to a new level of experience.  They suggest a time of attainment and 'clearing the decks' to make way for new opportunities.
A ten represents the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new level of experience.  This can mean a new marriage, house or a promotion.  Tens can also signify having overabundance of something, along with the stress it causes.

The very basic meaning of each individual card follows, but bear in mind that each is a matter of interpretation which can only be gained through experience.  The more you practice the easier it will become.


Home, love and happiness, possibly a love letter.  This card is favourable, indicating troubles and problems disappearing.
This signifies a kindly, affectionate, caring fair-haired man, or a man associated with one of the Water signs.  He will help and advise you without expecting anything from you, his actions revealing his kindness and concern.
The Queen of Hearts is identical to King of Hearts, except that in this case it is a woman.  This card can sometimes indicate a mother or a mother figure.
This card indicates a warm-hearted friend.  Again, fair-haired, but this time a youth or young person associated with one of the Water signs.  This can often mean a younger admirer.
The 10 symbolises good luck and/or success.  This card suggests good fortune after difficulty.
This is the card of wishes, indicating a wish or dream fulfilled.  Look to the card preceding this to determine what the querent desires.
An invitation, possibly to a party, a gift or a visit is indicated by the 8 of Hearts.
This card can indicate lovesickness, but in someone who doesn’t love you completely, i.e. is fickle and unreliable.
This signifies a sudden wave of good fortune.  Someone cares for you, and takes a warm interest in you.
Jealousy is indicated here, in some person or people around you.
Travel, or a change of job or home, or perhaps both, is meant by this card.
When the entire spread is generally favourable, this can indicate love and happiness, but in a difficult spread, it might indicate emotional problems.
A loving engagement or partnership is on the cards, with support coming from your partner.


This card indicates misfortune, and is sometimes associated with death, or more often with a difficult ending.
Indicates an ambitious dark-haired man, or a man associated with one of the Air signs.
A widowed or divorced woman, or a woman associated with one of the Air signs.
A dark-haired youth who is hostile and/or jealous.
This card indicates bad news or worry, possibly both.
The querent is at his/her personal low, and an accident, illness, or bad luck is indicated by this card.
Temptation, misfortune, danger or some sort of upset.  All can be indicated by the 8 of Spades.
There is some obstacle to success.  This card suggests that the obstacle may be coming from within the querent.
Small changes and/or improvements are on the way.
Temporary opposition and obstacles, sometimes indicating a negative or depressed person.
Financial difficulties, minor worries and problems, as well as personal lows are indicated by this card.
A break in a relationship is likely.  Sometimes this indicates that a third person is causing it.
Deceit indicating infidelity or separation is quite likely.  A break in an important period in the querent's life.  This is considered a warning card if the question concerns a romantic interest.


Change is happening.  This could be as a result of a message, often about money, and usually good news.
Indicates an authoritative fair-haired or greying man with status, or a man associated with one of the Earth signs.
A fair-haired woman or a woman associated with one of the Earth signs.  Normally a gossip.
A youth (possibly in uniform), or a jealous person who brings news, generally negative, but relatively minor.
Suggests that a change in financial status, often for the better, is on the way.
Change, restlessness.  Maybe a new business venture, travel, or a change of address.
A new job or a change in the job situation is probable.
An argument concerning finances or employment, but normally expected to be resolved happily.
Relationship problems, arguments, possibly separation are indicated by the 6 of Diamonds.
Happiness and success are indicated, meaning a change for the better.  There could be a birth or good news for a child.  It is also a good time to start new projects.
An older person may give sound advice resulting in a turn for the better in finances.
A legal letter seems likely.  This is warning you to be tactful with others to avoid litigation.
A change in a relationship, possibly a business partnership is indicated.  There may well be gossip involved.


Wealth and prosperity, or unexpected money is signified here, but in a difficult spread this money may disappear almost as quickly as it appears.
A dark-haired, kind-hearted, generous man, or a man associated with a Fire sign.
A dark-haired, confident woman, or a woman associated with a Fire sign may give you good, sound advice.
A popular, cheerful, dark-haired or fiery youth.  The Jack of Clubs can also indicate an admirer.
Business success seems likely, or good luck with money.  A trip taken now may result in a new friend or love interest.
Achievement is what this card means.  It could be a wealthy marriage or a sudden unexpected windfall.
An unfavourable card.  Work or business problems that could be caused by jealousy.
There may be problems arising with someone of the opposite sex.  Business success is possible.  This might be a change due to an expected or earned promotion.
Financial aid or success.
New friendships and alliances could be made when the 5 of Clubs appears.
Avoid blind acceptance of others as dishonesty or deceit is signified.
Love and happiness or a successful marriage.  Maybe a second chance will be given, particularly in an economical sense.
The 2 of Clubs means obstacles to success, probably due to malicious gossip.


Before laying out a spread, shuffle the cards while you consider your question or problem, then draw cards in a particular order and lay them out on the table before you.  It is entirely up to you whether you make your fortune telling session simple or complex.  I do not intend to show any layouts on this page as there are many sites on the internet devoted to this method of divination.

  • Draw just one card for a very simple but quick answer to a question.
  • A common spread involves drawing three cards, the first representing the past, the second showing the situation as it stands now (in the present), and the third showing the outcome.  See also Tarot - Simple 3-card spread.


Some readings require a significator, i.e. a card that represents the querant, usually a face card.  A significator is normally chosen for one of two reasons:

  1. Occasionally, the reader will hand the significator to the querant to concentrate on during the shuffling process, allowing him or her to focus his or her thoughts, thus letting the reader oncentrate on the question being asked.
  2. Quite often the significator is chosen and then returned to the deck to be shuffled.  Should it appear in the reading, it suggests the querant has a good deal of control over the issue in question.  It is also important to note where the significator appears in the reading for further clues to answering the querant's concerns.

Typically, a King would be chosen to represent a man, a Queen for a woman, and a Jack for a young person or child.  There are many systems for choosing a significator and you should choose one that works for you.  You can choose the suit based on the querant's concerns, or their Astrological sign, or personality type.  An outline of some typical methods of choosing the suit is shown below:

Querant's Concerns Astrological Sign Personality Type

Love, relationship issues and celebrations. Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces Warm, friendly, compassionate, creative and loving.
Powerful, intelligent, crafty and melancholy. Gemini, Libra, Aquarius Decisions, deceit, worries and health problems.
Finance, possessions, home and family, and security. Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn Methodical, materialistic, practical and down to earth.
Business, career, ambitions and goals. Aries, Leo, Sagittarius Lively, energetic, enthusiastic and leadership potential.

Standard cartomancy used to be the most popular method of using card readings for fortune telling, particularly during the 19th and earlier 20th centuries CE, but has been greatly overshadowed in more recent years with the ever-growing popularity of Tarot readings.  Unlike Tarot, cartomancy, using a standard deck of playing cards, tends to be used purely as a predictive tool, the meanings given to the cards being much simpler, and relating only to the telling of someone's fortune.  The Tarot, on the other hand, is often used as a tool for meditation, thus leading to self-discovery, each card's symbolism and interpretation(s) being explored in much greater depth.

According to tradition, a deck of cards acquired for the use of cartomancy should never be used for any other purpose, but treated as a 'tool' and looked after accordingly.

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