Category:Card Reading

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A psychic reading the Tarot cards

Card reading, also known as Cartomancy, is a widely practiced form of divination in which predictions for the future and revelations about hidden matters are made based on the images revealed to the reader through the manipulation of a pack of shuffled cards.

Gifted card readers and hoodoo card cutters are psychics who can use playing cards, gaming decks, oracle cards, angel cards, Spanish cards, Gypsy cards, tarot cards, or personal card decks that have specifically designed for divination to provide divinatory psychic readings that address the querent's specific problems, situations, or conditions. Generally speaking, a number of cards are pulled from a shuffled deck and arrayed on a table. This array is called a "layout" -- and it may contain from one or three cards to the entire deck. There are almost as many forms of layout as there are types of decks of cards. Most readers prefer certain decks and certain llayouts, so when you go to a series of card readers, you may find that each one uses different cards or a different layout than the others.

Hoodoo fortune tellers can use the cards to foretell the past, describe the present, or predict the future; to provide a general character analysis or "life reading," to give an annual "year reading" of things to come within the next 12 months, or to answer specific "yes" or "no" questions.

Card reading, along with Palmistry or Hand Reading, Psychic Reading or Clairvoyance, and Numerology, is among the most popular forms of fortune telling in the United States. Some card readers combine other forms of divination with cartomancy. Among the most common of these combinations are card reading plus Numerology, in which the numbers on the card faces are taken into account, and card reading plus Pendulum Divination, in which the cards that have been selected or pulled are used as impromptu pendulum boards and yes/no questions are asked and answered about the characters or situations shown on the card faces.


Forecasting the Future With Cards

Card readers often set up in small store-front shops; 1960s-era sidewalk signage from Atlantic City, New Jersey
A vintage postcard that attests to the popularity of fortune telling with playing cards in the early 20th century
A fortune teller reads the future in the 1898 painting "It's All in the Cards" by Harry Herman Roseland
A playing card layout with a Queen Elizabeth Root to use as a pendulum to confirm portions of the reading
The French Cartomancy deck is a typical Lenormand style pack of fortune telling cards that can also be used for playing games
A Grand Tableau layout of the Lenormand cards uses every card in the pack
The popular Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck
A trump card tarot layout consisting of three rows of three-card cuts, sometimes called the Tic-Tac-Toe spread; a crystal pendulum is on hand to check-read the cards
The Crowley-Harris-Thoth tarot deck
Card reading may be combined with other divination techniques, such as crystal ball gazing and bibliomancy from the Bible
The Fergus Hall Tarot of the Witches tarot deck
A reader's card set, hand-embellished carrying bag, cologne, and candle
The Piatnik 1901 Gipsy oracle card deck is among the most popular divination card sets of its type in America and Europe
Oracle cards are decks devised for telling fortunes, without a cultural background in gaming or card-play

Card reading is one of the oldest and most popular forms of consultation with a soothsayer, diviner, or seer. Those who tell fortunes with cards are called "card readers" or cartomancers and their clients are known as "querents" or "sitters." Querents may either come in for a "general reading" or they may show up at the reading with a question of particular importance to them.

Divination with cards may be considered a spiritual practice; many readers keep their cards on or near their altar and to treat them with reverence. Card reading also quite often includes conventions borrowed from secular gaming or card tricks, such as shuffling and cutting the deck, using only a selected portion of the cards, or the distribution of the cards into a tableau or layout, a tradition taken from solitaire or doubles-play. There are many different layout or spreads used by card readers, ranging from simple three card cuts and rows of seven cards, to elaborate 12 card wheels and multi-card cross-pattern spreads.

Various layouts may use all of the cards in the deck, or only a portion of them. Specific spreads, such as the ever-popular three card cut, may be used to describe the person's past, present and future, or to give a broad look at what is to come. A spread called the one card draw may be employed to answer a specific yes or no question. Other common spreads, employed when addressing a life reading or a complex situation, may involve positioning the cards into a large rectangle, a pyramid shape, or into three stacks.

Before beginning the reading, it is fairly common for the reader to identify a card from the deck to represent the client. This will often be a face or court card, sometimes similar in general appearance to the client or keyed to the client by age and birth date, or astrological sign of the Zodiac. The card that represents or signifies the querent is called the "significator card" and its placement within the layout indicates the condition of the querent with respect to other forces or characters, which are symbolized by cards laying atop and alongside it.

Telling Fortunes With Playing Cards

The most traditional form of card reading in hoodoo uses a regular deck of playing cards. The deck may be a 32-card Euchre deck, a 48-card Spanish deck, or a regulation 52-card Poker deck, depending on the reader's preferences. No matter the number of cards in the deck, most such card packs consist of two types of cards, numbered pip cards and illustrated court or face cards.

There are many different methods used to read playing cards for clients, and also many forms of card layouts or spreads. Some readers who work in person require the querent to shuffle, cut, and choose a stack, or to simply shuffle and cut; in other systems, and when working by telephone, the cards are handled exclusively by the reader.

Each of the cards has a traditional divinatory meaning, although not all readers use exactly the same system of ascriptions. For example, typical fortune telling symbolism assigns the Two of Hearts to love and romance matters, the Queen of Spades to a widow or older woman, and the Ace of Diamonds to good financial prospects.

Because most decks of playing cards are designed to look the same from either end, there are no "reverses" or "inverse meanings" in a playing card reading, and each card has only one ascription. However, many playing card layouts require the reader to take into account the cards that border on or touch one another in the layout, and these pairings will greatly modify the meaning of any given card. For example, if The Queen of Spades adjoins the Two of Cups, it is foretold that there will be love and romance, but the woman may outlive the man and spend much of her life as a widow.

Lenormand Cards: Playing with Fortunes

Half-way between the austere geometric designs of playing cards and the abundantly graphic images of Oracle cards is the middle-ground occupied by Lenormand-style cartomancy decks. Named after Madame Lenormand, who told fortunes for Napoleon Bonaparte, these sets were originally designed as a 32-card euchre deck, to which images were added as a form of mnemonic. There are also 52-card Lenormand poker sets, as well. Some sets include two special cards, one each for a male or female client or reading subject.

The Lenormand deck consists of the regulation number of pip cards and court cards for the deck, but each card bears an evocative image, in addition to the pips, much like those found in non-suited oracle cards. Furthermore, most Lenormand cards are numbered sequentially according to a system devised by Madame Lenormand.

In some Lenormand decks the graphic images are relatively small and are worked into and around the regular design of playing card pips; in other sets the image takes up most of the space on the card and a miniaturized playing card design is inserted at one corner or at top center of the card.

Lenormand layouts can be as simple as a one-card pull or a three-card cut, but in the Lenormand system, the cards are often read "relationally" rather than "by position." What this means is that the more cards are put into in the layout, the more instances of "nearness" and "distance" there will be between the subject's significator card and the card representing the goal -- and the "path" the eye must follow from one to the other will indicate the difficulty or ease of the journey. In addition, the subject's card will be "surrounded" by cards that may indicate allies or enemies who should be taken note of.

The ultimate layout for Lenormand cards is the Grand Tableau, in which every card in the pack is placed on the table, and many answers can be derived at one sitting, if desired.

Divination With Tarot Cards

Tarocchi is a trick-taking card game that was invented in the mid-15th century in Italy. It is known as tarock in Austria and Germany, and as tarot in France. There are 78 cards in the deck, arranged in four suits, plus extra non-suited trumps or trick-taking cards. There are 40 numbered pip cards, 16 court cards, and 22 trump cards.

Tarot cards were turned toward occult purposes in the latter part of the 18th century with the publication of "Monde Primitif" by Court de Gebelin. In this work he and the Comte de Melet imagined that the cards were the "Book of Thoth," a tome of wisdom and magic whose contents revealed mystic secrets and disclosed untold mysteries. From that time forward people have written books explaining the ancient origins and occult character of tarot, such as Gerard Encausse ("Papus," who wrote "The Tarot of the Bohemians"); or painted arcane trumps, like those done by Oswald Wirth; or created new esoteric card sets in the form of tarot, such as Jean-Baptiste Alliette ("Etteilla"), Pamela Colman Smith (with Arthur Edward Waite), Lady Frieda Harris (with Aleister Crowley), and Jesse Burns Parke (with Paul Foster Case).

With the revived interest in occultism in the latter 20th century, and the successful publishing and marketing efforts such as those of Stuart Kaplan, tarot cards not only became a standard fortune-telling tool, but they were promoted as a qabalistic and meditative spiritual transmutation device by which one might come into communion with holy mysteries and ascend on the planes to heights of mystical glory. Their popularity led to the proliferation of deck types and their repeated appearance in popular media, such as in the production of Ian Fleming's "James Bond" novels and motion pictures, and in dramatic television series.

By the 21st century numerous novel and theme-based tarot decks were published for the public, some of whom set about collecting them. It became a convention to enclose a "little white book" in the box, along with the cards, that explained the arcane nature of the deck and its symbolism to the prospective reader. In addition, many how-to-read-tarot instruction texts were written that offered to inform the interested how to go about using the cards for fortune-telling, meditation, and spell-casting.

In the context of divination, or card readings, tarot decks have diverged into three main categories which are distinguishable by their origins and composition:

  • Tarocchi playing card decks which have remained in use for gaming: this category includes the Austrian Tarock and the French Tarot de Marseille;
  • Occult decks constructed by esotericists along traditional lines of magical association and symbolism, often extending from gaming card motifs into creative hermeticism: the most popular of these are the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot and the Harris-Crowley-Thoth Tarot;
  • Themed artistic decks with diverse symbolism and aesthetic execution, some presenting the images from the popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck in novel guises, such as the Magical Forest Tarot, in which all the familiar characters are cute cartoon animals. and others created by adapting well-known artistic images for the purposes of crafting a deck, such as the Alice in Wonderland Tarot, in which all the images are adapted from the original illustrations to "Alice in Wonderland."

Reading Gypsy Oracle Cards

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, a wide variety of cards decks were developed in Europe specifically for fortune telling. Called "oracle cards" or "Gypsy fortune telling cards," they were never intended for use in card playing, but were instead specifically designed for divinatory purposes.

The most popular oracle card sets are those that contain 32 or 36 cards, each with an immediately recognizable and emotionally evocative illustrated image of some facet of life, such as a dog ("Faithfulness"), a woman in mourning clothes ("The Widow"), or a bride and groom ("The Marriage").

Oracle card readings are extremely popular in Europe as well as America, and most of the decks published in Europe are supplied with descriptive sub-titles in six or more languages. If your cards are read by a rootworker who uses a deck of this type, you will be able to follow along with the reading very easily, as the images are so straightforward that their meanings are clear even to a person with little experience in fortune telling.


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See Also


  • Divination and Fortune Telling by Card Reading and Gifted Tarot Reading

AIRR Readers & Rootworkers Who Perform This Work for Clients

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