How did cartomancy – using a deck of cards for divinational purposes – find its beginnings?
Was it Tarot or a regular deck of playing cards that catapulted the art of foretelling the future from cards to what it is today?
The history of cards and their use to foretell the future – traditionally called “cartomancy” – is not a subject easily researched, despite that playing cards have been in existence for centuries. Once historical beginnings are delved into, it’s possible to find as many theories about their exact origins as interpretations of the cards themselves when used for divination.
Despite the endless controversy attached to their international origins, all historians agree on one level: playing cards, tarot and cartomancy have captivated the young and old, the rich and poor, the trickster and the gambler – for centuries.
Does it matter how playing cards found their way into modern civilization? Probably not.
Whether they originated as a means for playing games of chance or skill, gambling or for divinational purposes is unclear. It’s highly doubtful whether historians will ever agree on any one theory, given the amount of mystery and conjecture surrounding the subject of playing cards and their origins in general.
Some facts do become clear, however, from study of the subject.
Playing Cards and the Calendar
An interesting relationship exists between playing cards and the calendar which many find fascinating as they begin to learn cartomancy. For instance, there are:
- Twelve face (or court) cards, directly relating to the twelve months of the year and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
- Two colors to the deck – red and black – matching the two halves of the year (summer solstice and winter equinox).
- The four suits – Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts and Spades – match the four seasons of the year.
- Thirteen cards in each suit to match the 13 weeks of each season.
- Deck holds 52 cards just as there are 52 weeks in a year.
- All of the spots on the cards in the deck equal 365, the number of days in a year.
Playing cards and The Bible
It has also been said that playing cards bear a direct relationship to the Bible. For example:
- Ace = One God in Heaven.
- Two = The Bible’s two sections, the Old and the New Testament.
- Three = The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
- Four = The four evangelists of the Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- Five = The five wise maidens who were ready to go with their lamps trimmed with oil and that five foolish maidens were shut out.
- Six = God’s creation of the world in six days.
- Seven = The Sabbath.
- Eight = The eight people who were saved after the flood: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their three wives.
- Nine = The ten lepers that Jesus cleansed; One came back to give thanks and nine did not.
- Ten = The Ten Commandments.
- The King = One King of Kings and Lord of Lords in Heaven.
- The Queen = The Virgin Mary who conceived through the Holy Spirit.
- The Jack of Spades = Satan, the Dark Force in life.
Read more on the empirical history of playing cards in A Soldier’s Prayer Book.