A Short History of Playing Card Divination


Wahrsagerin (Fortune Teller)

The earliest European record of playing cards is from 1332 when King Alfonse XI of Leon and Castile banned them.  The cards journey (the Saracen deck) is posited to have come up from Morocco into Spain.

These 15th Century Mamluk cards have 4 four suits – cups, coins, swords, and polo sticks.

The Mamluk Sultanate 1250–1517 emerged from Egypt and Syria, spreading across the Middle East. It’s capital, Cairo, became the Arab Islamic world’s economic, cultural and artistic center.
Mamluk 1500
Discovered in Istanbul, The Mamluk cards are thought to be the, then modern, adaption of the cards used in the Chinese (Late Ming) dynasty card game of Mǎ diào.  The connection here is that there were established trade between the Middle and Far East. 

Chinese cards are documented as early as the 9th century during the Tang Dynasty (618–907).

The argument against the Arabic origin of European cards is that Qur’anic law forbids gambling and creating human images (The Court Cards).  The Arab world adopted monotheism under the  Islamic (Muslim) religion after The Prophet Muhammad unified the Arabic people under the umbrella of Islam during the 7th Century, meaning that human imagery may have been outlawed since the 7th century. 

However, the cards were not necessarily used for gambling.  Even today many Muslim families traditionally use playing cards for games that do not involve any gambling.

The alternative origin (of European playing cards) could be Indian playing cards – which  had seven to ten suits.  So either our cards come from China or from India.  There is also the likelihood that that both of these card systems  were circulating at the same time.

There is a beautifully reconstructed Mamluk deck published in 1972 by Jan Bauwens and Aurelia Books of Belgium.

It is most likely that many people used many different types of cards for divination, using personal blends of family and folk traditions.

What then, would be older than the cards ?

There are several systems of divination using archetypal ideas, which, when represent by items that could be mixed to form a random pattern, like the runes, the Hebrew Alefbet or the I Ching.  The resulting pattern would be used to divine situations or to perform magic.  Infact, in 19th century when the Tarot developed it’s complex esoteric correspondence system, many, like Waite and Crowley, associated the Hebrew letters with the trumps.

The history of the cards appear to have more of an alternating, interweaving connection than being a straight line of evolution to modern day cards.

For much more detailed and fascinating reading concerning the history of cards, try these sites:

Mary K Greer: Origins of Playing-Card Divination.

Mary K Greer: What every newbie tarot should know…

House Of Playing-Cards

A Concise History of Playing-Cards

Playing Cards Wikipedia




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Lenormand Cards


Many people hearing of Lenormand cards are intrigued, but if you’re not a card reader – generally you wont know what we’re talking about. 

Lenormand cards are originally a reduced pack of playing cards with a picture and title associated with each card.  It is a modified full deck (52 cards) – having removed the 2 pips to 6 pips which means it contains 36 cards.  (Unless it’s German decks where they replace the Aces with the Twos.) 

Originating in Germany as “The Game Of Hope” (Das Spiel der Hofnung) it was created by Johann Kaspar Hechtell who made it circa 1790.

Johann Kaspar Hechtel

Johann Kaspar Hechtell

Portrait of Lenormand

Mademoiselle Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand

The Cards as we know them are named after Mademoiselle Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand.  On her passing in 1843,  36-card decks appeared with the same symbolic imagery as “Das Spiel der Hofnung” and were attributed to her.

Wikipedia does not have much to say about her:

According to them: She born on 27 May 1772 in Alençon, Normandy, to Jean Louis Antoine Lenormand, a draper, and Marie Anne Gilbert.

 Lenormand was orphaned at the age of five and educated in a convent school. Lenormand left Alençon for Paris in 1786.Mademoiselle Lenormand claimed to have given cartomantic advice to many famous persons, among them leaders of the French revolution (Marat, Robespierre and St-Just), Empress Josephine and Tsar Alexander I. She was active for more than 40 years.

Lenormand cards are a cartomantic system have just started their global revival within the last few years.  There is a recent trend towards traditional European card reading systems, and the Lenormand revival is one facet of that.

If you’d like to learn more, why not click on one of these pictures. These are a few of the astoundingly talented people practicing cartomancy:

(Just a note:  There is absolutely no affiliation with any of these readers, they are just respected leaders in their field)

Donnaleigh de LaRose


Mary K Greer

Tali Goodwin

Tali Goodwin

Marcus Katz

Marcus Katz of the Tarosophy Tarot Association


Camelia Elias from Denmark

Malkiel Rouven Dietrich

Malkiel Rouven Dietrich A German Card Reader who also does English language videos


Fortune-Telling by Cards


This is the short first chapter of Foli’s 1915 book on reading with cards.  The history of card reading is still quite contentious and there are many superb people diligently researching the rich and fascinating history of reading with Tarot and playing cards.  I find this book charming and fascinating and thought I’d share a bit here.

Fortune Telling by Cards, by P.R.S. Foli


How we got our Pack of Cards

Where do they come from?—The Romany Folk—Were they made in Europe?—Suits and signs—The power of cards—Their charm and interest—Necessity for sympathy—Value of Cartomancy.

Where do They Come From?

WHEN we take up an ordinary pack of cards to deal them out for a rubber, or to lay them down in the careful deliberation of Patience, or when we watch them being used as the inexplicable instruments of a something that, with a feeling akin to superstitious dread, we prefer to call coincidence, we do not often stop to think of the varied and eventful history represented by those smooth, highly-glazed playthings.

The actual and authentic history of playing cards only goes back about five hundred years, and various theories have been mooted as to the source from which Europe obtained them. It is an established fact that in past ages many eastern peoples, notably those of India, China, and Chaldea, possessed cards which differed materially both in use and design from those known in the West at a later date. It is impossible to trace these prehistoric beginnings of card-lore, but there seems little doubt that the Wise Men of eastern lands regarded their cards with none of the contempt usually bestowed upon them in the West. They held them in high esteem as mediums for the partial revelation of the Unknowable, and included them as a part of their mystic lore.

The Romany Folk.

It is thought by many that we owe our cards to the gipsies, who are supposed to have been the offspring of a low caste of Hindus, and who, driven from their own land, found their way, as fugitives, through Western Asia into Egypt, and from Northern Africa into Europe. It is certain that all kinds of fortune-telling, whether by Cartomancy or whatever method, are inseparably connected with that curious, fascinating, highly gifted and elusive people. They excelled in music and ail mechanical pursuits; they could learn a language, or distinguish themselves in metal work, with equal ease; but they had to live more or less on the defensive, as very children of Ishmael, and years of persecution only deepened their craftiness, sharpened their intuition, and rendered them more keen to assert their mysterious power over those who oppressed and yet inwardly feared them.

These Romany folk have preserved intact the ancient lore of the East, while incredulous Europe has turned the sacred pages of divination from the book of fate into mere instruments of amusement, and a vehicle for winning or losing money. The gipsy remains a past master in the art of Cartomancy, and though we may scoff, there are very few amongst us who do not feel a sense of disquietude when brought face to face with an instance of her uncanny power. We can afford to laugh when the sun of our lives is shining brightly and all is well in mind and body, but there come dark days in the lives of all, and then some are impelled to seek the aid of these weird sons and daughters of an unknown land.

By many, perhaps by the majority, this inexplicable gift has been vulgarised and debased to a mere means of extorting money from the ignorant and the credulous; but by some it is still held as a sacred faith—possibly no more superstitious than some forms of unenlightened or perverted Christianity

Were They Made in Europe?

Another theory separates the cards of the West entirely from those of the East, and holds that the western were originally made in Europe. This is as it may be. A writer of the latter part of the fifteenth century says that cards were first known at Viterbo in 1379, and that they had been introduced by the Saracens, who, with the Arabs and Moors, have the credit of planting the seeds of Cartomancy in Spain. It is certain that at first cards were called by the name naibi; and the Hebrew and Arabic words, Nabi, naba, nabaa, signify “to foretell.” It is also widely believed that the idea of playing games with cards was an after-thought, and that their original purpose was for the practice of divination.

The earliest cards were the Tarots, of which we speak in another chapter, and it is supposed that some one had the bright idea of adding the numeral to the symbolical cards, so as to play games with them. This addition was made about the middle of the fourteenth century, and at the beginning of the fifteenth century there was a pack in Venice composed of seventy-eight cards, twenty-two symbols and fifty-six numerals; with four coat (court) cards, king, queen, chevalier, and valet, and ten point or pip cards to each suit. The fifty-six numerals were subsequently reduced to the present number, fifty-two, by the rejection of one of the picture cards.

The Spaniards discourteously abolished the queens, but the French, true to their reputation, kept the dame and rejected the chevalier. The early German packs were the same as the French, but the queens again were cast out in favour of a superior knave called the Obermann. England accepted the Spanish or French pack as she found it.

Suits and Signs.

There have always been four suits, but there have been many changes in the signs used to mark them. The original quartette were:—Cups, supposed to be emblematical of Faith; Money, representing Charity; Swords, figuring Justice; and Clubs, typical of Fortitude. These signs are still retained in the Tarots, and in Italian and Spanish cards. Old German packs have bells, hearts, leaves, and acorns; and during the fifteenth century the French adopted spades (pique), hearts, clubs (trèfle), and diamonds.

There is some difficulty in tracing how we come by the word spade in this connection. It has been thought to be a corruption of the Italian word spade, meaning swords. It is not known why the French should have called this suit pique. Our suit of clubs is known by the French as trèfle, from their drawing the sign like the trefoil; and the Germans call it Eichel from its resemblance to an acorn. Our name is supposed to show Italian influence, though where the connection between the word bastoni and our sign is to be found, I am at a loss to say. The heart sign needs no explanation, and is found in French, German, and English packs. It corresponds to the Spanish and Italian sign of cups. By some curious evolution the signs of money and bells were squared into the French carreaux, our diamonds.

Many of the packs used in the fourteenth century were of the most artistic and costly nature, and in some cases the court cards were drawn so as to represent historic characters.

The Power of Cards.

Fierce controversies have ranged round these apparently simple pieces of glazed pasteboard. They have exercised such an irresistible fascination upon the minds of men and women of all grades and ages that others have risen in wild revolt against this power, which had no attraction for them, and which they longed to crush out of existence. There are still those amongst us who will not have a card in the house, and who, even if they do not use it, acquiesce in the term “the Devil’s books,” which has been applied to the pack.

With their use for gambling purposes we have nothing to do here. As the instruments of Cartomancy we give them our respectful consideration. We would urge those of a morbid and unhealthy turn of mind to beware of letting this practice take too strong a hold upon them. No reasonable being need be ashamed of confessing a certain fear of the Unseen and the Unknowable; but, on the other hand, no sane person would take a pack of cards as the rule and guide of life, the final court of appeal in any matters of moment.

Their Charm and Interest.

There is much amusement to be derived from the study of Cartomancy, and it is not to be denied that there are certain persons who appear to have the power of making the meaning of the cards vivid and convincing, while in the hands of others there seems neither rhyme nor reason in their manipulation of the most carefully shuffled pack. We may call things by what name we will, but strange coincidences meet us at every turn, and now and then there seems but the thinnest veil between us and the Future, which is so sedulously hidden from us.

There has been a great revival of interest in all matters relating to occultism in the immediate past, and if we are to believe what we read and hear, educated men and women of to-day are going to have their fortunes told as eagerly as did the great men and famous women of France during the stormy period of the Revolution, and under the sway of the great Napoleon himself. Many curious and convincing instances of accurate foreshadowing of future events are told with regard to the famous Mademoiselle Lenormand, and other cartomancers who held undisputed sway over the minds of society at a time when credulity was supposed to have been cast off with the trammels of a worn-out creed.

So when the fortune-tellers of the twentieth century take a pack of cards and proceed to read the mysteries revealed therein, they are following the example of the wise men of Chaldea, Egypt, and China, the Flowery Land of the East, to say nothing of their European predecessors.

Divination by cards, therefore, is of great antiquity and of world-wide popularity. Formerly it was combined with a knowledge of astrology; but now it is considered sufficient to follow the general rules laid down by one or two famous cartomancers, and to rely on intuition and experience for details.

THE COCONUT SELLER – a Philippine Folk Tale

coconutSource: Mabel Cook Cole, Philippine Folk Tales (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1916), p. 88.


One day a man who had been to gather his coconuts loaded his horse heavily with the fruit. On the way home he met a boy whom he asked how long it would take to reach the house.

“If you go slowly,” said the boy, looking at the load on the horse, “you will arrive very soon; but if you go fast, it will take you all day.”

The man could not believe this strange speech, so he hurried his horse. But the coconuts fell off and he had to stop to pick them up. Then he hurried his horse all the more to make up for lost time, but the coconuts fell off again. Many time he did this, and it was night when he reached home.

Dear Young Man,

Thank you for your email, You requested a Short Reading from us.

You specifically asked:


“Why on earth did the coconut seller not take my advice?”


The Short Reading about the coconut seller.

Here is your short reading: The 9ofDiamonds: A method used will not achieve the goal, JackOfClubs: this message concerning a practical matter is conveyed but 8ofSpades the coconut seller has a mind that focuses more on negative things than the positive side of the situation.

The tarot cards speak of him needing to make a choice, but he seems confused and doesn’t know what to do. Instead of hearing, analyzing  and following your advice; he rushes in and chaos ensues.

The reason he rushed in was not because he ignored you, but because he did not understand the options you had outlined for him.   He had the outcome in mind instead of the practical method that you had suggested (as shown by the first card).

I hope this reading has been helpful to you.  If you need any clarification, please do not hesitate to email me.

If what you seek is a further reading to see more options or a deeper analysis of the situation, please contact me via email.

All the best,


CLOUD EATING a South African Folk Tale


from South-African Folk-Tales, by James A. Honey [1910]

JACKAL and Hyena were together, it is said, when a white cloud rose. Jackal descended upon it, and ate of the cloud as if it were fat.

When he wanted to come down, he said to Hyena, “My sister, as I am going to dive with thee, catch me well.” So she caught him, and broke his fall. Then she also went up and ate there, high up on the top of the cloud.

When she was satisfied, she said, “My greyish brother, now catch me. well.” The greyish rogue said to his friend, “My sister, I shall catch thee well. Come therefore down.”

He held up his hands, and she came down from the cloud, and when she was near, Jackal cried out (painfully jumping to one side), “My sister, do not take it ill. Oh me! Oh me! A thorn has pricked me and sticks in me. “Thus she fell down from above, and was sadly hurt.

Since that day, it is said that Hyena’s hind feet have been shorter and smaller than the front ones.


Dear Hyena,

Thank you for your email, You requested a Fast Response Card Reading from us.

You specifically asked: “What happened with my friend Jackal, I really trusted him and he dropped me.  Should I keep the faith and keep believing in him? What I really want to know is – am I right in pursuing a loving relationship with Jackal – was it really just an accident?”


Hyena’s Fast Response Card Reading

Your questions are very emotional, and I can well understand why.  As we agreed via email, we changed your questions slightly to gain the maximum benefit from your reading:

  • What are my options in our relationship, so that I can stop being emotionally and physically hurt by Jackal.
  • Was Jackal letting me fall, an innocent but unfortunate accident?

I did a simple spread and included a picture of it on the left.  Sometimes we intuitively find more meaning or a connection  to the spreads used.

Starting with the second question first: With the 3 of Spades, 9 of Diamonds and Queen of Spades, I’m seeing a relationship that has been beset with problems – and though there are good moments where it seems it is improving and it has changed for the better, it reverts to it’s previous problematic  expression.

Here this has been expressed by sorrow about a lack of commodities (food as your email said) , then improving dramatically (finding the feeding cloud).  This improvement in your personal food wealth (9 of Diamonds) was immediately followed by an accident, but in this case the Queen implies that it was no accident, she shows the truth about a negative action (she’s above the 7 of Swords showing deception).  The short answer is that he let you fall for selfish reasons and he has lied about the thorn being the cause.

The Tarot cards confirm what the playing cards are showing.  To answer your first question: In order to prevent further situations where you are hurt by Jackal, the cards suggest that you spend this time recovering from your injuries.  You will be in a better space where you have the strength to make a change for the better (Strength + 9 of Diamonds) and the difficult truth of the matter (Queen of Spades) is that to reach the space of not being hurt by Jackal, you’ll have to consider leaving ( Queen + 7 of Swords) as his behaviour is repetitive and deceptive.  So to answer your question, leaving is the only way to avoid being hurt.

I drew one more card for you, 9 of Pentacles describes your situation if you do decide to part ways.  It speaks of having learned valuable lessons and being in a financially independent and happy place.

I hope this reading has been helpful to you.  If you need any clarification, please do not hesitate to email me.

If what you seek is a further reading to see more options or a deeper analysis of the situation, please contact me via email.

All the best,







Folktales And The Characters That Ask For Readings


Card readings tell stories.

Either very long detailed tales or short and relevant parables, here I have combined my love of folktales with some advice from the cards.

What are the important things things that we as readers need to tell these characters and what are the lessons that the cards say they’ve learned.  Let’s watch the story unfold.