Questions about the history of cartomancy and card meanings

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noby  noby is offline
Join Date: 08 Sep 2004
Location: Madison, WI
Posts: 309
Questions about the history of cartomancy and card meanings

I've recently become interested in cartomancy and have been surprised how little there is on the subject that is clear and consistent. There doesn't seem to be agreement on traditional card meanings. The current popularity of Lenormand only seems to muddy matters as people often treat Lenormand meanings like traditional card meanings when they do not appear to be.

Based on the way references to playing cards and cartomancy have become woven into common phrases, it seems there was some consensus at some point on what the cards meant. For example, we know the Ace of Spades has associations with death and ill omens, and have a sense of how the court cards represent different personality types (Queen of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, etc).

The only source of traditional cartomancy meanings that seems to reflect the meanings that have filtered into popular expression and culture is Robert Chambers' Book of Days. But where did Chambers get his meanings from? Are they truly traditional? Is his claim to have been taught by a soldier's wife what really happened, or simply a good story? Are there any other sources with similar meanings?

Part of what frustrates me about Lenormand is that the meanings she attributed to the cards seem divorced from suit and numerological associations. What is the point of using playing cards as the backbone of a divinatory system if the underlying system of the cards is ignored? Yet it seems there are many traditional and historical cartomancy meanings that are just as divorced from number or suit meanings.

I suppose that it makes sense that what probably started as a gossipy parlor game didn't have a deeply thought out system behind it. Perhaps the meanings that made their way into pop culture were flukes rather than widely or universally accepted meanings.

I would appreciate any clarification that more experienced and knowledgeable cartomancy practitioners can offer.
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MR GREEN  MR GREEN is offline
Join Date: 06 Jun 2012
Location: Chesterfield,England
Posts: 111

Hi, for a look at playing card meanings new and old go to auntietarot very informative. The lenormand cards remember the german meanings for spades and clubs are reversed from what we are used to. So spades are not all bad. mr, green
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Bernice's Avatar
Bernice  Bernice is offline
Denizen of the Coalsack Nebula
Join Date: 07 Dec 2007
Location: Central England
Posts: 3,901

See this link (here at AT):

The Ace Spades was the tax card in the UK.
There's another post about this Ace which I cannot find at present - has more historical info about it.
Mr Green is right about the suit of Clubs, much earlier it was the 'bad' suit. But I'm not sure if this was from France, as the club design was seen as similar to the crosses painted on peoples' doors (plague? Religious differences?). Anyhow, not good.

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