A Simple method to Read Playing Cards...


Dear friends,

The following is an update from my current project (tarology) that I have decided to share here. On previous updates I have shared an operation manual for the tarot and its basic components, the meaning of meaning, many ways to learn the tarot, and a practical layout for shamanism. This time I am sharing the simplest method to read regular playing cards I can think of. Anybody could find guidance or make a living after reading these 21 lines! While some could find it too simplistic, I hope some of you will find it as useful as I do.

how to turn a deck of cards into a thermometer
(learning social sculpture from a Hare)

red is warm
black is cold

1 is contracted
10 is expanded

from 1 to 2 or 3
things go slow

from 1 to 6 or 9
things go fast

pips are patterns
courts are people
pips are inner
courts are outer

all that falls between
"Once Upon a Time" and "Happily Ever After"
is about going

from warm to cold
from cold to warm

about contracting if you have expanded
about expanding if you are contracted

because you are a lump of clay
(and I mean it nicely)

Enrique Enriquez
New York, 2008-2009


Here are a few more ideas to complement the previous post.

The Subtle Voice of Playing Cards

Look at the four basic elements, or suits, in a deck of playing cards: Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades. If we compare the shape of these four elements paying attention to the solid inkblot shape only, we notice something interesting. The Heart has only one pointed end, the Club has two pointed ends (on the stem), the Spade has three pointed ends, and finally, the Diamond has four pointed ends. Even if this seems capricious it gives us a progressive order, a way to arrange these four symbols in a sentence: Heart-Club-Spade-Diamond. The problem is that we don't know yet what the sentence is saying, because we don't know the meaning of each of these four symbols. And we won't necessarily find that meaning by looking at them in isolation. To comprehend each one of these four symbols we need to see them interacting with other symbols. Here, we leave the Aces behind to look at the Twos.

It doesn't matter if we look at the tarot or playing cads, in a card sequence the Twos express the nature of the interaction among elements. The Twos mark that point in which the symbol becomes part of something bigger than itself. Lets consider Hearts first. The Heart is red. This is not a cardiac muscle. This heart won´t get a heart attack or an arrhythmia. This is the heart that can be broken by love and is the aim of Cupid's arrows. It's the heart we have seen reproduced in countless Valentine's Day cards, and countless graphic objects. This is the heart we metaphorically heal with poems, the heart that makes us do crazy things. If we look at the Two of Hearts we see two hearts whose pointed ends are turned towards each other. The fact that each one of them points to the other creates a sense of attraction. Hearts attract each other. We can feel a virtual line running from one heart to the other, a line of 'togetherness'. We can see in this kind of tension a metaphor for connection, and we can extend that metaphor to love and passion. By observing the way these two Hearts behave we understand why hearts are often associated with romantic love, emotions and the social class of spiritual leaders, healers and compassionate people. In other words, Hearts resonate with sublime values. The Heart symbol can be linked to the idea of inspiration.

We have another kind of heart in our deck. Spades look a little like black hearts, and when we look at the Two of Spades we see how the tension between the two Spades in the card is the complete opposite from the Two of Hearts. Spades repel each other. They resemble arrows pointing in opposite directions. We can see in this kind of tension a metaphor for antagonism or conflict. By observing the way these two Spades behave we understand why Spades are often associated with war, enemies, and the ruling classes. Spades resonate with obstacles and antagonism. The Spade symbol can be linked to the idea of conflict.

A similar yet not identical tension can be perceived in the Two of Clubs, but these two Clubs neither attract nor repel each other. The two Clubs stand one in front of the other. The floral element resembles a 'Tree of Life', or a tree whose branches spread in the same way as its roots. But these Clubs are two elements, not one. Their three petals suggest an unfolding, as if each one of these Clubs were showing off its best attributes to the other one. Therefore, they mirror each other, like in a dialogue or a conversation. This kind of tension can be seen as a metaphor for socialization. By observing the way these two Clubs behave, we understand why Clubs are often associated with work, friendship and social life. By extension, this kind of interaction suggests the link between Clubs and the working class. Clubs resonate with the idea of dialogue. The Club symbol can be linked to the idea of negotiation.

Finally we have the Diamonds. Having four corners, our Diamonds don't suggest any specific direction. In the Two of Diamonds, our Diamonds stand steady in their positions, anchoring the whole composition of the card. These two Diamonds are grounded. In fact, Diamonds are the only elements in our deck that can be assembled to create extended patterns. Four Diamonds together will create a bigger Diamond. Literally speaking, the more diamonds we have, the more wealthy we are. But our red diamonds don´t look like gems. They look like tiles. Graphically speaking, the more diamonds we put together, the larger the surface for us to stand on. This can be seen as a metaphor for stability. By observing the way these two Diamonds behave, we understand why Diamonds are often associated with money, richness, and the class of merchants and businesspeople. Diamonds resonate with the idea of reward.

This way, by looking at the symbols we define a sequential order to align them: Heart, Club, Spade, Diamond, and we have also defined a concept for each symbol:

Heart: Inspiration

Club: Negotiation

Spade: Conflict

Diamond: Reward

Our sentence, translated from the four symbols to the four words becomes:

Heart-Club-Spade-Diamond = Inspiration-Negotiation-

Here, we notice the arrangement of the colors on our sentence: RED BLACK BLACK RED. The color red, with its promise of passion and warmth is at the extremes: Inspiration and Reward. We dream of something, we put our heart on it, and we hope to be rewarded by getting it. But black, with is cold darkness, stands between these two very direct notions in the form of Negotiation and Conflict. Being both black symbols we can even fuse them into one single notion: negotiating conflict. Our sentence would be rewritten like this:

Inspiration-Negotiation of Conflict-Reward

Interestingly, both a heart and a diamond are shapes we can recreate on our own by using our two hands. Try it yourself. Your two hands put together can create a very nice heart-shaped space between them, or a diamond-shaped space; but in order to recreate a club, or a spade, you will need at least an extra pair of hands. You will need external help. Try it yourself. Putting your hands together you can create two lobes for a club, but to finish the image another person will have to add the upper lobe and the stem of the club. Same thing happens with the spade. You can create the two lobes of the spade, but you need two extra hands to form its stem. That suggest that the cards typify events that are internal (inspiration) - external (negotiation) - external (conflict) - internal (reward). In other words, our four-symbol sentence is also telling us that in order for us to transform our inspiration into a tangible reward we will need to open ourselves up to the world. Even if we an dream and rejoice alone, we can´t thrive alone. The idea this inward to outward and then back to inward cycle, showing what has changed as a result of all our activity, becomes very clear.

In a painting attributed to Giorgione we can read: INGENIUM NON VALET NISI FACTA VALEBUNT, "our wit is worthless unless we have the will to work".

Is not that what the shapes of the cards are saying?

But playing cards have still more to say.

Since the deck is composed of 52 different cards, we can go further and deeper. To understand the subtle voice of the cards we need to look at the suit's sequences and the way they behave.

The first thing we notice when we look at the series is that we are working with two different levels of representation: in the number cards we find a very simple, symbolic language, while in the court cards we find a figurative language. There will be a useful understanding we can get from comparing and contrasting a normal deck with a tarot deck. Everything we have been exploring about the tarot trumps will come in handy in helping us understand the court cards. Conversely, everything we discover about the numerical playing cards will help us understand the tarot pips even better.

Let's look at the number cards.

If we put all our number cards in a row from one to ten we notice a pattern. We go from odd cards to even cards. This pattern brings up a very important feature in our cards: the presence of disorder. There is no story in order. For a story to happen we need disorder. As soon as the general order of things gets disrupted, we have a tale to tell. That is exactly what happens in the suits series. Even cards present a balanced structure that gets unbalanced in the odd cards. Getting a story from one single card may be hard, but every time a new element appears in an odd card it upsets the order that was present in the previous even card. That little transition from card to card is a story and we must acknowledge it and use it as such.

As an example, look at the transition between a Two card and a Three card. Can you see the story there? The new element, right at the center of the card, shares the same direction as one of the two original elements and therefore visually 'teams up' with it. What happens when two are happy an a third one appears? What happens when two disagree and one of them gets a third player on his side? What happens when a third party is called upon by two opposite teams, or when we are forced to choose sides? All these stories are contained in the transition from the Twos to the Threes.

Between a Two and a Three, a whole drama happens. We see the balance between two elements being upset by the presence of a third element. Take a look at all of your two and three cards and realize that what you are seeing is the foundation for most of the good drama in human history from Shakespeare to the evening news. In the transition from the twos to the threes we have all the stories about jealousy, love triangles, alliances made to overthrow governments or to change a company's board. We can see gossip, treason, teaming up and scheming.

We look at the transition between a Four card and a Five card and we see how, when everything is settled and a new element appears, balance gets redefined. Now the new element shares the same direction that two of the two original elements and gets visually grouped with them. Everything gets upset and search for a redefinition. Two factions that may have remained indifferent to each other up to that point start their bidding to attract the newcomer's attraction or loyalty. A new kid in the school chooses a faction over another one, a political candidate is lured by two financial groups, we arrive late to a party and we don´t know in which side of the gossiping we may want to fall. All these stories, and many more, are present in the transition between a Four card and a Five card.

Looking at the pip cards from one to ten we also notice that the cards in the sequence get progressively heavier. This is, the amount of black, or red is increasingly higher in each card. I mean this visually, of course, although I bet we could weight the Nine of Diamonds and find out that it is literally heavier than the Three of Diamonds! In any case, the higher the number, the heavier the card, with a higher amount of red or black on its surface. This is the way the cards have to tell us how intense things are getting. We don´t need numerology here. The cards are there to be seen, and it would be by looking at then that we will extract all the information we need. From one to ten Inspiration increases, Negotiation gets more intense, Conflict hardens and our Reward gets more substantial. In other words, the cards show a visual progressive rhythm that can be followed. This rhythm is a message in itself.

Chance will make sure we won´t always get our cards in order. That's why we must look at our cards and detect a rhythm in the sequence. We look for the rhythm while disregarding which symbols we get. The progression in the cards that shows up in a given reading will either be getting more intense, or they will be getting less intense. That way we know if the rhythm is expanding, or if the rhythm is contracting. Usually we would think that expansive rhythms are good news and contractive rhythms are bad news, but in truth that would depend on the question we are asking. Also, we will see that our rhythm could get contractive or expansive in a direct way, or it could fluctuate. Having a Two of Clubs, a Six of Spades, an Eight of Spades and a Nine of Hearts would indicate a direct, expansive rhythm. Having a Five of Hearts and an Eight of Diamonds would indicate a fluctuating rhythm which overall can be seen as expansive.

The cards present multi-layered levels of meaning. We must learn to look at them separately, and then, we must know how to put it all together.


Enrique Enriquez
New York, 2008


Cheers Enrique!

I'm always interested in new ways to read playing cards. Thank you.
Hoping you'll continue with this :)



Bumping this cause I found it fascinating when it was first posted but I was not in a posty-type place then....lol... and talk of EE elsewhere on site reminded me of this, especially with there being a little renewal in interest for reading with playing cards...


Cactus Dahlia

Thanks for bumping this Joey. It's great. :) And can be used with tarot cards too.


Eye Rhymes for playing cards!

E.E.:...everything we discover about the numerical playing cards will help us understand the tarot pips even better.
I agree with this because playing cards preceed tarot :)



Thanks from me as well for bumping this up. :)


Thanks, guys!

I've read this article a number of times and just find it fascinating... I've read playing cards for years... but I read them as an abbrieviated tarot with some other hodge podge of meanings mixed in... I even tried making my own lil system... that's posted on here somewheres... but did like it at all... I found it very amateurish and silly...lol... I don't think my ways do them any justice at all... it's nice to see a renewed interest in playing cards... and this article is quite mind expanding... perhaps I should start from scratch........



Simple does it

Enrique, having returned these days to reading cards more systematically - though mainly for the sake of stretching the elastic of my own brain - I find myself stumbling over writing that resonates with me also in places that I haven't thought of visiting before. Right now I relish my astonishment at the generosity of people sharing beautiful ideas for free, so I must thank you again. Yes, to the point, let me drop this thought: what do you think of the idea of spilling over, of contamination, remainder, or residue? I'm not thinking only of the 10s, but also the other number cards. You talk mainly about transition, and the tensions that go into that, but as Derrida said, there's always a trace, or a supplement that haunts all exits.


Fab!!! it made sense, and i have always found reading with playing cards felt like it was very complicated/.

Thanks muchly