Learning to read with plain ole playing cards is well worth the effort. Not only is it a lot of fun, but no matter where you go in this world, someone close by will have a deck. You can count on it. And what’s more… learning to read strictly by suit and number interaction will help you immeasurably when it comes to reading Tarot decks with non-pictorial minors. So I wanted to write a brief introduction to reading with playing cards in the hopes of getting you interested in it, and also to familiarize you with another method of divination.
I think it’s safe to say that most card readers love puzzles, I know I do. And Cartomancy is one of the best puzzle games ever invented. It’s one of those activities that just never gets old. Why? Because every card carries a range of meanings, but which meaning depends on a couple of factors: the context of the reading itself, i.e. the question and any other cards that are present. Yesterday the 3 of Clubs meant this, but today… in this context… next to these cards… it means this. Puzzling it all out can be endlessly fascinating.
So what is the first step in reading a line of playing cards? Establishing a question. Now one of the long standing and well established practices within the card reading community is that we never ask yes/no questions or questions about timing. The reason for this is that Tarot isn’t designed for answering these types of questions. But playing cards kind of are. Playing cards can do this not in spite of their limitations, but because of them. Establishing yes or no is simply a matter of whether you have more red/yes cards or more black/no cards in your line.
When it comes to questions of timing, a standard deck of playing cards contain 52 cards that correspond to the 52 weeks of year and four suits which correspond to the four seasons. Another way of looking at it is that there are thirteen cards per suit (1 – 10 plus three court cards) and 13 multiplied by 28 gives us a total of 364, just one day short of the number of days in a solar year. This is where the Joker enters the picture, providing us with the extra day we need for a total of 365. So you see, there’s more than one way of using a deck of playing cards to divine time.
After we have our question established, we shuffle the cards and then lay them out. Most lines contain three, five, or seven cards – today we’re using a three-card line. The first card on the left tells us what the main focus of the line is. The second or middle card tells us something about the first card, like why, or how, or concerning whom or what. The final card shows us the outcome.
It’s important to keep in mind that playing card suit correspondences are NOT the same as Tarot suit correspondences. In Tarot, Swords correspond to Air, Batons correspond to Fire, Cups correspond to Water, and Coins or Pentacles correspond to Earth. Not so with playing cards. The reason for this is, again, the binary color system. Black cards are viewed as negative and red cards as positive. This is especially true when it comes to the suit of Spades, which is almost wholly negative. Compare this with the Tarot suit of Coins, which has many very positive and happy associations, and you can understand why we don’t just superimpose Tarot card meanings onto a deck of playing cards. Where do the positive and happy qualities of Earth go when we read with playing cards? They’re absorbed by the other suits. Let me show you…
Diamonds is the suit of Fire. Diamonds are bright, flashy and extremely fast. This is the suit of electricity, spontaneity, creativity and spark. It is also the suit of money and legal matters. Diamonds correspond to Spring. Cups is the suit of Water and concerns feelings, emotions, intuition, as well as relationships and happiness. Cups correspond to Summer. Clubs is the suit of Air and concerns communication, work, travel or movement, and social interactions. Clubs correspond to Autumn. Spades is the suit of troubles, problems, obstacles and delays. Spades correspond to Winter. Note: Many cartomancers view the suits differently, but this is the system I feel works best.
Okay, so let’s imagine you have a querent who comes to you wanting to know – will she get to go on such-and-such a trip. Even a cursory look at the cards in the photo gives us a resounding, NO. We know this because we have two black cards and one red card, as well as two Spades, one of which is the outcome card… and not only that, but it’s a 9, the number of endings and distance.
But what if we want to know more… like why won’t she get to go on this trip? Here is where we start playing with number meaning, suit interactions and card combinations. Note: I use standard Numerological correspondences for card interpretation (mostly, but I’ll get to that in another post.) The first card is the 4 of Spades – we know that 4 is a number of structure and foundations, plans, process, milestones, and stability. It can also be slow, dull and stuck in a rut. Because 4 is closer to the beginning of the cycle we know that whatever stability or solidity it has acquired, it’s temporary. When this occurs in the suit of Spades, which corresponds to delay, disruptions, obstacles, and problems, we can see right away that there’s a blockage here. But in regard to what? Where is it coming from? What might it have to do with? Well the 6 of Hearts is our clue. Sixes are concerned with connections, communication, bridging divides, parenting, nurturing, care, balance, beauty, service and family. Hearts tell us this is occurring in the realm of emotion, happiness or relationships. The 6 of Hearts is talking about the care of a family member, or trying to connect with a loved one, or it could even suggest some kind of beauty service. Now we combine the 6 of Hearts with the 9 of Spades in order to get even more information. 9 is the number of distance, fulfillment, endings, the past, compassion, spirituality, and awareness of the next cycle. When this occurs in the realm of Spades, it can indicate negative karma, grief, trouble from a distance or because of distance or with regard to the past, etc.
4 of Spades + 6 of Hearts + 9 of Spades suggests a blockage having to do with some kind of service or attempt at communication or connection, with regard to grief or trouble at a distance, or from the past, etc. And the 9 of Spades is also the outcome card confirming for us that the querent, in fact, will not be making the this trip. Reading this line was a matter of combining numbers with suits and cards with cards. As I said, this can be done with more than three cards. Each card is modified by the card to its right. The final card both modifies the card to its left and acts as the outcome card.
This was a brief introduction to reading with playing cards. I hope it’s piqued your interest in learning more about this divination technique. I also hope it’s given you some ideas about how you might apply this technique to reading Tarot.