Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards

If an apology is needed for writing again on the subject of playing cards, the excuse may be offered that new lights have been turned on the subject, so that there is fresh information to lay before the public, derived from a close and exhaustive study of the European libraries and museums, as well as of the pictures on the Playing Cards themselves or prints found in those repositories, and also in the collection owned by the writer; for these speak their histories to those who regard their symbols with appreciative knowledge, since they had an immense significance when originally adopted.

It is twenty years since The Devil’s Picture Book was published and it is now out of print. The writer has been frequently called upon to furnish papers on the subject, so that it has been kept fresh in mind. At the time that the first book was issued it was the only one that had been printed in the United States devoted entirely to the history of cards not necessarily connected with games. Since then little has been published on the subject, and the information given in the present volume has been largely derived from the writer’s own observations and studies.

A collection of Playing Cards, begun at that time with a solitary pack brought as a curiosity by a traveler from Algiers, that bore the ancient pips of Swords, Staves, Money and Cups, has now grown to hundreds of specimens culled from many different countries. Comparing these with each other, and studying all obtainable histories on the subject, leads to the conclusion that the writers of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were correct when they stated that no historical record existed before the middle of the fourteenth century of games played with cards. But each and all of the writers on Playing Cards agree that there were cards and that they seem to have been used for fortune-telling before 1350, and also that there was a baffling resemblance between the traditions of the cards and what was recorded of the Egyptian mysteries connected with the worship of Thoth Hermes.

It therefore followed that the history and traditions peculiar to the ceremonies connected with that personage should be studied in order to trace Playing Cards to their birthplace and find for them an origin, without weakly stopping at the fourteenth century, and declaring that cards came out of space, as many authors have done.

The heraldic devices of Mercury, which are the emblems of what has always been called, by historians, “The Book of Thoth Hermes Trismegistus,” are in themselves mute proof of the connection of the Tarots (as they are now called) with the cult of Mercury. These cards are the oldest ones known, and the symbols are retained in Italian Tarots of to-day, so it may be allowed that when Playing Cards are studied as the leaves of the book of a cult, not as a game, their own pictures relate the story that has lain dormant for many hundreds of years. They only required to have a key in order to be intelligible to any one interested in the subject, and this has been furnished by recognizing the four attributes of Mercury in the card pips, which had escaped the notice of students until the present time, as well as the attributes of the picture part of the pack called the Atouts, which are those of Egyptian gods.

The popular notion that cards were invented for the amusement of a crazy French king is quite disproved by the historical records of the Tarots of the fourteenth century and the packs that survive. There are some beautiful specimens in Mr. Pierpont Morgan’s collection, the emblems and devices of which are identical with records of the ancient Tarots, and these cards are very much older than the French packs.

Although the gap between the old cards and the worship of Mercury in Etruria is still to be bridged through accurate historical data, the inferential connection is too strong to be ignored and the rules of the games played with the cards intended for prophesying or fortune-telling, as well as the tradition connected with the Tarots themselves offer connecting links with the cult of Mercury that cannot afford to be disregarded, as has been done hitherto.

Mr. Stuart Culin, in his introduction to “Korean Games,” says: “Investigation has been hitherto comparatively unproductive of results from the fact that most students have failed to perceive the true significance of games in primitive culture, regarding them primarily as pastimes.” But he traces many of the games which are common to all children all over the world to a “sacred and divinatory origin, a theory that finds confirmation in their traditional associations, such as the use of cards in fortune-telling.”

That Playing Cards are derived from the mysteries of ancient days will prove to be such a novel idea to many persons that the well-worn expression: “It can’t be true, I never heard it before,” will be hurled at the author. But such critics are begged to pause, to consider the subject carefully, and to marshal convincing proofs to the contrary before dipping caustic-tipped pens into the inkwells of ignorance, doubt and disbelief.

Court de Gebelin, over a hundred years ago, was scoffed at and called a dreamer by the writers who followed him and wrote on the subject of Playing Cards; yet these same gentlemen with strange accord, while failing to advance any proofs of de Gebelin’s inconsistencies or ignorant deductions, contradicted themselves by agreeing with his bold statement that the Tarots were the survival of the cult of Mercury or Thoth Hermes.

The nineteen-hundred-year-old crusade against cards, as wicked tools of wicked persons, dates from the struggle of the early Christians against idolatry, and this has been transmitted for generations, although there are few persons who can trace their prejudices to the true origin. Nor do they realize how often Divine commands to consult the occult were laid upon the Israelites without carefully perusing the books of Moses.

It may be as well to sum up in a few words the various proofs that the Playing Cards we now use are descended from the ancient mysteries. First, Arrows, and their successors, Straws, Sceptres or Rods. Cups, Swords and Money have always been used in connection with prophesying. Second, the emblems of Swords, Sceptres (or Stylus), Cups and Money have always represented Mercury, Thoth and Nebo as their emblems or attributes. Third, the worship of Thoth was introduced into Italy by the priests of that cult, as is proved historically by the remains of their Temple at Puozzoli, as well as the Temple there to Mercury, near which place the Tarots are still found in common use in their original form, displaying pictures of the Egyptian deities. Fourth, the Egyptians or Gypsies are the fortune-tellers of Europe and always use cards for the purpose. Fifth, the name given originally to the Tarots or prophetical cards that bear the ancient emblems was Nabi, Naypes or “Prophets,” which name is retained for playing cards in many parts of the world.

Thanks are due to the custodians of various museums who have displayed their collection of cards, and in particular to the artist, Mr. Burton Donnel Hughes, who kindly and skillfully designed the beautifully symbolic cover for this book.

M. K. Van Rensselaer.

New York, 1912.



Chapter I—Prophetical and Other Cards  
Divining cards—Tablets of fate—Tarots—Gambling cards—Their difference—Persian cards—Oldest emblems—Standard packs of Tarots—German designs—French designs—Rouge et Noir—Persia and Sweden—Writers on cards—The three gods—Derivation of name—Mercury and his predecessors—Writer of E-Sigalia—Fortune-telling—The priest of Thoth—Speech—Italian Tarots—L’Ombre—From leaves to cards—Attributes of Mercury—Atouts—de Gebelin—From arrows to cards—Gambling sticks of King Qa—Rods—Devices—Argiphontes—Cyllenius or Agoneus—Caduceator—Chthonius—The study of cards—Rods—Many authorities—Papus—Temple at Baiæ—Book of Thoth—Addha-Nari—Heraldry—Tradesmen’s signs—Lady Mary Wortley Montagu—Terminus—Cestus—Pigs and tongues—Gazelle—Number Thirteen—Joker.
Chapter II—The Tarot Pack of Cards  
Its leaves—Mercury’s attributes—Il Matto—Nebo—Tablets of fate—The Atouts—Their significance—de Gebelin—Egyptian deities—Parchment records—Thoth the framer of laws—Bible of the gypsies—Attributes of Mercury—Interpretation—Balaam—The “baru”—Tête-á-Tête mysteries—The pack—L’Ombre—Skus—Pagat—Austrian Taroks—The romance of a pack of Tarots—Austrian games—Austrian game books—A clergyman on cards.
Chapter III—Mercurius  
The rank of Mercury—His occupations—His statues—Cadueceus—The purse bearer—The sword—The cup of Hermes—The four symbols—Nebo’s temple—E-Sigalia—Pozzuoli—Its merchants—The Serapeon—Serapis—Roman villas—The temple of Mercury at Baiæ—Mercurius—His work—His parentage—His Infancy—Gifts from the gods—Golden-leaved rod—Wings—The planet—Different cognomens—Representations—Thoth—Inventions—Priests—Sirius—Hermes introduced by the Pelasgi—Books of Thoth—Inventor of games—Great teacher—Titles of books—Connection with cards—Their scientific arrangement.
Chapter IV—Thoth  
M. Maspero’s description of temple—Mr. Rawlinson’s account—Psammetchas—Nebo and Thoth—Symbols—The month—Its device—Tablet of Khufu or Cheops—Hieroglyphically described—Names of gods—Qualities and titles of Thoth—At judgment seat—Sacrifices—Books—Colleges—Priestess of Thoth—Khufu—Thotmes—Cleopatra’s needles—Generations of priests—Gypsies—Hermetic books—The ghosts—Book of knowledge—Its boxes—Magical texts—Amulets—Ritual of the dead—Hall of two truths—Osiris—Confession—Three Writings—King of Sais—The dumb children—Some of the books of Thoth—The temple—Wall pictures—Origin of Atouts.
Chapter V—Nebo or Nabu  
Chaldean god—Different names—Parent—Wife—Presides at birth and death—Sword as symbol—Assyrian gods—King’s temples—Protector—Hymn to Nebo—Borsippa—E-Zida—Great library—Invocations—Titles—Emblems—Stylus—God of Revelations—Nabi, Naypes or prophet—Mr. Chatto’s derivation—Early cards in Italy—Planet—Assyrian gods identical with Roman gods—The Moon—The month—Dog star—Sacrifices—Card emblems—Boar—Temples—Cult—Nebuchadnezzar—All wise—Asshurbanipal—Assyrian invasion—Mingling of cults—Highway of Egypt—Cuneiform inscriptions—Tablets—Texts—Hymn to Nabu—Origin of letters.
Chapter VI—The Atouts of the Tarots  
Consultation of the divinities—Wave offerings—Prayers—Priests and Priestess—Hermetic books—Ishtar—Rods—Jackstraws—Rites—Graven images—Divining arrows—L’Ombre—Egyptian gods on the cards—Number One—The Pagat—Quotation—Baton de Jacob—Meaning of Rod—Choice of the boy—Lottery Chart—Aleph—Meaning—Bohas and Jakin—Initiation of youth—Tablets of fate—Korean superstitions—Fringes of temple—Numbers or letters—Number Two—La Papesse—Isis—Emblems—Qualities—Eve—Derivation of name—de Gebelin—Juno—Emerald Tablet—Mr. Willshire—Juno’s worshippers—Ritual of dead—Beth—Number Three—The Empress—Maut—Attributes—Significances—Figure—Gimel—Dress—Girdle—Titles—Number Four—Emperor—Ammon—Daleth—Persian cards—Titles—Invocation—Number Five—Le Papa—Phthah—Attributes—Hands—Fatima—Number Five’s Meaning—Number Six—Lovers—Cupid—Significance—Vau—Symbolism—Number Seven—Chariot—Mystic meanings—Zain—Arrows—Marked Yes and No—Chinese sticks—Mercury—Pythagoras—The occult seven—Three ages of the world—Seven evil spirits—Hymn to them in Assyric—Seven in the Bible—Other references to that number—Number Eight—Justice—Ma or Truth—The Judge—Attributes—Tiemei—Heth—Ceres—Cups—Number Nine—The Hermit—Aspect—Diogenes—Significance—Rod—Texts—Typical of shelter—Teth—Number Eight—Rota, Wheel of Fortune—Osiris—Anubis—Typhon—The Circle—Wheels of Ezekiel and Pythagoras—Yod—Termius—Use of Yod—Anubis called the Lord of Burying Ground—As jackal—Number Eleven—Strength—Mystic hat—Una—Amazons—Kaph—Goddess Neith—Emblems—Inscription on her shrine—Brides—Number Twelve—Il Pendu—Hanged man—Freemason’s signals—Pagat—Lamed—Its meanings—Vulcan—Number Thirteen—Death—Skeleton—Proverb—Horse of Aurora—Bad luck—Its reasons—Mem and its meanings—Number Fourteen—Temperance—Nut or Nepte—Titles and description—Nun—Oil—Oblations—Number Fifteen—Devil—Set or Sutech—Parents—Title of Hyksos kings—Ears—Zam—Significances—Number Sixteen—Tower—Lighting god—Castle of Plutus—Rameses II and the thieves—Bael—Enlil—Second Dynasty of Ur—Dr. Radau’s translations—Goddess Nin-Mar’s hymn—Ayin—Number Seventeen—The stars—Dog star—Nebo’s mountain—Hebe—Oblations—Gazelle—Typification—Number Eighteen—La Lune—Attributes—Tzaddi—Diana—Number Nineteen—The sun—Zoph—Ra and Rameses—Number Twenty—Day of Judgment—Resh—Significance—Pluto—Ishtar—Epitaph of Lord de Ros—Number Twenty-one—Le Monde—Verity—Four Apostolic emblems—Their manifold meanings—Tau—Le Fou or the Joker—Mat—Emblems—Shin—Gypsies—Early Tarots—Intention of Atouts—Bible of Gypsies.
Chapter VII—Pips of the Tarot Pack  
Suits—Court cards—German, Spanish, Italian and French cards—Emblems of Mercury—Four castes—Lucky devices—Addha—Nari—Phallus—Cteis—Vau—Jod-He-Vau-He—Divining arrows—Golden rod—Numbers 17—Symbols of the Israelites—Indian—Typical of families—Chinese fortune-telling—Zeichiku—Meisir games of Arabia—Naib or prophet—Trèfle—Coppas—Assyrian cup—Cup-bearers—Saki-bearer—Jamshid—Omar Kayyam—Golden cup—Texts—Hall of Two Truths—Osiris—Ma—Thoth—Espadas or Piques—Argiphontes—Meaning of sword in Hebrew—Pitch-pot—Money suit—Collars—Zones—Meaning of suits—Numerical value—Court cards—Their meaning—Seventy-eight Tarots—Rods of Aaron.
Chapter VIII—Some Old Italian Tarots  
Mysteries—St. Paul—Osiris—Bewildered historians—“Portrayed on the walls”—Nebo the Writer—Gypsies—The crossed palm—Spanish cards—The Egyptian fleet—Essay of Count Emiliano di Parravicino—Professional teachers of early days—Cards belonging to the Duke di Visconti—The Royal pack—The artist da Tortona—A wedding gift—Old Tarots—The artist Cicognara—Historic cards—The proverb—Fibbias Tarocci—Museum at Bergamo—Victoria and Albert Museum—Beautiful Tarots.
Chapter IX—Hearts and Diamonds. Spades and Clubs  
Oldest French pack—The costumes—Charles VI—The marriage fête—The fire—Original French Piquet pack—Invention of French pips—Vignoles and Chevalier—Jacques Cœur—The Palace at Bourges—Money or Carreaux—Swords or piques—Sticks or Tréfles—The pun—Red and black—The startling inquiry—Tarots, Playing Cards or the Book of Thoth—Ignorance of writers—French cards born three hundred years ago—Vignolles—Chevalier and Jacques Cœur—Piquet—Agnes Sorel—Black and red—de Gebelin’s history—Confusion—Discussion—Prejudice.
Chapter X—Court Cards with French Pips  
Paio—Stock—Widow—Bunch—Pips—Court cards—Their historic derivation—The number of pip and court cards—The Joker—His origin in America—Cunning Mercury—Fantastic designs—Conservative court dresses—Double-headed and index cards—Costume of the Kings—Their attributes and headgear—Charles of France—Old Tarots in Paris—French cards—The names on the French cards—La Hire—The dress of the knaves—Their attributes—Patch the court fool—Nicknames—The Bowers—Skat—Le Valet—Le Fante—Il Soto—Der Ober—Der Unter—The Queens—Elizabeth of York—Her husband’s picture—The history of Elizabeth our Queen of Cards—Her birth, education, betrothal and costume—The jilting Dauphin—Louis XI—Marriage—The poem—The credulous queen—The elegy of Sir Thomas More—Elizabeth’s effigy in Westminster Abbey—Card backs—Messages and invitations.
Chapter XI—Point Cards with French Pips  
The Pique—Its names—Dr. Stukley’s cards—A Picke—Clubs, the emblem of Agnes Sorel—Hearts—The Ace—The Earl of Cork—Le Borgne—Spanish nicknames—The Deuce—The curse of Scotland—Duke of Cumberland—Chinese card and counter boxes—Pope Joan—Trey—Nicknames for the four and five spots—“Grace’s card”—Lady Dorothy Nevill—The origin of visiting cards—The backs—Derivation of the name of Tarot—The reverse designs—Dolls and their furniture from cards—Thackeray’s invitation—Sir Jeffry Amhurst’s bid to a ball—Luck at Piquet.
Chapter XII—“According to Hoyle”  
The original game played with cards—L’Ombre and its successors—Manilla—The Matadores—Spadille—Nine of Money—The game described in “Cranford”—Punto—Primero—Philip of Spain—Piquet in England—Earl of Northumberland’s letters—Sidney papers—Sir Walter Raleigh—The terms used in Primero—Its Italian rules—Rabelais—Shakespeare’s and other plays—Terms used in Primero—The games that succeeded it—Mawe—Noddy—Gleek—Terms and nicknames used—Ruff, Whisk or Whist—Piquet—Its inventors, Rules, Hands—Ballet—References—Piquet or Cent—Political satire—Hamlet’s speech—“The age is grown so picked”—Euchre—“Heathen Chinee”—American Hoyle—History of Euchre—Dialect—Bower or youngster—Euchre derived from Juch—The German words—An unreliable derivation—Poker—Jack-pot—Widow and Kitty—Poker, Patience—Rules of game—According to Hoyle—His birth and history—The story of Whist—Hoyle’s rules—Cavendish.
Chapter XIII—Engraved Cards  
Print lovers—Invention of Xylographic arts—Earliest wood cuts—Double purposes—Rare prints—Gregineur—Dr. Stuckley’s pack—Cologne engraved cards—Spanish pips—German emblems—Martin Schoengaur—Le Maître—His designs—E. S.—Augsburg—Its guild of cardmakers—The cards of Nuremburg—Jost Ammon—His productions—Italian and Netherland cards.
Chapter XIV—Playing Cards for Educational and other Purposes  
Invectives from State and Church—Destruction in Nuremburg—Its Museum—“The Devil’s Picture Books”—Bishop Latimer—The Text—German instructive cards—Those of China and Japan—The Friend’s cards—Dr. Muruer’s cards—Louis XIV’s cards—History of France—Heraldic cards—Political and other packs—Cards with Mercury’s emblems—Harlequin cards—Musical packs—Japanese cards—Cards as Christian and Jewish Prayer Books—Grammatical cards—Plato’s advice—A tract—Astronomical and religious packs—Historical cards of the United States—Proverbs.
Chapter XV—European Playing Cards  
Cards—Charles V—Proclamation in Paris—Red Book of Ulm—Palamedes and the siege of Troy—Egyptian gambling rods—Cards as postals—Evolution—M. Angelo—Prince of Pisa—Maffei Ringhierri Feliceano and Menesturier—Singer—Chatto, 1392—St. Cyprian—Nearsighted writers—The points of view—Concealed practices—The game of gold—Chinese legend—Connection with divination—Count de Gebelin—“The great dreamer”—Connection with magic—First French cards—Rouge et noir—Rapid spread through Europe—The sailors with Columbus—Introduction of cards into America—Italian verses—Pictures—Literature.
Chapter XVI—Asiatic Playing Cards  
Discoveries of Messrs. Cushing and Culin—Arrows of Divination—The Magi before Pharaoh—The Rod of Moses at Horeb—The connection between arrows and cards—Korean cards—Alaskan rods—The game—Hida Island Indian rods—The next step—Htou-Tjyen or “Fighting arrows”—Chinese lotteries and cards—Derivation of pips—Actor’s cards—Jokers called Blessings—Educational cards—Japanese cards—Historical, gambling and divining arrows—Poetic cards—Cashmere cards—Persian cards—Their emblems.
Chapter XVII—Chess and Other Games  
Chess a battlefield—The Emperor Akbar and his queen—Lady Dufferin’s description of the Palace of Glass—Living Chess—Two Jokers—Derivation of Chess—Troy—Crete—Nig—Egyptian caricature—Korean Chess—Set in British Museum—Chess from Brahmins—Ravan, king of Ceylon—Seffa’s trick—Persian words—Jussef’s escape—Mora—Draughts—The Pharaoh—Greek and Roman names—French games—Checkers—Korean “horses”—Dice—German dice cards—Korean dice—Dominoes—Jackstones—Materials—Ball—Pieces—Kong-Keui—Chinese and Korean games—The sets—Muggins—Milking the cow—Grab—Peas in the pot—Horses in and out of the stable—Sweeping the floor—Spreading the table—Laying eggs—Setting eggs—Hatching eggs—Jackstraws—A set described—Their values.
Chapter XVIII—Fortune-Telling Through the Cards  
Methods—Etteila—Le Normand—Fortune-telling cards—Rules—Meanings of cards with French pips—A fortune told—The hairdresser of Paris—The First Napoleon—Les hautes sciences—Deductions of the fortune-teller—Papus—Definition of suits—Key to the pip cards of the Tarots—Staves, Cups, Swords and Money—Rules for reading the cards.
Chapter XIX—Reading the Tarot  

Rules—The first diagram—Directions for divination—The young man’s career—A second game with its rules—To establish fluidic sympathy—The fourth deal—Etteila’s method.





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