Fortune-Telling With Playing Cards

By M. K. Van Rensselaer.

Without in the least crediting that cards that are derived from ancient mysteries are able to reveal the incidents connected with human life, many people consider the trial an interesting amusement.

What were the methods used by the ancients for divining the wishes of the gods? Truly this opens a vast field of inquiry that ranges through every device and symbol ever invented by man.

Within a few years various plans have been suggested for reading the fate through the hand, as is done by the Gypsies, or by the cards, as practised by the priests of Mercury; but these are only a few hundred years old, and probably have but little relation to the actual rites that have left no authentic record and now can only be guessed.

Consultation of the cards serves to amuse the idle, the curious, and the credulous, so a brief recapitulation of the two methods most in vogue may interest readers, who can try for themselves to read what the divining tools say through the interpretations used by two of the most celebrated fortune-tellers of the past century, namely: Etteila and Mlle. le Normand. The latter used modern French cards, while the former required a complete Tarot pack that is not easy for most people to obtain.

Cardmakers have not been unready to invent for their customers various fantastic packs with weird symbols, and to bestow on these modern creations various significances that have no relation whatever to the old Tarots; therefore they are valueless in the eyes of those who believe in the ancient mysteries, which have been implicitly credited for ages, and have a significance that is not difficult to understand, although the different shades of meaning attributed to them by the Initiates have been lost.

The fortune-telling packs issued by the card makers of the day generally bear French pips, since these symbols are the ones familiar to manufacturers in France, England, and America. They have, in addition, badly drawn, inartistic pictures that are foolish and meaningless, since they are neither heraldic nor symbolic, and they are only intended for amateurs, since the true fortune-teller or Gypsy of today prefers the cards with the ancient pips of Money, Swords, Rods, and Cups, together with the Atouts.

A pack published in Frankfort-on-Main has the French, not the German, pips, as would seem natural, and the cards are named “Le Normand Karten.” They are great favourites in Europe, where they are used for foretelling the future and describing the past or present by credulous persons who follow the rules laid down in the accompanying book or key, believing that the cards were originally arranged and interpreted by the celebrated French cartomancie, Mlle. le Normand herself, who had wonderful luck in her business and has had many successors.

This pack is one and a half by three inches in width, which is smaller than ordinary Playing Cards, and more convenient for laying out on a table. The pack contains only thirty-six cards, with three court cards to each suit, namely: King Queen, and Knave. The six pip cards are Ace, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and Ten. Each one has a meaningless picture on it, such as a coffin, birds, flowers, or keys, and male or female figures dressed in the fashion of 1850. In the upper centre of each card is a small space, on which are the court figures or the pip symbols that are represented on an ordinary pack of French cards.

The directions for consulting the cards are printed in German and French in a small book accompanying them, so, since any pack with French pips would serve for the same amusement, the rules and interpretations may well be here given, as many persons enjoy consulting the cards to discover through them, if they may, the past, present, and future.

Shuffle and cut the cards, and then hand them to the Inquirer to cut three times. Deal one at a time, placing them face upward on the table in rows from left to right. The first four rows each should have eight cards, and the fifth row only four cards, which should be placed in the middle under the others. These signify the end of life, and the row is, consequently, shorter than the others. The cards for this row must be put so that there are two outside of them on either side, both left and right on the row above them, which makes the two outside lines count only four cards from top to bottom, while the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth lines have five cards under them.

If the inquirer is a female, she is represented by the Ace of Spades, and if a male, he is betokened by the Ace of Hearts. These cards also represent husband and wife, or two lovers, and great attention must be paid to the place where they fall in dealing, for all the other cards are dominated and controlled by one of these two, taking their significance from them. The portent of the other cards is great or less in degree according to their position, whether it be near or far, above or below, these two representative cards. Those touching them are supposed to show the events that are happening at the present moment, those far from them are in the past, or the future, depending whether they are above or below the two important ones.

The meaning of the thirty-six remaining cards is explained as follows:

King of Spades.—Great happiness. A journey. A voyage on business. A happy life.

Queen.—Happiness throughout life in every way.

Knave.—A birth. A child. A sweet disposition. Affability.

Ten.—Inherited wealth. Business. Fortune. Journey on account of business. Travel.

Nine.—Successful voyages. Commercial enterprises. Faithfulness. Illusions. Flirtations.

Eight.—Social position. Constant love. Unimportant position. Bad companions.

Seven.—Good news. A letter from a distance. Bad news. An invitation.

Six.—Long life. Sad life. Sickness. Death.

King of Clubs.—Trouble. Happiness. Disaster to friends. Good news of friends.

Queen.—Misfortune. Bad friends. Slander. Loss.

Knave.—Discord in family. Unhappiness between lovers. Illness. Protracted sufferings.

Ten.—Happiness. Indifference. Trouble from outsiders. Slander.

Nine.—Annoyances. Troubles from friends. Quarrels. Lawsuit.

Eight.—Friendship. Faithful lover. Powerful enemy. Enemy overcome.

Seven.—Loss. Thief. Loss recovered. Loss irreparable.

Six.—Disagreeable news. Slight trouble. Bad news. Trouble for friends.

Ace.—Engagement. Happy marriage and riches. Broken engagement. Separation of lovers.

King of Diamonds.—Fortune from the sea. Enterprises successful. Misfortune. Loss.

Queen.—Unhappiness averted. Danger escaped. Sorrow. Trouble.

Knave.—Chagrin. Misfortune averted. Danger. Unhappiness averted.

Ten.—News. Secret intelligence. Gossip. Scandal.

Nine.—Illness. Sorrow. Accidents. Danger.

Eight.—Invitations. A love affair. Pleasure for the beloved. A love affair in the family.

Seven.—Happy journey. Arrival of friends. A short trip. A journey.

Six.—Pleasure. Good news. Annoyances overcome Good fortune.

Ace.—Prosperity. Good luck. Discouragement. Misfortune.

King of Hearts.—Reunion. Prosperity. Fidelity. Endurance.

Queen.—An excursion. A journey. A prevented visit. Delayed journey.

Knave.—Love. Happiness. Pleasure. Concord.

Ten.—Fidelity. Lovers. Friendships. Treachery.

Nine.—Good news. Tidings. Letters. Visits.

Eight.—Honours. Approbation. Jealousy. Misery.

Seven.—Pain. Slight illness. Recovery from illness. Health.

Six.—Good fortune. Happiness. Reverses. Troubles.

With this key to the interpretation of the cards, as arranged according to Mlle. le Normand’s theory, they may be read as follows, counting on the cards as they fall near or far from the Ace of Hearts. If they are above or close to and on the right, they mean the first description; if on the left, they signify the second one. If below on the right, the third description is the one to be taken, and if below on the left, the fourth.

Suppose a young man is the inquirer, and the cards be dealt as follows:

First Row.—Six of Diamonds, Nine of Clubs, Seven of Hearts, Seven of Diamonds, Ten of Spades, Queen of Clubs, Ace of Hearts, Ten of Clubs.

Second Row.—Six of Spades, Seven of Spades, Eight of Clubs, Six of Clubs, Nine of Spades, King of Clubs, Ace of Clubs, Seven of Clubs.

Third Row.—King of Hearts, Knave of Hearts, King of Diamonds, Queen of Spades, Knave of Spades, Queen of Diamonds, Six of Hearts, Ten of Diamonds.

Fourth Row.—Queen of Hearts, King of Spades, Ace of Spades, Eight of Diamonds, King of Clubs, Eight of Hearts, King of Diamonds, Nine of Hearts.

Fifth Row.—Ten of Hearts, Nine of Diamonds, Eight of Spades, Ace of Diamonds.

This could be explained through the key as being a young man who from birth had been surrounded by envious, jealous, and quarrelsome persons, who formed his character, leading to the greatest unhappiness in the family life. The marriage of his parents having been unfortunate, it reacted on the boy’s welfare. A trusted friend or guardian stole the fortune that had been left in trust. But, endowed with good health, these troubles were disregarded in youth. His character being unbridled, capricious, frivolous, inconstant, peevish, and given to imagining grievances, although affectionate to his friends, his disposition made him uncongenial to most persons.

Secret enemies, who had been trusted as friends, embittered his life in a way that nothing could overcome. A long journey undertaken for the sake of forgetfulness was filled with annoyances and mishaps. Some brightness entered into it through the companionship of a charming woman, which might have resulted in a happy marriage had not the jealous spirit that controlled the young man’s career prevented. An early death is prognosticated.

Let us now consider the other method of fortune-telling, which was followed by Etteila, a celebrated French fortune-teller, who lived in Paris about one hundred years since, who wielded a vast influence over his compatriots, who firmly believed, as, indeed, he did himself, that he had discovered the key to the Book of Thoth Hermes Trismegistus through an old pack of Tarots that fell by chance into his hands.

It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte had great faith in the deductions and revelations of this ci-devant hairdresser’s apprentice, to whom Josephine presented him. The empress was an ignorant and credulous woman, owing to her education in the West Indian island of her birth, the society of which was corrupted by Negro superstitions of a most complicated and far-reaching character.

Etteila published a book called “Collection sur les Hautes Sciences” (1780). It included an essay on “The Sublime Book of Thoth” that is now very rare, but he saw what few others had seen, that Playing Cards were of Egyptian origin, although he failed entirely to trace their progress through the temples of Nebo and Thoth to the Mercury of the Romans, so, of course, never connected the pips with the emblems of Mercury or discovered that they originated from the divine commands given to the Israelites, as well as to the desire of primitive people to consult the Tablets of Fate that were inscribed by Nebo, the great god of Babylonia. Many of the statements and beliefs of Etteila would have doubtless been received with greater credence if these tokens had been pointed out. But Etteila declared that he had discovered the different subtle meanings connected with the Tarots, and that he had elucidated many of the points that had previously been obscure. He certainly obtained astonishing results when consulting the Tarots, or a set of cards that were probably invented by himself, and which are now rare. They were adorned with figures of men and women dressed in the fashion of his day, with numbers on them, but with no pip marks. They were printed on a yellow-tinted paper, and when issued were accompanied by a small book of rules for their use in divining.

Papus, in his “Tarots of the Bohemians,” having digested various works on the Gypsies, kabalism, and occultism, worked out many rules for divining with the Tarots. He places great reliance on magnetic currents, the position of the stars, and the signs of the zodiac, suggesting astrology, but he finds these symbols in the Tarots. He also gives value to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in connection with the Atouts, but, after all, he declares that intuition plays a most important part when reading the Tarots.

As has been pointed out, the Book of Thoth, or the Tarot pack, is divided into two volumes, twenty-two leaves of which are called Atouts and bear symbolic figures more or less correctly described by the names written on them. The fifty-six leaves of the second volume are divided into four suits, namely: Cups, Swords, Rods, and Money, with four court cards to each suit: King, Queen, Knave, and Cavalier, followed by nine numbered cards headed by the Ace.

Papus (page 308) defines the meaning of the suits as follows:

Rods.—Enterprise, glory.

Cups.—Love, happiness.

Swords.—Hatred, misfortune.

Money.—Money, commerce, mercantile interests.

These four sets of principles must be remembered. The four court cards represent people in general or particular who come in contact with each other during the events of life. The Kings represent men, the Queens women, the Cavaliers youths, and the Knaves children.

The court cards of the Rod and Sword suits represent dark people, while those of the Cup and Money suits represent light or fair people. The latter are benign, the former indifferent or malignant.

The key to the pip cards as given by Papus is as follows:


Creation. Enterprise. Agriculture. Fire.

King.—A dark man. A friend. Generally married. The father of a family.

Queen.—Dark woman. A friend. A serious person. A very good counsellor. The mother of a family.

Cavalier.—A dark young man. A friend.

Knave.—A dark child. A friend. Also represents a message or letter from a near relation.

Ace.—Commencement of an enterprise.

Two.—Opposition to the beginning of an enterprise.

Three.—Realization of the commencement of an enterprise. The basis of the work is now definitely established, and the undertaking can be fearlessly continued.

Four.—Obstacles to be prepared for.

Five.—Obstacles surmounted.


Seven.—Certain success.

Eight.—Partial success.

Nine.—Great success.




Preservation. Love. Instruction. Earth.

King.—A fair man. A friend. A barrister, judge, or ecclesiastic. A bachelor.

Queen.—A fair woman. The loved one. The mistress of a house.

Cavalier.—Young, fair man. A friend. The lover or the loved one.

Knave.—Fair child. A messenger. A birth.

Ace.—Commencement of a love affair.

Two.—Opposition. Unimportant obstacles raised by one of the lovers.

Three.—Mutual love.

Four.—Serious obstacles from others.

Five.—Obstacles overcome.

Six.—Obstacles insuperable. Widowhood. Separation.

Seven.—Success and happiness.

Eight.—Jealousy and trouble.





Transformation. War. Hatred. Lawsuits. Air.

King.—Dark bad man. A soldier, an enemy, or one to be mistrusted.

Queen.—A dark wicked woman. A gossip. A calumniator. Jealous.

Cavalier.—Young dark man. An enemy. A spy.

Knave.—A child. An enemy. Bad news. Delay.

Ace.—Commencement of enmity.

Two.—Enmity does not last.


Four.—Enemy defeated.

Five.—Enemy triumphs at last moment.

Six.—Enemy powerless.

Seven.—Enemy successful.

Eight.—Enemy only partially successful.

Nine.—Duration of hatred.

Ten.—Uncertainty in the hatred.

The court cards generally indicate an opposition raised outside of the home.



Development. Money. Trade. Commerce. Journeys. Water.

King.—Fair man. Inimical or indifferent.

Queen.—A fair woman. Indifferent.

Cavalier.—A young, fair man. A stranger. An arrival.

Knave.—A fair child. A messenger. A letter.

Ace.—Commencement of good fortune. Inheritance. Gifts. Economy.

Two.—Difficulty in getting inheritance or good fortune.

Three.—A small sum of money.

Four.—Loss of money.

Five.—Success coming that will balance loss.


Seven.—A large fortune.

Eight.—Partial success. Great loss of money at last moment.

Nine.—A durable fortune.

Ten.—Great successes and great reverses.

The pips of the Rod and Cup suits indicate that which comes from within or at home. The pips of the Money and Sword suits indicate that which comes from outside or abroad.

In order to practise card-reading with success, the Book of Thoth must be mastered in every detail, and every significance of each of the seventy-eight leaves must be committed to memory. After this the laying out of the cards and the reading of their meaning would become mechanical, were it not that the position of each one, as well as of the surrounding cards, is capable of such subtle and illusive connections that only those well versed in cartomancy, or, perhaps, inspired by the dominating genius of Mercury, can translate their import.

First, then, the direct meaning of each card must be remembered, and then its significance when it is reversed; thirdly, its value owing to its position on the table and when in contact with other cards must be known. The card is read in one way when it is required to reveal the character, and in another when the social position or the thoughts of the inquirer are to be revealed. The same card signifies, under other circumstances, past or future events according to its position. A malignant card may be entirely changed if surrounded by benign cards. Thus each condition must be given due weight when the cards are being consulted.

“Human life,” says Papus, “passes through four great periods, namely: childhood, youth, maturity, and old age; so, when the Tarots are being read with regard to the past, present, or future, this is the first thing to be dwelt upon to the exclusion of every other significance that may be seen in the cards. If, however, they are being read regarding events, it will be seen that commencement, apogee, decline, and fall are represented.”

If a business transaction is the subject of inquiry, the suit of Rods must be the one selected, since it indicates creation, enterprise, agriculture, art, and the element of fire.

If a love affair is being inquired about, Cups must represent it. The Cup indicates instruction, preservation, the earth, and affection.

A lawsuit, quarrel, or trouble has Swords for an emblem, as they denote transformation, hatred, war, trouble, and the air.

Business calls for the Money suit; that typifies development, trade, commerce, and water, with ships, travelling, and all that is connected with movement. The Money suit is sometimes named Pentacles.

The Cups and Staves denote the house or the home, the family or near relatives and friends. Money typifies outsiders, or the world in general, or unknown persons. Swords may be either close relations or the public, whichever is indicated by the surrounding cards.

The Atout cards may be divided so that the first seven cards refer to the intellectual life of man. The next seven cards point to his moral condition, and the last seven of the Atouts declare the various events of his life. Taken with the pip cards, a fair narrative of all concerning the ordinary events of life may be read in the cards, that is at least curious and amusing, even if no credence is placed in the revelations, and this is supposed to be what the ancients meant when they declared that Mercury had invented “speech, letters, and books.”


This is taken from Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards.





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