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Playing Card Divination: Unveiling its Roots and History

While Tarot often dominates the world of card-based divination, the practice of reading standard playing cards has a surprisingly long and vibrant history. Step back into history with me and we’ll explore the origins of playing card divination and the fascinating people behind its rise.

The Birth of Playing Cards

The exact origin of playing cards remains shrouded in mystery, but most historians point towards China as the birthplace of the earliest card games around the 9th century AD during the era of the Tang Dynasty.

The journey of playing cards westward was gradual. They appeared in the Islamic Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt around the 13th century and arrived in Europe by the late 1300s, likely carried along trade routes. These early European decks bore beautiful hand-painted designs and often featured suits like Cups, Swords, Coins, and Polo Sticks – ancestors of the familiar hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs.

Early Whispers of Cartomancy

While formal records of playing card divination largely emerge in the 18th century, hints of the practice appear earlier. One notable example is Giovanni Casanova, the famous Italian adventurer. His memoirs mention a young woman who used a regular deck for divination, seemingly predicting his unfaithfulness (an act that arguably didn’t require supernatural powers!).

The Rise of Formalized Systems

The late 1700s marked a turning point. Figures like Jean-Baptiste Alliette (who wrote about divination under the name Etteilla) began to codify playing card divination and popularize it in France.

Etteilla published one of the earliest treatises on the topic, “Etteilla, ou maniere de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes” (Etteilla, or a way to entertain yourself with a deck of cards). Etteilla developed assigned meanings for each card in both upright and reversed positions, which formed the basis for many modern interpretations (although today most decks are reversable and so the reversed position meanings are generally not used).

Playing Card Divination Today

The legacy of early figures like Etteilla and Court de Gébelin has paved the way for a vibrant and diverse landscape of contemporary cartomancy. While no single, definitive system exists, practitioners continue to build upon traditional meanings and find new ways to use a standard deck of cards for guidance and introspection.

One notable influence was author and occultist Leo Louis Martello. His book “It’s in the Cards” presented his own system of playing card divination, emphasizing numerology and astrology alongside traditional suit meanings. Martello’s work highlights the flexibility and potential for personalization within cartomancy. Practitioners often adapt elements from different approaches to find what speaks most deeply to them.

Modern playing card divination embraces both simplicity and depth:

Take the Next Step in Your Divination Journey

If you’re captivated by the rich history of playing card divination and want to start practicing this fascinating art, my playing card divination zine is the perfect guide!

It includes:

The Future is in the Cards

The art of playing card divination offers a unique blend of accessibility and historical depth. From its whispers in the courts of Europe to your own hands today, the humble playing card holds a surprising power to illuminate your path. Whether you’re drawn to the vintage charm of traditional meanings or the boundless potential of intuitive readings, a world of self-discovery awaits within the deck. And remember, the journey starts with a single card.