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Divination and Cartomancy with Playing Cards

While in America it is very common to do cartomancy with Tarot decks, Hoodoo practitioners often use the 52 card deck most of us know as playing card games. There may be several different reasons for this such as the need for secrecy, the ease of access, and the history of cartomancy itself.

Firstly, divining the future, like much of magic, has gone through some hard times over the course of American history. In a country known for burning witches at the stake, it isn’t hard to believe that one might not want to be known for divining the future or any magic at all. While cartomancy isn’t specific to figuring out the future, that is often what people are interested in. Also, specific to the Hoodoo tradition of secrecy, it was for the best that one was not caught with any magic specific items. Therefore, being able to point to another reason for having the cards in their possession was vital.

Secondly, while getting a deck of cards wasn’t as easy as trotting down to the local convenience store and buying a pack, a playing card deck, with its standardized look and not quite innocuous use, was simpler to come across than a deck of Tarot cards. Being Black and poor, or even enslaved, meant such things were difficult to come by. A deck of playing cards, however, could come easily to hand and be used for more than one thing.

To get into our third point, we have to look to the history of playing cards and Cartomancy itself. In most of the English speaking world, if you want to do Cartomancy, one usually uses a deck of Tarot cards. However, looking back at the history of playing cards and card decks, Tarot is the newcomer. What we would consider a modern Tarot deck only comes into use in the 15th century to play games and then in the 18th century for the use of cartomancy. Meanwhile, the standard 52 card deck with its four suits began in the 13th or 14th centuries. This makes it much more likely that the standard deck of 52 would be used for Cartomancy much earlier.

The primary and major difference between the standard deck and a Tarot deck is the Major Arcana, also called the greater secrets. In games where Tarot decks are used, the Major Arcana are suit-less trump cards. In Cartomancy, they each have their own meaning and correspondence.

Beyond that the decks are very similar. Each has four suits and those four suits have correspondences. While all practitioners do not agree on which suits mean what, I have included a discussion of the suits taken from “Rootwork” by Tayannah Lee McQuillar.

Hearts or Cups - correspondence: water. Hearts represent the emotional life, dreams, love, creativity, domestic issues, and spiritual matters associated with earthly pleasure.

Spades or Swords - correspondence: air. Spades are associated with mental and spiritual development, obstacles, treachery, and loss. They caution against the perils ahead and how they can be avoided through clear and rational thinking.

Clubs or Wands - correspondence: fire. Enterprise, entrepreneurship, creative integrity, inner development, business, and loyalty are the dominion of the clubs.

Diamonds or Pentacles - correspondence: earth. Markers of craftsmanship, generosity, finances, stability, and health are diamonds.

I have made no attempt to tell you what each of the cards mean in their respective suit. My suggestion would be to buy a book such as McQuillar’s and study the interpretation prior to attempting Cartomancy with a deck of playing cards.

All together, Cartomancy as a form of divination has been around for a long time. It undoubtedly came to the new world along with many other things and the methods for doing so have been around for centuries. In Hoodoo, Cartomancy is one of many possible ways for a reader to figure out what they need to know either about their client or about the questions being asked.

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