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The Tarot is a form of occult and, some say, spiritual card deck. Originating in Italy in the 1400s, it was apparently devised for playing a trumping card game called Tarocchi. Since the 1700s it has been widely used for fortune telling and divination of the future, and it is also linked by many occult and hermetic authors to a mystical system of Hebrew Kaballah or even ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs.
There are hundreds of different Tarot decks in existence, with considerable variation from deck to deck. Most feature 78 cards, one of which is designated the Fool -- and in most Tarot decks the remainder of the cards are divided into three portions:
Although divination with cards seems to have originated with regular decks of playing cards, Tarot cards are now the most popular cards used for fortune telling, and they are also widely used as aids to meditation, mystical development, ritual workings, and spell-craft.
The most famous card reader of all time was Mademoiselle Lenormand, who devised a system of identifying playing cards with certain of life's situations, and who read cards for Napoleon Bonoparte and his wife the Empress Josephine. After Lenormand's death, card makers created specially illustrated "Lenormand style" decks so that anyone could use her divination system without having to memorize the meanings of the playing cards. In these decks, there is a small image of the regular playing card face set into a larger colour picture of the mnemonic image, with the set-number in a circle at the top.
In keeping with European playing card trends of her period, Lenormand probably told fortunes with a 32-card Euchre deck arrayed in 4 suits (Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades) with 20 pip cards (A, 7, 8, 9, T), and 12 court cards (K, Q, J).
In the late 19th century, a third system of card reading arose in Europe, using unnumbered emblematic cards. Although many of the images in these decks derive from Lenormand style decks, the cards are not set-numbered and they do not contain insets of playing cards. They generally come in packs of 36, 48, or 52 cards. Although They are sometimes sold under names like "Gipsy Cards," or "Cartomancy Cards." Despite the name "Gipsy" in the title, these Oracle Cards should not be confused with the Lenormand style 52-card Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards described above.
In these "Cartomancy" or "Oracle Card" decks, the cards are not numbered or ordered in any way. They do not contain inset the pip or court cards from a regular deck of playing cards, nor do they include a special trump suit like Tarot cards. However, they still feature many of the images that were devised by Lenormand and her successors -- figures such as the Widower, the Letter, the House, and the Thief. The images on these cards are both allegorical and direct: Hope is a woman with an anchor, Love is enacted by Cupid, Malady shows a woman sick in bed, and Falseness is still the Fox of Lenormand's devising.
Unnumbered decks of this type are without a doubt among the most beautifully illustrated of all the non-Tarot cards used for fortune telling. Many of them seem to have originated in Austria. The oldest of the unnumbered Austrian "Cartomancy" sets contain 32 cards, like the original Lenormand Euchre decks, but as time went on, more cards were added to cover more of life's conditions, so there are decks with 32, 36, and 52 cards.
Examples of these sets include the 32-card so-called Biedermeier Fortune Telling Cards (the title is modern and simply refers to the Biedermeier art style of the cards), the early 20th century 36-card Gipsy Fortune Telling Cards (Zigeuner Warsagekarten -- not be confused with the 52-card Gypsy Witch Playing Cards), and the 52-card so-called Art Deco Fortune Telling Cards (the name again is simply a descriptor of the 1930s-era painted artwork).
Although most people think only of games when they see a regular deck of playing cards, the truth is that anyone can, with a little practice, use these cards for divination.
In some ways the employment of playing cards for divination purposes is more impressive to a client than the use of pictorial Tarot or Cartomancy cards, but in other ways there are drawbacks.
The upside of using non-pictorial cards -- from the reader's point of view -- is that the reader appears both mysterious and erudite; there is an aura of "fate" or "destiny" present as the reader describes the attributes of the cards. Another benefit is that since all interpretations must come directly from the skill of the reader, there is no way that a picture can supply the client with an emotionally charged false attraction or false aversion. (The matter of clients forming false aversions to certain Tarot card images is sometimes covered by readers who deliberately extract the Death card from their decks before reading for new clients, in order to avoid making a "scary" first impression should that card turn up.)
The major downside to reading with non-pictorial cards -- again from the reader's point of view -- is that a great deal of memorization is required, for there are no allegorical emblems to give the reader a hint as to what the cards imply. Another drawback is that a hostile or skeptical client unfamiliar with a traditional system of diivinatory playing card attributions, such as Lenormand's, may wrongly think that the reader is simply faking a series of disconnected predictions as part of a cold reading candle-burning scam.
Of course, any Lenormand style cartomancy decks that include playing card insets on their faces can also be used for playing any number of games --- and some people consider decks that have been used in fortune telling to be especially lucky for games of chance.
To order Tarot cards, Cartomancy decks, and Playing Cards for fortune telling from the Lucky Mojo Curio Co., click on the link of your choice:
- TAROT CARD DECKS at the LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
- "LENORMAND" STYLE CARD-READING DECKS at the LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
- UNNUMBERED "CARTOMANCY" AND "GYPSY" FORTUNE TELLING CARD DECKS at the LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
- PLAYING CARD DECKS at the LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
- BOOKS ABOUT TAROT, CARTOMANCY, and DIVINATION at the LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
- For our COMPLETE LIST OF BOOKS,
go to the page on Books about Hoodoo, Magick, Spells, and the Occult at the LUCKY MOJO CURIO CO.
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