It is in the cards

several different decks of cards on a table
It is all in the cards photo by Leon Calafiore

Out of the Broomcloset

It would be a rare household that did not have thrown in a drawer somewhere, a common object that can be the stuff that dreams are made of—no, not a Maltese falcon. For some, they’re a sign of a social evening or a pastime to while away empty hours; for others, the touchstone of a gambler’s soul. But here we are considering the first category.

While reading aloud to others has fallen out of fashion, generally, you’d be hard-pressed to encounter someone who, when asked, “Would you like me to read your cards?” would decline the chance. It’s more likely that whatever else is happening in that room, that party will be completely disrupted as a line form of suddenly eager seekers for a glimpse of what the cards might have to say.

Like many good things we utilize daily, it would seem that the first playing cards were produced in China. However, they were really developed in Persia, Turkey, and Egypt, and made their way to Western Europe during the Medieval age. Various styles of decks there developed, which divide into standard playing card decks and what we now think of as Tarot cards.

Even then, they were as often used for divination as for games of chance, and so, often banned for either or both reasons.

So, if you want to be a card reader, you’ll first need to pick a deck and buy the book(s). This can be daunting, as there’s so much to choose from these days. If you want to go the playing card route, there is the unfortunately named “Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Cards”, which have meanings printed on the corner. Better to use either a standard deck or investigate an edition of Lenormand cards; it’s a set of only 36 and the illustrations are evocative and so, easier to memorize, assimilating image to meaning.

But then, there’s the classic Tarot deck, here as the Rider/Waite deck, (the artist, Pamela Colman Smith, having made a much greater contribution to the enterprise than was once thought), 78 cards in total, 22 in the major arcana, and 56 in the minor arcana (four suits of 14 cards each, Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles). The suits and other cards are generally derived from Renaissance Italian decks, used to play Tarrochi. The basic structure of this deck is the template for the multitude of various sorts of divination decks you’ll run across many of which are equally inspirational and engaging in their own way.

So yes, dear hearts, no matter which set(s) tempt you, you will need to familiarize yourself with the “basic” meanings, associations attributed to each card. For example, in a Tarot deck “Death” does not indicate a death, Hollywood notwithstanding. There’s no shame in sitting at home, flipping through them while looking at the reference; some of you might remember flashcards as study aids and it can be like that.

After those baby steps, you then should practice a “spread,” laying down a series of cards, and explore how they relate to each other. You may start simply, with three cards, indicating past, present, and future, for example. How do the associations you have been learning interact with each other?

Is there a direction they seem to indicate? Eventually, with repetition, you should feel confident enough that you can utilize more elaborate configurations, feeling secure that a coherent narrative is coming through to you, which you can then communicate.

There’s only room enough in this column to offer a few basic suggestions, if you, dear reader, are so inclined it’s a jump into a fascinating realm of contemplation, and a useful tool for considering what was is, and might be. It’s all in the cards.