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Join Date: 08 Sep 2004
Location: Madison, WI
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Questions about the history of cartomancy and card meanings


I've recently become interested in cartomancy and have been surprised how little there is on the subject that is clear and consistent. There doesn't seem to be agreement on traditional card meanings. The current popularity of Lenormand only seems to muddy matters as people often treat Lenormand meanings like traditional card meanings when they do not appear to be.

Based on the way references to playing cards and cartomancy have become woven into common phrases, it seems there was some consensus at some point on what the cards meant. For example, we know the Ace of Spades has associations with death and ill omens, and have a sense of how the court cards represent different personality types (Queen of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, etc).

The only source of traditional cartomancy meanings that seems to reflect the meanings that have filtered into popular expression and culture is Robert Chambers' Book of Days. But where did Chambers get his meanings from? Are they truly traditional? Is his claim to have been taught by a soldier's wife what really happened, or simply a good story? Are there any other sources with similar meanings?

Part of what frustrates me about Lenormand is that the meanings she attributed to the cards seem divorced from suit and numerological associations. What is the point of using playing cards as the backbone of a divinatory system if the underlying system of the cards is ignored? Yet it seems there are many traditional and historical cartomancy meanings that are just as divorced from number or suit meanings.

I suppose that it makes sense that what probably started as a gossipy parlor game didn't have a deeply thought out system behind it. Perhaps the meanings that made their way into pop culture were flukes rather than widely or universally accepted meanings.

I would appreciate any clarification that more experienced and knowledgeable cartomancy practitioners can offer.
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