Exploring Cartomancy, 12Mar23

©2023 michael raven

It has been a number of years that I have played around with various tools often regarded (but not always) as mantic devices, i.e., tarot, runes, “oracle decks”, ogham, etc. for the purposes of writing prompts. In fact, for one of my failed NaNoWriMo attempts, I built my cast of characters from a variant tarot spread to describe who they were and what their shadowed motives were. And some of the story arc as well. In retrospect, I should have put more thought into the matter than I did at the time, but I still think there is a ton of potential to use mantic tools in this way.

And I still play around with this idea, as regulars here can attest: rune casts and single tarot card draws for poetry prompts are frequent features on this site.

I don’t recall what got me to thinking about using standard playing cards in this way. I mean, recently anyway — it’s been in the back of my skull for something on the order of ten years as something I ought to explore. Recently it came to the fore of my thinking again and, having naught much else to occupy my hungry brain, I decided it was time to correct that omission.

While tarot has a relatively short history (late 18th century seems to be the earliest use on record for a specially-designed deck of around 72 cards), cartomancy (the idea of using playing cards as a form of prophecy and divination) has been around a wee bit longer, from as early as the mid-1500s as a form of court entertainment. From what I understand, it appears tarot is the grandchild of those earlier forms of mantic tools.

Well, if tarot fits the bill and is related, why would I pick up playing cards to do something very similar?

Well, one of my arguments for why playing cards might be better for writing prompts is that each tarot card is cloaked in a bunch of occult symbolism. I have no problem with that, in general, and actually approve of decks that understand that the cards are more than a collection of pips and numbers that any old art at hand can be used in conjunction with. Some decks completely ignore the symbolism for whatever reason the creator decided to ignore it, and it is fine for them to have done so, but I don’t think those should be called tarot cards if they don’t contain the corresponding occult symbolisms normally associated with tarot.

But, aside from that rant of mine, I am looking for something more nebulous and unrefined. So, the past few days, I’ve been doing some research about proposed meanings to standard playing cards. Additionally, standard cards allow for someone to move away from the dualistic thinking of tarot, as nearly all of the cards are mirrors of their halves: the orientation of the card provides the same image unless you somehow mark at least one side as “up” and the other side as “down”. I have an aversion to dualistic thinking when it comes to these things. Good and bad are relativistic concepts and dependent upon which side of the continuum to are viewing a particular event.

As such, I see standard cards to be a little more balanced and free of some of that built-in positive/negative judgment in comparison to tarot (and more other similar mantic methods, including attempts to put runes as inverted or upright).

Keep in mind, this exercise is for the purposes of providing writing prompts to consider, not to decide if I will meet my true love, the one will shower riches on me, and make me whole. Antagonists in a story will only rarely think of themselves as embodiments of evil — they are just trying to see their wishes through and their personal goals met more often than not.

My research has turned up that there are a wide variety of card interpretations, but the bulk of them share commonality with core tarot concepts. As I started jotting down notes, it became clear that some of the patterns (with most “authorities”, anyway) could easily be correlated with raw meanings for suits vs. minor arcana and that all the card values start to follow a pattern within rank (A, 2, 3… Q, K, i.e., all Ace cards deal with “beginnings” of some sort relative to their suit’s theme).

It becomes more noticeable when everything is laid out in a grid, which I have done. For now, I’ll keep that grid to myself until I can refine it more but, once you start to see the emergent patterns, card meanings lend themselves to more intuitive interpretations with a minimum of reflection and memorization. And, instead of 52 cards (plus 2 jokers) of memorization, there is only a need to memorize the suit theme combined with the rank theme, unless I am totally screwing things up (it is not a given that I am not screwing it up, BTW).

The picture attached to this post is my first draw with the intent of interpretation:

| A♣ | A♠ | K♣ |

Without going into details I have yet to cover, aces are indicative of “beginnings” and kings are associated with (my word choice), “mastery”. In a most basic of interpretation, ignoring the suits, there are two types of beginnings that are key to a final mastery of a concept or activity.

But how is that helpful? That is where the suits come it. The suits’ themes will help refine that understanding. Interestingly enough, tarots suits have a direct correlation with the playing card suits.

I’ll dig into that within the next couple of days. Keep in mind, I’m just having fun with discovery and exploration. I am no expert on cartomancy, I recommend reading someone claiming to have authority on the matter if this is starting to interest you at all.

Hope this is interesting to you as well. As my exploration goes on, I plan to try to tie these into how I might want to use the cards for the purposes of writing prompts.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Cartomancy, 12Mar23

  1. Most interesting. I’ve used playing cards a bit, but have mostly found the tarot to be more intriguing, mostly because of all that spiritual cloud of associations that has been relevant for me. Also, to me, sometimes the interpretations of playing cards seem more reductionistic in their meanins.
    Or from another perspective, maybe just clearer and simpler–?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s part of the appeal for me in this case: minimalism.

      But that’s been some of my direction with many things lately… Stripping things down to the essence, embracing simplicity.

      It’s hard to explain. 😅

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m most interested to read any of what strikes you with the cards, Michael.

        I think some about the 52 cards connected to the seasons, elements–as I study herbal medicine I think of all this tie-in to the energy flows of earth–time in its weather–as Wallace Stevens said, and also astrological correspondences, my chief mantic guidance system, which is most strongly time based, but nonlinear, qualitative, and alive, as everything is. But I’m not good at simplicity, so will see what unfolds for you and hopefully I can learn to tame down some of my wild ADHD proliferance in way too many directions . . .

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It may be of limited value in the end, but we’ll see what happens. I would not be happy with myself if I didn’t at least investigate the possible use as a writing tool, probably combined with a little Jung to tie it all together.

          It wouldn’t be the first time I had an idea that proved to be a total failure, and I’m okay with that.

          Liked by 1 person

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