Your Cart: £0.00
Visit the Shop
 
Posted | Last Updated April 14, 2014 at 11:34pm | Share this page on Facebook
English Fortune Telling and Divination Cards English Fortune Telling, Tarot and Divination Cards Link to Tarot

Divination was practised by the ancient Greeks, and by the druids, the Celtic priests of the iron age, who consulted various types of omens, runes, bird droppings or holy books in an attempt to seek guidance from the gods or other supernatural entities. Needless to say, divination was considered a pagan practice and forbidden in the early Christian church. Early scientific notebooks contained alchemical and medical recipes, texts on geomancy and divination (often translated from Arabic texts or transmitted from ‘ancient physicians in Babylon’), natural philosophy and miscellaneous notes on astrology, dream interpretation, etc. The divination methods usually involve a series of questions on life, death, children, marriage, imprisonment, enemies, sedition, etc. and the enquirer then turns for the answer to one of the ‘Judges of Fates’. More complicated systems might relate questions to planets and moon phases, possibly mystifying the enquirer.

Above: two examples of early 18th century Fortune-Telling cards. 1. English Oracle cards, 1714; 2. 'Geistliche Karten', Germany, 1718, based upon Biblical counsel.
See also:  Chinese Fortune-Telling cardsPeruvian 'Ramses II' Tarot cards

From the 16th to the 18th centuries Spanish sources offer a lot of information about cartomantic and magical uses of playing cards. An early example is a reference by Pedro Ciruelo (1538) to fortune-telling using dice, playing cards or handwritten cards ("Estas suertes se echan en muchas maneras; o con dados o con cartas de naipes o con cédulas escritas"). Playing cards are used in much of Spanish-speaking America for fortune-telling, predicting the future or even as a psychological adjunct to folk medicine and therapy. The tradition goes back many centuries. In these examples, playing cards or tarot cards are used to focus attention on hopes, fears or other psychological states within the mind and therefore are a valid tool for spiritual or introspective enquiry. They can facilitate a sort of dialogue with the subconscious mind and help to clarify thoughts.

Le Petit Cartomancien

Above: three cards and wrapper from "Le Petit Cartomancien" fortune-telling cards manufactured by B.P. Grimaud, Paris. The miniature playing cards in the top corners depict full-length 'Paris' type courts, alongside contain divinatory interpretations with images of different personalities below.   See more →

Playing cards were used in England for fortune telling in the middle of the 17th century, if not earlier. Cartomancy seems to have been practiced elsewhere much earlier, particularly France, where there had been a revival of interest in fortune-telling, the occult, prophecy, clairvoyance, etc., perhaps inspired by the prophecies of Nostradamus (1503-1566) in the 16th century. By the end of the 17th century Britain's Renaissance had reached its zenith. The world was fraught with wonders, and the learned men of the day were constructing elaborate new schemes to encompass the whole of knowledge. There was a society of fortune tellers in London who called themselves the Mercurii of London.

Lenthall cards, c.1690-1720

The cards shown right were published in the second half of the seventeenth century and are an example of English Divination or Oracle cards from this period. They involve looking up the prophecy by following a series of rules, reminiscent of numerology and dice throws, so that the answer is read on a specific card   read more →.

See Mary Greer's Tarot Blog for more details and references about divination with cards.

Fortune telling cards, c.1800Reynolds and Sons, c.1870Generally, that is to say in a large majority of packs, the 'fortune' is printed at the bottom of the card, beneath an allegorical illustration depicting the predestined outcome.  Some packs are more engaging than others.

Left: Queen of clubs - "A generous lover will posess your charms; but wedlock's bands will stifle all alarms", Queen of Spades - "Corruption's shaft will poison quite thy heart; and from the great thou wilt receive the dart" from a Fortune Telling pack published in c.1800 with miniature playing cards in the top corners. Illustration right: "You will be happy together" from a Fortune Telling pack published by Reynolds & Sons, London, c.1870.

Artists and seers are drawn to design even more compelling fortune telling and tarot packs, drawing upon esoteric philosophies, religion, mysticism, egyptology or inspired speculation. In some cases the theories are sublime: some purport higher authority or even a secret manuscript as their basis, whilst others rely upon correspondences with cabbalism, astrology, numerology, witchcraft, and so on.

 

Best known amongst the French cartomantic fortune tellers of the revolution era was Madame Lenormand, who had designed her own variant version of the tarot, and was said to have been consulted by Napoleon and predicted military disaster. There are several popular fortune telling narratives similar to the Madame Lenormand account found in booklets.  It usually runs like this:

Gypsy Bijou box, c.1910Gypsy Bijou card no.6, c.1910"At the end of the 18th century there lived a famous gypsy who had a great reputation as a fortune teller… she predicted the downfall of Napoleon and many other historical events… after her death her cards were found and are now reproduced here…"

[From "The Gypsy Bijou Fortune Telling Cards" guide, by Minetta.  Published by Foulsham & Co., London, c.1910 (36 cards)].

Illustration right: card no.6: "Clear clouds a sign of contentment. Dark clouds announce trouble." Minetta was the author of another published work on the 'Science of Card Fortune Telling' which claims to make the reader become an adept. A crystal ball is also advertised in the booklet, to be sold separately. Click here to see Lenormand pack by Müller   See also: Cartes Lenormand by H.P. Gibson.

Note: Mary Greer has shown that the earliest forerunner of the Lenormand cards is a 1796 book in English. See her blog: Mary K. Greer's Tarot Blog

Carreras Fortune Telling Cards, 1926

Carreras Fortune Telling Cards, 1926

The Carreras Fortune Telling Cards (36 cards) were published in 1926 for W.D. & H.O. Wills, Bristol, and issued by Carreras Ltd in various sizes and formats, and are of the same type as the above example. The cards were printed by chromo-lithography by B. Dondorf in Germany. A single card was enclosed inside every packet of “Black Cat” cigarettes.   See also: Cartes Lenormand by H.P. Gibson.

Right: cards no. 36, 35 & 34 from the narrow size edition with figure inserts. According to the guide booklet, which could be obtained separately, the Cross is always a bad foreboding and warns of bad luck. The Anchor is a favourable sign suggesting fidelity in love, profitable business and an overseas undertaking. The Fish predict good fortune and luck in your undertaking abroad.

The booklet accompanying the pack describes the cards as “those used by Mlle Silvia d'Arville's grandmother, who predicted Napoleon's victories, and his ruin…”.

Picture Show Fortune Telling Cards, 1930

Picture Show Cards, 1930The Picture Show fortune telling pack was presented with the magazine 'Picture Show' in October 1930, and shows popular personalities of the day as the court cards, whilst the pip cards are combined with zodiac signs or the seasons of the year.

Left: King of Diamonds/Lewis Stone: "… a kind hearted, loving man of fair complexion considering marriage or some important change.".  Eight of Clubs/Cancer (The Crab): "People born under the sign of cancer are very difficult to understand…"

The pack comes as a series of uncut sheets of 16 cards each, printed in red and black only. The full divinatory interpretation for each card - upright and reversed - is printed on the back of the cards.  See more →

Rameses Fortune Telling Cards, 1910

Rameses Fortune Telling Cards, c.1910The Rameses Fortune Telling Cards were manufactured by Chas. Goodall & Son Ltd, London, c.1910, around the same time as Rameses The Egyptian Wonderworker, the successful magician illusionist, flourished. They are presented in a mock snakeskin box.

Left: back design from "The Rameses Fortune telling Cards" showing an Egyptian scene. Jack of Hearts: "Your dearest friend (pay attention to the cards nearest)" Reverse: "A pleasure loving bachelor; a fickle lover".

The pack comprises an ordinary pack of 52 cards, plus one Joker or 'Subject' card, with interpretations printed at the top and foot of each playing card.  An Instructions leaflet contains a treatise on how to give readings.

Romany Fortune Telling Cards, 1935

Romany Fortune Telling Cards, 1935 Romany Fortune Telling Cards, 1935 The Romany Fortune Telling Cards were published in 1935 by Thomson-Leng Publications for readers of women's magazines of the day (Red Letter, Red Star Weekly, Weekly Welcome, My Weekly, Secrets, Woman's Way, etc.), and printed by The Universal Playing Card Company, Leeds.  Original price: 2/6d.

Left: box from "The Original ROMANY Fortune telling Cards" showing a gypsy by a campfire, reading cards.  Jack of Hearts: "A fair man will bring you much happiness" Reverse: "Someone interested in you is fickle".

The pack comprises an ordinary pack of 52 cards, plus one Joker, with complimentary and uncomplimentary interpretations printed at the top and foot of each playing card. The extra card accompanying the pack describes the "Original Romany Way of Fortune Telling".

If you would like to produce a home-made deck of Fortune-telling cards, download: Livre du Destin or Book of Fate a nineteenth century French Cartomancy deck, with titles in French and English, published in Paris, c.1890. 32 cards. Download the entire deck (21 MB) as large size images, suitable for desk-top publishing into hand-made pack. Images courtesy Gilles Daigle.

Detail from Fortune Telling Deck by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig c.1818

See also:   Argentinean TaroccoBook of FateCartas BlancasCartas GitanasChinese Fortune Telling CardsEdyta Gdek Tarot17th Century Fortune-Telling Cards72 Names CardsGeistliche Karten, 1718German Fortune Telling cards, c.1818Cartes Lenormand by H.P. GibsonGrapho-DeckJason Ennis TarotMinchiateMlle Lenormand CartomancyNaipes Tu DestinoPicture Book of Ana CortezThe Fortune Teller's DeckRussell Grant Astro-TarotPicture Show Zodiac Fortune Telling CardsRamses II TarotSelf-Nurturing SolitaireTarocco BologneseTarocco PiemontesiTarot Egipcios KierWelsh TarotTarot


Related Articles

back to top