Cartomancy 101.0 – Basics

If you intend to use playing cards for divination, the first thing you should do is indicate the cards’ upright positions. Most playing cards look the same whichever way up they are, even the court cards. This needs to be rectified. Using a pencil, make a mark – a cross or a ‘T’ – at the top of each card.

Next you should familiarize yourself with the meanings of the entire deck. These meanings will be given in future posts. For the present, note the broad significance of the suits.

Hearts,: Domestic Life – love, affection, friendship, marriage, the family, the home. Hearts also stand for ambitions successfully realized. The suit is considered lucky.

Clubs: Success – with money and in business. Clubs most often symbolize friendship but they can signify failure, betrayal, and financial worries if the cards surrounding them point in those directions.

Diamonds: Life outside the home – the practical, material side of life, especially that part concerning money. Diamonds also suggest that ambitions can only be realized and money made through hard work.

Spades: Misfortune – loss, suffering, enmity, treachery, failure, separation, illness. Despite their reputation for malevolence, Spades often signify warnings, and counsel caution rather than predicting actual dire events.

The first time you shuffle your deck all the cards will be the right way up. Shuffle in the normal way. (The method known as ‘the riverboat shuffle’ is not recommended.) Should any card fall out of the pack during the shuffle, pick it up and reunite it with its fellows. You may want to make a note of what that card is as it may have relevance to the reading.

Do not make a special effort to turn cards into reverse. One or two will become reversed in the course of the shuffle simply because of the way the pack is handled. Note that, if there are reversed cards in a reading, when the session is over, they should be set upright and returned to the deck along with the other cards from the layout.

Views are divided on what the person shuffling the cards should be thinking. A sizeable portion says that one ought to concentrate on the question one wants the cards to answer. Personally, I side with the Edwardian cartomancer Minetta, who, in her book Card Reading, informs her readers that the inquirer should shuffle

“not holding in mind any special wish or thought, but leaving all to chance, and so long as he desires the truth and nothing but the truth and is fearless of what may be his destiny, while determined to make the best of circumstances in which he may be placed, there is little doubt that he will get only what is true.”

When the person for whom you are making the reading, has finished shuffling, ask them to set the pack down and cut once. Restack the cards so that the pile that was previously on the bottom is now at the top.

We will learn another way to cut the cards later on, one that has the potential to enhance your interpretive skills. For the present, however, the simpler procedure will suffice.

With the cards shuffled and cut, you are ready to lay them out. The various patterns in which the cards can be laid out are called spreads or sometimes, for obvious reasons, layouts.

Types of Spread
There are basically two types of spread. I call them positional spreads and storybook spreads. The horoscope spread is a good example of a positional spread. The horoscope spread consists of twelve cards laid out in a circle (as near as one can manage). Each of the twelve places in the spread correspond to one of the twelve houses of a horoscope. If a card representing loss falls in the second ‘house’, which is the house of finances, then loss of money is indicated. Were it to fall in the eleventh position, the house of friendship, then loss of a friend is portended. By the same token, a card signifying success falling in the seventh position, corresponding to the seventh house of marriage, might foretell the happy conclusion to a love affair for the inquirer who was single. Should the inquirer be married, the forecast would be that the partnership would continue in a contented and harmonious state in the foreseeable future.

The result is obtained by combining the significance of the position in which a card falls with the meaning assigned to the card itself.

In a storybook spread, the cards are laid out in a line (sometimes more than one line). They are interpreted one after the other, just as we take one word after another when reading a book so as to make sense of the passage we are perusing. The idea is to make a story out of the cards in the spread. Suppose the first card is a king, the next a queen, the next a card signifying a removal and the fourth a card representing the home. The ‘story’ is that a man and woman (the king and queen), almost certainly partners, will be moving home.

Some individuals get better results with positional spreads, others with storybook spreads. Try your hand and both to discover which type you have an affinity with. Certain people are at home with either, and you may be one of those people. But you won’t know unless you experiment.

Reading the Cards
Having laid out your spread, you are ready to commence reading the cards. Is this a talent everyone possesses? Based on long years of experience, I would say that a small percentage of the population is not able to read the cards with any degree of success. These individuals, it seems to me, are out of sync with the cards and cartomancy simply won’t work in their hands. Most people, however, can read playing cards successfully on some level. Even when read mechanically, a book of instruction being referred to at every turn, the result can still be helpful as a general outline of future prospects. On the brighter side, many do amazingly well divining with playing cards. A select minority, such folk as possess the ability to blend technique with intuition, have it in them to become exceptional exponents of the art of cartomancy. Whatever your level of ability, you will discover valuable insights into the way life unfolds for human beings through close study of playing card divination.


About auntietarot
Born in Britain just before the outbreak of the second world war, I was taught basic tarot skills by my maternal grandmother. In the sixties, I joined a Golden Dawn-type esoteric school, passing through the curriculum and becoming an instructor in ritual etiquette and the making and consecration of talismans. At the beginning of the eighties, I left the school to plow my own furrow in areas such as tarot and astrology. Since my retirement I have spent time researching the occult history of the tarot and the various ways the tarot has been used for divination in the past.

6 Responses to Cartomancy 101.0 – Basics

  1. shonacradock says:


    I’m into tarot and playing card divination, both. I’ve reached the new blog from your tarot blog. It is wonderbar! You explain so clearly. And you’re going to have actual readings on the blog. That’s what I yearn for – practical example spreads I can learn the odd wrinkle from. Way to go!


  2. wmittyesq says:

    Hey Auntie,

    I don’t have the slightest interest in divination by playing cards, but reckon I can learn watching the way you work. So I will be dropping in on the new blog regularly. Wish you every success with it.


  3. Pastiche says:

    I too have been fascinated by playing cards for divination all my life. Explored the same writers on this subject. Share your observation that today’s card readers veer from tradition where there is emphasis on marriage prospects in the meanings. After studying many sources, I chose other interpretations for the 5 & 3 of clubs, the 6 & 8 of diamonds .

  4. Hello! I was wondering how a beginning cartomancer should practice. I’ve been trying to do small readings for myself every now and then and I tried a couple for my friend. I’ve also been trying to go over the meanings you’ve listed to get them into my head. I’ve heard that you should not do readings for yourself or other people regularly, so I’ve tried to keep it to a minimum. What would be the best way for me to practice interpreting the cards?

    • auntietarot says:

      Hi Tyler,

      I suggest you invent an inquirer. Invent them complete with a question and a backstory. Then lay the cards and interpret them. You will find that the interpretation fits the inquirer’s backstory.
      Here’s a scenario to start you off. The inquirer is a working mother, in her mid-thirties. She has a bubbly personality and displays an optimistic cast of mind. She has been working part time but has now been offered full time employment at her place of work. The children are of school age and her partner says he doesn’t mind if she decides to go full time as it would help with the bills. But the inquirer, let’s call her Mandy, worries that she won’t see as much of the children as she used to, and how will she and they adapt to the change? Off you go.

      Of course you won’t get feedback as you would from an actual client, nonetheless this is very good practice.


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