Divinatory Meanings for the Whole Deck

N.B. The story of the my search for the oldest set of traditional meanings for the cards is to be found in the preceding posts covering parts 1 and 2 of ‘Tradition’ in Playing Card Meanings. In the post below, I explain why I made certain changes to the original set of meanings and describe what those changes are. A.T.

‘Tradition’ in Playing Card Meanings, part 3

The card meanings I employ myself bears a distinct relationship with those in Madame Fabia’s book (The Book of Fortune Telling: (2) How to Read Signs and Portents, republished 1974). Finding that these meanings go back to those published by Sepharial (The Art of Card Fortune Telling) and A.E. Waite (A Manual of Cartomancy and Occult Divination, 1909) or to a tradition they both drew on, caused me to reconsider my position. I asked myself this question. If these meanings constitute the oldest British tradition regarding playing cards, ought I not to take them on, in the spirit of returning to basics? Although I tended in the direction of answering that question with a ‘yes’, it was obvious to me that the Waite/Sepharial meanings didn’t suit the modern age as well as they presumably had suited the time when they were committed to print. They are angled towards women interested in discovering the coloring and character traits of prospective suitors and estimating their prospects in matrimonial stakes.

In short, I encountered the same problem as others had when attempting to work with Madame Fabia’s 1934 delineations in the latter part of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first when social conditions are utterly different from what they were before World War Two, let alone, in respect of the Sepharial/Waite versions (c. 1909 – 1913), prior to World War One. I therefore set about tweaking the Sepharial/Waite meanings, replacing those applicable only to marriage (e.g., 3 Clubs – ‘indicates a second marriage’ and 6 Diamonds – ‘early marriage and widowhood’) with more apt and broader delineations. Borrowing from my forerunners on the Net, I coopted ‘Love and happiness; successful marriage; a favorable long-term proposition. A second change, particularly from a monetary angle’ as the meaning for the 3 of Clubs and ‘Relationship problems, arguments. Separation’ for the 6 of Diamonds. And so on.

With the single exception of Sepharial saying that the Ace of Spades reversed can indicate a death, the Sepharial/Waite leave reversals severely alone. Following an internal tussle, I elected to stay with the original concept. No reversals recorded. If a card was reversed, it might be interpreted, depending on the cards surrounding it, as (i) the same as when upright, (ii) the same but to a lesser degree or (iii) the opposite of what it is when upright. In the last instance, the 5 of hearts, whose upright significance is ‘a change for the better’, would indicate ‘a change for the worse’ – but only if situated between very negative cards.

The important thing about a method of divination is that it must encompass all facets of human experience – love, hate, birth, death, promotion, redundancy, martial brake-up, etc., etc. The adjusted list does that. It covers scandal, loss of friends, reverses, quarrels, sickness, invitations, travel and temptation. This in addition to the indications one would expect to find on the list: happiness (four mentions), success (two mentions), marriage (four mentions), love (one mention) and change (four mentions). I regard it as fit for purpose – certainly it is fitter for purpose in current circumstances than the original.

Here then is my ‘new and improved’ list of divinatory meanings. I have adopted it myself and I recommend it to others.

The Heart Suit

Ace. – This indicates your home, and if Spade cards touch it quarrelling is foretold. If other Hearts are next to it they foretell friendships and true affection. If Diamonds, money and distant friends – and if Clubs, feasting and merry making.
King. – A fair man, of good natured disposition, but hasty and rash.
Queen. – A fair woman, faithful, prudent and affectionate.
Jack. – A close friend or a good-natured, fair-haired youth.
Ten. – Is prophetic of happiness and many children; is corrective of the bad tidings of cards next to it, and confirms their good tidings.
Nine. – Money and position. Also, where the cards are consulted about one single question or wish, the nine of Hearts is the key card upon which all depends.
Eight. – Pleasure, companions. Invitations and festivities.
Seven. – A fickle and false friend, against whom be on your guard.
Six. – A generous person. Someone takes care of you, takes warm interest in you.
Five. – Troubles caused by unfounded jealousy.
Four. – Changes, delays and postponements (especially of marriages).
Three. – Sorrow caused by your own indiscretion.
Two. – Success, but it will need care to secure it.

The Club Suit

Ace. – Peace of mind, happiness; a success card.
King. – The influence in your life of a dark man, upright, faithful and affection.
Queen. – A dark woman, gentle and pleasing.
Jack. – A generous, sincere, and constant friend whose devotion is never in question.
Ten. – Unexpected good.
Nine. – Achievement; sometimes a wealthy marriage or a sudden windfall.
Eight. – Trouble in relationships, business and personal. Jealousy and greed.
Seven. – Promises good fortune and happiness but bids a person beware of the opposite sex.
Six. – Business success.
Five. – New friends and a successful marriage. Help from friends.
Four. – Be careful when making changes to your plans or mode of life.
Three. – Love and happiness; successful marriage; a favorable long-term proposition. A second chance, particularly from a monetary angle.
Two. – A disappointment, but not a serious one, unless other prophetic cards are bad.

The Diamond Suit

Ace. – A letter – but from whom and what about must be judged by the neighboring cards.
King. – A fair man, hot tempered, obstinate and revengeful.
Queen. – A fair woman, fond of company and a coquette.
Jack. – A near relation who considers only his own interests. Also a fair person’s thoughts.
Ten. – A change in financial status, often for the better.
Nine. – Travel.
Eight. – Ups and downs, particularly of a financial nature.
Seven. – Unpleasant rumors, scandal.
Six. – Relationship problems, arguments. Separation.
Five. – A change for the better. A birth, or good news concerning a child. A good time to start new projects.
Four. – Trouble through friends, a secret betrayed.
Three. – Quarrels, legal trouble and domestic disagreements.
Two. – A love affair attracting disapproval from others. A business partnership.

The Spade Suit

Ace. – Great Misfortune. Death when the card is reversed.
King. – A dark ambitious man.
Queen. – A dark woman, or her thoughts.
Jack. – A dark young man, or his thoughts.
Ten. – Grief and trouble.
Nine. – Sickness and misfortune, a most unlucky card.
Eight. – Temptation, misfortune, danger, upsets, false friends.
Seven. – Loss of a friend, attended with much trouble.
Six. – Money through hard work.
Five. – Reverses and anxieties, but eventual success.
Four. – A brief illness, temporary financial reverses, and warns against the petty jealousy of others.
Three. – A marriage that will be marred by the inconstancy of the inquirer’s wife or husband; or a journey.
Two. – Separation, scandal, gossip and deceit. Difficult changes.

‘Tradition’ in Playing Card Meanings, Part 2

diamonds-Jack-fancyAs Madame Fabia’s researches into playing card divination were so extensive, it is impossible to pin-point exactly the sources she has drawn upon. Minetta may have been one (Card-Reading: A Practical Guide, 1916). Either Sepharial’s The Art of Card Fortune Telling, a book that appears to date from after the publication of the Waite-Smith Tarot in 1911, or A.E. Waite’s A Manual of Cartomancy and Occult Divination (originally published under the pseudonym Grand Orient in 1909) was possibly another. In all probability both were consulted, judging from the thoroughness of Madame Fabia’s research into other subjects. But if not these particular two books then a source common to both will have been consulted. For Madame Fabia agrees with the Sepharial/Waite meanings more often than not. How closely Sepharial’s meanings parallel Waite’s can be seen from this compilation, in which the Sepharial meaning is placed first.

The Club Suit
Ace. – Peace of mind, happiness, a success card.
Ace. – Wealth, happiness and peace of mind.

King. – The influence in your life of a dark man, upright, faithful and affection.
King. – A dark man, upright, faithful and affectionate in disposition.

Queen. – A brunette, gentle and pleasing.
Queen. – A dark woman, gentle and pleasing.

Jack. – The thought of the King for the questioner.
Jack. – A sincere but hasty friend. Also a dark man’s thoughts.

Ten. – Unexpected good.
Ten. – Unexpected riches, and loss of a dear friend.

Nine. – Disobedience to the wishes of friends.
Nine. – Disobedience to friends’ wishes.

Eight. – A warning against speculation.
Eight. – A covetous man. It also warns against speculations.

Seven. – Good fortune and happiness if you are careful in your dealings with someone of the opposite sex.
Seven. – Promises good fortune and happiness but bids a person beware of the opposite sex.

Six. – Business success.
Six. – Predicts a lucrative business.

Five. – A prudent marriage.
Five. – A prudent marriage.

Four. – Be careful of changes in your plans or mode of life.
Four. – Cautiousness against inconstancy or change of object for the sake of money.

Three. – Indicates a second marriage.
Three. – Shows that a person will be more than once marriage.

Two. – A disappointment, but not a serious one, unless other prophetic cards are bad.
Two. – A disappointment.

The Heart Suit
Ace. – This indicates your home, and if Spade cards touch it quarrelling is foretold. If other Hearts are next to it they foretell friendships and true affection. If Diamonds, money and distant friends – and if Clubs, feasting and merry making.
Ace. – The house. If attended by Spades it foretells quarrelling – if by Hearts, affection and friendship – if by Diamonds, money and distant friends – and if by Clubs, feasting and merry making.

King. – A fair man, good natured but rash.
King. – A fair man, of good natured disposition, but hasty and rash.

Queen. – A fair woman.
Queen. – A fair woman, faithful, prudent and affectionate.

Jack. – This covers the thoughts of the dearest person of the one who consults then cards.
Jack. – The dearest friend of the consulting party. Also a fair person’s thoughts.

Ten. – Refers to children. It also softens the bad tidings of the cards near it and increases the good.
Ten. – Is prophetic of happiness and many children; is corrective of the bad tidings of cards next to it, and confirms their good tidings.

Nine. – Money and position. Also, where the cards are consulted about one single question or wish, the nine of Hearts is the key card upon which all depends.
Nine. – Wealth and high esteem. Also the wish card.

Eight. – Pleasure, companions.
Eight. – Pleasure, company.

Seven. – A false friend.
Seven. – A fickle and false friend, against whom be on your guard.

Six. – A generous person.
Six. – A generous but credulous person.

Five. – Troubles caused by jealousy.
Five. – Troubles caused by unfounded jealousy.

Four. – A person near you, not easily convinced.
Four. – A person not easily won.

Three. – Sorrow caused by your own indiscretion.
Three. – Sorrow caused by a person’s own imprudence.

Two. – Success, but it will need care.
Two. – Great success, but equal care and attention needed to secure it.

The Diamond Suit
Ace. – A letter. You must look at the surrounding cards to judge the result.
Ace. – A letter – but from whom and what about must be judged by the neighbouring cards.

King. – A fair man.
King. – A fair man, hot tempered, obstinate and revengeful.

Queen. – A fair woman.
Queen. – A fair woman, fond of company and a coquette.

Jack. – Thoughts as before. [This covers the thoughts of the dearest person of the one who consults the cards.]
Jack. – A near relation who considers only his own interests. Also a fair person’s thoughts.

Ten. – Money.
Ten. – Money.

Nine. – Travel.
Nine. – Shows that a person is fond of roving.

Eight. – A late marriage.
Eight. – A marriage late in life.

Seven. – Unpleasant rumours, scandal.
Seven. – Satire, evil speaking.

Six. – Early marriage and possible widowhood.
Six. – Early marriage and widowhood.

Five. – Unexpected news.
Five. – Unexpected news.

Four. – Trouble through friends, a secret betrayed.
Four. – Trouble arising from unfaithful friends; also a betrayed secret.

Three. – Quarrels and legal trouble.
Three. – Quarrels and law-suits and domestic disagreements.

Two. – An engagement, but against the wishes of friends.
Two. – An engagement against the wishes of friends.

The Spade Suit
Ace. – Great Misfortune. Death when the card is reversed.
Ace. – Great Misfortune, spite.

King. – A dark man, or his thoughts.
King. – A dark ambitious man.

Queen. – A malicious dark woman, generally a widow.
Queen. – A dark woman, or her thoughts.

Jack. – A dark young man, or his thoughts.
Jack. – An indolent, envious person; a dark man’s thoughts.

Ten. – Grief and trouble.
Ten. – Grief, imprisonment.

Nine. – Sickness and misfortune, a most unlucky card.
Nine. – A card of very bad import, foretelling sickness and misfortune.

Eight. – A warning to be careful.
Eight. – Warns a person to be cautious in his undertakings.

Seven. – Loss of a friend, much trouble.
Seven. – Loss of a friend, attended with much trouble.

Six. – Money through hard work.
Six. – Wealth through industry.

Five. – A bad temper that causes trouble.
Five. – Shows that a bad temper requiring correcting.

Four. – Sickness.
Four. – Sickness.

Three. – A journey.
Three. – A journey.

Two. – A removal.
Two. – A removal.

‘Tradition’ in Playing Card Meanings, Part 1

Over on my other blog, Tony Willis has written about the traditional meanings of the tarot cards. He has concluded that whatever tradition exists in this area has a relatively short history. There was also a period, he notes, where, among the Anglophone nations, a new tradition overtook the older ones in popularity; whether it has managed to oust them completely remains to be seen. Studying Mr. Willis’s exposition of how the meanings of the tarot cards have altered over the past two centuries prompted me to research the history of playing card meanings to see whether anything of the kind had occurred in that field too. The quest has taken up most of my free time recently and that is why I have not posted any thoughts of my own on the blog for a while. I hope my readers will forgive my absence.

As we live in the age of the World Wide Web, the Internet is for us a treasure trove of information. Or it would be were it not for the amount of incorrect information, not to mention disinformation, uploaded on to it. Thankfully, we don’t have to weed out disinformation in the context of playing card meanings. What we have to deal with chiefly is watered down information and the indiscriminate passing on of ‘personal meanings’.

Any cartomancer who has been reading the cards regularly for two years or more will have discovered something momentous. They will have realized that sometimes the textbook meaning assigned to a card, for example “inconstancy, a small success” (which is what Minetta says of the 7 of Hearts in her book Card-Reading: A Practical Guide, Rider & Son, 1916), doesn’t work for them as the instruction book implies it should. It may become apparent, over the course of many readings, that to this person the 7 of Hearts regularly signifies success, great or small, and never ever prefigures inconstancy. This slight sideways calibration produces a ‘personal meaning’ – a meaning that is true for that single exponent of the cartomantic art but is personal to them, not universal. A personal meaning is a ripple on the surface of the ocean of divination; it comes and it goes. Until, that is, it is written down in a book, or handed on as a treasured discovery to a younger relative, who may in time record the meaning on a blog not realizing that it is a personal meaning and that, however relevant it was to their mentor, it is nevertheless personal and will not apply universally.

The Internet has a good many personal meanings for individual cards on record. I often receive e-mails from those wishing to learn the art of cartomancy asking for guidance as to which set of Internet or book-sourced meanings they should use. The question is asked because the various sets of meanings rarely agree; a card positively oriented according to one source may be of negative import by the rules laid down by another authority. Also the Internet meanings will be at odds with many of those found in books on card reading.

Amid this multitude of witnesses, what authority can we use as a yardstick?

The bad news is that, at the end of my researches, I have uncovered no ultimate yardstick. But I have found an author whose work makes an excellent starting point from which to set off on our journey of discovery. That starting point is The Book of Fortune Telling by Madame Fabia (Daily Express, 1934). (The book was reprinted in two volumes in 1974. Information on card reading is in the second volume, The Book of Fortune Telling: (2) How to Read Signs and Portents. Copies of the 1974 edition are still available.) Madame Fabia’s text appears to be the source on which many later authors have relied when compiling their own meanings for the cards. She may have found favor among fellow cartomancers on account of her superb skill in collation. From the chapters on numerology, it is clear that Madame has consulted all the notable numerologists such as Cheiro and Kozminski and from her research produced an outstanding, and more importantly, an eminently workable fusion of their ideas. So far as I can tell (for my knowledge of the state of British cartomancy before 1934 is scant to say the least), she has performed the same service for the art fortune-telling with cards.

Madame gives several sets of meanings. I have listed two together below.

All the sets of playing card meanings I have encountered on the Internet show signs of being heavily influenced by the contents of these two lists of Madame Fabia’s. Some sets of Internet meanings have been adapted better than others. And only where Madame’s list is too centered on marriage prospects (e.g., Six Diamonds. An early marriage and speedy widowhood. A warning with regard to second marriage is also included), or where her delineation is too diffuse (Seven Diamonds: This card has various meanings. It enjoins the need for careful action. It may imply a decrease in prosperity. Another reading connects it with uncharitable tongues) do later authors tamper with Madame’s pronouncements. Otherwise they stick to them pretty closely.

Here are the two lists presented side by side.

Hearts

Ace: An important card, whose meaning is affected by its environment. Among hearts it implies love, friendship, and affection; with diamonds, money and new of distant friends; with clubs, festivities, and social or domestic rejoicing; with spades, disagreements, misunderstandings, contention, or misfortune; individually, it stands for the house.
Ace: A love letter, good news; reversed, a removal or a visit from a friend.

King: A good-hearted man, with strong affections, emotional, and given to rash judgments, possessing more zeal than discretion.
King: Fair man of generous disposition; reversed, a disappointing person.

Queen: A fair woman, loving and lovable, domesticated, prudent, and faithful.
Queen: Fair, good-natured woman; reversed, she has had an unhappy love affair.

Knave. Not endowed with any sex. Sometimes taken as Cupid; also as the best friend of the inquirer, or as a fair person’s thoughts. The cards on either side of the knave are indicative of the good or bad nature of its [his] intentions.
Knave: A young bachelor devoted to enjoyment; reversed, a military lover with a grievance.

Ten. A sign of good fortune. It implies a good heart, happiness, and the prospect of a large family. It counteracts bad cards and confirms good ones in its vicinity.
Ten: Antidote to bad cards; happiness and success; reversed, passing worries.

Nine. The wish card. It is the sign of riches, and of high social position accompanied by influence and esteem. It may be affected by the neighbourhood of bad cards.
Nine: The wish card, good luck; reversed, short sorrow (sorrow of short duration).

Eight. The pleasures of the table, convivial society. Another meaning implies love and marriage.
Eight: Thoughts of marriage, affections of a fair person; reversed, unresponsiveness.

Seven. A faithless, inconstant friend who may prove an enemy.
Seven: Calm content; reversed, boredom, satiety.

Six. A confiding nature, liberal, open-handed, and an easy prey for swindlers; courtship, and a possible proposal.

Five. Causeless jealousy in a person of weak, unsettled character.

Four. One who has remained single till middle life from being too hard to please.

Three. A warning card as to the possible results of the inquirer’s own want of prudence or tact.

Deuce. Prosperity and success in a measure dependent on the surrounding cards; endearments and wedding bells.

Diamonds

Ace. A ring or paper money.
Ace: A letter, an offer of marriage; reversed, evil tidings.

King. A fair man, with violent temper, and a vindictive obstinate turn of mind.
King: A very fair or white-haired man, a soldier by profession, and of a deceitful turn of mind; reversed, a treacherous schemer.

Queen. A fair woman, given to flirtation, fond of society and admiration.
Queen: A fair woman, given to gossip and wanting in refinement; reversed, rather a spiteful flirt.

Knave. A near relative who puts his own interests first, is self-opinionated, easily offended, and not always quite straight. It may mean a fair person’s thoughts.
Knave: Subordinate official, who is untrustworthy; reversed, a mischief-maker.

Ten. Plenty of money, a husband or wife from the country, and several children.
Ten: Travelling or a removal; reversed, ill-luck will attend the step.

Nine. This card is influenced by the one accompanying it; if the latter be a court card, the person referred to will have his capacities discounted by a restless, wandering disposition. It may imply a surprise connected with money, or in in conjunction with the eight of spades it signifies cross swords. (the crossing of swords?)
Nine: Vexation, hindrances; reversed, domestic wrangling, or disagreement between lovers.

Eight. A marriage late in life, which will probably be somewhat checkered.
Eight: Love passages (??); reversed, blighted affections.

Seven. This card has various meanings. It enjoins the need for careful action. It may imply a decrease in prosperity. Another reading connects it with uncharitable tongues.
Seven: Unkindly chaff, cynicism; reversed, stupid and unfounded slander.

Six. An early marriage and speedy widowhood. A warning with regard to second marriage is also included.

Five. To young married people this portends good children. In a general way it means unexpected news, or success in business enterprises.

Four. Breach of confidence. Troubles caused by inconstant friends, vexations, and disagreeableness.

Three. Legal and domestic quarrels, and probably unhappiness caused by wife’s or husband’s temper.

Deuce. An unsatisfactory love affair, awakening opposition from relatives or friends.

Clubs

Ace. Wealth, a peaceful home, industry, and general prosperity.
Ace: Good luck, letters or papers relating to money, pleasant tidings; reversed, short-lived happiness, a tiresome correspondence.

King. A dark man of upright, high-minded nature, calculated to make an excellent husband, faithful and true in his affections.
King: A dark man, warm-hearted and true as a friend, straight in his dealings; reversed, good intentions frustrated.

Queen. A dark woman, with a trustful, affectionate disposition, with great charm for the opposite sex, and susceptible to male attractions.
Queen: A dark woman, loving but hasty, and bearing no malice; reversed, harassed [plagued] by jealousy.

Knave. A generous, trusty friend, who will take trouble on behalf of the inquirer. It may also mean a dark man’s thoughts.
Knave: A ready-witted young man, clever at his work and ardent in his love; reversed, irresponsible and fickle.

Ten. Riches suddenly acquired, probably through the death of a relative or friend.
Ten: Prosperity and luxury; reversed, a sea voyage.

Nine. Friction through opposition to wishes of friends.
Nine: An unlooked for inheritance, money acquired under a will; reversed, a small, friendly gift.

Eight. Love of money, and a passion for speculating.
Eight: Love of a dark man or woman which, if accepted and reciprocated, will bring joy and well-being; reversed, an unworthy affection calculated [guaranteed] to cause trouble.

Seven. Great happiness and good fortune.  If troubles come they will be caused by one of the opposite sex to the inquirer.
Seven: Trifling financial matters; reversed, money troubles.

Six. Success in business both for self and children.

Five. An advantageous marriage.

Four. A warning against falsehood and double-dealing.

Three. Two or possibly three marriages, with money.

Deuce. Care is needed to avert disappointment, and to avoid opposition.

Spades

Ace. It may concern love affairs, or convey a warning that troubles await the inquirer through bad speculations or ill-chosen friends.
Ace: Emotional enjoyment; reversed, news of a death, sorrow.

King. A dark man. Ambitious and successful in the highest walks of life.
King: A widower, an unscrupulous lawyer, impossible as a friend and dangerous as an enemy; reversed, the desire to work evil without the power [to do any].

As the Queen is almost without exception a widow so there is a strong likelihood that the King can on occasion represent a widower. A.T.
Queen. A widow, of malicious and unscrupulous nature, fond of scandal and open to bribes.
Queen: Widow, a very dark woman; reversed, an intriguing [i.e. given to intrigue], spiteful woman.

Knave. A well-meaning, inert person, unready in action though kindly in thought.
Knave: Legal or medical student, wanting in refinement of mind and manners; reversed, a treacherous character, fond of underhand measures.

Ten. An evil omen; grief or imprisonment. Has power to detract from the good signified by cards near it.
Ten: Grief, loss of freedom; reversed, passing trouble or illness.

Nine. An ill-fated card, meaning sickness, losses, troubles, and family dissentions.
Nine: A bad omen, news of failure or death; reversed, loss of one near and dear by death.

Eight. A warning with regard to any enterprise in hand. This card close to the inquirer means evil; also opposition from friends.
Eight: Coming illness; reversed, an engagement cancelled or a rejected proposal, dissipation.

Seven. Sorrow caused by the loss of a dear friend.
Seven: Everyday worries, or a resolve [resolution?] taken; reversed, silly stratagems in love-making.

Six. Hard work brings wealth and rest after toil.

Five. Bad temper and a tendency to interfere with the inquirer but happiness to be found in the chosen wife or husband.

Four. Illness and the need for great attention to business.

Three. A marriage that will be marred by the inconstancy of the inquirer’s wife or husband; or a journey.

Deuce. A removal, or possibly a death.