La fête du génie

An explanation of cartomancy with a poker deck

La fête du génie
Photo by Mike Fox / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is the festival of genius. We celebrate what's in your soul.

Today's suit: Clubs (wands)

The clubs suit. From the Bicycle Stargazer deck.
From the Bicycle Stargazer deck.

Clubs represent the spiritual energy the universe puts into you.

  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Mood
  • Stress
  • Faith

Wands are likewise associated with external forces, and are considered the earth suit.

Let's explain cartomancy with a poker deck

Cartomancy, as a tradition, is as old as playing cards themselves. What's always been amusing to me is that playing card decks, depending on your location, ranged between 36 and 52 cards. Tarot decks were specially built for a game – tarroch – and ranged from 60 to 97 cards depending on how many unsuited (major arcana) cards were added to the four suits. In medieval Europe, smaller playing card decks were the go-to for cartomancy, and tarot cards were for playing games of chance.

This all flipped at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, when the modern esoteric tradition emerged in France, standardizing tarot at 78-cards with a mix of Italian and German suits, as opposed to playing cards standardizing at 54 cards with French suits. Cartomancy became the exclusive use of tarot aside from some die-hard "jeu de tarot" players in France who kept the old trick-taking game alive.

During the pandemic, I became engrossed in two subjects. First, through the novels of Emile Zola, I dove into 19th century France, which spans from the First Republic through the reign of terror, Napoleon, the Second Republic, Napoleon III's freewheeling capitalist empire, and finally the artistic flowering of the Third Republic that is most people's enduring viewpoint of French art and culture. And second, out of sheer boredom and a wish to do something with my hands since I couldn't perform any stand-up comedy (my normal hobby), I taught myself playing card magic by collecting the oldest little pamphlets of magicians' secrets that I could find.

The confluence of these two things was the now-lost tradition of French cartomancy prior to the Tarot renaissance we're living in today. All cartomancy traditions are fairly loose and open to the interpretations of the reader, so I hesitate to assign any definitive air to what I'm about to share, as it's my own spin based on roughly translated French text from 200 years ago, but I find the notion of reading the universe with "normal" playing cards fascinating.

The suits and their meanings are not all that different from how tarot interprets them, and I'm covering those on each of these sans-culottides in the opening section, so I'll focus here on how to read the pip and court cards.

Think of the ace to ten as a two-way street. Ace stands for beginnings, and ten stands for completions or turnarounds. There is nothing inherently better about being on one end of the street or the other, but there is sometimes more struggle in the lower numbers and more stress in the higher numbers. With that in mind, here's the cheat sheet I use before diving into more intuitive readings of specific cards on specific days:

  • Ace = new beginning
  • Two = paucity, lack, simplicity of focus
  • Three = negative, danger, obstacles
  • Four = unstable, chaotic, opportunities
  • Five = stable, balanced, inert
  • Six = small increase, nudge, help
  • Seven = positive, beneficial, comfortable
  • Eight = fortunate, lucky, unbidden
  • Nine = strong, room for more, ready for conflict
  • Ten = satisfaction, completion, turnaround

The court cards do not sit above or below these numbers, but indicate swings in momentum and external influences on your journey. While the road is never linear – you can an often will bounce from a nine to a two to a six to a two again – what happens in the numbers is generally due to your action or inaction. The court cards introduce how other things influence your journey.

  • Jack = mischief, change
  • Queen = abundance, increase
  • King = conflict, decrease
  • Joker = risk, surprise

Some people like to read the court cards more literally as specific human beings in your life, right down to the gender indicated, but I personally find no resonance in that kind of interpretation. I think of other people and their own fluid journey on the number lines of life – fluid even in gender – and prefer to generalize court cards as all external forces, not just people.

And that's it! Tomorrow, I'll reveal how this newsletter is going to approach readings, because we'll be moving away from daily card pulls in isolation and toward decade-long builds of a Celtic Cross tableau to add meaning and context to the cards, as well as, hopefully, some fun. And in two days, I'll put forward my philosophy of what a public cartomancy reading like this means at all, given a lack of querent and general intention.

Today's video: Deck review of Cartomancy poker cards by Alain Benoit (11mins)

A good review of a deck set that I use quite often. He goes from the booklet companion to the decks, which leans into Jungian archetypes.