The Art of Telling Fortunes with Playing Cards

Playing cards were invented in China, and made their way to Europe along the Silk Road by way of Egypt during the Middle Ages. While fortune telling was always popular there is no evidence that cards were used for divination before the 18th Century. Cartomancy seems to have been invented in the Italian city of Bologna, and then spread to general popularity during the chaos of the Seven Years War. The first book on cartomancy was published in France in 1770 by Etteilla, followed by Antoine Court de Gebelin, and the great Marie Anne Lenormand.

Fortune telling with playing cards can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. While many people associate cartomancy specifically with the tarot, it is possible to read any deck of cards. The key is knowing the meanings of each position in the card spread. Every system ascribes different meanings to the specific cards, and experienced readers develop their own intuitive interpretations of their cards. For that reason, in this book you will find detailed explanations of how to spread the cards as well as information on the meanings of the 54 cards in this deck.

Getting Started:

When learning to read cards you should practice reading for yourself before you offer readings for others. This will allow you to get to know how you feel most comfortable performing readings. There is no right or wrong way to shuffle or cut your deck. Some readers do not allow anyone else handle their cards, but others will ask each querent to shuffle, or cut the deck, or both. Once you have shuffled and cut the deck to your satisfaction, you can select a spread and begin reading.

Fig. 1 – The Three Card Draw

The Three Card Draw is one of the easiest spreads, and one of the oldest variations is called The Veil. In this spread, the first card represents the aspects of the question that you already know; the second card represents whatever is preventing you from seeing the truth; and the third card represents the truth you cannot see.

Fig. 2 – The Cross

The Cross is a four card spread with many useful variations. As with The Veil, the first card represents your present situation and what you already know; the second card, to the right of the first, is what you should not do; the third card, above the first two, is what you should do; and the fourth, below the others, is the potential outcome.

Fig. 3 – The Bohemian Horseshoe

The Horseshoe is a classic spread made with between five and seven cards. The cards are spread left to right in an arching pattern consistent with the name. The first card represents the past; the second is the current situation; the third is a hidden influence or obstacle; the fourth is a suggestion; the fifth is the likely result. A seven card variation known as the Bohemian spread assigns the following meanings to the positions: the first position is your home, both literally and metaphorically; the second is your present situation and concerns; the third is your relationships relative to the context of the question; fourth is your hopes and wishes; fifth is the unexpected, this card reveals positive or negative influences that will effect the outcome; sixth is the immediate future; and, seventh is the long term results.

Fig. 4 – A Romany Spread

The seven positions of the Bohemian spread are the foundation of the magnificent Romany spreads. The Roma people are famous for their fortune telling skills, with many traditions crediting them as the inventors of cartomancy. This spread has many variations, but the method is to deal out three rows of five or seven cards each. These columns have roughly the same meanings as the positions of the Horseshoe and Bohemian spreads, with each of the three rows representing the past influences, the present circumstances, and the future possibilities. With practice this spread can be read like a table and can be useful even without a specific question.

How to Read Cards:

Each of the four suits is associated with one of the Four Elements – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water: Passionate Hearts symbolize our feelings and emotional states; practical Diamonds symbolize our material reality; crafty Spades symbolize our minds; and, primal Clubs symbolize our spiritual nature. When reading the cards the Elemental associations of each suit aid in interpreting the meaning of a spread. They can be used to predict the timing of events following the astrological divisions of the seasons.

Each of the twelve Court cards can be associated with one of the twelve Signs of the Zodiac. Thus, the Jack of Hearts signifies Aries, the Jack of Diamonds is Taurus, the Jack of Spades is Gemini, the Jack of Clubs is Cancer, and so on through the successive decans with the Queens and the Kings. But, the symbolic meanings of the Court cards go far beyond their utility in plotting future events. Jacks represent action, Queens embody compassion, and the Kings are the mastery of the attributes of their respective suits. Some of the Court cards have quite well known meanings: The Jack of Diamonds represents good luck; Queen of Hearts represents true love; the Queen of Spades represents intellect; the King of Clubs represents wisdom.

The Court includes two Jokers along with the Kings, Queens, and Jacks. The Jokers represent the unexpected, they remind us we exist in a chaotic Universe. We can formulate predictions from what we read in the cards, but nothing is written is stone. Forces beyond our control can change our available options, for better or for worse. Thus, the Jokers are neither positive nor negative. They are the Wild cards that embody the neutral ambivalence of Fortune itself.

Knowing the meanings of the four suits makes learning to read the Pip cards relatively simple. The Aces are the embodiment of the Elemental associations of their respective suits: the Ace of Hearts can represent a personal passion, or a new love; the Ace of Clubs represents mental prowess and good luck in any aspect of life; the Ace of Diamonds is symbolic of material security or wealth; but, the Ace of Spades is the card of Death. This need not mean literal loss of life, so much as an inevitable change. Nevertheless, as a Memento Mori, the Ace of Spades is considered the most unlucky card in this deck.

There are systems of cartomancy that assign very specific meanings to each of the forty Pip cards, but many readers prefer to formulate their own intuitive systems. One simplified system that is good for beginners is to memorize keywords that reflect the general meanings associated with numbered cards:

Twos represent Choices or Partnerships

Threes embody Creativity in Balance

Fours are Stable and represent Strength

Fives are Dynamic and represent Change

Sixes are the Persistence of multiplying Threes

Sevens are full of Confidence, they are Lucky

Eights are Fours multiplied by Twos, and that is Advancement

Nines are Three magnified by Three signifying Achievement

Tens mark Completion, the Conclusion of a Cycle

The reader can create a formula to understand what the cards are communicating by combining the meanings of the positions in the spread, with the symbolism of the suits, and the keywords associated with individual cards. This formula will allow the reader to break down the elements of a question and examine potential answers as revealed in the card spread.


Keep a journal where you log your readings noting which spread you used and how your interpreted the cards as they lay. This will be useful for honing your memory and tracking your own progress as a reader, it is very useful if you decide to read for others. When reading for others make a point to enter their question into the journal, and use that as an opening to refine their question and help to focus on the precise subject of the reading.

When reading a large spread look out for dominant suits, and observe how their Elemental associations may be influencing the tone of the spread. Also, look out for multiples of the same Court or Pip cards; these can be significant. Four of a given card is usually a good omen, (excluding Aces), embodying the unified symbolic meanings of the four suits with that number or Court character. Three Aces, without the Spade, has the same meaning; but, the Spade negates the good fortune of the other Aces.

Regarding the Ace of Spades, do not foretell doom and gloom upon the sight of this card. Yes, it is a bad omen. But remember the cards are merely predictions of what might be, and you can look to the nearby cards for indicators of what must me done to avoid the worst case scenario.

When cards appear in a spread upside-down, they are considered Reversed. In many systems Reversed cards are read as meaning the opposite of their upright interpretations. In this deck only a third of the cards can appear Reversed, including the Ace of Spades and other cards whose meanings change significantly when Reversed. If more than half the cards in a spread turn up Reversed, the spread is considered spoiled and it is best to start the reading over.

Cartomancy has the potential to be a powerful tool for the adept fortune teller. For this reason it is very important not to take it too seriously. You read that right. Do not take this art too seriously. Doing so will rob you of the spontaneous joy needed to read the cards creatively. The secret to fortune telling with playing cards is the creative tool known as conceptual blending. The cards, as applied in the formula described in this booklet, provide a random stimuli that will trigger the adept readers’ imaginations to generate an answer to most any question.

8 thoughts on “The Art of Telling Fortunes with Playing Cards”

  1. I like The Three Card Draw for easy and quick readings, but it sometimes doesn’t give me the depth that I need. That is why The Bohemian Horseshoe is my favourite. It gives me enough insight to explore ideas and scenarios, but it isn’t complicated like some very fancy spreads.

  2. Thank you for commenting. The Bohemian spread is a favorite of mine as well. An amusing coincidence is that I learned that version of the spread from a very charming witch who happened to have been born in that part of Europe. So, pretty authentic even if she told me she found it in a book.

    1. That is an amazing coincidence. I think it is even more amazing that my parents are from that exact part of CZ, too. No wonder the Bohemian spread is my favourite.

  3. That is an amazing coincidence. It is a country I’d love to visit, as it sounds like one of the few places in Europe that really does still live up to its reputation occultism, weird history, and fairytale architecture.

    1. I highly recommend it. I have visited once, and I would definitely go again one day. It is a unique little country, full of charm and beautiful architecture. Oh, and did I mention, they are not shy about indulging hedonistic delights?

  4. I have often wondered if the appreciation for witchcraft and occultism is a product of that libertine mentality, or vice versa. Looking back through history, it would appear they have always been ahead of the times regarding both free thought, and free love – the two seem to go hand-in-hand. I doubt it is a coincidence that Doctor John Dee and his colleague Edward Kelley began their infamous experiments with sex magick and wife-swopping only after arriving in the Kingdom of Bohemia.

    1. I think you are right. I think they were ahead of their time in that regard. Now it seems like many Satanists, Witches, and Occultists would love to have been from that part of the world or would feel right at home if they ventured there.

      1. I suspect the Carpathian mountains offer an ideal environment for secretive and individualistic cultures to thrive. Jan Huss was properly ahead of his time in 1415, and it’s not like he sprung from the clay fully formed. Maybe it’s just the landscape, or something in the geography, certain places hit a sweet spot for high strangeness and attract folk who appreciate it.

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