My first divination deck was a tarot deck. To this day, it remains my favourite form of cartomancy. However, over the years, my heart has grown large enough to hold love for all forms of card divination. I find that different systems cater to different needs. Therefore, the type of cards I use will depend on the question I want to ask.
Here’s a quick review of how each type of cards works and what I think they are well suited for.
The 78 cards in a tarot deck are split between the major and minor arcana. The minor arcana is divided into four suits and then further distinguished between the numbered and court cards. These fours suits are commonly associated with the elements, a symbolic way of thinking found in cultures all over the world. We can also layer its four-part structure over the seasons or the main functions that make us human – will, emotion, thought and action.
But while the elements and human functions are the most common associations, occultists all over the world have discovered that this format is incredibly flexible and allows for creators to incorporate symbolisms from cultures/beliefs all over the globe. For example, the Wildwood Tarot uses Bows, Vessels, Arrows and Stones while the Steampunk Tarot uses Engines, Submersibles, Airships and Leviathans.
The 22 cards in the major arcana are just as flexible. These cards represent the universal journey of the soul. It’s the classic adventure story in which the hero learns valuable life lessons along the way. And this story can be anybody’s story. Alice and her adventures in Wonderland fit into this structure just as well as the Monkey King and his comrades on their journey west in search for enlightenment.
Being so capable of summarizing the human experience, tarot is a wonderful meditation tool as it can offer excellent insight into our subconscious. Its rich imageries make it an invaluable instrument for self-discovery.
Tarot is best suited for questions of how and why.
Unlike tarot, oracle cards have no set structure. It can contain any number of cards depicting anything imaginable to the creator. This freedom is both the most wonderful and disappointing thing about this form of cartomancy. When the user can empathize with the art, oracle decks can be the most powerful thing. When it doesn’t resonate, the cards serve little purpose.
Once you find the right deck, oracle cards is the most gentle and encouraging form of cartomancy. Almost always, their messages are kind and loving. Even when it speaks of dark and unpleasant matters, they address it from a perspective of strength and resilience.
But while they are a great medium to promote self-love and healing, one must be careful not to use it for self-deceptive purposes. Don’t let their gentle messages convince you that you are never at fault and that everything will always be fine.
My recommendation is to use them like coffee – it’s a great pick-me-up when you need that boost of energy, but it’s not meant to replace sleep or rest. Likewise, oracle cards are like an invisible hug, comforting, but not meant to shield you from reality.
Lenormand is a set of 36 cards. Like tarot, it has a set structure. But this is where the similarity ends.
In tarot, each card allows room for creative interpretation. While the meanings between decks are similar, each card has a wide array of meanings and each deck may choose to focus on a different aspect of that range of meanings. Creators can add/subtract and change the symbols to suit their own interpretation. There are even decks that diverge significantly from traditional interpretations.
With Lenormand, the cards mean the same set of things regardless of which deck you use. Ship means travel and movement whether the vehicle depicted is a raft or the Titanic. Clover means luck and opportunity whether you colour it green or neon pink.
The images are things we find in our everyday life and their meanings are simple and easy to learn. With only 36 cards, it’s possible to become fluent in a matter of days. (But as with all art, while initial understanding may be quick to gain, it takes time to truly master.)
In my opinion, Lenormand is best suited for questions on practical matters and daily situations, as their answers tend to be less philosophical and more direct. While tarot addresses the spiritual life, Lenormand deals more in the mundane.
It is best used to answer questions about what, how and where. (Yes, it can help you locate missing objects!)
Upon first glance, there are a lot of similarities between Lenormand and Kipper. Both came to existence in the late 1800s and named after famous fortune tellers. Both systems contain 36 days cards and some cards even share similar images. Both decks have a Man, Woman and Child. Lenormand possess a Snake card while Kipper has a False Person, but both can indicate a person not to be trusted.
After getting more acquainted with Kipper, however, I see how it tends to focus more on the social aspects of life. While most cards in Lenormand depict objects and places, Kipper has more human cards that emphasize a person’s role in society (ie: Rich Man, Rich Girl, Good Lord, Good Lady, Military, and Court Official).
In my experience, this is the most powerful form cartomancy. It can be a bit frightening, not only because it offers exceedingly accurate predictions, but because (from my personal experience) it has a very melodramatic tone. It’s absolutely not afraid to tell you bad news. And, even if the news is good, it has a way of advising caution that takes the excitement away from the good news.
This is not for the weak of heart. One must tread carefully with these cards. However, once you understand its linguistic style and blunt personality, it becomes a great ally.
These cards are also suited for questions about what and how, especially when they address a situation in which multiple people are involved.
Russian Square Patience
This form or cartomancy goes by several different names such as Russian Gypsy and Russian Witch. They are also known by names of famous people for whom it is said the cards were created for.
They are a set of square cards, with each card split into four half diamonds via an X through the centre of the card. Each half diamond contains half an image and the objective is to lay the cards out in a giant grid and try to match these half images to form a full picture. Cards can be rotated within their position on the grid to create a match.
There are four meanings for each card, depending on whether the combined image lands right side up, upside down, or facing left or right. Each meaning is derived from a Russian saying or idiom.
This is a wonderful form of cartomancy for beginners as users aren’t really expected to memorize all the possible combination of meanings. Furthermore, the meanings are quite literal and direct so there’s not the same need for interpretation that is found in other deck types.
I personally enjoy the form of cartomancy for the process. It takes some time to lay the cards out and one must look carefully so as not to miss any combinations. In other words, it requires the user to take their time, resulting in a slow meditative process.
Unlike other forms of cards described above, there’s no option as to how many cards to lay down. Every reading requires the use of the entire deck. As such, I find the Russian Square Patience to be good for more grand scale readings, such as a general year ahead reading, where readers try to determine major events for the upcoming year.
This list contains only the types of cards I am familiar with and is, by no means, a conclusive list of the various forms of cartomancy in existence. Even within the systems described, there are variations within themselves. One can spend a lifetime studying them and only skim the surface of all that they have to offer.
It is important to note that one system is not superior to another. While I may find Kipper to be most effective in prediction style reading, more intuitive readers may find oracles to better suit their needs due to the freedom it offers.
What is even more important to note is that the purpose of all forms of divination is to assist us on our spiritual journey. Whether we use cards or a crystal ball is not the point. The point is to approach these tools with respect and the right intention. Use them to provide guidance, not instructions. Allow them to provide comfort and reassurance but don’t let their messages replace your own judgement.