I think it’s time I start getting serious about bringing cartomantic (that is, playing-card) meanings into my approach to the numbered – or “pip” – cards when reading. The RWS minor cards with their built-in narrative vignettes are like “canned soup,” the semi-scenic small cards of the Thoth deck are closer to “home-made soup” that you start with store-bought broth, and the nearest analogy to the Marseille-style pips is “stone soup.” I’ve been reading Caitlin Matthews’ new traditional tarot book, Untold Tarot (I’ll post a review soon) in which she makes a strong case for suit-and-number combinations as the key to working with the tight-lipped TdM pip cards, but she also taps into cartomantic tradition to fill out her toolbox.
I’ve been nibbling around the edges of playing-card divination for some time. There are a number of blogs on the subject, and the best of those I’ve found are listed in my “Links” sidebar (Kapherus, Serena Powers, Auntie Tarot, Andy Boroveshengra, etc.). I’ve built up a binder of study material from these and other sources, and own a small number of books with several more on the wish-list. What I’ve been lacking is the resolve to attempt getting my head around a whole new set of interpretive concepts that have little or nothing to do with the esoteric background I’ve been drawing on for the last few decades. I have been bringing tidbits of Dawn Jackson’s “hedgewytchery” into my reading style for a couple of years, but with nothing like the systematic thoroughness that is customary for me.
I’ve concluded that, when reading with mainstream decks like the RWS or the Thoth, the cartomantic source material will serve mainly to provide additional insight in the same way I now use esoteric correspondences: that is, to expand my vocabulary with unique shades of meaning when the usual symbolism fails me. But I would love to become fluent with the Tarot de Marseille in its own right without grafting on more arcane symbolic language, and suit-and-number theory doesn’t strike me as a rich enough system to take me all the way there; I need something a little more imaginative. An overworked example is the 9 of Cups/9 of Hearts connection. The 9 of Cups is typically seen as a felicitous card, even carrying the title of “Happiness” in the Thoth deck, and the 9 of Hearts is known as the “wish card” in many of the cartomantic models I’ve explored. Not all of the pairings I’ve come across are as seamless as this one, since suit meanings are often inconsistent between the two disciplines, but there is enough commonality to at least make a good start at pulling the two together in a meaningful way. Unlike Lenormand cards with their playing-card insets, there is no ready-made design feature in the tarot (other than suit significance) that facilitates a solid one-to-one correlation.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to simply read playing cards and set the tarot aside while doing it, and I will eventually get there assuming I have enough years left to me. I’m sure my journey will be the inspiration for a few more posts before I reach that destination.