For those of you interested in traditional playing card meanings, be sure to take a peek at the lore codified in Robert Chambers’ Book of Days. This has the traditional English meanings for the playing cards as used in divination, and it might be worth a look if you haven’t seen it before. This is the full 52-card deck, which is sometimes referred to as the “English method” in contrast to the reduced deck of the French or Italian traditions.

If nothing else, it’s interesting to see what’s carried through to modern times. The 9 of spades has carried its warnings of grief and despair through most playing card systems, and to tarot as well. The 10 of spades is a bit more drastic here than it’s often read today; I don’t think anyone will include “death on the scaffold” in their honest card readings! Chambers’ 10 of diamonds can indicate money, and modern playing card and tarot readers usually agree with this.

The 9 of hearts is still the wonderful wish card. I used to wonder why tarot readers would call the corresponding 9 of Cups the wish card. Sure it shows pleasant success; but wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for the 10 of Cups to be a wish card, showing ultimate happiness and fulfillment? Later I learned that the wish card stemmed from playing cards.

The 3 of hearts is a good example of how modern systems have diverged. This card is usually positive today, as a heart suit with the solid number three that indicates growth. This is reflected in the Rider Waite tarot featuring three festive maidens sharing a toast. In Chambers’ book this card speaks of poverty and shame, caused by imprudence.

No wonder people prefer modern traditions; those olden days were full of harsh realities. Like the stigma of widowhood — which is much more common in today’s society, rather than the mark of shame it was back in the Victorian Era. Or so I understand.

However one reads the cards, it’s sometimes helpful to take a look at the past, if only to confirm the direction chosen today. Sounds like card reading itself, doesn’t it…

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