Cartomancy is method of fortune-telling or divination using a deck of cards. The most popular form Cartomancy is the Tarot.


From Latin carta, papyrus paper and Greek manteia, prophecy. Practitioners of cartomancy are generally known as cartomancers, card readers or, simply, readers.


Some practitioners have claimed that cartomancy's origins date back to ancient Egyptian times.


Forms of cartomancy appeared soon after playing cards were first introduced into Europe in the 14th century and are usually associated with Gypsy fortune-tellers. Modern playing cards evolved from Tarot cards, and the current deck probably originated in late 15th century France. Ancient card sets were either painted by hand or printed with wood blocks, and designed to be viewed from one direction only, as Tarot cards still are. By 1832 mass production of playing cards stared all over the western world.


Although a standard playing card deck can be used for cartomancy, other decks are used such as tarot decks. In the view of some, including the webmaster of the Aeclectic Tarot website, any deck that is not a tarot deck (56 minor arcana with 4 suits of 14 cards and 22 major arcana) is referred to, more generally, as a cartomancy deck.

Cartomancy using standard playing cards was the most popular form of providing “fortune telling” card readings in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In English-speaking countries, a standard deck of Anglo-American bridge/poker playing cards (i.e., 52-card, four suit set) can be used in the cartomancy reading; the deck is often augmented with jokers, and even with the blank card found in many packaged decks. In France, the 32-card piquet playing card deck was, and still is, most typically used in cartomancy readings, while the 52-card deck was, and still is, also used for this purpose. (For a piquet deck, start with a 52-card deck and remove all of the 2s through the 6s. This leaves all of the 7s through the 10s, the face cards, and the aces.) According to some, a deck that is used for cartomancy should not be used for any other purpose. Cartomancers generally feel that the deck should be treated as a tool and cared for accordingly. Some cartomancers also feel that the cards should never be touched by anyone other than their owner. It is also considered unlucky to read the cards when you are alone, to read your own cards, or to read the cards of the same person more than once in the same week.

French suited Playing Card and Latin suited Tarot Equivalents:

Clubs = Sticks or wands (power) Fire element Salamander
Diamonds = Coins or mirrors, aka Pentacles (health; material matters) Earth element Gnome
Hearts = Cups (emotions) Water element Undine
Spades = Swords (intellect; education) Air element Sylph

Tears = Waves (aging, experience) Wood element Fae
Hands = Groups of people (togetherness) Metal element Dwarf

The suits “Swords” and “Wands” are disputed between modern cartomancers, especially those that follow a Pagan path that believes each suit belongs to a special element of nature. Some consider the suits, Swords and Wands, to be switched in their meanings. Likewise, the correspondences of Clubs and Diamonds are also sometimes reversed.


The interpretations of the meanings of different cards even within the same deck varies greatly among cartomancers. This raises doubt in the idea that there is some objective message coming directly from the cards, as might necessary for amateur cartomancers to derive use from them. While most parapsychologists would argue that the card reader's psi faculties ought to play a significant role in determining both how the cards land and how they are interpreted – making the lack of an objective standard irrelevant stricto sensu – the lack of a shared understanding of card meanings clearly hinders both verification of cartomancy's effectiveness and communication between practitioners.

Cartomancy has also been criticized for not providing a proposed physical mechanism by which cards could be used to predict one's future. Additionally, there have been no tests to date that show that cartomancy does any better than chance in either predicting the future or determining traits about individuals, despite large incentives to cartomancers who can show a successful test, such as the Randi challenge.