Many magical folks find themselves blessed with Tarot or Oracle cards as their first divination deck. The witch-honored tradition of gifting and collecting these two kinds of decks is powerfully strong, particularly for Tarot cards.
Many of us have decks for every mood and possible occasion. Some of us for the collectible value/money magic of investing in Tarot decks.
But then at some point, as we become more acquainted with how we like to use them, we become aware of and curious about the plainly obvious divination tool that is your basic deck of playing cards. But can they be read in the same way? The answer is yes, of course. If you're already aware of the Tarot, it's easy to use a deck of playing cards in the same way. It's all about getting to know how playing cards are similar to Tarot cards.
Who knew that you probably already owned a couple of divination decks already?
Both kinds of decks, Tarot and playing cards, follow similar structures that seem to have influenced each other. Both began being printed en masse by card makers during the fifteenth century, deep in the heart of the Renaissance Era.
They are both used every day by card readers and professional cartomancers in divination.
The Suits in Playing Cards
The historical arrangements of the four playing card suits make a lot of sense and align intuitively with the four minor Tarot card suits.
Hearts historically represented the clergy, and in the modern era, this would translate to the field of spirituality. In the Tarot, the playing cards’ heart aligns with the suit of cups, which in turn represents the heart and emotions. The heart as a center for the spirit makes a lot of sense.
In the Tarot the suit of Swords aligns with the suit of spades in a playing card deck. Spades classically represent the military, and both Swords and Spades represent challenges, boundaries, and character building.
Clubs align with Wands, which in the case of the Tarot, are tools for manifestation. Playing card clubs represent farmers and the agricultural side of things. Both interpretations involve creation.
Diamonds historically represented trade and commerce. This aligns well with the Tarot’s suit of Pentacles, which represents resources and money.
Court Cards in Playing Card Decks and How They Relate to Tarot Cards
All four playing and all four minor arcana Tarot card suits contain court cards, specifically Queens and Kings. These characters act similarly in both kinds of decks. In addition to the royal pair, Tarot court cards include a Knight and a Page. Playing cards have neither of these but rather a Jack.
Jacks are more akin to the Tarot’s Page, which is a character commonly regarded as a youthful messenger. In early playing card decks, Jack cards were called Knave cards.
In the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, a knave, also called a page, was a word to describe a humble servant. They were called “Jacks of all trades,” meaning they didn’t specialize in any one skill in their servitude.
The “Kn” abbreviation for knave didn’t work as well for playing cards because it competed visually with the K on King cards. In the late 19th century, an American cardmaker named Samuel Hart published a deck with a J instead of Kn and the popularity of that style took hold.
Knight cards, which are present in Tarot deck court cards, aren’t represented in all four suits of playing card decks because the suit of spades historically represented the military. Knightly energy is neatly embodied in the entire suit.
The Ease of Using Playing Cards Like Tarot Cards
Not only are the meanings and associations of playing card suits quite similar to the Tarot, the number of numbered cards is also the same in both kinds of decks.
If you’re a little bit familiar with Tarot, the similarities like this that exist between the two types of decks make it easy to simply translate what you know about Tarot into divination with playing cards.
I create illustrated card decks and art inspired by cycles in nature. This is a Jack of Clubs card, one of the first cards in a playing card deck that I’m putting together. Find more information about this deck in the description below.
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Check out this deck’s big sisters:
Dark Days Tarot, a deck inspired by the dark days of the lunar cycle,
And Mother Tarot, a deck inspired by earth, birth, and creativity.