Cartomancy was an early form of fortune telling using a deck of playing
cards and is still used today.
No one knows for certain who or when playing cards were created. Scholars
believe playing cards originated in China, and by trading routes through the
Mamluk Empire (1250-1517) in Egypt, they turned up in Europe by the 1370s. Each
European country used their own unique images representing the four suites. For
instance, German cards used acorns, bells, hearts, and leaves. The French
simplified the suites to shapes, and the English continued with this as a
standard with clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades.
The image in the upper left corner is a picture from
the oldest surviving deck that the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased for $143,000
in 1983. The 52-card deck was originally thought to be a tarot deck; however, an
Amsterdam antiques dealer who paid $2,800 for the deck in the 70s did a great
deal of research. The cards were hand-drawn and painted. The Central Laboratory
for Objects of Arts and Science (Amsterdam) dated the paint alone to circa
1470-1480. The clothing further confirmed the dates to 1465-1480.
In the early 15th century, the Germans
crafted wood carvings for block printing to replicate the drawings and make the
decks more accessible. Artists still hand-painted the individual cards, though.
Image 3 shows how the French used stencils to create
the cards even faster by the 1480s.
Image 4 depicts Mademoiselle Marie Anne Abigail
Lenormand, sometimes written as Le Normand.
Images 5 and 6 relate to Mlles’s Lenormand legacy.
Mlle. Lenormand transformed the industry of cartomancy. Born on May 27,
1772, she and her sister and brother were orphaned by the time she was 5 years
old. First her father died. Her mother remarried but soon died, leaving the
step-father with a family he may not have wanted. He sent the children away.
Marie Anne spent time in several convents until she reached the age of 14, when
she moved to Paris to work in a milliner’s shop.
Marie Anne was a quick learner and expanded her studies to include prophecy.
She showed early signs with the nuns and was able to transform her
circumstances to become a wealthy woman.
Marie Anne ran her business from No. 5, Rue de Tournon, where she posted the
occupation as French Bookseller. She did not sell books. Instead, the title
legitimized her business for clients and the government. Described as short,
fat, and having ruddy complexion, Marie Anne was sought out by the wealthy and
Marie Anne never married—she didn’t see the need; however, her sister did,
leaving two young children when she died. Marie Anne adopted, whether it was
literally or figuratively is unknown. The girl died of consumption; the boy
joined the military. Marie Anne’s brother also served in the military and died
before she did. Marie Anne’s nephew inherited the vast estate, which included
500,000 Francs and a massive library on the occult, when Marie Anne died on
June 25, 1843, at the age of 71. He burned the occult items, but took the cash.
After Marie Anne’s death, a 36-card deck called the Petit Lenormand (Lenormand
deck) was issued. These cards continued her legacy by encouraging others to use
for divination. Image 5 is from Black Cat cigarettes produced by the House of
Carreras. A single card was tucked inside each pack of cigarettes. The Carreras
Fortune Telling Cards were published in 1926. Eventually, the brand went away.
Playing cards are an easy way to practice divination. Shuffle the deck and
ask a question. Decipher the results as:
Try it. You may find it suits your needs.