The Thoth Minor Arcana: “Back Door” to Cartomancy?
I’ve long wanted to practice playing-card cartomancy, and have studied it just a little. But learning a new system and figuring out how to effectively work with it is a time-consuming proposition, so I haven’t made much headway beyond buying a few decks of playing cards and a book or two. However, during online discussions about the legitimacy of using “Minors-only” tarot decks for readings (in which I was in the decided minority), it struck me that the semi-scenic “glorified pip” cards of the Thoth tarot are barely-disguised versions of the Tarot de Marseille pips, which are themselves the thinly-veiled descendants of playing cards. Both decks rely heavily on suit and number theory in their use of the small cards for divination, and their mutual ancestor — the tarot before the mid-15th Century addition of “trionfi” (trumps) to the deck — was only a game-playing and gambling device. Tarot fortune-telling didn’t come along until much later, but I understand the Romani (“gypsies”) in eastern Europe were using playing cards for that purpose long before.
This seems to give me a valid premise for continuing to use the Thoth minors all by themselves in conducting readings on practical or mundane matters, the kind of thing for which I would typically choose Lenormand or Kipper cards. There is sufficient depth of meaning in Crowley’s key definitions and Harris’s evocative images and color palette to come up with convincing narratives without having to graft on traditional cartomantic definitions; my feeling is that they’re not all that compatible anyway. My current thinking is that I would keep the sixteen court cards in the deck to more closely emulate the 52-card set of conventional playing cards with their twelve “royals.” I should note here that I don’t think the Waite-Smith tarot or any other deck with “canned” narrative vignettes would work for what I’m proposing, since the scenery would abscond with the story-line.
In the kind of readings I envision for this approach, the allegorical, esoteric, philosophical and spiritual intimations of the Major Arcana would clearly be an impediment to an uncluttered view of one’s day-to-day reality. (For his part, Waite thought that using them for such purposes was contemptible.) In fact, this assumption supports my growing belief that the trump cards are only high-frequency “background noise,” and they seldom offer up much in the way of concrete, action-and-event-oriented testimony at a level the querent can use. I now view them more as a stage-setting “backdrop” to the story than a driving force. I’ve done a great many readings over the years, and only rarely did anything dramatic occur to coincide with the appearance of a trump card in those readings. The stage may have been set for them, but the fireworks never materialized. I prefer to avoid bringing up vague possibilities I’m going to have to tap-dance around when a sitter asks me point-blank what is likely to happen, especially if the trump card is an unsettling one. If I’m going to say “Be on the lookout” for a particular scenario I want it to be something readily identifiable and not a high-flown abstraction that needs to be reeled in with fancy word-smithing: “Your cat is missing? Beware, Susan, the Nazgul have left Mordor and they’re HUNGRY!”
I like the idea of sitting in front of a spread in which all of the cards speak the same humble language, and there is no “Bigfoot” lurking in the bushes making threatening noises but never managing to appear in the flesh. Crafting a reading from these common elements would seem to be a seamless and pleasant experience that lets us create a believable story arc. Any more significant consequences would be divulged by the interaction of the numbered cards and court cards rather than by trying to hang the entire insinuation on any one high-profile feature of the spread whose lofty eminence the routine flow of events may completely bypass. (Given the option, most people would prefer to “fly under the radar” anyway.) These are readings that should be able to talk to the heart much more plainly and sincerely than to the head. I’m looking forward to the experience!
Here are a few previous thoughts on this subject that take a slightly different tack, but offer a similar conclusion:
Originally published at http://parsifalswheeldivination.wordpress.com on January 15, 2022.