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Card Divination

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  • lilinah@earthlink.net
    While it is apparent that the Tarot was used for card games - especially gambling - within SCA period, there is no clear evidence for Tarot divination. But
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2004
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      While it is apparent that the Tarot was used for card games -
      especially gambling - within SCA period, there is no clear evidence
      for Tarot divination.

      But there was definitely divination based on ordinary playing cards
      in a number of divination manuals published, for the most part in
      German. Apparently the idea was rather new, so the manuals differ
      quite a bit from each other.

      According to Michael Dummett, _The Game of Tarot_, page 95:
      "There was a popular type of divinatory text during the late
      15th and 16th century, particularly in Germany. They were called
      losbuchen or lot books. One example was _Eyn loszbuch ausz der
      Karten_, from Mainz, in the early 16th century. Some were pretty
      simple and others were quite complex in how they were used.
      "On each page is printed a design for one of the cards from a
      German-suited 48-card pack, together with an eight-line verse oracle
      foretelling the enquirer's general destiny in life; some are very
      encouraging, some extremely menacing. One could use the book by
      drawing a single card from a pack and turning to the corresponding
      page; but the book was not in fact designed to make even that use of
      any actual cards necessary, because there is at the front of the book
      a disc with a pointer; the disc is attached to the page only at its
      centre, and on the page itself is a circle divided into forty-eight
      sectors, each labeled with the name of a card. The enquirer was
      therefore supposed to spin the disc and turn to the page indicated by
      the pointer when it came to rest. The very crude type of oracular
      practice exemplified by this book is not cartomancy, but the use of a
      Losbuch: several other Losbucher of the time are known, and all of
      them work in the same way, by spinning a disc with a pointer; but
      most of them are not based on the playing-card pack, but on some
      other set of objects, such as animals. What we have is merely an
      unsophisticated method of fortune-telling by spinning a disc and
      consulting a page in a book; the fact that, in this particular book,
      it is playing cards that are used [as indices] to illustrate the
      oracles is of no especial significance."

      Further on p. 95:
      "The mere existence of [a later fortune-telling book] is itself
      a proof that there was no general practice of telling fortunes with
      cards then in existence; for, if there had been, the author of such a
      work would surely have made some show of conforming to it, instead of
      employing so jejune a method."

      My correspondent said that this later book, Sigismondo Fanti's
      _Triompho di Fortuna_, published in Venice in 1526, apparently was
      reprinted in 1983, so I'm trying to track it down.

      To quote another of my correspondents:
      "Cards were a game before they became associated with lot books, and
      were associated with lot books before special fortune-telling decks
      were invented, and fortune-telling decks were invented before
      cartomancy as we know it [with Tarot cards] was invented."

      I was also pointed to a scholarly article in a book that i think i
      own, but which may be in storage:
      'A Fragmentary German Divination Device: Medieval Analogues and
      Pseudo-Lullian Tradition' by Elizabeth I. Wade in _Conjuring Spirits:
      Texts & Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic_, edited by Claire
      Fanger. This essay discusses alphabetic wheel/lot books from 15th
      century Germany which are clearly related to the divination devices
      discussed above, using dice rather than cards. The alphabetic wheel
      is essentially a spinner, like those used in children's board games
      to randomly choose the number of squares to move. In this case, the
      spinner selects symbols that are interpreted by the book.

      I'll see if i can locate _Conjuring Spirits_. It may be buried in an
      unpacked box... Even if i find it, i am not certain if it contains
      the entire text being analyzed, or just a discussion of it, but
      either way, the information should be useful.

      So while none of these books are really cartomancy (and certainly not
      Tarotomancy), they are the clear forerunners of cartomancy. And
      creating a usable spinner for divination purposes won't be difficult
      - since it's what was done in the late 15th and early 16th c., it's
      very SCA-period.

      Also, my first correspondent, in further discussion, suggested i look
      at Rabelais's book, _Gargantua and Pantagruel_, published in 1532,
      because it includes a list of divination methods known in the early
      16th century.

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