- 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
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