Useful Cartomancy Decks
Cartomancy is divination using cards, and it has its greatest popularity in western Europe. Most commonly cards used for divination will be illustrated, but they could also contain only pips, numbers, or even just labels. Until about two hundred years ago, oracle card decks were composed of existing gaming cards to which divinatory meanings were overlaid; but in more recent times, numerous custom illustrated decks have been created specifically for cartomancers, as both artists and esotericists have discovered that fortune-telling cards make a great showcase.
Although deck designers sometimes invent entirely new cartomancy systems (the "Madame Endora's Fortune Cards" being an excellent example), most new decks are just artistic variants of one of the classic European oracle systems. The oldest, and the most common classic cartomancy system worldwide, is the 78 card five suit system called "Tarot Cards". When reading Tarot, it is the artwork on a card that is most important, so one deck will probably not fit all clients. Keep in mind that images and keywords assigned to a card are allegorical, and that over the years since the symbology was originally established, some meanings have shifted in the public mindset. This is the reason for example that the Tarot "Death" card is sometimes labeled "Transition".
The French prefer the system of 36 pictogram cards called "Lenormand Cards", which are named after a famous french cartomancer of the Napoleonic period (although it should be noted that Ms. Lenormand herself actually used a standard Piquet gaming deck of thirty-two playing cards, onto which she overlaid her own meanings). Conceivably, because the images are just pictograms, if you memorized the historically retained equivalent playing card associations, you could perform a Lenormand reading using only a standard Jass gaming deck of thirty-six playing cards (or alternatively, with a standard Poker deck which has had the twos, threes, fours, and fives removed).
The Germans prefer the system of 36 cards called "Kipper Cards". When reading Kipper, it is the direction the characters on a card are facing that is most important, so reading Spreads is deck dependent. The Austrians prefer the system of 36 unnumbered allegorical artwork cards called "Gipsy Cards" (not to be confused with the absonant mass-market deck called the 'Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards'). The Italians prefer the system of 52 cards called "Sibilla Cards". Conceivably, because with Sibilla it is the keywords, rather than the artwork, which is important, if you memorized the equivalent playing card associations, you could perform a Sibilla reading using only a standard Poker gaming deck of fifty-two playing cards. Guide books in English are plentiful for the Tarot, rare for the Lenormand and Kipper, and almost non-existent for the Gipsy and Sibilla.
A novice cartomancer would be well served to learn the Lenormand, Tarot, and Kipper systems, in that order. The Lenormand deck works well for yes/no questions and those of a mundane nature, as it reveals what a bystander might 'witness'. The Tarot deck works well for questions that deal with the psychology of how one 'feels' about a situation. The Kipper deck works well for questions relating to ones private social interactions, such as love triangles. Bear in mind that each card system uses its own non-interchangeable Spread methodology.
Spreads are patterns of cards laid on a table in order to answer a clients question. Spreads can consist of just one card, all the way to using every card in the deck. This can be so because when you read a Spread, it is the spot where a card is placed in the Spread that is of importance. Therefore, before you lay a Spread, you must be clear about what each spot in the Spread is supposed to be representing, so that the cards filling each spot can be subconsciously selected to reveal a valid answer. Most clients appreciate if you begin by first reading their Spread as a flowing overview paragraph, before explicating individual card details.
Let me clarify now that cards used for cartomancy have not been tooled by supernatural beings, but are instead only mundane items made in factories from paper and colored inks. They are not cursed or blessed before shipping, but just simply stuffed into boxes and sent on to retailers. They are products, nothing more. As such, you are not required to handle them in a reverent manner, and you can in fact just use them for playing card games.
Although it may seem that the mechanism behind Cards is similar to that of Dice or Runes, this is false. Dice and Runes are "cast", and therefore difficult to manipulate by the caster to force a result. Cards are "shuffled", and as any good Illusionist can demonstrate, relatively easy to manipulate into a desired sequence. Supposedly your Subconscious knows where the cards it wants are located in the deck, and can secretly manipulate them into its desired sequence. This is why you endlessly shuffle the deck while mulling the question, until you 'feel' the deck is ready to be read. Although any type of shuffle can be used to "clear" the deck, exclusively use an Overhand Shuffle when shuffling for the reading.
As an aid to assembling your own personal repertoire of decks (owning decks are like eating peanuts, its hard to stop at one), I am providing an overview of decks I typically make available for public client fortune-telling readings, sorted by system, and the reasoning behind why I keep them in my public toolbox. It is acceptable for private decks to be exotic and difficult to decipher, but a public deck must be durable and easy to read. I normally set out only one, but never more than three decks (mixed or matched systems), at an open-door reading session, and the decks I make available will usually be chosen to match the theme of the event or to match the decor of the reading location.
Mlle. Lenormand Cartomancy
Little White Book
This is my primary Lenormand deck. It is a classic design, created a little over a century ago. The cards are standard playing card size, made of high quality plastic card stock, and capable of taking a lot of abuse. The back is unfortunately reversible, so cards may unintentionally get turned upside down (Lenormand cards are never read reversed).
I find the pictograms on these cards to be both attractive and unambiguous. Additionally each card also includes an insert of the associated playing card, and its traditional sequence number. Although I rarely have a need to reference either, I appreciate that they are included. The smaller card size also means that a Grand Tableau can be built within a compact space. A suitable deck for clients of all ages and genders, which could safely and easily be carried in your pocket.
Under the Roses Lenormand
Little White Book
This is my alternate Lenormand deck. These cards are standard playing card size, and the pictograms are attractive and mostly unambiguous, even from a distance. Card stock is quality, but not plastic coated, so cards are subject to scuffing. The back is thankfully non-reversible. Additionally each card also includes the Lenormand name of the card, the abbreviation of the associated playing card, and the cards traditional sequence number. Almost subliminally, keywords for the card are written in the image background.
Lenormand frequently uses Significators, and in this deck the Gentleman, Lady, and even the Child are unusually of a darker skin tone. Lighter skin toned versions of these cards are included with the deck as alternates, should one ever have an interest. This deck has a "Ragtime era" genteel South theme. It is slightly masculine, certainly sophisticated, and when using the default person cards, the deck is uniquely appealing to an under represented segment of clients.
Little White Book
This is my primary Kipper deck. The cards of this deck are standard playing card size, and made of plastic coated card stock. The card backs are thankfully non-reversible. Card labels are written in English, which is rare for a Kipper. The illustrations differ significantly from the Original Kipper deck, but delightfully they actually match the cards interpretive meanings better.
The Kipper system is most suited for the kinds of questions most often asked by young teen girls. The fantasy "Doctor Dolittle" style artwork of this deck somewhat fits their esthetic tastes, yet it is not abhorrent to adults.
This is my alternate Kipper deck, the original Bavarian Kipper deck from the late 1800's from which all other Kipper decks are derived. Because the facing of the characters in a Kipper deck are important, a Spread reading will differ depending on the deck used, so it is useful to own an original artwork deck as a reference and final authority.
The cards are standard playing card size and made of quality plastic coated card stock. The artwork is boldly colored, and although the labels on the cards are only written in German, they are concise and easy to decipher. The back is unfortunately reversible, so cards may sometimes unintentionally get turned upside down. The Original Kipper deck has been aptly described as 'a masculine deck intended for women'.
This is my primary Tarot deck. I saw it being used at a new-age convention, and immediately decided that it would be my new everyday deck, instead of the official RWS deck I had been using for years.
The cards are of a typical Tarot size, and the card stock is durable. It follows in the RWS tradition, and the illustrations on each card unmistakably match the keywords normally associated with the card. The artwork is colorful, yet not gaudy, and the images are not cluttered with a lot of esoteric symbolism that might confuse a client. The plain raspberry colored back is fully reversible, but sadly I find that its eye straining color clashes with many of my reading cloths.
All in all this is a near perfect deck for ordinary Tarot readings. A client viewing from some distance can clearly distinguish the images on the cards, and will also be able to easily identify their RWS equivalency. The uncluttered imagery is unthemed and tasteful, gender neutral, and neither sugared or gloomy, making it acceptable to clients of all ages, genders, and persuasions.
Little White Book
This is my alternate Tarot deck. Due to their cultural upbringing, especially if it happened to be a conservative christian one, a few clients find the imagery used on RWS Tarot cards to be "scary". I therefore felt I needed an attractive "non-threatening" Tarot deck in my repertoire.
These cards are of a typical Tarot size and are made from a durable card stock, which makes shuffling easy. The drawings are gentle, and have an appearance almost like that of a romantic stained glass window. Many cards have had their imagery softened (sometimes almost to RWS indiscernibility), and a few have even been given different titles (such as 'The Devil' becoming 'Materialism', and 'Death' becoming 'Transition'). The back is a fully reversible, conservatively colored, Celtic Knot pattern.
I use this Tarot deck whenever I read for clients whom I feel might be uncomfortable around esoteric imagery, pagan imagery, or spooky imagery. It is also a good choice to use with clients who simply enjoy a RWS deck with a graceful artwork style, and as such it has become my most requested deck with regular clients.
Madame Endora's Fortune Cards
Little White Book
Some individuals, especially older teens, enjoy the occult fantasy of the spooky cartomancer issuing to-the-point toned fortunes. This deck, with its stark "carnival fortune teller" imagery and pronouncements written boldly on the cards themselves for all to see, is what I use for Halloween themed events and such. But more than just for occasional mystic thrills, this recent cartomancy system is actually well conceived and quite effective. This is a personally favored deck, which really lets me stand out amongst other readers.
This deck has forty-eight Tarot sized cards with a reversible back, and is divided into five suites. The "Royal Court" contains eight cards, the "Realm of Fable" contains ten cards, the "Bestiary" contains ten cards, the "Treasury" contains twelve cards, and the "Elements" contains eight cards. Each card has a label, an evocative picture, and a brief meaning. Unfortunately the card stock is a little thin, so care must be taken when shuffling and handling so as not to damage the cards. The cards are read in divinatory Spreads which are much like conventional Tarot Spreads.
Gipsy Fortune Telling Cards
Little White Book
Gipsy cards are unnumbered, are read in relationship to each other, and depict allegorical life situations. To a slight degree they are almost like a forerunner of OH Cards. This deck is discernably illustrated using pleasant artwork created at the turn of the twentieth century. Originally the Gipsy deck contained only thirty-two cards (now retroactively referred to as Biedermeier cards), but soon standardized at thirty-six.
The cards of this deck are standard playing card size, and made of high quality plastic coated card stock. The back is fortunately non-reversible, as Gipsy cards are not read reversed. Each card contains a picture, with a label in English and five other languages. An inoffensive story-telling deck which is suitable for nearly anyone.
Every Day Oracle
Little White Book
This deck is an excellent variant of the popular Vera artwork Sibilla. The cards are slightly larger than standard playing card size. Sibilla cards can be read reversed, and the back is fully reversible. These cards include the lottery numbers (so the deck can be used as a random number generator), and fortunately omit the sometimes added, but often incorrect, card meanings.
A Sibilla deck has the same suites and rankings as a standard French Poker gaming playing card deck, but this particular deck is using Italian name abbreviations for the suites (Picche = spades, Fiori = clubs, Quadri = diamonds, Cuori = hearts). Note that cards numbered 11, 12, and 13 equate to the Jack, Queen, and King respectively. Card labels are also in Italian, but relatively easy to decipher. The combination of Italian labels with innocuous classical imagery gives this deck an early 1800's "old world" Mediterranean feel.
Messages From Your Animal Spirit Guides Oracle Cards
If you ever take a deck to a pizza party, you just know it will get covered by sticky fingerprints. People will fold, spindle, put in their mouth, and spill drinks all over, your cards. Yet a party is a great place to introduce yourself as a cartomancer, and to recruit potential clients for later in depth readings.
This is a deck of large sized thick cards with a helpfully unidirectional back, which are designed to take much abuse. The cards, and even the box they are stored in, are protected by ribbed plastic that can be wiped clean with a slightly dampened cloth. The deck contains targeted constructive advice from forty-four distinct Animal Guides, whose species name and picture appears on the card. Animal Guides who feel the need to come forward do so by manifesting a trigger to get you to start contemplating them and their lessons, so having their species appear on a selected card can be a valid method utilizable by them.
At a party you want to keep your readings simple, so it is good that with this deck you can perform a reading using just one chosen card, and that conveniently the card will have the Animal Guides concise message written right on the cards face. You could however also use these cards in small "consideration" divinatory Spreads if desired. Most people can relate to animals, and many people are already aware that Animal Guides are helpers, which makes this deck comfortable to the average person, or even children, you might meet at a mixed social gathering.