I am reviewing an old and unusual set of divinatory cards. They are not tarot cards, nor do they belong to traditional cartomancy. They are the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards. The Gypsy Witch cards have been around for a long time. They were first published in 1904 and have been around ever since, and predate many of our better known tarot decks such as the famous Rider-Waite deck which was first published in 1909.
This is a curious deck of cards. They claim to be based on ideas by the famed French cartomancer, Madam Lenormand. There are numerous Lenormand style decks that make use of mnemonic images on the cards. The images and their meanings don’t seem to correspond to the accepted meanings attributed to the suits or numerology. The Lenormand style cards are unique in themselves, and today we’d call this style of deck oracle cards.
The Gypsy Witch deck is a facsimile of the Lenormand decks that were developed after her death. This Gypsy Witch deck is a standard deck of playing cards, but each card has an illustration and the meaning written down. The illustrations are old Victorian style images. This adds charm to the deck. With the meanings of the cards written on each card, we’d think it would be easy to use. There is nothing to memorize. I bought my deck out of curiosity long ago. However, I rarely used these cards. Why?
I have issues with the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Deck. First, these cards have no relationship with traditional cartomancy or the tarot. Cartomancy certainly has a wide variety of interpretations towards any card’s meaning, but there are some simple “rules”. One is the meaning of the suits. The heart represents matters of the heart and emotion; the diamond represents matters of money and commerce, and so on. With this deck, the pips and numbers have NO relationship with the meanings and imagery depicted.
Above is an example of their Aces compared to the same with the Rider-Waite deck. Do the meanings written on the card have any relationship with the suits? Expect for the Ace of Spades, no. Which begs the question, is any correspondence necessary? Are there really any rules when it comes to inspiring our intuition? Is any system of symbolism only in our imagination? Probably. Intuition does not follow rules. But I like to think there is some sort of system behind cartomancy. If there is a system behind the Lenormand style decks, I don’t understand it.
Another issue with these cards is their meaning is literally spelled out on each card. Reading people’s fortunes is not a game. Many people take it quite seriously. If a deck has written meanings that the participant can read along with the reader, it takes away from the reader their responsibility to “soften the blow” if something negative is seen. Who knows if a reading will ever become reality? And this deck has quite a few scary cards. I have a pair of images to the left. Imagine if someone saw these two in their layout…the 5 of Spades, with an image of a coffin, combined with the 10 of Diamonds, the Scythe, suggests an early death. Spelled out right on the card. Yikes! That is way too literal.
One thing I like about this deck is its method of reading cards, which seems intriguing. It could easily be used with tarot cards. It uses a card to represent the participant in the center, and is surrounded by an inner square of eight cards, and an outer square of eight cards. The inner square of cards shape the destiny of the participant, and the outer square of cards represent the forces surrounding him or her. Below is a chart I made to show how it works. This type of layout has a lot of possibilities, and makes for a change from the typical Celtic Cross layout.
Print out these instructions, right click and print:
The reverse side of the instruction booklet: