October 04, 2017

What's the difference between Tarot and Cartomancy?

"Cartomancy" by Ivan Vladimirov

One of the more stimulating questions that I hear from new readers is about the difference between Tarot and other methods of divination with cards. Is there a difference between Tarot and playing cards? Generally speaking, cartomancy means only "divination with playing cards." Therefore, all Tarot is cartomancy - but not all cartomancy is Tarot. Even among Tarot, there are several distinct methods, and even among those methods not all readers follow the same interpretations.

Cartomancy is a broad term which includes Lenormand, all manner of oracle decks, playing cards (for which multiple systems exist), angel cards, and anything else printed on paper and assembled as a deck. There are differences among methods of cartomancy, both small and large.

In terms of reading with a 52-card deck of playing cards versus reading with a 78-card deck of Tarot cards, the differences are substantial enough that although the casual observer wouldn't notice them, any practitioner with more than a surface knowledge of the two would know the difference.

This says nothing, however, about "superiority." Whether playing cards are better than Tarot cards depends on your point of view, and your fluency in one system or another will have more to do with whether one or the other is "better" (at least for you.)

Having said that, though, and speaking as somebody who's read with both playing cards and Tarot cards, I prefer to read with Tarot cards because the four additional court cards and the 22 additional trump cards really add a lot of depth and nuance that wasn't available to me with a deck of 52 playing cards. When the need arises, I can always remove the additional face cards and trumps in order to read with regular playing cards, so it's nice to have that flexibility in my repertoire of skills, but this still says nothing about whether one method is superior to the other.

Although I think it's useful to follow a set method for reading the cards, in the end the defining factor will always be the performer him or herself. So long as you're confident and capable with your preferred method for reading the cards, that's all that counts. I believe it's true to say that a master may do more with a deck of Pokemon cards than a sophist may with a deck of Tarot cards.

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