Cards - Tools of Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Tools of Witchcraft

Cards are used for divination and for spell-casting. Cards (including tarot cards) are also used for playing games. It is impossible to tell by the existence of cards alone the purposes for which they were used. Perhaps for this reason, the Puritans called playing cards “the devil’s picture book” and considered it a sin to even keep a deck of cards in one’s home. In the fifteenth century both secular and religious authorities inveighed against playing cards.

Cards were invented in East Asia; scholars debate as to whether their origins are in China or Korea. The earliest deck of European playing cards dates to fourteenth-century Italy. Before the invention of the printing press, cards were hand crafted. Many still craft their own cards for personal magical use.

With the exception of one card, The Fool, the cards in a tarot deck are numbered. Card number one is The Magician. Older decks sometimes call him The Mountebank. The magician is traditionally portrayed standing at a table laid with his magical tools, which correspond to the tarot suits: pentacle, wand/staff/stave, chalice, and sword (dagger/knife/athamé). The earliest surviving depiction of this image is found within the fifteenth-century Visconti-Sforza Italian tarot deck.

Cards are most commonly expected to provide an oracle but are also incorporated into spell-casting and used as meditation tools and amulets. In Roman Catholic folk tradition, Holy Cards depicting the Holy Family and saints are used for protection and luck as well as spiritual and meditative purposes. Roman Catholic Holy Cards are also incorporated into magical practice, although this is not sanctioned by the Church.

Tarot cards remain the most popular magical cards; however a regular pack of playing cards has profound magical uses too, as do traditional “Gypsy Fortune-Telling Cards.” Various special decks have been published over recent years specifically for divination, meditation or other magical and spiritual use. (See HALL OF FAME: Aleister Crowley, Marie Lenormand.)