Skip to content

Playing Cards – Hearts 1

December 22, 2011

Playing Card Divination

Various Lists of Meanings Compared

I have located six different sources of divinatory meanings for playing cards on the ’Net. The meanings given by Waite (in The Manual of Cartomancy and Occult Divination written under the name of Grand Orient and only latterly published under his own name) are placed first in bold type. They have pride of place because they have links to all the other sources I culled from the Internet, apparently being the font from which they flow. Links with some cards are stronger than with others but in all cases a connection of some sort exists.

To the information gleaned from the ’Net, I have added the meanings of cards from Ace to Seven given by Madeline Montalban in a 1956 Prediction article. While there is a measure of correspondence between her meanings and the others given here it is not a complete correspondence. What Miss M. brings to the table is a set of reversed meanings for the cards she covers. Miss Montalban is also more moderate and focused in what she writes. Her meanings could form a basis for a workable, level-headed method of fortune-telling by playing cards.

Next come meanings given by Hilda Marie, published in Prediction Annual, 1962. They are brief and at first sight not in line with the others given. But from time to time they throw light on other entries. Ms Marie covers only cards from Ace to Seven, like Miss Montalban. Her meanings are followed by some Gypsy meanings I only recently discovered on the Net. These are sometimes to the point and sometimes way off it. They are followed by a set of minor arcana meanings I came across in a book, whose name I can’t remember. I have included these meanings because they are all but identical with some lists of playing card meanings, hinting at a one-time close alliance between the two branches of cartomancy. Finally come Etteilla’s meanings, the courts extracted from his piquet deck meanings (a piquet deck has only 36 cards), the spot cards from his later work covering all 52 cards. Etteilla started his career as a cartomancer writing about playing cards, only later moving on to the Tarot – work for which he is best known today – after the publication of Court de Gébelin’s Monde primitive in which that author discusses the Tarot and its relation to divination.

Almost without exception, in playing card divination the suits are dealt with in the order: Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades. There are even some older books on Tarot that list the suits as Cups, Pence, Rods and Swords, suggesting that Pence were at one time seen as the equivalent of Clubs and Rods of Diamonds. I will deal with the suits in the traditional order.

This suit is universally associated with love, joy, marriage and the home. It is without doubt equivalent to Cups in the Tarot deck.

One source says Hearts are an emotional suit and symbolizes pain and suffering. I wonder if this information has come adrift from its original context. It is very probably that what is meant is this: If there are a majority of Hearts cards in a spread, it indicates that the problem uppermost in the inquirer’s mind relates to the emotions. The querent is probably consulting the cards because they are suffering some emotional pain. They may need guidance in the area of friendship, love or family matters.

Ace of Hearts – The house. If attended by Spades, it foretells quarrelling – if by Hearts, affection and friendship – if by Diamonds, money and distant friends – if by Clubs, feasting and merry-making.
ACE: The love card. Some good news concerning romance. Maybe a love letter or you will move soon into a home you love. House guests may arrive soon.
Ace: The home, love, friendship, joy, the start of a romance. A love letter.
Ace: Has to do with one’s home or environment. Could represent a visit [from someone to your home] or a change of address
Ace of Hearts: Love and happiness. The home, a love letter. This card is particularly favorable, indicating that troubles and problems are lifting.
Ace: love, friendship, the home and distinct happiness
Madeline Montalban – Ace: A letter or invitation. Reversed – A love quarrel.
Hilda Marie – Ace: Indicates the home.
Gypsy – Ace: House, pleasant news, love letter.
Minor Arcana – Ace: the home and domestic happiness. The meaning will be modified by other associated cards, so that we may find visitors to the house, change of residence, domestic quarrels, or feasts and parties.
Etteilla – Ace: Table. [I think this means something like Food, a Table spread with Food, i.e. plenty. Etteilla’s other suggestions for this card are Meal and Feast.]

Three motifs are instantly apparent: the home, love and a letter. Setting aside Etteilla’s meaning, which is at odds with all the others, Waite’s delineation and that given for the Ace of Cups concentrate on the home. Madeline Montalban focuses on the letter. But the remainder of the sources above cover at least two, and often all three, of the motifs identified.

All the motifs are related to the general meaning of the Hearts suit – love, joy, marriage and the home. Certain readers have emphasized one aspect more than the others while some readers have tried to tick as many boxes as possible.

Etteilla does not seem to have affected the meaning of the Ace of Hearts at all – unless the table spread with food is intended as the paradigm of a happy home. It is unclear whether this was implicit in Etteilla’s meaning or whether it evolved from his meaning as cartomancers attempted to wrest some sense out of his Table, Meal, Feast, or whether it grew up as a separate, unrelated tradition.

King of Hearts – A fair man, of good-natured disposition, but hasty and rash.
KING. A blond, probably light-skinned, middle-aged man who is generous to all. He will try to help you, but he may be too impetuous.
King: A good-natured, fair-haired man. Good advice.
King: Represents an influential man, someone who has the power or ability to do something good for the querent.
King of Hearts: A fair-haired man with a good nature; or a man with Water signs predominating in his chart. Fair, helpful advice. Affectionate, caring man. This man helps you out without much talk. His actions reveal his kindness and concern.
King: fair haired man, affectionate, generous, impetuous, honest man, hasty in decisions, not to be relied upon for advice
Madeline Montalban – King: A pleasant and easy-going elderly man. Same reversed.
Hilda Marie – King: A fair man.
Gypsy – King: Affectionate person of fair appearance.
Minor Arcana – King: An honest and well-intentioned man, but hasty in his decisions and therefore not one to be relied upon for advice.
Etteilla – King: Fair Man, HonestMan. Reversed: Dishonest Man. Vice, Scandal.

Total agreement on this King being fair. With the odd exception, coloring is dependent on suit. The red suits – Hearts and Diamonds – denote fair people; the black suits – Clubs and Spades – denote dark people. That’s logical enough. Usually Hearts court cards represent very fair people, Diamonds those who are dark blond. But the cartomancer Hilda Marie has this the other way about, and I doubt she’s alone in doing so. The exceptions to the norm that I spoke about arise from the meanings assigned to the suit of Diamonds being transferred to the suite of Clubs and vice versa. This accounts for Diamonds sometimes representing dark-complexioned people with Clubs representing those who are fair-haired.

The division of folk into four ‘grades’ of coloring, from very blond to very dark, worked efficiently in the Britain into which I was born. The system was extremely useful in helping to identify the person a particular court card signified. In modern Britain and other parts of Europe, and in America, this system is no longer as effective as it was. Rather than dealing in coloring or complexion, nowadays it is frequently a better course of action to focus on the type of person described – the good-hearted man indicated by the King of Hearts; the man who offers practical help represented by the King of Clubs; the suborn, bad-tempered man symbolized by the King of Diamonds; the self-serving, untrustworthy man denoted by the King of Swords.

Personality-wise, the King of Hearts is described as generous, good-natured and fair minded. His function, so far as a querent is concerned, is variously assigned depending on which list one is following. For some cartomancers, this king is willing to help the inquirer, most often with good advice. Others say that the King of Hearts is too rash and hasty in his decisions and thus his advice cannot be relied on. The rival practices have grown up over the years and anyone seeking to learn playing card divination must choose which delineation to take up. The neatest solution, perhaps, is to have the upright King represent one who can offer honest and unbiased counsel and to have the reversed King indicate one whose advice is either dishonest or defective. This would take us back to Etteilla’s meanings, which date from the eighteenth century, and which on the face of it are the distant basis for the current meanings, some of which are more twisted away from the intent of the original than others.

This is a scenario we will encounter time after time as we proceed through all fifty-two playing cards – Etteilla’s eighteenth century meaning altered to a greater or lesser extent by taste and personal bias. My biggest regret in connection with this project is that I cannot produce a reliable timeline for the changes so that the order in which they occurred can be mapped out. There are too few landmarks. Etteilla is eighteenth century, Waite the end of the nineteenth century or thereabouts, Madeline Montalban and Hilda Marie were writing in the late fifties and early sixties, and may be considered contemporaneous, but the Gypsy meanings could date to any of these periods, and other meanings I’ve drawn together might either be ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’.

Queen of Hearts – A fair woman, faithful, prudent and affectionate.
QUEEN. A warm and friendly blond, who may be a man’s true love or a woman’s friendly rival. She is motherly, loving and joyful.
Queen: A kindly fair-haired woman.
Queen: A trusted woman. Someone knowledgeable and faithful. One who always plays fair.
Queen of Hearts: A fair-haired woman with a good nature; or a woman with Water signs predominating in her chart. Kindly advice. Affectionate, caring woman. Sometimes, this card can indicate the mother or a mother-figure.
Queen: fair haired woman, trustworthy, faithful, loving woman, gentle & pleasing.
Madeline Montalban – Queen: An affectionate, sympathetic woman. Same reversed.
Hilda Marie – Queen: A fair woman.
Gypsy – Queen: Loving, blonde woman.
Minor Arcana – Queen: A faithful, loving woman, gentle and pleasing.
Etteilla – Queen: Fair Woman, Honest Woman. Reversed: Dissoluteness, Depravity.

All agree that the Queen of Hearts denotes a fair woman – the female equivalent of the King. She is his match in temperament too, being loyal, loving, gentle and of upright character. Etteilla makes her dissolute and/or depraved when the card is reversed. This attribute has fallen away over the years even though, logically, she should mirror the King’s reversed meaning when she appears upside down in a reading. Only one source indicates she may offer the querent ‘kindly advice’. This corresponds with what is said of the King, yet most modern lists of meanings have dispensed with the trait. I’m not sure why this should be.

It also seems a modern feature that this Queen should represent the mother or a motherly figure.

Knave of Hearts – The dearest friend of the consulting party. Also a fair person’s thoughts.
JACK. A romantic young man, or sometimes a woman, or a close pal from school days. He or she likes to have a good time and you enjoy his or her company.
Jack: A close friend or a good-natured, fair-haired youth.
Jack: A good friend to the querent, someone close, a cousin or a confidant, someone they have known since childhood or for a long time.
Jack of Hearts: A warm-hearted friend. A fair-haired youth; or a young person with Water signs predominating in his or her chart. Often this points to a younger admirer.
Jack: fair haired young person, good friend, a close (or long-lost) friend.
Madeline Montalban – Knave: A faithful and honourable young man. Same reversed.
Hilda Marie – Knave: A young, fair man.
Gypsy – Jack: Cheerful young person.
Minor Arcana – Page: A close friend; not always contemporary [i.e. current], for it may signify a long-lost childhood friend or sweetheart.
Etteilla – Jack: Fair Young Man, Studious, Diligent. Reversed: Affection, Friendship.

As with the King and Queen of Hearts, the Knave is universally considered a fair young man – sometimes a fair young person, for often it is assumed that the Knave of Hearts can represent a child or teenager of either sex. The idea behind this teaching, I assume, is that, until the age of puberty, the young remain sexually undifferentiated and can thus be signified by the Knave, Kings representing adult men and Queens adult women.

Madeline Montalban describes him as a faithful and honorable young man, thus aligning him with the preceding Hearts courts, who are also loyal and upright pillars of the community. A number of readers have the card represent either a close friend of the querent’s or a long-lost friend. The first of these alternatives is exemplified by this entry: –

A good friend to the querent, someone close, a cousin or a confidant, someone they have known since childhood or for a long time.

The second is encapsulated in this entry: –

A close friend; not always contemporary [i.e. current], for it may signify a long-lost childhood friend or sweetheart.

Etteilla allows the card to retain its positive connotations even when in reverse. Seemingly, this set a trend that no-one has subsequently sought to overthrow.

It is only Waite who suggests the card might indicate a fair person’s thoughts, a meaning associated in some quarters with the Tarot Knights rather than the Pages. While Jacks or Knaves are generally taken to be the equivalent of Tarot Pages, an element of confusion between Knights and Pages does creep in from time to time.

Ten of Hearts – Is prophetic of happiness and many children; is corrective of the bad tidings of the cards next to it, and confirms their good tidings.
TEN. An excellent card, and it helps overcome bad cards [in its vicinity in the spread]. Maybe a proposal coming. Successful future and plenty of money.
Ten: Good luck and happiness.
10: A good card: it means good luck, and can counteract bad cards around it.
10 of Hearts: Good luck, success. This is an important card that suggests good fortune after difficulty.
10: good fortune, happiness, good news, happiness in family.
Madeline Montalban – Ten: Success, affection, fortune. A little less so if reversed.
Hilda Marie – Ten: Going into a friendly gathering.
Gypsy – 10: Good fortune, luck in love.
Minor Arcana – 10: Happiness in the family, perhaps unexpected success or good news.
Etteilla – Ten: Town, City, Homeland. Reversed: Wrath, Strife, Violence.

The 10 of Hearts is a highly beneficent card. Not only does it predict good fortune, success of hopes and domestic happiness, it also cancels out the negativity of malevolent cards in its vicinity. It has much in common with the Ace of Hearts, for both cover the fields of happiness in the family, luck in love, and the receipt of welcome news, possibly taking the form of a marriage proposal. One reading even adds ‘plenty of money’ to the already not inconsiderable heap of blessings.

Etteilla’s meaning is at a tangent to all the others. It is just possible that his Town, City, Homeland was remolded at some point into The Home. Although this may seem a stretch of the imagination, note that in Sepharial’s hands, the delineation for the 10 Cups becomes: –

This card stands for the town or place in which the inquirer resides, and also the esteem in which he is held by his friends and acquaintances. Reversed, it; shows disputes and friction in his family circle.

S.L. Mathers appears to have acted as intermediary in this process seeing as his meaning for the 10 of Cups given in his Fortune Telling Cards: The Tarot, its occult signification, use in fortune telling, and method of play, etc. (George Redway, 1888) is: –

The Town wherein one resides, Honour, Consideration, Esteem, Virtue, Glory, Reputation; Reversed, Combat, Strife, Opposition, Differences, Dispute.

The evolution of the card’s meaning is striking and should be treated as salutary as the history of many cards’ meanings follows a similar trajectory. However odd or perverse the line of development may seem to us, evidence suggests over and over again that this kind of path was taken by those responsible for recording cartomantic divinatory meanings and passing them on to posterity.

Nine of Hearts – Wealth and high esteem. Also the wish card.
NINE. The wish card. The answer is definitely “yes” to your wish. Extreme happiness for you.
Nine: The wish card. Dreams come true.
9: Harmony. Often called the Wish Card. If surrounded by bad cards, these can represent obstacles that need to be dealt with in order to get the fulfillment of the wish.
9 of Hearts: The card of wishes. A wish or dream fulfilled. Look to the card just preceding this one to determine what the querent desires.
9: the ‘wish card’, dreams and desires will come true.
Madeline Montalban – Nine: A happy result. Reversed – Worries, obstacles.
Hilda Marie – Nine: represents the Wish Card.
Gypsy – 9: Wishes fulfilled.
Minor Arcana – 9: The fulfillment of dreams and desires; good fortune and wealth.
Etteilla – Nine: Victory, Attainment. Reversed: Sincerity, Loyalty, Truth.

The 9 of Hearts is accepted as the wish card by everyone apart from Etteilla. It is likely, however, that Etteilla’s meaning came first and was recast over the years so that his Victory and Attainment became Wishes Granted. When not signifying the fulfillment of wishes, the card forecasts happiness, wealth and high esteem.

Etteilla has it as a fortunate card even when reversed. Madeline Montalban sees it as representing worries and obstacles when upside down and one other entry agrees with her, at least in spirit: –

If surrounded by bad cards, these can represent obstacles that need to be dealt with in order to get the fulfillment of the wish.

I do not find it surprising that the reversed card should be thought to denote hindrances to success (while not totally eclipsing the idea that wishes might be fulfilled eventually). In the second half of the nineteenth century and for much of the first half of the twentieth, that is the way reversals were formed – the upright meaning was simply turned on its head: Gain became Loss, Marriage became Separation or Estrangement, and so on. With very fortunate cards, the rule might be relaxed and the Success or Happiness or whatever would merely be delayed in the case of reversal. Of the Tarot Trumps, The Chariot, The Sun and The World were frequent recipients this treatment. And here we find the 9 of Hearts dealt with in the same way by those commentators who touch on the card in circumstances where it is subject to debilitating influences, either by being reversed or hemmed in between cards of negative import.

  1. The research done on these cards is meticulous!
    I found it very interesting to read how at times Etteilla diverted from the norm. Yet one can see for example, a link to the other interpretations in the Ace of Hearts. A “Table” is solid, secure, like a good home. It is s symbol of friendship, as when people gather round a table for a meal or to play a game of cards. In Italy, the table is a very important part of families coming together.
    I also wondered if Etteilla is sometimes influenced by his surroundings at the time, as in Ten of Hearts, when he uses the Town, City, Homeland, to represent, what others see as Good Luck, Success, Happiness. Maybe the town, or City where he lived, which is his homeland, was very prosperous at the time he gave his interpretation for the Ten of Hearts?

    • Hi Pearl,

      Thank you for your appreciation. You are very kind.

      Re: Etteilla. This French cartomancer was the first to write handbooks on the subject. He was active in the eighteenth century. The other lists I am working from date from the twentieth century. So it is later practitioners who deviate from Etteilla. He has had very little influence on the art of fortune-telling by playing cards but he had at one time an enormous influence on the meanings of the Minor Arcana cards of the Tarot.

      Where Etteilla took his spot card meanings from or why he applied them to the cards he did is a mystery. They appear to be quite arbitrary – which is odd seeing as they had such an effect in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century on the Tarot card meanings.

      Best wishes,


  2. Ashe Skyler permalink

    Howdy Auntie! I have a book for you that supposedly has Gypsy playing card meanings for all 52 cards and a set of modern meanings too. The book was printed in 1914. It’s called “Telling Fortunes by Cards, A Symposium of the Several Ancient and Modern Methods as Practiced by Arab Seers and Sibyls and the Romany Gypsies” by Mohammed Ali. ( It might be worth checking out.

    I greatly appreciate the research and comparisons you’ve done. My notebooks has a good ten or more sets dragged up from here, there, and yonder, for both Tarot and cartomancy. And you’ve been a huge help on my cartomancy notebook! 🙂

  3. Victoria permalink

    Very interesting! I came across this site as I was out shopping and came across a playing card an ace of hearts, I picked it up, headed another direction I then saw a 7 hearts, followed by a 10 hearts! Brand new and from the same deck, was it a coincidence, sign? I was the only person who noticed the cards and picked them up, so I took it as a sign the cards were for me 😀

    • Victoria,

      This sounds to me like an omen. If it is then
      (a) it should be a good omen, and
      (b) it should be an omen concerning either your home or family life or it speaks of your emotional life.

      The suit involved is Hearts and they represent the things I just mentioned. The omen should be heralding something like a new home, a happy event involving family or a happy event involving a dear friend or loved one.

      Let me know what happens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: