Whenever I’m in Norway, several times a year, and then the whole summer every year, I try to think of a metaphysical question and its relation to a concrete manifestation. When I hit the cabin the first thing I do is lay a grand tableau, or a great spread, with playing cards. All 52 of them. I like the playing cards as they do not immediately conjure visual representations such as we may find them in cards that signify on a symbolic level a concept. We see the card of the Emperor in Tarot, we think: power. We see the Lily in Lenormand we think: purity, family, or sex. We can also go with the extended meanings of these symbols and see the power via the Emperor as a sign of tyranny, or fatherhood, and the trio in Lenormand as your funeral: you have sex, you get married, you get responsibility, you’re a dead man, goodbye freedom.

When reading with playing cards, we may get such associations as the above, where we can say that the 4 of clubs signifies on a literal level a desk or a table (clubs equal things growing in the open air, such as trees, out of which we make furniture, etc.), or we may say that the 4 of clubs signifies on a symbolic level security at work (with branches you build, and they take care of your corners).

When I read with the playing cards I follow the cunning folk approach, based on making logical inferences, rather than the French or Italian method based on counting. The French also prefer using the piquet deck, or a reduced deck of 32 cards, and to which they add meanings for the reversed cards. Although I’ve written on how to read with a reduced deck, I prefer the full pack, as I like the 1-10 numbers and the fact that I don’t have to mess up my perspective by introducing the unnecessary reversals. For a quick intro to the cunning folk, see my post here.

As I have developed this method according to my own experience and logical capacity, please make the proper reference if you want to share it.


Now to my question. I wanted to pose one question that would, however, inherently give me two answers. It is not always easy to pose such questions, but some contexts lend themselves easily to this. So I asked:

What does my heart desire?

This question can be answered by 3 cards, but in the context of the grand tableau what you get is actually also an indication of the fact that what the heart desires may not necessarily be what you need or is good for you. Sometimes I like to think of the great distinction between what we want and what we need. Ideally the two should be aligned or a match, but more often than not, there’s great discrepancy between need and desire. What cards help us with is to narrow the divide between them, by making us aware of where our wishes go wrong, and what we should focus on instead.

Here is a quick note as to the mechanics of reading the tableau. This is pretty much the same as I use for reading the Lenormand grand tableau, albeit with a few variations. As we have 52 cards, I spread them over 5 rows of 9 cards and 1 with 7. For a reading of the houses in a grand tableau with playing cards, see my post on here.


For this I chose as the significator for the heart’s desire the classical 9 of Hearts. The person card is the Queen of Diamonds (woman with white hair). So the reading will proceed from that, and go around that. Left of the significator is the past. Right of the significator is the future. The vertical line in which the significator card finds itself is the line of the present. We read from top to bottom.

The person significator card must be read with the significator card as the middle card of the trio in which it appears.


For the general steps consider following the stages below. Here it is very important to stress that unlike in reading with the Lenormand cards, when I can go with pairings, reading in line, or linking, in reading with playing cards all the linking is done after reading the cards in trios. So, for instance, for the reading of the first row of nine, we will have 3 sentences based on the reading of the 3 sets of 3 cards, and so on. We can either link them to what else we observe in the narrative, or let them stand on their own. To begin with, that is, as we are always looking for that master sentence that derives from the way in which we see how the cards validate what we can say in one sentence.

Why the insistence on reading cards in trios? Simply because in the method I use, I read by looking at color and number progression. So it’s crucial that I see whether the string ends with a black or with a read color. Again, for more on this, I refer you to my intro post on fortunetelling with playing cards.

1) Read the vertical (present) and the horizontal (future) lines in which the significator card lands. Here, the 9♥. For a quick glance, one can use here the classical method of reading 9 cards from the significator. Read that card in trio with the next 9th card, and the next again, beginning with the 9th card you land on in the first count. (See, Robert Chambers’ The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities, 1869).

2) Read the first 3 cards for the general impression of the tableau. These cards set the theme and the tone of the reading and tell us about what is being brought to the table. Where do we come from with our question?

3) Read the corner cards in an X with going through the card in the middle to form a trio. The card above the second, bottom card (left or tight) can be seen as modifying the trio, or having an influence. These trios tell you something about what the question is up against, and how the overall answer can be framed by the X.

4) Look at the card in the middle. A lot hinges on it for the above and the below relations. Make the cross. Read the card in the middle as flanked by the middle card of the top row and middle card of the bottom, last row. Apply the same to the horizontal relation.

5) Read the knighting positions, that is, look at the card of interest in the tableau and which has an indirect line. Just as the horse in chess can discover hidden things around the corner, so here we can get some information about what is not explicit in some relations. The significator card always begins the trio.

6) Read the ‘final’ row. The card in the middle is the bridge.

7) Read the cards in mirroring positions with the middle card in a line as the middle of the trio. Apply the same to the diagonal lines of the tableau. For instance the card in position one goes diagonally to the card in position 40. The card in position 9 goes to the card in position 48. Create a trio around card 49. Look at the intersecting point, position 41, and create a trio around that too, with card in position 41 as the middle of 32 and 49. This can be seen as the clench. This links the symmetrical tableau with the last row and tells us about the tension between the causal relation in the tableau, and that which you cannot escape, or that which begs to differ. The clench in a cross, cards in positions 32, 41, 49 and 40, 41, 42, also tells us about what the querent could have asked but didn’t. Here’s a diagram:

camelia elias

8) Read past and future lines, but make sure that you don’t stop there. This reading can begin already at step 1. Think of bending the lines backwards or upwards. Take each line from where it ends at the edge of the tableau and look at the card that falls next to it. This way we end up reading not only linearly but also in a circle and a spiral. I’ll point to this in my sample reading below.

9) In classical cartomancy we also have a surprise card. Depending on what layout you use for the grand tableau, one counts in such as way so that the last card falls outside of the tableau. Especially those using the piquet deck (32 cards) like a surprise card. In my own tableau here, all the cards are in use. But if you want to have one, you can devise before hand what card is the surprise card. For me, I take the card in position 11 as the surprise and the card in position 22 as the card that trumps it. Or else, you can also use the count of 9, as referenced above in step 1, for your final surprise.

10) Always use your commonsense. If you have a ‘feeling’ about the cards, don’t let it hang there undeveloped. Look for evidence in the cards that supports your feeling. This is an honest way of validating not so much the truth of the emerging story, but more so the event of telling the story. What touches us is not the truth, but the event that creates the truth. My own mantra is: evidence, evidence, evidence. Think of yourselves as card lawyers.


Question: What does my heart desire?

The Significators: 9♥ for the heart’s desire, Q♦ as the person card.

camelia elias

camelia elias

We follow the steps as described above:

1) The heart desires a stable work exchange with the King of Diamonds (4♣ 2♣ K♦). The Queen of Hearts disrupts the cash flow (Q♥ 4♠ 9♦).  In the present the heart struggles with a learning community whose path the heart wants to improve (7♥ 8♣ 9♥) (9♥ 6♣ Q♦). The Queen being an intellectual (the suit of diamonds stands for the nervous system and fire), it is no surprise that she may be in the business of teaching, here as indicated clearly again by the presence of youth in her line (line finishes with the J♣). Well, this holds, as my line of business is teaching in the university. If we use the method of counting 9 cards from the significator 9♥, we read this trio: 6♣ A♥ K♠. The heart’s desire is to make steps towards dealing with the King of Spades in the house.

2) An emotional tension is maintained between troubles with work or planning and troubles with the heart that goes into it (7♣ 4♥ 7♥). A curious thing to note is the appearance of all the 7 cards in the first hand. All 4 sevens feature in the first row. This is a very strong indication that whatever the heart desires, it is associated with trouble. I don’t say trouble as such, as the cards above the significator card are the ones hovering, as it were, without necessarily being deployed in a concrete manifestation. We would have to see how the above is concretized in the below by looking at the cards forming the last row. In this example here, it is pretty much clear that the heart’s desire is not doing so well. A King of Spades looking after the best interests of a Jack of Clubs (K♠ J♣ 10♥) bridges badly through wrong company unto work changes initiated by the King of Clubs and which have an ill outcome on the health of the querent. A look at the cards above the 5♠ indicate that a major loss of energy is at stake, with the consequence of destabilization and exhaustion (10♦ 4♠ 3♠). A doctor may try to fix the trouble (K♥). Generally, there is negativity at the core of the last row as indicated by the 8♠.

3) Negotiating troublesome plans leads to worrying (7♣ 2♣ 10♠). Trouble with the purse is also negotiated with the Q♠. The Q♠ being close to the house of the querent, the A♥, indicates that she may the same person as the querent herself, here signified by the Q♦. Note here how the 9♥ intersects with the O♠ in the 9♠. As the Queens stand for truth, we may have here the situation of the Queen of Spades suggesting that we look for the truth of the situation or the potentially deceiving. The house card, the A♥ flanked by the two Queens, indicates that the house is ruled by female energy. Here we can say that, on the one hand this energy is melancholic and sad (Q♠ modified by A♠ above her), and on the other hand, this energy that is intellectual and pragmatic, oriented towards the education of the young (Q♦ shows the path (6♣) to study to the J♣). Since I don’t have any children, I take this to refer to my professorship that includes teaching obligations apart from research. The King of Spades is also in the house. This is an old mentor, and a source of inspiration. The cards above the K♠ emphasize a stable relation of friendship that is also beneficial on the conceptual and material level. The K♠ has made a gift to the intellectual community, which the Q♦ is in charge of managing from the wings.

4) Tears don’t solve the negative thoughts (7♠ 2♣ 8♠). The K♦ wants to help restoring the work relations (4♣ 2♣ K♦).

5) In the past the heart went for doing something pleasurable for herself and friends (9♥à 10♣ 3♥ 5♥). But double trouble informed this endeavor (9♥à 7♥ 4♥ 7♣).

The path to working with a corporate community involved some decisions which may be more than a dead end (9♥à 6♣ 8♦ A♠. From A♠ follow the line to the end, to the 8♥, which tells us that the A♠ here is not the deadly blow we otherwise associate this card with). The ways of the Queen of Diamonds are familiar to the heart (9♥à 6♣ Q♦ A♥). Lots of work for the heart lies ahead in pouring one’s grievance into writing (9♥à 10♣ 7♥ A♦). I can relate to this one, as I have to kick my butt into gear and start writing grant applications for a project I’m involved with. But it pays off (9♥à 10♣ 6♦ 5♦). Stable negotiations lead to a small increase in money (9♥à 4♣ 2♣ 3♦). The working ways of the Queen of diamonds keep her busy (6♣ Q♦ 5♣).

6) See a reading of the last row at step 1, as it lent itself logically to a reading in that order in this context.

7) Taking pleasure in negative thoughts leads to changes of what one is working with or through (10♥ 8♠ 9♣). These changes pertain to going from working on oneself to working with a community of skeptics (5♣ 8♣ J♠). Involving the financial or intellectual help of any benefic third party is useless. The community resists (3♦ 8♣ 8♠). So here, what the question could have been is about what the querent wants from a community, especially since the cards indicate a community of ungrateful people. I can relate to this situation, as I am involved in teaching on many levels. As any teacher, I sometimes get tired of students who don’t get it, or students who feel entitled to a good education without also expressing the same sense of entitlement where their own contribution is concerned. Unfortunately, desiring to teach for a select group of dedicated and motivated people does not make the ends meet economically.

8) Generally the heart desires good changes in terms of finances (9♦), especially against the background of some very difficult (9♠) exchanges with friends in the house (2♦ modified by 3♥ and 8♦.) The heart desires to share the good times (read the X lines around the significator) (3♥ 6♥) for the benefit of friends and associates (6♦ 8♦).

9) The surprise card, the card in position 11, is 3♥. What trumps is the 4♣. Strange bedfellows. Closer to less complicated affairs, we could say that the surprise is also that the heart desires to do things for children outside the home or institution. Can’t seem to escape teaching. Surprise, surprise. Or else, the surprise is that you must deal with a man that may not be so well-disposed towards you. A King of Spades in the house is trouble.

Now to the final point. Is what the heart desires good for it, or does the heart need something else? Perhaps here we can say that insofar as the corner cards end with black cards indicating sadness (Q♠), worries (10♠), lonely power (K♠), and illness (5♠), it is perhaps a good idea to shift the focus from sharing things with friends for whatever benefit to something else. Teaching from the heart is also not an option if it is not appreciated. Ultimately what we all want is to be on the same page with others. If we can’t have that, then new strategies of being in the world must be devised or negotiated. Perhaps the answer is to let oneself be inspired by nature in the way a child is (with a wink to the surprise card and its trump; 4♣ can mean a patch of land in nature, unless of course, we can stick to the strange bedfellows idea).

Or, I could also just ask the cards what they might have to say about that.

Good luck with the grand tableau and the playing cards in it.


Note on the deck: Grimaud, Original hand-stenciled cards from 1853.

Reference: Robert Chambers, The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities (here especially the article: “The Folk-Lore of Playing Cards,” 1869, London: W. & R. Chambers).


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