The Cartomancer: Read the Cards like the Devil?

The Cartomancer: Read the Cards like the Devil? February 24, 2016

Otto Tragy for Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik 1910, in my private collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Otto Tragy for Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik 1910, in my private collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Ever since I’ve started reading the cards professionally, the notion of ‘reading the cards like the Devil’ has been infusing my practice. Not because I claim such a skill, but because others attribute it to me. As a card reader, I suppose that you can’t expect higher praise than to have your profession associated with what the Devil does, but what does it mean, to read the cards like the Devil, and where does this notion come from?

Traditionally, the Jack of Spades has been associated with announcing the ‘gift’ of cards. The Queen of Spades is a purveyor of magical truth, and the King of Spades is a grand magician. The 8 of Spades is your coven, the 7 of Spades your black magic, and the Ace of Spades your tour de force that will land anybody crossing you in their grave.

In more mundane matters, the suit of spades refers to public office, magistrates, lawyers, and trouble-makers. The suits of spades will make you cry, issue you parking tickets, put you in jail, or downright kill you. Spades are pretty straightforward. They dig the earth, give you a taste of your own blood – and that of others, if you’re blood thirsty – and cut to the chase. Spades essentialize matters, for which reason they are associated with the bones, or the skeletal system.


In the context of reading the cards like the Devil, however, what we’re talking about when we encounter the spades as a manifestation of the cartomantic craft par excellence, we’re talking very much about the projection of phantasmatic desire. Most students of cartomancy mirror their desire to read the cards well in what they imagine the Devil is doing. But this imagining is hardly tangible. It lives in people’s heads as a form of magical realism. Which is precisely why it’s fascinating. Because it works.

Reading the cards like the Devil is like cutting the moon in halves, and then burying the pieces at the crossroads. Reading the cards like the Devil is like carrying your hot sauce in your bag, like a swag. When you read like the Devil you’re like the Tao of writing. The more you want to explain what the Devil is with you, being all penetrating and such, the more you live the paradox of speaking about the unspeakable.

CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay
CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

My Devil, Your Devil

Recently I’ve offered a comment to a student in my Cards and Magic class, who wanted to know how we read the Devil card in the Tarot in the context of our shared interest to read the cards like the Devil – something I have promised to teach everybody in this class. For me, it’s a question of distinguishing between the narratives. As a diviner, reading like the Devil is all about developing the penetrating gaze, which enables you to identify the Devil in a reading as associated with forms of addiction, attachment, enslavement and lack of vision.

It’s not about the diviner being involved with these significations of the card, but rather about the diviner pointing to how destructive these forces can be for another. In other words, when you read like the Devil you don’t get excited whenever the Devil card pops, as you may that think this has something to do with you. It doesn’t. It will have something to do with the one you read the cards for. Your job is to stand neutral and detached, and very much above the Devil’s domain. When the Devil teaches you to read the cards like the Devil, he makes sure to tell you to send him to hell first, so you can be free and unencumbered in your readings.

Do you read cards like the Devil?

If you want to know to what extent you read your cards like the Devil, you can just ask the cards the following:

In what ways do I read the cards like the Devil? How do I embody the Devil? And what does this Devil look like to me? How do others identify the Devil in my readings? What does this Devil look like to them? How do I honor my Devil?

As this is a whole series of related questions, what you can do is lay down the cards in the classical pattern of 9. If you read with a playing card deck, pick the Jack of Spades, aka The Man in Black, as the Devil’s significator, but leave the card in the deck. You can also pick a significator for yourself. Mine is the Queen of Diamonds (trad. a woman professor with white hair).

It the Devil shows up, the better for you. If he doesn’t then you can think of the Devil as a force that’s not yet manifest. In my example below, the Jack of Spades did me the favor of showing his face. The better for me, as my significator also decided to show up.

You can read the rows first, then the columns and then the X over the tableau. Create a synthesis at the end. Remember to dance with your cards. Any pedestrian way of following a method should be just that, a way of getting there, not the whole experience. The whole experience is found in the way in which what you see unfolding as a pattern right under your nose ends up validating your hunting instinct for the good story.

Here is an example, this time with a favorite deck of mine, the playing cards designed by Otto Tragy at the turn of the last century (1910).

Otto Tragy for Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik 1910, in my private collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Otto Tragy for Straslunder, 1910 (Photo: Camelia Elias)


My father passed on the gift of cards (King of Hearts), though his vision first reached me (6 of Diamonds) after a schism (2 of Spades). As my father died when I was 8, we can indeed talk about a separation. I first got serious about the cards after a long hiatus when I communed with all sorts of other divination forms, as my mother had other preferences within the interpretative arts.

Reading the cards like the Devil manifests for me in delivering messages (Ace of Diamonds), first, for the sheer pleasure of it (5 of Hearts) and then for the mental stretch that it affords me (Queen of Diamonds).

I work the cards in a very elastic way (5 of Clubs) with the help of the Devil himself (Jack of Spades) who initiates my projects, or finds suitable subject matters for me (Ace of Clubs).


There is a sense of familiarity to my readings (King of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds, 5 of Clubs), even though the Devil may spoil my pleasure on occasion (2 of Spades, 5 of Hearts, Jack of Spades).

While my projects are being witnessed from the distance (6 of diamonds, Queen of Diamonds, Ace of Clubs), my readings demonstrate muscular fiber (6 of Diamonds, 5 of Hearts, 5 of Clubs), under goading from the spirit of my father (King of Hearts, 5 of Hearts, Ace of Clubs).


Yoruba Gelede mask in my private collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)
Yoruba Gelede mask in my private collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)

In this reading what we can observe is that we have three court cards, two aces, one traditionally associated with writing letters (Ace of Diamonds) and the other in this context with a pen (Ace of Clubs). One could argue here that what is at stake is the written verbal punch.

This is supported by the two fives, associated with the body and what you do for yourself – the center card, the 5 of Hearts, Eros, is all about pleasure, while the other, 5 of Clubs, is about stretching the mark.

Eros, the god of magic, literally on the Devil’s head, is what makes my readings interesting. While the Jack of Spades mirrors the 2 of Spades, suggesting a form of conflicting ambivalence, the sex card separating the two black cards suggests a pleasure derived from paradox.

If you’ve got to strike a pact with the Devil, would it be a ‘white’ one? The only logical card that can suggest a devilish bond must necessarily be the 2 of Spades, the suit of the craft. There’s thus pleasure in the bond. Erotic power is at the center of it. The Devil likes it, and so do I. The Queen of Diamonds receives the Eros card, almost with a kiss.

The card indicating the cartomantic path is the 6 of Diamonds. This one gets you places. In the context of magical discourse, we could argue that this card stands for remote viewing. Above the Queen of Diamonds, associated with Mercurial power, we can infer that what we’re dealing with here is precisely the penetrating gaze. In a mundane reading the 6 of Diamonds emphasizes the eyes and regular vision. This card tells you that you see things from afar.

As the 6 of Diamonds mirrors the Ace of Clubs, we could argue that this is suggestive of focused remote viewing. The vision is on point, so to speak. The Devil has his finger on it.

As the Jack of Spades precedes this point that we find on the card of the Ace of Clubs, he emphasizes even more the idea that what defines my reading like the Devil is the reading on point: focused, determined, and penetrating from distance. This reading is also the result of discipline – the Jack of Spades gazes on the 5 of Clubs, almost stating the universal truth: no pain no gain (5 of Clubs, Ace of Clubs).

Eros whispers to me: Just say it: Hail love. Hail jouissance, and the sublime pleasure in being touched by the Raven’s f(e)ather.

Enjoy reading your cards like the Devil.

Thanks for reading. For more words of wisdom and other cartomantic activities, you’re welcome to join my free newsletter. Coming up is a series of group prompts consisting of 11 solid readings of a 3-card, in which I pose a question to you, rather than the other way around. What people say about this series is that the questions not only knock your socks off, but they are downright life changing. Stay tuned for the call via the newsletter.

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