Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/14/18: Tarot Cards

Contrary to what you may have heard, the Tarot was not created for telling fortunes. It was instead a cousin of the regular playing card deck used throughout the Western world. Tarot cards date from 15th century Europe and are still used in the present day to play games such as the Italian Tarocchini. Note that the sheer size of the Tarot deck makes this a very complicated game.

Tarot cards were eventually popularized for divining usage in 18th century France. At that time it was believed that the cards had originated in the Egypt of the Pharaohs and thus were ascribed mystic meanings. Many in the occult still believe in these elder roots, but it’s more likely the cards came from the Medieval Islamic world. One story goes that they were invented by the women of the harem as a way to pass the time.

In the present day there are hundreds if not thousands of artistic variations on the deck, ranging from Fast Food to Cats to Gay Sex, though the suits (pentacles, swords, staves/wands, cups), face cards, and subject cards remain the same. You can get an idea of the diversity here  (no gay sex deck though).

If you want some Tarot-type fortune telling cards in your world, or maybe just individual cards for a game played by the characters in some gambling den, here are some ideas.


Tarot Cards

The Seven of Hawks:   Means a parent will die.

The Hippogriff and the Wyvern:   The two creatures are locked in mortal combat. In the background are two human twins held in a giant hand coming out of the sky.

The Sleeping Slave:   He is dressed in white rags and sleeps on a pile of straw in a stable. Through the open window a storm is seen to be brewing. Traditionally the card means ignorance in the face of destruction.

The Maid of Octagons:   The subject is going to heaven.

The Bat:   The bat flies within in a circle of yellow six-pointed stars against the night sky. Means death faced with bravery.

The One of Helms:   An armory will make one’s fortune.

The Brave Duke:   He wields a sword and faces the east. In the background is a stormy harbor with eight orange fish leaping out of the water.

The Wheel of Scandal:   A discarded shoe rests in the foreground under a golden wheel on which men and women are bound and weeping. Means a lover is unfaithful no matter how much pleasure they give.

Death:   Depicts a black-clad assassin being attacked by a bird. In the background an eclipse occurs.

The Six of Flames:   Means the subject is the target of a curse. But when near the Sea-Goat card, it means the discernment of a poisonous relationship.

The Virgin of the Violets:   Spiritual transcendence for the subject.

The Wealthy Prince:   A calm, bearded, luxuriously dressed man sits on top of a hill. It means treasure from the earth will come.

The King of Hexagons:   He rides a dragon treading flowers underfoot. His robes are scarlet trimmed with ermine. This card means conflict will soon present itself.

The Ten of Feathers:   A long and happy marriage or business partnership.

Infinity:   Shows a golden Sphinx looking into a set of mirrors so its reflection is doubled and re-doubled.

The Knight’s Gem:   A knight in full armor holds a purple gem to his eyes and marvels at it. Traditionally means chivalry but when reversed, a cheat.

The Seven of Hippogriffs:   Sickness lies ahead.

The Ten of Comets:   One’s betrothed is being duplicitous.

The Huntsman:   The huntsman bears a bow and his head is crowned with flowers. In the background is a many-towered castle and a sky filled with swallows.

The One of Flames:   A small gift is coming.

The Golden Strawberry:   Someone envies the good harvest the subject has had.

The Bridge of Temperance:   A small wooden bridge on which a golden key lays. It means a new spiritual beginning for the subject.

The Narwhal:   The creature frolics in the waves before a fishing fleet. It means business will be profitable.

The Twin Troubadors:   They are wearing red doublets and blue trousers, and strum lutes. The effects of the card before it are doubled.

The Two of Unicorns:   Beware of rivers and lakes.

The Four of Wolves:   Victory in war.

The Suspicious Maid:   A girl in an apron eavesdrops at the door of her mistress. She holds a candle and listens with her ear cupped. It means someone in power is lying to the subject.

The Goat-girl:   She holds an arrow in her upraised fist while being chased by a bear. Her goats scatter before her. It means an upcoming wedding will not take place.

Insanity:   Depicts a motley-clad Fool performing alchemical experiments. He has a wide grin on his face.


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