From Tarot Cards to Poker Cards to Personality Poker

July 9, 2010  

The video above is a beautiful rendition of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart.” In it, he tells the history of poker cards.

In my upcoming book, “Personality Poker,” I had an appendix which discussed the history of poker cards and how this led to the Personality Poker card game.  But when it came time for the final printing, the publisher felt that the book was too long.  Therefore the appendix was cut and is included below for your enjoyment.

From Dominoes to Tarot

At first, I thought that linking personality styles to poker cards was a new concept. However, as I dug deeper, I discovered that this was done more than six hundred years ago. For those who are interested, this article shares some of the history of card playing, and how a game can evolve from ancient, mysterious beginnings to a modern-day pastime enjoyed by millions.

Poker cards have a long and rich history. By some accounts, card games were in existence in China as far back as the third century and may have originated in the form of dominoes. Other accounts suggest that cards emerged in the ninth or tenth century.

Regardless of when the card games were developed, we know that the poker cards used today in casinos can be most closely tied back to Tarot cards. Historians believe that the Tarot deck originated in Italy, with the oldest surviving examples dating from the mid-1400s in Milan.

For those who are unfamiliar with the basics of Tarot cards, and I suspect that’s most of you, let me give you a quick summary. The standard Tarot deck comprises seventy-eight cards. There are four suits—Swords, Cups, Coins, and Wands—each with “pip” cards numbering from ace to ten and four face cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King) for a total of fifty-six cards. These are often referred to as the Minor Arcana cards, and the suits represent the four main classes of feudal society: military, clergy, mercantile trade, and agriculture, respectively. Because Tarot cards emerged during feudal times, it makes sense that they were based on how society was set up. In addition, the deck of Tarot cards is distinguished from poker cards by a separate twenty-one-card trump suit (often referred to as Major Arcana cards) and a single card known as the Fool.

From Tarot to Poker

The French Tarot decks became the basis of modern-day poker cards. The Page became the Jack. The Knight was eliminated. The four suits were changed to spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. And the trump cards and the Fool were dropped from the deck.

Later, when they were transformed into modern-day playing cards, the symbolism and meaning of the cards shifted. The question remains as to how the suits in the Tarot deck map to those in poker cards. In his song “Shape of My Heart,” Sting provides a simple and somewhat accurate depiction of the meaning of each suit. He sings, “I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier. I know that the clubs are weapons of war. I know that diamonds mean money for this art. But that’s not the shape of my heart.”

The actual meaning behind each suit is a bit more complex. And although there is not complete agreement on which suits in a poker deck correspond to which suits in a Tarot deck, there seems to be support for the following mapping:

  • Spades = Swords in Tarot and they represent thoughts, the intellect, conflict, and communication. In Personality Poker, the spades represent those who like facts and principles. They are considered the more intellectual of the bunch. This is somewhat consistent with the Tarot’s depiction of swords as those who battle with the mind and body. The Swords were the military and aristocracy, which included the scientists of the day.
  • Diamonds = Coins (also called Pentacles) in Tarot and they represent money, manifesting, and property. In Personality Poker, the diamonds are motivated by experiences and ideas rather than money. They are often thought of as “worldly.” Although the diamonds are typically not materialistic (seeking money and property), they are often the best at manifesting things because their diverse experiences seem to make them luckier. The Pentacles were the merchants and they traveled extensively (i.e., they were worldly).
  • Clubs = Wands (also called Staves) in Tarot and they represent activity, energy, business, and work. In Personality Poker, clubs are the prototypical workers. They like both plans and actions. They are about activities and getting things done. They are often driven by success in the business world. This is a very common style in most large corporations. Wands were the farmers and hardworking peasants.
  • Hearts = Cups in Tarot and they represent emotions, relationships, love, and intuition. In Personality Poker, the hearts are the ones who like people and relationships. In Tarot, the water molds itself to the cup. Hearts do the same. They mold themselves to the needs of others. Cups were the clergy.

For the first three hundred years of their existence, Tarot cards were used in various parts of Europe to play card games such as Italian Tarocchini and Triumphs. They were largely used for entertainment purposes only, just as playing cards are today. Then, in the late 1700s, occult organizations adopted Tarot cards as a tool for divination. Over the centuries, reading of the Tarot has incorporated various concepts, everything from astrology and Kabbalah to runes (which predate the Tarot by a thousand years) and the I Ching (which predates the Tarot by 2,500 years). Today, Tarot cards are one of the most popular tools for providing spiritual guidance and predicting the future.

Those who use Tarot cards for spiritual purposes believe that when a deck is shuffled, the resulting order tells the reader everything about their past, present, and future. The person whose fortune is being read has no conscious role in card selection. The spiritual world is aligning the cards in the deck.

This is in stark contrast to Personality Poker, where you consciously choose the cards that best fit your style. There is no magic or mystery. It is not left to divine intervention or luck. It is a matter of choice.

Although we attempted to preserve the deep meaning of the suits associated with Tarot cards for our game, we are not suggesting that Personality Poker is a tool for mystical or occult purposes. It is also not intended to be a game solely for entertainment purposes. Although playing Personality Poker is a lot of fun, it is designed to be an educational tool.

Tarot and Personality Typing

Interestingly, psychologist Carl Jung, one of the fathers of personality typing, attached importance to Tarot symbolism. Unlike poker cards, Tarot cards have pictures that tell a story. For example, in the Rider Tarot Deck (one of the most popular sets of Tarot cards), the nine of swords depicts a warrior resting on a table, weary after a battle, with a colorful stained-glass window in the background.

Jung regarded Tarot cards as representations of personalities. He felt that since each Tarot card tells a different story, an understanding of the subject’s self-perception could be gained by asking them to select a card that they “identify with.” In essence, this is how we play Personality Poker. You choose the cards, based on the words you identify with best.

I don’t expect you to fully understand Tarot cards, nor do I expect you to be an experienced poker player. But it is useful to be aware of the historical underpinnings to this common modern game and understand that we can derive “personalities” from the symbols and hidden meanings of this ancient practice. As you can see, although Tarot cards are now known as the tool of fortune-tellers, they were originally developed for entertainment and competitive purposes.

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One Response to “From Tarot Cards to Poker Cards to Personality Poker”

  1. Cindy on December 17th, 2010 4:34 am

    Here is a great video and instructions on Tarot.
    http://www.esotericvillage.com/tarot.html