Playing Card Divination for Beginners by Richard Webster
Review by Lee A. Bursten  

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

 If you’ve ever been curious about reading with playing cards, this book is an excellent first choice.  I was a little wary at first, as Richard Webster has written 28 books for Llewellyn on various topics, and I was afraid this would simply be a quick knock-off.  But Webster has obviously done his research and invested time and energy into the project, and he’s done an admirable job in introducing the subject and providing everything you’ll need to begin reading with playing cards. 

He begins with an introduction which relates the history of playing cards, and as far as I can tell, it’s detailed and accurate.  He includes quite a bit of interesting information about Mlle. Lenormand, the fortune-teller who cut such a dramatic figure in 19th century Paris, and briefly discusses some illustrated fortune-telling decks from the same period. 

In his “Essential Requirements” chapter, he lays out his theory of why divination works.  He subscribes to the theory that “our subconscious minds already know what the future will be,” and thus create an arrangement of cards that is only seemingly random.  The problem with this is that it requires that our minds have subconsciously memorized the placement of each card in the shuffled pack, which some people may find difficult to swallow.  Another difficulty is that it is not only the reader who shuffles but the querent as well, so the theory assumes that the querent will have not only subconsciously memorized the order of the entire deck but will also know precognitively what layout the reader is going to use. 

This chapter also contains a lot of good advice about reading in general, such as that no two readers read the same way, and that the successful reader will give the querent a reading which is helpful and useful.  He presents a system for choosing a significator from the court cards which relies on age and physical characteristics.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t discuss other methods or whether a significator needs to be chosen at all.

He then goes on to describe the spread he uses regularly, which uses 15 cards, including the significator, laid out in an X pattern.  There are four position meanings, with three cards each:  Present Situation, Past, Factors Out of Client’s Control, Course of Life if No Changes are Made, and Future.  At first I found these positions rather odd, but after reading Webster’s sample readings I can see how they make sense and actually do provide a good all-around reading.  The last two positions basically provide two alternative future paths you can choose from; either to leave things as they are, or, if that result is unsatisfactory, what you can do to change the outcome.  I like this spread because it avoids having a single “Final Outcome” card which simply tells the querent, “this is what will happen to you, and if it’s negative, too bad.” 

Webster then goes on to present his divinatory meanings for each card.  This is where the book really shines.  I happen to think these meanings are excellent and the best I’ve seen among books on playing cards.  Thankfully, he doesn’t carry on for pages and pages for each card, a failing common to many playing card books.  Divinatory meanings which are too complete merely result in information overload for the reader.  Webster provides only a few sentences for each card, but because the meanings are written to include emotional subtleties, they can result in rich and deep readings without the reader having to memorize pages of information for each card.  Also unusual for playing card books, these meanings have a more modern, self-help tone, stressing choices and potentials rather than doom-laden prophecies.  Most of the “negative” cards are ameliorated by advice on how to improve the situation, as in the following example: 

“Traditionally, the five of spades is considered to be the card of tears.  It can mean a time of grief, regrets, remorse, and separation.  However, most of the time the client will have deliberately made the changes that caused these feelings to occur because he or she felt hemmed in or restricted.  The reader needs to look at the cards surrounding the Five of Spades to see if these changes ultimately bring happiness or sadness.” 

My one complaint about these divinatory meanings is that the court cards are restricted to representing other people in the querent’s life, identified by gender (if they appear in the Present Situation position, they may be taken as representing the querent).  I find this to be limiting.  My theory is that this sort of meaning is a holdover from fortune-telling practices of prior decades and centuries, when readings were most likely to be done concerning a very limited number of question categories, for example, “What do you see ahead for my love life?”  The trend in Tarot reading in the last few decades has been toward a much wider range of questions, asked by a much more diverse range of querents; and so a question these days may be just as likely to revolve around office politics, or what one’s next spiritual step is, as the romance category.  So meanings for the courts such as “an intelligent and honest man” or “a carefree and lighthearted woman” can be limiting. 

Webster also covers predominance of certain numbers and suits, and provides a list of meanings for three or four occurences of a specific number in one spread.  He also has chapters on reading for oneself, love and romance, other spreads, and dream interpretation.  The dream interpretation material is interesting, explaining different methods for using the cards to help remember your dreams.  I’m doubtful about the effectiveness of these methods, but then again I haven’t tried them, so they may very well work.  I think it would be more valuable to use Gail Fairfield’s method of dream analysis described in her book Choice-Centered Tarot (now renamed Everyday Tarot), in which the dream is broken down into several specific items or actions, and a card is randomly chosen for each one.  This method could certainly be used with playing cards and Webster’s divinatory meanings. 

I did a trial spread, and found the resulting reading both helpful and accurate, although I had difficulty relating several of the court cards to my question, for the reason I gave above.  But overall I feel this is the best book available on reading playing cards, and I’ve read quite a few.

Playing Card Divination for Beginners by Richard Webster
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN #: 0-7387-0223-4  

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

Lee A. Bursten has been studying Tarot off and on for about 20 years. He enjoys reading about Tarot and searching for the "Perfect Deck," which is always just around the corner but out of reach. He is very grateful to Michele and Diane for posting his reviews, and especially to his significant other, Larry Katz, for his superhuman patience.


Review © 2002 Lee Bursten
Page © 2002 Diane Wilkes