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30 September 2013

A German Method of Fortune Telling with 32 Playing Cards

As this is my most popular post, I'll leave a note here to let you know that this blog has now moved to Judy Reads Cards. I hope you'll join me there.
13-Apr-18: I have finally uploaded my "expanded" meanings.

My grandmother Helene, from Niedersachsen/Lower Saxony in Germany, told fortunes with coffee grounds, Swedenborg cards and Skat cards, i.e. a 32-card deck of playing cards, also known as a Piquet deck: sevens up to Kings plus Aces. When she learned that I was interested in such things, she sent me a deck with her meanings written on the cards and a brief note of how she read them.

Lene, as she was called, though I would never have dreamt of calling her anything but Oma, only read the cards upright. Sadly, I don’t speak more than a smattering of German, so with the help of Google Translate and reference to a couple of online Skatkarten sites I’ve translated her notes as well as I am able. They were written on the cards in ballpoint pen and some are quite difficult to make out. If you are familiar with German and/or Skatkarten, and spot any misinterpretations, please let me know.

Update: November 2013

I have since corresponded with my aunt Edith, Lene’s youngest daughter and, luckily, she was taught how to read the cards. Edith was able to provide a bit more detail, which I have worked into the information given below.

AceNeuigkeit, Geschenknews, gift
KingArzt oder BeamterDoctor or Official
Queenfalsche Dame, böse Gesinnung false woman, evil alignment
(way of thinking)
JackGlück, Botschaftluck, message
10Reise, großes Haus, Krankenhaustravel, big (official) house,   
9güte Veränderunggood change
8Sorgen über (einen kleinen) WegWorry over a small way (for a
short time)
7Tränen, Trennung, Hindernistears, separation, obstacle
9große Freude oder gütes EreignisGreat joy or Good event
8frohes Wiedersehenhappy reunion
7Liebe in Aussichtprospect of love
AceSchrak, KrankheitFright, sickness 
KingÄlterer Herrolder gentleman
QueenDunkle Dame böse, Witwe oder allein dark evil woman, widow or
Jackfalscher Freundfalse friend
9Verleumdung, Falschheit in nächster Zeitslander, falsehood in the near
8Gefahr, Krankheit, Ärgerdanger, illness, anger
7Kummer, Verlust, Streit,         Unannehmlichkeitgrief, loss, strife, inconvenience
Kingjünger Mannyounger man
QueenMädchen oder Fraugirl or woman
10Geld, Gewinnmoney, profit
9Vorteil geschäftlichbusiness advantage
8Neuigkeit geschäftlichnews of business
7Geld oder KindMoney or Child

I should point out here that other German sources tend to assign negative meanings to the Clubs, but you’ll see from the above list that, for Lene, the “worst” cards are the Spades.

Lene’s reading instructions were, as I mentioned, quite brief – essentially shuffle, cut, lay out, read. The fact that she didn’t think it necessary to provide any details on “how” to read them suggests that she felt her method was so commonplace as to not require explanation. I have found meanings similar to hers on Kartenlegen mit Skatkarten (KmS), so I’m guessing their method of breaking down the layout and combining the cards is likewise similar. I’ll go into more detail below. To begin:

Herzdame in die mitte legen.
Karten mischen. Mit der linken Hand 3 Haufen zum Herzen legen.
Die mittleren Haufen auf die letzten legen dann beide Haufen auf die ersten legen.
Die ersten 3 Karten von jedem Haufen haben eine Bedeutung.
Dann die Karten von oben so um die Herzdame legen:
Dann kombinieren was einem die Karten sagen...

The same steps as described by Edith:

Herz Dame in die Mitte legen.
Karten mischen. Mit der linken Hand 3 Haufen zum Herzen legen, den mittleren Haufen nehmen, die 1.drei Karten  nachsehen sie haben eine Bedeutung, dann die Karten auf den letzten Haufen legen, und wieder die 1.drei Karten ansehen, dann alle auf den 1.Haufen legen und wieder die 1.drei Karten ansehen.
Die Karten von oben so um die Herz-Dame legen.
Dann sehen was einem die Karten sagen...

·     Place the Queen of Hearts (Herzdame) in the middle. {Note that Lene only mentions the Queen as a significator. Presumably all her “clients” were female, but if you are reading for a man use the King of Hearts, or select a card that represents your area of concern, for example the 10 of Spades for work.}

·     Shuffle the cards. With the left hand, lay 3 piles “to the heart”, i.e. towards you (confirmed by Edith). {What does “to the heart” mean here? Perhaps, like KmS – “2 Stapel zu sich hin abheben”, you are meant to cut towards yourself, towards your heart.}

·     Put the middle pile on the last pile, then put the two on the first pile.

·     The first 3 cards of each pile have a meaning. {I’m uncertain if she meant 3 cards from each pile or just the 3 exposed cards. KmS uses just the 3 exposed cards. Either way, check them before you recombine the piles} Here Edith made it quite clear – you look at the bottom three cards of EACH pile, combining them to give you a meaning, before placing that pile on the next one.

·     Then place the cards from the top around the Queen of Hearts:
·        Then combine what the cards say.

KmS uses a simple 9x4 layout, but despite Lene’s fancy Star arrangement, I think the breakdown would be much the same: first read the central cross - cards 1, 3, Significator, 4 and 2, combining the cards in sentence fashion. Then read the row – 11, 3, S, 4, 12, then the column – 9, 1, S, 2, 10, and finally the diagonals. Card 17 gives an overview of what’s occurring on the home front.

Update: April 2015

I’ve been studying other “large star” spreads recently and have found that the various “arms” were given different meanings, eg. past/future, obstacle/aid, etc.  I have yet to decide how I want to approach reading Oma’s star.

Now that I know we should be reading the bottom three cards of each cut, it occurs to me that, unless the middle pile (which will now be on the top) contained more than 16 cards, at least one if not all of the cards from the bottom of that pile will appear somewhere in the spread and may be worth paying particular attention to.

Lene then continues:

Vom übrigen Haufen, 5 Karten ziehen.
Die dann auf die Karten legen was man näher wissen möchte.
Zum Beispiel - Herzdame, fürs Haus, Liebe, Reise, und so weiter.

And Edith:

Vom übrigen Haufen 5 Karten ziehen,
und so auf die Karten legen
z.B auf Dich (Herz -Dame )and so on, um zu wissen, was in der nächsten Zeit passiert.

·        From the remaining pile, draw 5 cards.

·        Then lay the cards on what you want to know in more detail, or as
Edith put it, to know what is happening in the near future.
for example – (on the) Queen of Hearts, for the home, love, travel, and so on.

We then proceed to a second spread.


Zuletzt alle Karten mischen.
9 Karten ziehen und so auslegen:
Wieder kombinieren was sie sagen.


Alle Karten wieder mischen, Herz -Dame bleibt auf dem Tisch liegen.
Karten ziehen und so auslegen
dann wieder sehen was die Karten sagen.

·       Last shuffle all the cards. Edith adds: the Queen of Hearts stays on the table.

·         Draw 9 cards and lay out as follows:
·         Again combine what they say.

And that is all I have been told. Oma passed away in 1998, at the age of 95.

Edith has been very patient with my questions and requests for clarification, so I’ll leave her in peace for a while, but at some point I’d like to ask her how she combines the cards and reads the Star layout.

Update: June 2014

Sadly, Tante Edith has no more information in this regard, or perhaps doesn’t have sufficient confidence in her English to attempt an explanation. Bearing in mind my paltry German skills, this is a feeling with which I can very much sympathise. 

I would love to hear from anyone who recognises any aspects of this method, or can elaborate on what I have presented.

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  • At 6:44 PM, Blogger Magdalena W. said…

    This looks interesting! My Grandma used to read from playing cards too and these meanings look similar to what she told me. She's a Polish grandma and she learnt from her mother. She used only cards from 9, however (24 in total). I have to find the notes I took, if you're interested I could translate them to English :)

  • At 7:18 PM, Blogger jmk said…

    Magdalena, I would be VERY interested! That would be very kind of you. I have some Polish ancestry, too. :)

  • At 8:11 PM, Blogger Magdalena W. said…

    Oh, nice! And I just realised that in my Grandma's version there are cards for drinking vodka xD Compared to tarot meanings, these meanings are very simple, but I'm sure that in fact Grandma could use her intuition for more subtle meanings - she just isn't used to explaining them card by card. She would see the combinations and then interpret them as she went.

    Anyway, I translated my notes and put them on my blog, you can read them here:
    I hope it's an interesting read!

  • At 6:42 PM, Blogger jmk said…

    Thank you, Magdalena. They're wonderful! And I think every method should include drinking cards. :)

  • At 2:52 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow...very similar to the method from my Tante Meide. She used 7 and up but cards laid out 8 across and 4 rows. So glad I found this site. My Omi and Tantes were from NE Germany....Mecklenburg Vorpommern. My Omi close in age to yours...passed away at age 92 in 1993.

  • At 9:40 AM, Blogger jmk said…

    Yay! Pauline, I'm so glad you commented. My Oma was from Königslutter, only 50 miles from the middle of Mecklenburg Vorpommern; even closer if your Omi and Tante lived nearer the south than the north.

    The spread you describe is Das große Blatt, usually known in English by its French name - the Grand Tableau. In fact, that's how I usually read these cards. :)

    I don't suppose you know the meanings your aunt used? I'd love to know if Oma's meanings were standard for the time/area or whether they were practically unique to her, LOL.

  • At 2:21 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    So close! I will look up that town. Omi and Tante Meide were from Loitz and when they were teenagers moved to Hamburg/Harburg. They came to the USA/Chicago in 1923.
    I have some notes on card combination meanings:
    10 diamond and 8 diamond=money
    8,9 and 10 hearts=happiness
    9 diamond with red card=good news
    9 diamond with black card=bad news
    Ace clubs and 10 hearts=money/gift
    10 clubs=travel
    With red cards=with company
    7 heart+7 diamond+J spade and Q heart= new born baby.
    Ace,9,8,7 spade=death

    Finding your blog is so amazing, I'm excited. I know this is the same method I grew up with as your single card meanings are the same as my notes.

  • At 2:30 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    My childhood was filled with amazing storytelling from these German grandparents and aunts and uncles. Many of them were scary and fascinating...mostly about witches, Buller Luchs especially. Wishing I could go back and ask more questions, I'm very curious as an adult about their spiritual backgrounds as none of them were "churchgoers" as most from that part of Germany were Lutheran. The strong belief in fortune telling and stories of witches makes me think there was strong ties to pagen beliefs.

  • At 3:42 PM, Blogger jmk said…

    I love your combinations. Oma didn't pass any on, but I imagine she probably had a few she used. After all this time I can't believe I've found someone else who has the same meanings! What a shame we can't ask them where they learned them. Was it just a regional variation that had been around for ages? Did they find them in a popular "how-to" book of the time? Sigh.

    If you have anything written down I'd love to see it. You can email me at risingsign at btinternet dot com.

    My mother's family weren't churchgoers either. In fact, my grandmother arranged for my mother to be excused from Religious Education classes. But I can't recall anything particularly pagan about their practices. Fortune telling has always been generally popular in Europe.

    Do, please, stay in touch, and if you find another website with similar meanings or remember anything else, I'd love to hear about it.


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