hist-games: Cartomancy debate

Thierry Depaulis thierry.depaulis at freesbee.fr
Fri Feb 16 13:17:31 PST 2001

>Thierry Depaulis wrote:
>> Marcolino's "Le Sorti" of 1540 (mentionned p. 454) is not exactly
>> "cartomancy". It is more fortune-telling with the help of a pack of playing
>> cards (trappola cards!) used as a random generator.
>> For Marcolino (or Marcolini) da Forli see: Detlef Hoffmann and Erika
>> Kroppenstedt, "Wahrsagekarten", Bielefeld: Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum,
>> 1972, p.26-28.
>I guess I don't understand your comment. I have always understood "cartomancy"
>as a generic term meaning fortune telling with either standard playing cards
>or tarot cards. Are you perhaps making a distinction between a simple form of
>fortune telling by turning playing cards at random, and modern tarot reading?
>Tarot readers also use their decks as random outcome generators. The only
>difference I see is that tarot readers also have a formalized system for
>interpreting the cards and their relationships to each other.
>Can you tell us more about "Le Sorti"? As you've described it, it would
>possibly refute the current theory that fortune telling with cards did not
>appear until the 1700's.

Sorry! I forgot an important point in Marcolino's system: it's the book
itself. Marcolino was in fact adapting an earlier "fortune telling" method
which relied on a "fortune" book (Italian 'Libro di sorte', plural 'sorti'
= fortune, chance, or 'Libro di fortuna'), i.e. a book where you could find
sentences telling you fortunes. These sentences were numbered, and there
was a chart at the end of the book.

All these books ask the 'consultant' to use a random generator -- mostly
dice. Then according to the chart you get a page number and a sentence
number which is supposed to answer your questions. Some books use playing
cards instead of dice, e.g. the so-called (German) 'Kartenlosbuecher' (=
literally "card-fortune books"). Here playing cards are not actually
'read': they are just used to give you a page/sentence number. It is the
great difference between these early methods and later cartomancy.

Such books appeared as early as the late 15th century. They were quite
popular in Europe (I know no English example) and were called in German
'Losbuch', in French 'Livre de sort', etc. One of these, written by Lorenzo
Spirito, was a best-seller around 1500-50.

Another remark. 'Cartomancy' was borrowed from French 'cartomancie' whose
first occurrence can be dated from 1788. Some years earlier Etteilla, a
French fortune-teller, had forged the word 'cartonomancie' (from 'carton',
cardboard, and 'mancie').

>Taylor does say that Marcolino called his system a "pleasant invention"
>and therefore it was probably not a serious attempt to read the future.

Who knows? In Marcolino's mind it was very serious.
"Pleasant invention" is the translation of a standard phrase which it was
usual to put in book or game titles: a new book offered a 'dilettevole
invenzione' or the game of the Goose was a 'jeu plaisant et recreatif'.

Thierry Depaulis

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