Allegorical meaning of the cards
This is a short guide to cartomancy interpretation of the Decktet.
Even in these enlightened times, divination decks are available for purchase from mainstream bookstores at the mall. These usually come with a short guide to the symbolic meaning of the cards and a warning that the cards are for entertainment purposes only. And so, this too is offered for entertainment purposes only. Let no harm come of it.
See also: the guide to laying out the cards.
The structure of the deck
For purposes of divination, there are four kinds of cards: six aces and eleven each of personalities, locations, and events.
Each ace has the significance of its suit. An ace appearing in a spread also serves to magnify or highlight other cards in the spread that share its suit.
Each personality in a spread represents someone with certain character traits. The art will depict them as male or female, as large or small, and so on, but these should only be taken as suggestions.
Each location in a spread represents an actual place. Sometimes it can be literal or only thinly symbolic. The Sea, for instance, might mean the ocean or a large body of water.
Each event in a spread represents an occurrence in time. It may be in the future, in the past, or presently underway.
Locations are indicated by a small divided circle just before the card name. Events are indicated by a filled-in circle.
There are three cards that are both locations and events: the Market, the Origin, and the End. The context of their appearance determines how they should be understood in a given spread.
Each personality card has two distinct but similar pictures. These may be interpreted as active and passive aspects. Read in this way, the cards can have somewhat different meanings depending on their orientation in the spread.
The six suits
Moons The suit of Moons represents wisdom. It is associated with mysteries, things hidden, and the inescapable truth that the world outstrips our knowledge.
Suns The suit of Suns represents power, reaching beyond the individual and structuring the world. It is associated with decisive action and clarity of purpose.
Waves Water is the hand of the earth, which presses on all things. The suit of Waves represents nature as an active force. It is associated with weather, natural cycles, and the passage of time.
Leaves Wood is the gift of the earth, from which things begin and in which things end. The suit of Leaves represents nature as matter. Also known as the Leaves or the Trees, the suit is associated with raw materials and food products.
Wyrms Unnatural and at home underground, the Wyrm brings violence and feeds on dreams. This is the most negative of the suits. Most broadly, it represents things that are innappropriate or disruptive.
Knots The suit of Knots represents craft, skill, and refinement. It is associated with worked goods, commerce, and money.
Often the cards can be understood literally. The Soldier may be someone in the army, and the Journey may be a significant trip. But each card also has further depths, some of which are indicated below.
the Author (personality) The Author is an artisan, like the Painter and the Bard. The important difference between them is their relation to the facts that they present. As a Moon card, the Author faces mysteries. So the Author is a character of investigation, enquiry, and at most partial answers.
the Bard (personality) The Bard speaks and people listen. Whereas the Painter can paint the world as it is, things become the way the Bard says they ought to be.
Battle (event) Struggle with forces that are half in shadow. It is not always obvious what those forces are until they have done their worst.
Betrayal (event) Even a soft hand can wield a sharp knife. This is a time to be wary.
the Borderland (location) The edge of things. A place of chance and uncertainty, harbouring threats and resources in equal measure.
Calamity (event) Death so sudden that there is no time to bury the dead. Although it can be mitigated by other cards in the spread, the Calamity is always a bad thing.
the Castle (location) The Castle is a community. It is a place of civility or power, but only rarely of both.
the Cave (location) It is home to grim things and a place of challenges. Things that fall below the surface may be found in the Cave, even if they were long thought lost or destroyed. To enter and return from it once should be enough.
the Chance Meeting (event) Two stories half-written find themselves writing one another. The Chance Meeting is a card of possibilities.
the Consul (personality) The Consul is both wise and cunning. The Consul is a useful source of advise and a surrogate authority, a conduit for knowledge and power, but perhaps he keeps the better part of both for himself.
the Darkness (location) The Darkness can settle on familiar places and hides all manner of things. Although one may hide there or seek for what is lost there, it is best not to tarry there too long. Unlike the Cave, it is sometimes best to illuminate and dispel the Darkness rather than to flee from it.
the Desert (location) Barren and without life, the Desert offers a certain grim clarity. Yet clarity might itself be a mirage.
the Diplomat (personality) The Diplomat mediates between opposites: darkness and light, patience and action, the one and the many.
Discovery (event) Something buried or lost is found. The Discovery may be the end of a quest or as surprising as a sudden storm.
the End (location, event) The End can appear as either a location or an event. As an event, the End is the conclusion of the cycle before the beginnings of the next moment are even buds on the branches. As a location, the End is a terminus at the border of known lands with nothing on the other side.
the Excuse Beginners are advised to leave the Excuse out of the deck when telling fortunes. Although some practitioners include it and assign it a special role, there is disagreement about what that role ought to be. Some interpret it as an event. Others interpret it not as being about an excuse, but rather as the deck excusing itself: The matter is too unsettled to say anything helpful, or the question is posed in such an awkward way that saying anything would be misleading.
the Forest (location) The Forest is usually a literal card representing a forest or wooded place. In a crowded city, however, sometimes even a single tree can be a forest.
the Harvest (event) Things come together. What was sown may be reaped. Patience is rewarded. Unlike the Windfall, the Harvest requires preparation and demands labour.
the Huntress (personality) The Huntress finds her mark, like an arrow loosed from a bow. She is a seeker, even if she is unsure what she is seeking, and she is on a quest even in her idle moments. The Huntress stands in the natural world, like a tree in the forest. In some ways, she acts just like an animal; she moves without reflection, in accord with her nature.
the Island (location) The Island combines the unexpected elements of the Discovery with the dark isolation of the Cave. Whether you go to the island by accident or by choice, you go there alone.
the Journey (event) The Journey is in between. It is its own story, written between departure and arrival.
the Light Keeper (personality) Averts danger. Unlike the reactive Watchman, the Light Keeper prepares for the worst in an attempt to create conditions under which danger is overcome even before it arises.
the Lunatic (personality) The Lunatic sees things that no one else sees. Perhaps these are deeper truths, perhaps they are delusions. Watch the great tumult around her.
the Market (location, event) The Market can appear as either a location or an event. As a location, the Market is a place of trade. As an event, the Market is commerce. Unlike the Pact, it does not suggest a great confluence; an exchange, and the matter is resolved.
the Merchant (personality) For the Merchant, wealth is its own end. The Merchant amasses riches, but worries all the while about losing them.
the Mill (location) The Mill is a place of craft and production. The tuneless song of the miller is lost in the roar of the water and the ceaseless turning of the wheel.
the Mountain (location) A quest leads to the peak. Especially if the Mountain appears in a spread with the Journey, to the peak may be more important than at the peak.
the Origin (location, event) Morning light shines through clear water. The Origin can appear as either a location or an event. As an event, it is morning light. As a location, it is a living spring.
the Pact (event) When the two kings agree, the stones themselves agree. Even a Pact between just two parties has ramifications for the community and the broader world.
the Painter (personality) The Painter is a figure of revelation. The Painter sees through posturing and portrays things as they need to be portrayed.
the Penitent (personality) A higher calling hides a darker past. Redemption is never entirely complete for the Penitent.
the Rite (event) The Rite records the passage of time and the consequences of its passage: sacrifice and accomplishment, ascension and decline.
the Sailor (personality) On the wall of the sailor's house: He is not at home at home. The Sailor is a traveller by nature, uneasy when not underway.
the Savage (personality) Even if the Savage presents a pleasant face, the wild lurks in his heart.
the Sea (location) The Sea is often literally some large body of water. As a symbol, it is the source of storms.
the Soldier (personality) Like words to the Author or money to the Merchant, war is craft to the Soldier. Although the conflict might not be a literal war, the Soldier lives for it. The soldier's craft is wrought in stillness and motion. Of all the personalities, the Soldier shows the least difference between its two faces.
the Watchman (personality) Waits for danger to arise and responds, but he may be too late if the he is not perceptive or lucky enough.
Windfall (event) One might have quested for it, if one had known, but it comes unannounced. The Windfall on its own is always a positive card. If there is any cost or caveat, it must come from somewhere else.
the Window (location) The Window allows you to see out and allows the world to see in, but it is also a barrier separating the two.
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