The Joker

joker-1There are two schools of thought regarding the origin of the playing card Joker.  Some scholars believe that the playing cards were derived from the Tarot, and that the Joker was the only trump to have survived the transition.  In the Tarot he is known as The Fool, and he carries the numerical value of zero.  He symbolizes the Alpha and Omega, or beginning and end of the cycle of life and death.

Most playing card scholars believe that the playing cards evolved separately from, and may predate, the Tarot.  Hence, the more generally accepted belief is that the Joker is a modern invention.

The first documented use of the Joker in the Unites States was during the second half of the 19th century as part of a playing card game called Euchre. The game was originally brought to the U.S. by German or Dutch settlers, and the name “Euchre” was derived from the old German “Juker,” meaning “Jack.”  The game rules were modified in the 1860s with the addition of an extra trump called “The Best Bower.”  It  is believed that the Best Bower card may have been referred to as the “Juker card” which eventually evolved into our modern day ”Joker.”


Perhaps due to the Joker’s early association with the Tarot Fool, or perhaps based on the archetypal symbolism of the Jester/Joker/Fool, the interpretation of the Joker bears close resemblance to that of the Tarot Fool.

Like The Fool, the Joker can denote folly, eccentricity, and poorly considered actions.  He can represent originality, or the beginning of an adventure or quest.  He is an independent spirit, complete within himself.  He is guided by the forces of nature, and the wisdom of The Universe.

Most cartomancy methods do not utilize the Joker.  In the systems that do include the Joker, he is interpreted in various ways.

  • The Joker can be used as a significator card  to represent the seeker (person requesting the reading).  Wherever the Joker falls in the reading, special emphasis is placed on the surrounding cards which would indicate what is closest to the seeker’s heart, or most important in the seeker’s life.
  • The Joker can represent surprises and unexpected events outside of the seeker’s control.
  • The Joker can represent foolish behavior or immaturity.
  • The Joker can indicate secrets, hidden agendas, or that not everything is as it appears to be in the area where it falls.
  • There are actually two Jokers in the deck of playing cards, and some systems utilize both.  One can be used to represent life, and the other to represent death.  Or one can be used to represent where the seeker’s energy is focused, and the other to represent the seeker’s emotions. The two Jokers can also be used to represent any duality or polarity such as sun & moon, Yin & Yang, active & receptive, positive & negative,  good & evil,  ego & id, zero & infinity, light & dark, etc.

My grandmother did not read with the Joker, so I have never included the Joker in my readings either. The decision to utilize one or both Jokers is a matter of tradition or personal preference.  Most playing card readers choose to use 52 cards only.  I find that many Tarot readers who are used to working with the Fool often like to include the Joker in their playing card readings.

Some cartomancers believe the Joker should be used since he’s a natural part of the modern playing card deck.  Others argue that he was not an original member of the pack, and cartomancy predates the Joker’s invention.  Perhaps the Joker is not popular in modern cartomancy because he’s discarded in most of the popular modern card games.



Cartomancy Five Cards: College Admission

I was asked to post an example reading where the answer based on the ratio of red to black cards contradicts the answer based on card meanings. This can happen when the querent has the power and ability to influence the situation. The cards have taught me that we all come into this life with a blueprint of our destiny, but along the way we have the freewill to influence how we fulfill that cosmic contract. The following reading illustrates this idea nicely.

The reading is for Marcella, a high school senior who has applied to a prestigious college across the country where she hopes to continue her education. The school in question is her primary choice, and she is anxious about getting accepted. Marcella asks, “Will I be accepted to the College?”

Sophia’s Fortunetelling Playing Cards

My first impression is of the predominance of black cards in the spread, immediately suggesting that acceptance is unlikely. I quickly peruse the cards to determine why. The 10 of Spades shows insecurity and fear. I also take note of the self-sabotaging Queen of Spades in the center of the spread. I see the queen as Marcella, and determine that it is her own fears creating a block in the situation.  What does Marcella fear?

If we keep in mind that the main columns holding the reading together are the first, middle and final cards (1, 3, and 5), the source of the fear becomes clear.  The 9 of Clubs reflects the fear indicated by the 10 of Spades, and the nine represents travel and movement and distance. Marcella has never been away on her own for any length of time, and the thought of leaving home makes her feel uncomfortable and insecure. This trio of cards will usually provide a concise answer to the question. With the 9 of Clubs as the outcome card, the reading suggests to me that if Marcellla can overcome the block (10 of Spades) by resolving her fears, there is potential for her to move forward (9 of Clubs) with her desire to attend the College.

This outcome is confirmed for me by the red cards in the spread. I always look for the cards to reflect the theme of the reading. The King of Diamonds is one of the cards that represents school and education for me, so I know that the cards are tuned into my question. So I take the King to represent the College, and the King reflects the 5 of Hearts which is an offer or opportunity. This five is one of the best cards in the deck because it can denote a dream come true. Unless it is accompanied by very unfavorable cards, it almost always gives a yes answer in a spread. In this case, surrounded by Spades, I read it as a strong maybe.

It looks to me that despite the predominance of black cards, there is excellent potential for Marcella to be offered a position by the school. This is one of those freewill situations that will depend on whether Marcella can resolve her fears. Otherwise she runs the risk of self-sabotaging this opportunity. Often when two red cards and three black show up in a spread, it will suggest that the querent has some power over the situation to affect the final outcome. That seems to be the case with this situation. The cards can indicate the current trends and probable outcome, but only Marcella can create her own future.

This reading was originally posted as an exercise on my Facebook page, Art of Cartomancy. Check out the post for additional insights into these cards. Most of the participants agree with my final answer, but also offer varied perspectives that are equally valid based on the card meanings and combinations.