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.



23 thoughts on “The Joker

  1. I love the timing of this post; just this morning, I drew the Joker as one of the cards in my daily 3-card draw!
    I’m one of those cartomancers you mentioned in the post. I’ve read Tarot for a long time now, and came to playing cards a couple of years ago. And because of my Tarot background, I keep the Joker in my decks; some have one, and others have both. I’ve even decided whether or not to get a deck based on what the Jokers look like!
    Thanks so much for elaborating on the Joker, Kapherus; I now have some additional interpretations to play with!

    1. Thank you, James. I’m glad for the good timing. Please let me know how you make out with using the Joker. I’m considering experimenting with it myself.

  2. Thank you for info re Joker. Am new to card readings but “into astrology and passioately so. “He keeps cropping up in my early efforts. He seems to want to be there ,,,nearly every day. IRRISA

  3. Wonderful ! I use the jokers only when I’m using a certain 54 card method that also has reversals. When I use that method the Big joker brings negative influences and the little joker brings positive influences. So if the big joker is in reverse the influence is not so strong. Which also means if the little joker is reversed, its influence is not so strong. For me, Jokers add an element of surprise or enhancement to a reading which can be good or bad.

  4. The joker info is valuable for me. It keeps turning up every day , Sometimes both of them. I want to ask. please. As I am a learner with this———-can my daily readings [of 5 random cards , plus one on the underside] represent the other person who is on my mind? It looks more like a reading for that other person, than is does for me.

    1. Yes, in my experience the cards will respond to whatever is foremost in your mind when you shuffle. This is why I always take a few moments to clear my mind, center and ground myself before drawing cards for any kind of reading.

  5. thank u so much for sharing with us! I didn’t use the Joker in my spread, but maybe I will use when I’ll do answer spread 🙂

  6. please could you give us more information about the joker. He crops us nearly every day, and is always “right side up.” I am a learner but better with astrology in all its aspects. Can you connect it???????? I just draw FIVE cards daily and do the best I can with those via your site…thank you again. IRRisa.

    1. I don’t read with the Joker myself, so I don’t have any practical experience to share. I would suggest that you keep a cartomancy journal, and record your readings with the Joker. Then you will begin to see patterns that show how the Joker affects the situations in which it appears. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

  7. Maybe it’s because as a kid, when playing card games, the Joker was a welcome wild card, but now when reading playing cards I do include both of them. I use one as an element of surprise from the environment, something the querent can’t control but needs to adapt to or around, and one as a reminder of something internal, like a ‘tap on the shoulder’. I don’t really know why, just feels natural to include them like this.

    1. I really like your interpretations for the Jokers. I keep telling myself that I’m going to experiment with using the Jokers, but when I think of it I have already discarded the Jokers from the pack. One day I’ll remember! Thank you for sharing your method for using the Jokers.

  8. ANYTHING about the JOKER would be so very welcome. He is still appearing almost daily. Black and upside down—-than red and right side up!!!!!!!! thank you anybody Irrisa

  9. I’ve been a fan of cards since I was little watching my mom play Solitaire (alone) and Spades (with others). She even went on to teach me “Two-hand Spades” because she wanted someone to play with when not at a social gathering or having fun with friends. I always had a particular way of choosing and ordering my hand and THAT brought me, later in life, to my understanding of the Tarot and, namely, myself. I’ve always had a way with puzzles and the cognition to connect two unrelated things.. Only to find there were actually connected all the while. I found your post in sync with my journey and I thank you so much for sharing. This is, by far, the best collective of explaining cartomancy that I have found!! (-Aura L’More)

      1. I NEED to know more about the joker. Can anyone talk about it more. ? Turns up a lot. Sometimes twice in only 5 cards i am eager to know what he is wanting to tell me , but haven’t heard anything substantial as yet. doesn’t have to be concreted but just HINTS would be welcomed . Thank you anyone. irrisa

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