The Semiology of Cartomancy: The Interface of Visibility and Textuality

Edna Aphek, Yishai Tobin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


[...]both the cards and the client represent two independent, individual intrinsic systems which are combined syntagmatically through the cartomantist. [...]it may be said that the cartomantist is the key motivating factor of the client-card-cartomantist triad who integrates and bridges the visual and textual semiotic systems by verbally expressing the external visual systematic elements of the individual cards and their layouts or spreads. The shapes of the suits, if reduced to the fundamental opposition of 'round' versus 'sharp', can be symmetrically distributed between the two color oppositions of red and black as schematically represented in figure 5: [...]we can view each suit as a complex sign which is suitable for representing specific messages for both circumstances and emotions. With regard to the system of numbers we are aware of the many diverse historical and inter and intra-cultural interpretations of numbers and their potential associative relationships (e.g., Cheiro 1980:35, Cirlot 1962:220).5 We have been unable to find an ordered and unified systematic relationship with regard to the role of the numerals and their interaction with the systems of color and form of the suits of the cards. [...]we can contrast the various systems of cartomancy in a hierarchical order: (1) the suits are in a well-ordered semiological system symmetrically opposed to each other in color and shape; (2) the colors, due to their specific historical and cultural backgrounds and associations and their interpretations, represent what we view as a partially ordered semiological system, and (3) the system of the numbers appears to be the most unsystematic or least well-ordered system of the larger system of cards. In the cartomantist-client interaction, however, it is usually only the cartomantist who knows the system. [...]not all the members of the community of cartomantists attach the same meanings to the same signs, since (a) there may be several systems of cards and (b) it is possible for any cartomantist to generate a totally unique and idiosyncratic system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-98
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Journal of Semiotics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1986


  • Age
  • Extrasensory perception--ESP
  • Language
  • Reading
  • Semiotics


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