Recently I’ve been experimenting with divination using standard playing cards to see how they differ from a Tarot deck. To keep matters simple, I decided to employ the classic 5-card spread of Péladan in which the cards are laid out in the shape of a cross. Péladan designed his spread to answer a specific question within a limited time frame.
Joséphin Péladan (28 March 1858 – 27 June 1918) was an eccentric French novelist and occultist, born in Lyon, France, into a devoutly Roman Catholic family. The Swiss occultist Oswald Wirth apparently learned this 5-card spread from Péladan and popularized it in his own books on the occult, such as Tarot of the Magicians.
Given Pélandan’s background in Catholic occultism, my hunch is that Péladan modeled this spread after the image of the Crucifixion. The central card (“synthesis”) stands for Jesus on the Cross. The card to his right (#1) corresponds to the good thief who was rewarded by joining Jesus in heaven. The card to his left of Jesus (the viewer’s right) is the bad thief who did not repent and forfeited heaven. The cards above and below (#3 and #4) appeared to be modeled after the Tarot’s Judgment card. Card #3 would be the Angel blowing his horn to announce the Final Judgment, and card #4 would be the resurrected human bodies, who are responding the the angel’s call. The Angel is holding a banner with the image of the cross-shaped Péladan spread.
If you purchase a tarot deck published by the Spanish playing card manufacturer Fournier, you will typically find in the enclosed LWB (“little white book”) a description of the Péladan spread.
The cards are laid as in the above diagram, with the following meanings of each position: (1) What favors the querent, (2) What may work against the querent, (3) What action to take, (4) Likely outcome, and (5 – a calculated card) Overall synthesis of all the factors in the chart. Here is a more detailed description:
1. Affirmation (pros, what is working in favor of the querent): positive, favorable, active or affirming factors; the querent’s resources in the present situation; that which is available to the querent at the present time; who or what the querent can count on; what the querent should do; what orientation the querent should take regarding the matter.
2. Negation / Denial (contras, warnings, what may work against the querent): negative, contrary, hostile or impeding factors in the present situation; who or what works against the querent’s goals; what the querent should avoid doing; the wrong path to follow; that which can limit, harm or deny the querent’s interests in this matter; that which is lacking or is not available to the querent at this time.
3. Discussion & Advice (what the querent ideally should do), sometimes referred to as the adjudication, debate, argument, judge, or path to follow. This card indicates the most productive road to take to decisively resolve the issue. This judgment takes into account the other information in the spread, especially the balance of forces pro and contra, as shown in cards #1 and #2.
4. Resolution, sometimes called the sentence (as in a trial), the solution, the result, or the likely outcome of taking the steps deemed advisable in card #3 and keeping in mind the pros and cons outlined in cards #1 and #2. Delineating the resolution also depends on card #5 (synthesis), which represents the querent and the key factors in the situation.
5. Synthesis (like a summary statement) represents the basis of the question, its most salient features, and the querent’s attitude and intentions regarding the matter. It shows how the querent experiences or feels about the situation, what significance the issue has for the querent, and what lessons the querent may learn from it. Basically, it puts the previous four cards into the context of the querent’s life and the issues he or she is dealing with. This card reveals the deeper meaning of the query in the life of the querent and is worth pondering to put matters in perspective.
The usual recommendation is that this spread be done with the 22 Major Arcana cards of the Tarot, but there is no reason it cannot be done with the entire Tarot or with a deck of ordinary playing cards.
Péladan’s traditional method of selecting the cards is a bit unusual. After shuffling the 22 major arcana cards, the reader asks the querent to pick a number from 1 to 22 and then, counting in order from the top, selects that card from the deck and places it in the first position of the spread. The same method is used to selects cards #2 through #4. In other words, for the second card, the querent picks a number from 1 to 21; for the third card, a number from 1 to 20; and for the fourth card, a number from 1 to 19. This same method of selecting cards can be used with an entire deck of Tarot or playing cards. If the reader prefers, a different method of randomly selecting the cards to answer the question can also be employed.
Card #5, however, is decided by adding the values of the first four cards rather than by drawing a fifth card from the deck.
In Péladan’s orginal system if you are using only the Major Arcana of a Tarot deck and the sum of the first four cards is 22 or less (22 being the Fool), then that number indicates the fifth card. It is possible that the fifth card could also occupy one of the positions from #1 to #4. If the sum is greater than 22, the the digits of that sum are added together to get the fifth card. For example, if the first four cards were: 10 + 16 + 7 +19 = 52, then you would add 5 +2 = 7. In this case Major Arcana 7 would be both the third and the fifth card.
If you are using ordinary playing cards, you can add the numerical values of the first four cards as given by Richmond Olney in his classic Mystic Test Book (1893) to identify the 5th “synthesis” card. According to Olney, Hearts have a values of 0 plus the number of the card, Clubs have a value of 13 plus the number of the card, Diamonds have a value of 26 plus the number of the card, and Spades have a values of 39 plus the number of the card. Jacks count as 11, Queens as 12, and Kings as 13. Thus, each card in the deck has a unique number from 1 to 52.
Here is an example using this spread. The querent is concerned about an upcoming annual mammogram. She had been treated for breast cancer several years earlier and has been in remission but is anxious because she knows women who tested positive several years after treatment despite many years of being in remission.
- 10 Hearts (0+10 = 10) – Pros
- 4 Spades (39+4 = 43) – Contras, warnings
- Ace Diamonds (26+1 = 27) – Advice
- 2 Diamonds (26+2 =28) – Likely Outcome
- Add the values of the first 4 cards: 10 + 43 + 27 +28 = 108. Because 108 is greater that 52 (the number of cards in the deck), keep subtracting 52 until you arrive at a number between 1 and 52. 108 – 52 = 56, and then 56 – 52 = 4, which corresponds to the 4 of Hearts as the synthesis card.
This is a generally favorable spread. The 10 of Hearts in position 1 suggests that she has the strong support of family and friends. The 4 of Spades in the 2nd position warns against taking her current good health for granted and underscores the importance of regular check-ups. The Ace of Diamonds in the 3rd position advises taking the initiative in guarding her health. The 2 of Diamonds in the 4th or outcome position shows her coming together with material well-being. Finally the Four of Hearts as the synthesis card in position 5 (the sum of all the other positions) shows emotional relief and a sense of security as a result of completing her annual mammogram as advised by her physician. On a deeper level the Four of Hearts suggests that she focus on the loving relationships in her life because they are what really matters, regardless of the number of years remaining to one’s life.
Outcome: The querent texted me after she got the results of her mammogram to say that there was no evidence of recurrence of the breast cancer. She was greatly relieved but said that she would probably become equally anxious prior to the next annual checkup.