In 1896 a gem of a book called What the Cards Tell appeared by “Minetta.” Minetta also wrote a book on teacup fortune telling. A special deck by her appeared around 1898 (see ad below), followed by “The Gypsy Bijou Fortune Telling Cards” with a guide by Minetta (Foulsham & Co., 1910; republished 1969). Minetta’s book came out in several subsequent editions, including a 1918 expanded edition called Card Reading: A Practical Guide (William Rider; introduced by Sepharial) that includes a section on tarot using the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.Minetta’s first edition recounts the history of the tarot as follows:
“Since three thousand years before Christ, the art of Cartomancy has been in vogue. Many ancient adepts consulted the oracle before venturing on any great undertaking. The Chinese used to engrave plates of copper and silver with designs of similar import to those in modern use. The Hebrews engraved the sacred symbols of the Tarot on plates of gold, and these were afterwards copied by the Kabalists, and notably by Simeon-bar-Jachai, to whom we owe our knowledge of the Book of Hermes. The art of Divination was in vogue among the adepts of the religious orders in times past, and the vulgar imitation was permitted by them the better to veil from public knowledge the true secrets of the sacred science.”
This brief history contains the much heard claim that the true occult secrets are being veiled from the public. I mention this because I regularly get emails from people asking about the secrets that Waite hid as people are still convinced that someone is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
What’s most interesting to us is the spread Minetta calls “Method II,” which also appears in a book by Madame Xanto in 1901 and in 1903 in a book by Mme. Zancig (from which comes the illustration below). It may be what inspired Waite’s Ancient 10-card Spread, as it appears to be one of the oldest spreads that is not based on cards placed in lines or a fan, but rather forms a picture.
Method II (later called “The Star of Fortune”) describes a thirteen card reading laid out surrounding a Significator.
“Those cards which crown the Significator predict the near future; those at the feet, the past; those to the left, obstacles; those to the right, the distant future; the top corners, present details; those at the feet, the past details; the card on top of the Significator [covers it], the consolation.” The book also notes that, “If the Nine of Hearts [Cups] comes out in the thirteen, it augurs good luck for the consulter and success to his wishes.”
Originally it was laid out around the significator: above, below (inner); above, below (outer); left, right (inner); left right (outer); left, right (corners above); left, right (corners below); final card crosses the significator. Later it was laid out as a cross: above, below, right, left (inner); above, below, right, left (outer); rest as above.
Who was “Minetta”?
There’s some thought that she might have been Waite himself, who had just published, through Redway, his own Handbook of Cartomancy and Divination, advertised in the same work as Minetta’s cartomancy deck. Usually the authors of popular fortune-telling books are hack writers for the publisher, using a mysterious pseudonym. Another clue lies in the fact that Minetta is the name of a young but resourceful gypsy fortune-teller in W. H. G. Kingston’s book, Fred Markham in Russia: The Boy Travellers in the Land of the Czar. Kingston (1814-1880) wrote more than 130 adventure tales for boys (although is best known for his translations of Jules Verne—which were actually translated by his wife!). In his autobiography Waite wrote about his own youthful fondness for such adventure stories. On the other hand, the style is gentler and not near as bombastic as Waite’s.
Even authors of fortune telling books don’t want to be seen as gullible and so tend to hedge their bets by making sure that everyone knows they aren’t complete believers. Here is a typically convoluted, yet perspicacious, disclaimer, written by the male author of a fortune telling book: The Cup of Knowledge: A Key to the Mysteries of Divination by Willis MacNicol (1924):
“The male sex holds aloof, and leaves the ladies to ‘perform these follies.’ Some ascribe it to man’s superiority; or, as briefly summed up by a member of their sex, who when declaiming against the possibility of the future being made visible, said, ‘with all apologies to you, I must say I am not so profoundly stupid as to believe in these things; it cannot be anything more than rot.’ It is remarkable how such protests die away when some remarkable manifestation has been made by the cup in accurately predicting some event of the distant future that, at the time, appeared absurd and impossible of happening. Women may lawfully claim superiority with regard to her intuitive faculty, and thus she is well equipped for exercising her divinatory powers.”
* “Lagniappe” is a Louisana term for a little something extra (like a 13th donut in a dozen); supposedly it was originally a Peruvian Quechua word that traveled with the Spanish conquistadors, ending up with a French spelling.