It is said that like tarot, the origins of the minchiate are not verifiable, but was probably a card game played in the late medieval period. The version I have at home is a reproduction of the Etruria deck from 18th century Florence. Like tarot, the imagery on the cards and scope of the depictions seem extraordinarily well suited for spiritual, metaphysical, or divination work and in many ways, the minchiate even more so than tarot.
There are 97 cards in total, consisting of trumps like tarot, 22 with the addition of 4 cards representing the theological virtues, 4 cards representing the elements, and 12 cards representing the zodiac signs. That’s 41 trumps and 56 numbered cards, with the numbered cards similar to tarot: 4 suits, Ace through Ten, and then 4 court cards.
The photograph below shows the unnumbered Madman (corresponding with tarot’s The Fool) and Keys I, II, III, IIII (IV), and V. Key I is the Performer, which corresponds with tarot’s The Magician. Keys II, III, and IIII (IV) in the minchiate are the Grand Duke, the Western Emperor, and the Eastern Emperor, which some say correspond with tarot’s Empress, Emperor, and Hierophant respectively. Key V is Love, corresponding with tarot’s Key VI, The Lovers.
The numbering of the keys in the Minchiate is significantly different from the tarot. For example, in minchiate the Temperance card is Key VI while in tarot it is Key XIV. There is no Hermit card per se, but there is Father Time, which is said to correspond with the Hermit. Most notably, the final card of the Trumps is not The World as in tarot, but rather the Trumpets, corresponding with the tarot Judgement card.
After the minchiate Key XV The Tower, there are the four theological virtues: Key XVI, Hope; Key XVII, Prudence; Key XVIII, Faith, and Key XIX, Charity. See below.
Although there is no direct correspondent in minchiate to the tarot High Priestess card, some speculate that the Faith card corresponds with the High Priestess. For me, in the Etruria deck, the illustrations are confusing. The picture on the first card above calls to mind Faith for me, but it’s the Hope card. The second card (left to right) reminds me of vanity for some reason, rather than a virtue, and yet it’s Prudence. The third card shows a woman, likely from the laboring class, looking at or reading something. It only somewhat fits my conception of Faith. The last card, Charity– either you know the meaning or you don’t. Little about the card’s imagery strikes me as denoting charity. But hey, this is all just me.
Following the four theological virtues are the four classical elements in the following order: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. (Compare that to the order of the elements per the contemporary majority view in tarot practice: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.) When the Fire card appears in a reading, it suggests the relevance of innovation, passion, ambition, and leadership. The Water card denotes alliances, intuition, and compassion. The Earth card, stability, conservatism, conviction, and resourcefulness. Air, idealism, intellectualism, communication, and also ambition, though the Fire-based ambition usually relates to progress while the Air-based ambition relates to conquest.
In the minchiate there are also cards for the 12 signs of the zodiac. Pictured above in the numerical order they appear in the trumps:
Top Row (L to R): Libra, Virgo, Scorpio, Aries, Capricorn, Sagittarius
Bottom Row (L to R): Cancer, Pisces, Aquarius, Leo, Taurus, Gemini
After the Trumps, the 56 numbered cards in the minchiate are similar to the tarot. There are four suits and their correspondences are as follows: Wands for work or career; Chalices (Cups) for emotions and relationships; Pentacles for money matters; and Swords for the abstract and philosophical. Among the court cards, Knaves (or Pages) denote education and learning; Knights about courage, action, and choice; Queens about a relationship; and Kings about decision-making and authority. Note further that the minchiate correspondents to the Pages are specifically 2 Knaves for the active suits (Fire and Air) and 2 Maids for the passive suits (Water and Earth).