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).
It took me some time to really get into the minchiate. Beginning on the deck of 97 was far more daunting to me than beginning on the tarot, even though the actual difference is only 19 cards, and as a beginner the tarot was already rather daunting. A less resolute individual would be hard-pressed to commence studies with the minchiate. 97 cards and for a number of reasons, are more difficult to read than tarot cards. Prior knowledge of elemental dignities, astrology, and Western theology are even more indispensable in minchiate than in tarot.
But once you get over the initial intimidation, I promise you will fall in love with the minchiate. It enhances my tarot practice, it enhances my holistic body of knowledge about the universe, and it is an incredible metaphysical alphabet of signs and symbols to be used in the construction and creation of any spiritual or philosophical narrative. I wonder if maybe the only reason occultists in the 19th and 20th centuries didn’t popularize minchiate for divination and instead opted for tarot was due to lack of accessibility, but that if both decks had been equally accessible, the minchiate would have been popularized for occult purposes over the tarot.
Currently my reading approach with minchiate is to keep the deck of Trumps separate from the deck of numbered and court cards. There are 2 particular spreads that I conceived of and often use in tarot that I’ve adapted for the minchiate, my Rose spread and the Seashell spread, both of which are explained in my forthcoming book by North Atlantic Books.
The Rose Spread
Using the pile of numbered and court cards only, I shuffle and draw Cards 1 through 7 as noted in the above spread diagram. These 7 cards indicate the empirical aspects of the reading inquiry. What are the Seeker’s present experiences? How do we make sense of what the Seeker has been going through, the people, places, and events? What observations can be derived here? Elemental dignities are important as are patternicities.
Then I take the pile of trump cards only, shuffle, and draw Cards 8 through 12 into the Rose spread. These trump cards make up the inner petals and offer insights into the greater forces at play. An appearance of a virtue or element is significant and will reveal what it will take to achieve the Seeker’s objective or what greater universal life force is dominating over the situation and how that can be reconciled in a way to create balance in the Seeker’s life. Specifically, Card 11 will represent the Seeker’s present and Card 12 will represent what crosses the Seeker’s path.
In my book I go through the specific meaning of each card position as applied to tarot readings. Here, for minchiate, I adapt the spread more generally. Same with the below Seashell spread.
The Seashell Spread
Again, for the minchiate, I separate the trumps from the “minor arcana” (that isn’t what it’s really called in minchiate; I’m borrowing a tarot divination term). Cards 1 through 7 as noted in the above diagram utilize the minor arcana and Cards 8 through 12 utilize the trumps.
Card 1 represents the Seeker’s present; Card 2 the Seeker’s past that is still affecting the matter at hand; and Card 3 the most probable future per the path that the Seeker is headed on. Again, the minor arcana cards, or the numbers and courts, are used here.
Continuing on, Cards 4 through 7 correspond with IHVH (or YHVH) as denoted in the First Operation. Card 4 represents work/career matters or professional influences; Card 5 love and relationships; Card 6 communication issues, ambitions, philosophical influences, or any prevailing conflicts that the Seeker needs to address; and Card 7 represents money matters, wealth management, and the Seeker’s financial situation.
Then for Cards 8 through 12, I use the trumps. Card 8 represents the dominant external force from the universe at play over the particular personal situation. Card 9 represents karma. Card 10 represents the Seeker’s disposition, or aspects of the Seeker’s personality that affects the matter at hand. Card 11 represents critical knowledge, experiences, or education matters. Card 12 represents the action card: what the Seeker needs to do going forward to achieve his or her objective.
Many decades-long tarot practitioners have been converting to or fawning over the Lenormands, but my fad of choice is the minchiate. And calling it a fad is downplaying the minchiate’s importance to me. Between the tarot and the minchiate, I’m still trying to understand why the tarot became popularized over the minchiate. If anything you would think occultists and divination enthusiasts will prefer the more comprehensive minchiate system.