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.
13 thoughts on “Minchiate Cards for Divination: My Review”
You were correct that xvi looks like faith. It is Faith.
The mirror and snake is always Hope. The mirror represents the hoped for future. The snake is the awful present.
The mirror alone is prudence. Looking to see who is sneaking up behind you.
Charity holds fire, the fire of generosity. Some people prefer to consider it a purse. But it is fire.
The images always represented these things in the middle ages. Hope is always mirror and snake. Prudence is always a mirror pointed to see behind you. Charity is always a woman holding fire. So the other one has to be Faith.
Nice! Thank you, A.C. for your insights. I guess the little white booklet the minchiate deck came with is wrong!
Are you sure? Every other source I can find on the Menciatte agree with the names in Benebell’s article. And I can’t find any paintings or sculpture of Hope with a snake and mirror. Instead Piero del Pollaiuolo’s painting of Prudence matches that iconography exactly and his picture of Hope has her praying and looking up in the very same pose as here. She does not look up at a crown in that picture, but she does in Giotto di Bondone’s image of her.
This Image of the Cardinal Virtues also have Prudence with both snake and mirror: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-zo-udJsGX_k/T8Lc5HjvT1I/AAAAAAAAAGg/5p2eoQhrkQ8/s1600/4VirtuesT_P_F_J_2.jpg
(I am not sure of it’s source however.)
As for the symbolism: According to an article I read on Piero del Pollaiuolo’s painting of Prudence the mirror represents self-reflection while the snake is a reference to Matthew 10:16 “Be wise (“prudentes” in Latin) as serpents”.
Hope meanwhile is praying, but the way she does it makes her look desperate and wanting, therefore she is praying for something, which means she is hoping for something. And it most also be noted what this hope means within the christian context these symbols are from, i.e. hope in God, judgement day and salvation. “Belief”, as the word is used today, may be more fitting with modern terminology. The crown might be a reference to 2 Timothy 4:7-8, which states that the righteous will be given a crown on judgement day. She is hoping for her salvation.
Similar to Hope, the word “Faith” doesn’t entirely have the same connotations today as it had back then. The Latin word is fidēs which also means loyalty and is where the English “fidelity” comes from. Within a medieval/renaissance christian context the greatest loyalty was to God, which is how the word got it’s current meaning. Faith reading something may indicate that she is faithful to the God’s words and commands. Giotto di Bondone’s image of her similarly has her holding a scroll.
Looking closer at the image I linked to I see that it might be a harp and not a snake (I thought it was a small Rod of Asclepius). The Piero del Pollaiuolo painting still has her holding what is clearly a snake however. (Also apologies for somehow managing to misspell Minchiate.)
Sorry for triple posting, but I’ve done some more research and is now almost entirely certain that your little white booklet is entirely correct.
In the Mantegna Tarocchi decks from c. 1465 (which were not actually tarot decks, but had a lot of similar imagery) Prudence had a serpent-like monster next to her and was holding a mirror while Hope is praying and looking up. These cards had names on them so there is no mistaking what they are depicting.
In the Cary-Yale Visconti deck from c 1420-1460 (a very early tarot deck that did have the three theological virtues in it; Hope, Faith and Charity) Hope is shown praying in the exact same pose as on the Minchiate. While these cards did not have names on them, this card also has an anchor on it which is the standard christian symbol of Hope from at-least the 14th century and all the way to present day (at least within Catholicism and Lutheranism.)
Pictures of the Mantegna Tarocchi can be seen here:
Pictures from and info on the Cary-Yale Visconti tarot can be seen here:
Sourced info on the Anchor as a christian symbol can be found here:
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Hello, can you tell me what book you are talking about? I checked the site out and do not know what book might be yours….thanks….
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I read your post and saw you’re collecting Tarot cards. I have inherited 16 decks of which I have found around 5 to be quite rare to come by these days. I would like to sell them all at a decent price (I hope to get around 1000 Euros for the lot), but I haven’t got a clue where I should list them. I’ve tried locally but although many people visit the listings, they don’t buy.
Can you perhaps point me in the right direction? I saw a forum but it doesn’t accept new members…
Many thanks in advance.
Erik Vlietinck, J.D.
Writer of Case studies, White Papers and Specialised Articles for Fortune 500 companies
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I have a reproduction deck. It is only yesterday that I did a spread and will dive deeply into it. I appreciate your insights.