Mahjong Divination

Mah Jong - Box 2

While there is no historical verification that tarot descended from mahjong, their striking similarity in structure and the cosmological or philosophical correspondences associated with the playing pieces is still worth noting. Both seem to be subdivided into Trump cards and Minors, and within the Minors, further subdivisions into suits, with each suit numbered into pip cards or tiles. Both were intended for games, but both are also used for divination.

Recently I’ve been inspired to hunt down my own mahjong set, but there is a reason Chinese people get special tables for mahjong– the darn thing takes up a lot of space. There’s just a crap ton of tiles that make annoying clicking sounds when you shuffle, and the tiles remind me of Joy Luck Club or something, I don’t know. I knew I wouldn’t be using my set for games, and it’d be strictly for divination study. Intuitively, a whole set of mahjong tiles (the standard click-clack ones Chinese folk play with) didn’t feel right in my reading room, my personal sacred space. So. I opted for a more discrete alternative– mahjong in the form of cards. They have that now! It’s awesome. It’s a deck of 144 cards.

Mah Jong - Box 1

I’m using a cute little deck referred to simply as “Chinese Mahjong: Deck of 144 Cards for Oriental Play” published by Yellow Mountain Imports. You can get it off Amazon for all of five bucks. It’s great. The card quality is kind of meh. They didn’t produce this particular deck with esoteric or spiritual work in mind, that’s for sure. There’s a tacky high-gloss laminate and as you can see from the photos, it’s very, very basic in card imagery.

Mah Jong "Minors," Suit of Wheels
Mah Jong “Minors,” Suit of Wheels
Mah Jong "Minors," Suit of Bamboo
Mah Jong “Minors,” Suit of Bamboo
Mah Jong "Minors,"  Suit of Characters
Mah Jong “Minors,” Suit of Characters

Mahjong consists of 3 suits: Wheels, Bamboo, and Characters. The 3 suits are correspondent with Heaven, Earth, and Man, after the Chinese cosmological concept of the Trinity of Lucks.

Heaven Luck represents circumstances you’re born into, beyond your control, like the social class of your parents or innate talents and physical attributes, i.e. nature. Heaven Luck is believed to be pre-ordained.

Earth Luck is your geographical location, and how where you are affects what you do or who you become, i.e., nurture. Earth Luck is your environment and how your environment helps or hinders your success.

Man Luck is free will, what you do with yourself, the choices you make, your education, your actions, behavior, attitude, etc.

Additionally, Wheels often indicate life circumstances, events, conditions, or things that “happen” to you, things beyond your control that you’re just going to have to figure out how to deal with, the cards you’ll get dealt; Bamboo will talk about wealth, finances, money matters, security; Characters talk about career, education.

Super-traditionally here, marriage was seen as orchestrated by the fates, and so might get expressed in a reading through the Wheels, or if some important things were about to go down, with the Honors or Supreme Honors (more on that later). So it wasn’t like in tarot divination where you might have a whole suit (i.e., Cups) associated with love, relationships, and our emotional plane. The emotional plane wasn’t really seen as this whole separate matter that might require its own suit. So there wasn’t a suit for it. Interesting cultural differences here, me thinks.

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Minchiate Cards for Divination: My Review

minchiate

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.

Minchiate_Trumps0to5

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.

Minchiate_4Virtues

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.

Michiate_4Elements

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.

Minchiate_12ZodiacSigns

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).

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