Playing cards probably came to Europe in the fourteenth century
from the Middle East. There are plenty of references to playing cards
from 1377 onwards. Tentative connections have been made
with very early cards found in China from the tenth century. It is thought that European playing cards are based on Mamluk playing cards. These Islamic playing cards do not have pictures, instead there is an elaborate suit sign with a title: Malik (King), Na'ib (Viceroy) dan Na'ib Thani (Second Viceroy). The suits are Cups, Polo Sticks, Swords and Coins.
Telling fortunes using playing cards is well known as being used by the Gypsies. But wherever cards are played, they are used for divination purposes also.
Playing cards vary from country to country according to the number of cards included in each deck, the suits used and which court cards appear. Decks may also come with 2 or more jokers. Usually the jokers are not included in divination but some readers choose to use them and give them Joker the meaning of the Tarot Fool (New developments, fresh starts, taking a risk).
However, the Joker is not actually a descendant of the Tarot Fool. Instead, it was an American invention in the 1860's for the game of Juker (now known as Euchre) where it was used as the "Best Bower". By the 1880's the Juker had become the Joker and had started appearing in decks all around the world.
For a full list of the meanings for a 52 card deck, click here.
For the meanings of the 40 card Spanish Deck (Baraja Española), click here.
Under, Over, King German: Unter, Ober, König Croatian: Unter/Dečko, Iber/Kraljica, Kralj
All these decks have been used for fortune telling purposes over the years.
The meanings can vary drastically from one area to another. Unlike the often standardised meanings
of the popular Tarot decks (usually based on the Rider-Waite deck), regular playing
card meanings still come from a long oral tradition.
The following table shows how the meaning of the 7 Hearts may differ between traditions and authors...
Comparison of 7 Hearts
Traditional English (52 cards)
False hopes and broken promises, an unreliable person.
Traditional English (32 cards)
Contentment. (Reversed: Boredom).
Traditional French (52 cards)
Close lady friend.
Traditional Italian (48 cards)
Jealousy from a lady.
Traditional Spanish (40 cards)
Joy. Happy events. Things work out well despite bad beginnings. Things work out after being at a standstill.
Card of disagreement, lover's quarrel. Temporary altercation between two people.
Reunites people from the past. Joy, spontaneity and romance.
A pleasant surprise. A repeated occurrence. Peace.
Romantic dreams come true; wisdom and inner peace follows.
Difference of opinion between sweethearts. Gullibility.
The card of emotional fulfillment. Emotional energy.
A successful new idea, a period of 7.
Hazel Whitaker (32 cards)
A fickle admirer.
Unfaithful or unreliable person. News.
King Midas cards
Arguments with people close to you. Avoid hasty words.
Keep plans flexible: you could be let down at the last moment. Romance is well-starred.
Spiritual love, letting go of personal attachments.
Chita St. Lawrence
A deep and often disconcerting level of intimacy and communication.
Good relationships. Peace with self.
The power of love, forgiveness, sickness, surgery.
Your wishes for romantic love are fulfilled on the 7th of a month, in 7 weeks or in July. Positive card. Triumph over adversity.
Mlle Lenormand (36 cards)
Issues of health, energy levels
Camille Le Normand
The thoughts. A weapon. A jewel. (Reversed: A package. Desire.)
Waite (32 cards)
Marriage, if the Querent is a lady, and the issue will be daughters only; if a man, it is destined that he will make a rich and happy marriage.
For a full list of the meanings for a 56 card deck, click here.
Ultimately, you should not worry that these different systems
exist. You simply need to decide which system you will use and stick to it!
As long as you are consistent and have banished all doubts, it will produce good results.
If you are interested in teaching yourself how to read the cards, I can recommend you taking a look at these excellent books: