As many of you know, I read Tarot cards. In fact, I read Tarot and I read an old deck of Hawaii playing cards that I carry around with me. In other words, I’m tuned into cards. I can even do a few card tricks.
I’ll often pick up playing cards I find in the street and read meaning from them. One of the things I noticed here in Morocco was that the cards here are pretty different than the cards I’ve seen elsewhere.
In fact, the playing cards look a whole lot more like Tarot cards than like the standard 52 card deck that most of us know. The suits are tarot suits coins, cups, swords, and wands. I saw this and then I decided to get a deck and check them out.
Unlike Tarot or poker cards, these cards are missing the 8’s and 9’s. The cards go 1-7 and then they jump to the face cards numbered 10-13. The facecards are a jack, a knight, and a king. So that adds up to only 40 cards.
In addition there are strange gaps in the lines that frame the cards. they are obviously by intent, but I don’t yet know what they are for. I’m working to figure out all the meanings of the cards now so I can read them. A quick internet search turned up that the decks have a Spanish origin and are called Baraja.
The earliest literary references to playing cards in Europe refer to the game having been introduced by a ‘Saracen’, and also to Moorish and Damascene varieties of playing card. We do not know for sure what these fourteenth century cards looked like… but for an idea click here.
The occupation of enclaves in North Africa was one of the objectives most actively pursued by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella after the conquest of Granada. This expansionist policy was curtailed shortly afterwards when Spain turned its efforts to the recently discovered West Indies. It might be logical to assume that North Africa has always been supplied with Spanish suited cards, and that these came primarily from France or Spain.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries playing cards were imported into Morocco and Algeria from Spain and France by manufacturers such as Camoin, La Ducale, B.P. Grimaud and others. These were of the Spanish National pattern, based on the Félix Solesio designs produced by the Real Fábrica de Madrid at Macharaviaya (1776-1815).
The Camoin firm closed down in 1971, but many clones of Camoin’s cards have been, and still are being produced by a succession of Moroccan manufacturers, usually from Casablanca. These include:
Imprimerie de L’Entente
Imprimerie Litho-Type Marocaine
…and other anonymous brands such as Cartes Lion, L’Elephant, L’Aigle or Sindibad. Morocco is now one of the last remaining countries to use the old Spanish National pattern.
Of course, with only 40 cards there aren’t any major arcana either, but they appear in other ways. I’m certain that these cards are used by Moroccan soothsayers and fortune tellers. There really isn’t any way they couldn’t be. They are beautiful cards.
I haven’t learned any games yet either…but I will.