How to read with the Minchiate Fiorentine
Unravel the mysteries of this layered beauty in 7 tips
A mini-turorial by Djamila Zon
The Minchiate Fiorentine Tarot is a Tarocchi extraordinaire. Different images and a lot of extra very specific Major Arcana. These extra 19 cards make this Tuscan beauty a challenge. The Minchiate Tarot is a study deck to the nth degree, but worth every minute. It didn’t push aside all other tarot decks in popularity in the 17th and 18th century for nothing. If you are on the brink of losing your heart to this very special Ancient Italian this mini-tutorial on The Queen’s Sword will help you get a head start.
1. BEGIN BLANK
You might know tarot, you might know the Tarot de Marseille or the Ancient Italians and in a way all that knowledge might help you. But not *now*. Do one thing for certain: when starting out with the Minchiate, forget about the tarots you know! Become Tabula Rasa of tarot. The Tarocchi Minchiate is a tarot in my mind, but to some it isn’t. For the usefulness of this Minchiate Tutorial I am going to humor the latter group. Why? Because despite the similarities, the differences are also vast and by plastering the similarities you know onto the differences you don’t, you won’t get far with this deck.
Forget about the numerology that supported your readings, throw out the archetypes in the Majors and don’t try to find the *exact* equivalent. Start this Minchiate Tarot journey as a blank slate before you look at what is behind those Etruria backs. Discover the new people on the cards, discover the new imagery and *read that*. Your tarot brain will thank you and read the sh*t out if this gorgeous deck, respecting it as is: namely the Minchiate Fiorentine Tarot. Former educational deck, current kick-ass new tarot love-to-be.
2. PICTURE PERFECT
Learning stuff by heart when it comes to tarot can result in wooden readings. However, I soon found out that learning *the images* in the Minchiate by heart – and where they are numbered – in combination with their numbers (as they did when it was still a game) is good practice. Not only do images deviate quite a lot from what you know (although a lot of them can be recognized), the numbering doesn’t coincide with the more recent tarot decks either. There are other reasons too – like the fact that some of the names aren’t generally agreed upon by researchers or diviners. So better reference the number then instead of saying “You know, that card that could be the…”. Wrong. Card II is the best example of that. Pope Due (Pope two), The Empress, the Grand Duke, The Grand Duchess – all these names are used for the rather androgynous person on the card, thereby giving room to speculation. As well as copy-pasting our nowadays High Priestess on this fella…or gal. Which is another reason why the next point is also going to be very important if you want to read with the Minchiate in a good way.
3. HONOR HISTORY
You are working with a piece of history here, which is referring to the events, politics and beliefs of *their* time as well as referencing history before that. The two Emperors give that away, as well as the other differences I mentioned. To me it became clear quite quickly The Minchiate deck is a deck that calls for studying outside the esoteric realm. If you want to take into account the 15th century political and geological structure of Europe a big fat history book definitely won’t hurt. (And some extra symbolism lookups can’t hurt either). If you use Romain Merlin’s title-key you would consider IIII a second emperor. In this case Eastern Emperor, the one leading The Eastern-Roman Empire after Rome fell. Also called Byzantium for example. And you betcha this will influence the meaning of what you normally think of IV. Knowing who those emperors were, that Grand Duke/Duchess (see tip 2) is very debatable title since current Italy wasn’t the Grand-Duchy of Tuscany yet at the time of creating the 97 card Minchiate, what the importance of the four virtues was etc, will help you in pinpointing the energies of those cards. That, in return, will make you much more fluent in ‘Minchiate’. And you know, history is cool!
4. MINCHIATE MEETS MARSEILLE
Well, I *did* say that knowing the Tarot de Marseille (or its Italian cousins) might help at one point, right? Here it is! The Minchiate is like the great-aunt of the Milan & Marseille’s that came during and after it. Meaning there is a resemblance there in its genetic tarot make-up. And you’ll find this when reading it TdM-style. The beautiful thing is; the tarot reader in you can get a head start despite still struggling with point 2 and 3. See the cards, read the cards, add knowledge of universal symbolism and a huge dose of the Big I (intuition) and you are on your way to get a handle on the Minchiate Fiorentine. Where do characters point their arms, look with their eyes? Is the sky dark, bright? The cups small, pretty, big? Do the people cards turn their backs to one another or embrace? Marseille techniques are all about weaving posture, atmosphere and the weirdest details into a story. Still all sounds Greek to you (or Chinese, depending on which part of the globe you’re on)? Then first start with an earlier tutorial on The Queen’s Sword, the wonderful Tarot de Marseille mini-course: Paul Richard’s 7 keys to Unlock the TdM on The Queen’s Sword.
The Key to the Minchiate Titles
The Minchiate Tarot cards aren’t named, but in order to follow certain tips you do need to know what we know or think we know about their titles. Though most researchers are hesitant to link to Wiki’s, in this case Wikipedia has a great Minchiate card key list that helped me a lot. It is a huge table with the supposed original names (nothing 100% sure though), their English translation and the corresponding TdM and RWS/WCS counterparts.
I recommend using the last part rarely or not at all – I personally think you won’t read Minchiate then anymore. But every reader can find their own way to Fiorentine, so use it however you want. This list corresponds with the ‘key’, written by Stuart Kaplan in The Tarot Encyclopedia volume I.
5. MASTER THE MINORS
While reading with Minor Arcana in this deck comes very close to reading the ‘regular’ traditional minor 56, the thing that might bother you is the lack of embellishments in the pips. This will make point 4 a bit of a futile exercise, since it doesn’t do much in the way of pattern reading and eye rhymes. On top of that plenty suit symbols lack uniformity through the whole deck – different designs throughout – and the Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria has animals on a lot of cards. So, how to read & approach this? Different cups? Bigger, smaller, more elegant? How would you consider this when seeing someone’s china during a dinner party? Richness, ego, lacking…these can all be things – when compared to other cards or by themselves. The coins aren’t just stamped coins, the faces might be looking to one another, communicating with each other (writing this during my holiday in Greece I can only think of the Greek news and some talk shows now. For others, a reference could be the opening of the Brady Bunch). What could they say? The Batons rarely look like a Wand, but what *do* they portray? You can choose to read as a simple wand or go deeper. The knights of the Minchiate Minors are unique as half human-half mythological creatures. Are we evolving or progressing? Are we one with our journey through that suit or element? What would the knight look like in ‘real life’? And last but not least: the animals on the pip cards. Animals are symbols onto themselves. They have traits, behavior, characteristics and roles in myths to play. The squirrel hoards nuts, the unicorn is mystical and pure. Are they resting? Active? Which stories do you know that feature them? Use that in your meanings.
(Thanks to Robert Scott for adding great tips to the coins, knights and animal examples).
6. ENTER THE EXTRA’S
We have ourselves 3 extra’s in the Minchiate Tarot: Zodiac cards, element cards and the Virtues. And they can be used in different ways. Practice, experiment. It’s your deck. To get you started:
Extra 1: Virtues are (if you are a Jungian) quite archetypal in their own way, require some studying. They might be a Catholic construct, but even if you aren’t religious or uphold a different belief system these virtues are Trumps in a broader sense – not simply a church thing. Once you’ve done your research and can appreciate the meanings of Hope, Prudence, Faith and Charity in your own way, I’d advise to add them to the Trumps and read them as such. You might not have gotten a High Priestess in this deck, but there’s Hope. These cards are a strength onto themselves and give a whole new dimension to a reading.
Extra 2: Zodiac cards seem to be the least ‘weird’. Loads of tarot readers know or add a bit astrology (to their practice). You might already have devised a brilliant way of using them (I also advise checking out Lynyrd-Jym Narciso’s article on his own Zodiac Oracle to get ideas), but these are my three tips:
- as a significator to start with or to recognize people in the client’s life (like you would with Kipper people cards);
- timing. When will it happen? Aquarius? Ok…so in the period of Jan 20th till feb 18th);
- use characteristics of a sign in advice or to describe an event. Decide upfront which route you’ll take, the deck needs to know in order to respond accordingly.
Extra 3: Elemental cards. These are the most difficult to apply. They are part of the Trumps, but what do they say? I opt for two possibilities. If you work with elemental dignities the Elements are your friend…or enemy. It could ‘swing’ your entire tarot reading. If a fire Trump lands next to two strong water cards, they are diminished tremendously all of a sudden. I figure a Trump…eh…trumps in this case. You could also place them at the end of their Minor Arcana street. Top the King, or maybe start before the Ace. Be the 0, or the 15 and incorporate everything the element wants to say, either as less than a seedling, stirring or being big boss, exalted.
7. DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Starting out with this deck may seem daunting: it took you long enough to get all those 78, right? And now with all those extra cards? Brrrr! Not to worry, there are ways if you don’t want to dive off the deep end immediately. The beauty of the Minchiate is this: it is a deck within a deck, within a deck. It consists of a Major and Minor Arcana, pips and courts, a 12 card zodiac oracle, the elements cards and on top of that we get the Virtues (if you read with some of Robert Place’s decks, you might know them). So, if you don’t want to read with all 97 (just yet), make your own combination. There are plenty options. To help you on your way I’ll give you my Fantastic Four of Dividing and Conquering the Minchiate Tarot(s):
A. Divide and conquer (D&C) Minchiate Tarot: Majors Only
Throw down with just the Major Arcana. Exclude minors and Zodiac, Elementals and Virtues (even though they count as Majors in this deck). That way it is the closest to a Majors Only deck in ‘regular tarot’. If you do this I do recommend to get acquainted with the new cards and images, new order and not plaster the TdM or – worse – the 20th century Waite-Smith onto it. Get to know it, invite it in for a cup of coffee and get down to business… Not the easiest way to begin, but then again…not too many cards either and it is a good way to get to know *these* trumps/majors/aloute’s (or however you name your normal 22) before you start stacking.
B. D&C Minchiate Tarot: Spanish style
Nope, I don’t mean getting yourself a fancy suit and a red flag to make a bull charge you (though, perhaps it will feel that way), I mean reading with the Minor Arcana of the Minchiate Fiorentine. Just looking at the minors, ‘the playing card’ or ‘Spanish style’ route, is perhaps the simplest when starting out with this tarocchi. You strip it off all the differences (well, sort of). A Wand might be a Club or Baton and not look *exactly* as your TdM or WCS counterpart, but it is easily recognizable as a Wand when reading. Same goes for Cups, Swords and Pentacles/Coins. They are called and drawn differently than the decks you already know: but when working with it, is most like newer 78 card decks. I can promise you good readings with those 56, plus hedgewidgery and numerology will be a nice addition or key. One little ‘warning’: my experience in reading with just the Minors was that it is best suited for ‘simple’ every day life fortunetelling and (pun intended) minor topics. Not the life-changing stuff, if that is your bread and butter.
C. D&C Minchiate Tarot: Fake it till you make it
Who cares the Minchiate Fiorentine has 97 cards….we will beat the difference out of it. Or at least pretend it is a good little tarot deck. After all, there is a decent enough Minor Arcana with courts and numbered cards, Trumps that look a little like the ones we know and we leave those extra scary bits out: ergo we have ourselves an almost regular tarot deck. This way you have the closest thing to the whole pack, but can still hang on to what you know’ in a way. After that you might start adding layers and extra’s. Be careful though. By forcing the Minchiate Tarot in a ‘corset’ it normally does not wear, you will have to stay aware of the fact it IS different from a regular deck. No copy-pasting, same warnings apply. But you *will* have the small and the big secrets to work with and can almost graduate to the 97-beauty.
D. D&C Minchiate Tarot: Duo-deck
If you, like me, want to use the whole deck in one reading, but are still a little ‘worried’ or confused (or afraid you might pull only zodiacs in answer to (f.e.) “How will my week look like”), there’s an option to split the deck in two, but still do one reading. Although tip 6 applies here too! Decide upfront. Let me explain the technique: I basically did two consecutive readings with Minchiate A and Minchiate B, counting as one read under the same question (before interpreting cards already drawn!). Deck A being the Majors and Minors with the exclusion of the Zodiac, virtues and elements, and use the aforementioned three sets as Deck B: the clarifiers. They can give you details, timing et cetera of the reading itself. So, I do a reading with the ‘main deck’ (A), don’t interpret yet, but simply say:
please give me additional information and immediately pull the cards from the
‘secondary’ set to be part of the same question. Trust me: it is kind of awesome. I use this technique when I have a multilayered query, or at least one that asks for a deeper, more detailed answer. Just try everything or follow your gut and go with what feels best. I think at one point the deck will show you what works ideally for you as a tarot couple. With the Minchiate Tarocchi one thing is for sure: trial and error is involved but once you get the hang of it, it reads great and you can start appreciating the deck for what it is: a gorgeous Ancient Italian for large readings.
RECOGNIZE YOUR MINCHIATES
There is nothing so annoying as to invest in a wish-list tarot deck and don’t get what you wished for. Sometimes the deck just isn’t as pretty or qualitative as promised/thought, but in the case of the Minchiate Tarot it can be because you simply ordered the wrong one. There are several versions and part II of this Minchiate Tarot Tutorial is to learn to recognize them.
The Artwork of the known Minchiate reproductions
Etruria 1725: The art of the Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria 1725 is shown in the big review. It is my personal favorite, although they all have something nice to show for. The Etruria is the oldest and the most elegant imho. It was made with copper plate etchings and hand painted with water colors. The Il Meneghello is a facsimile, so it is very close to the original. The artwork is very beautiful and quite realistic, but with the ‘pretty touch’. It makes you think of Renaissance paintings and has its fair share of androgynous types. All in all it is a very refined deck. The backs have some sort of dotted white and blueish stamp of a courtier and the cards have a coating.
century deck is. That difference shows in the repro’s. Even though the actual drawings are still quite refined for woodcuts, the coloring isn’t ‘neat’ everywhere. There are a few differences in the images too, but the decks are both very easily recognizable as Minchiate Fiorentine Tarots. Probably the overwhelming blue’s and reds of the 1850’s deck make the largest difference with the 1725. The back is green marbled. See the World of Playing Cards site for a few good pictures.
That concludes the mini-tutorial on the Minchiate Tarot. Who needs a LWB when you have The Queen’s Sword, right? If you have any questions on this How to read the Minchiate Fiorentine, send me an e-mail or hit me up on my Facebook wall.
– The Queen’s Sword