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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

REVIEW (by Zanna): The Playing Card Oracles


The Playing Card Oracles
A Source Book for Divination
by Ana Cortez
Illustrations and essays by C.J. Freeman
256 pages; 9 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
ISBN: 1-57281-522-1

[To see a practice/trial run reading I did with the Playing Card Oracles deck, click HERE.]

Before I continue with my review of this marvelous book, I want to make something clear: The book is not about learning how to read ordinary playing cards. [PLEASE NOTE: I am editing this part of the review to avoid confusion. You can definitely use this book to help you interpret ordinary playing cards. However, it is not *purely* for that purpose. The images in the book are not ordinary playing cards, and the text does go into the symbolism and meaning of those images on each card. I just want people to understand up front that this book is not *strictly* about reading ordinary playing cards.]

The purpose of this book is to explain, explore, and elaborate on a system designed to be used with a deck of cards called The Picture Book of Ana Cortez. At this writing, the cards published by U.S. Games are not readily available.* I found a deck through Amazon.com. I plan to share a reading and/or deck interview in the future on this blog. You can purchase the original deck (produced by Two Sisters Press) directly from Ana Cortez. Contact her at ana@anacortez.org. You can also visit her blog at www.anacortez.com.

You can also use the system described in this book with ordinary playing cards. Ana Cortez tells us to "find a deck of playing cards that you like and follow along." You can even use some aspects of this system with Tarot cards. For example, the notes on numerology and the elements can be applied to Tarot cards. I am planning to experiment with using geomancy (as described in this book) with Tarot cards as well.

"Every now and then a book comes along that is so strikingly original that it can completely change popular perceptions on a given subject. This is one of those books. In this work of poetry and prophecy, a new voice emerges from a rare father-daughter team."


The book is divided into three major sections. BOOK ONE contains four parts: Card Symbolism; Preparing for and Doing a Reading; and Something Old, Something New; and Final Frontiers.  BOOK TWO consists of Essays, Notes, and Commentary written by C.J. Freeman. As Ana Cortez explains in her Introduction, the book is a collaboration between her father (C.J. Freeman) and herself. Cortez first saw her father's larger-than-life oil paintings of the cards when she was about 13 or 14 years old. Over the years she came to see what a valuable tool her father's system could be. In the book Cortez includes material on calendar systems, the four elements, alchemy, astrology, and geomancy. The amount of information may seem overwhelming, but the book offers excellent advice: "Take it in pieces, and practice, practice, practice."


This paperback book measures 9 x 6.5 x 0.8 inches, thus fitting comfortably in the hands. The black and red ink used for the text stand out nicely on the cream-colored stock. For the most part, the type size and style are easy on the eye. I found the scroll-y font used for the titles of the cards to be beautiful but almost unreadable. However, that did not interfere with knowing which card was being discussed.  The paper is good quality and the binding seems sturdy. The book is very well organized and well written. As a professional copy editor, I usually spot numerous typos and other types of errors in the books I read. I saw none in this book. Win!


As might be expected, the illustrations used in the book are from The Picture Book of Ana Cortez, created by Cortez's father, C.J. Freeman. I found the artwork on these cards to be so compelling that I had to purchase the deck. The artwork is highly symbolic and explained clearly in the book. The illustrations in the book are black, white, and red. In contrast, the back cover features images of the cards in full color. I assume that is what I will be receiving. However, I like Cortez's explanation of the red, black, and white color scheme: "To the alchemists, the trinity of black, red, and white was the magical color combination that corresponded to the three essential phases of spiritual evolution."


I am fascinated by the material included in this book, particularly the information about divinatory geomancy. As I mentioned above, the book is very well written and a pleasure to read. The various spreads presented in the book -- for example, The Cat Spread and The Lost Man Spread -- are intriguing. You don't have to know anything about other divinatory systems, like the Tarot, but I enjoyed comparing and contrasting the descriptions of these cards with my knowledge of Tarot cards. I am really excited about this system and using The Picture Book of Ana Cortez cards, once I receive my order.

Review edited 21OCT11 and 26 OCT11 by Zanna Starr.

* My source at U.S. Games tells me that the company will be reissuing The Picture Book of Ana Cortez cards in a smaller size but printed on better stock.
In accordance with the FTC Guidelines for blogging and endorsements, I hereby disclose that this book was provided by the publisher for free. Other than the occasional review copy, I receive no monetary or in-kind compensation for my reviews.  The substance of my reviews is not influenced by whether I do or do not receive a review copy.



  1. I found this review to be very interesting and the book somewhat intriguing. It certainly does sound like something different and possibly exciting to use.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Zanna, thank you for this very complete review! I love the pictures you took, they are worth a 1000 words!

    I am confused though. Why do you say "the book is not about learning how to read ordinary playing cards."?

    Ana herself says many times in the book and in her videos that any deck of 52 playing cards card be used for this purpose, and that her and her father' purpose in creating this method was to reveal the secrets that are hidden in an apparent ordinary deck for games. :)

    I have been studying and using the Playing Card Oracles since 2007, and I have to say the system has helped me with read with any 52-cards playing card deck, even the unillustrated kind.

    You don't have to use the "Picture book of Ana Cortez", although I believe many people would prefer to use it because it's a very nice deck itself (now OOP, unfortunately). :) I'm sure you'll love it when you receive it!

    I'm just puzzled by the beginning of your review... I could be missing something too. :)

    Thank you!

  3. Hello Marina,

    I probably didn't express myself very well. One reason I brought up the issue is that a reviewer on Amazon gave the book a very low rating and complained because they had bought it in order to learn to read ordinary playing cards, and they felt the book did not do that. In a way, they are right, because the book discusses Mr. Freeman's images on the cards when discussing how to interpret them. So, while you can certainly use the book with ordinary playing cards, I felt that people looking for a book *strictly* about reading playing cards will complain (like the Amazon reviewer did). I wanted to prevent that from happening because the book is so wonderful, but maybe I shouldn't try to do things like that.

    I believe there are other books that describe reading ordinary playing cards *only*, without reference to Freeman's deck and the process of creating it, etc. I think there are some people who would prefer that type of book.

    I will try to edit the review to make it less confusing in that regard.

    Thank you for your comments!

  4. I just got my deck and LOVE them, need to get the book next, but am working with the youtube vids and I just love them!!!

  5. Hi Zanna,
    I am interested in the interview you mentioned. You can email me at ana@anacortez.org
    Thank you again for the review!
    <3 Ana

  6. You're welcome, Ana. I sent you an email.

  7. Hi Zanna,
    Any ideas whether the reissue deck from US games will be similar to the vintage decks where the back of the cards are borderless?

    Live long and prosper,

  8. Hello Peter,

    Interesting question. I don't know the answer, but I'm looking forward to seeing what the new deck looks like. Thanks for stopping by.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I love hearing from my readers!
~ Zanna