The Hermes Playing Card Oracle

The Hermes Playing Card Oracle
Review by Richard Avila

HPCO LWB cover

Artist: Robert Place

Released 2016
Publisher: Hermes Publications

ISBN: 978-0-692-56238-3
Retail price: $27 (includes shipping)

52 cards + 2 Jokers

Suits: Spades, Wands, Diamonds, Hearts

The Hermes Playing Card Oracle is the newest work from Robert Place.  Although he is best known as a designer of Tarot decks, the Hermes Playing Card Oracle follows his earlier N.Y. Lenormand, and also the Burning Serpent Oracle.  Mr. Place announced plans for this deck on in early 2015.  By December it was fully funded, and decks shipped in February of this year.

According to the website, this deck is – in a sense - an homage to decks of the 19th century (Lenormand among them), which were frequently used both to play games and tell fortunes.  So, like the decks that inspired it, this too is a dual use deck.  It fulfills the functions of a regular 52 card playing deck, but with the additional symbols included on each card, it can function as a 36 card Lenormand deck, or a 54 card oracle deck (with Jokers included).

The cards themselves are 3.5”x2.5” (standard playing card size) with rounded corners.  They are made of heavier stock than regular playing cards, which makes this deck approximately ¼” thicker than a deck of Bicycle playing cards of the same size.  The cards are laminated and fit well in the hand.  The extra thickness may make the cards more durable, but it also means they’re harder to shuffle and will take longer to break in.  

HPCO back

The design is clean, simple, and uncluttered.  The background is white, and the card images are contained within a black border.  The color scheme is simple: aside from black and white, colors included are red, green, yellow and grey.  Card backs are blue and white, with a small reversible image of Hermes (complete with caduceus and winged cap) in the center.

Suits are the same as a regular playing card deck: Spades, Clubs, Diamonds, & Hearts.  Each suit is 13 cards, Ace through Ten, and Jack, Queen, King.  There are also two Jokers.  All cards have both the number and suit on the top left and bottom right corners, as would a standard playing card deck.  This however, is where the Hermes Playing Card Oracle and a standard Bicycle deck part company, as each card in this deck also contains an additional divinatory symbol.  The Ace of Spades pictures the Woman, the Ace of Hearts the Man, & the two Jokers can be used as extra significators if needed.  On the Ace and numbered cards, the divinatory symbol is in the center of the card.  On the face cards, the divinatory symbols are smaller, and are pictured twice.  If we remove cards Two through Five from each suit, we are left with a 36 card Lenormand deck.

HPCO QoHearts

The remaining 16 cards (numbers 2-5 in each suit) contain additional symbols.  When looking through them, I found that nine of the cards contained divinatory images also found on the Gypsy Witch playing card deck: Pig, Eye, Lightning, Cupid, Wine, Cat, Hands, Crossed Swords, & Lion.  The images on the remaining nine cards are taken from other oracle decks of the 19th century.  (Mr. Place shows several examples of these on the Indiegogo page.)

The deck comes in a gray tuck box, which is sealed with a sticker bearing a portrait of Hermes in profile.  Included is a 13 page Little White Book.  The LWB gives an explanation of the deck and images, directions for a 36 card Grand Tableau, directions for a 54 card Grand Tableau, and brief definitions for each card.  For more information on how to properly use the deck, Mr. Place recommends Rachel Pollack’s book, The Burning Serpent Oracle.

In comparison to the simplicity of his N.Y. Lenormand and the lush sophistication of The Burning Serpent Oracle, the Hermes Playing Card Oracle rests on the comfortable middle ground somewhere between them.  This deck & the N.Y. Lenormand share a similar color scheme, and both sets of cards contain only the imagery needed.  The images on The Hermes Playing cards are however, more refined, detailed, and cleaner.  The detail and clarity are of course hallmarks of Mr. Place’s work.  The Burning Serpent Oracle, while sharing the same clarity of imagery, comes across as more sophisticated.  It has a much broader color scheme than the other two decks, and there is a greater amount of detail to its imagery.  The Burning Serpent Oracle is more contemplative, while the Hermes Playing Card Oracle is clearly designed to be more functional.

All in all, this deck does exactly what it was created to do: it bridges the gap between ordinary playing cards and fortune telling cards, and does so admirably.  Anyone can pick it up and use it to play solitaire, rummy, or poker.  Anyone with a little training can use it as a standard Lenormand deck, or use all the cards for a larger, more complex Lenormand variation.  The LWB, although understandably brief, gives an adequate explanation of the divinatory card meanings, and the essential points of reading a Grand Tableau.  Functionality aside, this is a well crafted and very attractive deck.

While not necessarily a must-have deck from Robert Place, it’s definitely a should-have, and well worth the price.

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