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Lotería Cards

Mexican bingo loteria cards

Lotería is a bingo-like game played in Mexico and the southwestern USA with a game board and a deck of 54 cards. Recently, I saw an exhibit of these cards at a local museum of Mexican folk art, and was surprised to learn that the deck began with a 15th-century Italian board game, and that several cards are very similar to tarot trumps.

The card images have a compelling, iconic quality thanks to more than 300 years of being distilled through European and Mexican folk culture. Several cards share names with tarot: Sun, Moon, Star, Angel, and Devil. Two cards resemble their counterparts in the 1664 Mitelli deck: World as Atlas holding up the globe, and Death as a standing skeleton with a scythe.

About 1769, the national lottery was established in New Spain, and playing a lottery game at parties became popular. Lotería cards and game boards were initially hand-made by local artists. By the mid-1800s they were being printed commercially; and in the early 20th Century, the Don Clemente card style became the standard (the Tarot de Marseille of the lotería world).

Don Clemente was a French businessman who supplied the army with food and ammunition during the Mexican revolution. Soldiers received little decks of Don Clemente’s cards with their tins of sardines and boxes of bullets. By the early 20th century, Don Clemente’s style of lotería cards had swept through Mexico. The company still publishes its distinct brand of cards. Other publishers have their own style, but there’s much overlap in card imagery and titles.

Sirena Mexican loteria cardSpontaneous poetry is part of the game, reminding me of the tarocchi appropriati parlor games popular in 16th century Italy. During the game, the caller doesn’t announce the name or number of a card. He calls out a poem or riddle, and the players have to figure out what image he’s referring to before they can play the card. A good caller shapes his poetry to the audience: bawdy, political satire, or family-friendly.

Just like tarot, contemporary lotería cards are influenced by popular culture. I saw a Christmas-themed deck with a cultural mix of reindeer and Las Posadas. Nearby, a pink and purple Hello Kitty deck kept company with a skateboard laminated with custom-designed cards. Publishers do spin-offs of the Don Clemente pattern, while artists create their own highly personal decks. The travelling exhibit of Teresa Villegas’ original art based on the Don Clemente deck was so successful, the company published her images as the Nuevo Versión Lotería.

These cards are fascinating and compelling. I haven’t come across any mention of divination with the cards, but I strongly suspect there’s an underground tradition.  NOTE:  I just found a reference to divination with these cards. See the Comment below.

Amazon has a huge selection. Search for lotería Mexican bingo

www.TeresaVillegas.com has information on the game and her exhibition, and a link to her Etsy store with prints of her original lotería art.

Loteria.Elsewhere.org is a small gallery of cards

www.Casadolores.org is a museum of Mexican folk art in an historic adobe near downtown Santa Barbara, CA

John Picacio, Hugo-winning Sci Fi/Fantasy illustrator, is creating a gorgeous re-imaging of the Don Clemente cards. He has samples of his cards alongsideDon Clemente’s on his lone-boy.com website.

 

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. JJ #

    Thanks for an interesting post, I have seen people mention these but didn’t know much about them. They are slightly reminiscent of the Lenormand tradition of making your own deck.

    I’m off to explore this charming art!

    October 2, 2014
    • Thanks for your comment. The imagery on these cards is so simple, yet compelling, that it tempts non-artists like me to make her own deck. But first I’m going to buy a few decks myself. Since I live in an area that’s nearly 50% hispanic, loteria games should be easy to find.

      October 2, 2014
      • JJ #

        I was so intrigued I’m going to start drawing things for a deck for myself. I would probably use it for divination rather than bingo.

        I copied the meanings and card titles from Wikipedia and downloaded a PDF with an image for each card and printed it at 50%, so I can keep it straight.

        Every now and then I like to do up a deck for myself, and I would like to do some images in watercolour and coloured pencil.

        October 2, 2014
  2. This sounds like an exciting project. I’d love to post a few of your cards here when you get going on it.

    October 3, 2014
  3. JJ #

    Oh well, I am rather pokey with art projects but I have a border and layout, just picking a font. I’ve chosen a rooster I have always wanted to draw, so I’ll putter away. I like making cards of any kind–all those years of playing Old Maid when a child…;-)

    October 4, 2014
  4. I just discovered a reference to divination with loteria cards in Tarot in Culture, Volume Two, edited by Emily E. Auger. On page 774, Batya Weinstein tells how her Mexican clients could not relate to the cards she brought from the U.S. There was no local tarot tradition, so she had to improvise. “Thus I started reading with a deck of images used in a betting game played in the zocolos or town centers.” “I was better off with something closer to the culture, such as a stylized image of a rose.” Evidently, her clients were okay with having their fortunes read with loteria cards. But she doesn’t tell us whether the locals read with these cards, or if it was something she made up herself out of necessity.

    October 5, 2014
  5. Daniel #

    Thanks i was just chasing an idea that came to mind to find out if Loteria was a sortof Tarot. I found your blog and this…
    http://texas-hoodoo.com/divination/loteria.html
    Thank you for your help!🌠

    November 29, 2017

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