The Mah Jongg set is one of those things which doubles as both a game and a fortunetelling device, a perfect example of one of those divination tools that can hide in plain sight. Its divinatory purpose came before its game use, a reverse from the western playing cards, which were developed as a game first, divining second. There are 144 tiles in Chinese Mah Jongg, 166 tiles in American Mah Jongg (I don’t know why the difference in number), and that doesn’t include the accessories which come with the game. Because of the potential awkwardness in using a traditional Mah Jongg tiles-set for either game-playing or divining, it’s inevitable someone would make a set of Mah Jongg cards. They take up less space.

Despite the number of tiles/cards in Mah Jongg, there are really only 42 distinct symbols in it. Traditional Mah Jongg is actually four decks comprised of the same 34 cards each, plus one eight-card deck of the suit known as ‘the Eight Guardians.’ Originally, when I bought a deck of Mah Jongg cards, I wanted only to use it as an oracle-of-the-day deck, so I separated-out just the 42 symbols and used that as an oracle deck (the other cards remained, unused, in the box). A 42-card set of Mah Jongg is good as an oracle-of-the-day, and is usable in a three-card spread.

The drawback to this approach is, by not using the full deck, I eliminate the possibility of any multiple copies of the same card in a larger, multi-position lay-out. The traditional lay-out used with Mah Jongg is a thirteen-part lay-out. If, in such a lay-out, you turn up three or all four copies of the same symbol in a particular suit, say 1 Wan or 3 Circles or the Green Dragon, then probably a significant message is being conveyed. Such nuances are lost when you narrow down the deck to 42 cards, like I did. If you use the Mah Jongg as a one-card-a-day oracle, then working with just 42 cards is fine. If you’re doing a multi-card spread, then certainly use the full deck.