A standard ESP (Zener) deck consists of five sets of five symbol cards. The designs are a circle, a star, a cross, a square and a set of 3 waves.
Each design can be considered a numeral which is designated by the number of lines used to draw the design. For convenience the cards can be numbered as follows : “1” – circle, “2” – cross, “3” – waves,. “4” – square, and “5” – star.
ESP cards were designed by Dr. Joseph Rhine at the Parapsychology laboratory of Duke university for testing Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) and mental telepathy, way back in 1927. The cards were normally used in two different types of tests.
In one type of procedure, a demonstrator or a machine would shuffle the deck and deal out cards one at a time. A signal, often a ringing bell, was given as each card was dealt. The identity of the card dealt was not known. These tests were for Clairvoyance. Contact between two human minds was not a requisite for their success. A person acting as the receiver was separated by a screen or a room from where the cards were dealt. The receiver attempted to identify the designs. A series of several runs were made and the correct hits were tallied. By comparing the score of a series of runs with the probable score of random “flukes” (five in twenty five), it was determined whether or not the person possessed ESP.
The other type of test was performed by two people, often in the same room, to test for Telepathy. In the two person test, one person turned up cards from a shuffled deck and concentrated on the design. The second person attempted to duplicate the design by “reading the first person’s mind”, (as a test of Mental Telepathy). The scores were compared with average scores determined by the laws of probability to determine if Mental Telepathy existed between the two people.
There are many excellent effects devised by Mentalists to simulate these original tests, which can be performed with the standard ESP Deck, and several other routines can be adapted from standard Playing Card effects.
We now have produced these in Bicycle Back poker size cards, in two different varieties. Please note that these decks are supplied without any instructions.
You can get our publication :Magic with an ESP Deck, for some excellent routines with these decks, and find several other effects for ESP cards in Books and Magazines of Magic with a mental presentation. Magic with an ESP Deck by Sam Dalal was originally published over two decades ago, and has since become a standard reference book on the subject. In 1977 a second revised and enlarged edition of the book was published by Accent Products of USA.
This third revised and enlarged edition published in 1995 has more material, more tricks, and more value for money. It contains the complete effect for “The Test”, a commercial ESP effect that has sold for years at many times the price of the complete book. It has several excellent tricks with an ESP Deck, which will establish your reputation for your psychic abilities.
ESP Decks with colored symbols : Here the five symbols are printed in five different colors. The advantages of this are that they are more colorful props, and your audience need not have any background knowledge of the original Rhine cards – you could refer to these at 5 different colored designs instead of the Circle, Cross Waves, Square and Star. You could even use these for kids, who can identify the designs by color. They are more magical than authentic !
ESP Decks with all Black Symbols : These are more authentic, like the original Rhine Cards, and would be preferred by the Mentalist with a preference for more “original” props for an audience aware of the original Rhine symbols.