Among card reading enthusiasts – these days the Lenormand cards – there has been quite a bit of discussion around the significance of semantics – a word order that makes sense – in reading cards literally in order to achieve more precision. But how do we do this, some would like to know, while still falling into the trap of symbolic interpretation.
In my own teaching of how to read cards, I always emphasize function over symbol, as the people who come to us with concrete questions want something useful not something potential. Sure, after hitting the initial mark we can engage in esoteric discourse and perhaps even lecture on the transformative powers of the symbol and the like, but to begin with, any fortuneteller who respects herself as such, will insist on precision and accuracy first, and then on the ‘it could also be like this’ situation. So here’s my take on it.
A woman wants to know whether her skills as a card reader will pay off, both in terms of recognition, as well as money in the bank.
I used the classical 9-card spread in the Lenormand tradition. I chose the focus card the Book.
If we do a bit of literalism in terms of reading the cards not via symbol but via the function of the depicted image, here’s what we can say. But first let me point out a difference. In reading with the Lenormand cards, we read according to vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. There is also a bit of chess, as some of the cards of interest can be seen to ‘knight’ another card. Here, the various traditions differ on whether one should only use temporal lines, or look at emerging patterns (knighting, mirroring, framing). As far as I’m concerned I do anything that I feel like doing.
So, here goes something literal (though not on all the variables):
For the horizontal line, left to right:
- The Fish swim towards a winding Snake, landing in the Tower.
- The Mountain obscures the Book, so the Bear can’t read it.
- The Moon shines on the Lily which makes the Rider excited.
For the vertical line, left to right:
- The Fish land on top of the Mountain and glisten in the Moonlight but don’t move.
- The Snake gets erudite and reads with the purity and wisdom of the Lily.
- The Tower opens its door to natural strength and the Bear learns some dressage.
Diagonal line top to bottom:
- The Fish learn the message.
Now, while we can do the traditional thing, and associate SYMBOLICALLY the fish with money, the snake with a wise woman, the bear with the judge, the tower with the bank, the moon with recognition, the lilies with age or sex or family, and the rider with the messenger, the point is that we arrive much faster at our impression of the overall message of the cards if we engage first in describing what we see.
For once, no client would ever accuse us of inventing things or of being phoney. And second, there is a lot of information that the cards elicit at this first level of indexical interpretation, which if you noticed, begins to spill over into an exegetical and symbolic interpretation already by the time I get cultural in the vertical line (for instance, the point when I call the snake erudite and the lily pure).
Here I should mention that there are some neo-traditionalists around, who can be quite dogmatic in their way about insisting on the literalness of the Lenormand cards, while pointing to the very symbolism of the cards. I know at least one reader who likes to promulgate loudly that the primary meaning of the Lily is sex and that THAT is the literal meaning of the card.
Such pronouncements are, of course, completely nonsensical, and they don’t disclose anything other than the person’s sad ignorance of what words actually mean, what a ‘symbol’ is and what ‘literal’ is. The literal meaning of the Lily is that it is a flower, and as such it has nothing to do with what we make of sex. What we make of sex in associating it with the Lily is based entirely on cultural conventions that arise from imposing symbolic meanings on all things.
What we should remember is the premise for learning. Being told about what the cards mean helps us to gather information, but as we all know, information without processing is not conducive to knowledge, but rather, it leads to expressing random opinions. About opinions, how useful are they when it comes to learning something of value? What we should all strive for is to process what we see and what we hear, rather than incorporate it uncritically as ‘tradition’.
In our reading above, what we process is the fact that, since we have a context for the reading, we are thus able to see whether there’s a flow of money, what facilitates it and what blocks it, who helps in the endeavor, how, for what reason, and why. Consequently, we can say that since being a fortuneteller is not so kosher in certain circles, it is only natural that our woman will encounter some resistance.
At the level of the iconography of the cards forming a cross in the middle, it is interesting to see how the book, the object of culture and learning – however open, secret, or esoteric – is surrounded by natural landscapes and animals. Culturally speaking, it has always been the case that any occult knowledge has been associated with obscure and hidden things going on in the woods at dark hours and by certain moonlights.
Being an oracle reader is pretty wild. But be that as it may. And yet, if we stick with the evidence from the cards – and we should always stick with the evidence – we can conclude that our woman is not only enterprising with her money, but also knows who to partner with for success. In terms of her being recognized for her skills, it looks like her legendary wisdom is bright enough to make the word about her go round. So the obstacles will be overcome.
The visual language of the cards works best when we emphasize function over symbol and evidence over emotional content. A fortuneteller who is involved is a dead fortuneteller.
In other words, it pays off to pay attention to what’s in front of us, and respond to it without judgment – and that includes that judgment we pass on our image as ‘the cool, expert, bad-ass fortuneteller in town’. Yeah, right.
Knowing your symbols is a good thing, but as some wise folks like to say, the symbol ain’t all there is to it.
Note on the deck:
The Lenormand Oracle: Erwin Kohlmann / Oswin Volkamer, Verlag fuer die Frau, Leipzig 1982.
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