Today was a day of celebration. K. Frank Jensen, the famous collector, has sent me a package containing two Lenormand decks. A surprise package. One is a facsimile reproduction of the bizarre Lenormand cards that have Tironian notes on them, rather than the playing-card insets that we normally know the deck to have. The other is a mail art project initiated by Frank, and which features his art along that of other artists around the world.
Now, the Tironian Lenormand – let’s just call it that for convenience – is strange because it makes card enthusiasts and scholars alike speculate on what the idea is with shorthand notes made to look like magical symbols on cards that are meant for fortunetelling. Theories abound and they go from the consideration of plain facts – shorthand writing IS kind of magical – to the consideration of the efficiency of woo-woo surrounding artifacts that are magical already. Apart from seeing how similar to the Sanskrit alphabet some of these symbols are – for instance, mirror images or variations of the letters ta, tha, ga, and dha – here is my theory: The Tironian symbols are monograms. The type of monograms found on all 19th c. bed-sheets, towels, and other toiletry. Putting a monogram on everything personal has in fact survived well into the 60s, the decade when I was born. I still have pillowcases with my mother’s monograms on them. She liked symmetry.
More immediately I find that quite a few of these symbols my also come from the Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses (trans. from the German in 1916). These books are grimoirs used for the conjuration of the archangels and other spirits. Sometimes I think of sitting down with these and write a longer essay on the correspondence between the symbols and the Lenormand-type cards.
Meanwhile, Frank has quite a few of these Tironian Lenormand packs, and we have recently speculated to what extent one of his early decks (from around 1880), that insists on not disclosing the name of the publisher or the date of publication, is a pirated deck. Deck piracy and book piracy was also a common practice in the 19th c. and not only a 21st c. invention. The fact is, however, that in spite of the anonymous publisher, by looking at the printer’s logo and its 3-digit number on the pack, it is possible to trace the provenance of these decks. Fortune Buchholtz, a tenacious card tracker, is now hunting for all this information.
Meanwhile, Frank has created a special edition, and in a very limited number, of his British version of the Wahrsagekarten von Madame Lenormand. In fact what I have received today is the very number 1. I have to admit that although I’m not a collector, today I felt like one.
So, what does a non-collector do with her ravishingly beautifully made Lenormand pack apart from basic research for fun? How will she shuffle the perfectly cut cards? What will she feel when her fingers will go over the astonishing paper that Frank, the grand magus, has used for this special gift? Well, she will ask the cards about that. All 48 of them.
Just how rich is my magical life?
This is the question that I want to ask of Frank’s cards, for I feel that there’s a lot of richness there already. But how rich? I want to read these cards with an eye for the monograms, yet without disclosing what they mean. Suggest it only.
I laid out all the cards in a grand tableau: 5 rows of 8 cards flanked by 4 cards at the top and 4 cards at the bottom. I follow here the instructions in the booklet. There’s no explanation as to why we have 4 at the top and bottom mirror each other, but my guess is that it’s because we’re meant to get the message: As above so below.
Since this is Frank’s gift to me, he is the Man here. I go with the traditional Woman as the significator. We intersect in the Mountain. We share the obstacle. But what obstacle? Frank comes from an angle that indicates irritation with thieves. In the world of cards there are many. A collector of his caliber knows this. I keep a distance, as I don’t want my blood pressure to go up. But I sense the power of the mountain. It weighs on me. On the other hand, I use the Mountain to slow down the Snakes of the world. The Fox beneath me instructs me well. The only antidote to envy. Cupid brings news of appreciation that lights my fire. There’s nothing wrong with my passion. And with Frank’s help, it looks like I even get to work on what I like. The Rider brings me the Pig of grand fortune, and with the Lily on the other side – ah, the Lily – my sex will improve. (I’m just kidding.) Frank knights to the Lily. For him the Lily is death. But death is a good thing, especially since no one escapes it. We can do good by death. We can inscribe its name in a Book, wait for it to hatch, and then say, hallelujah. We’re through the gate, and what is waiting there? More good fortune. That sounds like magic to me. A lot of magic. My question is already answered. There is magic and it manifests as fortune. Woa! Here we go then. Looking diagonally to a more distant future. Glorious pacts, and then we die some more. Did I say that no one escapes? I think I said that already. But meanwhile, oh, there’s magic, all right. I knight to the Scythe. Flanked by the Moon and the Clover that can only mean one thing: even in our most benign Western esoteric tradition, this trio means business. The business of black magic. Though why do we call it black? Any magician worth her name would know better about magical dichotomies. There are no distinctions in magic. Everything flows like the Fish in an infinite sea.
The corners of the tableau tell me about the theme surrounding my magic. The Whip correcting the naughty Children so that they can sit prettily in the Tower is an interesting idea. For who wants to bother teaching children anything? But there’s magic in that. Yes, I happen to teach. All the time in fact. Teaching pays for my bills. And money is also a form of magic. The way we deal with it, covet it, kill for it, give it away. There’s a lot of magic in money. And then, occasionally, children can give you something in return for all your hassle. They can make you realize that what you hold in your hand is not the disciplining stick but the very essence of magical working. The broom. Oh, there are many stories about brooms. Some people even use them for flying. Not to mention the venerable diviners. Aaron performed magic with a staff, and the Druids were very good at throwing twigs. The ones who know the Orishas also know what to do with a rod. So there we have it. Magic all around us. Spontaneous, like children, and sublime, like a red red Rose. But what magic we perform in the Tower, given all these tools, we shall not disclose. The Book knights to the Tower, so we know what that means.
And what are we to make of the 4 mirroring the 4? Frank has a Bride on his head. But he knows how to handle a Bride. And if he needs indirect advice, he can call on me. I’ll fence for him. I’ve shouted en garde a few times in my life. I’m still here, so you can guess what happened to the enemy. But I also knight to the Bride. Perhaps that’s me in disguise. Showing off all my medals, and saying: there’s magic in my life. I can even talk about it, like a nervous Bird a-flamed. Cats enjoy my goodnight stories and trust that a new morning will come. Here comes the sun. “And I say, it’s all right, . . . the sun returning to the faces . . . ”
I can keep going, but I’ll stop here. I got my answer. There’s a magical amount of magic in my life. That’s my master sentence. In addition to that, I can say just this: What Frank is saying with his deck is that no one owns the cards. No one. He gave his collection as a gift to the University of Roskilde. Soon people can come and look at the cards, play with them, and think about them. Write stories with them, like I did here. True and beautiful stories. Write poetry with them, so that we can remind ourselves of the fact that if divination works, it’s because it’s poetry. There will be no claims as to who can print what, under what license, and for how much money. Frank’s Tironian Lenormand for me also tells me this: that he imprinted his face on the cards. Perhaps Arthur Shopenhauer was right after all:
“A man’s face as a rule says more, and more interesting things than his mouth, for it is a compendium of everything his mouth will ever say, in that it is the monogram of all this man’s thoughts and aspirations.”
Tusind tak, Frank. Jeg er meget beæret.
For more on how to read the grand tableau (for beginners) see my post: The Happy Marriage.
§ Note on the deck: The Lenormand Fortune Telling Cards. Facsimile of a German original c. 1880 in the K. Frank Jensen collection. Roskilde, 2013. Number 1, and signed by K. Frank Jensen. (Lucky me!)
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