Inspired by a few questions from a student from Canada last night, about the relevance or, according to some other sources, the irrelevance of the playing card insets on the Lenormand cards, I armed myself with a deck of cartes transformée for a reading at my summer house on the challenges to old cartomancy today.

Those expecting a post on the Lenormand insets can skip the rest of this text, as I don’t feel today like scandalizing again the community of card people who know everything already.

Suffice it to say that I do think that there is a relation between the Lenormand cards and the insets, as stated before here, and that a reading that correlates the two seemingly incongruent systems can be practiced without any qualms.

cartes transformeeNow, why the cartes transformée?

For once, it’s because I’ve seen references to these cards popping up in all sorts of contexts lately – must be the essay in the latest issue of The Playing Card journal – and secondly, because I see that there’s a tendency to rapid transformation in the card reading community, with people going at massive speed especially through the 19th c. oracles, the Lenormand, the Kipper cards, and the Sybillas.

What all these oracles have in common is a grounding in that old-fashioned fortunetelling tradition that goes back to the French.

Of course, the Lenormand ‘traditionalists’ will beg to disagree, with some insisting on the German school as the IT point of origin, and others thinking 17, 18 or 19th century.

Well, sure, if you never heard of the I Ching.

All very good, if only there was good basis for any of these other claims. It may be that the Lenormand cards were invented by a German, but the truth is that all those reading with this deck in the past have read the cards in the French style.

Some of us still do.

Any person who has read a minimal amount on the history of playing-cards will know this to be a simple matter of fact.

Furthermore, historically, there is very little evidence that can back up the claims to the German school’s primacy over the French. And did the French get it from? How about the Italians? And before that? Can we please go back to the East. Thank you.

Entertainingly, insofar as people have always loved to quarrel over history – as if that is not something that we write according to how we interpret the events – I would say that everyone interested in wasting time or having a good laugh can join the circus.

What I’m interested in is the cultural practice of reading cards and how we can forge the old cartomantic art according to modern taste.

The cartes transformée are cards that were made very popular around the 1800s by artists who used playing-cards as the setting for their illustrations.

What they did was simply to create superimposed images on the suits, many of humorous character.

Hundreds of these decks were created in a relatively short time-span all throughout Europe, with a culminating point in the US.

And now that we’re at it in terms of historical speculation, let me refer to what I think was also the source of inspiration for Pamela Colman Smith’s tarot for Rider, namely, these transformation cards, or the playing cards that got transformed by theme illustrations.

Indeed, her ground breaking idea for the minor arcana may have well been heavily inspired by these cards, rather than just by the Sola Busca tarot.

But let us get back to what I wanted to know. Given the nature of the transformation of/in these cards, I thought it would be appropriate to simply ask the following:

How can we practice the old art of cartomantic lore in a modern setting?

I used for this a quick square of 9, and read the cards in trios: horizontally, vertically, and in an X.

Of course, as I don’t believe in rigid reading, after the basic formula I always try to quick-step to what music I hear in the cards.

cartes transformee

Be flexible (3♥) in your making agreements (2♦) with view to increase the benefits of your cartomantic practice (3♦).

The community interested in making money (8♦) will only compromise on doing cartomancy for love (2♥) if it will serve its belly (5♦).

But love that passes through the stomach can only lead to trouble first (7♣), fallacious ways second (6♠), and only finally to contented fulfilment (10♥).

A fair reading so for. Not too many black cards in the nasty positions.

If we go vertically across, we can say that what begins as a cheerful and friendly enterprise (3♥) goes through an evaluative self-interested body (some criticize, some stab, some preach, some sleep, some pray) (8♦), leading to cooperation trouble (7♣).

It is hard to maintain an honest path (6♠) if the people involved in practicing cartomancy con amore (2♥) are only seemingly aligned with their disinterested economical incremental efforts (3♦).

Agreement can, however, be reached (2♦), if one sticks to what’s good for one’s health (5♦), which includes, above all (card in first position 3♥) following the heart (10♥), rather than the money (8♦ +5♦).

The trouble-makers (2♦ to 7♣) can be put to rest by our dismissing their ways (7♣/6♠) and letting it all wash (10♥).

So, the clear answer would be this: Follow the heart. It has a long history of pulsating. And let the money-fixated folks eat their own shit.

As you have noticed, I haven’t made much reference to the actual depictions of the scenes on the cards, but if you look carefully, you will notice that I didn’t have to.

I have already incorporated in my very traditional reading here the delightful suggestion to the process of emema on the 2♦…

… The suggested act of compromising in the central card 2♥, where we have depicted a conservative (upright) and an anarchist (reversed); People on bicycles going in different directions on 3♦…

… the mob on the 8♦, each paying attention to his own discourse and listening to no one else’s…

… The old King Dagobert’s debauchery on 7♣, followed by the hard work of people to find their way in light of misguidance on 6♠…

… Serving the Anglo-Americans to the best of their interests on 5♦…

… and finally sinking into a well-deserved bath on the 10♥, after having dreamt nicely of cartomancy in heaven in the company of Psiché and the zephyrs on 3♥.

The point is then that one must never compromise the old way in the name of a new ‘tradition’, but rather, accommodate it according to what presents itself as a challenge.

Walk the cartomantic path with the integrity of the heart and you will get to sing its praise among the people who understand the nature of things and the thing itself.


cartes transformeeNote on the deck: Gioco dei Giornali, Paris 1819, ed. Il Meneghello, Milano 1997

More cartomantic activities? Stay in the loop.


  1. says:


    I sincerely loved this post,which really seemed written from the heart!

    You explain patiently again to the reader -who just can’t get it-that the cards offer a kind of “music” are a symbolic language which must be read cleanly and not ruined by false embelleshments!!!!!



    1. cameliaelias says:

      Thanks Maralyn. Personally I can get disheartened seeing that people can’t read cards because they are too preoccupied with other agendas that are not about cards. But then there’s nothing new in this, and it is certainly none of my business to police anybody.

      As a teacher, however, and without sounding either righteous or presumptuous, I think that the world needs to be remind sometimes of the fact that just because someone makes a claim, it doesn’t make that claim true. I see that a lot of enthusiastic people go with many ‘teachers’ simply because these teachers have made themselves visible or available in the new media. Well, visibility doesn’t make you a master, last I’ve checked, so let’s just be clear about that.

      From an entertaining point of view it is quite amusing to follow the battles for the thrones, and speculate on what motivates them.

      Generally, what I’m saying in all of my posts about cards that pertains to context is that we need to exercize our sense of distinction some more.

  2. Markus Pfeil says:

    Dear Camelia, thank you for this very enriching and delighting post. In addition to what you said, to me the 2H looking at its 8 and 5 neighbours, just yells out, read the cards, and do only read the cards. All you do more is not in you cards, hearts but in your ego.


    1. cameliaelias says:

      As always, good observation, Markus. One of the things that struck me as soon as I read your comment was that, indeed, if only we all just read the cards, then we would have no quarrel between ‘fortunetellers’ and ‘card counsellors’. I have to admit that in light of that, I could never ever understand why the fortunetellers got bashed by the other card readers, or why the fortunetellers would sneer in disgust at the other group’s pretentions to doing ‘serious’ work. I mean, really. It goes to show how little we understand of what we are doing here, generally speaking. A shame, when things are very simple.

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