Over Christmas I have given my sister a present that she has been coveting for some time: an original Lenormand Carreras from 1926, the narrow-sized pack – these cards were printed by chromo-lithography by B. Dondorf in Germany, based on the “Dondorf Lenormand” fortune-telling cards made in the 1880s.
Given that my sister is one of the best Lenormand readers around – albeit not one that the world knows about, as she’s not in the business of making herself globally visible – I figured that she could have it. All that writing on the back of these cards and the advertising for cigarettes have never been in my taste. If writing must be on the cards than I prefer it to come from some woman, who, back in time made hand-notes straight unto their faces.
Among my Lenormand originals, a few great Dondorf productions and one I have never seen anywhere else in the world, made between the 1880s and 1910s, I have a purple Lenormand set that’s packed with writing on it. I don’t know the provenance of these cards. I bought them in Germany at some point from people who didn’t know anything about fortunetelling. But I often think of the significance of writing on cards and what that writing adds to how we think of the myth of fortunetelling.
One of the best definitions of myth that I have ever come across comes from Maya Deren’s beautiful book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, where she charts the complex Haitian Voudou cosmology. There she says: “Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter” (Deren, 1953: 21). The claim is that it is out of the physical processes that one creates a metaphysical processional, and that while we may talk of spiritual legacy, this legacy never exists in another form than as a story.
For me, this has a lot of implications in terms of how I view all claims of authorship in fortunetelling, and I have to admit that I tend to dismiss immediately all those who, in their practices of reading cards, want to tell you that first as a way of validating their skills, namely that card reading is in their blood.
For me, reading cards is not about blood relations or some other form of supposed mystical transmission, but rather about creating ceremonies. It is through ceremony that we, as card readers, get to participate in the transformational power of the cards, and in seeing how the cards may offer imaginary solutions to people’s real problems. That’s where the magic is, in the ceremony of laying the cards on the table and looking at them, not in second-guessing the person who comes to seek advice and then predicting the future based on the strength of our fortunetelling blood.
Not far from where we were staying with my sister, on the West coast of Denmark almost in the middle of nowhere, there’s a very beautiful antique shop. It hosts a book in a glass display case that’s almost identical with the one featured on the card of the Book in the Dondorf Lenormand; hard leather bound with hinges and a photo of a young woman on it. When visiting there I have inserted myself photographically in the reflection of its mysteries and when I came home, it made me want to ask the following question, posed to my purple Dondorf that features writing on all the cards:
What does another’s writing on the cards add to the way in which we read a story in the cards if we use those cards? Are we immune to the set notations on these cards, or do we take the myth of that scribbling into account?
Of course, as with every set of cards, the answer is not in what they look like, how old, or how weird, but rather in the method, so, basically what I’m asking here does not change the fact that I regard all cards as a tool in making us smarter and not as mystical artefacts. Rather, on this occasion, what I wanted to know is something about that subtle level that lends itself to considering just what a metaphysical processional is.
The cards said:
The Mountain, The Moon, The Fish
This tells me the following: that by considering the hand of another’s on the cards, or the personal history of the cards, we can lift ourselves up to the moon, and dream about the flowing soul of the one who once told fortunes. It is in this kind of imagining that myths are created. And thank god for that, for it is only because of the imagination that we can embody a myth, and live it out in our lives, rather than merely talk about it. As a fortuneteller, I prefer to align my stories with the ones told before me by anonymous good men and women. Live their myth, perhaps also while kissing my sister for remaining silent.
Note on the deck: the ‘purple’ Dondorf, Francfort, 1880.