Why I resist meaning?
Because that’s where magic happens. In that resistance.
I sit with a set of cards and don’t go: ‘This means that’.
‘This means that’ requires an interpreter. An interpreter, when competent, occupies a liminal space, finding herself often at the crossing of languages, discourses, word and image.
When the interpreter is not fully competent – but can still be proficient in spite of it – she will find herself relying on definition and proclamation.
When the consolidation of an idea happens through definition – ‘this means that’ – things turn dogmatic, the liminal space going mainstream: ‘This means that. It’s been decided, now everyone relax. Stop thinking, stop reflecting, stop questioning. There’s nothing to be anxious about anymore. This means that.’
On the extreme occasion this line will also be followed by this proclamation: ‘This means that’ because this sacred meaning has been passed down to my family.’ Yeah, and I’m Napoleon, and it’s too bad for me that I’ve never heard of the illustrious family who holds the secret key to the meaning of cards…
So, sure, but no thanks.
Magic is not found in things defined. Magic is not found in certainty. Quite the contrary.
In the end, it comes down to what you want from the cards: Magic and mystery, or certitude and conviction.
Most would say, ‘I want magic’, but then take ‘meaning’ onboard because it feels safe and it makes others feel good.
But meaning comes at a price, as meaning institutes a mechanism of identification that leads to uniformization. Uniformization is not magic.
Just think about it: Identification only works when there’s a context that sustains it, however, false. The more you tell people that they can also be like the Empress, powerful and sovereign, the more they will like you. The more you point to the Snake as ‘the other woman,’ your rival, the more the ones you read the cards for will have an occasion to feel good about themselves: ‘I’m nothing like that Snake.’
While identification is the bread and butter of the fortuneteller, it poses little challenge if magic is what you want from the cards. Imagine seeing the cliché question, ‘Does he love me?’ as fraught with magic every time you get it.
Not many jaded diviners realize that what enables you to see the magic in all the things that get reduced to their meaning and definition is precisely resisting the way in which things abide in their cultural constructedness.
Magic is found in discovery, not in identifying this with that.
Imagine looking at your cards and resist going: ‘This means that’. Imagine looking at the cards and going: ‘I see it’s like this.’
When we operate with the Lenormand cards, unlike the Tarot, we note a marked difference:
It’s more difficult to embody empowered states, as we don’t have many archetypes to look at. There’s no Empress here. No Emperor. There’s no Justice.
We have a Man and a Woman, but they are depicted as most neutral, being devoid of any gesturing that might indicate what their ‘story’ is.
What we have instead in the Lenormand pack is a series of highly stylized ideograms, graphic representations of an idea or concept.
Most of the cards are static, acting as if in a ‘nature morte’ setup. Very few cards act as narrative. The card of the Child presents us with a potential story in most of the classical decks: ‘Here’s my hat, you can have it’, or ‘I’m chasing the butterfly without thinking where it’ll take me’.
Most of the other cards feature images that just sit there, or only carry an implicit suggestion of movement. We can only assume that the Letter is on its way. But we don’t know for certain if we just look at the card. A story of a delivered, lost, or on its way letter can only emerge if looking at what other cards we have on the table. Is it a love letter too, or one of defamation? Ay, the rumors that circulate without verification, but can never put bread on your table, alas…
The point I’m trying to make here is that the more stylized the tool we’re working with, the more there’s room for thinking about what we’re saying and why.
In this sense, the Lenormand cards are far more sophisticated than the Marseille, as there’s little here to embody and identify with.
At the same time, and because of the reductionist style, these cards are also more prone to abiding in meaning, simply because it’s safe. Cultural context and history also plays a role. The Lenormand cards are made for the bourgeois, middle-class housewife whose primary concern is with family, the potential dark stranger who may come along to woo her daughter, or rivals in love or at work.
‘Here’s the Sun. It means happiness. The Tree is next to it. It means that your health is great.’
This is fair enough. Your divination is solid if you said things like that. But will it also be precise? Precision is not in the ‘meaning’ of the cards. As with magic, in divination precision is found in the crossing of aims, and the way context lends itself to the reading of the visual cues in the cards.
If you’re a professional and want more from your life and cards than having to repeat the same phrases over and over again, you’ll soon realize that ‘this means that’ doesn’t really cut it.
You’ll be looking for the space where the magic is, where precision is.
In my teaching I insist on a simple formula that takes you out of the ‘meaning’ rut.
Before there’s meaning, there’s function. Function must be related to a context and a question.
What’s the function of the Sun? To keep you warm. If it also signifies happiness will be entirely dependent on the context. The Arabs living in the desert have a consistent view of the Sun as a malefic star.
You take your cards to Dubai and start reading them in a place without air conditioning, you’ll be presented with a lot of rolling of the eyes, if all you had to offer is ‘happiness’.
Anchoring your cards in magic
What I’m saying ultimately is this:
Learning to read the cards without making any resort to set meanings is a wonderful way of setting yourself free of the deadly boredom that the world of meaning and identification produces.
You’ll be able to see what’s what, not other others have to say about it. It’s good to know of past vocabularies, but rely on them? Why would you? Because it sounds good?
It would be better instead to give your cards permission to find you in that space where magic happens, for you’ll have taken the plunge towards fearlessly realizing that no interpreter of cards can make it better for you, if you yourself paid careful attention to what’s under your nose.
Identification works because it gives meaning to life, but identification is never real. Meaning has no ground in reality, simply because all we have to construe it is words. Words are fiction, symbolic and conventional glyphs.
Imagine divining knowing all this. Imagine reading the cards without the burden of having to feel anything, for after all, what is feeling if not the result of language…
I want magic from my cards. For which reason I strip my discourse of all that interferes with the magic of being there, and occupying the space between myself and the other I read the cards for, without the tyranny of school and tradition, armed with just a keen and penetrating eye, and a sense of what happens in the empty space between us, cards and humans.
For a related essay, see my other post: The best and worst in classical fortunetelling.
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