Card enthusiasts know it well. Perform a google search, or use the search engine of a museum, and voilá, before you know it, you’ll have access to some of the most fantastic images currently available, of both ancient and recent origins.
For instance, I’ve downloaded a number of historical Tarots from Gallica, the French national library, for free. I have a good color printer, and I like to make my own facsimile. In this day and age of the internet, we can all make all sorts of discoveries. Genius. I regularly refer my cartomantic students to such websites and entice them to search according to keywords related to the cartomantic field. Then I say, ‘make your own cards.’
But I like another kind of genius that’s not the result of snappy ‘research’ put in the service of personal agenda, publishing goal, and self-promotion. It’s called ‘stumbling into grace.’
For instance, the other day I stumbled over two sheets of images cataloguing the most common phrases in English for a Japanese audience. The Collection of Fashionable English, ‘Ryūkō eigo zukushi,’ was made in 1887 by the woodcutter Kamekichi Tsunajima. As soon as I saw the 84 drawings with their accompanying names, I thought, ‘it’s Lenormand, fortunetelling, and kipper deck, all in one.’
I instantly proceeded to cut a copy for myself in mini format, hand processing and gilding the edges of all the cards. After some 4 hours of polishing, I was able to cast a grand tableau.
First I associated all the cards that are ‘straight’ Lenormand with the traditional deck. Then I had to find replacements for the missing concepts. For instance, the missing image of the Scythe got replaced by the Gun, the Tower by School, and the Fox by the Woolf – though I may pick the available Monkey on some occasion, if I need the trickster figure. I also found the Key in Chess, the Anchor in Shoes, the Coffin in the Watch – for when your time is up – and so on.
The nice thing about this exercise of mapping image to concept is that it gives you access to the idea that you never operate with straight literalism – now a cliché regarding the perception of these cards among Lenormand enthusiasts – but rather with metaphor and function.
For instance, when I thought, ‘I need an Anchor,’ I picked the Shoes over some other potentially good candidates. Why? Think. Literally you need to put a pair of shoes on when you go to work, the primary ‘meaning’ of Anchor, but the only reason why you do that is because shoes participate in signaling your symbolic power. Try showing up at work without your shoes on, when everyone else is showing off their hand made Italian treasures, and you’ll see just how seriously you’ll be taken. In other words, what you think is the literal meaning of an image is never more than a symbolic index for consensus reality.
The most amusing part in choosing what cards to use for my tableau was playing around with 7 cards dealing with writing, paper, pens, and books. ‘Ever the paper fetishists,’ I thought to myself, knowing what I know about the Japanese love of all things paper.
I was also tempted to associate the missing Heart image with the Blank Book, but I went with Song instead, as I felt some tenderness towards the way most people cherish their emotions.
Among the equally numerous images of pots and pans, tea sets and matches, I picked the generic Dish to represent the House, and Lamp to represent the Clouds.
I was ready for my Grand Tableau, settling also for the Cross Child to represent the Cross, assigning the card of Football and the kid playing it to the Child in Lenormand. Talk about the oracular. What is Cross Child? Or do I actually need to ask? Some of the linguistic transfer and spelling on the cards sounds like ‘google translate’ in 1887. Great fun.
Organizing space and work
For my own Grand Tableau I had a question about work related to organizing my tasks around the new house I’ve just purchased, following a very laborious way of spell casting and sigillizing for it. You’re welcome to read about this process in my recent Patheos essay, As it Happens: House Magic, if you want to know more.
At this stage I only have a crystal clear image of where to put the bonsai collection of trees, namely in the courtyard. As I still need to debate with myself over the vast space, I thought I’d ask the cards about it.
The Lady, my significator appears in the first row, looking back at the recent closed deal, the Ring flanking also what’s settled, the bonsai tree idea (Coral). What I need to consider immediately is putting a Gun to the Cross Child, and make sure that I don’t whine too much about it. I’m already moving into the Dish quite by default, my diagonal future line ending with the Gentleman, my partner. As it happens, this house is my partner’s childhood’s home, so we’re on familiar territory even though 40 years have passed since he left the place. With my own financial power, the place is now very much also in my own hands. My heart sings a song over this deal.
As work is represented by the Shoes, I see that I intersect with this card in the flowers, here the Peony. This tells me that the only task I have is to make make sure that I do what I like.
That pretty much settles it.
The time is right for the stars to align, the key being the return to the ancestral place – for this insight I’m reading the last 4 cards, the Watch (for Coffin), the Ship, the Game of Chess (for Key), and the Star.
A lot more can be said, but I’ll stop here, since the gist of it covers it all: Indeed, I must do what I like in choosing which space to perform what function.
Make your own cards
The main idea here was to say something about the benefits of making your own cards by creating your own facsimile in the form that you want to give it. For instance, not only did I have the freedom to go for cotton rag, rather than plastic card stock, but I also designed the back and gilded the hell out of the polished edges.
Stumbling into material that’s not ‘cards’ but that lends itself so beautifully to making cards is also a whole lot better than making predictable discoveries while spending time on a museum’s website, searching according to keywords: Tarot, fortune telling, Lenormand, Kipper, and so on. Stumbling is infinitely more original, precisely because there’s no control that you can exercise over your direction.
As to the reading method of the cards that I create, I can say the following: I don’t care about how I read. I’m just happy to be able to do it with a measure of skillfulness that gives me joy. The only guiding principle here is seeing things as they. If I recognize that an image performs a specific function culturally, which is another way of saying that it performs symbolically, then what does that tell me about my question, about what I want to know? This is the only thing I reflect on.
Some have identified my approach with ‘reading like the Devil’, but I prefer to think of it as ‘martial arts cartomancy’. It takes discipline to operate in a world that’s run by the symbolic order of things, and to be able to say, ‘cut the crap’ all the time from a place where fear, cliché, and mannerism are not part of any catalogue, however fashionable.
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If you’d like some summer reading precisely of the ‘cut the crap’ practice, check out some ‘dynamite’ essays – as others have called them – on my weekly column, the Cartomancer on Patheos, the most recent, Stepping into Maturity, being about how most motivational speech springs out of immaturity, and why you should ditch the ‘inspirational’.