As a teacher of visual text (both in the academic context of art history and in the context of divination and fortunetelling), there’s one chief principle that I hammer on: the principle of connection.
When we’re presented with an image, it’s often not enough to identify what’s happening. For the experience that makes an impact, what we need is to connect what’s happening to an emotional or a rational response, or both, depending on our immediate context for viewing.
Whenever we connect the image to the emotion that we associate with the image, or the image to the decoding nerve if we’re with the detective kind of an investigation, what we’re doing is create a story behind the image. It’s for this reason that I always insist on considering the cards on the table as a possibility to connect the visual narrative frames with a story behind the frames.
If the Scythe is symbolically associated with ‘the end,’ next to another visual frame, say, the Ring that is symbolically associated with ‘marriage,’ the Scythe makes a strong testimony for the dissolution of marriage, if the context we’re reading for is that of a relationship. This would constitute the reading of the surface level of the visual input from the cards.
In the context of connecting, however, we never simply just go: ‘the Ring means marriage,’ and ‘the Scythe means ending,’ as there’s always a story behind the set of the images we’re looking at. And it’s not always what you think it is, if you only operate with the surface level of things.
In the mainstream Lenormand world, it has been decided that ‘card combination’ is the thing, that is to say, the backbone for divining with the Lenormand cards. Fair enough, this is not even news, but I wonder to what extent what is taken at surface level, for instance the idea that the combination Scythe+Ring means the end of the marriage, could also be thought of as the principle behind crafting a story behind this image combination.
Saying that a card, a combination of two cards, or a set spread means something presupposes that there’s a recognition of what is commonly agreed upon, but is what is commonly agreed upon also the dynamic process of crafting a story behind the image? Hardly. Those familiar with my work and extensive writing on the Lenormand cards will know already about my disdain for set phrasing in any form it may be presented.
Not any simpler
I often say that cards enable us to simplify things, and for many, the Lenormand deck has become a simplifier par excellence. But then I think of what Einstein used to say, namely that a scientist should make things as simple as possible, but not any simpler. I think of the implications of ‘not any simpler’ for divination. Simplifying a situation to the surface level is one thing. Crafting a story behind the image is another thing, as this process forces us to think of cards and card combinations in dynamic ways that bypass any list of meanings whatsoever.
My own methodical approach has been to prioritize the function of a cultural precept over its symbolic counterpart, having an eye for ‘not any simpler.’ In a given context, if the Scythe+Ring combination of cards connects to an emotion, then we can say that the story behind this combination is actually one of relief, as normally people get a divorce because they want to, not because they have a fantasy about the value of the pain of having their relationship severed. Statistically speaking the relief situation is much more predominant than the one in which the end of the marriage is a thing of sadness, and hence these days, empowering. Because… the vulnerable is in vogue.
Yet, in having internalized at surface level that the Scythe+Ring combination means the end of the marriage, the funny thing that happens is that, more often than not, the ‘meaning’ of this card combination is projected as a lamentable situation, even when it can be as plain as daylight that the so-called ‘lamentable’ may be as far removed from the reality of an experience as anything. What interests me here is my own observation of this practice and how I came to realize that such projections of the lamentable can be very deficient, especially when all the diviner does is to simply assume that the one who goes through the Scythe+Ring situation is in need of advice for how to cope. But what if what the diviner needs instead is to pop the champagne for the sitter and celebrate, as some are really, really happy for their divorce?
From my own practice, I can testify that whenever I had to pass a judgment on the Scythe+Ring situation in a question about a relationship, there was a lot more to gain by pointing to the relief factor, rather than sympathize with what I would assume, perhaps wrongly too, is a pain in the neck of the other.
In my cartomancy teachings I start with a line of basic questions:
- What goes into crafting a story that’s free of projection?
- How do we make it as simple as possible, but not any simpler?
- When we say that we’re free of symbolism, how do we actually demonstrate that we are, if that’s the aim, that is, to be free of symbolism, or at least be free of the symbolism that has no purpose?
- When we call our practice of reading cards intuitive or based on literalism, or on what we see is the case, can we also start with identifying what is precisely not the case?
I could continue, but I’ll stop here. The idea is that we might be well served if we all learned the story of ‘not any simpler,’ and how to deliver a message with a nuanced measure of elegance and precision.
Cards: The Leipzig Lenormand, a facsimile of an 1800 deck published in Leipzig in 1984.
Books: Not just the Lenormand book but the entire trilogy under the signature Read Like the Devil tackles the trap of symbolism, offering instead examples of a method that’s far more efficient and clear than the approach that will have us ‘believe’ in arbitrary ‘meanings.’
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