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Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

CARTOMANTIC ENCHANTMENT two reviews by Caitlín Matthews

Marseilles Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading by Camelia Elias (978-87-92633-42-3) Eyecorner Press, 2015

Marseilles Tarot & The Oracle Travels Light by Camelia Elias
Camelia Elias is an expert cartomant whose blog, (www.taroflexions.wordpress.com, has been educating and invigorating our divinatory practice with a variety of cards, methods and spells for many years.  As you might expect from such an experienced practitioner, her two recent books reveal a wealth of knowledge and wisdom seldom found in the run-of-the-mill tarot book.  For me this factor alone makes both books like cartomantic gold. As a writer myself, I understand the dumbing-down factor that enters into most editorial minds when considering a tarot book proposal: this process usually leaches out any originality and restrains any ‘reaching beyond the beginner’s level,’ usually to the detriment of the more experienced reader.  So to find a book written for intelligent adults which has not suffered this customary de-fanging process, and which still engages minds and hearts with enthusiasm, verve and creativity, is absolutely wondrous! These two books have been good companions to me this year.

Marseilles Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading is a must-have addition to the bookshelves of anyone who works with historic decks and unillustrated pips.
The author has given profuse examples of divinatory encounters, giving both question and card response with laconic vigour: Camelia is not a reader from the school of tarot longeur!  The cards speak cartomantically and colloquially, with a ‘take it or leave it’ speed, which is very much to my own taste. These examples clearly illustrate the dynamics of historic card reading: speedy and to the point. Each trump card entry explores the appearance and nature of the figure upon it, picking up on resonances within the deck, as well as giving a three card reading in which the card appears, and the keywords, function, health indicators and the combinatory associations with public figures. 

The Devil. The Emperor with Fool and Moon, Carolus Zoya Marseilles
So, for example, with the Devil, she notes the torch that he is carrying in his right hand is the same that is found on the Wheel of Fortune, that the keywords of the Devil are ‘Passion, Unconscious drives, Materialism, Pride and Obsessions,’ and that, if we drew the Devil with the Moon then we might be looking at Dracula, or if combined with the Emperor, then Nero.

Throughout, the reader is encouraged to find the tarot images and read the random combinations as if there were no Little White Book behind dicatorially directing you. As she writes, ‘I like to play with the way in which the cards appeal to our ludic sense, as we engage in seeing how the cards permute their essential meaning all according to what other cards they happen to enter into equation with…. The Emperor is not likely to perform the Fool, but if he happens to be near the Moon, then he might.’ (p.111)

Most people who approach Marseilles Tarot reading are usually most trepidatious about reading the unillustrated pips, and here the author directs you to examine the colour, suit and number, as well as the frequency of suit and number appearances.  In fact she treats the pips like the black and white notes on a piano. Cards 1-10 are given simple qualities: twos are cooperation or divisions, fives are speaking about health and the body, sevens are challenges etc. Aces and Tens are given stronger entries than the other numbers. Her treatment of the Pages and Knights is more cursory than the Queens and Kings, which may be frustrating to the less experienced user of historic decks.

Apart from the three card reading, her spread of choice is the French Cross, which uses five cards, sometimes with an additional three to confirm or amplify. This, and the thirteen card Council Spread, are fully expounded.


 Camelia’s writing supports the diviner in a way that I find honest, but which some might find challenging.  She never ducks an issue, but looks squarely at it. This method is part and parcel of reading with an historic deck, which is essentially pre-New Age in style and content.  Those who don’t like this kind of thing can give this book a wide berth and stick to more ‘friendly tarots.’ But for those who want to read with Marseilles Tarot and other unillustrated historic decks, please give this book a place and you will make better progress.

Compared with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Way of Tarot, Marseilles Tarot, Towards a Reading, is more feminine and less showy or Freudian (thank goodness!); compared with Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot: The Open Reading, it is more ecstatic and much more engaged with what the cards are saying.  While both other books have their merits and wisdoms, Camelia’s book encourages me more, both as a woman and as a reader.

The Oracle Travels Light: Principles of Magic With Cards 
(978-87-92633-28-6) by Camelia Elias, Eyecorner Press, 2015

The Oracle Travels Light deals with the magical use of the cards in reading, ritual and spellcraft.  Here the cards stand up, become hologrammic signposts, pointing the way to action and the implementation of their messages.  Reading the book is like visiting with Camelia: you lay some cards together, an issue is looked at, some solutions are signposted, and then you go out to the lake and do a ritual that brings that solution into total focus: float a paper boat, talk to the winds and hear their song, burn what needs to pass away.

As the late Justine Glass said, ‘Mind is the instrument, the channel and perhaps in some cases the creator of the forces which produce “magical results.”’ (in Witchcraft: The Sixth Sense, 1978.) These effects are really experienced by us all since we all, ‘read cards for the story of ourselves, and not only for the story of others. But as we end of serving the community in ways that are less consecrated by culture at large, we discover the magic in us.’

Many are afraid of putting their minds anywhere near magic because of the influence of religious shibboleths or cultural norms, but when we engage the enchantment, magic happens or, as we say commonly, ‘it is marvellous!’ The very instruments of marvel lie in our hands everyday, as cartomants.  Camelia reveals the heart of this book by her practical examples of marvels that result from her weaving of the cards, which she sees ‘as poetry, not cosmology. I think of the cards as the voice of my magic, uttering the words that invite the stellar power into my sacred space.’ By this means, she works with necromancy (contact with ancestors) and with the magical morals of action and belief, whereby we serve our own integrity and the world’s essential being. By looking wider, we gain a perspective that sees the linkage between the worlds of everyday and otherworld, and so we do not get stuck in the gap.

Between the Worlds by Cilla Conway; painted on vellum
This is a thought-provoking book, full of reading examples, that enable us to cross the threshold in order to engage with the deeper levels of cartomancy and seership, to further our skills and find the guiding voices. Due to a busy summer, I had the opportunity to read it very slowly, in smaller sections than I normally read, and I think this was ultimately a good practice that allowed the enchantment in cartomancy to find its place.   This is not a book that everyone will take to their hearts because it challenges who you are and how you perceive yourself: for those who don’t mind walking into the forest of the mind and striking a match, this fire will keep you warm for your whole life long.

In both books, which are both just under 200 pages, I would have liked an index to help me rediscover parts of the book that I would use again;  I ended up using sticky markers and making my own rough index of themes on the blank back page.  Both books are written in an inspired divinatory style which is at the same time mischievous and down to earth.  Like a good Romanian witch, Camelia eschews any nannying of the reader: she assumes that you are a person with free will and that you will make decisions based on what you know and what has been discovered. What you do with it, that’s for you to chose.

Both books are delightfully illustrated by Camelia’s own distinctive scribal sigils and by the Carolus Zoya cards,  a late 18th century Piedmontese Marseilles deck from the collection of K. Frank Jensen owned by Roskilde University Library in Denmark. As a Marseilles Tarot collector, I would love a full edition of the cards, I must say!

Available from:  www.eyecornerpress.com and other distributors.

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