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Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Sunday 20 July 2014


Alfred Russo's The Card Reader
The cartomantic mindset reads simply by juxtaposition and combining, seeing the overview through the medium of a tableau. Here is Alfred Russo’s painting of a cartomancer with her 32 playing cards laid out in a tableau. This French word just means ‘a picture,’ and it refers to a layout of cards where, instead of using positional meanings, the cards are laid out in ranks, edge to edge, and read in relationship to each other.

Enchanted Lenormand Oracle by Caitlín Matthews & Virginia Lee (artist)
This reading by juxtaposition is something that tarot has largely forgotten. It was the standard method that was used by Etteilla, Mlle. Lenormand and many unknown cartomancers of the past. For modern readers it seems daunting because it looks like a lot of cards: how can you possibily read them all?  In most instances you don’t, but some cartomancers did and still do, by relating one card to another. This array of closely set cards becomes indeed like a story map in which many different things can be read.
          Older cartomantic methods of reading like Lenormand use an exact knowledge of the cards’s keywords to help blend cards together when they are laid together like this.  Don’t get worried by laying lots of cards now: even the grandest of grand tableaux starts with smaller skills. Let’s start with some basic card pairing which is the foundational skill for this method where keywords lock together like lego bricks to help create the story.  By learning the basic keywords of each card you will be able to read whichever cards you lay down. 
          It is intriguing to me that, although the tableau (or ‘picture’) is a main Lenormand method of reading, it is the words that clinch the interpretation.  The cartomantic mindset is concerned with foundational meanings that, though they may be various or each card, their combinations with other cards create other meanings or express meaning more exactly.
          This means that there is no getting round learning the basic keywords of each card.  Many beginners take two or three cards each day and just practice with them in order to learn what each one stands for and how they combine. In Lenormand it is not usual to read just one card by itself, which is often how we read Tarot.  One card is like having a pencil without any paper. Two cards together makes divining possible.

Pairing Cards:  When two cards come together,  their individual meanings fuse together in a special way, creating an expressive or descriptive phrase. 

Pair reading is based on: CARD 1 (verb/noun) + CARD 2 (adjective, adverb) where card 2 describes card 1. This may have arisen from the cartomantic way of laying cards right to left, or it may be to do with the placement of adjectives in different languages, as in French where adjectives follow the noun as in la plume rouge (the red pen.)

                           Enchanted Lenormand Oracle by Caitlín  Matthews & Virginia Lee

    Bouquet (gift, surprise, invite) + Rider (news, arrival, speedy) = a gift is arriving; news of an invitation; a speedy surprise.
    Heart (love, affection, compassion) + Coffin (end, finish, illness) = the end of the affair; compassion fatigue; affection is ailing
    Letter (document, writing, communication) + Bear (powerful, strong, overwhelming) = a powerful manifesto; strong writing; an overwhelming communication
          Now pair two different cards from these examples together and see what you come up with: Letter + Rider is an easy one to start with, but what might you make of Coffin + Bouquet?  Cards elide into each other like two adjoining but different colours of wet paint, creating a third colour.
          Yes, there are many possible permutations using the few keywords I chose to mention here. Some people imagine that looking up specific card combinations in a Lenormand Dictionary will help them interpret, but such things are useless, because cards combine like words and you can’t look up every possible phrase, can you? So how can anyone possibly select the right interpretation?  I hear you ask


This is where the context is essential: we need the issue or question of the client in order to read the card helpfully. Many people have only a vague idea of what they want to cards to answer, but this is like getting in your car and driving aimlessly.  If you want to arrive at a new destination, you programme your satellite navigation device with the post code first before setting off: it is same with divining.  First ask the question in a way that results in a helpful answer for you.

Formats to avoid are:
         Yes/no questions – ‘Will I get to Siberia this year?’
           Either/or questions – Will I go to Siberia or Latvia?’
          ‘Should I’ questions – ‘Should I go to Siberia?’
          Nosy questions – ‘What is Nancy doing in Siberia?’

The first two are hopeless for understanding the cards easily, the first because you will have to decide whether the cards are telling you yes or no, the second because you need to do separate divinations for two topics. The third resigns responsibility and suggests that you are under the power of some compulsion or coercion (of whom is ‘should’ asked?) The fourth is a surveillance question about someone else’s business.

Useful question formats:
             Show me the outcome of (going to Siberia).
             What is involved in (going to Siberia)?
            What are the consequences…(of going to Latvia)?
             How can I best help/support (Nancy’s search)?
            What am I missing in this?

People are astonished at how easy it is to slip into a yes/no question, but you want the cards to provide real help, guidance or knowledge, as well as likely predictions based on the present circumstances.                

Look at the combinations of pairs I gave above and try answering these questions:

1. How will the crisis at work resolve?  
2. Will he come back to me?
3. Which style is best suited  to write my essay in?

Immediately you will understand how the question predetermines how the cards are able to answer it.  If you ever have problems reading your cards, always look back at the question.

Triplets: You can also read the cards in forward narration, as in this triplet reading, where CARD 1 + CARD 2 + CARD 3 is read across in order. Here are a few meanings for these three cards:
     Tree (health, long-term, growth)
     Child (child, young, new)
     Ring ( cycle, connection, agreement)

                                 From the Magisches Lenormand, with permission

Tree + Child + Ring read forward, card by card, could be, the health of the child is in accord.
          Sometimes it is a matter of good sense or grammar, so that the word-order or sense of the blend gives us a different combination: here I’ve given the same three cards in the same order but read, in turn, each of the cards as the sentence’s main object.

    TREE + Child + Ring = the child’s HEALTH is cyclic
    Tree + CHILD + Ring = the CHILD has a long-lasting connection
    Tree + Child + RING = COMMITTED to the child’s health

These triplets could come from any line in a larger reading.

Line of Five: Lenormand cartomancy often reads cards in lines. A  Line of Five is the most common, since it is a small and convenient number of cards for a small reading, but you can use 7,9,11 cards. They are usually odd in number because they will have a central card that acts as the hinge or focus of the reading.  In a Line of Five, which stands as the basic model for line reading, the most important card is the middle one which is the focus:

      Card 1 + Card 2 + CARD 3 + Card 4 + Card 5

You can pre-select your Significator or topic card to place here, but it’s often more interesting to randomly allow cards to be laid down, as happens in the example below.  One way in which you can read a line is:

          Card 3: what’s does it say about your question/issue?
          Card 3 described by Cards 2 & 4: tells us the nature of the topic
          Cards 1 + 2:  what has led to or influenced the topic
          Cards 3 + 4: what is the likely corollary?
          Cards 1 + 3: internal cross-checking
          Cards 2 + 4:    “          “
          Cards 3 + 5:    “          “
          Cards 1- 5: sums up the reading

You can also read any card with another to unpack more meaning if the line isn’t telling you much or you need confirmation.

Here Alan is worried about his tenure at work, since there seem to be mysterious undercurrents that he can’t interpret. Everyone seems jumpy. He asks ‘What is happening at work? and draws:    Anchor +  Moon + Rod + Tower + Cross

                              Daveluy Lenormand (mid 19th century Belgium deck)

Rod is the topic card here, telling us that the issue is about disputes or lay-offs.
Rod with Moon & Tower: layoffs determined by honour or seniority in this institution; it looks like they will layoff junior or recently joined employees.

   Anchor + Moon= Work stability.     
    Tower + Cross = Crisis in the office
   Anchor + Rod = arguing about obligations. 
   Rod + Cross = necessary layoffs
   Anchor + Rod = disputing security.   
    Moon + Tower =  official work practice
   Broom + Cross =  Critical talks.         
   Anchor + Cross = challenge to security.

Alan is right to be worried, it would seem. The office is forced by cruel necessity to make lay-offs.  See how by breaking down the cards into pairs and triplets you get the full story and how one card like Rod can be read differently even in the same reading.  The five cards read in forward narration like this: work security (is threatened by) layoffs (caused by) office crisis.  You will see how I made the sentence work by adding some linking words, given here in brackets. 


Reading cartomantically is like decoding an old telegram: because messages sent by telegram used to cost money per word, people contracted them to the bare minimum number of words, while trying to keep  the meaning:  e.g. ‘Baby boy. Nine Pounds. Mother well. Come quickly Queen’s Hospital.  Margaret.’ We immediately understand the gist of this and supply the missing words in our heads.  We do the same with car number plates:  BX345 EGS  reads like ‘box of eggs’ to the casual eye. We have to do the same when we read by the cards’ keywords, by adding auxililary words to make a sentence.

When you pair cards, it’s useful to try alternative prepositions – these are the words that tell you whether something is being done to, for, by, with, and, from, upon, towards a person or thing.  If a pair won’t read for you, try changing the preposition and see if that helps things flow. Sometimes putting in a likely verb helps.

In the next blog we’ll look at how touching cards affect a reading and how we discover the many layers that lie in wait when you combine your cards.

The Daveluy Lenormand is available in a new edition from http://gameofhopelenormand.bigcartel.com/product/caitlin-matthews-daveluy-lenormand-deck-c-1860 if you are in US, or from myself in you are in Europe. Please contact me via tigerna9@aol.com for details.

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