Tarot & Cartomancy

I’ve had a kind of simmering interest in tarot since I was a teen. I never learned enough to read cards without a book at hand, but I’ve almost always had those sorts of books in my personal library.

I picked up a deck of Blue Bird Lenormand divination cards while visiting Cassadaga last summer, and it started me thinking about cartomancy as a whole. If you know the Lenormand deck well, you can use a traditional 52 card deck for your read.

And, because I got the Lenormand deck, JB got me the Hoodoo Tarot deck and book last December as a random gift. I love the changes Tayannah Lee McQuillar made to the traditional tarot deck, and the way she distinguishes hoodoo from voodoo. In the Hoodoo deck there are no court cards (for example) because she’s building a deck to reflect the practice of rootworkers in the American south.

This started me wondering how I’d put together a deck if I was working from scratch. I like McQuillar’s idea of drawing on regional folklore, so I’d incorporate some Florida weirdness, but more than avoiding the court cards I’d also want to avoid the whole Kabala and ‘Egyptian’ metaphysical underpinning, and strip my deck of that 18th and 19th century occultism. There’s a lot of othering and orientalism baggage to unpack from the popular metaphysics of that era. I’d focus more on celestial experiences (oh! I’d need an eclipse card) and universal personality categories. And then laminate a bunch of weirdness on top of that.

I’d probably have a suit of moon cards. Probably 28 for each day of the moon cycle. I’d have solstice and equinox cards, as well as cross-quarter cards. I’d also want cards that reflected elements of personality, as well as virtue/vice cards.

Anyway, someday I might take a minute to craft my own deck, but before I do that I’d probably want to read more on cartomancy.

I’m currently reading A Wicked Pack of Cards (it’s kind of expensive so I picked up a copy through my library’s interlibrary loan), which looks at the development of tarot through a more scholarly/historical lens.

“Tarot cards were invented in Italy in the early fifteenth century, and for almost four centuries used exclusively for playing games. In late eighteenth-century France, however, they were purloined from the card-players for fortune-telling and the occult. For a hundred years, the use of Tarot cards for divination, and their interpretation as enshrining an occult meaning, remained all but exclusively confined to France. Professional French fortune-tellers, French exponents and practitioners of magic, and the occasional French charlatan, developed uses for Tarot cards and baseless theories about them which were virtually unknown in other countries. The authors trace this phenomenon through the writings and activities of many advocates of Tarot occultism, including Court de Gebelin, Etteilla, Levi, and Papus, showing how an extraordinary variety of occult theories – from Hermetism to Rosicrucianism, from the Cabala to Freemasonry – was brought to bear on a pack of playing cards.

“In the twentieth century Tarot divination has spread throughout the Western world; the very word ‘Tarot’ is now identified with the occult, fortune-telling, and cartomancy. This book tells the fascinating story of how Tarot divination was born and grew to maturity in a single country.”

As far as the divination accuracy of tarot goes, I feel the same way about tarot and astrology as I do about self-help books or self-improvement podcasts. Their value is in creating a space for critical introspection. For me, it matters less what my card says or what my daily horoscope says, than the fact I’m changing the frame of my outlook. I’m not particularly concerned if the self-improvement book I’m reading is riddled with anecdata and lousy scholarship. What matters is having a different lens through which to look at life. And from that I have the possibility, the opportunity, to reflect critically on this new perspective.

I doubt I’ll start creating that deck anytime soon, but who knows? Something might light a fire under that interest and turn the simmering up to boiling.

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 052 of 100)

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