Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Fantod Deck And Other Oracle And Divination Decks

Being a collector of Tarot cards and divination decks as well as a fan of the late illustrator and author Edward Gorey (previously here and here), I recently purchased a set of Gorey's oracle card deck, The Fantod Deck. And I'm absolutely delighted with it.

It is a deck of 20 cards featuring a cast of familiar characters from Gorey's black-and-white pen-and-ink world. Published by Pomegranate Communications, the description of the deck reads:
"Edward Gorey’s trademark sense of impending doom is nowhere more darkly humorous than in this, his version of a tarot card deck. Each of the 20 cards forecasts a list of outcomes for the user ranging from the merely unpleasant (loss of hair, breakage, thwarted ambitions) to the downright horrible (catarrh, spasms, shriveling). The 32-page booklet provides interpretation of the cards courtesy of one Madame Groeda Weyrd [an anagram of Edward Gorey], who Gorey tells us 'is of mixed Finnish and Egyptian extraction, has devoted her life to divination, and is the author of, among a shelf of other works, Floating Tambourines, a collection of esoteric verse, and The Future Speaks Through Entrails.' Who but Gorey to make mirth from a kaleidoscope of catastrophe?"

While it is available for purchase from Pomegranate Communications here, you can also purchase it here through the Edward Gorey Store which supports the Edward Gorey House, a museum of Gorey's actual home, and many of the animal welfare charities he championed.

I have a lot of other oracle or divination decks, but of course the original Rider-Waite Tarot deck is what most people are used to seeing. Published in 1910 by William Rider & Son of London, this deck based on the ancient Tarot was illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith from instructions of the academic and mystic A. E. Waite. Tarot cards can be traced back to Europe in the late 1400s, most likely arriving from the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt sometime in the 1200s or 1300s.

Although a Tarot deck has a Minor Arcana consisting of four suits (Batons or Polo sticks commonly known as Wands by those practicing occult or divinatory tarot, Coins commonly known as disks or pentacles in occult or divinatory tarot, Swords, and Cups which are equivalent to Clubs, Diamonds, Spades, and Hearts in a modern playing card deck) and a Major Arcana of trump cards without suits (22 cards depicting a scene, mostly featuring a person or several people, with many symbolic elements), the original usage was simply as a card game. It wasn't until the mid 1700s that the Tarot was used as a divination tool. Many different decks have been popular at different times and places, but the standard now is the Rider-Waite deck. The illustrations are clear, show a pleasingly restrained use of color, and are simple yet elegant at the same time.

Modern versions of Tarot decks abound with many different artists, cultures, and genres putting their own style on the deck without changing any of the original meaning. Since I have always been a fan of Lewis Carroll's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, I was naturally drawn to the Wonderland Tarot Deck. A Rider-Waite variant, the deck is based on the Sir John Tenniel illustrations for Carroll's original 1865 story. Charmingly and fittingly, the suits are morphed into elements and objects from the story: swords are flamingos, rods are peppermills, cups are hats, and pentacles are oysters. The Major Arcana is full of classic ALICE characters such as The Mad Hatter as the Fool, Alice as the High Priestess, the Queen of Hearts as Death, The Dormouse as The Hermit, and the White Rabbit as Judgement.

This next deck of mine is neither a traditional playing card deck nor a Tarot deck. The Alice In Wonderland Card Game is just that: a game using the Tenniel illustrations for a simple card-collecting game. But I thought I'd share it just the same...

Ordinary playing cards have also been used as divination tools or oracles. Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards were first introduced in 1903 and have been published continuously since. They are based on the divination system attributed to Mlle Lenormand, the celebrated 18th century French mystic and fortuneteller. They combine the traditional four-suit playing card deck with symbols and objects together on each card.

While we are still looking at playing cards, I also own a deck called Le Jeu du Destin Antique which is basically a Lenormand deck. Each card has a circled set-number (these run in straight descending order -- A, K, Q, J, T, 9, 8, 7 -- from the Ace of Hearts at number 1 through the 7 of Clubs at number 32), a small inset representing the respective playing card face, a larger scene in which human figures subtly act out the card's meaning, and, at top right, a mnemonic symbol from classical sacred imagery (the 12 court cards bear the signs of the Zodiac and the 20 pip cards display an array of Greco-Roman gods and goddeses). The central figures are variously mid-19th century and classical in costume, drawn in typical style for European steel engravings of the period. I can't find much information about the origins of this particular deck but it seems it is most likely a relatively modern deck made to look old.

And lastly, while I have sets of straight playing cards to use as divination tools, the most unusual playing card set I own is called, deceptively enough, The Deck Of Cards. Knowing of my love for playing cards and Tarot decks, my mom found this 1979 deck of cards for me in an antique shop and snapped it up (thanks, Mom!). Published by Andrew Jones Art and printed by Carta Mundi, The Deck Of Cards features original art work by 56 well-known British artists such as David Hockney, Prunella Clough, and Patrick Proctor (previously here). Every modern art style is represented, and the cards are accompanied by a folded paper insert that lists the artists and then lists the venues throughout the world where their work can be seen.

I am a mystic at heart and have enjoyed working with Tarot cards and playing cards and other divination and oracle systems over the years. I've even made my own divination system based on the African cowrie shells and bones system, which operates much like the I Ching. For mine, I used small pebbles painted with numbers (to incorporate numerology) and symbols. I keep them in a small leather pouch I stitched myself.

But I don't feel there is any kind of "power" in the cards themselves. All oracle and divination systems act as mirrors for our own "power": our own intuition which may be based on a subconscious understanding of events. The symbols used in most of these systems are very old; they are archetypes that run through all cultures and times. The power of the Tarot and indeed of oracles and divination systems as sets of psychological symbols were recognized by Carl Jung who said "we can predict the future, when we know how the present moment evolved from the past."

In a 1933 lecture, Jung said of the Tarot, "They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of events in the history of mankind. The original cards of the Tarot consist of the ordinary cards, the king, the queen, the knight, the ace, etc.,—only the figures are somewhat different—and besides, there are twenty-one cards upon which are symbols, or pictures of symbolical situations. For example, the symbol of the sun, or the symbol of the man hung up by the feet, or the tower struck by lightning, or the wheel of fortune, and so on. Those are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, which mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment. It is in that way analogous to the I Ching, the Chinese divination method that allows at least a reading of the present condition. You see, man always felt the need of finding an access through the unconscious to the meaning of an actual condition, because there is a sort of correspondence or a likeness between the prevailing condition and the condition of the collective unconscious."

Marie-Louise von Franz, a psychologist and disciple of Jung who worked with him from 1934 to his death in 1961, went further to explain how Jung's "clouds of cognition" represent an awareness on the part of our conscious intelligence of a far vaster field of information, an "absolute knowledge," within the collective unconscious. She said, "Archetypal dream images and the images of the great myths and religions still have about them a little of the 'cloudy' nature of absolute knowledge in that they always seem to contain more than we can assimilate consciously, even by means of elaborate interpretations. They always retain an ineffable and mysterious quality that seems to reveal to us more than we can really know."

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