I’ve been practicing my cartomancy skills by reading images–as opposed to symbolic interpretations, or thoughts about what an “eight” REALLY MEANS (yes, I do think in capital letters). My teacher in this endeavor is the inimitable Camelia Read-the-Damn-Cards Elias–check her out here. Not only does this approach make card reading much simpler and more fun, but there is an obvious transference to the rest of my life. As in, what if I noticed my daily in-front-of-me experience, instead of the swirling clouds of thoughts about it all? Maybe if I saw things for what they are my whole life would be simpler. (Or not. The boy who noticed that the king wasn’t wearing any clothes–whatever happened to him?) Anyway, the skill of noticing what’s in front of me, no matter what helpful others decide for me is there, is something I practice daily. Often with a deck of cards. It’s like playing scales on the piano–or more aptly, beautiful etudes. It’s a practice for the rest of life, but an art form on its own.
I fell in love with the deck pictured here, a German 16th-century deck by the artist Jost Amman. Well, first I fell in love with The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann, a novel in which a unique card spread, used with a unique deck, forms an integral part of the plot. (Grateful hat tip to Isabel Dunewitch, card reader and dear friend, for introducing me to the book.) The Jost Amman is the unique deck in the novel.
During the 16th century, printers were experimenting with all manner of four suits in a playing card deck. The Jost Amman has suits of printing pads, books, cups, and…other cups. Seems a bit redundant, but I’ve learned that the “other cups” are considered glass wine vessels (curiously yet aptly, they are also referred to as cabbage stalks). Also, back then mass printing was a heralded innovation, distinct from the invention of books themselves. Power to the people.
After swooning over the cards, I realized that I actually owned a reproduction of the deck, a modestly priced cute version by MacGregor Historic Games. But I never used it after admiring it a few times–it was lusciously elaborate, with muted colors, but that made the small size frustrating for a detail-freak with fading eyesight. Plus, I didn’t know how to read them–no little white book, just card after card of intriguingly fantastic tiny scenes. So until The Stockholm Octavo came along, my cute little Jost Amman lay buried in my closet, the place where loved-but-not-beloved decks usually wind up.
Once I made the connection, I pulled out that cute deck and it was just as tiny as ever. My eyes, meanwhile, were a few years older. This was not going to work. Moreover, the novel’s cover shows the deck in a glorious riot of color that, incidentally, makes the picture’s elements much more distinguishable. Karen Engelmann’s website mentioned that a contemporary artist had hand-colored the images especially for the publication–so not a deck to be had commercially–rats! Thus I had to resort to the Google-for-Shopaholics, i.e., Ebay.
And I scored the amazing, riotously-colored, 1967 German reproduction of the Jost Amman I’ve pictured here! Eye candy! Yummy!
There’s a little white book, but this a historical reproduction, not a cartomantic one. The over-arching message of the booklet is that Jost Amman recycled a lot of images from his previous gigs, as well as borrowing contemporary images that were already floating around the culture of the day. Novelist Karen Engelmann herself has mysteriously good image-reading cartomantic skills, especially for someone who professes only to be a writer. She wrote a guidebook to the Jost Amman deck (under the name Mrs. Sparrow, the novel’s cartomancer).
Nowadays, though, I like to just, well, look at the damn cards as Camelia would say. I find such books useful in helping me notice details, rather than in telling me what I should conclude. So while I adore Ms. Engelmann’s book, and the quirky guide that came with the cards, I knew I’d have to make my own, iconoclastic way.
The Stockholm Octavo is based on a spread of eight cards (the “octavo” of the title). But I don’t plan to use the deck exclusively with that spread. So my first question was: What’s the best number of cards to use in a spread with you? I turned over an 8 (of printing pads). Okay then, Ms. Engelmann was on to something. Next, I asked about the elemental associations of the suits. Earth: printing pads (which, let’s face it, look like mushrooms); Fire: glass vessels (makes sense to me, as glass is fired at high temperatures). In fact, the deck was pretty emphatic about this–the kings themselves showed up to assert their claims. Since cups seemed obvious Water, that left Books as Air. Next question: How should the 8 cards be arranged, if I’m not laying Engelmann’s Octavo spread? I pulled the 8 of Books–how convenient! (Another hat tip to Ms. Engelmann on the 8 connection.) The books are laid out in two vertical rows of four.
The cards have spoken. Fine by me.
So as a first query, I asked about a current issue in my life–a group I work with is having a weekend event, and our usual location recently closed up shop. My question: Where can the group meet for weekend events?
Here’s what I saw in the cards:
–A church goes up in smoke. Yes I know it’s actually a vine, but it looked like a genie wafting up in strands of smoke to me. Our group had held events at a building owned by a monastery. Accurately, the cards indicated our connection went up in smoke with the recent death of the abbot.
–A music/dance studio that leaks is a prize. Love how the Queen (queens in the deck occupy the 10’s ) is regarding her mushroom, er, printing pad, as a mirror or jewel.
–If we could resolve some issues with a school or work establishment, things could work out harmoniously, but it would be a temporary solution (the man looks like he’s on the road with those dogs, there’s a transitory feel).
-The loud, party-like, new-agey place would be lotsa problems. This would not end well.
Okay, there is a sculpture studio in town that we have sometimes used, with pleasant results, but it looks like that will not be a long-term solution. Best stay away from churches and some of those new crazy places. I’m making a list of the music and dance studios in town. We can check them out next time it rains to see which one will be our prize location.
Note on the cards: Kartenspiel des Jost Amman, Edition Leipzig, 1967
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