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I’ve completed one session of my 5-week Petit Lenormand course and can hardly wait until the next session. I have so much information to share. I recently bought a very early 20th century booklet on fortune-telling with German-suited playing cards: Green Leaves, Red Hearts, Bells and Acorns, as found on the Spiel der Hoffnüng cards. A friend is translating the book for me and, at first glance, it seems to provide a key to the Lenormand suits.
In looking for images to illustrate these old suits I came across an astonishing double-headed version of a deck that was popular in Germany, Austria and Hungary. In it the Daus cards (2’s which substituted for Aces) represent the four seasons, but look at how the pictures match the images on the Pages:
Starting on the right: Wintery Acorns (Eicheln) are Clubs and both the Jack and Daus feature birch rod switches.
Summer’s Bells (Schellen) are Diamonds and both cards show wheat being harvested with a scythe.
The red Hearts (Röt Herzen) of Spring (same in both decks) are all about hearts and flowers, the blossoming of love.
The green Leaves (Grün Laub) of Fall are Spades and show two children pressing wine grapes, while the Jack of Spades depicts a child at play. The Lenormand text for this Jack calls it is a card of goodness. Country customs often turn grape stomping into a time of fun and frivolity. Fall is also the season when children return to school.
A 1830 32-card set of German Fortune-Telling Playing Cards (Munich: Franz Josef Holler, made by Comptoir Industry of Leipzig)
I then found a webpage featuring German cards printed with fortune-telling meanings. This deck falls right between the 1799 Spiel der Hoffnüng game (the direct forerunner of the Lenormand cards) that is illustrated with both German and French playing cards, and the 1846 emergence of the German fortune-telling deck named after Mlle. Lenormand.
While the individual card meanings don’t seem to match the Lenormand cards, the suits do, and they show a fortune telling tradition that is quite different than the English and French systems most of us are familiar with. I’d be very grateful to anyone willing to translate some of the verses above into English. Please post translations in the comments.
You can sign up anytime to access my Lenormand course or to order the DVDs at Global Spiritual Studies.
While it’s hard to tell what beast is shown on the 10 of Acorns (Eicheln), we also find a beast (Bear) on the equivalent 10 of Clubs. Both of them have envy as a keyword. The original Lenormand instructions read: “Bear means happiness, but it also indicates it is necessary to avoid discussions with an envious person.”
Have you ever noticed that after seeing some films you are snappish or silent, yearning or ponderous, giggly or jumpy, and that the affects can last for minutes, hours or even days, abducting us from our normal means of perception?
I was reading one of my all-time favorite books Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram and came to the part where he describes his own growing awareness that certain movies and books would “surreptitiously enter into my bloodstream, like a contagion . . . a curious spell that my organism was under.” He further characterizes these effects as a “capacity for being drawn, physiologically, into the terrain of certain stories—abducted into another landscape that would only belatedly release me back into the palpable present.” His description is reminiscent of being stolen away into the land of fairy.
I recently experienced such a state after going to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: my friends noticed that I couldn’t speak after the movie and that I refused their ride so I could walk home alone. I realized that Abram’s insights provided a second part to my established practice of active reading and movie-viewing, in which I draw cards before partaking of the work so as to sharpen my perception and enrich my understanding and appreciation of the work. Based on Abram’s commentary I’ve designed a spread that assists us in seeing how a work ensorcells us, temporarily coloring our perceptions and feelings and even influencing our actions.
Place the first six cards in a clockwise circle, beginning at the top, with the seventh card in the center.
1. What feeling tone colors my general outlook after seeing the film (or reading the book)?
2. How does this influence my immediate approach or response to things?
3. What fears does it stir?
4. What longings awaken?
5. What shifts do I perceive in my immediate surroundings? How do I see things differently?
6. What do I need from those around me? And, once I’ve answered that: How can I give this to myself?
7. What is the major lesson that this work offers me?
I went to see this movie because some friends had invited me, based on the recommendation of another friend. Before going I knew nothing about it and couldn’t even remember the title. So, I thought I’d try out the Petit Lenormand cards as a prediction of plot. I got Lilies-Clouds-Snake-Scythe-Whip, all of them Court Cards. Turns out it was pretty darn accurate for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” It’s a coming-of-age mythic fable about a little girl, Hushpuppy, and her father who live on a fragile island, the Bathtub, south of the Louisiana dikes in the Gulf. It also features other people who exist in these unbelievably harsh conditions (all the Court Cards). There’s the dying father, a huge storm, a wise female teacher (as well as a dream-like encounter with a mother-figure), the poisoning of the creatures on the island, breaking through the dike, lots of arguments, and the inhabitants battle with the authorities. It’s an emotionally wrenching film with incredible acting – especially by the young girl and her father.
I drew five cards:
- Lilies -Family (also innocence and Father)
- Clouds – the Storm
- Snake – Poison/Wise Woman (at the center)
- Scythe – Decision to stay on the island; Death and Destruction
- Whip – Arguments, violent activity
An even better way to read Lenormand is in pairs:
- Lilies+Clouds – disfunctional family or problems with the father.
- Clouds+Snake – bad mojo, lack of clarity regarding a woman.
- Snake+Scythe – cut off from a woman; a treacherous decision; a poisonous death.
- Scythe+Whip – violent cutting, a decisive battle.
I was prepared for what could be a very dark, tragic film. It almost was, but something else broke through. My strongest thought during the intermission (they have to change the reels at our local art theatre) was, I couldn’t live like that! Several people left.
I later did a reading with the Mary-El Tarot to help me explore my conscious and unconscious reactions, responding directly to her images. I’ll only mention a few brief highlights of what I saw.
1. What colors my general outlook? 5 of Wands. First thought on looking at the growling red lion: “red-in-tooth-and-claw”. I had a very visceral reaction that touched on my most primitive fight-flight-freeze physiology.
2. How does this influence my immediate approach or response to things? 10 of Wands. This shows a warrior with bow and arrows on a horse. Flight. But I also wanted to be a defender of the movie to those who were repelled by it.
3. What fears does it stir? Page of Disks. This image of a sleeping baby with marks like nails surrounding it arouses my protectiveness. I fear that something primally innocent – the exquisite nature of the sentiment in the film – might be harmed. I also fear that I might slumber when I should awaken.
4. What longings awaken? Knight of Disks. The next stage of maturity: Knight as protector of the Page/Baby of Disks. This immediately reminded me of the scene shown in the lead photo above. I long to stand up for and to what might otherwise overwhelm us.
5. What shifts do I perceive in my immediate surroundings? How do I see things differently? 7 of Disks. I see a split, like two separate meteors. I am aware of the lack of words when I feel drawn out of myself.
6. What do I need from those around me? How can I give this to myself? The Tower. Strong words and opinions. Instead, both I and my friends retreated into silence. I can give myself the words, the surpressed fury, the burning to act on this film in some way.
7. What is the major lesson that this work offers me? Ace of Wands. That some creative spark can be birthed out of this fiery angelic torment. The reading is all Fire and Earth.
Words still fail me. Please let me know what you thought of the film and/or your experience in reading cards for enhancing your experience of films and books.
The Servant’s Almanac, Soldier’s Deck of Cards, or Cards Spiritualized
In Part 1, I gave examples from 1377, 1525 and 1529 of how playing cards were used for moral allegories. Sometime in the late 17th to early 18th century this trend gave birth to a popular storyline that has continued, little changed to this day. The story goes that, in order to justify carrying a pack of cards, a soldier (or a servant) explains that the deck reminds him of the calendar and of God. Some variation on this story quickly appeared throughout Europe and has continued to metamorphize in interesting ways. That the character usually mentioned is either a Richard Middleton or Richard Lee of Glasgow, suggests its origin was probably the British Isles.
The oldest example of each number card being spiritualized is found in 1666 in Belgium, in a book illustrated by cards, called Het Geestelijck Kaertspel, “The Spiritual Card Game with Hearts Trumps, or the Game of Love,” by Joseph a Sancta Barbara in which each of the Hearts cards is equated with a Christian subject. The King references God the Father, the Queen is the Virgin Mary, the Knave shows the rich and mighty [made humble?] before the Crucified Christ, the ten shows the ten commandments. Then there are the nine choirs of angels [see at right], eight Christian virtues; seven works of mercy; six goals in life; five wounds of Christ; four last ends, the three members of the Holy Family; the worship of God the Father and Mary the Mother; and the one Truth that must reside in a Christian heart. (Hargraves, A History of Playing Cards, p. 161.)
If this sounds a little like “The Twelve Days of Christmas” you aren’t far off, since a similar catechism-type song, with religious imagery called “The Twelve Days” or “A New Dial” appeared in 1625.
The next example, known as “The Servant’s Almanac” is found in Brett’s Miscellany by Peter Brett, 1748, which I’ll quote in full as it contains the main elements found in the later versions:
A Certain Gentleman having two Servants, one Servant complained to his Master of his fellow-servant, that he was a great Player of Cards, which the Master would not allow in his family; he called for the Servant complained of, and tax’d him.
He knew not what Cards meant.
At which the Master was angry with the Complainer, and called him to hear what he could farther say; Who desired, he might be immediately searched, so he believed, he at that Time had a Pack in his Pocket. And accordingly he was searched and a Pack found in his Pocket; which he would not own to be Cards, but said: That it was his Almanack.
His Master asked him, How he made it appear to be his Almanack? His Answer was,
“There are in these Things you call Cards, as many Sorts as there are Quarters in the Year; that is four, Spades, Clubs, Hearts and Diamonds: There are as many Court Cards as there are Months in the Year, and as many Cards as there are weeks in the Year; and there are as many Pips as there are Days in the Year.”
At which his Master wondered; asking him, Did he make no other Use of them ? He answered thus :
“When I see the King, it puts me in Mind of the Loyalty I owe to my Sovereign Lord the King; when I see the Queen, it puts me in mind of the same; when I see the Ten, it puts me in mind of the Ten Commandments; the Nine, of the Nine Muses; the Eight, of the Eight Beatitudes; the Seven, of the Seven liberal Sciences; the Six, of the Six Days we mould labour in; the Five, of the Five Senses; the Four, of the Four Evangelists; the Tray, of the Trinity; the Deuce, of the Two Sacraments; and the Ace, that we ought to worship but one God.”
Says the Master, “this is an excellent Use you make of them; but why did you not make mention of the Knave?”
“Sir, I thought I had no occasion to mention him, because he is here present,” clapping his Hand on his fellow-Servant’s shoulder.
By 1762, the version known as The Soldier’s Prayerbook is recorded in an account/common-place book belonging to Mary Bacon, a farmer’s wife. (Mary Bacon’s World. A farmer’s wife in eighteenth-century Hampshire, published by Threshhold Press (2010).) This seems to be the first mention of what became the best-known version.
The most famous example is from 1776 in London Magazine: or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer (Vol. 45), which tells the story of Richard Middleton. It begins:
“One Richard Middleton, a soldier, attending divine service with the rest of the regiment in a church in Glasgow, instead of pulling out a bible, like his brother soldiers, to find the parson’s text, spread a pack of cards before him . . .” [He is taken before the Mayor and asked,] “What excuse have you to offer for this strange, scandalous behaviour?” (Follow the link above for the full story.)
Histoire du Jeu de Cartes du Grenadier Richard appeared in France in 1811, but is most often found bound with an even more interesting Explication morale du jeu de cartes from 1776 (see comments for more information & thanks for the correction, Ross). Marie-Anne-Adélaïde Lenormand published it as Almanach du bonhomme Richard in 1809, and later, in 1857, the Chevalier de Châtelain included it in his translation, Fables de [John] Gay & Beautés de la Poésie Anglaise. The English poet and playwright, John Gay (1685-1732), best known for the play, “The Beggar’s Opera,” did not include it in his two volumes of Fables (although a couple of his fables feature card-players), but it could be a lost work, printed originally in broadside.
By 1926 the story had metamorphized (considerably and without the moralizing) into a magician’s card trick called The Adventures of Diamond Jack, as advertised by Herman L. Weber (Namreh) in The Sphinx. It and The Perpetual Almanac or Gentleman Soldier’s Prayer Book appear near each other in Jean Hugard’s Encyclopedia of Card Tricks (1937), showing that they are considered to be of a similar type. Another irreverent version, called Sam the Bellhop has become popular through performances by Bill Malone and James Galea, as seen in the following youtube videos.
The next (and truer) metamorphosis was as a country song, “The Deck of Cards,” first made famous by T. Texas Tyler in 1948, written about the WWII North African Campaign in the little town called Casino. It’s been recorded by at least a dozen musicians including Phil Harris, Tex Ritter, Wink Martindale (on Ed Sullivan), Max Bygraves, Hank Williams, Prince Far I, John McNicholl, and many others that can be found on youtube, including the parody, “A Hillbilly’s Deck of Cards” by Simon Crum.
This song was updated with a twist for the Korean war as “The Red Deck of Cards” by Red River Dave McEnery in 1953 (which I first heard from labor organizer and folklorist U. Utah Phillips).
“It was during the last days of the prisoner exchange in Korea, I was there as they came through Freedom Gate. Shattered, sick and lame. There in a red cross tent as the weary group rested, a soldier broke out a deck of cards. A look of hate crossed the tired face of one boy as he sprang up—knocking the cards to the ground. As the cards lay around, many of them face up, he picked up the Ace and began.
“Fellows,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I hate cards. The commies tried to use them to teach us their false doctrine. They told us the “ACE”, meant that there’s one God, the state. We knew that to be untrue for we were religious boys.” “And the “DEUCE” meant there were two great leaders. Only two. Lenin and Stalin. And we couldn’t swallow that either . . . ”
There is, of course, a Vietnam version (by Red Sovine), the Gulf war (by Bill Anderson), the 2nd Iraq war (1-with photos & 2-Al Traynor), and an e-mail variation currently circulates featuring a soldier serving in Afghanistan:
“A young soldier was in his bunkhouse all alone one Sunday morning over in Afghanistan. It was quiet that day, the guns and the mortars, and land mines for some reason hadn’t made a noise. The young soldier knew it was Sunday, the holiest day of the week. As he was sitting there, he got out an old deck of cards and laid them out across his bunk . . .”
“What does this all have to do with tarot?” you may ask.
All the above variations center on storytelling (or “destiny narration” as Cynthia Giles called it) and advice giving, plus number symbolism. Number symbolism is one of the key techniques used in interpreting the cards, and tarot authors, in writing about the meaning of numbers, often point to the same religious motifs as sources of ideas used to interpret the cards. Like the illustrated “prayer cards” above—whether simply evoked in the mind or made into a deck—they suggest a book of signs that are meant to guide us in making the best decisions. They also serve as memonic aids (for instance, the song goes, “The ten reminds me of . . . “), and the tarot was originally thought to have served as part of the Ars Memoria. And, of course, the magicians doing magic tricks perfectly emulate the patter of the Bagatto, Montebank or Magician of the Major Arcana.
The sample cards above come from a deck illustrated to match The Soldier’s Prayerbook, and are available here.
[I’ve been wondering if this story might first be found in a book I haven’t been able to access from 1613: The Carde and Compasse of Life Containing Many Passages, Fit for These Times. and Directing All Men in a True, Christian, Godly and Ciuill Course, to Arrive at the Blessed and Glorious Harbour of Heaven, a manual of advice to the prince. By Richard Middleton. It’s a long shot, but if anyone has access to the libraries holding it, I’d love them to check it out.]
Check out Part 1 on the early moral allegories, and read Steve Winick’s discoveries that he has so generously contributed to the comments on this post.
Continue on to Part 3 on Social Reformation.
Several people have been blogging about their experiences as they go through my book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. It’s a great way to share your insights and get feedback from others. Personally, I was delighted by the story resulting from Step 4 as recounted by “Tarot Dude” (Roger Hyttinen) on his blog—read it here. Using The Gaian Tarot‘s Seeker [Fool] card, Roger began with a fantasy tale about a young woman named Sally who went to work every day in a cubicle. But, in the second part of the exercise, when it came time to retell the story in the first person/present tense, the story became very personal:
My name is Roger and I go to work every day to a cubicle. Oh, I had planned on going to college, but things just didn’t work out the way I had anticipated. A bad breakup and the lack of my parents’ ability to provide any financial assistance forced me to take an office job performing menial tasks. “It’s only for awhile, it’s only temporary,” I tell myself.
But my heart aches. I feel out of sorts with the rhythm of life. I have the strongest feeling that I am not doing what I was put on earth to do. I really can’t explain it – but everything just feels wrong about my life. . . .
The story continues with the appearance of a little red fox who tells him about dangers to the world and eventually asks if Roger will accept going on a journey:
“Journey? What journey? I just can’t pick up and leave. I’ll have to pack. I’ll have to tell my family that I’ll be leaving. So many things to do.”
“Impossible,” says the fox. “Time is of the essence.” He nods toward a tree. “Behind that tree is a small blue bag that contains all you will need. Mama Gaia will provide the rest. You need to have faith that all will work out. You need to know that you are following your destiny – and your destiny, my little man, is to save the world.” The fox pauses. There is sadness in his eyes. “Please, do not let fear prevent you from taking this journey. For if you do not accompany me right now, then all is lost.”
I stare at him but say nothing. I wring my hands together and look off into the distance, trying to decide what to do.
“So,” says the fox. “Do you accept?”
I take a deep breath and nod. “I accept.”
“Well then, let us not tarry. Our journey begins now.”
When you realize it really is about you, such a story can have a deeply transformative effect (I encourage you to read the whole thing). Since Roger really did go to college, the first part of the story is a metaphor asking, basically, what everyday, menial tasks are currently constraining him from addressing the “big” (college-level) questions and issues in life?
Check out Roger’s other posts at Tarot Dude.
Let me know if you are blogging about 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card and I’ll add your link to this post. Also, let me know if you’ve written a review of my book (laudatory or critical) and I’ll also link to it.
Blogging 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card
- Tarot Dude
- Zorian’s Tarot Quest – the posts for each Step are well organized in their own section of the blog.
- Aeclectic Tarot Forum’s Study Group for 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card (not actually a blog)
Some people say there’s a lot of tarot symbolism in Lady Gaga’s music videos (see also here and here). Send me stills that clearly were intended to depict specific tarot cards, and I’ll post them. For instance, here’s The Moon card from “Poker Face”—made all the more explicit by the images juxtaposed with each other in the video. To me, it represents the femme fatale, at her most instinctive, climbing up out of the pool of the archetypal collective unconscious. A later image with just one dog could be Strength. At the end of the video we see The Sun card (sunrise after a night playing strip poker), complete with two children frolicking in front of a wall. It represents the success of the sexual seduction gambit that is spelled out in the lyrics, but also a kind of return to innocence (white clothes and gloves instead of the black).
I uploaded this animoto video to youtube in Hi-Res. Try watching it full-screen! Please share it around.
What story does this painting tell?
and here’s a couple more:
which of the two Vibert videos do you like better?
(Click here to get $5 off a year’s Animoto All Access Subscription (= $25) or use the code ptcsgdhi )
Few things are more exciting to me than stumbling across a text or image that perfectly reflects a tarot card, especially when it makes me reconsider my ideas about that card.
Today I read the following in the mystery novel A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, says to a family at their annual reunion:
“We believe Madame Martin was murdered.”
There was a stunned silence. He’d seen that transition almost every day of his working life. He often felt like a ferryman, taking men and women from one shore to another. From the rugged, though familiar, terrain of grief and shock into a netherworld visited by a blessed few. To a shore where men killed each other on purpose.
They’d all seen it from a safe distance, on television, in the papers. They’d all known it existed, this other world. Now they were in it. . . .
No place was safe.
Ah, a perfect rendition of the Six of Swords! I was first struck by it being from the viewpoint of the ferryman, not the passengers. A ferryman who is compassionately aware of the deep emotional shifts of those he is transporting—but not partaking directly in those shifts. For a moment I thought, ‘But, of course, the Six of Swords is about the ferryman, not necessarily the passengers! A ferryman who again and again observes this shift taking place in those he ferries. A ferryman who is both separate and yet momentarily involved.’
There is no indication that the author, Louise Penny, had the tarot card in mind. Rather this is a common classical metaphor linking Charon and the river Styx to the family of a murdered person being ferried out of the world-as-they-had-known-it to a shore previously viewed only as a distant abstraction.
I often ask a querent, “Where are you in the card?” With the Six of Swords, the querent is always one of the figures, but it could equally be the ferryman or the hunched-over adult or the child. By contrast, with other cards, the querent occasionally sees him or herself standing just beyond the borders, behind a column, or, in the case of the Tower, still inside the structure—divorced from the action.
With the Six of Swords there is usually an eventual recognition that the querent is all three persons in the boat. As ferryman, the querent tends to feel he or she is in charge or at least doing something active that will lead to a better end. As passengers, anxiety or grief tends to trump hope, yet there is still a belief that the destination will be better than the “familiar terrain of grief and shock” that they’ve just left.
Interestingly, in the novel, the seven main suspects had, just the day before, gone out together in the lake on a boat—a passage fraught with animosity and repressed danger. The Chief Inspector/ferryman recognizes that the new world they are now facing will be more terrifying than the passengers ever could have imagined. Furthermore, they aren’t just visitors—blessed because they can leave—they will soon be inhabitants. There’s no going back. Grief and shock may exist in the land of the innocent. But, in the land of the experienced, as William Blake well knew, wrath and fear dominate, and the ferryman can’t stop it from happening. (See Blake’s Poems of Innocence and Poems of Experience.)
How different the card looks to me now. It is full of foreboding, and yet there is calm in knowing that this is an inevitable journey from the false safety of innocence into the land of Blake’s experience where realities will finally be faced. As in all murder mysteries the truth will be revealed. But, in an actual reading, is the client always ready to hear such truths?
Doesn’t the admonition, “to know thyself,” mean that we have to come to know and take responsibility for the part within ourselves who “kills another”? Both the querent and the reader want the other shore to be better than the one from which they’ve come, but there are times when we have to go through much worse. What is the reader to tell the client? And, here there are no easy answers.
I hope this makes me stop and think before I blurt out cheerfully, “Oh, you are going through a transition from the rough waters of the past to smooth waters ahead.” Sometimes I, the reader, am the ferryman/chief inspector, who must recognize with compassion that real detection can strip the soul bare and set one in the dread grasp of Blake’s tyger and not in the rejoicing vales of the lamb (see poems here). The rest of the Sword suit (7–10) warns what may come from a detection of the wrongs, or what comes to light when one really wants to “know thyself.” Does the querent really want to go there, or is the querent trusting the reader to ferry them to a safe harbor?
Still, I think it helps the reader—the ferryman who steers the way through the cards in a spread from one’s familiar anxieties to a different shore—to consider what may be truly implied from such a scene in the suit of Swords. This new perspective reminds me that in a reading I am attempting to steer the course when I don’t always know what is lying in wait for my passenger on the other side or how prepared my passenger might be to meet that. It is a grave responsibility.
No one knows the story behind the painting “The Fortune-Teller” by Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), so it is ripe for speculation. It was painted in 1508 when Lucas was only fourteen, marking him as one of the great painters of the age. This work is also considered to be the first “genre painting” that depicts everyday events in ordinary life. If what is shown is truly fortune-telling with cards then it is one of the earliest records of cards being used in this way (see Origins of Playing Card Divination).
I believe the cards in this picture represent the many turns of fortune, but it may be more of a metaphor than an actual card reading. Still, we know from research by Ross Caldwell that by 1450 playing cards were used in Spain for fortune-telling “puédense echar suertes en ellos á quién más ama cada uno, e á quién quiere más et por otras muchas et diversas maneras (“one can cast lots [tell fortunes] with them to know who each one loves most and who is most desired and by many other and diverse ways.”) And, as we will see, both of the main characters in the painting married into the Spanish royal family and spent time there.
The central woman is thought by some to be Margarethe (Margaret) of Austria and Savoy (1480-1530) (see also here). Born in Flanders, she was daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. Her step-mother was Bianca Maria Sforza, daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, by his second wife, Bona of Savoy, and granddaughter of Bianca Maria Visconti (m. Francesco Sforza) for whom the Visconti-Sforza Tarot was made.
At three years of age Margarethe was betrothed to the Dauphin of France (later, Charles VIII), but at ten was returned to her family when he married someone else. In 1497, at seventeen, she and her brother, Philip ‘the Handsome’ (Archduke of Austria, ruler of Burgundy and the Netherlands, and in line to become Holy Roman Emperor), were married off in a double alliance to the Infante Juan and Infanta Juana, children of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile (who sent Columbus to America). (Pictures below are of Philip and Margarethe.)
The Infante Juan died six months later and Margarethe’s child was stillborn. Margarethe was then married to Philibert (Phillip) of Savoy with whom she was very happy, but he died three years later. (He, by the way, actively supported the Milanese cause of the Sforzas against the French until offered a bribe by the French that he couldn’t refuse.) So, by the age of twenty-four she had already had a betrothal broken by France’s Charles VIII, lost a child, and was the widow of both the Infante Juan of Spain as well as of her much loved Philibert. Although her family tried to entice her into a marriage with Henry VII of England, she vowed never to remarry and took the motto: FORTUNE . INFORTUNE . FORT.UNE that has been translated as “Fortune, misfortune, and one strong to meet them.” I see it as both a reminder of her sad story and her claiming of the strength (forte) that such adversity had brought her.
Meanwhile, in 1506, Margarethe’s beloved brother, Philip the Handsome, was named King of Spain, but he died that same year, his son becoming the next King of Spain (Carlos I) and eventually Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V). In 1507 Margarethe was named governor of the Habsburg Netherlands, in place of her brother, and guardian of his seven-year-old son. She went on to become a significant political figure and patron of the arts, negotiating treaties and continuing to rule the Netherlands at the behest of her father, Maximilian, and then her nephew.
There is a possibility that Lucas van Leyden’s 1508 painting commemorates Margarethe of Austria’s ascendancy to the governorship of the Netherlands in 1507, following the death of her brother, Philip the Handsome. The flower being exchanged (a “pink” signifying loyalty in love?) could represent the passing on of the governorship and their love for the people of the Netherlands who could be the commoners pictured in the background witnessing the change-over. The daisy on the woman’s gown could be meant to identify her (a marguerite daisy). Philip the Handsome (portrait above left) wears a necklace and hat similar to those in “The Fortune Teller” where his doffed hat and sad eyes seem to illustrate his mortal leave-taking. The portrait on the right shows Margarethe in widow’s garb as she liked to be seen in the second half of her life. The Fool with his bauble (fool’s sceptre) may have been someone specific at the court or he may be a symbolic reminder of the foolishness of thinking that a high place and worldly honors will last. More people look at him than at anyone else. There are clearly three layers to the cards: Philip & Margarethe, the Fool and a lady-in-waiting(?), and a backdrop of commoners who may represent the people of the country who are unsure what is to become of them.
At least one other painting by van Leyden is said to show Margarethe’s involvement in political negotiations pictured as a card game (1525; see below). It is thought to refer to a agreement between Emperor Charles V (left) and Cardinal Wolsey (right) to form a secret alliance between Spain and England against Francis I of France. Margarethe is known to have been involved in these negotiations. This painting would therefore refer back to the 1508 one where her position as regent of the Netherlands was commemorated.
A nineteenth century etching based on the painting (the etching is from Le Magasin pittoresque, 1840) was identified as “The Archduke of Austria Consulting a Fortune-Teller” when reproduced in Chambers‘ article on card reading. It has often been depicted as proof of early playing card divination. As we’ve seen, that may be too simplistic a view. However it is interesting that Philip the Handsome was Archduke of Austria (and his sister became Archduchess of Austria after him).
[Special thanks to Huck Meyer, Rosanne, and Alexandra Nagel—all who offered pieces of the puzzle.]