“She has always been strange. There is not a page of her life, not an incident, that is not overflowing with romance.”

Pamela Smith in Private Live 1904

I’ve just discovered a lengthy article about Pamela Colman Smith in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Tuesday, November 1, 1904. It gives many details of her large Brooklyn family (much of which I’ve left out) and describes her in terms of a hometown girl. Accompanying the article was this photograph of PCS as a very young girl.

“Winsome Witchery in London Drawing Rooms”

“Remarkable Success of a Height Girl in folk-Lore Tales”
“A Remarkable Personality”
“Pamela Coleman Smith, Closely Related to Many Prominent Brooklyn Families, and Her Strange Career”

In London drawing rooms the enthusiasm and the fashion of the hour is Pamela Coleman[sic] Smith, who, in a brilliant frock of orange with a red turban, sits on a board with two lighted candles in front of her and tells before crowds of delighted people weird and strange folklore tales of Jamaica. [Note: incorrect spelling of Colman.]

“While she tells the stories of ‘Annancy,’ the spider-man, or of ‘Recundabundabrumunday,’ the witch, whose very mention sends joyously fearful shivers through the little Jamaican children,” says The Lamp, “or while she recounts the clever tricks and quaint sayings of “Gingy Fly,’ the blue bottle, she manipulates little figures cut from pasteboard and gaudily painted, that play a part in the weird legends.”

Pamela Coleman Smith is a [Brooklyn] Heights girl, and perhaps the most remarkable personality of any young woman who has sprung from that conservative body of families of high Brooklyn rank. Author, artist, designer, very nearly actress, mystic, and now public entertainer, brought up as a child in the West Indian Island of Jamaica, living among the artists in Manhattan and stage folk in London over many of her thirty years, she is yet close kin to a number of old Brooklyn households. Nearly related to her are the descendants of the Samuel E. Howards of South Brooklyn; Mrs. George Norman, Bryan H. Smith, Theodore E. Smith and Mrs. Willis L. Ogden of Pierrepont Street, and the William Coleman Howards of the Hill.

Highly unconventional and full of mystery in her art, as well as in her life, a wonderful colorist and excellent suggester of gown groupings for stage pageants, a most ungirlish individuality, yet full of curious attraction, Pamela Smith seems at last to have reached great success. Her book of folk-lore and her books of drawings in color never sold; in the theater she was but a strange woman scarcely on the boards at all, but as a whimsical tale teller she has all fashionable London at her feet.

Pamela Smith’s life has been a series of dramatic jumps. She was born in England; as a very young child she lived in Jamaica, and there, under the entire charge of a Jamaica negro nurse, she made long visits at more than one Heights house, she went to Pratt Institute, she lived in the old “French” apartment house in Manhattan, a famous edifice of glossily polished floors that is known as the very first of New York apartment houses; she attracted the attention of Ellen Terry and Sir Henry Irving, and went abroad with them. Both here and abroad she actually made her home with Miss Terry, who was fascinated with the strange and talented girl, and found her artistic ideas of the greatest value. Irving called her, “Ellen Terry’s little red-headed devil.”

There could be no greater contrast to the ordinary dainty young Heights girl, of pretty manners, of normal tendencies, conventional ways and the usual ambitions. Yet were an Ihpetonga to be danced to-day, Pamela Coleman Smith, this odd artist-mystic girl, would be trebly qualified for its inmost place.

Her name in full is Corinne Pamela Coleman Smith (“Mela”). She is now between 27 and 28. She got the name of Corinne from her mother. Those who believe in the inheriting of traits through parents will find ample confirmation in this girl. Her father was artistic to his finger tips, her mother one of the very cleverest Brooklyn amateur drawing room actresses of her day. Her mother’s brother (beside all this) was among the greatest of American artists, at one time a president of the National Academy, Samuel Coleman. . . . Pamela Smith’s wonderful ability as a colorist undoubtedly comes from this uncle of hers, who stands high among American painters and is best known for his paintings of Moorish architecture and Venetian vessels. He studied in Algiers and also has a great American reputation as a decorator. He and Louis Tiffany were for many years closely allied in artistic work, as well as being fast friends, and did many notable things together, among them the decoration of the Vanderbilt mansion. Charles Smith, artist rather than business man, hardly met with the material success of his brother. Living much of the time in London, at one time he represented in New York a very famous English firm of decorators—Nichols, Coleslaw & Co.

Altogether, in this young woman, who is the distinguished success of London private houses, there are a score of interesting chapters of personal Heights history. [I’ve cut several paragraphs enumerating all her relatives, past and present.]

With such connections and forebears Pamela Coleman Smith could scarcely fail to be a notable girl. What is so astonishing is that she should have developed along these extraordinary lines. Much of it is possibly due to her childhood spent in Jamaica, which seems to have filled her with negro mysticism. She has always been strange. There is not a page of her life, not an incident, that is not overflowing with romance.

Everywhere since her babyhood days a quaint old negro mammy has accompanied her. One of the earliest stories that is told of her is the pastime of her childhood of making little theatre, of writing plays and of managing puppets. Of ordinary education she has none. She is first remembered in Brooklyn as coming up from Jamaica a half grown girl, full of strange ways and unconventionalities. She had undoubted art talent, but could not be induced to study along regular lines. The two winters she spent at the Pratt Institute it was found absolutely impossible to hold her down, fetter her or even guide her. Some of the best American artists, on seeing her work, said that she could not be curbed in any way or she would accomplish nothing.

In Brooklyn she was always a curious figure, far removed from the ordinary girls’ point of view. She even dressed strangely, with a love for bizarre and barbaric colors. They often had her in visits at the Howard House, but she was a bird of passage, both before and after her father’s death. In the ordinary fashionable households she could not be happy. Part of the time she was visiting in Brooklyn, part of the time in apartments here, now in a studio apartment across the river. At one time Alice Boughton, who, as was told in the Eagle some months ago, has recently scored great triumphs in photography, lived with her. But Pamela Smith found no charm in even the life of art, as it is best known.

Her metier was to lie in bed until midday, to do all her painting and designing under artificial light. It was not until she came across Ellen Terry that she found real solace. How she attracted Miss Terry’s attention is a story that has never been told, but she did this very thing and Terry took such a fancy to her that both here and in England she actually lived for months with this English stage queen.

She did a book of wonderful color studies of Irving and Terry, a stage souvenir for which Brown Stokes wrote the letter press. Several other “picture books” in color are to her credit (besides her little book in black and white, “Annancy Tales”), “Widdicomb Fair,” pictures to a famous English pastoral song, “The Golden Vanity,” “The Green Bed.” Artists are enthusiastic over the marvelous color of these pictures, which betray extraordinary genius, but these books have never met with popular approval or had anything of a sale. her drawing has been called bad, but it is not only odd, unusual, with a touch of the grotesque, the wandering of figures quite untrained.

Kipling could not say too much about this young woman when he met her. Arnold Dolmetsch, the musician, was no less full of praise and enthusiasm. It is one of the most interesting things in Brooklyn life that such a personality should have come out of the heart of the Heights.”

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899 – an American girl to be proud of
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs”
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards
• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

 

This post should help place the Viennese Coffee-Ground Cards of 1796, forerunners of the Petit Lenormand deck, in the context of the time.

Young FranklinIn 1724 eighteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin and his good friend, James Ralph, travel to London, ostensibly to buy printing equipment for Franklin’s first print shop, but instead they hang out at coffee houses, attend the theatre and other entertainments, and read voraciously, with Ralph living off an almost destitute Franklin. Franklin returns to Philadelphia eighteen months later. Remaining in England, Ralph attempts to become a man of letters, turning his hand to poetry, plays, and social commentary, writing The Taste of the Town: or a Guide to all Publick Diversions, by A. Primcock (1728/30). Since theatres are rowdy places where one goes mostly to “chat, intrigue, eat and drink” (and tell fortunes?) Ralph advocates the pleasures of “low theatre,” farce, and tales of British folk heroes instead of the lofty classics. He meets the young Henry Fielding, who is just starting his writing career (Fielding is credited with writing some of the first English novels including Tom Jones and creating the first municipal police force, the Bow Street Runners).
Ralph’s theories influence Fielding’s most successful plays, one named The Farce and the other, The Life and Death of Tom Thumb, the Great. They would remain life-long friends and collaborators. 

Henry FieldingFielding’s The Farce features two main characters: Luckless, a penniless writer and Jack. A farce “is a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable. They are incomprehensible plot-wise . . . and  viewers are encouraged not to try to follow the plot in order to avoid becoming confused and overwhelmed (wikipedia).” 

Later in 1730, the same theatre presents a short, anonymous play, Jack the Giant-Killer: A Comi-Tragical Farce, that is a striking parody of James Ralph’s theatrical theories and Fielding’s comedy. It features the poet Plotless and the “hero,” Jack. This parody could have been written by Fielding and Ralph themselves as a spoof of their own theatrical endeavors. Or it could have been written by a rival playwright who hoped to make a laughing stock of the two of them. In the play, the Giants tell Queen Folly (who has usurped Reason) in a self-congratulatory way,

“’Twas we who snatch’d you from Obscurity, and to the grinning World disclos’d your Charms. . . . We vow ourselves your ever grateful champions. . . . Folly for ever, say we all.” 

Hogarth, preparations for “The Devil to Pay in Heaven” (1738).

What is of most interest to us is that when Jack arrives to champion Reason and defeat the royal Sorceress Folly, Folly declares that before setting off to battle,

“First we’ll examine the Decrees of Fate, in mystic Coffee-Cups and Tea reveal’d; The new-invented Arts of Snuff and Cards, Shall all be try’d, the grand Event to show, If we, my Friends, shall conquer, or the Foe.” 

I’ll present the text with several unacknowledged cuts so as to focus on the readings.

SCENE: the Palace of Folly 

A Table, Coffee-Cups, Folly, and the four Giants turning the Cups; three Women looking into them.

First Woman. I see a Gallows in this Cup, that must be for the Traitors to be sure: Here are small Crosses indeed, but you stand above ‘em. [The Significator is above the Crosses.]

Second Woman. Here is a Cock crowing in this, that betokens good News—Does not your Majesty expect a Letter? I see ’tis from the South—it comes from that Part of the Compass—the Cup being round, we have at once every Quarter of the Globe before us—your Allies are all firm to your Interest. But please to throw again—Your Majesty knows the third time is most to be depended on.

(To Gormillan (one of the giants)): You stand on a huge high Mountain, with several People about you, who seem to beg something. [I see] a Ring, my Lord, over a fine Lady’s Head: She sits by the Sea-side—she must be some Foreign Princess. 

(To Thunderdale): I am certain you will conquer, for an Angel with gilded Wings holds a Laurel to you—an undoubted Sign of Triumph. 

(To Blunderboar): A divided House! my Lord, you’ll be divorc’d from your Lady.

(To Galligantus): And you’ll be married, my Lord, to the great Fortune you have courted so long—here you are at the very Top of the Cup, and all your rivals are under your Feet—O, she has a vast Estate, I see Acres with Cattle feeding on them, Trees loaded with Fruit, Rivers and Ponds full of Fish—you’ll be a happy Man—you have been with her lately, I believe. [He responds that she didn’t treat him kindly.] I see now she was reserved—there was a little Cloud between you—but ’twill do for all that, my Lord; or I’ll never turn a Cup again.

— Note references above to the following images that appear in the
Viennese Coffee-Cards and Lenormand deck:
Cross, Bird, Mountain, Ring, House, Tree, Fish, Clouds —

Casting the Coffee-grounds, Vauxhall Gardens, 1745

And now to the card reading:

[Everyone clamors to have their questions answered.]

Queen Folly. You shall be satisfy’d anon—but we must lay the Cards first. Give us the Cards, that in our several Turns we all may Cut: I am the Queen of Hearts.

[First Woman gives the Cards to Folly, then to each of the Gyants, who cut, and deliver ‘em to her again, and she lays ‘em on the Table in Rows.]

First Woman. You, Lord Gormillan, are the King of Clubs; Lord Thunderdale shall be the angry Majesty of Spades; the Diamond Crown Lord Blunderboar shall wear; and King of Hearts Lord Gallivants shall assume.

The Knave of Spades, Madam, seems to threaten Danger, but he lies oblique [diagonal], and the Ten of Hearts between them shews he wants Power to hurt you—the Eight of Clubs and Ace over your Head denote a cheerful Bowl, and Birth will crown Night—all will be well—these Princes are surrounded with Diamonds; the Eight lies at the Feet of Lord Gormillan; the Deuce, the Four and Five are in a direct Line with Valiant Thunderdale; the Tray and Nine are at Elbow of great Blunderboar, and the Six and Seven are just over the Head of noble Gallivants. Some Spades of ill Aspect are mingled with them, but the Hearts and Clubs take off their malevolent Quality.

Folly. Go then, my Friends, secure of Fame and Conquest, The Oracles pronounce it.

[Jack and his Party enter. They throw down the Table, Cups, Cards, etc.]

A battle ensues. Jack slays the Giants. The Genius of the Isle [of Britain] descends, giving the Wand of Reason to Jack who touches Folly with it. She turns into a Monster garbed in Snakes. The mob declare themselves against her. Jack touches her a second time with the Wand, the ground opens and she sinks beneath it. Reason’s declared triumphant.

The Layout

The method of reading playing cards is remarkably similar to laying out the Lenormand deck. All the cards are laid in a series of rows. One then finds the person’s Significator and reads the cards immediately around it. You can also examine the cards of significant others or cards that reflect topics of concern. The layout may have looked something like this 4×13 layout, although they might have used 6 rows of 9 cards (except the 6th row with 7).

IMG_0768

In a later play called The Astrologer: A Comedy, Ralph seems to allude to Jack the Giant-Killer when he writes:

“This is an Age of Reason, Man we see with our own Eyes, and give no Credit to what surpasses our Understanding.”
” True, Sir; but my Father’s as superstitious as if he had liv’d two Centuries ago. . . . “

” Men are more ashamed of this Folly, but not less inclin’d to it: witness the very Nonsense of Coffee-Grounds, which is grown into a Science, and become the Morning Amusement of Numbers, in every Corner of the Kingdom.”

 Sources

jack-gyant-killerJack the Gyant-Killer: A Comi-Tragical Farce, anonymous (1730).

The Taste of the Town, Or a Guide to All Publick Diversions. by A. PRIMCOCK• (pseud. James Ralph) (1728/30).

Hogarth print depicting preparations for the play, “The Devil to Pay in Heaven” (1738).

The Astrologer: A Comedy by James Ralph (1744).

“Fielding’s Indebtedness to James Ralph” by Helen Sard Hughes, Modern Philology, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Aug., 1922), pp. 19-34.

“Henry Fielding: London Calling & Poetic Faith” (Madamepickwickartblog).

Henry Fielding: A Memoir by G. M. Godden.

Facsimile of deck printed in London ca. 1750. MacGregor Historic Games.

Also check out: “Reading Coffee Grounds: A Lady’s Hobby” (blog post).

The original 1745 print, “Casting the Coffee-grounds,” is from my personal collection.

Thanks to Kwaw on aeclecticforum.net who first brought this play to my attention.

*A. Primcock (James Ralph’s pseudonym). The word, primcock literally means “whore-penis’: a man who sleeps around indiscriminately. It appears as an insult in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Waite's grave

Waite__1910Many people have been incensed by the lack of a known grave for Pamela Colman Smith, artist of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. But how many people have made pilgrimage to the gravesite of Arthur Edward Waite? Please let us know if you have. It turns out that Waite lived in his later years and died not far from where Pixie Smith drew many of the cards for their mutual deck. For those who are interested go HERE for the location and some pictures of his grave. At least you can have a virtual look at the place where he was buried. Photo by Julia&Keld

ADDED: On the end of Waite’s grave are the words “Est Una Sola Res.” Someone asked me what these words meant. “There is only One Thing.” But, I’ll let Waite himself explain his understanding of this phrase, from his book The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail, published the same year as the Tarot deck:

“Within the domain of the Secret Tradition the initiations are many and so are the schools of thought, but those which are true schools and those which are high orders issue from one root. Est una sola res, and they whose heart of contemplation is fixed upon this one thing may differ but can never be far apart. . . . I know not what systems of the æons may intervene between that which is imperishable within us and the union wherein the universe will in fine repose at the centre. But I know that the great systems . . . do not pass away, because that which was from the beginning is now and ever shall be–is one motive, one aspiration, one term of thought remaining, as if in the stillness of an everlasting present. We really understand one another, and our terms are terms over which our collective aspirations are united world without end.”

Looking further we see the alchemical roots of this phrase in Wilmshurst’s Introduction to Mary Anne Atwood’s A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery—a book which was said to reveal too explicitly the great secrets of alchemy:

Est una sola Res ; and it is this ‘One Thing,’ this basal substrate and reality underlying phenomena, this pure matrix around which has accreted the impure (because disordered) matter of the sense-world that one must consciously possess as a passport to the regenerative work.”

And, of course, we find its origins in The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. Here, in the translation of Sir Isaac Newton:

“That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.”

Marie d'AgoultIn June of 1834, Marie Catherine Sophie, Comtesse d’Agoult (later known as the writer Daniel Stern), at the urging of her friend, novelist Eugène Sue, sought a reading with Mlle. Lenormand that promised great things. Four days later a hopeful Eugène Sue obtained a reading. Both Marie d’Agoult’s reading and that of M. Sue are recounted in her memoirs.

Thus we learn of Eugène’s unrequited love for Marie and a prediction of her future that was soon to take an astonishing turn. The following year Marie divorced her husband and met the pianist and composer Franz Liszt, with whom she had three illegitimate children (one of whom became the celebrated and influential wife of Richard Wagner).

Here is Marie d’Agoult’s own account.


I went to Mlle. Lenormand on 23 June of the year 1834, at the suggestion of the famous novelist, Eugene Sue, who spoke to me of her as a prodigious person through her power of penetration and intuition. Mlle. Lenormand then lived in the rue de Tournon and gave her consultations from a very dark, dirty, and strongly musty room, to which, using some pretty childish tricks, she had given an air of necromancy.

Lenormand+cards - Version 2

It was no longer the period of her brilliant fame, when, by virtue of her prediction to Madame de Beauharnais, she had achieved credit with the greatest rulers of Europe – it will be recalled that, at the Congress of Aachen, Alexandre visited her frequently and seriously; Lord Wellington also consulted her to learn the name of the man who had attempted to assassinate him in 1818; she was now almost forgotten. Few people knew the way to her home.

Old, thick, sordid in her attire, wearing a square cap, how medieval she appeared, backlit in a large greasy leather armchair at her table covered with cabalistic cards; a large black cat meowed at her feet with a witch’s air. The prompt and piercing glance of the diviner, thrown on the sly, as she shuffled her cards—for a few francs in addition to the common price for what she called the big game (grand jeu)—she revealed to one, without doubt, the kind of concern and mood of the character of the one who consulted her and helped to predict a future that, after all, for each of us, and except for the very limited intervention of chance, is the result of our temperament and character.

What she said amazed me because I did not know myself then, otherwise I could have, to some extent, been my own oracle, and predicted, without consulting anyone [else], what my destiny would be. On my way home, I noted down what Mlle. Lenormand had said to me. I’ve copied it here for those curious about these kinds of meetings.

“There will be a total change in your destiny in the next two or three years. What would appear to you at this time, to be absolutely impossible will come true. You will entirely change your way of living. You will change your name thereafter, and your new name will become famous not only in France but in Europe. You will leave your country for a long time. Italy will be your adopted country; you will be loved and honored.

“You’ll love a man who will make an impression in the world and whose name will make a great clamour. You inspire strong feelings of enmity in two women who will seek to harm you by all means possible. But have faith; you will triumph through everything. You will live to be old, surrounded by true friends, and you will have a beneficial influence on a lot of people.

“Pay attention to your dreams that warn you of danger. Distrust your imagination that enthuses easily and will throw you in the path of danger, which you will escape through great courage. Moderate your benevolence which is blind. Expect that your mind, which is independent and sincere, will make you a lot of enemies and your kindness will be ignored.”

I also found, among my correspondence with Eugene Sue, a letter which refers to Mlle. Lenormand, and I have joined it here to supplement what I have told of this incident.

EugeneSueLetter of Eugène Sue,
Paris, June 27, 1834.

I have taken leave of our diviner, Madam, and I cannot but express my disappointment. You asked me to tell you the predictions she made me, as unpleasant as they are: so here they are:

You see, Madam, that the damned Sibyl varied at least in her prophecies, and your brilliant and European destiny contrasts badly with mine. After I was recognized as one of her assiduous believers, the accursed witch made me a few insignificant predictions, reminded me of others, and then suddenly, stopping to mix the diabolical cards, she fixed me with her penetrating and mocking eyes:

 “Ho Ho!” said she, “here is something new and fatal. You are feeling a sentiment that she will not respond to.”

 I wanted to deny it; she insisted. She spoke to me of a rare spirit of infinite charm; she painted for me a portrait that I would not dare recount here, but which was not unrecognizable. Then, seeing I was so completely divined, I was silent. I limited myself to asking her if there was, therefore, no hope, if some card had not been forgotten, if the combination was without error. The old woman began to re-calculate with an infernal complacency.

 Alas! Madame, the result was absolutely the same: a deeply passionate feeling, without any hope, disturbed my present and destroyed my future. You see, Madame, in comparing this prediction to that which was made to you, I am doubly subject to accuse the fates; because it is said that the man whose destiny you will share will be famous, from which I conclude that the lover you push away will remain obscure. Oh well, Ma’am, I dare confess it to you, this glory announced to the man whom you will deign to love, I dreamed about it, I aspired to it, I felt strong enough to win it; but now that it is foretold that I will not be loved, I’ve dropped from the height of my dreams and ambitions to sadness and discouragement, empty of heart and spirit.

Regards, etc.


I wish to thank “Terry” who, in a comment on my detailed post on Mlle. Lenormand, introduced me to this material in Mes Souvenirs by Marie d’Agoult, Vol. 1, 1880, pp. 277-279. I cobbled the above account together from internet translators. Please feel free to share any corrections in the comments. The incident is only mentioned briefly in the biography by Richard Bolster (see cover photo above). See also my post: Madame Le Normand: The Most Famous Card Reader of All Time.

How many of us go to a movie or a play—even a really good one—and a couple of days or weeks later don’t remember a thing about it? Yes, movies have a role in relaxation and just plain momentary enjoyment, but there can be something said for the longer term pleasure of ruminating over the themes, questions and ideas presented in good art.

Imitation GameI have found Tarot and, more recently the 36 Lenormand cards, a great aid in meditating on ideas and art. This came into focus when I went to see the outstanding film The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing cracking the Enigma Code that helped end WWII. Themes also include the unconscionable way homosexuals have been treated and, ultimately, what is fair and just? I’ve put aside, for this discussion, the question of how accurate the film is—after all it is art, which serves to entertain and make us think and feel. [Trailer here.]

Note: if you know even the basics of Turing’s story, there is only one real spoiler below (so marked). 

Before seeing The Imitation Game, I drew three cards each from the Petit Lenormand and a Tarot deck as separate readings. I wished to compare, in part, how the messages I received would differ in terms of plot versus philosophical themes, character dilemmas or spiritual content. I knew only the broadest outline of Turing’s achievement: the facts mentioned above.

I asked: “What should I focus on in this movie to gain the greatest insights?”

From the Malpertuis Lenormand deck I received:

Fox – Clover – Bear

Before the movie, I summed up my page of notes: “Risky strategy pays off by protecting Britain.”

Fox is cunning, trickery, strategy; and in modern Lenormand can mean a job.

Clover is luck, chance, risk, fortuitous, brief.

Bear is strength, protection or envy; modern meanings include investment, gain and authority figures like CEOs or police and military.

In my method of doing line-readings the first card is the subject, so Clover modifies Fox: a risky strategy. Clover also serves as a verb, “pays off” leading to a future result: protection (Bear). I also considered that these cards could indicate a fortuitous relationship between an employer (Bear) and a worker (Fox), although with Fox and Bear looking in opposite directions, they might have different agendas. Furthermore, Bear could resent and be envious of the smartness of Fox. After the movie, I also considered Fox+Clover as “code-breaking” and Bear as the fearsome enemy (Bear is described as a “ferocious beast” in the oldest text). So we simply have: “breaking the Nazi code.”

Imagine my surprise when the movie opens with a film of a bear! It turned out to be the logo of the production company: Black Bear. Part way into the movie Turing makes an unsuccessful attempt to tell a joke about two people running into a bear: 

“The first one says, ‘You can’t outrun a bear.’ And the second one responds, ‘I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you.'”

This is a cunning strategy that can pay off when Fox is confronted by Bear. (Later I learned that Turing’s childhood toy bear—I seem to remember it being shown late in the film (?)—was his constant companion and is now featured in a display at Bletchley Park where the code-breaking took place.) 

At a more abstract level, Turing could be seen as the intelligent Fox, with Bear representing his monster of a machine that he named Christopher—after his only childhood friend who protected him at school. Additionally, Fox, which can also represent something false, a faked ploy, is key to how these cards can relate to the “Turing Test” of artificial intelligence and especially Turing’s example of it in his “Imitation Game.”

From the 78-card Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck I received:

Tower reversed – Justice – Devil

Having three Major Arcana cards indicates deeply “destined” circumstances. I tried two summing ups: “Justice (logic/right) ends the War with Evil (material dominion).” or “Choosing materialism/shame (Devil as outcome) versus (Justice) a cover-up of flaws and problems (Tower reversed).”

Tower reversed is averting disaster; bailing out; impotence; blocking or overturning destruction.

Justice is measured rationality, seeing the pros & cons; choice; balance; decision; and, of course, law and justice.

The Devil is utmost materiality; power structures; ego; shame; blame. (The parallel to Bear as envious, ferocious beast is notable.)

I considered that Justice in the center represented a balancing act between the Tower R and the Devil. Was shame (the Devil) somehow balancing an end to war (Tower)? Or was it more about needing to find a solution (Justice) that would keep the pressure-cooker from exploding (Tower reversed) that would let evil reign?

Mild Spoiler Alert:

Contemplating these cards since seeing the film, I see a much deeper issue hinted at by the movie—perverted justice done by a blind institution that causes great harm. I’ve learned from reading Lenormand that we have to see cards as being modified by what surrounds them. Justice doesn’t have to be reversed to indicate injustice—the Devil following Justice can show the great evil that justice itself can do. When a person is seen as “inverted” (“inversion” is an old classification for homosexual) then grave injustices are done. A point has been made that the royal “pardon” of Turing for his conviction as a homosexual is a travesty as he was guilty under the law and therefore “justly” convicted as were the 47,000 other men who were also convicted (and not pardoned). What we are shocked by is that a hero who saved millions of lives should have been treated so badly—but is that just to all the others? These cards indicate the reaction of today’s viewers that the “justice” against “inversion” was heart-breakingly “wrong,” while, according to the time, it was not, despite the fact that we now see the institution itself (the law) as as a great evil. 

Major Spoiler Alert:

Upon breaking the Enigma Code, the team is faced with the realization that they cannot stop the Nazi attacks as that would reveal to the Nazis the breaking of the code and the immediate termination of its use. British intelligence would have to allow the killing and destruction to continue in order to know what the Germans were up to. I see this horrifying realization as the main climax of the film, perfectly depicted by the Tarot cards: the breakthrough that could end the war and the decision to allow great evil to continue as the only rational thing to do.

Added: A final summarizing of these Tarot cards in terms of the film:
To achieve true justice and the reversal of a destructive course there will be collateral damage (bad things happen).

I still find the Tarot to be the much deeper of the two decks, but the Lenormand cards astound me again and again with their uncanny precision and succinctness. As mentioned above, I’ll leave to you the implications of these cards to the Turing Test of artificial intelligence and his “Imitation Game.” Feel free to comment on these below.

Regarding the biographical accuracy of this piece of fiction: there are major problems. I can only hope that the film (enjoyable in its own right but only as fiction) will lead you to find out more about the real Alan Turing:
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/20/the-imitation-game-invents-new-slander-to-insult-alan-turing-reel-history

Check out these other readings for films, plays and books:
https://marygreer.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf/
https://marygreer.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/reading-the-cards-for-movies-and-books/

I try to keep abreast of Tarot as it appears in fiction but somehow I missed this one: The Holy by Daniel Quinn (2002). The entire book is the playing out of a Tarot reading, made explicit by full-page illustrations of Rider-Waite-Smith cards that introduce book sections.

The central what if is, “What if the God of the Bible was not the only God, and what if the “false gods” referred to in the ten commandments actually exist?” We can extend this to ask the questions: Who are they? and What do they want?—questions the author leaves only partially answered.

This is a Fool’s journey, cross country, undertaken by several different people, at first independently and then with converging stories, all foreseen in the Tarot reading that becomes explicit only as the tale evolves. Quinn is known for his philosophical novels, starting with the highly regarded Ishmael, for which he won the half-million dollar Turner Tomorrow Fellowship. Quinn is an original thinker whose process has been described as “seeing through the myths of this culture” or “ripping away the shades so that people can have a clear look at history and what we’re doing to the world.” It’s interesting that despite the centrality of the Tarot reading and Tarot illustrations in this book, the Tarot content is hardly ever mentioned and never discussed in the reviews I’ve read.

Synopsis: Sixty-plus year-old private detective Howard Scheim is hired by an acquaintance to discover if the “false gods” of the Bible really exist. In agreeing to discover if he can even undertake such an inquiry he interviews several people including a journalist, a tarot reader, a clairvoyant and a Satanist. Meanwhile the Kennesey family is undergoing upheaval as husband David decides to walk away from his job, his wife and his 12-year old son, Tim. Tim and his mother go searching for David and, when Tim becomes accidentally separated from his mother, Howard stumbles upon him and offers to help Tim find her. As it turns out both David and his son Tim are being courted by amoral, non-human “others” who plan to “wake up” humanity because their blindness is creating havoc. These “others,” who refuse to define themselves, are trickster beings, neither evil nor benevolent, who have existed far longer than homo sapiens. They have been known to enchant those humans who look to the physical world rather than to a transcendent being to benefit them.

The Celtic Cross Tarot reading shows Quinn to be knowledgeable about Tarot consulting. References to people named Case (P.F. Case authored an influential Tarot book) and John Dee (magician to Elizabeth I), as well as a road named Morning Star Path (a Golden Dawn offshoot was called the “Stella Matutina” or morning star) makes it clear that Quinn is referencing modern occult lore.

Tarot reader Denise starts by explaining that the first card in Howard’s reading indicates the predominant influence in the subject’s life. Howard draws the Seven of Swords and Denise asks Howard to tell her what it is about, explaining this is not her usual way of working but, “If I proceed normally, you’ll think I’m slanting it.”

He describes a thief stealing swords for a battle who has overlooked something (two swords left behind).” Denise summarizes it: “You’re getting ready for a battle and you’re overestimating your own cleverness and underestimating the strength of your enemy. You’re overconfident and you think you can’t be hurt in the enterprise you’ve planned. . . . The reading will center on the conflict you’re preparing for.”

The Seven of Swords is crossed by the Two of Pentacles: “The pentacles represent grave extremes: the beginning and the end, life and deah, infinite past and the infinite future, good and evil. Nevertheless, the young man is dancing.” Denise says he takes the situation too lightly.

The card above him is the Eight of Cups: “At best, you can hope for a strange journey, an adventure into darkness.”

The frontispiece illustration is that of the Seven of Cups, appearing in the reading in the environment position: “A man is disconcerted by an array of tantalizing apparitions of love, mystery, danger, riches, fame, and evil. Illusions will bedevil you. You’ll be pulled in many directions, and your choices will be confused.” Perhaps this is the underlying theme of not only this book but other works by Daniel Quinn: Humankind is bedeviled by the illusions of culture and civilization so that our choices are confused, centering on all the wrong things. Quinn has one of the characters quote Plato’s The Republic: “Whatever deceives can be said to enchant.” Adding, “Anyone who shakes off the deception shakes off the enchantment as well – and ceases to be one of you [a homo sapien].” The Holy, p. 260.

I’ve left out most of the interplay about the cards, and I won’t reveal more of the story as I hope you will explore this book for yourselves.

McCloskey studio

Visit the studio in the video below of artist Leigh J. McCloskey who created a modern Tarot deck like no other – Tarot ReVISIONed. If anyone has seen and created a multi-dimension universe, it is McCloskey. I visited Leigh McCloskey at his studio several years ago and it is beyond imagining. His art is at one with the books, the walls, the floor, the ceiling – like walking into an alternate realm of existence.

Watch a video presentation in which you can learn about his Tarot vision:

And don’t miss Leigh McCloskey, Chris Hopkins, Marcus Katz, Tali Goodwin, Melissae Lucia, Michael Robinson, David Shoemaker, Antero Alli, and me at the Tarosophy Tarot Convention in Sacramento CA on February 21-22. Information here.

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WANT TO LEARN LENORMAND? I will be available daily at a special forum from November 17 to December 8 for all who sign up for my five-session course (available online or via DVD). I will go through the materials with you, answer questions, and generally be available to help with your readings. There will also be a FREE live Q-and-A session via Skype on 4 December (space limited!). 

Register NOW. This is a chance to share your homework assignments and to practice readings, as well as explore topics beyond the scope of the lessons. I encourage you to use this winter holiday season (I know, I know – summer for a few of you) to explore a new divination tool or, if you’ve already begun, improve your understanding of the Lenormand system.

I favor a traditional approach with emphasis on the Grand Tableau – viewing short spreads as “training wheels” to get you familiar with all the elements of the “big picture.” Also, my approach to learning the individual cards is entirely different than you’ll find elsewhere as we focus on topics and all the cards related to each.

Information at: http://globalspiritualstudies.com/petit-lenormand/mary-k-greer/reading-the-petit-lenormand-cards/

PLEASE SHARE this opportunity with friends and Lenormand groups.

Try out this video sample from the course:

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Have you been looking for an opportunity to study in-depth Tarot with me? I’m very excited to announce I’ll be teaching for three days in Kingston ON, Canada in October: “Unmasking Your Intuitive Side: A Weekend of Wisdom with Mary K. Greer”. There’ll also be a touch of Lenormand with me or crystal ball reading with Marilyn Shannon.

Three Days: Three Terrific Tools to Unmask your Intuitive Side presented in five workshops by world renowned instructor Mary K. Greer and Kingston’s own Marilyn Shannon. Join the magic in Kingston, Ontario on the beautiful shores of Lake Ontario October 24, 25 & 26, 2014. You’ll learn how to discern what card meanings are most relevant to a querent and their questions and how to integrate the card meanings. Then get the significance and function of the court cards down once and for all!

I hope to see everyone there!

http://unmaskyourintuitiveside.weebly.com/

ImageIt’s been a long time since I was really excited and intrigued by a new ‘how-to’ book on reading the Tarot. Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot—The Open Reading is a book I just have to share with you. Ben-Dov describes the Tarot as a work of art, through whose details a full range of human experiences can be revealed. First, the book features the Marseilles Tarot deck—a deck that’s gaining greater interest and appreciation among English-speaking Tarotists. This deck is pre-occultized, as the images are not modified to conform with esoteric systems. While not identical to early 15th century decks, it expresses a folk tradition that dominated for at least three hundred years (out of the nearly 600 year history of Tarot) and is still the major style found in much of Europe. Additionally, Ben-Dov has created what I believe to be the most elegant restoration of the classic Conver Marseille deck available (see below). This process aided him in his close attention to detail in the cards.

What has been notably missing in English Tarot literature are good, non-Waite-based meanings for the four suits. You need look no further. The focus here is on reading the cards through the scenarios one perceives when looking at the images. For the Majors, Ben-Dov says the possibilities are open. Nevertheless, he points out valuable interpretive perspectives derived from symbolic, historical and mythological associations, many of which I found both original and obvious (once-stated)—in other words, extremely helpful as kick-starter phrases for the cards. Through comparison and contrast of visual details he demonstrates how the cards relate to one another. Emphasis is on a therapeutic approach, rather than being predictive or proscriptive. Providing an excellent introduction to practical reading skills, he stresses developing familiarity with psychological practices, for which he specifically recommends Irvin D. Yalom’s outstanding guide to interacting effectively with clients, The Gift of Therapy.

Previous authors stressed one of three approaches to the Minor pip cards: 1) a straightforward transfer of the Waite-Smith Minor Arcana meanings to the Marseille deck, 2) a memorized meanings often derived from Etteilla, or 3) a personal synthesis of number-plus-suit meanings for each card. Ben-Dov bases his Minor Arcana explications on the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, emphasizing visual cues in the cards along with number, which make their arrangements ‘sensible,’ and therefore easy to learn and build on. His descriptions of the thematic progression within the Major and Minor suits provide an immediate handle on each. In keeping with his therapeutic approach, the Court Cards represent attitudes and characteristics of the querent rather than other people, although there’s nothing to stop you from applying them to others. I only wish that Ben-Dov had included sample readings utilizing the Minors like he did for the Majors, as his examples were so insightful.

Spreads are kept simple, with some innovative approaches to working with both Major and Minor suit cards that are well-worth trying out. His instructions for creating your own spreads gives you an infinite palette of deeply meaningful options to choose from.

I have two pet peeves: Ben-Dov completely ignores the first two hundred years of Tarot’s history when he describes the Marseille Tarot as the ‘genuine model’, with the ‘true order’ for the cards, saying it offers, “the most faithful and accurate representation of the ancient Tarot symbols.” The oldest decks (15th century Italian) are quite different in style, and there were several different orders for the cards in its first century. It would be better to describe the Marseille-style decks as the most long-lasting, consistent design (which is not to be scoffed at). My second pet peeve involves misunderstandings of the Golden Dawn system of Tarot reading, resulting in minor errors that are not centrally relevant to this work. Personally, I think he should have left out his few Golden Dawn references or listed the differences in an appendix.

Overall, this book offers fresh, practical instructions for reading the Marseille Tarot that will give you a great appreciation for the details and special characteristics of the deck that first inspired tarot divination. Additionally you will gain lots of valuable insights into the reading process itself.

Works Mentioned:

Tarot—The Open Reading by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

The CBD Tarot de Marseille deck, created by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

The CBD Tarot de Marseille app for Android.

The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D.

The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Note: Yoav Ben-Dov has generously made his deck and basic interpretations freely available for use for non-commercial purposes via the Creative Commons concept – http://www.cbdtarot.com/download/

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

© 2007-2013, Mary K. Greer All material on this site is copyrighted. If you use anything, be sure to include my name and a link back to this site. Thank you.

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