You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Tarot History & Research’ category.

“Once in a long before time before Queen Victoria came to reign over we . . .”

This post features newspaper articles from Pixie’s 1907 visit to New York where she concentrated on presenting her Jamaican folk tales along with recitations of old English ballads and poetry by Yeats. Waite made it clear that “one other” had helped in the creation of the Tarot deck and from the accounts in these papers it is clear that she knew Yeats well. Separately I’ve learned that around this time she performed some recitals with Florence Farr, who taught Tarot to Golden Dawn initiates. [Note: please get permission from Stuart Kaplan at USGames who owns it before using a reproduction of the painting below.]

Pamela Colman Smith portrait-large

Collection of S. R. Kaplan, Further reproduction prohibited!

“never in the least bound down by the traditions”
Sat., Jan. 12, 1907

Miss Pamela Colman Smith, some of whose very interesting pictures are now being exhibited across the river, at 291 Fifth avenue, has recently returned to this country, after several years spent in England. Miss Smith had a studio in Chelsea, where she accomplished some quite remarkable work in the color schemes displayed in the late Sir Henry Irving’s and Beerbohm Tree’s stage settings. Miss Smith is a special protege of Ellen Terry and she has designed many of the most beautiful costumes worn by that actress. Brooklynites will always have a sort of proprietary claim to this interesting young woman, her parents having lived for many years in this borough. Though she commenced to draw pictures as soon as she could hold a pencil, Miss Smith’s artistic career really started at Pratt Institute. Never in the least bound down by the traditions of any conservative master, who was, supposedly, instructing her, she calmly used their studios as convenient workshops. Absolutely original, with a wonderful, almost garish, sense of color, Miss Smith’s pictures represent not so much what she sees, as what she feels. After an evening spent at the opera or concert, she will sometimes work all night, not illustrating the music she has heard, so much as the thoughts suggested, and these paintings she calls musical symphonies. In the current exhibition a group of Shakespearean studies is very interesting, but her series of “Impressions of New York”—the huge skyscrapers, the smoky atmosphere, Annancy Stories-children listeningthe crowded streets, and the night effects—are the more remarkable. Like many others of an artistic temperament, Miss Smith is too versatile to confine herself to one kind of work. As a sort of side issue, she gives recitals of Jamaica folk stories, and old English ballads, dressed in the costume of the people and time she represents. Often in the most gorgeous colors and wearing strings of many hued brilliant beads and astonishing arrangement of head-gear, Miss Smith tells her stories seated flat upon the floor, with candles as footlights. She has been in great demand, both in London and here, especially as an entertainer at children’s parties; for all youngsters plainly adore her. [Picture from my copy of Annancy Stories.]
— Brooklyn Life

“rare knowledge of dramatic values”
Sat. Jan. 26, 1907

Under the auspices of the Pratt Art Club, Miss Pamela Colman Smith gave an extremely interesting recital at the Institute las Saturday evening. While telling her Jamaica folk stories, Yeats by Alice BoughtonMiss Smith sat upon a low platform with her feet tucked under her, and a row of half-dozen big fat candles before her to serve as footlights. The room was darkened and the young narrator presented a very picturesque figure gowned in a loose robe of flame colored silk, with an arrangement of tulle and beads bound about her head like a kerchief. Her capital West Indian dialect rendered the stories all the more piquant. In a charming recital of old English ballads, this clever artist dressed the part in soft gray and white with a quaint cap; while in her tragical odd lilting of a group of poems by William B. Yeats, Miss Smith again showed her rare knowledge of dramatic values by wearing a long dark green cloak with hood drawn close about her face, and only one nervous hand visible. [This intriguing photo of Yeats was taken by Pixie’s former NY roommate, Alice Boughton.]
— Brooklyn Life

“quite exceptional brilliancy and absolute originality”
Sat., Feb. 9, 1907

Possibly the best number on the program—certainly the greatest novelty—was furnished by Miss Pamela Colman Smith, who gave Jamaica folk stories. Having passed many years on that island, Miss Smith is conversant with the correct Jamaican costume and has acquired a capital West Indian dialect. Gowned in old rose cashmere, with deep black fringe, and wearing beads about her neck and chiffon twined about her bead to represent a kerchief, Miss Smith sat flat upon a small round table with her feet tucked beneath her gown and a row of half a dozen short fat candles at her knees to represent footlights. An artist of quite exceptional brilliancy and absolute originality, Miss Smith knows the value of every gesture, every smile and every inflection. The Entertainment Club, nearing its majority, can surely be congratulated upon its twentieth celebration. [PCS at The Entertainment Club. Image below from ChimChim, my collection.]
— Brooklyn Life

PCS-ChimChim back cover lg - Version 2

“thoroughly unconventional femininity”
Sat., Feb. 16, 1907

One successful young woman leading almost too strenuous a life for this chronicler to keep tab on, is Pamela Colman Smith. She has not only given recitations at the Fine Arts Club, Pratt Institute, the Pen & Brush, and Mrs. Hitchcock’s Entertainment Club, but has appeared at numberless private houses, both here and in Boston, was at the Brooklyn Barnard Club on Tuesday, and will tell her Jamaica Folk Stories before the Associate Alumnae of Packer, within the next fortnight. Even with the prestige of English approval, Miss Smith’s instant success here is a bit unusual. I think it is largely due to her absence of all pose; queer, unexpected, absolutely original as Miss Smith is, one realizes her unmistakable genuineness as well as appreciates her talents. She is a gentlewoman, presenting an odd type of thoroughly unconventional femininity—therein lies her greatest charm.
— Brooklyn Life

“the favorite reader of London drawing rooms”
Sun., Feb. 24, 1907

“Miss Pamela Colman Smith Furnished Delightful Programme at Midwinter Gathering”

Pamela Colman Smith, the favorite reader of London drawing rooms, furnished a delightful program of Jamaica folklore, fairy tales and troubadour ballads given in most artistic manner and with a fascinating accent which Miss Smith acquired through intimate acquaintance with the people whose folklore she has brought to this country. Her costumes added to the good effect—a red dress with black fringe, one in green and white stripes, and a dull blue troubadour cloak. Candles burned in front of her during the telling of the stories. . . . An alligator brought by Miss Smith from Jamaica was an attractive exhibit.
— The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“rendering Yeats’ ballads”
Sat., Mar. 2, 1907

Miss Pamela Colman Smith was chief attraction at the reception of the Associate Alumnae of the Packer Collegiate Institute last Saturday afternoon. The readings were held in the chapel and Miss Smith, who made perhaps her most favorable impression in her rendering of Yeats’ ballads, was very well received.
— Brooklyn Life

“a bewitched pudding and Mr. Ringdalee”
Sat., Mar 23, 1907

Sketch of PCS telling storiesMiss Pamela Colman Smith mounted the platform carrying her foot-lights, a pine board bearing four fat yellow candles. These she lighted and spreading out the folds of her voluminous pink cashmere skirt and bestowing a pat to her turban, sat on the floor behind them and gave three of her quaint Jamaican folk stories which the negroes tell to one another and the nurses to their white charges. with the quaint phrase of “Once in a long before time before Queen Victoria came to reign over we,” prefixing each of her selections she told her attentive audience about a spider, whose name refused to stick in the writer’s memory, a bewitched pudding and Mr. Ringdalee, who married a pigeon.
— Brooklyn Life

[Note the mentioned platform, the bird (known as Chim-Chim) and an extra costume in the picture below – only the candles are missing. The little squiggle to the right of Pixie’s signature is Annancy, the spider.]

PCS-The Lamp 1903

Read this account of Mark Twain’s laughter at one of Pixie’s performances, picked up by a New Zealand paper. It contains the text of one of her stories and a more detailed account of her story-telling: Pamela Colman Smith & “De Six Poach Eggs”.

 

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1896-1899
Pamela Colman Smith 1909 – Magic Spectacles
• The Art of Pamela Colman Smith
Pamela Colman Smith on Reading the Cards

• Biography of Pamela Colman Smith (biographical resource)
Roppo’s Gallery for the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith

Young PCSPamela Colman Smith, called “Pixie” by her friends, was born to American parents on February 16, 1878 in London, England and died September 18 1951, at the age of 73 in Bude, Cornwall. Despite her lasting connection with England, throughout her youth she called herself an American, attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1893 to 97, then touring with Ellen Terry and Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, and visiting the US frequently after that. She worked in the theatre, struggled to make a name for herself as an illustrator, explored the occult, was a suffragette and then, just before WWI, converted to Catholicism and retired with a modest inheritance to run a priest’s retreat in Cornwall. Except for a few small items, mostly for friends or relatives, her public artworks and appearances ceased.

Later this year Marcus Katz and Tali Godwin are bringing out a book focusing on Pamela’s contributions to the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck: Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot. In the meantime, I’m pleased to present the texts of several newspaper articles from Pamela’s hometown. I would hesitate to include some of these for their lack of detail about Pixie herself, but they are helpful in letting us know her movements and hinting at her then current endeavors.

“a pretty and fanciful design”
Sun., May 24, 1896

Miss Pamela Coleman Smith of Pratt had a pretty and fanciful design showing a group of fairies dancing around a toadstool, a sort of midsummer night’s dream affair. Another poster by Miss Smith was most originally worked out. A child picking tiger lilies beside a pool where her reflection was cast was the subject. The color was most effective. [18-year-old PCS shows her work at a local art show.]
—The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 

“exceedingly suggestive”
Sun., Dec. 19, 1897

The fair held by the Art Student’s Association, on the afternoon and evening of December 18, was a financial success as well as a social one. The great attraction, both afternoon and evening, was the play given in Mis Pamela Coleman Smith’s little pasteboard theater. A study in composition, the successive pictures made by the pasteboard figures against an artistic background were exceedingly suggestive. The demand for tickets was so great that three performances were given in the afternoon instead of one, as first planned.
—The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“old Irish folk-lore”
Sun., Dec. 25, 1898

Among the holiday publications of R. H. Russell & Co. are a series of color prints, by Pamela Colman Smith, one called “Recess” depicting children at play, the others illustrating some passage in literature.

Hill of Heart's Desire

Hill of Heart’s Desire

One illustrates a quotation from “Macbeth,” a second is a scene of “Twelfth Night” merry-making, a third deals with the childhood of Christ, and a fourth illustrates “The Land of Heart’s Desire,” a play of old Irish folk-lore.

—The Morning Times (Washington D.C.)

 

“Whatever is quaint and old worldliest . . .
And all this is the work of a mere girl!”
Sun., Jan. 15, 1899

“A Jamaica Spider”
He is the Hero of Miss Smith’s New Book

Jeanne_D_Arc_Boutet_de_MonvelAn American Boutet de Monvel*, a woman with as keen an appreciation of negro folk lore as Joel Chandler Harris is the correctest way to define the talent of a quaint little American woman who claims the authorship of one of the cleverest books of the day. Miss Pamela Coleman Smith talks of the “Annancy Stories—Folk Tales of Jamaica,” with keen interest. [*Boutet de Monvel references a French children’s book illustrator – click to enlarge the picture to right. Notice hats like those found on the 2 and 6 of Pentacles.]

“I am an American,” she insisted, “though I was born in London, and have lived most of my life in Jamaica, and all the art training I have I got at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.”

She had a three years’ course there, and then with the most amazing industry, prompted by a strong, deep love of her art, she began to work at art as a profession. Perhaps one of her first most successful endeavors was done only for fun, and it consisted of the building and peopling of one of the completest miniature theatres ever seen. HenryMorganSceneThe stage measures scarcely more than eighteen inches square, but its accompaniment of scenes, actors and costumes is so perfect and luxurious that any manager might look on enviously. Three hundred gorgeously costumed characters will appear in a single play for the dramas Miss Smith writes herself, and as she prefers tragedies and comedies the scenes of which are all laid in past centuries, the humblest pasteboard sure is in attitude, expression and dress a finished little picture. By the simplest mechanism the figures are made to move about, a daintily painted curtain rolls up and down, and the scenes are set or shifted with professional cleverness.

While working at the theatre, merely to amuse youthful relatives, she turned her hand to larger work, and having collected a number of the legends current among the negroes of Jamaica, she set out to illustrate her book. The volume of Annancy Stories was the outcome, which is illustrated by twenty-two full-page pictures from Miss Smith’s hand, beside the cover design, which is her own work.

Chim-Chim-8 - Version 2Annancy is a perfectly new character in fairy lore; he is a spider who possesses a mother, and he is as beloved an elf among the Jamaica negroes as is Brer Rabbit among the negroes of our Soutern Sates. In the quaint dialect of the simple island blacks, Miss Smith has told the stories while she has looked straight into fairyland to find the models for her pictures. [The hand-colored picture on left is from a later book called Chim-Chim.]

With the most astonishing invention, imagination and humor she has pictured a series of strange, alluring little people, who cannot fail to win the childish heart, and at the same time delight appreciative grown folks. Indeed it is very safe to say that Annancy and his capers will become as familiar with nursery folk as Uncle Remus, or Mougli and his friends. And all this is the work of a mere girl!

From illustrating her book of Jamaica stories, Miss Smith next fell upon a collection of old English and Scotch ballads, and it is here that the likeness of her genius to that of Walter Crane is apparent. Whatever is quaint and old worldliest seems to find in her a natural affinity.

“I never look up a costume, and yet I seem to know exactly what every character should wear,” she explained when some one inquired where she had found her quaint suits and dresses. From the ballads her quick fancy next found a limitless field in Shakespeare, and her second book is a Shakespearan alphabet made up of full-page illustrations of characters whose names run from A to Z, accompanied by their most brilliant sayings. Here, as in the first book, is the same lively imagination, love of striking but always essentially decorative color effects and unfaltering innate knowledge of costume.

shakespelg

Miss Smith is an American girl to be proud of and one whose future can be reckoned on as surely as a love of industry, and her art and a very great deal of talent and ambition can guarantee it.
—The Morning Times (Washington D.C.)

See also:

• Pamela Colman Smith: “out of the heart of the Heights”
Pamela Colman Smith 1907 – story teller
Pamela Colman Smith 1909 – magical spectacles
Pamela Colman Smith 1912 – correspondences
• 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

“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

 

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.

AN01172643_001 - Version 6 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:

Jacks:Daus 4 Seasons

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.

Comptoir Leipzig 1830 32 cards-Grun

Comptoir Leipzig 1830 32 cards-rot

Comptoir Leipzig 1830 32 cards - schell

Comptoir Leipzig 1830 32 cards

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.

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.”

AN01172643_001 - Version 7

Comptoir Leipzig 1830 32 cards-Eichel - Version 2You can sign up anytime to access my Lenormand course or to order the DVDs at Global Spiritual Studies.

Clusone

Want a good, medieval mystery to read? The Song of the Nightingale by Alys Clare, sent this blogger, C. LaVielle, on a journey into the real life mystery of the origins of Tarot. As she notes, a Cathar origin is not really feasible, but its origins among “progressive Catholics who used existing Christian Apocalyptic art” is. This is an excellent summary of that perspective. The photo above is a 15th century fresco on the side of a Confraternity Chapel in Clusone, Italy. It depicts both a Dance of Death and a Triumph of Death and includes several figures that appear in the Tarot. Read the article at C. LaVielle’s Book Jacket Blog.

(Thanks to Mel Parsons for turning me on to the book and blog post.)

 

Image

I have spent the past two years obsessed with the Petit Lenormand cards, a deck of 36 fortune-telling cards created in Germany in 1846, based on an earlier multi-purpose game called the “Die Spiel der Hoffnung” created by Johann Kaspar Hechtel in Nuremburg in 1799. The Petit Lenormand appropriated the name of the Parisian Mlle Lenormand, the most famous fortune-teller of her age, who died in 1843, shortly before the newly incarnated deck appeared. I’ll write more about these cards later.

I am announcing here for the first time that I have found an earlier set of 32 fortune-telling cards that are the undoubtable forerunner of both the “Spiel der Hoffnüng” game and the Lenormand cards. My source is a 1796 book in English in the British Museum entitled: “Les Amusements des Allemands, or The Diversions of the Court of Vienna, in which the Mystery of Fortune-Telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup is unravelled, and Three pleasant Games, viz.: 1. Fortune-telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup. 2. Fortune-telling by laying out the cards. 3. The new Imperial Game of numbers are invented.

Image

The work is based on an Austro-German set of cards from 1794. An introduction to the book states:

“These entertaining games first made their appearance at Vienna, in 1794, where they still are the favorite amusement of the Empress of Germany, and the Imperial Court. They have since been diffused through all the fashionable circles in that country. The Editor, therefore, has to hope that, in a country where the liberality and curious discernment of its inhabitants is so conspicuous as that of Britain, they will not be held in less estimation.”

While there are only 32 cards, most of them are exact forerunners to Lenormand cards. The few variations, like Lion, have close replacements as their Coffee-ground meanings indicate. For instance, “Lion, or a ferocious beast” has the same meaning as the Lenormand Bear.

Image

It’s been thought for several years that the Lenormand images were derived from Coffee-ground fortune-telling or Tasseomancy. This work is the missing link that proves this theory. It has been curious that several of the Lenormand images were not found in the old lists of coffee-ground emblems, but now we know that several cards were added to the original set. The reason for the expansion of the deck to 36 cards probably came about when Hechtel decided to combine “Les Amusements des Allemands” with the German 36-piece playing card deck, which was then more popular than either the 32-card Piquet deck or the 52-card deck.

The Empress, for whom these were a ‘favorite amusement’, was probably Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (1772–1807), the last Holy Roman Empress, first Empress of Austria and mother of nine. She was described as:

so jealous that she does not allow him [the Emperor] to take part in social life or meet other women. Vicious tongues accuse her of being so passionate that she exhausts her consort and never leaves him alone even for a moment. Although the people of Vienna cannot deny that she is gifted, charitable and carries herself beautifully, she is disliked for her intolerance and for forcing the Emperor to live isolated from everyone. She is also accused of interesting herself in unimportant matters and socializing exclusively with her lady-companions. With them she spends her evenings singing, acting out comedies and being applauded.

Could the “unimportant matters” mentioned above include her use of fortune-telling cards?

Here is the full British Museum description of the book:

A sequence of 32 playing-cards bound (at the British Museum) as a small book, having on them emblematic designs of various character, and below moral apophthegms to which the designs have reference. Each piece has a number at the upper left-hand corner answering to certain explanatory and descriptive tables given in a book of directions which accompanies the cards. The title page of this book of 31 pages bears the following lettered inscription: “Les Amusements des Allemands, or The Diversions of the Court of Vienna, in which the Mystery of Fortune-Telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup is unravelled, and Three pleasant Games, viz.: 1. Fortune-telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup. 2. Fortune-telling by laying out the cards. 3. The new Imperial Game of numbers are invented”, and “London: Printed for Champante and Whitrow, Jewry-Street, Aldgate, and may be had at every Booksellers and Toy Shop in the Kingdom, 1796.” Engraving and letterpress Backs plain (according to Willshire) 1796.

Bent Sorensen has offered this list of the 32 Emblematic Fortune-Telling Cards, ordered according to the numbers found on the cards:

1. Crossroads/Fingerpost
2. Ring
3. Clover
4. Anchor
5. Snake
6. Letter
7. Coffin
8. Star
9. Dog 
10. Lily
11. Cross
12. Clouds
13. Sun
14. Moon
15. Mountain
16. Tree 1 – Labor, Pains, Long Effort 
17. Child
18. Woman
19. Man
20. Rider
21. Mouse
22. Birchrod/Whip
23. Flower (Bouquet)
24. Heart
25. Garden
26. Bird/Turtledove
27. Fish
28. Lion (“any ferocious beast” for which Bear was later substituted)
29. Tree 2 – Green Bush (the Industrious, not in Lenormand—closest is Key?)
30. Worms or Vipers (“Bugs,” not in Lenormand—closest is Fox?)
31. House
32. Scythe

Tarot of the Magicians cover

Best Book 2012

I’m proud to announce that The Tarot of the Magicians by Oswald Wirth (RedWheel/Weiser), with an extensive introduction by me, won the Award for the Best Book of 2012 from TarotProfessionals. This is a classic work by one of the great French occultists of the late 19th and early 20th century that should be read and re-read by all serious Tarot students. The book also contains the first reproduction of Wirth’s original 1889 Tarot (only 350 produced), on fine card stock—ready to be cut out and used. If you get only one tarot book in 2013, it should be this. Please share your impressions of this outstanding book.

Tarot Art and History Tour of Northern Italy
September 23rd – October 6th 2012
14 Day Tour of Northern Italy

We had such a great time on our first organized Tarot Art & History Tour of Italy this fall, that Arnell and Michael are doing it again and it is going to be fabulous! Highlights are posted on this webpage . More details will be sent to you upon request. Hope you can come as it is an unbelievable opportunity! Please book early as space is limited for this extraordinary adventure.

Above is my photo of the room of Good and Bad Government in the Civic Palace of Siena. I really got that these frescoed rooms were designed to have a powerful impact on all who entered the space—to magically imbue people with the ideals and principles governing them. Town councilors entered the room from the now-sealed door that is directly under the allegorical images of Wisdom and Justice—a very deliberate choice. The Rider-Waite Empress was taken from the central image representing PAX (Peace). To the right is the well-governed town. To the left is the Devil with all the terrible consequences that his reign could have upon on the area. Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, creator of The Tarot of the Crone, Tarot Paperdolls and the forthcoming Minoan Tarot is in the foreground.

I can’t emphasize enough, that if you want to have any idea of the world from which the Tarot emerged, you have to experience it for yourself! Your days will be filled with the consciousness and beauty of the 14th and 15th centuries that created the base for the later Renaissance. You’ll begin to understand in the constant mix of Pagan and Christian imagery, how their “Christian” mind-set was an amalgam of all the wisdom that had come before and very different from how we think today. You’ll get an appreciation of the incomparable beauty of Italy and the sophisticated allegorical thinking that had to go into the creation of the Tarot. Your tour guide, Morena Poltronieri of the Museo dei Tarocchi, will introduce you to the secrets of the masons who built the churches and will reveal the influences of the real alchemists, Templars, artists and philosophers who left their easily discerned marks on the buildings she knows so well. Here is one corner of the Museo dei Tarocchi.

Check out this animoto video by Tero Hynynen of photos from the last trip.

About

Click HERE to subscribe to Mary K. Greer's Tarot Blog by Email

≈◊≈◊≈◊≈◊≈

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.

I truly appreciate donations to help me pay for additional space.

Donate any amount to keep this ad-free blog growing.

Archives