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Deck Review: The Fantod Pack

Fantod: 1) a state of irritability and tension; fidgets 2) an emotional outburst, fit. The first recorded use of “fantod(s)” was by North American author Charles Frederik Briggs in 1839 . . . possibly a combination of “fantastic” and “fatigue.” –  Merriam-Webster.com, 5/26/2018

 

The Fantod Pack is an Oracle deck designed by author and illustrator, Edward Gorey (1925-2000).

I must admit that the only reason I purchased this deck is because I was a Gorey fanatic growing up. From the first time I saw his opening animation to PBS’s Mystery series to the time I first came across a copy of Amphigorey in the back corner of a cozy bookstore… I was hooked by his dark and droll humor, his whimsical pen-and-ink illustration style; his irreverent reverence to art history, philosophy, and literature (no really, I mean that prhase). Gorey walked that impossibly-thin line of paying homage to beloved classics while pointing out their inherent absurdity. He approached Tarot and cartomancy with this same style.

The Fantod Pack originally appeared as illustrations in Esquire Magazine (December 1966) as “The Awful Vista of the Year: The Fantod Pack.” Although there was an illicit, unlicensed version of the cards printed in 1969 by The Owl Press of California (shame on you, Owl Press)… The Fantod Pack was not officially released by Gorey until 1995 through The Gotham Book Mart as a limited edition of 776 decks (750 numbered, 26 lettered). *source Dangerousminds.net

I remember hearing about The Fantod Pack when it was published in 1995… and I will forever “kick myself” for not ordering a copy then. But, because I missed the opportunity to purchase one of the original 776, I had to wait until 2007 when the deck was published in an unlimited edition by Pomegranate Communications, Inc. licensed by The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. This is the version of the deck I have.

The deck consists of 20 high-gloss thick cards in a shallow rigid box with a little white book (LWB) written by Edward Gorey using the pseudonym Madame Groeda Weyrd, an anagram of his name. The printing and material qualities are superior to many decks published. My only real complaint about the physical presentation is that the cards are fully rectangle with sharp corners. Rounded corners really have been a part of card history for good reason. Rounded corners last longer and they are easier to shuffle. Although…

Madame Weyrd suggests that the proper method for shuffling and drawing cards is to “take it in your left hand. Stand in the center of a sparsely furnished room and close your eyes. Fling the pack into the air. Keep your eyes closed. Pick up five cards from the floor keeping them in order.” Gorey has subtly acknowledged many traditions associated with cartomancy while simultaneously poking a fairly large stick at it. It is a common suggestion in many vintage (and even contemporary) books that you should use your left hand to work with cards as it is (for many people) their non-dominant hand and supposedly helps you connect with your subconscious more easily. Flinging the pack into the air and blindly picking them up off the floor highlights the absurdity of so many of our rituals. Gorey’s method is a strong reminder that, no-matter-what, we really should not take ourselves too seriously. While rituals can be helpful and important in some ways, we should never confuse ritual and symbolism with necessity and reality.

“Don’t confuse the teacher with the lesson, the ritual with the ecstasy, the transmitter of the symbol with the symbol itself.” – Neil Gaiman, Stardust

The first time I read with The Fantod Pack, I went ahead and followed Madame Weyrd’s ridiculous directions faithfully. It was fun to have this distant interaction with one of my favorite artists; willingly participating in his joke. And although it definitely isn’t practical (and wouldn’t be good for the cards longterm), it’s a delightful experience.

The LWB begins with The Awful Vista of the Year. “Now that you have learned of all the dreadful things that have overtaken your friends and relations during the past year as scribbled on the inside of their Christmas cards, don’t you want to know what dreadful things lie in wait for you?”  Irony was a well-sharpened tool in his hands slaying two beasts: 1) the ridiculous custom of writing your life story in a letter to the acquaintances you haven’t spoken to in at least one year’s time every Holiday season, and 2) the traditional “Wheel of the Year” style annual check-in Tarot spread.

The LWB goes on to give a mysterious backstory to Madame Weyrd and presents instructions of a basic spread and interpretation style. Although it is satire and over-the-top, it holds useful tips. And reading this LWB is when I realized that novelty decks don’t need to just be a novelty.

The 20 cards are labeled with mysterious and inscrutable archetypes such as “The Limb”, “The Waltzing Mouse”, and “The Burning Head.” I agree with Gorey; why should we just accept the symbols which are presented to us as “universal” symbols? There aren’t really many truly universal symbols, and you could argue that there truly aren’t any at all. Symbolism and its interpretation is predominantly culturally specific and filtered through the ultimately personal and unique experiences of each individual. So what makes “The Magician” a more legitimate archetype than “The Écorché” (a painting or sculpture of a human figure with the skin removed to display the musculature)? Gorey puts the absurdity of representing the comprehensive human experience in a few selected images right up front. It’s probably a small percentage of people who would know what an écorché even is, let alone how one would interpret its appearance in a reading. Staring at a King of Spades is no more inherently meaningful than staring at Gorey’s “The Écorché.” However, once you know what one is… there can be a lot of really useful ways that it could be construed. Cartomancy is all about applying a consistent framework of symbolism and meaning on top of specified images.

 

Gorey’s keyword lists for each card continues this same theme of absurdity veiling practicality. For example, the keywords for “The Écorché” are:

  • June – This is neither here-nor-there for me. Although many readers find seasons and times useful, I personally do not do “timing” readings.  Why June for the écorché? I’m not sure. Perhaps the summer heat encouraged him to remove his clothes… and his skin.
  • Sexual Incompetence – There’s actually a lot here to dissect (pun intended) given that it’s a human figure laid bare. Raw. Offered up for examination but not interaction. Many argue our largest sexual organ is our skin… the poor écorché has effectively been rendered impotent and left without a way to experience touch in a neurologically meaningful way.
  • A Forged Check – A tongue-in-cheek nod to vintage cartomancy interpretations which include numerous references to letters, messages, invoices, and written communications of dramatic leanings. Why the écorché specifically is guilty of forgery? I’m not sure. Perhaps he is attempting to put on another’s skin and get away without fingerprints as a liability.
  • Obscurity – Ironic as the écorché technically removes the skin which obscures the underlying biological structure of a person. However, removing the skin effectively removes easily identifiable features. Most people would be hard-pressed (and quite frankly loathe) to identify a body without its skin on. Or perhaps a reference to the obscurity of the word “écorché” itself.
  • Irregularities – Interesting as most écorchés are presented as “universal” representations of human muscular structure.
  • Puckers – “A fold or wrinkle in a normally even surface.” *source Merriam-Webster.com Okay… I can kinda go with this. For fun. While “wrinkle” is commonly  used to reference all kinds of “things which are not smooth” we normally don’t refer to “pucker” in a terribly poetic or symbolic way.
  • Inconstancy – Well sure, one minute a guy has skin… then he doesn’t. What’s he gonna do next?
  • An Accident on a Pier – What? Oh yeah, vintage cartomancy is filled with oddly specific and foreboding interpretations like this. Whatever horrific circumstance associates a skinless figure with an accident on a pier… I don’t want to consider very deeply.
  • Morbid Sensibilities – Probably the most straight-forward interpretation yet. Some seekers may need to be reminded that we are biological beings with unavoidable mortality. Others might need a warning to not focus so much on the “meat suits” we inhabit.
  • Deception – This goes along with “obscurity” and “inconstancy.”
  • A Social Disease – Wow. This is quite a commentary. Dictionary definitions of “social disease” include a venereal disease (which lines up with the “sexual incompetence” definition above) or illnesses such as tuberculosis which have direct relation to economic and social factors. For centuries artists and medical students have studied bodies which in many cases were victims of diseases caused by or exacerbated by poverty and social systems. Even today we have controversies involving the public presentation of human remains such as “Bodies: The Exhibition” which raised concerns about a black-market for cadavers, thought to be illegally-obtained bodies of executed prisoners, to be “plasticized” and used as real-life écorchés. In a more abstract sense, the card seems to suggest that being raw and exposed is a cultural maladie. If you can’t cover yourself in a publicly acceptable way you are at a disadvantage.
  • Confinement – Certainly not confined by skin. However, is it our basic biological makeup which is a confinement? Or is it the fate of the écorché to be confined to the laboratory and artist studio; never free to be a self-actualized individual?
  • Cysts – Another nod to vintage cartomancy with a specific, somewhat gross, and off-beat medical ailment. Perhaps they are simply a symptom of the “social disease” you are about to contract in June.

What I once considered purely a novelty can actually be used for legitimate readings. So I look at “novelty” Tarot and Oracle decks in a new light now. If you are drawn to the imagery found in a particular deck, what matters is that you can interpret the imagery in ways which are useful and meaningful to you and those you read for. Will Gorey’s Fantod deck be useful to everyone? Definitely not. But to a life-long Edward Gorey fan who spent hours and hours pouring over each and every one of his publications I could get my hands on, looking for recurring themes and symbols… The Fantod Pack is a natural fit. So look for the imagery that gives you the most to consider about your humanity and mortality. And every once in a while… throw your cards in the air and let your self-awareness work be filled with humor. Because, ultimately, it’s all absurdity.

Do you have a “novelty” deck that you love? How did you begin working with the non-traditional imagery? Have you encountered push-back from traditionalists?

 

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Summer Events and Classes

Laura Pensar and Moth & Candle will be at the following events this summer!

June 1st, Friday: Pop-up at The Pearl

Join us at The Pearl in The Crossroads for their First Friday Pop-up Marketplace featuring local artisans. Moth & Candle will have a selection of art and Tarot supplies for sale. Laura Pensar will be available for Tarot readings.

6-9pm, The Pearl, 1715 Wyandotte, KC MO

 

June 8th, Friday: KC Flatfile Reception

Laura Pensar has been invited to participate in the 2018 KC Flatfile Biennial at H&R Block Artspace. Art lovers are invited to peruse flatfile cabinets filled with artist portfolios holding a diverse range of flat works. Guest curators will be invited to curate salon walls and queues each month, creating a dynamic and ever-changing exhibition.

6-8pm, H&R Block Artspace, 16 East 43rd Street, KC MO

 

July 6th, Friday: First Friday at Oracle

Laura Pensar will be giving Tarot and playing-card readings during First Friday at Oracle in The Crossroads. Mickey Alice Kwapis will have a trunk show featuring her art and jewelry as well.

5-9pm, Oracle, 130 W 18th Street, KC MO

 

July 13th, Friday: Class – Reading with Playing Cards

Learn how to give readings using a standard poker deck! In this introductory class we will go over the history of playing cards, their use in cartomancy, as well as go over vintage and contemporary interpretations. We will break out into small groups for practice reading sessions. The class fee includes a study deck and booklet with keyword meanings of four different cartomancy systems for continued study! Class size is limited to 15 people. Contact Oracle to RSVP: 816-984-0680

6-8pm, Oracle, 130 W 18th Street, KC MO ($30)

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The Woman Cards

Last week I purchased a vintage deck: a 1960’s Parlour Sibyl oracle deck. It’s a charming deck… except for the casual racism and misogyny found on some of the cards and in the LWB (little white book); which really just makes it not charming at all. What I had hoped would be a fun oracle deck to work with is simply not usable for me or my clients. It is, however, a great deck to study and critique. And we should absolutely critique our decks.

If Tarot and oracle decks are a tool we use to help connect ourselves and our clients to the subconscious,  we should be very careful about the messages that the decks we use for these readings are sending.

We could argue if the reader and seeker are aware of the cultural context for older decks and systems, that we can overlook the outdated and toxic ideas. But readings are a time for us to be open, be more vulnerable, and bring in new perspectives. I absolutely do not want my clients (or myself) to be taking in negative ideas about ourselves or others on even a subliminal level. It’s important that we look at our decks and really understand what their images, keyword associations, and general structure are telling us.

The Empress and The High Priestess from the Jodorowsky Camoin Marseilles deck.

Given the traditional structure of card decks, there are often cards that represent both the female and male archetypes. And so… very often there is, in fact, a “woman card.”

“The woman card, also called … the gender card or the sex card, is an idiomatic phrase … used to describe accusations of women either mentioning their gender to gain an advantage in discussions or implying or accusing other people of sexism in order to garner support.” (Wikipedia, 5/4/2018)

The phrase most often shows up in workplace or political settings; generally when someone competing against a female peer is feeling frustrated and hasn’t found more appropriate responses to the conflict. Even if someone actually is inappropriately trying to use gender in a given situation, simply shouting “the woman card” is not productive and does not address anything of substance constructively. It’s pejorative.

One of the most famous instances of this phrase being used in the United States was during the 2016 presidential elections by then-Republican-nominee Donald Trump in reference to his opponent Democratic-nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump complained that Clinton was “…constantly playing the woman card. It’s the only way she may get elected.” (Turns out it may have been one of the main reasons she didn’t get elected… amongst many other things that are way outside of a Tarot blog’s domain.) The public response to his remarks was immediate, varied, and often hilarious. From the Clinton campaign’s NYC MetroPass-style “Woman Card” they issued as donor rewards to any number of role-playing style card mockups to an actual poker deck of famous women in US history.

This is the beginning of a new series for the Moth & Candle blog: The Woman Card. I’ve started looking at the cultural implications of various decks and will be reviewing the female representations in the decks in my own library.

Many of my fellow readers and I lament the lack of diversity (for want of a better term) in the decks available. Sadly, even contemporary decks have been slow to expand the representations of people in their images. There have been multiple times when I’ve optimistically opened a deck only to find one card that makes me stop and feel a little uneasy. (Even contemporary decks! Come on, fellow deck-designers, we need to do better!)

Have you come across cards in your own decks that make you pause? Have you found a deck that is really representative of contemporary clients’ needs? Please let me know what you have found in your own study. I look forward to exploring the cultural contexts of our decks more in depth!

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LWB Review: Oracle Belline

The Oracle Belline* was originally published by Grimaud in 1961. The LWB (little white book) in this case has a bold red cover which looks really lovely when you open the black box. Inside, repeated in French, English, and Dutch, you find a supposed history of the cards, suggested methods for reading with the deck, and keywords for each card. (In the French section you also get two pages of quotes praising M. Belline’s psychic abilities; which would be eyebrow raising in a contemporary deck, but is somewhat endearing given the deck’s age.)

On the first page of each translation section, the book admonishes that “these very magnetic cards should not be used except by their posessor, who shall derive beneficent lights from them” and there are lines and a space for you to write your name. I have not felt moved to write my name in the book yet. But it’s good to know that I could write it in any one or all three of the translations if I change my mind.

The book is supposedly written by M. Belline, an oracle who reached apparent fame in the 1950’s. M. Belline begins with “The Extraordinary Story of the ‘Orcale’ Cards” which is as intriguing as it is ridiculous. In this story he claims to have found an antique set of hand-painted cards from 1845 by a mysterious clairvoyant-illustrator who went by the name of Edmond. He found this rare treasure in a group of books and papers that were destined to be incinerated. M. Belline rescued the mysterious cards, developed a method for working with them, and with the help of Grimaud, published the cards… under his name, of course. M. Belline may have been good at cartomancy, but modest he was not.

A unique one-of-a-kind artist-made antique deck that by a twist of fate came to light and was reproduced by THE Grimaud publishers… now as much as I would love for that to be true, it seems really unlikely. I will have to do more research though before I can confirm my suspicions.

The book goes on to give four different methods for reading with the cards. Here’s where some typos and strange translation choices in the English version get a little confusing. At one point it suggests to “study the cards thoroughly by covering them.” But it never explains what it means to “cover” a card. In another set of instructions it refers to “court cards,” but there are no literal court cards in the deck and no playing-card equivalents are listed anywhere in the booklet. So I still can’t tell you how to complete a “Cosmic Number Method.” However, I am really very interested in “The Cross Method” as it contains card positions I work with in most of my own spreads.

Its instructions (when they make sense) are helpful. For example, it suggests that “a good card always neutralizes a malevolent one if it touches it.” And the examples listed are informative if you take the time to follow them along. Unfortunately, the examples only list the cards by their numbers and not their titles, which makes it hard to follow without having memorized the cards completely first. I’m going to assume this was an attempt to cut out any extra type possible; although I think the two pages of “critical acclaim” for M. Belline would have been a better candidate to cut for space.

The book refers to the deck as a game “in familiarizing you with the Big Enigma.” How very French. Probably partly why I love this deck so. It goes on to say that “it shall give you, besides knowledge, a well-being precious beyond all others: self-confidence.” Surprisingly empowering words for a LWB from 1961!

The keywords section is pretty standard LWB form. The card name listed in order of appearance in the deck, four or five key phrases associated with the card, and the occasional pairing meaning listed as well. I’ve always found the pairing examples in this and many Lenormand deck LWB’s helpful in understanding the overall tone of a deck.

There is an additional card that comes with the deck. It is only mentioned once and is the last comment in the keywords section:  “An additional plain blue card is specially beneficent and can be used as a substitution card.” From the LWB I’m unclear as to whether the blue card should be kept within the deck and used in readings or if it is truly a spare. I have chosen to leave it in my deck and it has appeared in every reading I’ve given to my partner and no one else so far. We’ve come to jokingly refer to auspicious events in his life as “the blue card.”

Overall the LWB included with my edition of Oracle Belline* is pretty helpful and, if not historically informative, it’s at least amusing. I’d like to indulge in the idea of the Mage Edmond and his mysterious precious handmade cards; but the skeptic in me says, “why package it as snake oil? It’s still just as useful if we call it olive oil, right?” But there is something charming about my edition of the Oracle Belline; its minimal mysterious packaging; its insistence on the celebrity of M. Belline and the validity of his “Extraordinary Story.”  This deck asks me to actively suspend disbelief, which may be why I end up feeling like I come away with really blunt and to-the-point readings.

So despite some difficulties with poor translations and my desire for historically accurate information; I am still infatuated with this deck and its accompanying LWB.

*I am not sure what year my Oracle Belline was printed. There was no external packaging and the LWB was apparently reproduced faithfully to the original 1961 version without additional information about the edition. My deck has gilded edges, is of very thick card stock, and came in a black faux-alligator-skin rigid box. It was purchased new in Paris in 2017.