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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?