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.