Dondorf Lenormand, ca. 1880, in my private collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Any act of reading cards is a magical act already, as what you do when reading cards is trying to effect an understanding into your current, past or future relations based entirely on images.

Your recipe for madness, the outsiders would say, forgetting in the process that their own dreamworld is as much part of their lived experience as any good daylight.

People get up in the morning with a nasty feeling that the dream they just had has an impact on their lives, and because of that will behave in a certain way during the course of the day.

This is called living the magical life that we all do as a matter of course, whether some like to admit it or not.

I have no problem with dreamworlds, whether expressed via dreams, cards, literature, or other general symbols, both the daily linguistic ones known as language and other such cultural constructions.

What I’m interested in when I read cards or dreams, or books or stones is the door in the floor, so to speak, the gate to a more nuanced reality that I don’t get to experience as habitual due to various constraints, cultural and intellectual. It’s not always the case that if culture dictates something is taboo, I also instantly question this, thereby using my own brain to figure it why.

So working with cards opens the door to what in my book is called WHY.

Once through this door, I look at functionality. Why is something better than something else? Why is a method of reading the cards better than others?

In my teaching practice I develop all sorts of formulas and techniques. I also like to think of myself as a method theorist. But a method is only as good as it gets things done, as it’s tested by a community of people who share my love for discovery and experiment.

Dondorf Lenormand, ca. 1880 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

I’m sitting right now with a group of people in my Lenormand cards foundation course. I keep an intense pace and the crescendo can seem loud, so loud that some want to cover their ears. Too much information. Too much processing. Too much pressing on with the question of why. ‘Why do I have to think?’

We get to the grand tableau with 36 cards on the table. I instruct that we can spend what amounts to 15 pages of a written report on unravelling just one question, pursuing just one narrative strand not 10, and in the process leave nothing unturned. But I also instruct that we can spend 5 seconds flat on looking at the same tableau and deliver a perfectly straight message that comes out of it. Different techniques, same result.

Some would say, ‘give me more, I like complex analysis.’ Others would say, ‘no thanks. Too complicated.’

The joy of walking through impossible walls

My own approach is not designed towards bringing time into it – ‘it takes too long’, or ‘if it takes only 5 seconds, then I’m suspicious of the method’. Rather, it’s designed towards what gives us joy. The aim is always the same, to be as precise as possible.

There’s joy in unravelling a situation according to detective skills, and there’s joy in glancing at the cards and being able to produce a perfectly clear sentence on just what the situation is all about, or where it’s going.

For this round of essays in the Cards and Magic series that I’ve started here, using the oldest cards in my collection, I want to refer to the kind of magic that we can make recourse to when we consider the metaphor of walking though impossible walls.

This is inspired by the world of butoh dance and my love of Hijikata Tatsumi, its founder. Together with dancer Kazuo Ohno, who disseminated butoh to the larger world, Hijikata Tatsumi opened the door to understanding why giving primacy to the body over language is a gate towards moving beyond thought.

Kazuo Ohno and Hijikata Tatsumi (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Why would we want to do that, you may ask?

Because when we are beyond thought we can perform magic that actually works, the kind of magic that will get us walking on water, or disappearing through thick walls.

Hijikata Tatsumi’s approach was one of restricting the movement of the body in dance, so that one can experience the memory of the primary state. One of his favorite poses therefore has been the fetus position. Contrary to this, Kazuo Ohno’s emphasis has been on expansiveness, and we see it in all his movements in his arms, saluting the heavens, and embracing it. One dancer dark, the other one light. One moving inwards, the other outwards. Contraction and expansion.

Both of these dancers planted the seeds for the way in which we think of how everything is choreographed or improvised. Hijikata Tatsumi hated improvisation, and he claimed that since all of life is one major improvisation, the last place he wanted to see more of it was on stage. Kazuo Ohno pushed improvisation to its highest expression.

What I take from butoh is that it’s significant to know what seeds you sow, if you want to know what you harvest. The point of how this is relevant for cartomancy is that by thinking of just how much choreography or improvisation goes into your readings, you get a clear sense of what gives you joy, especially when you come to the point when you doubt yourself.

It doesn’t exist

I’ll quote here an inspiring passage from Kazuo Ohno’s words to his students, as I find them very apt for the way in which we get to become conscious of just what kind of magic we can perform when we read the cards. On condition, however:

“The next time you stand in front of a steel door why don’t you try convincing yourself that you could pass through it, rather than simply dismissing the idea as far-fetched. One thing is for sure: those who doubt themselves won’t be able to pull it off. If you firmly believe that you’ll succeed as you go to put your foot forward, who knows but that you’ve already passed clean through the door. I’m convinced that we can overcome our inbuilt fears. It’s force of habit that makes us cling so tenaciously to our self-doubts. Obviously, if considered from a conventional view-point, how could anybody conceivably pass through a steel-faced door? You’ll never escape the prison of the self if you continue looking at life in that way. Once you feel your mind holding your feet back, you should already be on the move.”

Yes, you should already be on the move. The mind holds you back? How about just reading the damn cards?

You know you perform magic in the world with your cards, when what you deliver as a message is all your own, not one based on what the mainstream is doing, on what’s written in the books, on what others have to say about the said books, or on what your teacher tells you – myself included.

But for this to happen, to own your message, you must be open to discovery, not to the expectation that someone other than yourself will give you the long-awaited aha moment.

Read the damn cards, and let them be the teacher. You can actually go thorough that steel door, if you want to.

Steel door magic

Lay down a grand tableau and read it at a glance by looking at the intersecting point between your significator (Man or Woman) and the Mountain, your steel door that you want to go through.

If you must hold a thought in your head, let it be in the form of a mantra: ‘Read the damn cards’.

Expect nothing. Experience everything.

Are you moving already?

Dondorf Lenormand, ca. 1880 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

Take the intersecting card as a significator for dissolving your self-doubt. What is this card? Can you visualize it as your cloak of invisibility?

If your significator card is in the same line as the Mountain, then look at what’s ahead of you. If the Mountain itself, then that’s your dissolving magic. If the Mountain is in your vertical line, then look at what’s beneath your feet. Let that be your dissolving card.

If you have a master that you cherish, cross his line with that of the Mountain. Take the intersecting card to represent a specific teaching from that master for how you can either enter or consolidate your process of dissolving your self-doubt.

In my own example above, you can observe the following:

Dondorf Lenormand, ca. 1880 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

The Mountain is behind me, in the same line, so we have no intersecting point. I very much like this, as it simply means that I’ve already dissolved my self-doubts – well, years of Zen practice will that to you…

What’s ahead of me is the Clover. I take this as a sign that if I still need to perform dissolving magic so I can walk right through any steel door, all I have to do is snap my fingers.

Since I mentioned the butoh dancers, I picked the Man as a significator for Hijikata Tatsumi, as he has my whole heart, and the Rider for Kazuo Ohno.

Such glorious cards. Ohno is already in my line, and it’s not surprising since I’ve just quoted him extensively. His teaching for me regarding my magic is that I’m the magic. He intersects with the Mountain in the Coffin, for the past, and Woman, for the present. Death to all belief. Just step through whatever needs stepping through. There’s only a steel door there, if I believe it. If I don’t, there’s none. It’s up to the Woman, me, to decide.

Hijitata Tatsumi’s significator, the Man, intersects with the Mountain in the Tree for the present, and the Birds for the past. His teaching for me is that if my own spine is strong enough – the Tree backs my own significator, Woman – then it can host a flight of birds. Divination is all about hearing the language of the birds, or at least that’s what the sages of old have been saying.

I take Tatsumi’s teaching here to mean that I can always draw on his ‘pointing out instruction’, quite in line with the venerable Zen masters’ instruction, and go through all the doors I fancy, as I will always know what to do.

What I also like here is the his significator landed among the last 4 cards, the ‘destiny’ cards, suggesting that, here, I’m not just merely talking about this master of coiling, but that we’re also ‘married’ to the idea.

Dondorf Lenormand, ca. 1880 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

I’ll stop here before I launch into a complex analysis of this beautiful tableau, but the magic remains.

Use your old cards to create magic for yourself, and start walking through those steel doors. What you need is the joy of discovering things, not the lament that it’s impossible to follow through, or walk right through the mountain in front of you. When magic is present in your consciousness, there isn’t even the thing called climbing.

Stay in loop for cartomantic courses. The Advanced Lenormand Course is coming up, with registration opening for just three on October 6. The Cards and Magic course is also coming back in a completely revamped state, some time in April, next year. Stay tuned. For more essays of this type, check the tag here, Cards and Magic or read about performing 7 rituals with the grand tableau on Taroflexions.

About Camelia Elias
Camelia Elias, PhD, Dr.Phil., is a former university professor. After 20 years in the academia, she left her career to pursue her interests in teaching and writing on the philosophy and practice of reading cards. She works with contemplative arts, oracular language, and martial arts cartomancy and Zen at her own school, Aradia Academy. You can read more about the author here.

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