Camelia Elias, gelatin silver print

A mason will arrive at the new house to fix a wall for what will be my darkroom. I vacillated as to where to have it, but then I let tradition rule: The basement is the place. Although there’s a tiny window here, I can easily block the light coming through, so I can be there in utter darkness. The basement is quite atmospheric to the point of occult joy.

I play it all in my head, the final look of the room, featuring dark Japanese screens covering the old oil stove installed there in 1960. The Persian rug in my current darkroom will be replaced with a new one, befitting the square format of the room, resembling the insides of a womb, lush and burgundy red.

The professional painters have just finished painting the walls that don’t need modification, but all I can smell in my head is chemicals. I love to infinity the darkroom processing of film and the transposition of images unto baryta, silver coated fiber paper. I play in my head, all the moves that go into dodging and burning, developing, stopping, and fixing the image. The long wash. The drying.

My current darkroom (Photo: Camelia Elias)

I have strange things in my current darkroom: pictures of fierce dakinis inherited from ancient collections, pictures of people I love that I processed myself, statues and their shadows, amulets, books, and books, and books. While waiting for it to be ready, in my head I play the placement of every object in the new darkroom to intimidating perfection. How much is too much? How little is too little? It occurs to me that these questions form the core fundamentals to everything I do.

I read the cards with these questions in mind, so I can get a sense of just what is necessary to deliver. The highest praise I get for my work with the cards comes from clients to say this to me: ‘I want to know this, but if it’s bad news I don’t want to know. Just the constructive part. I only need that at this point’. The highest praise a fortuneteller can receive, a fortuneteller who holds zero beliefs, is in the form of another’s belief in the message: ‘Whatever you say, I believe you.’ The cards often tell a story that is ‘just so’. That’s why this work is magical. I don’t have to believe in anything to make others believe that ‘it is so’.

‘How do you do it,’ many want to know, especially since my cartomancy is not informed by belief. I tell everybody that I get it all from literature, poetry, theatre, dance, math, analog photography processing, painting, the lives of artists. I get it all from my huge library of books.

What you learn from textbooks is a method that you can apply to your thinking. Now think about this: While most think that method serves their self-interest, in reality what serves your self-interest is the way in which you think before method. If your thinking is deranged, as in fallacious, derailed from what is actual and factual, or fraught with emotional content, then no amount of genius methods will get you to any perceived form of mastery.

This is what I learnt myself in professing different career paths. If I achieved any mastery in anything, which has always been my aim in any learning effort I’ve put into it, I can safely say that it all came from having adjusted my thinking first, before any method was applied to the new understanding of things.

When your cards hit the table, you play out in your head the narratives that emerge. They will all be competing for your attention. Which one will be the most essential and relevant to what you need to address? What game do you play? An intuitive one? A deductive one? What chess players do when they anticipate moves is the closest approximation we have to how we can describe a method whose sole function is to aid the already started thinking process.

What I advise all my cartomancy students is to make sure that before they all binge on method books, they build a library that consists of anything but textbooks. These are the ones that will help, when you have to deal with the unpredictable, with having to measure when enough is enough.

Dondorf Francfurt Lenormand in my collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)

You see the Crossroads and the Ship together. You think in dispensing advice pertaining to someone’s predicament in straight fortune-telling terms: ‘You’ll take a long journey as an alternative’. You’ll stop right there, if all you ever did in your cartomantic life is read textbooks.

If you read novels, however, then you’ll discover that the first thing that you’ll want to mention is something else, so you’ll say things like this: ‘You won’t take the path of least resistance. You’re looking at a long journey by boat. No grounding in the earth for you here, unless you’re a good diver and like to seek the bottom of the sea once in a while for the sheer pleasure of saying hi to the weird fish. A long journey by boat is not all smooth. There’s turbulence. You won’t even have a sign post in front of you, instructing you to turn left or right. There’s GPS these days, but how is an electronic device going to save your ass from thunder and storm? What can you rely on? Yes, your diving gear may come in handy, but do you have the skills for it? Besides, do you even know why you’re on that boat? When you encounter a sign post at the crossroads, not many point to the deep waters. Or wait, you just want to sail in order to put as much immeasurable distance between you and her, the Queen of Diamonds ruling the fork in the path. If that’s the case, the wisdom, ‘not my monkey, not my circus,’ won’t help you, as you’ll find yourself immersed in nostalgia, for her and her trickster ways. A Queen of Diamonds knows the value of shining brightly. She is the embodied science of polished minerals, which you now think are the waters you travel on. Good luck to you, and your alternative long journey…’ And so on and so forth.

Dondorf Francfurt Lenormand in my collection (Photo: Camelia Elias)

How do you think with your cards? That’s the question. In cartomancy, method is but a footnote to how you act on a whim, to how you respond spontaneously to what you see, when seeing is not contaminated by a set of expectations.

My Advanced Lenormand Course is now open for registration. Come and learn to think with your cards, so you can read like the Devil.

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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