Oh, people, I am just having THE MOST fun time with my few days of “freedom” as my kids are with their dad and their grandma at the beach. I’m actually leaving tomorrow to join them for a week, and then I’ll be back in Rome for another week before they come back. You know, in August Rome basically shuts down completely. So I’ve been indulging some of my hobbies and passions that I never have enough time for when the kids are screaming at me. Primary of those being my own personal tarot study, which has led me to a few books here in Italy.
Now, I thought I’d entertain you all with a little gem I found in the library today. I was actually there for a specific book on tarot history but this other book caught my eye so I just checked it out to further investigate it later. The fact of the matter is that I’m a former graphic designer (not graphic artist, just more of a marketing stint) and the typeface of this book, as well as the really old-fashioned Italian writing and spelling, intrigued me. I love vintage anything, but especially vintage writing and advertising.
I started to flip through it on the subway home, and I was just amused to no end. It’s absolutely beyond fabulous. It’s a complete “how to” manual for becoming a cartomancer, in the old-style tarot parlor tradition.
Unfortunately I have no idea whatsoever who the original author was, or when it was originally published, because it is a reproduction that came from a publishing company called Rebis. I discovered that the man behind Rebis is quite a character in and of himself. You know my curiosity is totally insatiable and I have to figure things out. So I looked this guy up, and I found this interview in Italian. (My advice is to ignore the photo. I’m sure that in real life he is completely sane and not stoned, and that those teeth are far less intimidating than they appear at first glance.) Basically he’s got this totally ginormous collection of esoteric texts on everything from magic to alchemy to divination in all its forms. He says he started his collection at AGE TWELVE because he was attracted to occult mysteries. Now he says it comprises over 35,000 books and manuscripts and over SIX THOUSAND decks of cards. In fact he says he used to have a museum in via Venezia in Viareggio (this town is famous throughout Italy and Europe for its Carnevale celebration) but it couldn’t hold his growing collection so he reports in this interview that he “has to find a new set up” to house the collection. Of course I’ll have to do further research on that because it would be fun to visit. Anyone want to join me?
But for now I just want to entertain you with something I don’t think you’ll find translated into English. Sorry I don’t have more details about who wrote this because frankly I’d love to know.
This is one of the introductory pages of the book, under a subheading titled simply “How to Be a Good Cartomancer.” The sentence preceding the page below says, “It’s necessary to employ certain formalities which, while being simple, influence the subject and his spirit.” (They call the querent the “subject.” It’s kind of creepy, right? It makes me feel like the person coming for the reading is under examination. And, upon further reflection, perhaps they are.)
Here’s what it says. Enjoy. Believe me, I sure did. So much so that I want to go out and buy my new cartomancer kit, like, RIGHT NOW. (inserting tongue in cheek. I am simply very intrigued as I’ve never run across anything like this before.)
The first thing to choose when one has to “pull the cards” is the location. It’s necessary to make sure that the subject believes in the truth of your reading. So therefore, in choosing the location, avoid places that are too well-lit. Darkness better prepares souls to the majesty of the mystery, and it renders them more sensitive. It won’t be that easy for you to obtain darkness by closing the windows: the best rooms are those that have dark wallpaper. A small lamp with a lampshade that’s reddish or purple will give a sort of dreamy and mystical light. If you’d like, in a little tin box or something similar, put some hot coals and throw in a pinch of incense, so that you can scent the air, you’ll get a double effect; a few large books placed on the table; a few shiny objects that give off spooky glimmers, like a blade, a crystal ball, etc. If you can get yourself a skull and crossbones, an owl, an embalmed lizard, or some bats, then you’ll have completed your kit, and, bringing your subject into the room, you’ll be preparing his spirit for the discovery of occult power.
One other thing to observe is the following: make sure that the lamplight, whatever it is, never reflects on your face. It always has to hit the subject’s face. This is for the simple reason that this way you’ll be able to easily observe his expression and catch the eloquence of his glances and if he wrinkles his forehead or wipes his forehead as you’re giving your reading.
Too much fun. The book goes on to give very elaborate procedures for telling fortunes with an ordinary Italian 40 or 52-card Milanese deck as well as the traditional Italian tarot deck called tarocchi, which in this book they call the “Roman cards,” or carte romane. The world of Italian playing cards is ENDLESS. Honestly. Every region seems to have its own variation. If you don’t believe me, lookie here. Or here. Nowadays you can buy these playing cards in a tobacconist or in a five-and-dime housewares shop. Modiano is pretty ubiquitous.
If I had time I’d try some of the methods in this book. It looks like good fun. And, completely unrelated to spooky lighting and various embalmed creatures, if you are curious to learn more about divination with “regular” playing cards, might I suggest you pay a visit to the lovely and erudite Camelia at Taroflexions? And if you don’t believe me on this either (perhaps it’s because I didn’t assure you of the veracity of my readings ahead of time by preparing a location that was far too well-lit?), I told you so. Do mention to her that I said hello if you stop by.
Now, go get your “kit” together already, will you? And don’t forget the black wallpaper while you’re at it.