Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Making Of: The Book

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
As I mentioned last week, it is my intention to regularly post on the ideas and process behind the creation of the Celtic Lenormand.  This week, I thought we'd take a look at the Book.

This was a somewhat tricky card, because there is no evidence of books as we know them in Celtic times.  Instead, my idea was to show a pair of linked bronze tablets, or wax tablets inset into wood.  These were used during that period, either for permanent messages (bronze), or for messages which could be deleted and the tablets re-used (wax).  There is evidence of two of these being linked together and folded closed, thus protecting the wax and the message. 

At first, I thought to have the 'Book' lying open, so it would be more obvious that this was two tablets, rather than a paper book.  However, that conflicted with the idea in Lenormand that the Book is closed to indicate secrets (though there are some exceptions, even in quite traditional decks). 

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
It also raised the issue of what to put as a text, and what type of writing to use.  There is a known ancient Irish script, and closer to the Brittany home of this deck there is Gaulish.  Often, especially in the later period, Celts used Latin for writing, as a kind of lingua franca, and because there was no unified celtic language.  With all those considerations in mind, I opted for a closed Book.  The 'tablet' nature of it may be less apparent, but it fits better overall, and still creates a lovely image.

Another factor was the light.  Celtic roundhouses didn't generally have windows, so the two main options were a candle or daylight streaming in through the open door.  For the Book, I decided to go for the latter, to represent the light of illumination that can come from study.  This is brighter far than the single candle of our own minds, the combination of the ideas and insights of generations and multitudes!  None of this is necessary to our understanding of the Book, it is simply intended as an unconscious support for the traditional meanings.

In my eyes, Will did a beautiful job with this card.  I love the rough stone wall that shows in the background, and the celtic knotwork detail on the table legs.  The Book itself is also wonderful, the wooden nature of it very apparent, as well as the beautiful binding to highlight the importance of what it holds.  Hopefully, reading with it, and the other cards of this deck, will help us study and explore some of the mysteries in our own lives.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Making Of: The Owls

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington

The creation of cards, the thoughts and ideas behind them, and how that eventually gets expressed, is something that has always interested me when looking at other people's decks.  That is the kind of insight I'd like to offer in this post...

Working with Will Worthington has been absolutely amazing.  He is a wonderful artist, with decades of experience, and an eye for animals, plants and nature that I have always admired.  When we started work on the Celtic Lenormand, I sent him through "storyboards" (which he later called briefs) on each of the cards.  In these, I included reference images taken from the internet, as well as a written description and suggestions of which aspects of the reference images would best depict that.  Most often, these were enough for him to create sketches, and later paintings, that expressed beautifully what I had been trying to put across.

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
While Lenormand cards aren't read according to the images in the same way that tarot cards would be, we are still affected by images at many levels.  Art therapists, Jungians, and other psychotherapists, as well as neuroscientists, recognise that art affects us at the level of instinct, in visceral ways.  And many also talk about how images work with our intuition, tapping into cultural ideas that are often not conscious.  Due to this, unless you have a card with just a word on it you cannot avoid a "visual" response to a card image.  Even then, we react to the shape of words as though they were images, and respond to the meaning of words at a symbolic level! 

For this reason, although I am not trying to create cards which should be read by image alone, I still feel it is important for the image to offer the same sense as the card meaning.  For the Owls, I asked Will to draw three European owls sitting huddled together on a tree branch, looking in different directions.  When he sent me through the first sketch, though, it really didn't have the "feel" I was hoping for. 

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
Originally, I wanted European owls because in French folklore these "eared" owls are considered wise, while the "earless" owls are seen as harbingers of death.  Will and I had an email discussion about whether European owls, with their tufty ears, could ever look wise and calm, and I finally agreed that in most photographs of these birds they do look rather grumpy and arrogant.  Photos of non-eared Barn Owls look much nicer, and they also seem more sociable, which fits with the idea of communication.  On that basis, we agreed to try them out in a sketch.

While this sketch was much "rougher" than the majority of those Will sent me, I decided I liked the feel of it, and gave him the okay to go ahead on that basis.  And I'm very glad I did! 

Although the final painting doesn't fit as well with French folkloric ideas, it fits perfectly with what I wanted the card to express.  I find the colours on the owls' wings beautiful and their expressions lovely.  The dark outline of the tree branches behind the owls lends an air of mystery and uncertainty, and their posture echoes this, a certain nervousness that requires them to sit close together and try to watch each other's back.

This painting, for me, expresses both the idea of communication as well as that of nervousness.  It supports an intuitive understanding of the basic keywords connected with this Lenormand card.  I hope that others will agree and enjoy using it in their readings.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Birchrods: Whip or Broom

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
One traditional way of reading Lenormand cards suggests defining cards as positive, negative or neutral.  This can be a useful technique to help decide amongst alternative interpretations.  For example, if a negative card falls next to a neutral card, the latter will take a more negative meaning from the spectrum of possibilities associated with it.

Alongside this, though, it can be useful to see all cards as having both positive and negative interpretations inherent in them.  While some dismiss this as a New Age approach, there are good reasons to consider it.  Psychologically, all symbols (including words) can take more than one meaning, and can also be interpreted in nuanced ways. 

At what might be seen as a more practical level we can think in business terms, taking as an example the classic SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  In this, every strength implies an opposing threat and every weakness suggests opportunities.

Following these ideas, we find even within traditional Lenormand meanings that something similar is possible.  Take the card Birchrods, for example.  In some decks this is titled Whips, in others it is called Broom.  And if we take a look at the Celtic Lenormand image, we see how these are both potential uses to which a bundle of Birchrods can be put.  Lift those rods high and bring them down on someone, they are clearly a whip.  Hold them with the free tips down, and you can sweep the floor clean. 

The same holds true for the interpretations of the card.  It can indicate a tongue lashing, physical abuse, or a pattern of negative behaviour.  And what might be a solution to these situations?  Performing some kind of cleansing: of your mind, behaviour or life.  You may need to sweep out your own negative patterns, or brush someone out of your life, if you want to break free of the unpleasantness indicated by the Whips aspect of the card.

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
This solution-within-the-problem approach can be taken to many cards.  For instance, the Fox can represent someone deceitful.  In which case, you may need to trust your instincts or bring particular skills into play in order to deal with the situation.  Likewise, if you see someone poisonous in the Snake, you may need to take a winding route to your destination in order to avoid them.

In the same way, there can be difficulties inherent in positive cards.  The Sun can represent optimism and energy.  Yet displaying these can encourage others to want to harness our energy to their projects, and our sunny nature could make it hard to say no.  Still, if we are aware of these potential threats, we may be better equipped to deal with them.

This way of looking at the cards as having their opposite pole - or their solution - within them is not a blind denial of the difficulties life can throw at us, nor of the generally positive or negative nature of particular cards.  Far more, it is intended as a proactive and empowering way to use their messages to navigate our lives.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Card-Reading Traditions

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
Whether you've jumped here from the beautiful and wise Tierney Sadler, or found your way here another way, I bid you welcome to another Tarot Blog Hop.  And if you should lose your way at any point, you can find the Master List here.

The question our wonderful wrangler Arwen set us this time round was: What traditions are important to you in how you read Tarot?  I'll adapt it to reading Lenormand cards, though ;)

It may surprise some people to hear me say that tradition is important to me.  Admittedly, the Celtic Lenormand has non-traditional aspects: extra cards and a 'theme'.  And yet, the fundamental structure, and the basic way of reading the cards are totally traditional, while the meanings and keywords simply expand on the traditional Lenormand perspective, rather than throwing it out the window.  The images, though, are admittedly very different to what is found on 19th century cards...

What it comes down to is that being wedded to a single tradition does not suit me.  In this, as in many things, an integrative rather than a purist approach is my preferred route.  So, this deck honours the Lenormand tradition, but also honours pagan traditions.  And the melding of those two different approaches mean the deck expands on tradition, rather than following it absolutely.

©C. McCracken & W. Worthington
For example, today is Beltane or May Day.  To represent this spoke on the Wheel of the Year, I chose the card traditionally called Bouquet or, as in this case, Flowers.  This is no bouquet plucked by a florist and arranged to give as a gift to a pretty girl one is wooing.  No, this is the gift that nature offers us every year when flowers blossom anew after the winter snows.  The meanings of beauty and a gift remain, but the perspective is somewhat different, and the connection to Beltane is something that is not a traditional Lenormand association.  Yet, as the saying goes: April showers bring May flowers.  This card was, for me, the obvious choice to meld these two traditions - Lenormand and a nature-based spirituality.

So, to answer the question asked, it is important to me to follow the semantic approach of Lenormand reading.  I don't read Lenormand cards the way I read tarot cards.  I allow my intuition to be sparked by the range of keywords, rather than by particular elements in the image.  And those keywords start from the traditional basics, expanding out in somewhat different directions because when I read my focus is almost always on personal development, psychology and spirituality.  That is what I work with on a daily basis, so that is what I bring to my readings. 

Yet, each reader will have their own keywords, and so your words don't have to be the same as mine.  Another tradition I follow is that of honouring the person doing the reading: if you read with these cards, then your interpretation is the one that counts!  And I hope you will read with these cards... :)

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the blog hop.  Next stop is The Cauldron Born, for some more purely pagan wisdom and tradition.