Gypsy Witch fortune-telling cards
I was intrigued by the box as soon as I saw it on the auction table: “Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Cards.” Beneath the title was a witch in black tending a blazing fire under a black pot – or was it a cauldron? – with a black cat sitting just behind her.
She was a far cry from the image I had in my head – put there, no doubt, by movies – of a gypsy woman, scarf on her head, peering into a crystal ball or gingerly placing cards on a table before a victim sitting opposite her. This deck stayed away from that image.
I’m not much of a believer in the occult and fortune telling – I believe that we create our lives as we go – but I do find the subject interesting. I grew up in the South with some family members who believed in spells, roots and superstitions. Never ever let a black cat cross in front of you. Never ever walk under a ladder. And do believe that someone can put roots on you to drive you crazy.
I even picked up a book from a second-hand bookstore about a year ago titled ‘Rootwork: Using the Folk Magick of Black America for Love, Money, and Success.” I bought it because I was writing a freelance newspaper article about whether I brought spirits home with me in the items I buy at auction, based on a blog post I had done.
Just as I did with that book, I automatically gravitated toward the deck of cards purporting to tell your future and fortune – even if I found it a little far-fetched. These cards did not have the look of your usual 52-deck. Miniature versions of standard playing cards were in the upper left corner of each card, with drawings and meanings along the bottom and right side.
I read the meanings on a few of the cards, and they were foreboding (I hope the other cards held more pleasant and positive messages):
On the ace of spades was a pair of swords with #37 and the message: “The rapiers warn us against assaults which threaten and will occur sooner or later, according to the distance from the person.”
On the ace of clubs (# 31): “The roads turned to the dark clouds foretells misadventures, but far from the person the evil consequences may be averted.”
On the deuce of clubs (#46): “The railroad forecasts a long journey; if near 44, a serious accident; if near 29, a robbery.”
I’m sure these cards are big fun at a party as a novelty item, but I know that folks who believe in the occult are serious about fortune telling through cards, which I learned was called cartomancy. Tarot card reading is a form of cartomancy.
The deck at auction still had its instructions sheet inside the box, and both the cards and the sheet were in good condition. They were made by the United States Playing Card Co., but there was no publication date. Gypsy cards apparently were first produced in 1904 and are still being published and used.
According to the instructions, the cards were based on those created by a “Mlle. Le Normand, the celebrated French Mystic.” The Gypsy cards were produced to preserve her system of telling the past, present and future. They included a short reading and a longer detailed reading.
Marie Anne Lenormand was a famous French fortune teller of the 18th and 19th century who advised Empress Josephine (first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte) and Czar Alexander I of Russia, among others, according to wikipedia and other sites. After her death in 1843, according to wikipedia, a special deck of Lenormand cards were produced. She used her own customized deck of 36 cards.
I didn’t buy the cards at auction – I didn’t find them that interesting – so I’m not sure what they sold for. Not much, I hope, because you can get a deck on amazon.com for 7 bucks or at Wal-Mart online for $4.33.