Today I decided to draw from a favourite non-tarot deck. Simply a whim. And the fact that I was quite pressed for time and thought – before dashing out of the house – that it might be quite nice to have a keyword and, spared interpretation, ponder at regular intervals throughout the afternoon what it might be referring to. The deck I used was Lo Scarabeo’s Cards of Nostradamus. I hate that name; conjours up images of soothsaying, conspiracy theories and a slight fakeness when applied to a deck, as we all know that Nostradamus scryed into water (or was it ink?) and there is no record of him reading actual cards. The images are taken from Césare Ripa’s book Iconologia which was first published in 1593. It is an emblem book displaying engraved allegorical and metaphorical figures for certain concepts, passions, states and virtues of the late 16th and early 17th century. The frontispage of Pierce Tempest’s 1709 translation can be seen below.
The images are fascinating and work quite well as types and symbols in a card reading context. These allegorical emblems (Ripa’s wasn’t the only one of the time) became something of a craze in the baroque period, working their way into many paintings, engravings and poems and have subsequently been used by Art Historians to decipher images and tell us more about the mind-set of the period. However, all this is background stuff. Suffice it to say that I think Ripa’s Oracle Cards or Iconologia Oracle Cards would be a much more fitting name for this deck. I actually call them to myself (having disposed of the box) Iconology Cards. Much nicer. There are 78 of them (selected from Ripa’s original 326 images) but that is the only similarity they have with tarot cards. The connection with Nostradamus is that proverbs have been taken from his writings to tie in with the allegorical figures, (i.e title and image taken from Ripa, short ambiguous proverb taken from Nostradamus). I often draw a card in conjuction with a reading, usually alongside a historical deck, usually in the vein of “what do I need to know?” Today I drew one, while rushing to put on my shoes, choose a tie, thinking “what do I need to know today?” I drew card number 66, Agreements.
My first thought, since I have something stuck in customs with endless bureaucratic demands driving me mad, was “at last, today they should agree to deliver it”. But it is the end of the day and it shows no signs of being liberated by customs. So it can’t be that. At the end of the day, my attention is drawn to the olive sprig being proffered. Not just agreements, but peace. I think this may be referring to a sudden change in a relationship with a colleague. The unaccountable end to a period of slight tension. And it was only today that I realised it. A person has suddenly started being nice to me and I have no idea why. Of course I reciprocate, let bygones be bygones. But I was struck by this today and yet was too busy to make the connection with the card I had drawn earlier in the day. The accompanying verse reads “As the myrtle protects the olive’s fruit, let man protect each other.” I like that. Makes me think of solidarity. This is one of very few actual oracle decks which resonate with me, especially in terms of imagery. The meanings are limited, slightly moralistic sometimes and not always easy to adapt to 21st Century life. But they can give a tiny, sage nudge in a particular direction, a prod from another era. I like their lack of ambiguity (titles include “Progress”, “Ostentation”, “Stagnation”, “Vagueness”, “Yearning” &c) . The small accompanying leaflet tells us that “their consultation could be of help in confronting daily life with a light spirit.” Makes me think of a charming after dinner parlour game when telling futures with friends.