Just because spirits can come to me doesn’t mean they are in control — I am. I wasn’t so disciplined at the beginning, but then I was more inexperienced and possibly a little naïve. As an example, I do remember one time when I was at a party where no one knew me. I was mingling with the guests when a young man walked in and pushed past me to get a drink.
But to balance such arcane decks, there are divinatory cards that offer little room for interpretation, like “Le Scarabée d’Or” or The Golden Beetle Oracle, one of Wolf’s most prized decks. “It’s just fantastically bizarre. There’s a little window in the lid of the card box, and when you shake it, the beetle appears, and points to a number,” he explains. “Then you find the corresponding number on a set of round cards, with beautiful script text on them, and read your fortune. Can you not imagine standing in a Victorian parlor in France, consulting the Golden Beetle? It was like performance art.”
The pentacles is the suit of all things worldly and material. Though we will immediately think of the pentacles as relating to financial matters, we also can understand them as being associated with security, stability, nature, health, and prosperity. The pentacles are of earth element. When we see pentacles show up in a reading, they are usually concerned with your long term future, career, generosity, your household, business investments and your feelings of sensuality. The negative side of the pentacles show up as greed, jealousy, miserliness, and unbridled ambition at the cost of all else.
In the late 19th century the fraudulent methods of spirit photographers such as David Duguid and Edward Wyllie were revealed by psychical researchers. Hereward Carrington documented various methods (with diagrams) how the medium would manipulate the plates before, during, and after the séance to produce spirit forms. The ectoplasm materializations of the French medium Eva Carrière were exposed as fraudulent. The fake ectoplasm of Carrière was made of cut-out paper faces from newspapers and magazines on which fold marks could sometimes be seen from the photographs. Cut out faces that she used included Woodrow Wilson, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, French president Raymond Poincaré and the actress Mona Delza.
The magician Samri Baldwin exposed the tricks of the Davenport brothers in his book The Secrets of Mahatma Land Explained (1895). The medium Swami Laura Horos was convicted of fraud several times and was tried for rape and fraud in London in 1901. She was described by the magician Harry Houdini as "one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known".
The exposures of fraudulent activity led to a rapid decline in ectoplasm and materialization séances. Investigator Joe Nickell has written that modern self-proclaimed mediums like John Edward, Sylvia Browne, Rosemary Altea and James Van Praagh are avoiding the Victorian tradition of dark rooms, spirit handwriting and flying tambourines as these methods risk exposure. They instead use "mental mediumship" tactics like cold reading or gleaning information from sitters before hand (hot reading). Group readings also improve hits by making general statements with conviction, which will fit at least one person in the audience. Shows are carefully edited before airing to show only what appears to be hits and removing anything that does not reflect well on the medium.
In contrast to most oracle decks, which don’t include suited pip cards, Lenormand cards feature a unique combination of numbered playing-card imagery on top of illustrated scenes used for fortune-telling. “One of the earliest versions, called the Game of Hope, was made by a German named J.K. Hechtel and was prepared like a board game,” says Matthews. “You laid out cards 1 to 36, and the object of the game was to throw the dice and move your tokens along it. If you got to card 35, which was the anchor card, then you’re home, safe and dry. But if you went beyond that, it was the cross, which was not so good. It was like the game Snakes and Ladders.” In this way, the Game of Hope fell into the Victorian-era tradition of board games that determined a player’s life story based on luck.
“Quite recently, it was discovered by Mary Greer that there was a prior source to the Lenormand cards,” she continues. “There’s a deck in the British Museum called ‘Les Amusements des Allemands’ (‘The German Entertainment’). Basically, a British firm put together a pack of cards that has images and little epigrams on the bottom, which say things like, ‘Be aware, don’t spend your money unwisely,’ and that sort of thing. It’s quite trite. But it came with a book of text that’s almost identical to the instructions for later packs of Lenormand cards.”
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