Pandoracon Panel – 19th Century Fortune Telling Part 1

Robert Scott, psychic and paranormal writer for the Pandora Society, presented on 19th Century Fortune Telling Saturday, November 12th at Pandoracon.


At the scheduled time, the presentation begins. The main methods  covered are cards, both Tarot and Lenormand, dice, tea leaf reading, palmistry, and scrying or gazing.

Questions from audience/panel: What do you consider for a soothsayer character in steampunk or fiction?

“Aside from the historical aspects, avoid racial or cultural stereotypes or generalizations, such as gypsies being the fortune teller.  Build up a history, such as what led them to be a soothsayer, why it is important to them, or how they became one, and what their tool or specialty might be. Consider what type of technology might be invented to assist them.  ”

Question from panel : What about costume / appearance?

“Well for me personally, my derby has a infinity symbol, taken from the Magician card in the tarot deck.  My boots have skull buckles and I got them in the French Quarter. I use a leather holster pouch for my cards. I wear various other pins on my hat and vest. This is not only what I wear to steampunk events, but also very much what I wear to do readings in general, as a personal choice.”

Question from panel audience: What about runes?

“Runes weren’t really used in divination until Llewelyn published a book on a system. Norse and Ogham runes were used in many ways, but there is no prior history of them being used in divination.”

There were three main decks of Tarot at the time. 19th-century-tarot-cards

Originally, Marseilles Tarot was, and is to this day, also a playing card game. It was adapted to fortune telling. The Eteilla 1791on the other hand, was the first deck made specifically for fortune telling. The deck made by Wirth began to add occult esoteric information overlaid and embedded in it, and Kabbalah.  It didn’t make the scene until 1890.. The  Marseilles, Eteilla and imilar Historical and European style decks are read a bit differently than modern decks, as the pip cards aren’t fully illustrated., and rely a bit more on intuition. The Marseilles style were originally carved on wood blocks, which were then stamped, inked, and pressed onto the cards.

So to create these was a work of crafting as well as art. They also tend to be quite a bit larger than modern standard playing cards.  When writing to the time period,

There are plenty of images of Marseilles decks available for reference, and they wouldn’t have necessarily been referred to as tarot, but also ‘cards’. There were a few other

Italian decks, but the predominant cards were French.  English tarot cards, particularly for divination,  didn’t come until 1910 with Rider Waite Smith.  With the Rider Waite Smith, much more esoteric was hidden, but the minors became illustrated. If writing about

Card reading, a card reading doesn’t just take a matter of seconds .. Earlier decks are read more reflective and intuitive, and not as intellectual or academic.

Audience / Panel Questions : How do you store your cards / silk / anything “special”?

” I store them, as much as possible in their original box, or in a cloth bag, or typically in my leather pouch. I don’t do silk, as its not particularly protective in any way. If I really need to protect from weather, I’d use a ziploc bag as well.”

florney-dodalHere is a close up, and showing more cards from my favorite Marseilles deck, Jean Dodal. Tradition was that the year and maker was placed on the 2 of coins.

Tarot has went from artwork, to a game, to fortune telling, to a game, to more refined divination, a map of spiritual development, a tool for magical use, a metaphor of the world and creation, a game, an intuitive tool and trigger, and a tool even used by counselors, psychologists. Tarot can be used for also inspiring the creation of a story or writing.

Madame Marie Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand (1772–1843) was a French professional fortune-teller of considerable fame during the Napoleonic era, and likewise , Victorian . Madame Lenormand  highly influential on the wave of French cartomancy that began in the late 18th century. She was stated to have advised the leaders during French Revolution, and also wrote on the subject, all in French, of course. The cards shown were created later, and named for her based on her methods.

Crystal balls or crystal gazing in one way was imported from Buddhists as a meditation , focus insight meditation tool, this continues today.  The idea is to use the crystal as a means to have emptiness and clearness of mind, which then allows better insight and clarity of what is “real”.

Crystal for gazing or scrying is typically less clear, more foggy. Scrying is also done with raw crystal chunks, dark crystal-ballgems, dark glass, or water. Scrying was used by Nostradamus to write the quatrains. Also, John Dee used scrying to developic his Enochian Angelic systems. To gain images via scrying takes 30 minutes to an hour to even receive any images, and they begin as fog or mists taking form. True scrying does not look like someone watching the ball and getting television like images. So when writing about gazing, be sure to draw it out.

Crystal balls make also a lovely decoration, as well as I have experimented with using it as a “magnifier” to other tools I use. Don’t let sun hit it, you’ll end up with a fire.

Audience / Panel question: I heard something about keeping a crystal ball covered with a black cloth? What’s that about?

“There are different methods of personal choice or superstition, but there is nothing about care of it that’s particular”.  However also, any device used for spirit communication, as we discussed, you’d want to block or shut out , as any ‘gate’ goes both ways.

Stay tuned for part 2 – due to space limitations!

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