Tag Archives: card history

Resurrecting the Zauberkarten

Die Zauberkarten is a deck first published in Vienna in 1855. It’s one of the Sibilla types that overspread the Continent in the 19th century and includes Italian Sibillas, French Sibyl decks (Sibylle des Salons, Petit Cartomancien, Jeu du Destin, Livre du Destin, etc.), Petit Lenormand, Petit Oracle des Dames…all of the old decks with an image and a playing card inset. There are different systems for reading each.

The difference between these cards and the more familiar Sibillas is that the other decks were continuously, or near-continuously, published, but the Zauberkarten seem to have died out, at least as far as I can tell. Caitlin Matthews acquired an antique copy in 2013, complete with the box and book, and sent scans to Lauren Forestell, who offered them for awhile, along with a slim volume by Caitlin, at her Game of Hope site.

It has images in common with Lenormand, like the Coffin, Snake, Ship, etc., but the meanings tend to be variant. There are some images I’ve seen in other decks, like the Merit Cross and Clasped Hands – but don’t relate it to your Whitman and Gypsy Witch decks just yet – the Pig, for instance, is disreputable rather than lucky. And there are other images that I’ve not seen anyplace else, like the Lightning Struck Tree, Overridden Horse, and Man Heaving Rock Uphill.

In other words, it takes some getting used to, and I haven’t had proper time for it. But the solution to “not having time” is to make time, so I did manage a series of dailies, a couple of which I’m posting here. My object was to see how viable the method, which gives different meanings to the cards depending if they’re on the right or left, is. Did the Zauberkarten die out because of the method? Or not – did the publisher simply fold? The cards do look very readable. Let’s test drive them.

DAY 1:
zaub1Man Clenching Fist, Chains, Sun

For the Man Clenching Fist, the book gives a general meaning of “Apparent reconciliation between enemies accompanied by falsehood. Inconvenience, annoyance.” But on the left, “folly”. Chains in the middle would carry the general meaning of “Loss of freedom. Scheming.” The General meaning of the Sun is “Honor and glory. Gift” and the right-hand meanings are “Gift, winning at games. Lucky in love.”

The synthesis for the left/right meanings, if you didn’t have any context, might be something like a silly attachment to optimism, either material or romantic.
But for general meanings, being unpleasantly bound to people who have an agenda, in hopes of improvement. “Making nice”.

What happened: I’m a day sleeper, but plumbers came to the house at 8 AM. We needed them, but they’re so annoying. Three loud, filthy plumbers. Of course they made a big mess taking everything apart before they figured out that the problem was OUTSIDE – which I could have told them, since it was EVERYTHING that had suddenly clogged.

So I think “folly” applies, but the general meaning is more specific. Plumbers virtually always fib about things in order to make more money, and it WAS inconvenient and annoying. Chains fits – I couldn’t escape, either by leaving or going to sleep. The “gift” of the Sun was me finally being able to sleep after they left and I washed everything down with Clorox. Even though it was only a temporary fix – they left a big trench in the yard with a main pipe draining into it and promised to return the next day.

On this day, the general meanings win hands down. In the case of the Man Clenching Fist, the general meaning overshadowed the left hand meaning (though folly was obviously at play, too.)

DAY 2:
zaub2Coffin, Anchor, Beggar

Well, ramping down for a daily, but the general meaning for Coffin is “Carelessness, recklessness, insurmountable obstacles, misfortune, death”. And the left hand meaning is “severe illness, danger, death”. Anchor gives “Hope, friendship with a woman” for the general meaning. Beggar is “Bad business, suffering of all kinds. Changes” generally, and “embarrassments” on the right.

What happened: The plumbers came back, right on time. They didn’t have to come inside this time. I was asleep but my daughter was up. While they were working on the pipe, somebody with the city was driving by and stopped and told them the landlord needed to get a permit in order for them to do that. Work stopped.

So: carelessness and recklessness in that they didn’t finish the first day (a Sunday) when the city employees wouldn’t have been out looking for opportunities to run their idiotic $60 extortion racket. As for illness, my daughter had a little stomach bug and I was working too close to the potting (a sealant) station, so my eyes got kind of raw. (With dailies, ramp down, ramp down…) The general meaning seems a lot more relevant for the day.

The Beggar’s “Embarrassments” fits because the trench looks trashy and Third World as hell, but this is small town Texas so it blends right in, and there is probably no one within a fifty mile radius that I care to impress. But we need to stay away from it as much as possible since the cards warned of illness. I have “Hope” it will eventually get fixed and filled in. Probably over the weekend, lol. None of the interactions I had with female friends that day stand out. Again, the general meanings seem more accurate and specific than the left/right meanings, but I can’t totally discount left/right.

Tentative conclusion: Learn all the meanings. Retain left/right, but only as a secondary consideration. It adds nuance, and it’s not totally unique to this deck (you see it with the Ring in Lenormand, and card order can be viewed as essentially the same thing, or at least similar). There is no need for modernization, only perspective.

Before it was called Lenormand

Some years ago, noticing the similarities in various European oracle decks like the Lenormand, Italian Sibillas, Biedermeier, etc., and guessing that they had a common ancestor, we went searching for the ur-deck. We never found it, of course, though Enrique Enriquez guessed (correctly) that they might be derived in part from emblem books. (They share a common ancestor called Biribissi, an Italian board game that spawned Mexican Loteria as well!)

But a proto-Lenormand should be simpler to trace, right? Not quite. The earliest images anyone could find were from an 1846 deck printed in France, but primarily for the German market. I only knew two things: A) That the deck had nothing to do with Mlle. Lenormand, and B) That the deck was German (French oracles tend to be less stark, more rococo, with multiple figures playing out a scene on each card. Lenormand is more German than Wurstfest. 😉 ) When you google “Lenormand”, you don’t get anything prior to the deck being named “Lenormand”. And if it was named “Lenormand” as a marketing ploy after Mlle.’s passing, did it exist before that? Well…

“Detleff Hoffman has shown that their prototype can be clearly traced back to a lovely little pack of fancy cards called “Das Spiel der Hoffnung” (The Game of Hope), published around 1800 by G.P.J. Bieling in Nuremberg.”
– A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (1996), Ronald Decker, Thierry Deplaulis & Michael Dummett

Fortunately, the entire deck still exists, and the British Museum has an intact copy, which only went online last spring.

As you can see from the translated instructions here, it was used a lot like our modern Monopoly game. However, when I gave the link to Cat Yronwode (her luckymojo.com site is fascinating and worth checking out) her reaction was, “As described by the British Museum, that is not a board game. It’s a pack of pasteboard playing cards. It is not a proto Lenormand deck — it just *is* a Lenormand deck. ‘Description. Cards with French suits: complete pack of 36 playing-cards'” And she is correct.

The eerily-accurate Lenormand sprang full-blown into this world in 1799. Via a man who was trying to make a game.

I don’t know about you, and I won’t venture into “what it all means”, if anything, but I find this mind-blowing. 😀

Of course everybody wanted a copy – the most recommended Lenormands are the traditional, mostly-unadorned ones like the Mertz, Gluck, Dondorf, Piatnik and Blue Owl, and this one fit the bill perfectly – the only “extra” features are the German playing card insets, in addition to the more familiar French-suited ones. I almost went to the print shop with my scans, and would have ended up with a hot mess – the original deck was crudely cut. Tarot Professionals Ltd. to the rescue, and Ciro Marchetti did the tweaking: extending the aged coloring, adding a back design (the originals had plain backs) and framing each card with a thin black line. The resulting deck is pure pleasure. (It has a washed-out greenish tinge, like a paler version of mottled old green turquoise, that was probably a printing error. However, I quite like it, and don’t the Thoth “greenies” fetch the best price?)

The deck was printed in a limited run of 250 copies, but if you’re quick about it, you might still get one here.

Special thanks to Helen Riding, Caitlin Matthews, Mary Greer, Marcus Katz, Tali Goodwin, Ciro Marchetti – in no particular order – and anyone I may have left out who had a hand in making this all come together and bringing it to my attention.