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Friday, April 8, 2022 | Piercing the Veil


“Pick a card. Let them work on you. Look into my eyes. Believe.” Vanessa Ives, PENNY DREADFUL 

Victorian London – 1891. The aesthetic we’ve all come to associate with the advent of divination. A time filled with the obscuring allure of the thick, sickeningly sweet smell of the dimly-lit opium den. A period rife with violence, a depraved serial killer preying on the working women of White Chapel; poverty was their cross and their sin. Uncertainty and fear plagued the hearts of every class, but none more acutely than those who called the streets home.

Perhaps our talents surface most strongly when there’s a need. Perhaps that’s our personal crossroads – choosing whether to embrace or deny these gifts, and more-so, choosing to share them. To reveal ourselves – to expose ourselves to vulnerability, to scrutiny, even danger.

Darkness ruled their days and nights, a murderous shadow moving through the mist. The supernatural walked hand and hand with the living and for some, provided their only source of solace; for others, a very real threat.

Enter a forlorn father, Sir Malcolm Murray, desperately searching for his missing daughter, Mia, thought to be kidnapped by creatures populating London’s bloody underbelly. By his side, Vanessa Ives, a gifted medium, or, as she refers to herself, ‘spiritualist.’ Her abilities are not limited to the divinatory Tarot cards she uses, but rather, the cards enhance her abilities, providing further sign posts to guide her towards the answers she seeks. They become an extension of her, gleaning insights from the ‘other’ that so vehemently pursues her.

Within these cards lie the images of ancient archetypes, each representing specific meanings, negative and positive, created as a game of guidance for regular, personal and professional use. Originally commissioned in the 15th century by Flilppio Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and his son-in-law and successor, Francesco Sforza, what would come to be known as the Visconti Sforza Tarot deck is the oldest surviving deck in history. Well, parts of it. Visconti Sforza is an umbrella term that encompasses the remaining pieces of approximately 15 original Tarot decks created in the 15th century, including the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo deck in 1451; the Brera-Brambilla deck in 1463, and the Cary-Yale deck in 1466. These, one can deduce, were the focal points of A. E. Waite’s research during the latter part of the 19th century. A British scholar deeply entrenched in the mysteries of esoterica and the occult, his interests led him down a medieval Tarot rabbit hole.

Around the same time, he would find himself in the company of an eccentric and ingenious individual by the name of Pamela Colman Smith. Of British descent, Smith was born in 1878 and although she spent her time divided between Jamaica, New York and England, she still would’ve had a keen awareness of the culture of London; the energy, the changes, the ghosts – and beasts – that resided there. Perhaps it was the diversity of her background, travels, and education that led her to the very place she would first meet Waite – at a meeting of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Although both would end up leaving the original Order, their work together had just begun. Sharing his research with Smith, they set out to create a modern version of the Tarot, which we all know today as the world’s most popular deck, the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, published in 1909. Of Smith’s person and illustrations, Waite would go on to comment in his autobiography, SHADOWS OF LIFE AND THOUGHT, “A most imaginative and abnormally psychic artist.”

Abnormally psychic. Channeling her vision of these antiquated cards into newly reimagined renditions. A breath of fresh, intuited air into a deck that would take on a life of its own, making its way into the hands of folks from all walks of life, the world over. A rebirth of art, archetype and meaning. A renaissance of magic. A resurrected tool for fresh interpretation, communication and divination.

A fresh conduit of cartomancy. Because about one hundred years before her, another woman was making a name for herself not just in the world of cartomancy, but as the face of the practice – Marie Anne Lenormand. Born in Normandy, France in 1772, Lenormand was orphaned at the age of five, leaving her to the care of a local convent school. In 1786, she left the school and set her sights on Paris. It was here that she built her famed legacy as a cartomancer and psychic, using the ‘Game of Hope,’ as the card game was originally known, to read for French royalty such as Empress Josephine (wife of Napoleon Bonaparte) and Tsar Alexander I of Russia, as well as Robespierre, St-Just, and Marat, all holding leadership figures in the French Revolution. Lenormand spent four decades reading and anchoring the art of cartomancy into the public’s eyes, hearts and minds, an act of service which was honoured after her death – in her honour, decks began bearing her name, the most commonly known being the 36-card Petit Lenormand deck. What sets these cards apart from what we have come to know as Tarot cards is these decks were based on traditional playing cards, but with added illustrations. The ways they were read and interpreted were much more straightforward and focused on everyday situations, with universal imagery such as ships, houses, trees, snakes, clovers and coffins, used to clearly and concisely spell-out blunt answers, painting an illustrated story from card to card.

Both the Tarot and the Lenormand decks are extensively used today, but still, there are other decks one can associate with cartomancy and the psychic, extrasensory powers that are said to be channeled through the reader while using them. In Sam Raimi’s 2000 supernatural thriller, THE GIFT, Cate Blanchette’s character, Annie, is a gifted psychic and card reader who uses neither a traditional Tarot or Lenorman deck, but instead, the Zener deck. Created in the 1930s by perceptual psychologist Karl Zener, this deck of 25 cards features the most simple of symbols: a circle, a square, a five pointed star, a plus sign, and three wavy vertical lines (yes, think GHOSTBUSTERS). These cards were used in experiments to test extrasensory perception and psychic abilities. Through various card spreads, accompanied by her visions, Annie is able to locate the body of a missing woman, Jessica, played by Katie Holmes. The specific spread she pulls when approached by law enforcement are a series of wavy vertical line cards, symbolizing the pond where Jessica’s body would be found. In this instance, the cards are very literal, stating boldly, repeatedly and unequivocally that the answer to their question rests within the water.

That’s what every form of cartomancy has in common – creating stories through classic symbolism, our own intuition, and a little guidance from the other side. These cards become extensions of us; our cultures, our histories, our inherent skill and drive to interpret, share, and help. Over the past 20+ years, my own personal Tarot and Oracle card practice has evolved from looking up, memorizing and understanding the symbols, to sitting with each card, in each spread, and allowing the individual cards to tell me how they’re expressing themselves for each unique reading; not only that, but how they’re engaging with each other, creating a cohesive narrative spelling out messages from the universe, our higher consciousness, our guides – whatever terminology you’re comfortable with. The cards themselves are fluid, ever-shifting, adapting to a different age, a different lens of perception and interpretation. Just like us, they grow. They expand. They become elevated versions of their original creations, communicating fresh messages through ancient archetypes, still carrying the magic and awe of those who, centuries before us, sat with them and sought answers to their own questions. 

Centuries later, and we’re still seeking, still longing, still driven with a desire to enlist the help of forces just outside of our visible grasp. A confirmation; a validation, putting our minds at ease knowing that yes, our intuition was right. These games – these practices – exist as some of the greatest personal development tools that everyday folk have access to. These tools put the power into the hands of the individual, providing support as they help us strengthen our intuition, restore trust in ourselves, and maybe trust in the immense possibility of something greater than ourselves… just beyond.

To learn more about Jillian and her love of horror, tarot, and different forms of divination and spirit communication, you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and