Written by: Melanie Clarke / WinterMeudwy
Every card divination enthusiast has done it. Opened a deck and loved them all except…that odd one. Or two. You love the deck still, but every time they appear in a spread it’s a case of “ah…we meet again…”
It hadn’t taken me long after discovering the Lenormand system to accumulate a fair few decks in a variety of styles. I had come across the system in a cartomancy group online and felt a pull to the cards. The reading style was very different to tarot and it required me to fight my instincts to read them in the same way, which I realised was now so deeply ingrained. When you’re completely new to a system it’s hard to find your style I think and even though I was beginning to get to grips reading with what I had, I felt this jarring with the decks I had for one reason or another. I felt this was the time to finally create something for myself. I had wanted to create a “perfect” custom tarot deck for myself for a long time but no fully formed idea had come to me, this idea however was just there. I felt the practicality of the Lenormand allowed me to approach it in a much more direct manner.
The aesthetic had to be Victorian if this was to be my ideal deck. There was something about the Lenormand that sat so nicely on a chintzy parlour table, being laid out on a lace tablecloth, turned with care and anticipation by a fair hand jewelled with sapphires. I spent time daydreaming the scene to ensure I had a strong feel for the imagery. The cards were only ever intended to be printed and used by me, rather than a commercial project. It help me shed any worries about my direction and whether others would “get” the symbols I had chosen.
I’m a graphic designer by trade so thankfully the technical side of putting it all together came easily for me. Some cards fell into place instantly and never shifted form their initial incarnation, a few struggled to be translated from my imagination to the screen. Finding the right image for each card couldn’t be rushed if I wanted it to be just right, I was sifting through authentic Victorian sources to give it the best feel possible. They had to work together as well as individually, especially in the Lenormand system with its basis in interpretation through pairing. I looked at the decks I had already and asked myself, what are their strengths? What would I change if I could? There were other things to work through also, such as the ability to read them clearly in a Grand Tableau. This is the largest spread possible in the Lenormand, which involves laying all 36 cards in a grid, either 9 x 4 or as I prefer, 8 x 4 plus a row of 4 at the bottom. Being able to see and easily read symbols from a large spread demanded clear, well defined images.
When I was finally happy with all of the cards, I selected a lush floral pattern for the back. It paired wonderfully with the borders on the card fronts and was reminiscent of wallpaper I could so clearly imagine hung on the parlour walls where I envisioned these cards being used in my mind. They needed a name also. My partner made lists of words and we sat and brainstormed through some ideas until we settled on “The Gaslight Parlour”. Perfect. It spurred me to write a short prose, an introduction to set the scene.
It was only at this point, when they were ready to go to print that I decided to share a couple of images on Instagram. I had several people’s interested piqued. Maybe I should print a few, it made sense economically looking at the printing costs and who knows, maybe someone else out there would enjoy them too?
I decided on 20 decks. It seemed like a good round number but not too overboard, I didn’t want to be sat in 10 years time using the hundreds of leftover cards as coasters and bookmarks, or gifting them to friends and family. “You gave me a set of these for the last 9 years running…”
There was a lot of excitement when the cards arrived, the texture of the stock was fantastic and brought them to life in my hand. They weren’t thick, but they were very durable and coated in a lovely finish which made the shuffle seamless. I’d hand numbered them all too, which I felt made them personal and special on such a short run.
The images I’d chosen weren’t exact interpretations of the traditional Piatnik style. For instance, the first card in the Lenormand system is the Rider. Historically illustrated as a male riding a horse, he is a messenger, a visitor who brings news. Stylistically I adored tradition, but personally I wanted to put a spin on the cards if I felt the desire to. A spin that said “me”. The Rider in the Gaslight Parlour ended up as a woman riding a bicycle, and why not? Maybe my deck was channelling a feminist undertone but this made me love it more. A synthesis of tradition and a break from it. I also made the decision to include an extra man and woman card for same-sex relationship readings, which was an idea I had first encountered and loved in the Enchanted Lenormand.
I was using the deck myself for my buddy reads online as well as personal study. The cards started to sell and there were blog reviews and Instagram posts surfacing featuring my cards and it was a very strange yet deeply satisfying feeling that other people could connect with and enjoy my creation. I can’t say I wasn’t terrified when I sent the first few decks out (as a matter of fact that never went completely!) waiting tentatively for feedback, as I’d put a lot of myself into the project and putting it out there felt like a big deal. A wonderful friend who owns a local metaphysical shop even offered to stock my cards for me and so kindly created a display and advertised them, generating even more interest. The best part about this arrangement for me was that in many cases, the Gaslight Parlour was introducing newcomers to Lenormand who were previously unaware of it.
There had been another idea floating in my mind as I’d been working through the Gaslight Parlour. They were very different in style to the Gaslight, a woodcut style with a medieval feel. The same process was followed in researching and curating medieval art, listing keywords resulting in the Rota Fortunae being born. The seed has really been planted for me and although I don’t yet feel ready for a full tarot deck, I have started to digitally illustrate a unique fortune telling oracle deck. Again, Victorian in style but a very different feel to the Gaslight Parlour with cards and meanings created from scratch. This will definitely be a much longer process, but the love that has been shown so far definitely spurs me on to bring this deck to life and share them. I hope staying focussed on and completing this current project will stand me in good stead when I finally get around to tackling a tarot deck in the future!
Editor’s note: If you’d like to read more, I found a pretty cool interview with Melanie here: The Sybil’s Tarot.