Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Wednesday, 31 January 2018



Reading with a Minchiate Deck is not something many tarot readers frequently get to do, but I have a collection of them, and I so love this 1655 Francois de Poilly Minchiate, also called the Minchiate Francesi, that I thought I would share a reading with you. It is a French 97 card pack that Louis XIV or Madame de Montespan might have played with at Versailles.

Francois de Poilly Astrological Trumps with Star, Moon, Sun and Renown
As you can see, the trumps betray what will strange images to many: 5 Classical Gods, with Momus, god of satire for the Fool; the customary cardinal virtue cards of Strength, Temperance, Justice and Fortune; the 3 theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity;12 astrological cards for the months; 5 cards for the senses; 4 cards for the ages of man, and the four elements; and finally Sun, Star, Moon World and Renown, with their characteristic red backgrounds, making a massive 41card deck of trumps.

Francois de Poilly Trumps
The remaining 56 cards are French suited and include the Honours from the four continents known at the time: Spades (Swords) for Africa, Hearts (Cups) for Europe, Clubs (Batons) for the Americas, and Diamonds (Coins) for Asia. The Honours imagine the American and African courts with improbably upholstered interiors, while the Asian court is recognizably oriental. In short, it is a European imagining of the world, but still has its own unique charm.
Francois de Poilly Honours and Pips
The Minchiate arose in the late 15th century-early 16th century in Italy and was used, like all tarots then, for playing games with, not divination. So, learning how to divine with it today is a challenge for the modern reader, but I love the charm and elegance of these cards and often pick them up in the evening, so we have become well acquainted with each other.


So, here, as January comes to its close, I am about to sign a contract for a book, and my question concerns how this book will work out. It is one I've been in process with for three years, and as the book will not appear for yet another year, that makes a total of four anxious years before it comes to the bookshops from inception! All books are like children to their authors but, where adult parents get to take their child home and raise it, authors have to give their child up for another nine months or more, before it can be officially recognized as yours.  Many mishaps can befall it: in this case, it has been beleaguered by a series of unfortunate accidents, so my anxiety about it is heightened.

Here, I have trump cards that have come from sequences of gods (Bacchus), the five senses (Sense of Smell), and the ages of man (Adolescence.)

9 Clubs (Batons), Ace Clubs (Batons), 4 Spades (Swords), Fortune, Moon
     Sense of Smell, 3 Hearts (Cups), Adolescence

This ninefold shape was suggested by the nature of the Minchiate cards themselves with their many sequences: a double V of cards in flight, with a tail-end Charlie who comes behind. The top five show me the initial story:

The book is graduating finally (9 Clubs) with this contract (Ace Clubs) after a long imprisonment (4 Spades), and it is now passes from the vicissitudes of Fortune's wheel into the keeping of the Moon, where it will spend its gestation leading to publication.

The middle three cards show me the next stage: in the hands of a sensitive publisher the little newborn book can grow up properly.

The last card, Bacchus, reminds me of the Dionysian myth of his birth, whereby he was sewn safely into the thigh of Zeus after his mother Semele's untimely death. He was born to be the patron of abundance, and in this depiction, which has the nearest that passes for a chariot in this chariot-less minchiate, the book can finally make progress.

Reading down the centre column vertically, it confirms that this imprisoned child (4 Spades + 3 Cups) makes it out finally out of its confinement, into freedom. 

Here I have used my own cartomantic understanding of reading pips, which you will find in my forthcoming book, Untold Tarot: The Lost Art of Reading Ancient Tarots, which explores the practical ways in which pre-20th century tarots with pip or number cards can be read, drawing upon the older cartomantic art of blending cards, rather than reading each from a predetermined list of meanings. Older tarots like the Tarot de Marseilles are currently enjoying a great renaissance, but they are like an untold story that everyone has forgotten, because they require card-reading skills of a different era. 

In Untold Tarot, readers will learn to read their untold story for themselves. It gives older methods of reading with cards from directional and cartomantic methods used in Italy and France.  I just want to assure you that this is not just another trumps-led book, but also gives equal weight to reading the pips. Skills of directional and cartomantic reading are given, as well as some historic methods from Bolognese Tarot. 

It is due June 2018 from Schiffer. To check the book's progress, see my  latest newsletter http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/resources/imbolc18.pdf


In case you were wondering, there has been no commercially available edition of this Francis de Poilly for many years.  NOTE: I warn you that the edition advertised on both Etsy and Gamecrafter is just that, merely an advert: the unscrupulous advertiser is a maker who takes people’s money and never delivers a deck – the same person who ripped off many Lenormand users, myself included, back in 2013 to the tune of thousands of pounds - so you are warned not to go there! She has been reported by me to both Etsy and Gamecrafter, but they have not removed her adverts, so do be warned!

My own Francois de Poilly Minchiate was a custom pack, made for me by the excellent and professional Tag Jorrit, who might be persuaded to make one for you, if you ask nicely! (Contact her at http://thecartomancer.bigcartel.com/ )The smaller size of these cards makes them perfect for shuffling, as there are few Minchiate packs that can be shuffled at all, as 97 cards makes for a bit of a handful!

Friday, 5 January 2018


This new year guest blog is written by John Matthews who is stepping in to speak about his long love of the Arthurian legend, and to introduce his new novel sequence, Red Dragon Rising.

                              ARTHURIAN DREAMING by John Matthews

The Sword of Ice and Fire, book one of the Red Dragon Rising sequence
More years ago than I care to remember, I read T.H. White’s wonderful quartet of novels published under the collective title of The Once and Future King. I fell in love at once with the subject of the books – the saga of Arthur, that wonderful ragbag of myth, history, and folklore. By the time I finished White’s book I knew that this was a subject I wanted to write about, and I went in search of every book I could find. What I didn’t realise at the time was that they were actually thousands of books on the subject. It just happened that my local library had a specialist collection of folklore, and that there was almost a whole bay devoted to the Arthurian legends. So I started reading. I knew right away that what I really wanted to write was a novel, but as things fell out, the first book I published was about the history of the Grail legends. After that, one thing led to another, and I fell into a pattern of work that resulted, over the next 40 years, with more than a 100 books, many of them about the Arthurian and Grail legends, as well as folk lore, the history of pirates, shamanism, and Celtic myth.

But I never forgot my desire to write a novel about Arthur and over the years I kept making notes and writing scraps and occasional chapters that I knew would one-day form part of what was going to be very large book. But somehow, as is often the way in the writer’s life, I never seemed to have the time to settle down to writing that particular book. Then, a few years ago, I began to make notes for a smaller book, about Arthur’s childhood. I remember wondering what it would be like to be educated by Merlin, to not know who your parents were and what your future might hold. So I started writing, quickly realizing that this was not one book, but four - each one devoted to the young Arthur’s search four sacred objects, known as the Hallows, which contain the essence of the land over which he would one day rule.
John Matthews
I began with Avalon, in the mysterious castle where Arthur spent his first years, watched over by the Nine, otherworldly women who are guardians of the world byond. As Arthur grows up and begins to explore the place where he lives, he learns that he is an orphan, and from the lips of the great wizard Merlin that he is the son of a King. From here on his world expands. He meets the mysterious knight Sir Bercilak, who teaches him how to fight and of course the Wizard Merlin, who teaches him about magic. Other encounters include a strange creature known as the Questing Beast, some extraordinary beings, half-man half-creature, known as the Eldest. And at the centre of this world is an ageless boy named Mabon, a golden youth who might just possibly be a god.

From here on Arthur’s adventures include an encounter with a terrifying adversary with an army of fearsome monsters. And now at last he begins to learn something about his future, and about the momentous tasks that lie before him to gather the four sacred Hallows before his enemies can do so.

The sequence as a whole is called Red Dragon Rising, and the first volume is The Sword of Ice and Fire. The Red Dragon is the ancient power of the land over which Arthur will one day rule. His journey will be long, and fraught with terror, sorrow, and love. He has much to learn, and much to experience as she grows towards the time when he will become the Once and Future King.

Given my busy schedule this took longer than I expected it to, but it was completed in 2017, and will finally see the light of day from Greystones Press in April of this year. Even after nearly 40 years and over 100 books, I still felt a thrill when I received the first copies of the book. Even though it’s not the big novel, it is a gateway into the world that I have lived in for more than half my life. I’m now working on the second of the four volumes, after which, at long last, I hope to start pulling together all the threads and fragments of the big book, set in the great mysterious forest of Broceliande, in Brittany, where according to local folklore Merlin and the Lady of the Lake still dwell.

   The Forest of Broceliande
The Sword of Ice and Fire is published by The Greystones Press on the 14th April 2018, in paperback and priced at £8.99. A Kindle version can be preordered from the 15th January, with an ePub edition to come. See www.hallowquest.org.uk for more details about the novel sequence.

Volume 2 of the sequence, The Cauldron of Light and Dark, will follow in 2019, with The Spear of Earth and Air and The Chessboard of the Land to come in due course.

John Matthews is the author of many Arthurian titles including the recent Arthurian Magic. See www.hallowquest.org.uk for details of his books, courses and events.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Amplifying the Story: Moving Things On When All It’s Saying is ‘Ground Hog Day.’

 How many times have you laid cards for a client, only to find that they are speaking just about the situation the person is currently undergoing?  This restatement of what is happening is confirmatory, but it also doesn’t advance help to the client, who is already well acquainted with her situation. Sometimes the client is so full of their predicament that the cards merely echo the distress, which was what we got this week, when a woman came to ask about her slow slide into addictive behaviour and any possible action she could take. I laid a short sequence with a line of three cards and selecting the bottom card of the pack as the key card that unlocks it.

Death, 3 and 10 Swords, Fool. Tarot de Marseilles, Camoin.
The line of 3 Swords, 10 Swords, Fool had Death as the key card.  These cards confirmed that due to growing unhappiness, things were escalating into compulsive behaviour, and that she was beginning to act like a person who just doesn’t care anymore. The client is also a tarot student, and it didn’t take her long to read along with me, that Death was saying ‘stop with this behaviour already!’  And, yes, from a visual perspective we could see that the Fool and Death both have their own implement – the sturdy walking stick of the Fool and the scythe of Death: a choice of tramping further along the same road, or stopping this particular journey right now.

She said that the addictive behaviour wasn’t particularly gross, but that days were going by wherein she was just eating, watching tv and not attending to things: it was all going slide so easily and without her noticing. Someone had phoned up about work she should have finished, and she could work up no enthusiasm or even fear about handing in late, so she had a wake-up call. She’s had a severe loss in the last year and is still in bereavement, so it’s unsurprising that she’s finding things hard. A loss opens a space in you always, but nature abhors a vacuum, and so other things come to fill you up, like the bacteria that come to live in the space at the top of the milk bottle if you pour out some of the milk.  Addictive behaviour tries to substitute the loss. This we know, but it doesn’t help the client move on. So what can she do?

Seeking some better resolution and help for her, I laid one card next to each of the original set.  The cards that leapt out of the pack were so apposite, we both quietened down and looked at them.   In the case of the two trumps that were facing left, they were countered by cards of such staggering brilliance and dynamism, we couldn’t help but gasp, because these were the unseen answers to what the original cards were looking at. 

Additional cards: Chariot, Ace Cups,  2 Swords, Strength. Tarot de Marseilles, Camoin

3 Swords + Ace Cups: The grief and unhappiness are the causation of this problem: she needs the comfort of her home and its consolations, as well as love and affection of family and friends. This is something she said she has been avoiding.

10 Swords + 2 Swords: she can de-escalate the compulsive behaviour through separating herself from the opportunities.  Since every habit formed takes a number of steps to be established, her best route back to herself is to reduce her dependency on the things that she is currently seeking out, cutting them down before cutting them out, as Death has suggested.

Fool + Strength: when you are on a headlong slide, you need discipline to stop you. Finding an addiction support group will help her find the strength to implement this last step: dealing with the cat ahead of her, rather than being chased headlong by the cat behind.

Death + Chariot: If Death is ‘stop,’ then Chariot is definitely ‘go.’ My client said that, for her, this was a combination that reminded her of ‘getting back on the horse after it’s thrown you. It feels as if I’ve been held in some kind of tape loop, repeating things over and over, but now I can get a hold on things.’ 

Of course, both Strength and the Chariot are about taking control over our passions and habits, driving the chariot with both horses so that you steer straight again. I know my student: she is a determined person who is normally self-supporting. She may need help now, but she went away with a fresh resolve which was heartening.
When we have a card that won’t read, or that we can’t understand or need to know more about, it is common enough to lay one amplifying card next to it, so that our understanding can catch up. I also do this frequently where reading older tarots, where the figures on the trumps and courts face in either direction: I draw a card to see what they are looking at, but I had never lain so many amplifying cards before. If your client is in a distressing one-note situation where it seems like the film Ground Hog Day, it’s maybe time to turn up the volume and amplify the story so that you can offer better insight and help.

Caitlín Matthews is currently at work on Untold Tarot: The Lost Art of Reading Ancient Tarots. Her published books can be found at www.hallowquest.org.uk