Feminine Fortunes: The Genesis of the Madame Endora Deck
by Clare McHale
A long time ago, in many far off lands, events were taking place that would be the basis of the myths and legends that so enthrall us today, and Madame Endora's Fortune Cards is a deck borne from the 'lifelong interests in ancient mythologies' of its creators Christine Filipak and Joseph Vargo.
This duo is also the creative force behind The Gothic Tarot, released six months before the Madame Endora deck, so was the latter a conscious attempt to move away from dark gothic art? 'It wasn't designed to break away from the dark gothic art. In fact, there are some dark cards in this deck as well. It was actually designed as a counterpart to The Gothic Tarot' says Christine.
However, despite the success of 'The Gothic Tarot' a fortune deck, rather than tarot, reminiscent of Art Noveau was 'always intended' as the overall style of Madame Endora's, 'It has an elegant and mystical feel. Other artistic styles and themes were used as well, such as Egyptian, Celtic, Medieval and some Greco-Roman motifs.'
That is of course, once the idea of developing a deck came into being. Madame Endora actually began life 'as a regular feature in the magazine we publish, Dark Realms. In each issue Madame Endora, who is described as the "resident seer and enchantress of the realm", enlightens the reader about different methods of divination, the meanings of symbols, natural elements, talismans, etc., as well as the historical significance of these and many other beliefs. The Fortune deck was a natural progression from this idea, and combines many of the concepts from ancient cultures, mythology and lore' and 'we wanted to create something new with this deck. It was to be something unique yet familiar, a tool that could be used by the novice and expert alike.'
'We decided on using the most popular legends that conveyed a moral story… Thomas Bulfinch's books on Greek and Roman myths provided a good resource for ancient lore. The Golem is Jewish myth. The meaning of the Hindrance card is derived from Celtic fairy lore, which held that fairies were not always helpful but more often a nuisance, though benign for the most part.' Christine's favourite myths/legends from the deck are, 'The Gorgon Medusa, the Greenman, and Golem, as well as the legend of the Witch of Endor.'
And how was the deck's divinatory system developed? Christine explains, 'Many of the cards are intuitive. I relied on some of the traditional meanings of symbols. The Moon for example represents a guiding light in an otherwise darkened atmosphere. This ideal could be applied to the physical or spiritual world. Much of the advice provided by the cards is sensible and positive, and if on occasion a card foretells of some hardship, it also provides a promising message to help one avoid or correct whatever path they might take that would lead to trouble. I like to think of Madame Endora as one who has experienced life and has wise and sound advice to pass along to others.'
The deck is an appealing mix of traditional and modern working methods, 'All of the artwork is hand drawn in pencil, with the exception of the Four Element cards. The colours and many of the flourishes were added later on the computer.' Many of the graphics are originals specifically created for the deck but 'some of the images, such as The Seer, Hindrance and Serendipity were previously designed and produced as individual prints …'
'Joseph Vargo did many of the pencil drawings of the designs and I applied the color and backgrounds to them. My specialty is the Art Nouveau style and I love rendering female figures with elegant gowns and flowing hair as well as creating sytlized artistic elements such as ornamentations and borders. I think our styles mesh together very well in this deck. Whereas I think it's obvious that I created the more feminine-looking cards such as The Seer, The Queen and Hindrance, I think people will recognize Joseph's style in such cards as The Greenman, the Golem and The Siren. Although in some instances, it is difficult to discern who did certain cards.'
The backs of the cards are reversible, but reversals were not intended for use with this deck, 'the concept of reversible fortunes would have detracted from the simplicity of the concept and also would have clashed with the key phrases on the individual cards. If one chooses to read the cards in reverse, it is simple enough to just think of the opposite of the given meaning. In fact, I did consider printing the reversed meanings in the book, and started writing several, then it became ridiculously redundant. I just leave that choice up to the individual user' says Christine, so where did the pattern on the back of the cards come from? 'The filigree is actually a compilation of several layers of a relatively simple corner piece design by Charles Klimsch. I repeated and layered the design until I had the shape I wanted, then applied the gold color to give it a metallic look… It's more Victorian than anything, and reminds me of the fancy little corner pieces used on old books and antique photo frames.'
Madame Endora's Fortune Cards feel very much like Christine's "baby" despite Vargo's wonderful contributions, so was it deliberately designed as a deck that would appeal more to women? 'Although there are several masculine avatars in the deck, I think that women would be more inclined to use the Madame Endora cards. It wasn't a deliberate choice; that's just the way it turned out.'
The feminine feel to the deck comes from the lovely figures inspired in part by one of Christine's favourite artists Alphonse Mucha one of the leading figures in the Art Noveau movement. To Christine 'The Art Nouveau movement is not all that different from today's Gothic revival. The lines are more fluid, and the themes seem lighter, but the sense of freedom is the same. I was first introduced to the works of Alphonse Mucha in college art history class, as well as many of his contemporaries, such as Toulouse Lautrec and Gustav Klimt. But it was Mucha who held me in awe. He was a master at capturing the fluid, feminine form. His figures are so natural and have the dual quality of appearing both innocent and seductive. This ability was not confined to painting the human form. He was also an accomplished sculptor and craftsman of fine jewelry and ornate furnishings.'
You have to wonder if Vargo and Christine had creative differences working on the deck, but Christine claims it wasn't, and isn't, much of a problem. 'Yes, we often have differing opinions when it comes to a layout or an element in an illustration. But Joseph and I have the same taste in art, generally speaking…. I can't even remember now what we might have disagreed on, so obviously it was insignificant' and in a nice tribute to her creative partner, when asked if she was ever blocked as an artist/writer Christine says, 'Yes, but Joseph is an amazing driving force.'
It's obvious that this paring works well and that the team are extremely busy, too busy in fact to consider a Madame Endora companion book, 'We've discussed the possibility of a companion book as well as an expansion deck that would include new cards and different realms, however we have so many other projects that we are involved with at this time we wouldn't be able to begin working on it for a while.'
So has Christine had time to use the deck she put so much work and creativity into? 'I do not do readings professionally, but a friend asked me to do a Birthday reading. I used the Seer's Fan, and it provided an amazingly accurate read, according to my friend. Maybe he was just being nice, but I gather that a few things hit home for him. I did not pry into the more personal areas. It felt good to have a chance to do a reading with my own deck. But a full reading is not something I do on a regular basis. Once in a while I choose just one card, just like opening a fortune cookie, a quick pick for a quick read', and her favourite cards? 'Based on their aesthetic appeal, my top five would be The Siren, The Harlequin, Hindrance, Medusa, and The Sun.'
I was surprised that 'The Maiden' wasn't included as it's the one card in the deck actually based on a person, but perhaps it's modesty on Christine's part as 'it was based on a pencil sketch that Joseph had done of me.' Interestingly enough Christine admits that '…the devilish Satyr…' reminds her of Joseph, which has to make you wonder what she knows about Vargo that we don't! ;)
On the box it claims the deck is, 'The fastest and easiest way to discover what the future holds' so was Madame Endora's created specifically with beginners in mind? 'Not necessarily just for beginners, but for people who were intrigued by the tarot, yet found it too complicated. Many professional tarot readers have written to us that they enjoy it as an alternative to tarot.'
In keeping with this, three of the five suits are iconic in nature, 'The Bestiary', 'The Treasury and 'The Elements', but was the use of strong symbols another deliberate move to make the deck more readable for beginners? 'It was always the intent to utilize symbolism to convey the meanings of the cards, so that they are open to a wider interpretation. Also many symbols, such as the key, the gate, the heart and the dagger, are instantly recognizable for the meanings they connote.' The cards also have key phrases on them in nice parchment scrolls which are, '…specifically designed to give a quick reading or answer to a specific question, sort of like a fortune cookie. The use of a scroll was an aesthetic choice to give it more of an Old World fee.' admits Christine.
If Madame Endora's incorporates key phrases and iconic images to help beginners, can it really have a dark side? It's an emphatic yes from Christine, '…as with human nature and life in general, the light and dark coexist together. It all depends on your point of view during particular times of your life.'
And looking through the deck it's apparent that colour plays an important role, something Christine confirms, 'Colors are used primarily to signify a mood. Purple is a color of passion, and therefore is used in the dress of the figure of Seduction. Gold, blue and red combined are also traditional royal colors and appear on the Knight. Cool hues of blue for the Moon; warm tones for the Sun. Green and brown, obviously the colors of nature, are used for the Greenman, and so forth.'
Are there any other divinatory systems incorporated in the deck? 'Astrological concepts flow throughout the Madame Endora deck. There are four cards that specifically represent the elements that govern the 12 signs of the western Zodiac. The figure on The Seer card is set against a motif consisting of the signs of the Zodiac. The Hand of Fate Card shows the astrological symbols as they pertain to palmistry. There are also cards that depict the sun and the moon using Egyptian motifs as well as other cards that depict talismans and runes.'
Which leaves only one thing left to ask, where did the name for the 'Dark Realms' feature and eventually the deck come from? 'Madame Endora is derived from the Witch of Endor, who was known as a spirit medium and a necromancer from Biblical lore. According to the legend, King Saul, fearing invasion of his kingdom, consulted the seer in order to speak with the dead. It was said that at the king's bequest she called up the ghost of the prophet Samuel, who then predicted Saul's downfall.'
Definitely not a witch to mess with, though I'm sure she won't mind if you shuffle her deck ;)
© Clare McHale