James R. Eads is a wilderness-prophet of art; his Kickstarters have been the largest and most persistent threat to my wallet for years, and I suspect that it won’t be safe for me to go back in the water anytime soon. This latest offense against my attempts at financial responsibility serves as a perfect entry point into his universe of insane beauty and belligerent, gentle self-discovery, because in many ways it is the sum and the center of everything he’s done so far.
WHAT A DANG HAUL, IS WHAT. ‘Green Glyphs’ is the overarching title for this…cycle?…of products, which started with the original Green Glyphs Lenormand offered in James’ shop some years ago. The boxed-set includes the Green Glyphs Runes, Lenormand, Oracle, and Tarot decks, a card-holder board, and a hardcover Green Glyphs Glossary; every deckbox includes a guidebook per custom, but the Glossary collects all of their texts and will be reviewed in its own section below. For all the nasty little completeists out there, they look like this:
The Green Glyphs Tarot
Tarot is the oracular language I speak most fluently, just above deliberate dream misinterpretation, divining which goddamn cat threw up this time, knowing when to pause a show to get the best possible facial expression from a character, and iacobomancy (asking my pal Jake what he thinks is going to happen). This is not to dismiss–to cast the damning weight of a Bageler’s Doubt upon–other divinatory systems, but I can’t imagine I’m the only one who cut their teeth on Tarot and now nothing else tastes quiiiiiite right, no matter what your dad says about store-brand being “the same exact thing”.
Ahem. Yes. IN ANY EVENT:
In all of these decks, James has set aside his usual lush, visually extravagant style in favor of not-quite-minimalist art that focuses on the iconic, archetypal nature of the cards while still allowing him enough room to make them unmistakably his own. The effect is strong, clean, and striking; every card is clearly keyed into the classical elements of its historical portrayal while also forming a distinct, unique visual and storytelling world.
Tangentially, there’s always a question with a new deck regarding traditional language and art v. modernization and inclusion, most specifically regarding gender: just in these four cards, which I drew randomly, we can see that the Fool and the Six of Swords are both either gender-neutral or gender-strange, using the aesthetic to distance themselves from heteronormative visual gender-markers, and the Queen is representative of the entire court-question that you can’t solve without asking whether you need to remove or modify the Kings and Queens from all four suits, so I think leaving that one alone is probably fine. My only mild disappointment is The Hanged Man, which I think could just as easily have been The Hanged One or just The Hanged, given that it has the same aesthetic gender-strange quality as the Fool and the Six of Swords–nothing essential to the meaning of the card requires us to know that the person portrayed in it has a dong–but I guess there maybe is something to be said for subverting either the art or the structure, and asking how much you can modify and still call it a “Tarot” deck. (The answer, of course, is that you can modify as much as you want and call it whatever you want, you just have to be prepared for the comments and reviews, and nobody needs that burnt coffee with their cake.)
The Green Glyphs Runes
Listen, I’m a simple man: you give me a card with a cow on it, tell me it means I’ve got cows in my future, and I’m happy; likewise, the Beef & Dairy Network will be thrilled to welcome me into their bovine bosom.
Cow-related joy notwithstanding, I’ve never clicked with runes in a divinatory context; maybe it’s the fact that they’re a real-world, historical writing system and using them to prophesy feels like saying “ah yes, this J is a good omen (#420BlazeIt)”, maybe it’s the fact that when a water-heater repairman shows up with knuckles covered in them I have to wonder where he was on January 6th. Although, even in their historical context they were used as a living script and divinatory art because the Norse, like all sensible people, considered writing to be a magic and a gift from the gods, so, vague gesture.
Aside their upsetting appropriation by shitheads who will never see Valhalla, I will say these cards manage to inject some life and sense of world into what has traditionally been a pretty spare visual milieu; mannaz apparently means ‘humanity/mankind’, and if you aren’t prepared to supply your own, y’know, everything for that it can feel a little flat and unhelpful, but humans are primarily visual creatures and any representation helps us latch on to the concept more firmly, even if the representation itself is pure ambiguity. I fuckin’ love that card; what are they all looking at? Does it even matter, or is the important thing that they’re all looking together? You tell me, citizen.
The dice–three eight-sided (or d8) with Elder Futhark runes and one d10 with Anglo-Saxon–can be used in conjunction with the cards, or as their own thing or, in a pinch, when your Bard casts Tasha’s Hideous Laughter and you left your usual dice at home. They are rill rill solid and chonky and would cause serious damage if loaded into a slingshot, and that has always been my definition of great art.
The Green Glyphs Lenormand
If Tarot is a wise stranger sharing a gentle, whispered word in passing that you only understand once it starts to rain, Lenormand is a shopping cart filled with cans of soup crashing catapulting through the window of the diner where a publisher is hiring you to investigate possible insurance fraud, and every can is of a brand that shares a name with your mother, whom you’ve been stubbornly refusing to call.
Unlike Tarot (or any system that tries to claim Ancient Mystic Origins), we know where, when, and from whom Lenormand cards came, and that straightforward matter-of-factness carries over into its metaphysical mechanics, which are eloquent in their brevity: thirty-six cards (that correspond with standard playing cards), each with a set number of clear, concrete meanings (either adjectives or nouns depending on their placement in the spread), and lending itself to direct, actionable advice.
The careful reader will observe that I said Lenormand decks have 36 cards, and the box for these clearly boasts 40; what’s James trying to pull here? What extra cards has he added? The Pants? The Big Ol’ Headache Medicine? The Kitten Who Won’t Stop Biting My Fucking Hands While I Try To Write An Article? The answer is nothing so dramatic, and is considerably more thoughtful: two of the standard cards in the deck are The Gentleman and The Lady, and James has been considerate enough to create and include The Gentleman II, The Lady II, The Person, and The Person II, fashioning enough space for just about anyone using the deck to make sure it fits them correctly in whatever combination is appropriate. This is rad, obviously, and arguably should be the default, but it does make one wonder why he felt comfortable doing this here but not in the Tarot deck. What’s that about, bud? Why can’t we have a gender-neutral Magus instead of a he-Magician or a lady Hermit, which I believe is called a Hermione? In fairness, as I mentioned in its bit above, the Tarot is a hell of a lot more complex and has a much larger gender-checkerboard that would need to be completely rearranged, but still.
Regardless, one could easily think of the Lenormand as a kind of updated, sleeker version of the Tarot, balancing the timeless, archetypal icons like the Sun, Moon, and Tower with more modern symbols like the Anchor, the House, the Bouquet, the Book, and other things that one is marginally more likely to encounter in this day and age than, say, a High Priestess or a The Devil, and James has once again managed to bring his signature style while retaining the old-timeyness that one comes to expect from a divinatory system created by a spooky French dame from the Georgian era. Also, of all four decks this one feels the best to hold, shuffle, and use; an odd contest to win, we can all agree, but for what turns out to be a very well-thought-out reason, on which I’ll expand momentarily.
The Green Glyphs Oracle
And now we come to the first among equals of this collection, James’ first (to my knowledge) completely original oracle deck, and HOLY SHIT I JUST NOTICED THE PEN IN THE INKWELL CARD IS DRAWING ITS OWN BORDER, HA, HE SAW HIS CHANCE AND HE TOOK IT, GAME RECOGNIZE GAME.
If the Lenormand was a somewhat more timely, efficient distillation of the Tarot’s whole deal, this deck is the full, present-day modernization, including timeless symbols like Acorns, Stone Tablet, and Lantern alongside icons of roughly Today, C.E., such as the Telephone, the Dinosaur, Yesterday’s Coffee, and of course everyone’s old friend the Giant Tooth.
In keeping with the straightforward interpretation mechanics of the Lenormand, the Green Glyphs Oracle is less (but not none) grand, mystic tableaux and more Lego-language with the pieces provided; the included guide gives examples of (Lost Parrot) + (Telephone) = News About Something Missing, and (Gazebo) + (Drain) = Exhausting/Exhausted By Social Gathering. It’s a system that is somewhat predicated on a more spiritual, divination-as-maybe-telling-the-future concept, but there’s still plenty of room for a more reflective, cards-as-meditation-exercise approach, so just about anyone should be able to find a place to meet the deck where they’re comfortable, but hopefully also willing to step outside their comfort zones; for my own part I generally don’t think these things are magic, but I’m not sure they know they aren’t.
The Green Glyphs Glossary
Book does what book do! It’s a lovely, luxurious volume, with thick gilded pages and a built-in ribbon bookmark, but to me the more impressive feat is creating a unified, simplified format and data-language to handle the four decks. This sense of synthesis carries throughout the entire system: each of the individual guidebooks ends with the legend ‘And now you know a quarter of the story…’, and this book literally just compiles all of them in one place, as they were clearly meant to be all along. BOOK: GOOD.
Now Hang On A Dang Second Here, Fella
So, if you’re like me, you’ve seen these various decks, all clearly dialects of the same mother tongue, all different brands of soda but still with hearts of corn syrup, and thought it was a damn shame to wall off these gardens for no readily evident benefit; why shouldn’t a Tarot deck have an Owl or a Candles card? What sense, in the end, does it really make to exclude the Hierophant and the Eiwaz rune from your Lenormand deck? WHO TOLD US THERE WERE RULES AND WHY DID WE BELIEVE THEM? WHAT WAS THEIR ANGLE???
Well my friends, well-wishers, and enemies whose grudging respect I have earned, I’ve got good news for us, and it starts with alleged “physical space” and so-called “objects” pulling a fast one on me, a dumbass.
In Which I Am Bamboozled
By The Third Dimension
I had taken photos of the backs of all of the decks to compare their sizes, only to realize that they’re all the same size and only distinguished from one another by their highlighted glyphs; this was very confusing, and I hadn’t intended to include them in this review at all ’cause four nearly identical decks aren’t super riveting, visually:
Only while later leafing through the Glossary did I learn that this is not only intentional but purposeful, encouraging the reader to construct a hybrid deck to suit their own sensibilities:
That rascal beat us to the punch! Combine away, gang.
Earlier I mentioned that the Lenormand (and later the Oracle) deck felt the best to hold, at 36 and 50 cards respectively; not in a Vibes way (though your vibes may vary), but physically fit the best in my hand in terms of where the stack-thickness interacted with the physical dimensions of the cards. This leads me to believe that this range is ideal for me personally, and if I may have a little blasphemy as a treat, Tarot decks have always had too many cards for me; I think 78 is a little too many to really meaningfully memorize and interact with, I think that large a number spreads the concept-butter a little thin, and with that many cards a deck is difficult to shuffle if it isn’t huge, and then that hugeness is an issue. I once asked Miss Cleo what to do about this; she told me to “Get bigger hands, nerd” and that she “shuffled [my] mom last night”, then pushed me down and stole my hamburger.
Regardlo, the possibility of assembling your own deck, even out of prefab pieces, does require you to confront a question: do you trust your own intuition (or The Powers That Be) enough to carve your own trail through a territory that every map you’ve ever seen describes differently? It’s an intimidating prospect! And there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the known paths of Tarot or Yi Jing or haruspicy if you can trick somebody into holding still long enough, but it’s important to remember that these and other paths are not naturally preexisting; they form where people are brave enough to travel, not the other way around.
I love when you get so mired in a particular culture that you lose the ability to tell what’s common knowledge to outsiders and what isn’t, so allow me to hedge my bets and explain: this is a card-holder, designed to hold four cards of whatever deck or combination you want, presumably from a spread you’ve done or ones you want to focus or meditate on, etc. These are actually very common add-ons or secret extras in crowdfunded projects because they’re relatively cheap to produce, offer a last chance to sneak in some art, and everyone loves getting a bonus they didn’t expect. What I find hilarious about these is what they’re saying without meaning to, because “take these beautiful cards, stand them up vertically so they wobble back and forth the way cards do, and just leave them there” is the absolute loudest way I have ever heard anyone say “I have never had a cat”.
I must admit: prior to familiarizing myself with the Oracle deck, I did believe this was simply a holographic pizza topping suggestion, and now I know it’s that and so much more. I assume each patron of the project got a different card, and while if given my druthers I probably would’ve chosen the Lantern or the Hanged Man OR, if I’m feeling sassy, Yesterday’s Coffee, I cannot deny a certain pointed elegance in receiving a giant divination card that I would personally never have chosen; perhaps a message or a warning, perhaps a shopping list, and perhaps a reminder to re-read Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris trilogy.
YET ANOTHER CAT TOY, HOW THOUGHTFUL.
I kid, I kid and also 100% mean it. This is a very well-made, high-quality thing that the Way of Absolute Candor requires I confess I personally have no use for in a divinatory context, and that’s an interesting conversation in its own right: whycome I think cards can tell me stuff but (no disrespect) not the geomantic coins James has also created? Why do I believe in an unseen world and maybe life after death but the idea of past lives and reincarnation don’t click with me at ALL despite the stunningly beautiful deck James made for it? WHAT IS A COIN IF NOT A SMALL, ROUND CARD YOU CAN HUCK AT A GOOSE WHILE YELLING “PREDICT THIS”?
(James is not my sponsor ((although if he’d like to be…)), he just happens to have created a broad enough population of divinatory systems, and I happen to have been a fan of his long enough, to have formed opinions about individual examples)
‘Cause it–this is the conclusion, and it–you get it, it ain’t makin’ you laugh but you get it, and that means I’ve done my job.
I pride myself on my exhaustive/ing thoroughness, so I think we can agree I’ve pretty much said what there is to say: this is a monumental work of creativity, planning, and exploring the intersection of system and substance, in addition to being a one-stop reference resource for the wide variety of tools it presents whether you found them in this toolbox or not.
Be good to yourselves and each other or face my wrath, and as always: ending posts is hard.