How to Skin a Lion Challenge: The Conclusion

Over the last few months I have been blogging about my challenge to try out some of the outmoded advice in my HTSALx600upcoming book How to Skin a Lion.

It has been a fun adventure and I have learnt some new skills that I will put to good use.

The most interesting challenge was trying the 1856 recipe for making mushroom ketchup (incidentally it has also been my most popular post with over 90 people reading it – seems there is a crowd of mushroom-lovers out there!). The recipe itself was a bit vague so I had to freestyle a bit, but I was really excited to try this forgotten condiment.

I imagined myself as a Victorian, chowing down on some meat with mushroom ketchup at a back-alley Ale House. Unfortunately this is not how it turned out and it seems my modern palate cannot deal with the amount of salt used in the original recipe.

I am still interested in trying to find a less salty recipe for mushroom ketchup and hope to mushroomsx600have another attempt at making it in the future.

I really enjoyed trying out some of the ‘mystical’ advice and although I am a sceptic at heart I was fascinated to see if any insight could be gained through trying to tell my fortune with playing cards.

The fortune-telling thus far has not proved to be accurate, but it was a good way to self-analyse and provided some useful starting points for introspection.

Trying to assess someone’s character through their facial moles was always going to be dubious and it didn’t disappoint but it kept me amused for a few hours while I searched for celebrities with moles who I could analyse!

The most useful skills I learned were how to darn (although I certainly need some more practice!) and how to bandage an arm, which was actually pretty simple but definitely a good skill to have.

The instruction I am most likely to use again is how to make lemon barley water as it was really easy but tasted delicious and fresh and I think makes a perfect drink for a summers’ day.barleyingredientsx600

There is a lot more advice in How to Skin a Lion that I would love to follow, such as some of the recipes for making lip balm and ginger wine, but unfortunately due to being Victorian recipes they use ingredients that are either frowned upon – spermaceti (the oil from a sperm whale’s head) or very hard to source (sugar loaf).

However even if I can’t actually try all the advice and recipes contained in the book it is still really interesting to marvel at how things used to be done and take pleasure in collecting and sharing lost or outmoded advice.

Just a few weeks now until How to Skin a Lion comes out, so hopefully some readers might stop by this blog and report on trying out some of the advice themselves, that would be wonderful!

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How to use the English method of fortune-telling by cards:

It was with some trepidation that I decided to dabble in a bit of fortune-telling for my next task. Not because I am wary of the occult, nor because I have anything to hide, but more because the instructions were so complicated!

‘In many cases, the position of the cards entirely changes their signification, their individual and relative meaning being often widely different. Thus, for example, the King of Hearts, the Nine of Hearts, and the Nine of Clubs respectively signify a liberal man, joy, and success in love; but change their position by placing the King between the two nines, and you would read that a man, then rich and happy, would ere long be consigned to prison.’playingcards1x600

The advice comes from A Handbook of Cartomancy: Fortune-telling and Occult Divination by the fabulously named Grand Orient (1889).

I decided to add my own sprinkling of mysticism by choosing a pack of cards that I had owned since childhood (note: they are French so the King is (R)oi, the Queen is (D)ame and the Jack is (V)alet). This set of Asterix playing cards had travelled the world with my then boyfriend, now husband and I, and have given many hours of card-playing enjoyment. These cards, I felt, must have absorbed some of our very essence.

The technique

The first instructions were:

After having well shuffled, cut them three times, and lay them out in rows of nine cards each.’

This was easily done and I filled the table with neat rows of nine cards, all face up. I then asked my victim husband (who I shall from now on refer to as Andy, for that is his name) to select which King he thought should represent him, as advised by the Grand Orient himself:

layoutcardsx600Select any King or Queen you please to represent yourself, and wherever you find that card placed, count nine cards every way, reckoning it as one; and every ninth card will prove the prophetic one.’

Andy chose the King of Clubs, which I quickly looked up and found this uncanny description:

King of Clubs – A dark man, upright, faithful, and affectionate in disposition.’

From here we counted every ninth card and noted down what we found in order to make our predictions. These are the cards and their meanings:

‘Three of Hearts – Sorrow caused by a person’s own imprudence.

Four of Diamonds – Trouble arising from unfaithful friends; also a betrayed secret.

Five of Hearts – Troubles caused by unfounded jealousy.

Eight of Hearts – Pleasure, company.

Five of Spades – Shews that a bad temper requires correcting.’

This sounds to me like a party going wrong. We have quite a few social engagements coming up so I will be on my guard for any unfounded jealousy or imprudence.Andycards

The next step was to identify the Knave of Clubs and count every nine cards from thence as described here:

As the Knaves of the various suits represent the thoughts of the person represented by the picture cards of a corresponding colour, they should also be counted from.’

This should reveal Andy’s inner thoughts. This is what we found:

Knave of Clubs – A sincere but hasty friend. Also a dark man’s thoughts.

Two of Clubs – A disappointment.

Ace of Hearts – The house. If attended by clubs, feasting and merry-making.

Seven of Diamonds – Satire, evil speaking.

King of Hearts – A fair man, of good-natured disposition, but hasty and rash.

Nine of Clubs – Disobedience to friends’ wishes.’

This seems to fit in fairly well with my interpretation of a future social gathering marred by gossip or disagreement with friends. I really hope this doesn’t come true but I shall be vigilant and report back if our next party goes horribly awry.

Andy was fairly nonplussed by the predictions, nothing jumped out as especially insightful, but as this is fortune-telling who knows what may yet occur.

Then it was my turn. After this faintly depressing reading for Andy I was hoping for some wonderful cards full of good fortune, success and great wealth. How wrong could I be?

The second attempt

We reshuffled, cut and laid out the cards in rows of nine as before. Because Andy had chosen the King of Clubs to represent himself, I followed Grand Orient’s advice and made myself the Queen of Clubs, who is described thus:

Queen of Clubs – A dark woman, gentle and pleasing.’

Anyone who really knows me would not describe me thus (I am ginger for a start!) but I shall glide past that small issue and plough on. The ‘significant’ cards (every ninth counted each way from the Queen of Clubs) were:

‘King of Diamonds – A fair man, hot tempered, obstinate and revengeful.

Six of Diamonds – Early marriage and widowhood.

Five of Hearts – Troubles caused by unfounded jealousy.

Four of Hearts – A person not easily won.

Ace of Spades – Great misfortune, spite.’

Oh. Pretty bleak. My dreams of fame and fortune dashed. That song ‘The Ace of Spades’ is now whirling round in my head. Not helped by the fact that Andy guffawed loudly when this, the most grim of all cards, came up for my future.

Not sure how to interpret this really as I have no idea who this revengeful fair-headed man is (not Andy, he is dark) and the reference to early marriage is puzzling as I didn’t wed until 27 so by modern standards not especially early.

It is interesting that both Andy and I got the five of hearts, however neither of us are the jealous type so maybe this refers to someone close to us? Whatever way you look at these cards they are not giving me a message of joy. But wait, it gets worse …

On to my thoughts, counting every ninth card from the Knave of Clubs:

Ten of Spades – Grief, imprisonment

Two of Clubs – A disappointment.

King of Clubs – A dark man, upright, faithful, and affectionate in disposition.

Queen of Diamonds – A fair woman, fond of company and a coquette.

Five of Clubs – A prudent marriage.’

The first two don’t sound great but the last three could represent Andy and I. Let’s hope the first two are not what awaits me, I don’t think I am made for prison life.

The conclusion

This dabble in the waters of mysticism didn’t quite turn up the glowing future I had hoped, however it was quite a diverting way to spend an evening and I imagine it could be a quite useful starting points for some self-analysis, were you that way inclined.

At this point I am hoping my inexpert reading does not come true and that somehow the actual alignment of the cards inverts their meaning. But if my next blog post is about ‘my life in the slammer’ you’ll know otherwise.

Can you interpret these cards any better than I? Have you tried fortune-telling? If so please leave a comment.