Original, pretty (or extraordinarily gorgeous), enticing, out-of-the-box, newsworthy & educational. If any of those keywords are applicable to a deck or book that I’ve seen, chances are I want to have it (written about) on The Queen’s Sword. The Falnama Turkish Oracle cards is happily supported by at least one of those terms, which is why you’re reading this. Based on a historical 16th/17th century work of Islamic divination it will give a modern Western brain a new and challenging way of fortune telling.
The Falnama Turkish Oracle Cards, created by Turkish couple Asli (artist) and Polat (researcher) Canpolat. The duo has both made works that aim to convey traditional subjects to future generations. Falnama Turkish Oracle Cards (further: Falnama Oracle for short) is one of them, based on the Falnama books, or Book of Omens. These books full of paintings and stories and ideals to inspire and aspire to, were used by the wealthy and commoners alike. A diviner would open the book on a random page and use that story, that verse, to answer his customer’s questions and provide the previously unknown. When it came to the Falnama books it was essential however to first perform some rituals and recite certain prayers from the Qu’ran before donning the cloak of diviner.
In the Iran and Turkey of the second half of the sixteenth century bibliomancy and pictures for prognostication (TQS: fortune-telling in academic terms) had become quite the popular thing. The Falnama – meaning consulting the sacred or seeking auguries – or otherwise called Book of Omens, became not just an integral part, but the most important part of predicting the future and asking for guidance in those parts of the Islamic world.
The illustrated manuscripts were used on the streets or were made for the wealthy in certain parts of Iran or Istanbul. The simple tomes have not survived…
Luckily the Falnama Oracle won’t expect any ritual, nor prayer, before you begin. In many ways the cards are a simple derivative of its ancestor. Keeping any ritual or religious knowledge out of the equation is but one of the differences. The creators took their inspiration from the simplicity of mythological & Qu’ran stories, combined with imagery to make the deck, but their vision resulted in what they call “a stylised contemporary and universal form of the original Falnama Books”.
Look and feel
When it comes to the look & feel Schiffer presents you with the quality Red Feather boxes you’re used to. A magnetic cover-lid that can stand up to show a card, inside the deck (in one stack this time) and a – uncharacteristically small – companion paperback. The Falnama kit is pretty much half the size of the regular kits, but the cards inside are a tad larger than most decks by Schiffer.
When it comes to those cards: they look very nice. The card stock is okay – not very thick, but certainly not annoyingly thing and they shuffle good despite the size. Much to my surprise the deck is matte. No lamination! It suits the Falnama Oracle, since it is printed on a yellow-brown background – not unlike you’d expect from old discoloured manuscripts perhaps. Forty cards, each with a number in a sun or flower-like circle and a title or keyword underneath surrounded by the same decoration.
Some cards might have more expected Oracle titles like Paradise, Death, Judgement, Peace, Universe, Divine Gift and Sun or Star, but others show that we are dealing with something slightly different. Migration, Beast of the Earth, Gog and Magog, Sultan, Rigour, Lament and Simurgh to name but a few, tell us this is not the type of oracle we are used to. And we have the pictures to prove it.
The word of…
Each Falnama Oracle card has an image linked to a story, just like the Book of Omens, even though – so the creators tell me – they’re nothing like the original images itself. They’re often a compilation of symbols and figures, set in a circle or square and bonded with the others. It is both colourful and very demure at the same time. Faces and other figures are either drawn quite realistically or a bit comically. I think the end result is on the one hand nice and calm, but on the other quite alien…or at least not very common compared to what usually comes across the pages of The Queen’s Sword. The card titles can at times coincide with what you see before you (Hell and Famine are rather obvious in title & illustration), but just as often they do not…not in an obvious way for me at least. Hopefully that comes with time.
For every card there’s a corresponding verse in the companion: the augury (omen) you’re supposed to interpret when laying out cards to a question. Divining through a form of poetry takes some getting used to if you’re normally into – say – Lenormand, but like with everything: practice makes perfect. The sad thing though, is that these verses are mostly what you got. Wait, were’t there interesting illustrations? Yes, but nowhere will you find an explanation on the symbols and images on the cards or how one could use them for interpretation. The mini companion gives a short statement on what the Falnama Oracle is, offers us 3 kind of spreads and how to do those and says that ‘it deepens the meaning to know about the stories behind Falnama Oracle cards’. And that is exactly where I hit a brick wall. Because which stories link to which card?
Test reading: simple
I did a few test readings per spread example (see the extra companion tips) and it is an interesting way of divining. Most importantly: you’ll need to be able to grasp the augury verse or you can start over. I mostly used the entire verse, unless the prose felt divided. Then I went with where my eye landed first (as the Book of Omen was often used). It worked pretty well. My test subjects resonated with the readings and I sent these tests in to be judged (with permission of course) by Ali & Can. According to them I actually proved that they set up their deck in the correct way. “Our goal is to provide a simple read and reach a wide audience. We think that the test readings you sent are correct and that we have succeeded in [TSQ: creating a deck for ]simple reading.”
I agree up to a point…Up to the point where I hit said brick wall. Yes, just based on the text and some practice it becomes quite easy to read with the Falnama Oracle. But I do have a big B-U-T. The lack of information in the booklet on the symbolism and imagery was really a thorn in my eye. The oracle is based on two main sources: stories told in the Qur’an and Islamic mythology (hadiths and sufistic stories). The Canpolat team uses Metin Cetin’s Ottoman Islamic Mythology with miniatures as an extra source (a search leads to a Pinterest account), but there are – according to the design team – no useful books in English on the topic. I am not sure how many of you would be able to link the cards to the correct Quran story or myth – and that is only if you are well acquainted with that material to begin with.
Extra answers from the creators
Stories behind the cards
I would have let that go – sometimes the imagery did speak for itself, and in a few cards picking out a few symbols strengthened a verse. I was hoping it would do even better – also for the cards that are still an enigma – after more use, forgetting about its foundation… if not for Canpolat’s answer on the importance of the illustrations. “The symbols used in the illustrations, the position of the figures and the places where the clusters intersect are important. For example: On the Victim card, the domain in which the coach is located is inside Abraham’s room, indicating that Abraham is a victim. His son turned his back on all this and voluntarily gave himself up. Self-giving (TSQ: self-sacrifice was repeatedly reinforced?) is reinforced by repeat. The angel enters the middle of the repeat and prevents the sacrifice. Makes the expected result to be skipped more lightly.” (TSQ: meaning: what seems like an awful thing happening, might not be as bad as expected?) *
Great example…but how am I to know that this card portrays the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son? While the creators insist that their choice of imagery makes them step away from the need for religious knowledge, they’re forgetting that it is very hard to link them to anything else when they are actually still referencing those stories… I think this is a huge miss with this deck and I am very sorry to say that. An otherwise interesting addition to anyone’s oracle collection – especially because it works in a different way – has quite the fatal flaw. IMHO of course. If I am to divine with stories, it would be nice to know which stories I am actually divining with.
What it boils down to is this: the inspiration for the imagery is one you won’t be able to repeat, unless you have the same knowledge as the creators **. Use the Falnama Oracle deck as you would any other more abstract oracle: with your own imagination. What do you see in those images? Okay then, use that in a crafty way to add to your interpretation. As you could read previously you definitely will have the opportunity to make accurate predictions with the verses the creators provided. Your creativity needs to do the rest.
That makes this a deck that, certainly in the beginning, but maybe always, has you grabbing for the booklet (or Google), and asks for your own stamp in a big fat way. In this case that’s the signature of the deck and not something to be ashamed of (booklet) or to be afraid of (stamp). I am sure that the Falnama Oracle cards would benefit from some other crafting too: spreadcrafting. It responds well to positional readings and I wonder how it works together with a tarot deck. The extra answers from the creator team and several readings taught me that the deck reads in the symbolic way you would a tarot, even though the pattern and system are utterly different.
Falnama Oracle cards are indeed original and I think they’re quite pretty too in a different kind of way. The creators dropped the ball on the very thin companion, regardless of the fact they wanted to keep it simple. Yes, the oracle still works perfectly, but the imagery has no explanation whatsoever and you miss the link to its foundation. (A simple list with which story to research per card would’ve been – pun intended – a godsend). Which begs the question: why do I need cards if I basically only use text? But maybe that is a bit harsh. It could be a huge plus for you not to have to bother with these stories. What interested me in the first place was exactly the fact it had its base in Islamic divination. That I lose that aspect for the most part and need to use my own imagination as I would with an abstract oracle is disappointing.
Nevertheless, Falnama Oracle Cards delivers on originality; I have not seen something like it so far. And the illustrations are certainly interesting. If like to read your cards symbolically plus the idea of fortunetelling through verses appeals, the deck becomes a straight out of the box read – no level or preexisting divination knowledge needed. In that regard it is a fun and new addition to your oracle collection. One I might not necessarily recommend but would certainly not discommend either.
* The creators had to use Google translate in order to give me their answers in English. In this case I used their answer in its entirety because I am not completely sure how I would need to adapt it. So apologies for sentences that might look weirdly constructed. I asked them A LOT of questions and got extensive answers (which led to the great TIP TOP 5…) I am just not able to fix everything properly ;).
** I hereby invite any cartomancer that *does* know which stories are used in the 40 cards to write us an awesome tutorial, with a nice link to your practice or product ;)! Some like Gog & Magog are obvious, due to name or image, and if you have Old Testament knowledge a few others won’t be a surprise to you either.