Gideon the Ninth through Lenormand

(Contains major spoilers for Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, so if you’re planning to read it, you may want to come back later. Also, this post will make more sense if you know what happened in the book.)

I’d been hearing positive buzz about Gideon the Ninth for several months before it came out. Although the descriptions were catchy—”Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!”—I was having a hard time figuring out what the book was actually about. And while the cover was dramatic, it didn’t give me much of a feeling for the book, except that there would be skeletons involved. But friends were singing ecstatic (spoiler-free) praises of it, so I decided to take a chance on it. And because it was obviously about death and skeletons, I saved it for October.

Reading the book was slightly more planned than doing a reading about it. I’d done a story reading a few years ago for The Lord of the Rings, and it worked so impressively, I’d pretty much never dared another one. I’ve also used this layout for stuff I was writing. But I’d never tried doing a reading on a book before reading it. When I did this reading, I only knew what I could glean from the dust jacket summary. But even though the reading was pretty “accurate,” it’s not the sort of thing you get spoilers from.

Deck: Seventh Sphere Lenormand by Tina Gong (click to enlarge).

I like the Seventh Sphere Lenormand, but the card titles can be difficult to read. Here is a text-only version of the layout:

18-Dog, 31-Sun29-Anima, 24-Heart1-Rider, 7-Snake
15-Bear, 12-Birds23-Mice, 27-Letter6-Clouds, 10-Scythe
14-Fox, 11-Whip28-Animus, 8-Coffin32-Moon, 17-Stork

The Card Pairs

18-Dog, 31-Sun: Common keywords for the Dog include loyal and friend. But in this deck, the dog pictured reminds me more of a guard dog than a household pet. Paired with the Sun, I read this as a good servant as well as a good friend, and with that, I think of the cavaliers generally. The idea of the good servant comes up again and again in Gideon the Ninth as we meet the necromancers and their cavaliers. Obviously, we see a lot of the prickly relationship between Harrow and Gideon. The Third and Eighth Houses also have tense relationships between their necromancers and cavaliers. But other Houses show more amicable (or at least less fraught) pairings: the military hierarchy of the Second House, the happily married couple of the Fifth House, strong friendships in the Fourth and Sixth Houses. There’s even the hint of the long-ago loyalty of the cavalier Loveday to then-necromancer Cyntherea. And at the end, Harrow agrees to serve the Emperor as a Lyctor, even though her world has just fallen apart.

29-Anima (Woman), 24-Heart: Our protagonist, Gideon Nav. And yes, that was my first thought upon seeing this combination, knowing only that Gideon was female. I figured the Heart showed that she was passionate about things, like, say, getting away from the Ninth House. That wasn’t wrong, but in reading the book, I realized that Muir specifically mentions Gideon’s heart:

  • Gideon had never confronted a broken heart before. She had never gotten far enough to have her heart broken.
  • Harrow’s dark eyes were on Gideon’s, past the blade pointed at her skull. “Oh, I have hurt your heart,” she said.
  • “Harrow,” said Gideon, “if my heart had a dick, you would kick it.”

Only at the end, do we hear of Harrow’s heart, after she has absorbed Gideon: “If it had been possible to die of desolation, she would have died then and there: as it was, all she could do was lie on the bed and observe the smoking wreck of her heart.”

1-Rider, 7-Snake: The Lenormand can be wonderfully efficient. I see two meanings for this pair. To begin with, the traditional meaning of the Snake is betrayal and deception, often by a beautiful and intelligent woman. So I see this primarily as Cyntherea, for pretty much all the reasons spelled out by the end of the book and her final confession. The Rider? Well, one definition of cavalier is “a gentleman trained in arms and horsemanship.”* Cyntherea is Cyntherea the First, suggesting that she’s a cavalier of the First House. So Rider + Snake—the cavalier who’s a clever, but untrustworthy woman.

The second meaning? Gideon the Ninth is not lacking in intelligent women. Consider Ianthe Tridentarius. Ianthe betrays (Snake) Naberius Tern, her cavalier (Rider), in order to become a Lyctor.

15-Bear, 12-Birds: I did have some trouble with this pair. I see the Bear as the Emperor, but how did the Birds fit in? My best guess is the short but pivotal conversation between Harrow and the Emperor which sets up the next book in the trilogy.

23-Mice, 27-Letter: Between Gideon and Harrowhark lies the summons (Letter) from the Emperor. It began nobly enough. The Emperor tells Harrow, “I intended for the new Lyctors to become Lyctors after thinking and contemplating and genuinely understanding their sacrifice—an act of bravery, not an act of fear and desperation. Nobody was meant to lose their lives unwillingly at Canaan House.” But the summons brings them to the decay (Mice) of Canaan House, and the Emperor’s plans are corrupted (Mice again) by Cyntherea. Many die unwillingly, and the Emperor’s two new Lyctors are created through an act of fear and desperation (Harrow) and a murder (Ianthe).

6-Clouds, 10-Scythe: Traditionally, what the Scythe points at, it cuts through: in this case, the confusion of the Clouds. This pair was fairly easy to interpret, although that doesn’t mean it was less important to the story. Gideon the Ninth is in great part a mystery, and Clouds + Scythe is the characters trying to solve the mysteries.

14-Fox, 11-Whip: Another pair that is proving challenging to interpret. I’m tempted to say it represents another aspect of Gideon. This would be more physical and less psychological: she’s red-haired (the Fox can represent redheads), she’s practicing deception on Harrow’s orders (pretending to have a vow of silence, pretending to be the cavalier primary of the Ninth House), and she has been training regularly with the longsword, and more recently with the rapier (the Whip can mean repeated activities, such as physical exercise). That would put her in the reading twice, but of course the book is called Gideon the Ninth.

28-Animus (Man), 8-Coffin: Harrowhark Nonagesimus. No, Harrow isn’t a man. But I’ve noticed that the Man and Woman cards don’t necessarily represent literal men and women. Here, with the Anima already in use for Gideon, I think the Animus means “significant other.” Animus + Coffin oppose Anima + Heart across the reading, as Harrow and Gideon are opponents for most of the book.

The Coffin has a couple of meaning in this reading. First off, this is closest the Lenormand gets to representing necromancy. Putting it next to one of the people cards means that that person is a necromancer. But also, the Coffin represents the deaths of the children and teenagers sacrificed by Harrow’s parents to ensure Harrow would be born a necromancer. As she puts it, “I am exactly two hundred sons and daughters of my House, Griddle—I am the whole generation of the Ninth. I came into this world a necromancer at the expense of Drearburh’s future—because there is no future without me.”

32-Moon, 17-Stork: Transformation, especially emotional. The Moon may be the second most emotional card after the Heart, and the Heart has already been used in this reading. Harrow is now physically a Lyctor, and immortal, but she’s also emotionally not the person she was at the beginning of the book. At another level, it’s also a change (Stork) in her “career” (Moon): she’s gone from being the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House to being Harrowhark the First.

The Lines

Unlike that first reading for The Lord of the Rings, I haven’t been able to find additional meanings in all the lines of this reading. But here are a few.

Center vertical: Gideon and Harrow are unwillingly paired and opposed in order to answer the summons to Canaan House.

Center horizontal (rearranged): The conversation with the Emperor clears up the final mysteries that came from the summons to Canaan House.

Upper left to lower right diagonal: The most powerful servants are summoned to Canaan House to win transformation.


*Merriam-Webster

Review: Kissing the Hag

Apparently I have triggered the right algorithm at Amazon.com. They’re recommending Pagan books to me, not just from Llewellyn Publications or New Page Books now, but from publishers that I might never have heard of on my own, books that don’t show up on the shelves at my local Borders or Barnes & Noble. (My reading tastes are at the far end of the long tail.) One of the first of these off-the-beaten-path books I read was Kissing the Hag: The Dark Goddess and the Unacceptable Nature of Women. Not the most inviting of titles, which turned out to be the author’s point. But it was getting good reviews, including one from Thomas Moore, so I took a chance.

Kissing the Hag
Kissing the Hag: The Dark Goddess and the Unacceptable Nature of Women by Emma Restall Orr

Starting with a well-told retelling of the Arthurian tale “The Marriage of Gawain,” Orr explores seven goddesses (I keep thinking of them as archetypes): the virgin, the whore, the mother, the bitch, the witch, the old bag, and the hag. The book is written for a female audience, but the author welcomes male readers in the hopes that the book will help them understand the women they know a little better, and because under these various goddesses there’s a “current” that is common to human nature and nature as a whole. Orr maintains that any of these archetypes may be uncomfortable for a girl or woman to express, so that she ends up trying to suppress it, at the cost of censoring her true nature.

I almost gave up on this book at first, mostly because it didn’t sink in how she had structured it. She says at the beginning that although she quotes from many women, she relates each anecdote in the first person. I read that, forgot it, and read a good chunk of the book wondering how the narrator could have had so many contradictory experiences in her life. With that straightened out, though, it stopped distracting me, and the book instantly became more interesting to me. Some day I may have to reread it, remembering this from the start, and see if I think about those early chapters in a different way.

While I’m pretty sure I would’ve found this book to be a worthy read years ago, I don’t think I would’ve gotten nearly as much out of it then. I’m sure I wouldn’t have understood Orr’s takes on the witch, the old bag, or the hag when I was in my twenties, for instance. Overall, I would recommend it for women (or men) who’ve already done some self-exploration and/or who’ve had enough life experience by now to have some perspective on their lives.

My rating: 8 of 10 stars