PART 2: ALCHEMY, ALTERATIONS, AND CONTEXTUAL MEANING
Once you understand how to read individual cards, you can explore the more nuanced meanings that arise when you place cards next to each other. These context-based meanings are produced by Alchemy.
The ‘Alchemy’ of Dragonfruit is defined as ‘the interaction between classical elements, as a means for deepening or altering a symbolic narrative’.
Throughout Anthromancer is a motif of colored shapes on the cards, board, codex, and product box. Even the dice take the form of some of these shapes. These are known as the platonic solids, and each represents a classical element:
The Red Hexahedron (cube), tied to the Claws, represents Earth.
The Orange Icosohedron (d20), tied to the Souls, represents Water.
The Yellow Tetrahedron (pyramid), tied to the Gears, represents Fire.
The Green Octohedron (diamond), tied to the Blades, represents Air.
These 4 elements can be thought of as having symbolic effects on each other, which are the same as in the game of Mercenarium: Earth (Claws) consumes Water (Souls), which consumes Fire (Gears), which consumes Air (Blades), which consumes Earth. This tendency to consume one another is illustrated in the Alchemy Wheel.
This symbolic alchemy offers a simple but profound way to deepen meaning in Dragonfruit readings. You can think of it as a way to open ‘energy channels’ between symbols when two or more cards are placed next to each other. The symbolic energy from one card may be diminished or augmented by the cards that it sits next to.
As an example: Imagine a 3-card spread in which the first card is the Queen of Claws (an earth card meaning ‘a soldier/supporter in the sphere of Source’), the second is the 2 of Souls (a water card meaning ‘sacrifice in the sphere of Pulse’), and the third is the 2 of Gears (a fire card meaning ‘sacrifice in the sphere of Path’). In such a situation, the concepts tied to each card can be thought of as more or less significant based upon the alchemy of the cards they’re adjacent to.
The ‘sacrifice’ represented by the middle card in our example – the 2 of Souls – can be thought of as having an influence over the ideas represented by the first and third cards. Between the Queen of Claws and the 2 of Souls, energy is flowing FROM the 2 of Souls to the Queen of Claws, as Claws (earth) consumes Souls (water); The Queen’s character CONSUMES the ‘pulse/emotion sacrifice’ embodied by the 2 of Souls and becoming more energized. Between the 2 of Souls and the 2 of Gears, energy is flowing FROM the 2 of Gears to the 2 of Souls, as Souls (water) consumes Gears (fire); the sacrifice in the realm of pulse/emotion CONSUMES the sacrifice in the realm of path/direction. In this arrangement, you can imagine a pathway opening in which energy from the 2 of Gears passes through the 2 of Souls and ultimately rests within the Queen of Claws.
Here’s one way that you might choose to read this spread, accounting for Alchemy:
The Queen of Claws, a soldier devoted to health, finances, or stability – perhaps a parent or partner – absorbs the energy of an emotional sacrifice made by the querent. This energy originates in the querent sacrificing something in their path; and by making this sacrifice of path, the emotional energy is free to go towards the Queen of Claws. These ideas can be interpreted in many ways. Perhaps this Queen is an antagonist, drawing the querent’s attention away from the things they’re truly passionate about. Or perhaps this Queen is benevolent, guiding the querent’s emotional energy towards the stabilizing, nurturing sphere of source; after all, without a strong foundation, most of our aspirations are subject to much greater challenges and uncertainty.
Even with the added depth of alchemy, there are always many ways that a spread can be interpreted. The symbols require the reader or querent to make subjective associations for any useful meaning to be inferred.
When cards appear next to each other with elements that oppose one other on the alchemy wheel – as with Souls and Blades (water and air), or Claws and Gears (earth and fire) – their core meanings may be altered. When a card’s meaning is altered, it is rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, into a sideways orientation (Done properly, this rotation will orient the strongest side (or one of the strongest sides) of the card towards the house of its element). This is not to be confused with the concept of ‘inversion’ in traditional Tarot divination (in which upside-down cards mean the opposite of their base meaning). Alterations are meant to be thought of as continuations or evolutions of the core meanings in a card. Rather than negating or inverting their original meaning, they extend the narrative behind the meaning, or view it through a slightly different lens.
In 2-card alterations (where 2 cards with opposing elements appear adjacent to one another), the most recently revealed card is the one which is altered. Once a card has been revealed and its status as ‘altered’ or ‘not altered’ has been established, it is cemented, remaining in that orientation for the duration of the reading.
When an alteration occurs, it adds a layer to the symbolism contained in the altered card; Whatever that card represented by itself is now changed into something else. For example: if the 6 of Claws (Repair in the sphere of source) is revealed adjacent to the 7 of Gears (Science in the sphere of path), the ‘Repair’ expressed by the 6 of Claws would now be altered to mean ‘Resistance’, due to the opposing alchemy of Earth/Claws and Fire/Gears.
You could take this alteration at face value and say that ‘resistance in the sphere of source’ has appeared following ‘Science in the sphere of path’, but to do this would omit a key feature of alterations. There are narrative implications if the original meaning is continued into the altered meaning; it exists, and is then changed by the cards around it. If the original meaning of the altered card is accounted for within the unfolding narrative, the above interaction becomes something like this:
Science in the sphere of path (a new skillset, technique, or tool that may serve the querent in achieving their goals) causes a repair in the sphere of source (a stabilizing or strengthening energy in the querent’s health or finances) to change into resistance in the sphere of source – a resistance to the integration of a stabilizing energy. Note that, in this translation, the original meaning of the altered card is still accounted for within the narrative. Perhaps this new knowledge of path is leading the querent to let go of an existing, stabilizing career that needed repair, and while it may be the right decision, it will carry with it a degree of challenge in the financial struggles that might result? Perhaps this new direction is having an unintended negative impact; perhaps the querent is only drawn to this path as a kind of resistance to a necessary repair to their foundation?
The principle of alteration carries much potential to be translated into symbolic complexity and nuance.
Chains and Resistance
Depending upon the structure of the spread you choose, you may occasionally see multiple alterations occur in a row. As stated before, once a card has been altered, its individual meaning is cemented; but the narrative its alteration generates is carried on through the spread. If an altered card happens to alter another card, the symbolism carries through in the narrative, and a chain of interlinked meanings begins to form, beginning with the unaltered card at the start of the chain. Each alteration cascades to the next in these scenarios, creating more meaning for a reader and a querent to play with in their search for insights.
By the same logic, cards that would normally be altered can become Resistant to those alterations if they appear adjacent to cards whose elements are consumed by their own element. If, for instance, a 5 of Blades (Air) is revealed and is simultaneously adjacent to both a 4 of Claws (Earth – which Air consumes) and a 3 of Souls (Water – which alters Air), the 5 of Blades becomes resistant to the alteration imposed by the 3 of Souls; the energy it consumes from the 4 of Claws gives it more symbolic “weight”, so it requires a greater amount of energy to impose an alteration upon it. This balance remains the same in situations where 3 or 4 other cards may be adjacent to a card as it appears; if there is at least an equal number of ‘consumed elements’ as there are ‘altering elements’ adjacent to a revealing card, then the card remains resistant to alteration. However, if a revealing card appears adjacent to a greater number of ‘altering elements’ than ‘consumed elements’, then it cannot resist the alteration, and it’s meaning changes.
When cards of the same element or suit appear next to each other, they are considered to Resonate with one another. This means that, as they refer to the same kinds of energy and experiences, they are symbolically connected. They agree with and affirm each other and share an energy current between them. When one has its energy increased by consuming the energy of another card, it shares that energy with all the cards it resonates with. Likewise, if one has its energy depleted by the consuming presence of another card, the energy of all resonating cards is consumed as well. However, resonance does not increase or decrease a cards symbolic energy by itself, so a card that resonates with another card can be altered if it appears adjacent to an altering element. When a card that resonates with other cards is altered, the alteration does not carry through to the resonating cards.
In addition to the 4 classical elements, there are 3 Astral elements implied by the Zodiac, The Fool, and The Fox hymns:
The Blue Dodecahedron (Zodiac) represents Aether.
The Indigo Sphere (The Fool) represents Void.
The Violet Seed of Life (The Fox) represents Flow.
These astral elements set themselves apart from the material elements by being immaterial; they represent the intangible elemental concepts that make up the mystical structures of reality.
Aether is defined here as the field of energy through which all things arise; its closest mechanical representation would be something like ‘electromagnetism’. In the alchemy process, Aether (and the Zodiac hymn and die) is seen as energy-creative, meaning that it supplies additional symbolic energy to the cards around it without losing energy of its own.
Void is defined here as absence; it is the empty, formless darkness that creates the context in which all things can be seen and comprehended. In the alchemy process, Void (and the Fool hymn and die) is seen as energy-receptive, meaning that it draws symbolic energy away from the cards around it, without gaining any energy in the process.
Flow is defined here as cosmic consciousness; not to be confused with simply ‘awareness’ or ‘the waking mind’, this refers to the unity of the universe. In the alchemy process, Flow (and the Fox hymn and die) is seen as energy-transcending, meaning that its effect on the symbolic energy of the cards around it is dependent upon the subjective impulse of the reader and the querent – in other words, consciousness. It is considered to resonate with all elements adjacent, causing energy to ‘Flow’ through it gracefully.
Sample Spread 2: Past, Present, Prophecy
This classical cartomancy pattern involves the translation of 3 cards, linked together to tell a story.
Shuffle the deck several times.
Cut the deck.
Take a few slow, deep breaths, and return to yourself.
Turn over the top card (1), and place it to the left. This card represents something in the querent’s past - where they have been - and gives context to the next card.
Turn over the next card (2), and place it in the center. This card represents the querent’s present; where they are, what they’re experiencing, or how they feel now.
Turn over the third card (3), and place it to the right. This card represents the querent’s future; their destination, and the direction they are moving in.
Contemplate the full spread, and search for insights, as well as any alchemy links between cards. Does one card feed into another? Are there cards in conflict with each other? Are there alterations worth noting?
When you feel satisfied, return the cards to the deck.