The History and the Structure of the Naipes
The naipes are used often by folk healers who cure with herbs or psychedelic plants in a society in which witchcraft beliefs exist and people often expect that illness is caused by the evil will of others. The cards become a psychological adjunct to a healer’s therapy, a sort of intake procedure to learn more about their clients so that the healer can appear to be omnipotent and replete with knowledge and power. We cannot talk about the naipes as a divination technique without understanding the context in which these cards are used, particularly among the urban poor of Belen, who live in abject poverty in their shantytown. Healers are able to manipulate situations of misfortune that dog the steps of the urban poor as the healers diagnose illness and misfortune, appearing all-powerful and worthy of their fees.
I first ran into the naipes in Peru when, as a graduate student, I was sent by the Institute of Social Psychiatry at San Marcos University on the north coast of Peru to a special village, Salas, an hour and a half outside of Chiclayo. It was said that there more than a hundred folk healers used, in healing rituals, the San Pedro cactus laden with mescaline. Attending a healing ceremony one night in Salas, I heard a folk healer tell his wife to bring the naipes down to the area where the patients were seated. Having a long-term interest in fortune-telling, I asked the healer to tell me more about the naipes. He brushed me off, but this sparked my interest, which had been dormant for a number of years. When I arrived in Peru, I was game for divination techniques. In the marketplace in the nearby city of Chiclayo I purchased a pamphlet said to be written by Napoleon’s spiritual adviser, Madame LeNormand.
Madame LeNormand was born in a small village in France in 1773 and arrived in Paris when she was twenty-one years old. She opened a salon and read the fortunes of a number of highly placed individuals who were politically active in the French Revolution, including Robespierre. Apparently, Josephine de Beauharnais, later married to Napoleon Bonaparte, was one of her clients, and Madame Marie was reputed to have regularly read the naipes for Napoleon.
Most of the booklets based on her system agree on basic principles. Certain days of the week are most propitious for a reading--Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, for example. The client must cut the cards only with the left hand, which is nearest to the heart, or else the fortune obtained is thought not to be accurate. The person who takes it upon himself to read the cards must be sincere and strong and not frivolous. This card reader should also be observant and wash his hands and face before using the cards. Dropping a card while reading a fortune is said to bring bad luck. If we can get to the heart of the divining cards by using a rational mathematical probability statistic and examine the technique in light of what I have called an “ethno-projective device,” we can learn a good deal about traditional folk psychotherapy.
The naipes help healers to tap in to the causality of illness while, at the same time, allowing them to present themselves as all-powerful. This cannot help but dispel fear, anxiety, and self-doubts in their patients and provide a high expectation of cure. This personal influence of healers increases their manipulation of the patient’s anxieties and provides a path toward eventual cure.
The naipes are not simple amusement for the clients, but rather are used by them and healers as a diagnostic technique, especially when most clients believe that illness is caused by evil willing or witchcraft machinations on the part of “others.” The healers manipulate a category that I call misfortune cards to plumb the depths of interpersonal conflicts, material loss, and sickness or death of loved ones to make their diagnosis.
Reading the Naipes
To read the naipes, the cards are laid out on a flat surface in the form of a cross, called St. Andres. A picture card representing the client--called the interested party--is placed in the center of the cross, and a frame is made of cards, which encloses the picture card representing the interested party. The frame consists of three additional cards, which are placed on the left side of the client’s picture card, three below this picture card, three on the right side, and three above the client’s central picture card. Beneath the card representing the interested party is an extra card, which the client doesn’t see until the very end of the reading. This card is deemed to shed light on some aspect of the reading.
The total number of cards read is eighteen. Effectively, this type of reading permits a large number of possibilities for each reading and four major story lines for each part of the reading.
A probability statistical analysis of the naipes indicates that in an average reading of eighteen cards, the probability that at least one misfortune card occurs is 99.76 chances out of l00. Two misfortune cards will occur at a probability of 97.40 chances in l00. For three misfortune cards to appear, the statistic drops to 87.3 chances in 100. By the time we reach four misfortune cards, we are close to a 50 percent probability. Because each misfortune card is modified by preceding and sequential cards, an interpreter is in a position to construct a story line quite possibly focusing on interpersonal conflict, material loss, or illness. Thus, the deck is loaded not in the direction of good fortune, but rather to highlight stress and conflict that may be present in the sociocultural milieu. I have called this fortune’s malice, from a line in the poem “De Gustibus” by Robert Browning.