Fortune Tellers and other occupations in the 18th Century.



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The earliest records of card reading come from 18th century Europe. This was definitely the peak time for the 'fortune teller" era. Here is a little information about the lifestyles of the common people at that time. By understanding the common citizens of that era we might get a better picture of the typical fortune teller of that period as well.

Well, you think we got it rough today? Think again!

To understand the citizens of eighteenth-century Europe we need to know what work was available at the time. London seems to have the most on this subject. The jobs and lives of the working class was deplorable at best. At the upper end of income and comfort we have the shopkeepers and artisans. These included upholsterers, coach painters, joiners, watch-finishers to name a few.

At the lower end of the "working class" were occupations now forgotten and barley recorded at all. One example was the job called a "Pure-finder". The job was usually done by old women. They collected dog waste in the streets and sold it to tanneries for a few pence a bucket. The waste was used as a siccative in dressing fine bookbinding leather.

Occupational diseases ran rampant. Sawyers went blind young, their conjunctival membranes destroyed by showers of sawdust. Metalfounders who cast the slugs for Baskervilles elegant type died paralyzed with lead poisoning, and glassblowers' lungs collapsed from silicosis. Hairdressers were prone to lung disease through inhaling the mineral powder used to whiten wigs.

The fate of tailors, unchanged until the invention of electric light went blind from eyestrain. The worst were the tailors of the military. The red uniforms, for the English red coats with red thread was the hardest to see in the poor lighting conditions of the times.

Prostitution and crime ran rampant. The helpless begged while those of more art and courage stole. The gallows were full and one could be hung for poaching a rabbit or just appearing on a high-road with soot on their face. Some of the slang terms for the hangman's gallows were "to dance upon nothing", "the morning drop", "to take a leap in the dark" , "to loll your tongue out at the company" or, because of the strangling sounds made while hanging, "to cry cockles"

Children went to work after their sixth birthday. The Industrial Revolution did not invent child labor, but it did expand and systematize the exploitation of the very young. The abandoned, orphaned young paupers were forced into unhealthy, cruel conditions with physical and mental abuse and unrealistic hours of labor to the point where some poor children would continue moving their little hands in their sleep as if they were still working on the job.

The Industrial Revolution was the time of the card reader as well. If you were fortunate enough to own a deck of Tarot cards you could mystify the people with their magical images and your words of hope and destiny. I would imagine older women were the main card readers of the time. Maybe a "Pure-finder" by day and a card reader by night.

If I were an older woman card reader at that time I would want to protect myself and my cards with an air of mystical powers able to curse those who threaten to take what little I owned or worse yet, rob me of my cards. I would also want to give the impression that only I can tap into the power of the cards, assuring others, that my cards would be of no use to them, even if they did posess them. Yes, If I were an older woman card reader, I would want to appear as if I had magical powers that could read your mind and curse your very soul if I chose to. In times like that what other protection would an old woman have.

  * Refrence: Information taken from The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes Alfred A. Knopf, Inc