cartomancy wiht the Lenormand and the tarot

Seeing the Signs – Book Review of Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot by Patrick Dunn

October, 2018

Book Review of Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot by Patrick Dunn

I found Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot: Create Meaning & Gain Insight from the Cards, by Patrick Dunn, at my local public library. As usual, I discovered it while looking for something else which naturally wasn’t on the shelf. (This happens so often that I expect it). I got it out and read it quickly and returned it within the borrowing period. A few weeks ago, I borrowed it again. This is the kind of library book that you don’t want to return. I plan on purchasing it for my own sometime in the future. It’s a mass-market paperback, put out by Llewellyn Publications.

As regular readers of my column, “Learning the Lenormand” already know, I have been using The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook: Reading the Language and Symbols of the Cards by Caitlín Matthews as my “basic text” for learning the Lenormand. This is a wonderful book and I can’t recommend it enough. But as fabulous as this book is, I want to read other books about the Lenormand. Let’s face it – the more you study, the better you’re going to be able to read the cards. have always been an important part of my spiritual quest. Reading, taking notes and working with the concepts that I learn through the printed medium – or online, nowadays – is how someone like me learns.

My original intent was to review this book for “Learning the Lenormand” but the scope of this book is way beyond simply either the Lenormand or the Tarot. After reading this book several times and taking notes, my take is that Dunn’s main reason for writing this book is to show the relationship between the Lenormand and the Tarot. He has a bunch of very interesting ideas. This is much more than a “how-to” book on reading the cards.

In the introduction, Dunn writes that he wanted to write about “divination through the use of cards” (Dunn, xv) and that he is focusing on the Lenormand and Tarot cards – the Lenormand because it is relatively “little-known” in the United States while the Tarot is familiar to most people, even with folks who have never sought its wisdom and knowledge. He also writes that he wanted “to provide some ways to use the two systems together” (Dunn, xv). But he goes on to say that “this is a book about types of knowledge and ways of listening” and that “this book serves as a meditation” on that particular worldview (Dunn, xv-xvi). He also says that while you can use the book as a how-to book, it is really about “how to develop a relationship” with the cards (Dunn, xvi). I think anyone who has spent time with any divination method will agree with this – you need to have a good working relationship with your cards – whether they are Tarot, Lenormand or some other oracle deck.

He starts off talking about the Lenormand. He covers its history and association with playing cards and fortune-telling. I find it interesting that he does not mention “The Game of Hope” or “Coffee Cards”, both mentioned in The Complete Lenormand Oracle. (Matthews, 4-6) He asserts that Mademoiselle Marie-Anne Lenormand’s method of using cards to foretell the future changed the popular idea of the card-reader from its association with Gypsies and the “Roma people”. (Dunn, 2) Instead, reading cards for divinatory results became “thoroughly genteel”. (Dunn, 3) Instead, he focuses on the readers of the cards and their somewhat unsavory reputations. He fully credits the various schools of Lenormand reading that sprung up after Mademoiselle Lenormand’s death with this evolution of attitude. (Dunn, 3)

He writes that there are various methods of reading the cards – a French method, a German method and South American method. (Dunn, 4) He says that an “American” method – meaning the United States – has “yet to arise” but there are “hints” of a “developing system”. (Dunn, 4-5) He laments the lack of resources for American readers of the Lenormand but admits that this is actually “good news”. Instead of reading dozens of books on the subject – like you can with the Tarot – a practitioner is forced to “begin with the cards themselves.” (Dunn, 5)

His descriptions of the meanings of the cards are simple and to the point. I made scans of these pages to add to my own Lenormand notebook.

 

I put these pages and the others I scanned into my notebook. I like how there’s a blank area below the description of each card so you can write in your own notes. If this book was my very own – instead of a library book – I would have already had this book all marked up!

The very next chapter is about the Major Arcana of the Tarot. He doesn’t cover the Minor Arcana at all. He writes that his focus on the Major Arcana is due to the “fruitful” relationship between the images of the Major Arcana and the Lenormand, focusing only on the “esoteric or inner meanings of these symbols” (Dunn, 29)

Here are some of the scanned pages from his chapter on the Major Arcana:

So then Dunn veers away from both the Lenormard and the Tarot to devote a chapter on Occult Symbolism. He writes, “All human are geniuses at one thing: interpreting symbols.” (Dunn, 40) Perhaps this is true – at any rate, humans do try to make sense of the material world and how it mirrors the esoteric. I personally feel that this chapter is a bit long-winded – the reader can be forgiven for skipping over it for more interesting parts of the book. However, this chapter does – however circular his reasoning might be – lay out important concepts for reading both the Tarot and the Lenormand. Using the Anima Mundi as a guide, he discusses the elements, patterns of numbers and cards, and how astrology fits into all of this. Yes – you might be forgiven for skipping over this chapter, but I will guarantee that you will return to it before you are done with this book. There is a lot to digest here. But it is a necessary step in understanding.

Near the end of the chapter, he asserts, “Once you start looking, you begin to see these symbolic patterns everywhere” (Dunn, 55) – which is certainly true. He writes that the Tarot was no more than a “popular card game with evocatively decorated cards” (Dunn, 55) until the “magicians of the eighteenth-century occult revival” happened to notice the patterns of symbols embedded within the cards and rightly suspected that these cards were “something more” than a card game. (Dunn, 55)

Dunn writes that he doesn’t quite believe that the Tarot was designed to be anything more than a popular card game – but the Anima Mundi is “always whispering” to us. But he admits that it “doesn’t matter” (Dunn, 55) – what matters is how we view the symbols on the cards and how we use them for divination.

Therefore, the next chapter is all about the symbolic structure of the Major Arcana. He writes about how most of us “use the book” when we are doing any kind of divination – especially the “Little White Book” that comes with every set of Tarot, Oracle and Lenormand cards – but he says to look at the symbolism of the card and read it accordingly. (Dunn, 59) This, of course, is what many other Tarot scholars say – most notably Mary K. Greer, Angeles Arrien and Rachel Pollack. He points to the relationships between the cards and prompts us to read them in terms of their energy – Cardinal, Mutable or Fixed – and their Element – Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These designations also belong to the world of Astrology, so he connects the Tarot to that divinatory system. Again – none of this is new when it comes to reading the Tarot. But I really like the way he arranges his thoughts – putting together the cardinal cards, for instance – The Emperor, The Chariot, Justice and The Devil – and looking at the relationships between these cards. (Dunn, 63) He repeats this with the mutable cards and the fixed cards. I had never thought of this before and I am still meditating on this concept.

The next two chapters are about getting ready to read the cards and preparing “to tell a story”. I personally think that these two chapters could be one.

After that, he presents a chapter entitled “Some Tarot Spreads”. I have to say that this must be the first time I have ever read anything about the Tarot that does not mention The Celtic Cross. Perhaps he thought that the reader of this book would already be acquainted with The Celtic Cross, so there was no need to talk about it. Or perhaps the way a person reads The Celtic Cross – a card on each position and read as such – didn’t fit into Dunn’s theory of card “relationships”. Of course you can read the Celtic Cross in both ways and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to do it – that’s how you get the most of the reading.

He writes about a method of reading that he terms a “reading procedure”. (Dunn, 100) He says that the difference between a procedure and a spread is that with procedures, there is no “layout or set meaning to card positions”. (Dunn, 100) He says that after focusing on your question and shuffling well, you pull the top card from the deck and set it to one side. This card is the “answer to your question, or the overall theme card”. (Dunn, 101) After you pull the “answer card”, you lay out the rest of the cards in three rows of seven cards each. The top row can be the past, the middle the present and the bottom row the future – or you could have the first row be the plot, the second row the characters and the third row the setting. Or you could read the rows in terms of mind, heart and body. It’s up to you.

The first card in every row is that row’s theme card. He writes, “Combine the theme card’s meaning with the overall theme card to get an overview.” (Dunn, 101) And then he writes, “Now it gets tricky” – because apparently you don’t read every card that has been laid out – just the ones pointed to by the theme cards and by using the chart he provides – you count from card to card – depending on what theme cards you have. This is the chart:

Ok, I thought. Sounds interesting. So I laid out my Major Arcana cards as he instructs, after shuffling and cutting and thinking about what was most pressing in my life right now – which is, as always, recovery. This is what I laid out:

As you can see, XIV Temperance is the overall theme card. I didn’t really have a question but that seemed to be a decent enough answer. I need a better sense of sobriety and balance in my life. However, combined with XII The Hanged Man, XI The Hermit and IV The Emperor, I would say that my sense of sobriety and balance is marked by a sense of waiting – for what? – and loneliness and rigidity. I definitely need to work on all these issues. And figure out what the hell I am waiting for.

Ok, so now I started counting from card to card using the chart in the book. I turned over the cards I wasn’t going to be reading.

Reading this as “Past, Present, Future”, I can see my early recovery in my past in both XII The Hanged Man and III The Empress – giving birth to my son and that long stretch of sobriety when he was a little guy. The present is how I am still reeling from the aftereffects of XVI The Tower – the divorces, the abusive relationships, the DWI’s, the descent back into active addiction and the struggle to get sober again. The future is XVII The Star – how lovely is that? For someone who is chronically depressed, that certainly gives me something to look forward to. All I have to do is keep working my program of recovery.

He writes about reading the cards that you “don’t read” – he says that they are not “irrelevant” – they offer information about the cards next to them. (Dunn, 102) So there is a lot more to this reading but I am not going to get into it now – there’s so much more to this book!

After discussing Tarot spreads, he moves onto spreads using Lenormand cards. The first thing he talks about are Signifiers. Usually the only Signifiers the beginner hears about is 28 Gentleman and 29 Lady for a man and a woman respectively. However, he lists quite a few signifiers, based on concepts. Given that every card has a keyword, each card could be a signifier for a question or an issue.

The first spread he discusses is the Grand Tableau, which he calls The Book of Life, a term never used in the Matthews book. I have to say that his explanation of reading the Grand Tableau is very straight-forward and easy to follow. But it’s much too involved of a spread to get into in an article like this one. Believe me when I say that it’s well worth the read.

He talks about other spreads – the Petit Tableau and one called the No Layout spread, which I found very interesting. You choose one or more signifiers and then you draw cards until the signifier appears. I tried this and found that it works better if you have more than one signifier. I thought about it as I was shuffling the cards and decided upon 29 Lady – for myself – and 5 Tree for my overall health – but specifically my mental health and recovery – and 22 Paths (Crossroads) for advice on where to go and what to do next. I ended up laying out the entire deck, since the 5 Tree card was the very last card to show! Since I was laying the cards out on my bed, I almost ran out of space!

I lined the cards up so that they “read” a little more easily. Although the diagonal pattern is real interesting, isn’t it?

Here is the 22 Paths card, which I had as a signifier for “advice” to help me achieve my dreams. I think its advice is clear – looking above the 22 Paths card, there is the 14 Fox card, which calls for hard work. Next to the 22 Paths card is the 18 Dog card, which tells me that nothing is achieved without the help of at least one good friend. On the other side is the 2 Clover card indicating that a good dose of luck is also necessary. And to the bottom are 12 Birds – as a writer, I can write all day long but if I don’t publish, all that writing is for naught. The birds are telling me to sing my song and feather my nest.

I read the 29 Lady card and the 5 Tree Card similarly – looking at the cards all around them to get an idea of what they were telling me. I also considered the diagonal cards. There’s a lot going on with this spread. Too much to write about here – but I am glad that I was introduced to it!

The following chapters are about the language and grammar of symbols, intuitive reading, the symbolic interaction between the Lenormand and the Tarot and something he calls “Synergy”, in which you use both decks of cards in one reading. The chapter entitled “Symbolic Interaction Between the Lenormand and the Tarot” is most informative. He points out where the images of the Lenormand show up on Tarot cards – for instance, O The Fool contains 18 The Dog, 21 Mountain and 31 Sun. III The Empress contains 29 The Lady, 24 The Heart, 5 The Tree and 9 The Flowers. He gives many more examples. He calls this concept of finding Lenormand images in the Tarot “Synergy”. (Dunn, 170-71)

The rest of the book deals with discussions about fortune-telling versus divination and DIY magic – how to scry a card and revising a reading – and two superlative appendixes. The appendixes alone are worth picking up and opening this book. In all – I would recommend this book to anyone interested in either the Lenormand or the Tarot or in divination in general. I plan on purchasing it myself – it’s probably going to be under my Yule tree this very year!

As for now – I have to get to the library – Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot is two weeks overdue!

*All photographs © polly macdavid

References

Dunn, Patrick. Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot: Create Meaning & Gain Insight from the Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2013.

Cartomancy with the Lenormand and the Tarot: Create Meaning & Gain Insight from the Cards

Mathews, Caitlín. The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook: Reading the Language and Symbols of the Cards. Rochester, VT: Destiny , 2014.

The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook: Reading the Language and Symbols of the Cards

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About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.