Learning the Lenormand
I can’t remember when I became interested in Lenormand cards. In the past thirty years, I have mainly focused on Tarot cards but my search for original and artistic decks lead me to many different kinds of cards – Oracle cards, vintage playing cards, and of course, Lenormand cards. I was immediately attracted to Lenormand cards because of what I saw as the combination of playing card imagery with pictorial symbolism. At the time, I thought that it was the marriage of playing cards and the Tarot.
But that’s not what the Lenormand is. They have absolutely nothing to do with the Tarot, other than being a pictorial divinatory system set upon a deck of cards. And not all Lenormand cards have playing cards imagery on them! My very first deck of Lenormand cards – which I received quite recently – is totally devoid of playing card imagery and I have to admit that I was rather disappointed when I initially saw them.
The cards I have are based on a very old set of cards from Germany – indeed, the book that accompanies the deck is written by a German named Harold Jösten, who has written other books about the Lenormand and the Tarot. As you will see, there are some minor changes between the two decks but they are quite similar. And even though they aren’t what I wanted, they are really good for a beginner – which I most certainly am.
When I received this deck, I had already been reading The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook: Reading the Language and Symbols of the Cards by Caitlín Matthews. This is a fabulous book – really a workbook, complete with exercises and tests – and I am about halfway through it at this point. But I have to say, if you don’t have a Lenormand deck with the playing card images on them – Matthews calls them “pips” – then you are really at a loss when you are using this book. Not that you can’t use it and learn a great deal. It’s a massive book – one that needs to be studied carefully and thoroughly and read more than once. I can definitely say that, not even having read the entire book!
The book that came with my deck is Lenormand Fortune-Telling Cards: The Legendary 18th-Century Oracle by Harold Jösten and translated by Edana Kleinhans. Inside the cover, there’s another title page which reads: The divination Cards of Mademoiselle Marie Anne Lenormand: A New Guide to Love, Happiness and Success, which makes me wonder if this was the title of the book as originally published in Germany. It’s a slender book but it’s a good little handbook to have on hand. Each card has a series of keywords to help you remember the concepts connected to the card, as well as pairings with other cards to create other concepts – such as, 16 The Star + 34 Fish = financial security or 23 Mice + 34 Fish = loss of money. There are spreads in the back, for practice for using the cards – and of course daily practice is the key to learning any new discipline – divinatory or otherwise!
The cards themselves are based on German cards from nineteenth century. I found some images on Pinterest and the similarities were striking:
Here we have 1 The Rider, which is the bringing of news. Depending on the cards surrounding The Rider, it could be good news or bad news or financial news – it all depends on the other cards. But check out how the cards are just about the same. The verse has minor changes and the emblem on the right has been changed into another number 1. But other than that, they are virtually the same.
Here is 2 Clover, meaning luck and happiness.
And 13 Child, which is innocence and happiness.
I know enough German to tell that the verses are not the same on the cards, even with the difficulty of reading the old German script. And I am really curious about the Star Of David on the old German cards.
In researching the old German cards – because I became very curious about them – I found out that there were differences between reading German Lenormand cards and French Lenormand cards. According to the blog “Jase on Cards”, there are two schools of Lenormand – the German Traditional and the French Modern.1 I am not sure where he came up with this but from other sources, it appears that the Lenormand decks first appeared in Germany and then traveled to France. In fact, Madame Lenormand didn’t even use the deck that we now call “Lenormand”! She used a regular set of playing cards! According to Mary K. Greer, it wasn’t until after her death that the cards bearing her name started circulating around Europe. It was a marketing devise to popularize the cards and the form of divination2. Quite naturally, there were more than one set of Lenormand deck being produced, which is why some had pictures of playing cards on them as well as the basic images. Like the Tarot, the Lenormand reflected the culture in which it was planted. And also like the Tarot, the Lenormand adapted itself quite easily to new imagery and ideas.
There are dozens of new Lenormand decks being produced today. While there are thousands of Tarot decks and hundreds of Oracle decks, the creation of new Lenormand cards is way behind. But there are some really fine decks out there. I particularly like The Chelsea Lenormand.
It has an Art Deco look to it that’s really appealing. I would love to own this deck.
Another deck that’s really cool is Pixie’s Astounding Lenormand. It borrows from The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck in imagery and use of color. This is another one I would really love to have!
Note that Pixie’s Astounding Lenormand has the playing card status next to the name of the card.
This deck is called Story in Color Lenormand. I’m not sure how you read with these. But they’re very beautiful.
Again, the playing card status is next to the name of the card. So you have the information you need, even if you don’t have an obvious image.
When I researching Lenormand cards, I found so many beautiful cards that I couldn’t even begin to show all the images here. Some that work with the traditional images – some that are very artistic and cutting-edge, like the Story in Color deck, and some that are collage work – just pictures pasted onto traditional playing cards. I’ll probably make myself a collage set using a desk of poker cards.
What I really want are cards that look like this:
Notice how that’s almost exactly like the cards I have now – and the old German cards with the verse written in the old German script – but there’s the playing card motive where the verse is. To make things worse, these cards are called “German Lenormand” as well!
Honestly, it’s all quite confusing!
I am sure that I will be designing and creating my own Lenormand deck, as soon as I get more acquainted with using the one I have now. I know for a fact I’ll be putting playing card imagery on mine – the way I see it, if you don’t have the pips, you only have part of the information you’re supposed to have. But since I’m only a beginner – a mere novice – I do admit that – still only learning the basic grammar of the Lenormand – I will be as patient as I can possibly be! And practice with the deck of cards that I have.
Jösten, Harold. Lenormand Fortune-Telling Cards: The Legendary 18th-Century Oracle. NY: Sterling Ethos, 2014.
Matthews, Caitlín. The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook: Reading the Language and Symbols of the Cards. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2014
For Amazon information, click images below.
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.