Inspired by the popularity of the Lenormand Oracle within the American context these days – the Lenormand fortunetelling cards have been known for quite a while in Europe – I offer here some insight on what puzzles some readers.
Many suggest that the Lenormand is not Tarot and that the style of reading is different. True, and I agree that the Lenormand can be considered a telegraphic divinatory system more so than the Tarot. In certain traditions – mainly the occult – there’s a lot of esoteric knowledge invested in tarot.
On the other hand, I disagree with the view that where the Tarot cards offer insights for the soul, the Lenormand cards don’t, or that we use tarot for psychological therapy and the Lenormand cards for quick daily fixes.
Judging by what mainstream American publishers publish, it is indeed hard to come across a book about Tarot that doesn’t claim to have some clinical use, in the sense of its proposing to focus on transformations of the self, or to discover yet another esoteric correspondence between this and that.
As most American readers are tired of self-assertion and self-indulgence – in which everything is possible and the higher self dictates what you need to know – they now look at the Lenormand cards and methods of reading as a fresh new way of dealing with what we all want to know: who loves us, and if they don’t what we can do about it, how to score a job, and how to avoid the hospital.
In contrast, if one looks at the European context, the most serious books about divination with Tarot and the Lenormand cards have been focusing on direct messages and straightforward answers to practical problems in an undivided and undifferentiated way.
Here I would warmly recommend Madame Colette Silvestre’s some 30 books on both subjects. She was my first fortunetelling teacher, and I can safely say that what she taught, whether the tarot or the Lenormand cards, was to give straightforward answers without dillydally or getting lost in the universe, be this the universe of the soul or that of the mundane.
ARCHETYPES OR TYPES?
Thus, one of the things that is often forgotten when comparing divinatory systems, here specifically Tarot and the Lenormand cards, is that they both operate with semantics.
Tarot is not the language of archetypes, as popular belief has it, any more than the Lenormand is the language of pragmatic solutions and thus supposedly devoid of too much symbolism.
Both systems operate with the embodiment of the image and grammar. For precision, we need to look at the picture, at what’s happening, and then formulate a sentence that has a noun and a verb or adverb in it.
Just as we can say in the Lenormand context where we have, for instance, this juxtaposition: KEY+CLOUDS, that the clouds darken the solution (as against CLOUDS-KEY when we can say that the key disperses the confusion), so we do in tarot. For instance, for this three-card layout: THE HANGED MAN, 2 COINS, 10 SWORDS, we do the same semantic thing: The Hanged Man ‘coins’ the swords.
The meaning of what that means arises right there, from the cards, and not from some silly ventriloquizing of I don’t know what occult system or tradition. It’s up to the client to decide whether he sees the idea of the hanged man who coins the swords as a situation of poetic soul-searching or as a situation in which the hanged man negotiates for a retreat.
So, it’s all very simple. There’s nothing mysterious about any of the card systems, nor is the one more pragmatic than the other.
PAIRING AND LINKING
If we return to the Lenormand cards, let me also point out that there are 2 possibilities here: either to pair the cards and create a synthesis based on the relation of subject+subjet’s predicate, or go with linking the cards and read them in their logical progression, or subject+verb.
Thus, in the example below, KEY + CLOUDS, we can conclude that the situation either refers to a fuzzy or capricious solution (in pairing the rule of thumb is to say that the second card modifies the first) or to a solution that muddles things instead of clarifying them (in linking the first card can be seen as the subject, while the second card can be seen as a verb, so the sentence here would be: the key clouds (as in obscures…)).
A routined reader will not even blink at using this system interchangeably, so there’s no rule for when to pair and when to link. Insisting on using either one of them (as I have seen some people doing), or saying that pairing follows the German method and linking the French, ‘and the two shall never meet’, is merely a sign of dogmatism and insecurity.
Generally speaking – and this goes for any divinatory system – when reading cards, determining agency is crucial. In other words, one needs to know precisely who does what to whom.
It is also therefore, that even in the name of mere practicing the Lenormand – which one does vigorously these days in all sorts of fora – one should always have a question. Without context we are all over the place, as was shown in a group discussion when someone proposed to look at this combination for the sake of building up vocabulary:
MAN, WHIP, TREE
Judging from the number of suggestions, this can basically mean a lot of things, such as: an aggressive man who is upset about his health, a man exercising hard to his own detriment, or a man exercising his profession as a trainer at a gym.
This is all very good if we are interested in creative writing. If, however, we are interested in learning how to read cards, such endeavors are a waste of time. Practicing reading without a clearly formulated question may help to build a vocabulary, but more often than not that vocabulary also creates a lot of confusion.
Context is what determines whether the above cards refer to a man and his profession, to a man and what his profession or interest does to him, or whether he is merely bitching and moaning because of his nature. Without a question there is no reading. There’s only a bunch of people looking at cartoons.
SPREADS OR NOT?
I should mention one more point where the Tarot and the Lenormand camps beg to differ on something that I completely disagree with. Especially new Lenormandists will insists on telling you the ‘news’ that in Lenormand you never ever read cards individually LIKE YOU DO IN TAROT.
It is true that some Tarotists have a routine in which they look at one card and what it says on its own. A daily draw can easily consist of one card. Or a card may often also be locked in a position in a spread.
But taking this practice at a general level is to stretch it grossly. Some Tarotists have been insisting for ages that one should never ever look at a single card, but rather, always look at the way the card enters in relation with the other cards on the table.
A commonsensical observation is to say that such Tarotists – and I refer here to the work of Enrique Enriquez and a host of other European readers – in their practice of reading the cards in context, recreate the link between tarot and earlier forms of card divination, such as reading with playing-cards.
So, are these Tarotists Lenormandists, or have the Lenormand readers taken this practice from the Tarot readers via playing-cards? One would be well advised not to listen to the nonsense that reinvents ‘tradition’ and holds the claim that, indeed, in Lenormand we read cards by linking them and pairing them, and we never do that in Tarot. Such utter imbecility.
Here I would insist that such claims are merely the result of feeling insecure in reading with the Lenormand cards, or over-confident in reading with the Tarot cards. Reading the Lenormand cards is not about reading nouns and verbs any more than Tarot is.
Lenormand is NOT more literal than Tarot. Both are as literal or symbolic as we make them. Both of these systems are symbolic, they are visually representational, and and we can choose to create any number of sentences with them that do not necessarily refer to any ‘deep mind.’
But should I want to ask a metaphysical question, it is my experience that I can use any deck for that. Any deck whatsoever. And by any deck I mean, a playing-card deck, a Tarot deck, or a Lenormand deck. Half of the answer we find in the cards is already found in the question (For more on this check my other post: No Difference [between Tarot and Lenormand]).
COMBINATION AND JUXTAPOSITION
The art of reading cards consists of using the randomness of cards in combination with what we see emerging as a pattern, not against the background of random or possible meanings, but against the background of precise meanings which the context establishes often beyond any doubt.
We owe it to be precise not only to ourselves but most of all to those who bother to invest time and money in hearing what we have to offer. Moreover, interpreting a visual text requires finding as much evidence in the text as one would have to find for interpreting any other verbal text.
Processing the visual elements in the text helps us to arrive at a certain knowledge about the situation if we also invoke the rule of selecting and discarding.
For instance, what may appear in a Lenormand Grand Tableau as a situation that presents itself as being about corporate management, following the Bear’s lines may disclose that it’s all about Lilies.
One thus excludes the initial interpretation in favor of a new one based on evidence from the cards. So, all we need is a question, evidence, and common sense. Perhaps being a good reader is being able to embody the three virtues, Temperance, Strength, and Justice.
It may be that we all have different methods of teaching and learning, but as far as I’m concerned, I go for the bare bones and the ‘keep it simple’ method.
For instance, I like to read a Lenormand Grand Tableau – consisting of all 36 cards on the table – in 1 minute and 30 seconds flat in a very sharp manner and straight to the point. To me, it all comes down to what I see as useful and necessary.
While we can agree that nothing is fixed, and that there’s room for differing interpretations, the point is that when practicing with a specific question in mind, the reading gets anchored and thus yields much more precise insights. Or perhaps I should say, useful insights.
Creating a coherent narrative for a sitter is what we aim for. How clever, skilled, or intuitive we all are must come second to that aim. Though, of course, the fulfillment of that aim often rests on these three.
In fortunetelling one can read everything between heaven and earth. And yet, what I’m advocating here is how to achieve a higher degree of precision, rather than encourage the situation of reading out of context and finding yourself close to the null point where hitting the target is concerned.
Note on the decks:
The Lenormand Oracle: Erwin Kohlmann / Oswin Volkamer, Verlag fuer die Frau, Leipzig 1982.
Tarot: Tarot de Marseille of Jean Noblet as reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy.
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