Among card reading enthusiasts – these days the Lenormand cards – there has been quite a bit of discussion around the significance of semantics – a word order that makes sense – in reading cards literally in order to achieve more precision. But how do we do this, some would like to know, while still falling into the trap of symbolic interpretation.

In my own teaching of how to read cards, I always emphasize function over symbol, as the people who come to us with concrete questions want something useful not something potential. Sure, after hitting the initial mark we can engage in esoteric discourse and perhaps even lecture on the transformative powers of the symbol and the like, but to begin with, any fortuneteller who respects herself as such, will insist on precision and accuracy first, and then on the ‘it could also be like this’ situation. So here’s my take on it.

A woman wants to know whether her skills as a card reader will pay off, both in terms of recognition, as well as money in the bank.

I used the classical 9-card spread in the Lenormand tradition. I chose the focus card the Book.

If we do a bit of literalism in terms of reading the cards not via symbol but via the function of the depicted image, here’s what we can say. But first let me point out a difference. In reading with the Lenormand cards, we read according to vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines. There is also a bit of chess, as some of the cards of interest can be seen to ‘knight’ another card. Here, the various traditions differ on whether one should only use temporal lines, or look at emerging patterns (knighting, mirroring, framing). As far as I’m concerned I do anything that I feel like doing.

So, here goes something literal (though not on all the variables):

For the horizontal line, left to right:

  • The Fish swim towards a winding Snake, landing in the Tower.
  • The Mountain obscures the Book, so the Bear can’t read it.
  • The Moon shines on the Lily which makes the Rider excited.

For the vertical line, left to right:

  • The Fish land on top of the Mountain and glisten in the Moonlight but don’t move.
  • The Snake gets erudite and reads with the purity and wisdom of the Lily.
  • The Tower opens its door to natural strength and the Bear learns some dressage.

Diagonal line top to bottom:

  • The Fish learn the message.

Now, while we can do the traditional thing, and associate SYMBOLICALLY the fish with money, the snake with a wise woman, the bear with the judge, the tower with the bank, the moon with recognition, the lilies with age or sex or family, and the rider with the messenger, the point is that we arrive much faster at our impression of the overall message of the cards if we engage first in describing what we see.

For once, no client would ever accuse us of inventing things or of being phoney. And second, there is a lot of information that the cards elicit at this first level of indexical interpretation, which if you noticed, begins to spill over into an exegetical and symbolic interpretation already by the time I get cultural in the vertical line (for instance, the point when I call the snake erudite and the lily pure).

Here I should mention that there are some neo-traditionalists around, who can be quite dogmatic in their way about insisting on the literalness of the Lenormand cards, while pointing to the very symbolism of the cards. I know at least one reader who likes to promulgate loudly that the primary meaning of the Lily is sex and that THAT is the literal meaning of the card.

Such pronouncements are, of course, completely nonsensical, and they don’t disclose anything other than the person’s sad ignorance of what words actually mean, what a ‘symbol’ is and what ‘literal’ is. The literal meaning of the Lily is that it is a flower, and as such it has nothing to do with what we make of sex. What we make of sex in associating it with the Lily is based entirely on cultural conventions that arise from imposing symbolic meanings on all things.

What we should remember is the premise for learning. Being told about what the cards mean helps us to gather information, but as we all know, information without processing is not conducive to knowledge, but rather, it leads to expressing random opinions. About opinions, how useful are they when it comes to learning something of value? What we should all strive for is to process what we see and what we hear, rather than incorporate it uncritically as ‘tradition’.

In our reading above, what we process is the fact that, since we have a context for the reading, we are thus able to see whether there’s a flow of money, what facilitates it and what blocks it, who helps in the endeavor, how, for what reason, and why. Consequently, we can say that since being a fortuneteller is not so kosher in certain circles, it is only natural that our woman will encounter some resistance.

At the level of the iconography of the cards forming a cross in the middle, it is interesting to see how the book, the object of culture and learning – however open, secret, or esoteric – is surrounded by natural landscapes and animals. Culturally speaking, it has always been the case that any occult knowledge has been associated with obscure and hidden things going on in the woods at dark hours and by certain moonlights.

Being an oracle reader is pretty wild. But be that as it may. And yet, if we stick with the evidence from the cards – and we should always stick with the evidence – we can conclude that our woman is not only enterprising with her money, but also knows who to partner with for success. In terms of her being recognized for her skills, it looks like her legendary wisdom is bright enough to make the word about her go round. So the obstacles will be overcome.

The visual language of the cards works best when we emphasize function over symbol and evidence over emotional content. A fortuneteller who is involved is a dead fortuneteller.

In other words, it pays off to pay attention to what’s in front of us, and respond to it without judgment – and that includes that judgment we pass on our image as ‘the cool, expert, bad-ass fortuneteller in town’. Yeah, right.

Knowing your symbols is a good thing, but as some wise folks like to say, the symbol ain’t all there is to it.


Note on the deck:

The Lenormand Oracle: Erwin Kohlmann / Oswin Volkamer, Verlag fuer die Frau, Leipzig 1982.


For words of power and other cartomantic activities, join my cool monthly newsletter.


  1. Paul Nagy says:

    The strength of Lenormand is that it offers us pretty straight forward signs that function dynamically and so when read in patterns comes up with direct responses to questions.
    Here is a little challenge for you Camellia. Do a layout for this question. Handle however you wish.
    “What divides and unites masculine and feminine expressions of pure spirit?”

    1. cameliaelias says:

      To answer your question, Paul, and thanks for the challenge, here’s a 3-card draw: The Man, The Moon, The Fish. That which divides our expression of the pure spirit is the moonlight. As the moon has no reflection of its own, it makes us see distorted things. But this borrowed light from the sun is also that which unites us. So there’s a constant transaction for the light going on. Under it, we see the expression of the other as pure spirit. We can extrapolate from here and ask, but what is pure spirit anyway? The cards give us an answer in anticipation. Pure spirit is an illusion, just like the moonlight. Should we make recourse to esoteric knowledge, we can drag into discussion the archetype of the moon as the feminine archetype par excellence. The Man, standing as tall as a phallus, is ready to enter the moon. And we know what that unification is all about, and separation at the same time. But is it necessary? The symbolic interpretation? Not at all. The cards validate once more that we can give straightforward answers to any questions, be they physical or metaphysical. So the Lenormand is no different than any other types of divination. We can do this with any mantic tool. Negotiate our way for the light, however artificial the light, or the negotiation.

  2. mamawhodun says:


    You are quite direct as a reader.

    I would say making money (34) as a card reader (07-26) or receiving recognition (32) for one’s reading skills (07) is quite a lot of pressure
    ( 21) for a beginner (01) who is just starting (32-26-19) to learn something new. One ( also a pun here for number 01- The Horseman) cannot reach their goal (34 monetary reward) immediately (21) but must begin at the beginning (01). Recognition (32) is the flower of experience (30). We can realize how far we have traveled only after the first leg of the journey is completed (30-01). Learning lenormand method (19-26-07 ) requires a strong determination (15) so keep practicing (07- 26-01).

    In other words one cannot put the cart before the horse. The Horseman SHOULD have been in the first position and the Fish in the last if the person was following the natural learning process.

    The cards repeat the signs or confirm the symbols that occur around us in our environment – placing us in a force field of synchronous events,

    I so love lenormand!

    Best Wishes:)

    1. cameliaelias says:

      Excellent rendition. Yes. That’s how we need to do it. That’s what we need to hear. Thank you. – Thanks also for the pun. Yes, again. We also need to be poetic in our readings. Notice the workings of language, and defy time. All best to you, mamawhodun.

  3. cameliaelias says:


    FORTUNE BUCHHOLTZ: Perhaps the problem for the cartomantic community is that they are hung up on the common use of the term semantics to mean “vocabulary choice,” which often carries a connotation of hair-splitting. Generally used in a dismissive and derogatory fashion when a person with less power in a conversation is attempting to clarify or point out issues with an assertion by one with more power; or by the merely arrogant, who attempts to gain power through vocabulary. Since the majority of Western cartomancers currently appear to be women, they may have an allergy to the term, which they may unconsciously associate with linguistic displays of power used against them as a gender. They may not understand that you are speaking of semiotics here, in which semantics is just one of several branches – if we employ the common division of semiotics into semantics, pragmatics, and syntactics. Cartomancy of course is fruitful for all 3, and cartomancers would definitely benefit from learning more about semiotics, esp. if they are “intuitive” readers. It’s just that they lack the habit of recognizing the two-part nature of the sign and they sometimes forget to appreciate that their use of symbolic capital can do subtle violence to themselves and others. In the context of Lenormand, I think there is a movement to consign(!) tarot to pictorial semiotics, and extract lennie from that order. They wish to divorce a visual rhetoric they seem to find oppressive and overdetermined. Sometimes it seems to me as if they are negotiating around Eco’s famous comment, “what is commonly called a ‘message’ is in fact a text whose content is a multilevelled discourse.” Lacking tools, this negotiation cannot help but entangle one in complexity (qabbalism). Is it nonsensical to ask whether a 12-slide presentation of how semiotics is a helpful framework for cartomancy should have a place at the next notable tarot conference?

    1. cameliaelias says:

      Good points, Fortune. The irony is that some readers try to dissociate the Lenormand from Tarot in the name of a new formalism, which however, they can’t see. But I’d say that this is no different than in math: without semantics there’s no form.

  4. cameliaelias says:


    ULRIK BUCHHOLTZ: It seems to me that C.S.Peirce’s triadic semiotics would be helpful for you cartomancers with its insistence that the sign itself (whether icon or symbol), the object and the interpretant sign form an indivisible relation. For the intuitionist mathematics this relates a formal construct, a mental construct, and a judgment (whether immediate or through further constructions). The semantic relation is there, but is not separate from the form. Likewise, in cartomancy the relation between a sign and an object is only determined through an interpretant sign, which most often (as in math) is dynamic, that is, involves further sign relations). As each sign is addressed, new interpretant signs emerge, etc. Here’s Peirce: “Admitting that connected Signs must have a Quasi-mind, it may further be declared that there can be no isolated sign. Moreover, signs require at least two Quasi-minds; a Quasi-utterer and a Quasi-interpreter; and although these two are at one (i.e., are one mind) in the sign itself, they must nevertheless be distinct. In the Sign they are, so to say, welded. Accordingly, it is not merely a fact of human Psychology, but a necessity of Logic, that every logical evolution of thought should be dialogic.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.