Prompted by a few cartomancers in the Lenormand Cards Study Group on Facebook to write something about my method of reading the Lenormand Grand Tableau, here’s a sample reading I did recently (if you read the text make sure that you also read the comments at the end. There’s some method theory there inspired by the questions people have been asking – thanks all for your interest).
Now, the reason why I was asked to write about it in the first place was because of my claim that it’s possible to read all 36 cards, including their houses, in 1 minute and 30 seconds. What follows here is a demonstration of that. My argument for how I go about each card may seem longish in written form, but I maintain that in the course of verbal transmission it takes me no more than that to say what I need to say.
For the sake of following with ease, I suggest that you print out the image of my grand tableau here, so you can check with visual the argument.
Meanwhile, here below is the list of meanings that came with the first Lenormand deck published in 1800. I lean on these but only to the extent that the meanings are clearly derived from the cultural function of what each image performs, rather than random symbolism. In other words, I prioritize the ideogram for its functional signification, and not for its esoteric ‘literalism’.
As far as the reading of a grand tableau goes, often, in fact, the answer to the question comes in already after 5 seconds – which was also the case here – but as I’m a stickler for finding evidence that supports my quick reading – I spend the remaining 1 minute and 25 seconds with looking at some geometrical patterns that allow me to see what story the cards tell or how the story unfolds and which confirms what I initially see on the spot.
Some readers read emerging patterns, others read the cards in pairs. I go mostly for patterns rather than pairs, and read the cards in a flow so that each card tells a story the logical way.
In other words, I make inferences about what the cards mean in tandem with others based on their progressively stemming from the cards that precede them. If I start with a card in the middle of the square, or anywhere else for that matter, I read first clock-wise and then diagonally. I call this linking and bending. The reason why I prefer the clock-wise reading in a carré of 9, for instance, is because it forms a spiral that often reverberates in a splash that connects the above and the below.
Generally, I start with any one pair and get the narrative going by linking the remaining cards in a row in a logical progression. I see reading from pair to pair as secondary to this method. The idea is to get the narrative going, and simply look at what story the images form.
Moreover, if the creative act of reading with the Lenormand cards begins with a spark of intuition, the idea is to do a thorough job at finding evidence from the cards themselves that support the intuitive impulse. It is my experience that only then can you be convincing in your reading.
KEY ELEMENTS IN THE READING METHOD
Here’s a quick list of elements that I look at and which allow me to see what kind of story emerges against the pattern of following the temporal and logical lines of the cards as they occur in sequence. So, again, pairing can be useful, but I find it to lead to fragmentary and incoherent small narratives that don’t necessarily have much to do with the question posed.
In this sense I never see the grand tableau as subsuming many small spreads, but rather as offering us exactly that which it announces in the title, a grand picture based on the way in which we can observe how all the cards come together to articulate at the end one elegant and precise sentence about the situation asked for.
For a grand tableau reading I always take the houses into consideration. Here note that the houses do not always have the same meaning as the cards they represent. For instance, the house of the Letter indicates all possible circumstances for changes, for good or bad, while the card of the Letter indicates all written communication, including invitations, visit cards, personal news, medical prescriptions, and other such mundane things.
The card of the Fox has even more of a deviation from the meaning of the card (work, independence, cleverness, slyness) when it acts as a house. The house of Fox is associated with love, the house of Key is associated with negligence (the meaning of the key is solution), and so on.
Thus, there can be a marked difference between the meaning of the card and the meaning the same card has when acting as a house (See the follow up post on this here.)
1) Read the first 3 cards
With more emphasis on the first card. These cards set the theme and the tone of the reading and tell us about what is being brought to the table.
2) Read the corner cards
First clock wise and then in diagonal pairs. These tell you something about what the question is up against.
3) Look at what card fell in the house of the House
This card tells you something about the nature and character of the querent. This can be useful for the reader, as not all querents have clear agendas. Then look for the position in which the House card landed. This will tell you something about what to expect in the House that the querent is interested in knowing something about. This is particularly relevant for questions about relationships. The same move can be done with another card of interest.
4) Read the knighting positions
That is, look at the cards of interest in the tableau and which have an indirect line. Just as the horse in chess can discover hidden things around the corner, so here we can get some information about what is not explicit in some relations.
5) Read the ‘final’ mirrorings
Or the cards in these positions: 33-28, 33-5 / 34-27, 34-6 / 35-30, 35-3 / 36-29, 36-4. This is a good exercise that gives insight into what is really going on on the cause-effect scale, so it addresses the question of direct consequence stemming from an obliquely seen cause. Think of it as glancing side-ways to the problem and getting very specific and precise answers as to what causes the situation, or more precisely, what we make of our overall impression of the situation.
6) Read the 4 cards in the middle of the second and third row
We can read these cards as being neutral in relation to the question, but adding a new layer to it. We can also see these cards as being related to what the querent might have asked but didn’t because of the inability to predict what other side concerns the querent might have thought of before posing the initial question.
7) Read past and future lines
But make sure that you don’t stop there. Think of bending the lines backwards or upwards. Take each line from where it ends at the edge of the tableau and look at the card that falls next to it. This way we end up reading not only linearly but also in a circle and a spiral. I’ll point to this in my sample reading below.
8) Always use your common sense
If you have a ‘feeling’ about the cards, don’t let it hang there undeveloped. Look for evidence in the cards that supports your feeling. This is an honest way of validating not so much the truth of the emerging story, but more so the event of telling the story. What touches us is not the truth, but the event that creates the truth. My own mantra is: evidence, evidence, evidence. Think of yourselves as Lenormand lawyers.
For the reading below, I employ the meaning of the houses primarily from the Master Method with some derivations from Papus and a Romanian source. You can read more on this here.
THE READING: THE HAPPY MARRIAGE
A woman wants to know whether a man she had a deep friendship with, but who is now estranged from her, is happily married.
The first thing I notice is that the significator – in this case the card of the Ring – falls as the last card in the square. Some readers prefer to re-shuffle in this situation, as there are no future lines we can read about, but I never do it. I always read the cards in the positions in which they fall. If I can’t say anything about the future or the past of a relation, then I don’t say anything about it. I have faith in the cards’ ability to insist on what we need to know, and some things are simply none of our concern – not even in the context of mere storytelling.
So here goes something: At first glance, I can say, yes, the marriage is happy (this takes me 1 second). The Ring is surrounded by the Flowers (left) the Sun (in diagonal) and the Garden (above). Looking closer, however, it is clear that while the marriage seems happy, it is so only on the outside. Or else, we can say that the marriage is happy as a play for the gallery. I get the suspicion that there’s something wrong with this set up by noticing that the Sun card falls in the house of Mouse. Now all I want to do is to find evidence in the cards that confirm this suspicion.
So let us start again, with what appears to be the case. Although there is a strong indication that the parties involved in the marriage contract may wish for their marriage to be just that that, happy – given the number of cards representing celestial bodies linked to each other in the vicinity of the ring – if we notice that as some of these central cards occupy dubious houses or houses that enhance wishful thinking or fantasy, we are prone to concluding already that, yes, the marriage is happy, but the ones in it are not.
While this may sound strange or paradoxical, such situations are more common than uncommon, with people deluding themselves either consciously or unconsciously (I make this inference in 4 seconds). The fact also that the Ring falls on the very edge of the tableau so that we can’t see what the future looks like, invites us to consider carefully why the cards insist on having us look at the present and the past alone. Again, I’m not in favor of reshuffling or using another deck to go over board with. That is called forcing, or pulling cards until you get the ones you want to see, which defies the purpose of constrained randomness and chance. But let’s have a closer look.
So, the marriage looks just great on the outside, but with the Ring in the house of Moon, and the Moon in the house of Star, there’s a clear indication of wishful thinking and illusion rather than of reality. (So here we read the primary card first, the Ring, then look at the house (the Moon), and then locate where the house card has landed (the Moon, in our case here as the house for the Ring, is now in the house of the Star). The idea of ‘wishful thinking’ for a happy marriage vs. ‘happy marriage’ is supported by the surrounded cards around the Ring. Moreover, as the Moon when acting as a house means money and wealth, it supports here the suspicion that the Ring is in it for the preservation of status-quo, not for love.
The Garden in the house of Heart and the Flowers in the house of Sun suggest that this marriage is bright and cheerful under the eyes of a closely watching public (of the Garden). All things are shiny and bright, up until we notice that the Sun itself, the one in a diagonal relation to the Ring, and therefore an important one for this particular corner, is in the house of Mouse. There’s an energy loss right there. (In the Master Method this house is associated downright with the Lover, and as we all know, the lover drains us of energy more than he fills us with it).
If we now follow the diagonal line to the upper left we can see that the Sun in the house of Mouse leads to the card of the Mouse itself. Thus the Mouse as a house for the Sun, being already materialized in the first row as loss and waste, seems to indicate that the loss of all that brightness is a serious one, and not to be underestimated. So here, the house the Sun card finds itself in consolidates the loss rather than merely flavoring it.
More straightforwardly, if we had the Mouse card next to the Sun card this would tell us that someone is the victim of his or her own success. We are however closer to this truth than we think, as the separating card between the Mouse and the Sun is the Scythe. So we rule the Sun out of the ‘happy’ equation and look at what else we are left with (5 sec).
The Ring knights to the Star in the house of Bear suggesting that the good wishes for the marriage are solid, but as such they may also be too stolid. The Star captured by a hibernating Bear may lose some of its fresh sparkling when heavy-handed. The Ring also knights to the Book, which emphasizes an opaque relation. The Book in the house of Ways suggests that the ways of the marriage are not all they seem to be. Perhaps the marriage is pro-forma. All is in good standing and it’s important that everyone else can see that (in the Garden).
At this point, without forcing a counter-narrative to the ‘happy’ one for the status of this marriage we can see how by looking tridimensionally at the cards we get the sense that in spite of all the bright and clear message given to the public – the Ring falls conspicuously under the augurs of a new beginning (the Child), popularity (the Moon), and the party (the Garden) – we begin to get a sense of some heavy masquerade going on. One wears masques and costumes at night.
Considering these elements, we can think that what the cards above the Ring suggest is more the context of the wedding, with people gathering and cheering hopefully for the couple, rather than say something about the status of the marriage. Again, the fact that the Ring is the last card in the square, with no future relations to consider, opens the room for speculations (10 sec).
But why are we suspicious of this ‘happy’ marriage, one might ask, when the cards are nonetheless pretty good? Even the corners of the tableau – reading clockwise, the Anchor, the Child, the Ring, and the Clover – seem to indicate that the marriage has good conditions for thriving. However, on a one-second closer inspection, we realize that the Child in the house of Coffin may be too small a change (when also considering diagonally the Clover which indicates small luck) that doesn’t take off fully, being boxed in, and which may encounter difficulty in anchoring.
The Anchor and the Clover stand in an almost antithetical relation, with the Anchor grounding things and the Clover rendering all events as a fleeting moment. On the other hand, we can also talk about the Child card as indicating a real child, if that is the case, and who in this context, is being difficult to deal with due to introvertedness (in the house of Coffin).
If we should put a more positive spin on this, we could say that the Child opposing diagonally the Clover indicates a small break of the lucky kind. But the Anchor in the house of Rider pulls us back to our initial suspicion, as it suggests a swift commitment that may be in danger of being superficial. The Stork next to the Anchor and mirroring diagonally the Flowers next to the Ring enforces the notion that this alliance is less than profound.
But as the Clover mirrors the Ring and is in the house of the Ring, it may indicate that perhaps the marriage luck will be more continuous. As we don’t have any future relations to consider, we can thus only speculate (although the last four cards give us a hint for the future). We have no other clear evidence from the cards, either that this marriage will go on (to be ‘happy,’ for whatever reason) or that it may terminate (for whatever reason).
As an indication of the future of the marriage, even when we don’t have any future lines to read, we can, however, look at the significant last 4 cards and ask about the health of this marriage, as the Tree is part of them. A quick glance here won’t give us a chance to get too cheerful. The vitality of the Tree withers next to the Cross, and what the solution to the ensuing anger and frustration is is not disclosed by the closing card, the Key. So the Key here enforces the idea that we are not to know yet about the future of the ‘happy’ marriage (10 sec).
But let us have a look at the man in question. He is far from the Ring in the house of Ship. This indicates that he’s quite indifferent to this contract. The fact also that he is flanked by the Snake in the house of House indicates that he has his eyes on another woman who lives in the house of his secrets.
Furthermore, his horizontal line intersects with that of his wife in the Snake, so can already rest out case here. But if we continue and locate the card of the House, we can see that it’s situated in the house of Book. If we follow the Book we can see that it’s one of the cards the Ring knights to – we’ll come back to this. The fact also that the Ship is located in the house of Snake closes the symmetry very neatly so that we almost have nothing more to add. We get the picture.
In the grand tableau, speaking of houses, and as mentioned already, it’s a always a good idea, after looking at the corners, to locate what card has landed in the house of House, as this ads info on what kind of a person the querent is. In our case, the querent is a Snake, which indicates that she asks her question coming from the position of being either a seductress, a wise woman, or a poisonous woman. So here we can eliminate the other possibilities and say that the Snake, our querent, is not the Man’s mother (5 sec).
Now we can follow some straight lines. Vertically, the Man is frustrated because he can’t see a way to cross a tall Mountain (in the house of Tower) for the Clouds (in the house of Whip). This renders him indecisive in his Ways (in the house of Letter), going endlessly (the Tree) back and forth. If something is stable, it’s the man’s indecision that’s stable, thus dragging out the solution (the Key as the last card does not open any doors – thematically the Key also mirrors the Book, which in this case ‘coincidentally’ finds itself in the house of the Ways – how neat is this!) (5 sec.)
Horizontally, the Man has made some quick changes in working towards acquiring the Ring (Anchor in the house of Rider and Stork in the house of Clover, yet here indicating a superficial move, as explained above in the discussion of the corners). He is taken with the Snake who is herself at a loss, as the Mouse next to her indicates.
This Mouse card is quite central as it is also part of the ‘final’ logical mirroring between the last 4 cards and the 8 cards in the middle of the tableau top and bottom, where we have these relations: first we pair the immediate diagonals, and then across the tableau, so we look at the cards in these positions 33-28, 33-5 / 34-27, 34-6 / 35-30, 35-3 / 36-29, 36-4. In this relation we have the Tree and the Woman, indicating that although the Man’s wife is a well-grounded woman, she is not happy. We know this because of her position in the house of Man – this house is traditionally associated with sadness and death – and because of the presence of the Cross card below her.
Also in this ‘final’ mirroring, the Cross gives us a clue as to what overshadows the marriage. The Cross in the house of Fish indicates emotional heavy-load, which is supported by the fact that the card faces diagonally the Ways, the ambivalent position that the Man finds himself in. Using our mirroring across the tableau to the top row, the fact that the Cross mirrors diagonally the Mouse, indicates here that not only is the Woman dealing with a heavy-load emotionally, but she is also with dealing with emotional distress – something is eating her.
By a stretch, we can make the inference that the Woman is unhappy because the Man is not so sure about his choice of her. The Ways in her past column here suggests that she also made a decision to set up house on an impulse: we go left from the Ways to the House and to the Clover in the house of Ring.
Logically then, we can say that the marriage was made in haste, and the alliance is the result of not thinking things through, or rather, that the Woman was quite alone in her Tower yet working independently, and perhaps also acted on a false premise (the Fox) towards the Ring – we read now to the right. As, however, the Fox also stands for perseverance and not just deceit, the couple gets applauses (the Flowers) for their choice from the outside crowd (the Garden). About what happens afterwards, we are none the wiser (10 sec).
If we return to the bottom cards and follow the ‘final’ mirroring, we also note that the third card following the Cross, the Whip, mirrors immediately in diagonal the Fox indicating that some spying is going on that’s related to the Man. The Whip mirrors the Man in the top row, which indicates that not only is he potentially aggressive but that he also likes to stay vigilant on what happens around his relations.
As the Whip is next to the Key in the final position, this indicates that while the Man may be spying on everything, he has little or no understanding of what’s going on. The final card, the Key in the house of Cross, mirrors the Tower diagonally at the bottom and the Snake at the top. This suggests that the whole question about the happiness of this marriage rests in the hands of the Snake, who holds a disturbing secret. If anything, it is the Snake who knows things. She holds the Key (10 sec).
The 4 cards in the middle of the tableau in the second and third row read in diagonal pairs are traditionally considered important, as they say something about the outside context of the reading. Here, the card of Birds in its own house is doubly significant and emphasizes the nature of the transaction at hand with the Fish in the house of Mountain.
So we talk about a doubly mediated transaction that says something about the marriage. Perhaps the partners have signed an agreement with a lawyer. Quite literally, public letters have been exchanged in good faith and straightforwardly, as we have it indicated in the pair, Letter in the house of Garden and Dog in the house of Child (note, however, that the house of Garden is traditionally also associated with fraud, so perhaps the good faith is not so good, after all).
These middle 4 cards may be used as evidence for our suspicion about the pro-forma marriage that we talked about when seeing the Ring knighting to the Book. In this connection it may be worth mentioning that the Scythe threatens to fall on the book, thus disclosing the less than honorable intentions (here in the sense that, culturally speaking, in the Western world people are expected to sign a marriage contract based on love rather than anything else). On the right, the Scythe in the house of Fox also threatens to disturb the solid calmness surrounding this ‘for the public’ marriage (the Star in the house of Bear) (10 sec).
To sum up, it looks like although the marriage has been entered from different positions, each with its premise, it meets bright and shiny public approval. So the appearances are as they are desired, with the Man setting things in quick motion yet hiding his slithering ways.
His immediate past indicates a profound desire for change (the Anchor and the Stork) which has to do with a strong love that died due to obstacles (look at the diagonal past line which bends at the Heart and then winds down, so that we read from Bear, Heart, Coffin, and Mountain, to Ways, and Tree).
These obstacles (Mountain in the house of Tower) led to making a quick decision for a long term (Ways in the house of Letter and Tree in the house of Key). However, the cards indicate clearly that while making a decision was a good thing in itself, what was decided was less than fortunate.
Here we follow the way in which the narrative line goes logically from one card to the next. Next to the Ways we find the Woman, so we understand that the decision involved her, but, as the Cross falls right under her feet this indicates that the choice affected mainly her in an unfortunate manner, as explained above.
This leaves things naked on the table, which leads to frustration and verbal and crude snappiness in the house. These frustrations remain without an immediately recognizable solution. The Key as the final card doesn’t indicate here any opening of doors, but quite the contrary.
A secret is kept profoundly. (I should mention that in the deck I use, the Whip is rather unusually represented as ‘something’ on the table, which suggests that if we don’t know what we eat, we may well end up poisoned (with a wink to the Serpent that, as demonstrated above, plays a central role in this reading) (10 sec).
The final answer to the question is this: the marriage is happy but the persons in it are not. Formally, the marriage is happy, but content wise, there are situations that run counter to what we think ‘happy’ is.
On a deeper level this has implications for the people involved in the marriage, but this level is not called for here. In our context one can argue that the reason why the Ring looks happy is because some people are more interested in appearance and façade than in what’s inside the circle.
Ergo, if the ring line is fine then all is fine. But just because the diamond sparkles that doesn’t mean that the heart sparkles (the heart here is quite dead, alas).
Some find value in keeping the superficial plane spotless. As a final note also on the benefits of not reshuffling when the significator card falls on the margin of the tableau, I can point to the fact that the way the ring is positioned almost strategically here, supports even more the argument that, for this marriage, the wrap around the package is more important than the content.
The Ring almost performs a dance of popularity around its own loud statement: ‘look at me, how happy’. This almost yells at us to not forget to consider the act of disavowal, or the possibility that the louder a statement presents itself to be the less true it is. Inside the circle, looking at all the past relations that have influenced the decision that led to this marriage, makes another quiet statement and tells us another story all together.
So, the outside (appearance) here tells the story of the inside, and the two don’t match. Whether the querent finds this information useful or not, it is up to her. At the end of the day, her question was answered, and she was satisfied with the way in which the argument proceeded (10 sec).
THE STRENGTH OF FORTUNETELLING
We are all grateful for the knowledge that the cards disclose any time, but even more so, we are grateful for the situation that the cards create, a situation in which we are allowed to return to our basic curiosity and not have anyone laugh at us.
This is the primary strength of fortunetelling. That it allows us to play kids, and to go through drawers we are not supposed to go through. But this is how we learn, from disclosing secrets. May fortunetelling thrive, and let us all enjoy the event of storytelling rather than always seeking to ‘objectively’ validate the truth of what we’re saying.
Sources: my Lenormand teachers have been Madame Colette Silvestre of France and Madame Clara of Romania. In addition to the basic knowledge that they have provided for reading oracles, going for symmetry, spirals, spatial metaphors, and neat connections is something I’ve developed on my own.
The deck: The Lenormand Oracle: Erwin Kohlmann / Oswin Volkamer, Verlag fuer die Frau, Leipzig 1982.
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