I was 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.
At this point very few in the Anglo-American world have heard of the Lenormand cards, so I was happy to indulge the community, especially since there was a bet going on related to my claim to never spend more than a minute and a half to decode what I see, including seeing how the cards landing in specific houses acquired a particular flavor, temperament, and color. The reading in this essay is based on having demonstrated exactly what I claimed. In fact, what I also claimed was that the answer to any question I pose to the grand tableau comes in already after 5 seconds of glancing at the ting – 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 on looking at some geometrical patterns that allow me to see what story the cards tell and how the story that unfolds 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 a 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.
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.
Before I plunge into it, 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’. After the reading below, and if you still want to know more, make sure to also read the comments at the end. There’s some method theory there inspired by the questions people have been asking.
Before I share the question and the visual experience of the grand tableau I cast, let me give you here the mechanics of going through it.
 Read the first 3 cards
Put more emphasis on the first card. As a trio, these cards set the theme and the tone of the reading and tell you something about what is being brought to the table.
 Read the corner cards
First clock wise and then in diagonal pairs. These tell you something about what the question is up against.
 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.
 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 that gives it an advantage, so here you can get some information about what is not so explicit.
 Read some intricate 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 in the cause-effect scale. 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 concretely, what you make of your overall impression of the situation.
 Read the center 4 cards in the middle of the second and third row
You can read these cards as being neutral in relation to the question, but adding a new, central layer to it. You 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 concerns the querent might have thought of before posing the initial question. The 4 center cards can be thought of as a variation on what rules the querent from the inside that the querent may lack full consciousness about.
 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 you end up reading not only linearly, but also in a circle and a spiral. I’ll point to this particular practice in my reading below.
 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 yourself as a Lenormand lawyer.
For the reading of the houses, I employed a cocktail of variations on the ‘master method’ based on L’Oracle du Parfait, Sepahrial’s Manual of Occultism, some Papus derivations, and a dash of the Romanian Madame Clara. You find this cocktail of ‘meanings’ in my essay about houses.
The happy marriage
A woman wanted to know whether a man she had a deep friendship with – read that as love that she could not speak about – a man who was now estranged from her was ‘happily married,’ per his own declaration. The premise for her question was the implicit, ‘is that really so?’ Thus the reading was framed for a focus on deceit, the approach calling for a strictly spying, detective work. My specialty. The main significator is the Ring, while the Man and the Woman form the couple the querent is asking about.
Doing what I preach, casting a glance at this grand tableau, I ask myself: what do I notice? The first thing I notice is that the significator – in this case the card of the Ring – falls as the last card in the main 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. The Ring is immediately surrounded by the Flowers to the left and the Sun and the Garden above it. 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, for lover. Is there a lover in the picture that the Man still burns for? Now all I want to do is to find evidence in the cards that confirm this suspicion (this reflection takes me exactly 1 second to arrive at).
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, happy – given also 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. Whoa, how is that for an early conclusion? But think about it: 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 in fortunetelling. 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 it landed in, the Moon, and we then locate where the house card, the Moon has landed in. We note that the Moon is in the house of the Star, for long term relations. I see already that the Moon contradicts the house. If the marriage as represented by the Ring is built on the idea of ‘look at us now, we’re married,’ then let’s just say that I have my doubts about this union. The Moon is reflector of wishes and desire. Here, the idea of ‘wishful thinking’ for a happy marriage trumps the simpler ‘happy marriage’ and we find support for this hypothesis by looking at the surrounding cards around the Ring. Moreover, as the Moon when acting as a house suggests money and wealth, it also supports the suspicion that the Ring is in it for the preservation of image, status-quo, and financial interests, not 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 bright and shiny, up until the moment when 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. Someone is burning for a lover that’s not the wife. As a lover drains one of energy to the point of destruction, we can easily see why the Mouse gets to represent this house. Though mind you, let me remind you again that you will not find a cartomancy book that will explain the logical motivation for its card meanings, so this is just what I’m rationalizing here.
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 flavor 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 (all of this here took me 5 seconds to contemplate and reason).
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 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 Crossroads suggests that the ways of the marriage are not all they seem to be. Perhaps the marriage is pro forma, as in, ‘all is in good standing here, and it’s important that everyone else in the Garden can see that.’
At this point, without forcing a counter-narrative to the ‘happy’ one for the status of this marriage we can see how by looking tri-dimensionally, as it were, at the cards we get the sense that in spite of all the bright and clear message given to the public we begin to get a sense of some heavy masquerade going on. The Ring falls conspicuously under the augurs of a child rearing, or new beginnings (the Child), popularity or simply the popular decision to ‘get respectable’ (the Moon), and the approval of the party (the Garden). 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 for 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 (for this insight I take a whole 10 seconds to process).
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. On a 1-second closer inspection, we realize that the Child in the house of Coffin for ingratitude may be too small a change (when also considering diagonally the Clover which indicates modest luck), a change that doesn’t fully take off, being nailed, as it were, to the coffin. The Anchor and the Clover stand in an almost antithetical relation, with the Anchor grounding things and the Clover rendering all events as serendipitous and fleeting. On the other hand, we can also talk about the Child card as indicating a real child, if that is the case, who in this context, is being difficult to deal with due to introvert behavior in the house of Coffin. If a step-child, we see how easily we can think of an ingrate, as ‘borrowed’ children are hardly ever grateful when their parents marry someone other than their biological mothers and fathers. So we infer that at the level of this literalness, what frames the marriage is also potential trouble with the already existing Child. The chance was there (Clover), the determination was there (Anchor), and the marriage got realized (Ring). But is the Child happy? Not in the house of Coffin, he is not.
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, however, we can only speculate – although the last four cards give us a hint for the future. We have no other clear evidence from the cards, that would testify as to which way this marriage will go: towards being happy, for whatever reason or towards termination, for whatever reason.
As an indication for the future of the marriage, even when we don’t have any future lines to read, we can look at the significant last 4 cards, and ask about the health of this marriage, as the Tree is part of this cluster. 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 may be 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 seconds for this rendition).
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 (remember what I said about looking at what card falls in the house of House).
Furthermore, as his horizontal line intersects with that of his wife in the Snake, 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 for injustice closes the symmetry very neatly so that we almost have nothing more to add. We get the picture.
Again, in the grand tableau, 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 information 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. Closer to reality, I’d say that in addition to what motivates the querent in her question, we’re also dealing here with a jealous woman. So we can eliminate the other possibilities and say that the Snake, our querent, is not the Man’s mother, but rather actually also one in his closest proximity. She is the classic ‘other woman’ (5 seconds for this reasoning).
Now we can follow some straight lines. Vertically, the Man is frustrated because he can’t see a way to cross the 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 on his decision. If something is stable, it’s the man’s indecision that’s stable: now married ‘forever’ and desiring to grow roots, except for the fog in his head about it. We get a sense that he participates in dragging out the solution, hence the Key as the last card in the tableau that does not open any doors – thematically the Key also mirrors the Book, which in this case ‘coincidentally’ finds itself in the house of the Crossroads. ‘How neat is this,’ I asked myself at the end of the 5 seconds I gave this thought.
Horizontally, the Man 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 look at 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 associated with 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 Crossroads, 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 emotional stress, but she is also with dealing with emotional distress, as 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 Crossroads card in her past here suggests that she also made a decision to set up house on an impulse: we go left from the Crossroads 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 acting 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 (a 10-second deliberation).
If we return to the bottom cards and follow the ‘final’ mirroring, we also note that the third card following the Cross, namely the Whip, mirrors immediately in diagonal relation the Fox that indicates 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 precedes the Key in the final position, it 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. We see this also from the intersection point between the Snake and the Key in the Rider, with the Rider in the house of Clouds for wishes, suggesting a conditioned release of what is known. That is to say, if the Snake desires it, she will reveal what she knows (10 sec). Now the fortuneteller can ask herself: what does the Snake withhold? What does the Snake in the house of House for the querent’s closely guarded intimacy withold?
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 for the reading, on the one hand, and on the other hand, they disclose what rules the querent unconsciously. 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. The querent desires a flow of communication, but how, in the light of blockage? 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 center 4 cards may be used as evidence for our suspicion about the pro forma marriage that we talked about earlier, when we saw that the Ring was 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 modern 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, for none other than love, also threatens to disturb the solid calmness surrounding this ‘for the public’ marriage (the Star in the house of Bear) (a longer 10 seconds here).
To sum up, it looks like although the marriage was been entered from different positions, each with its premise, it meets with bright and shiny public approval. So the appearances are as they are desired, with the Man setting things up in quick motion yet hiding his ways influenced by the slithering Snake. 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 Crossroads, and Tree).
These obstacles (Mountain in the house of Tower) led to making a quick decision for a long term relation (Crossroads 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 Crossroads we find the Woman, so we understand that the decision involved her, but, as the Cross falls right under her feet, it suggests that this choice affected mainly her in an unfortunate manner, as explained above. As per the presence of the Whip next to the Cross, we can infer that the Woman’s grief leads to frustrations and verbal and crude snappiness in the relation. These frustrations remain without an immediately recognizable solution. As stressed already, the Key as the final card doesn’t indicate here any opening of doors, but quite the contrary.
The final answer to the question is thus this: the marriage is happy but the persons in it are not. That is to say, formally the marriage is happy, but content wise, there are situations that the cards indicate 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, it doesn’t mean that the heart sparkles (the Heart here flanked by the Coffin being quite dead, alas). Some find value in keeping the superficial plane spotless, we could argue that this marriage is happy from a socially constructed perspective. Vows were made in public with others cheering for it. If form is prioritized, then the marriage is a success (a final 10 seconds for this insight).
In conclusion, let me make a final note on the benefits of not reshuffling when the significator card falls in the margins of the tableau. Here I can point to the fact that the way the Ring is positioned almost strategically 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, we find another quiet statement that 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, 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. We are all grateful for the knowledge that the cards disclose ever so explicitly, 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 in fortunetelling, namely 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. We would all be well served if we enjoyed the event of storytelling rather than always seeking to ‘objectively’ validate the truth of what we’re saying.
When this is said, let me say that in the interest of the initial challenge and wager, I left out of the discourse here the reading of the playing card insets, which is something I never do when I perform a reading of the grand tableau. Had I done that, it would have taken me 5 full minutes to go through the steps of hypothesizing, revising the ideas, and then produce a verdict, but the point remains. One can read a grand tableau in 1 minute and 30 seconds flat if the condition for paying close attention while glancing is fulfilled.
Note also that I elected not to make a big deal out of just what card represented the querent. As the woman asking the question didn’t see herself in the picture at all, I kept the reading focused on the couple, their motivation for marrying in light of what the cards disclosed, and what this motivation led them to internally. It was this internal relation that the querent asked about, not the framing regarding how happy the marriage was that the man provided for her, and presumably for everyone else watching.
As a case of detective spying, this tableau provided ample evidence towards the validation of the claim that wherever we cast the cards in the grand tableau configuration, we’re in for stories, tall and wild, true and tried.
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.
Stay in the loop for cartomantic courses at Aradia Academy.