When teaching reading with the Lenormand cards, I often hear students express apprehension about using the playing card insets.

I make an effort to instantly demystify the idea that one has to know everything about Etteilla or French cartomancy in order to make head or tails of it. Here’s a simple rule I apply.

For me, in the context of reading a grand tableau with the Lenormand cards in a snap, something like 2 minutes, thinking about the primary function of the suits helps. I hate dragging something that is not nearly as complicated as some make it out to be.

So, for a snappy and precise reading here’s what I do. I read first the grand tableau as I always do. Formulate a master sentence that gives me my answer, and then proceed to see how ALL the cards in the tableau support it.

The reason why I insist on this has to do with my desire to stay focused, as sharp as a razor, and concise. But, arriving at the master sentence can sometimes be a bit more challenging than otherwise, so I spend a whole minute on it, rather than a second. My rule of thumb for diminishing my hesitation is this. Look at the playing card inset and state loudly this mantra:

If it’s a heart, it’s yes.
If it’s a spade, it’s no.
If it’s a club, it’s probably no.
If it’s a diamond, it’s probably yes.

Now there’s a reason for this division, which, again has to do with where these meanings come from originally, namely from considering the function of the image. Just think a bit and activate your common sense now.

What do we know about a heart? What does it look like? What does it do?
A heart is a living body inside our warm body. It pulsates with life force. It says yes to life.

What does a spade do? Cut. It doesn’t stand for intellectual stuff or airy attitudes. A spade cuts. And when it cuts, it spills blood. Think of a duel. One of the opponents always dies. So, the spade says no to life.

What is a club? A branch of a tree with nods on it. If you cut the woods, you build a dwelling, or make books. Both are used for negotiating relations via hard work and discipline. ‘I’m in this house and if I have to make space for you, we’ll have to negotiate something.’ So the club says, ‘before we can hack it together, we’ll probably be hitting each other with a stick, and resist each other.’

What is a diamond? A polished stone that sells for a lot of money. But where do you get it from? South Africa? Hmm, these days engaging in diamond digging can be a risky business.

All money transactions involve a risk, and more often than not, when we gamble, we don’t always win. But we never ever gamble on the strength of the belief that we never win. Quite the contrary. We always say, I’ll probably win this hand. So the diamond says, probably yes. In other words, with a heart we love, with a spade we kill, with a club we build, and with a diamond we buy.

However, in traditional fortunetelling with playing cards you will also find different variations. In fact, you may even catch me assigning the clubs the value of ‘probably yes’, due to its negotiating quality, and also because of these other reading methods (see particularly the French school).

But since I prefer to be consistent with my own practice, let’s just say that mostly I follow the color rule in divination with playing cards. For instance, in following this method, I associate the Diamonds with the intellect and cunningness for trading, with fire and spring.

Being a red card that is close to the red of the Hearts suggesting passions and saying yes to life, the Diamonds card is assigned the value of ‘probably yes’ – the logical inference that we can make here is that if we can negotiate well, pretty much as in the case with the clubs above, then it is likely that we get the the desired outcome. (For more on the rule of color in divination with playing cards, see my intro here.)

So, when in doubt about a card in the reading of the grand tableau, especially when the card seems to contradict itself if it falls in a house that’s dubious, think about these relations. And perhaps forget about schools, traditions, and what have you.

For instance, many swear by their German method in reading with the Lenormand cards. In that system the claim is that the clubs are the worse, not the spades. Maybe so. But why not stop for a minute and think: could it be that the Germans got it wrong when cartomancy crossed the borders?

Things like this happen all the time. Could it also be that after one person got it wrong, generations of others also got it wrong because they weren’t thinking? Merely repeating nonsense is not conducive to knowledge.

Where traditions are concerned, yes, we can draw on them, but just because a tradition is called ‘tradition’, however venerable, does not mean that we have to take it to our heart without first exercising our common sense and critical sense. Generally speaking, the art of cartomancy is also the art of being able to say, at times, that you contradict yourself completely.


So here’s a short reading, just a snippet of a grand tableau, where I used the playing card inset to get more precise information about an outcome.


Let us look at the Man’s diagonal near-future line upwards, the one that goes to the Scythe.

In a relationship context, it looks like he’s making an official effort to finish it off with a Snake woman of his heart. The Scythe card falls into the house of Clouds which in the Master Method stands for wishes.

Yes, clearly he wants her dead. But as it is with wishes, some come to pass and some don’t. So how would I know if he will have the heart to do what he wants? The card inset tells me: probably he will. We’re with the diamond here.

Thus, a man wants to finish it off with a Snake and he’s likely to succeed. Of course, with the Scythe, we don’t have a problem seeing that immediately, but if we continue with the geometrical reading, we may find it increasingly hard to believe that, especially if we just look at the intersecting lines of the Man’s present (his vertical line) with that of the Snake’s (her future line).

We note that they intersect in the Book (for him) and in the Ring (for her). So we can infer that since they are, sort of, fated – it is written in the stars (the Star above him) – there’ll be little chance  for him to be able to break the connection. And yet. The Diamond inset tells us that he will.

Simple and neat. It can’t get any simpler. Just remember, in cartomancy, question everything and use your common sense. Never ever just repeat random words and meanings for the sake of appearing authoritative. There’ll always be someone out there who may pose this question to you: Really? Including the ones you fancy reading for. Good luck.


P.S. This can also be applied to reading pip cards in Tarot de Marseille. This, in addition to asking the following questions: how much difference does it make when I see 1 coin or 10 coins, 1 sword or 10 swords, 1 cup or 10 cups, 1 baston or 10 bastons? No mystery here either.


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


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  1. mkg says:

    I like this idea but I tend to go with the German significances for the suits in which Hearts are clergy; Spades are noble warriors; Diamonds, merchants or townfolk; and Clubs are peasants (with all their travails). I already check out the suits, but I’ll apply your chant and see how that works, although I’ll use: Hearts-Yes; Clubs-No; Spades-Probably yes; Diamonds-Probably No (they are clearly a suit of risk).

    1. cameliaelias says:

      Sure, Mary, let me know about your results. As far as your division is concerned, I’m still not convinced that that’s German. These meanings go at least as far back as the medieval times. I like what Flornoy has to say about them in his book, Les Pèlegrinage des Bateleurs.

  2. Valerie Starr says:

    Great post! I’m just curious, Camelia, do you use the same mantra for Tarot? And if so, which playing card suits do you personally associate with the Tarot suits? Are spades Swords for you? And diamonds Pentacles?

    1. cameliaelias says:

      That’s right Valerie. I made a post scriptum for this – perhaps you missed it, just after the post. So, yes, the spads are the swords, the diamonds are the coins/pentacles, the clubs are the wands, and the hearts are the cups. The description of the 4 above already gives the Tarot connection away. But it’s all very commonsensical. And if you ask me, in a divination context, I see no difference between reading with Tarot cards and the Lenormand cards. And why? Because although I’m interested in hermetic philosophy and cartomantic history, when working with visual material I prefer to work with what’s under my nose, and start with the function of what I see not what I don’t see.

  3. auntvalerie says:

    It’s been years since I first did this, but I remember when I tried to compare the Minor Arcana card pictures to the French fortune-telling playing card meanings, they didn’t compare very well, especially Wands and Pentacles – many of the cards seemed as though the suits had been mixed up. I’d love to know if you have any thoughts on this.

    1. cameliaelias says:

      Valerie, the rule of thumb is this: if you work with post-occultism decks, that is, spins-offs of the Waite-Smith deck, then it’s best to stick to the images and symbolism that the Golden Dawn folks conceptualized. If you work with early Tarot de Marseille variations or the Visconti-Sforza, then the initial meaning of fortunetelling playing cards might apply. I say ‘might apply’ because somewhere around 1780 a split has occurred between the tarot and fortunetelling playing cards. Thanks to Etteilla’s contribution to the occult, the tarot went esoteric. Etteilla formed the “Société des Interprètes du Livre de Thot” where he promoted orientalism and astrology. Conversely, and for the most part, the playing cards remained free of such symbolic impositions and the meanings for fortunetelling that we find here are still closer to what people imagined the abstract figures were telling them at some point. For instance you can easily come across meanings for, say, 4 of diamonds (4 coins) as ‘sitting at a strange table’, or ‘rivalry’ for 6 clubs. Of course, what Etteilla did was to stay close to these folk meanings, but conjecture that they had a higher meaning in a higher order. So, some of the concreteness of the initial meanings got lost in symbolism and systems of correspondences. That being said, I love to divine with my 1890 petit Etteilla deck, just as I love to read with my TdM, the Noblet pack, without worrying too much about how to fit everything in some sophisticated grid of correspondence. What I favor in my divination – with anything really – is the straightforward approach that makes me think first, and then intuit.

  4. auntvalerie says:

    And by the way, this is me, Valerie, auntvalerie, Valerie Starr – I’m new wordpress and can’t figure out why it gives me different names each time I post. Sorry about that!

  5. auntvalerie says:

    Thank you for your response! We must have crossed with that last reply. I’ve never been very good with Marseilles or playing card decks because I don’t have a good mind for memorizing or number symbolism, so I have to work with pictures, and of course that limits what decks I tend to use. But I’ve always loved the different fortune-telling meanings – so materialistic and direct – that I tried to make correlations and then gave up. Now I just use more than one deck at a time! I love how the Lenormand work on their own, but they also layer on the Tarot really well. I love your blog! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    1. cameliaelias says:

      No problem, Valery. Just enjoy the writing here, if you find it useful. About memorizing things, you know, that’a bit of a myth where cartomancy is concerned. I mean, sure, you can do that, learn all there’s to learn, but I can tell you that when it comes down to it, what you will be doing is look at how the elements in each card interact with the others, how they rhyme, what patterns they form, and what colors they have. Before you’ll know it, you’ll be working not with set meanings anymore but with your own head. And you’ll also realize that your own head is capable not only of major abstraction but also poetry. You’ll discover that you are able to produce beautiful answers for your sitters. What more can a fortuneteller ask for?

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