As many people as many opinions, the proverb goes, and the proverb is right.
In some cartomantic groups interested in reading with the Lenormand cards, there’s a strong desire to know something about the significance of the playing-card insets on each of the 36 cards that otherwise deal with a symbolic representation of some domestic situation.
Historically we know very little about the motivation behind juxtaposing representational scenes with plain playing-cards. The scenes are meant to say something about who screws who, who is envious and jealous, who gets laid off, who gets a promotion, who gets married, who gets ditched, and so on.
But lo and behold, occasionally we also come across cards that put us on a path to truth or tell us something about the meaning of life. There is in fact no end to how these situations can permute to create just the relevant story for any one curious subject.
Now to the mystery: Why the need for playing-card insets, cards that, as we all know from a good game of poker, have only geometrical patterns on them along an occasional face, that of a Queen, King, and a Knave.
So it makes little sense to have the above mentioned venerable situations depicted in the cards accompanied by plain playing-card insets. Speculations abound as to what the function of these are, and both bona fide historians and pseudo-historians have argued that it may have to do with the card company’s desire to reach a larger audience than the 19th c. middle-class housewives frequenting some fancy cartomantic salon every Wednesday, in the hope to have fun and their fortunes foretold.
This other audience might namely have been the poor soldiers, who, while sitting in the trenches waiting for some general to give a command to shoot some enemy, might have fancied a game of cards for which they needed the traditional cards rather than the ones with weird scenes on them. Right.
But here’s what I think. There’s a system to the madness. The card insets are there to remind the reader of the good old tradition of reading fortunes with playing-cards, and how this is done, namely, as the promulgation of short sentences that deliver a message with aplomb.
My theory has always been that the whole scope with reading cards is to formulate wise little proverbs. According to the dictionary, a proverb is “a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.” Where the Lenormand cards are concerned, I see doing proverbial work on the insets and the images together of mighty potential.
For indeed, perhaps what we are strongly advised is that when we read with picture cards, we must not get lost in details or even stop at remarks that have some banality comfort us, such as the occasional statement: ‘Look at this dog card. How cute.’ Rather, we should try to see what all that fortunetelling with playing-cards is all about.
Let me demonstrate what I mean, taking point of departure in a proverb I like very much, and for which I found a reasonable representation in the Lenormand cards. So we actually do this in an inverse order, as I find that it illustrates my point quite to the point. Here’s the proverb:
‘If you speak the truth, keep one foot on your broom.’
I chose here for obvious reasons the Rider (to represent the message), the Lily (truth), and the Whip (the broom).
Now, if we look at the playing-card insets, we get this:
9 of Hearts, King of Spades, Knave of Clubs.
And guess what? As far as I’m concerned, and if we stretch it a bit, we can easily read the playing-cards so that the sentence will sound exactly as the above proverb:
‘If you speak the truth, keep one foot on your broom.’
‘If you speak…’ 9 of Hearts is the wishing card.
‘… the truth…’ The whole suit of Spades stands for the craft of divination. With the King here, we have the representation of the highest truth. Though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in traditional fortunetelling with playing cards, it is the Queen who represents the truth about a matter in this suit, not the King. The King stands more for the power of truth, rather than the essential truth.
‘…keep your foot on the broom.’ The Knave of Clubs is the man of action. If the Queen needs to ride in haste, the Knave will have his foot on the broom for her.
Try this kind of work on your own, as it is thoroughly enjoyable. It is especially good for all those who find reading a line of 3-5-7 cards difficult.
But now, let us shuffle the cards and ask the cards themselves what they can tell us about the insets. – Very nice. Thanks you cards. It looks like we have recurrent cards. There’s an insistence on the Lily and the Whip, now following the Tower, a symbol of authority.
Here’s my proverbial line, a line I made up on the basis on what I see in these cards above:
The truth gone to court corrects the word.
If we think a little, we can see what the function of truth is in a courthouse (Tower+Whip), namely to correct whatever injury (Whip), or to settle the ‘your word against my word’ situation. In the context of our question, however, we can say that the presence of the insets in the Lenormand cards is to ensure that we stay on the path.
The 6 of Spades deals precisely with paths. Whatever the truth (Lily/King of Spades), and even if you take a beating for it (Whip/Knave of Clubs), stick to it. In the Dondorf Lenormand the Whip crossing the Broom forming an X emphasizes barring. This tells me that in this context, sticking to the truth of the playing-cards is a good idea.
As with any theory, it is best if we test it. So I would encourage the serious student of Lenormand cards to incorporate the creation of proverbial lines into his or her practice. For who’s to say? Before you know it, you might just see your fame turn as proverbial. Good luck.
For more on the Lenormand insets, you may check my other post here.
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