Tarot has been a staple of the English-speaking cartomancer’s table for well over a century now but, in other parts of the world, especially in continental Europe, a different system reigned (and perhaps still reigns) supreme – that of Lenormand. This deck of 36 cards carries the name of the celebrated French psychic Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand, the confidante of Empress Josephine and one of the biggest celebrities of her time. The cards themselves however are actually of German origin. Be it as it may, the system has a large following in continental Europe and has, over time, spread to as far as Brazil and Russia. More recently, it has gained the attention of the English-speaking cartomancers and has proven to be a breath of fresh air on the scene dominated by Tarot.
Unlike the more elaborate Tarot, Lenormand is a small deck of 36 cards, divided into four suits of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. The playing card inserts however do not include the entire standard deck but only show aces, numbers six through ten, and the court cards, making it a sort of an extended piquet deck, if you will. Again, unlike Tarot, the entire system is far less steeped in the occult and instead offers a direct and straightforward method of fortune-telling. Yes, fortune-telling and not divination, as some might assume. Fortune-telling seems to have become a dirty word in the cartomantic community but it is something that most people are drawn to and what most clients come to the reader for and, in my opinion, should be embraced as positive. Predicting the future with a deck of cards is indeed possible – not with a 100% of accuracy, of course – but still with enough certainly to make it worthwhile.
Going back to Lenormand, the deck is, in all likelihood, devoid of arcane symbolism as the cards were initially created to serve as a parlour game. Their meanings rely on the ideas of traditional cartomancy, universal symbolism, as well as shapes encountered in coffee ground readings. Some of the pictures are quite straighforwards in their meanings (Clover standing for luck, Heart for love, Fox for deceit) while other take a bit of effort to memorize (Tower hints at loneliness, Garden at social gatherings, Scythe at endings). Still, most are as simple as can be and provide both the novice as well as the seasoned reader with a language they can easily master.
It is precisely this language-like quality of Lenormand that separates it from Tarot. While the latter relies on contemplating elaborate pictorial cues , the former is focused on a purely semantic structure. Cards are treated as keywords and combined into “sentences”. This reliance on card combinations (where, for example, the first is used as the core of the interpretation, while the second simply describes or modifies the one preceding it) is a unique feature of continental European cartomancy and is something that, once you get used to it, can make your readings flow faster than ever before.
Layouts range from simple two- or three-card spreads all the way to the Grand tableau utilising all 36 cards of the deck. While this may sound frightening at first, there is absolutely no reason to feel intimidated. Once you get the basics right, you should be able to tackle a layout of any size and read it as if it were a book written in your mother tongue. You can then use Lenormand as a tool for self-development, spiritual exploration but also, something this deck is particularly good at – dealing with simple, everyday concerns. That is where the true power of Lenormand lies – in it’s frank and even blunt way of tackling our real life issues. Its accuracy and candid way of “speaking” to us makes it an attractive and endlessly fun way of fortune-telling that, unlike many others, actually gives results.