The Lenormand system originated in Germany in the late 1700s as a game called Das Spiel der Hofnung or The Game of Hope by Johann Kasper Hechtel.
To play, the 36 cards of the deck were spread out in a square. The players would roll the dice, move their piece to the appropriate place/card, and then depending on the card on which they landed, move forward or backward. The winner was the person who finished first.
The Game of Hope evolved from a 32-card Piquet deck, which was a common card game at the time — and still exists today. It also relied upon images from Coffee Cards that interpreted the meaning of coffee grounds left in a cup (Mary K. Greer was responsible for this finding in 2013). Ultimately, this system evolved into the Petit Lenormand we see today.
Mlle. Maria-Anne Lenormand was a famous diviner in the early 1800s, known for advising high profile people, such as Empress Josephine (Napoleon’s wife). To leverage her reputation, oracle decks took her name, and that is the connection between Hechtel’s deck and the Lenormand name.
How Lenormand and Tarot are Different
Tarot decks are comprised of 78 cards, having 22 major arcana (0 to 22) and 56 minor arcana. The majors are focused on significant themes or influences, and the minors look at our day-to-day lives.
The minor arcana are divided into four suits: cups, pentacles, swords and wands. The suits are further divided into four court cards: King, queen, knight and page. Then the numbered cards, also called “pips” are from Ace to 10.
Lenormand, on the other hand is comprised of 36 cards.
Tarot cards are rich in symbolism and can have many meanings, depending on the situation and question. Readers will look at facial expressions, objects, numbers, elements and so forth to interpret the cards. Looking at The Fool card as an example, one reader may notice the white rose in his hand, symbolizing purity. Another person may focus on the cliff and how close he is to walking over its edge. Tarot cards can be bottomless in their meanings.
Lenormand is often considered a blunt system, meaning there is one symbol per card and each symbol has a limited range of meanings. If we look at the 6 – Clouds card, it shows clouds. That’s the image. And there are a limited range of key words/meanings, ranging from the literal (cloudy weather) to the more abstract (depression, confusion, muddled).
Lenormand is also considered a predictive system, so it's useful for anticipating future outcomes.
In Tarot, you can pick a significator card to represent you and set it aside as a focus point or even use it in the spread. For example, I could select the Queen of Wands as my significator card or The Hermit. It's my choice.
In Lenormand, the significator is typically the Lady card for a female and the Gentleman card for the male. If there is a spouse, then the opposite sex card represents that person. There are also cards to represent lovers. It's pretty defined, particularly in the Grand Tableau spread (more on that below).
If you are reading a short, focused spread, you can select an alternate significator that addresses the question. For example, if inquiring about an investment prospect, the Bear would make a good choice for significator.
Note: Newer decks and historic reproductions typically provide spare Lady and Gentleman cards so that if the spouse or lover is of the same gender, the cards can be swapped out to reflect that.
In Tarot, you can use reversals. This means you can mix the orientation with the cards when shuffling so that some come out right-side up and others upside down or reversed. Reversals add another layer of meaning to the card. In Lenormand, there are no reversals. The cards are all read right-side up.
Consulting the Cards
Tarot is good for exploring psyche, emotions, motives, spirituality and any pithy soulful topic. An example of a good question for Tarot is, "How can I grow as a human being?" This can be explored generously through one Tarot card or a large spread of over 10 cards. Tarot encourages extended, thoughtful conversations.
Lenormand is blunt and direct and is best focused on the more practical, versus soulful, aspects of our lives. While Tarot might explore your intention, Lenormand will look at whether your lover is being faithful or if your house will sell. It can also explore timelines and potential outcomes.
Lenormand cards are intended to be read in pairs or triplets, not as single cards. Each card creates a word based on its single symbol. So for example, the Heart card means happiness, love, emotion or heart. Definitions may expand from that but not by much.
This is why single cards aren't read in this system. Imagine the question, "Will he sign the agreement?" and the answer is the Heart card. Huh?
So again, cards are paired in combinations of two or three to make a phrase and gain more information. Here is an example: Woman + Heart + Book = Female book lover, or more literally read, the woman + who loves + the book.
Considering this syntax, appropriate questions may be, "Will I get the promotion?" or "What do my finances look like?" or "Is there someone else?" Different spreads with Lenormand are better suited to certain questions.
A two choices spread would involve two rows of three cards. Row one is choice A, and row two is Choice B.
"Should I choose to spend time with Francis or Mavis?"
Row one, choice A (Francis): Bouquet + Birds + Sun = Happy conversation and a great time.
Row two, choice B (Mavis): Fox + Snake + Fish = Sneaky trouble in generous amounts.
Hmmmm. I'd go with choice A.
Larger Lenormand spreads create a lot more sentences, and hence, offer more detail.
The Grand Tableau spread, the biggest one, uses all 36 cards and is a terrific way to check in on nearly every aspect of one's life: finances, home life, life partner/spouse, love, job/career, friends, past, present, future, causes, effects and so forth.
If you're interested in learning Lenormand, it may be helpful start with a traditional deck or a modern deck that relies upon the traditional images.
This can help you learn the system first before being exposed to decks that may have altered the symbols and meanings.
The two most important considerations for reading card designs are:
- The symbol is pronounced and isolated enough that it's quickly apparent which card is which. This becomes more important with larger spreads where you are hopping from card combination to combination. The cards should not hinder this process.
- Modified symbols do not significantly alter the cards' meanings. While a personal choice, this matters more to people who are just learning the system. Doing it successfully is based on a consistent, repeatable approach.
There are many historic reproductions, such as the Dondorf Lenormand, Game of Hope or Stralsunder Lenormand that use the traditional symbols.
Newer designs can be quite delightful and stunning. Some beautiful decks include Gilded Reverie Lenormand (Ciro Marchetti), Under the Roses Lenormand (Kendra Hurteau and Katrina Hill), The Enchanted Lenormand Oracle (Caitlin Matthews) or Blue Bird Lenormand (U.S. Games).
There are many more. A quick Internet search will produce a generous amount of results. And looking under Google Images, for example, will show you previews of the cards so you can get a sense of what you like.
Tarot spreads are also endless in variety. You can pull cards and read them or assign positional meanings to each card you pull. For example, a three-card reading could stand for past (card 1), present (card 2) and future (card 3). There are numerous spreads available online, and you can even make up your own. One classic spread is called the Celtic Cross, and it's a useful tool for exploring a question in more detail.
Lenormand spreads also vary, but more generally rely upon a three-card, nine-card or Grand Tableau approach.
A two choices spread for Lenormand, mentioned above, is basically two sets of three-card spreads.
You can also use the three-card spread by itself to look at yes or no questions with a little added context.
Lenormand spreads do not have positional meanings, though the Grand Tableau may use houses, which is an advanced technique.
The Grand Tableau is a spread of four rows of eight cards plus a last row of four cards (centered under the row above). If you were to lay out one set of Lenormand cards in numeric order in this spread, you would get the houses. So position 1 is card 1-Rider, which makes the house Rider. Position 2 is 2-Clover, which makes the house Clover. And so forth. This is an advanced technique. The next deck is shuffled for the reading, and these cards are set atop the ordered house cards. The cards sitting on top of the houses interact with the houses to add additional meaning.
Here is an example of a partial row one from a Grand Tableau (using only three cards). The parenthesis is the house, the shuffled card is next to it.
(1-Rider) 5-Tree, (2-Clover) 12-Birds, (3-Ship) 24-Heart
The Tree is in the house of the Rider. The Birds are in the house of the Clover. The Heart is in the house of the Ship.
The cards are then read with each other (Tree + Birds) but also taking into account the houses (Tree + Rider) + (Birds + Clover). Again, this is a more advanced technique.
The most important factor for learning any system is to practice, practice, practice. First, learn one meaning for each card. Then, practice combinations over and over by pulling two cards and deciphering their meaning. Keep in mind the first card is typically the subject and the second card modifies it. So 25-Ring + 17-Tower could literally be read as the commitment of the corporation, as one example. More fluidly, this could be an agreement signed by a business. If you flip the cards so it's 17-Tower and 25-Ring, you'll get the corporation that is committed. Meaning, a company committed to a cause or purpose. Once this starts to make sense, gradually add one more meaning to your cards. Keep building your meanings over time and then try drawing three instead of two cards for combination practice.
Given the predictive nature of Lenormand, a great way to learn its language is by considering an event, such as a basketball game, movie, party or date. Ask a question about what will happen, then draw three cards. Jot down any ideas you have. Once the event takes place, go back and compare the cards and your notes against what actually manifested. You'll be surprised how the cards tie in, quite often literally!
If you're ready to start diving into Lenormand, we have two free decks available under Tarot-Spreads: Dondorf and Geûens Beaux. Both have been made digitally available from antique decks well over 100 years old. Once you've selected the spread and your cards, you can click on a card to see its meaning.
© Petra Gilbert & Phuture Me Ltd 2016.