The Cartomantic Mindset, Part 2

Why and how Lenormand Reading is different from modern methods of Tarot Reading
by Caitlín Matthews


First of all let’s look at the most obvious differences between Tarot and Lenormand, so that we can get a sense of what we are talking about:

Tarot                                                              Lenormand
78 cards                                                       36 cards
Major and minor cards                         All cards of equal weight (except Man & Woman)
Upright & Reversed cards                   Cards always read upright
Read on spread positions                    Read by proximity to each other
Esoteric                                                       Non-esoteric
Complex symbolism                              Single, simple image with additional playing card inset
Cards read by their images                 Cards read by their keywords
Passive Significator                               Active Significator/s left in deck
Cards speak floridly                              Cards speak tersely

Cards of Equal Weight: In Tarot, trumps or major cards have an archetypal and pips or minors a pragmatic weight to them; Trumps will speak about major events or changes, while Pips discuss the small stuff. In Lenormand, the cards have an equal weight to them: 34 of the cards can equally contribute to the reading and are what I would call ‘speaking cards.’ The Man and Woman cards are ‘cards that are spoken of.’

The other cards describe these two client cards by juxtaposition, as below, where Man comes out first far left, the card next to it speaks about it or describes it: here Man has Coffin beside him. (The cards are my 19th century Belgium Daveluy Petit Jeu.) These cards came up in a larger reading about a woman’s husband, who is very depressed and who has recently been confined in a mental institution. Coffin signifies endings and illness. The two cards together create a combination that says ‘sick man;’ the fact that he has been confined is also suggested by the box-like shape of the coffin, although if he had been imprisoned for criminal activity, we would expect to see Tower next to him.

Some Lenormand cards have a more or less fortunate meaning attached to them. When any card falls next to a fortunate card it is enhanced; when it falls next to a challenging card, it struggles. Neutral cards just describe.

Fortunate: Rider, Clover, Bouquet, Stars, Dog, Heart, Ring, Sun, Key
Challenging: Clouds, Coffin, Snake, Scythe, Rod, Fox, Mountain, Mice, Cross
Neutral: Ship, House, Tree, Snake, Birds, Child, Bear, Stork, Tower, Garden, Paths, Ring,     Book, Letter, Lilies, Moon, Fish, Anchor.

Reversals: Anciently, tarot cards were originally read upright or were being used for gambling in games like tarrochi where reversals weren’t relevant at all. Over the course of time, as cartomants became skilled in reading tarot, reversed cards suggested different meanings to them. Even today some people use reversals while other ignore them. In playing card cartomancy, some readers use reversals, especially in 32 or piquet reading, as we’ve already seen with Etteilla.

However, in Lenormand, there are no reversed meanings. The multi-layering of how Lenormand cards are cartomantically read makes this process redundant. Recently, and in some countries, reversed readings have sprung up, but these are not traditional and are never mentioned in the 19th Little White Books that accompanied the cards.

Positions: In tarot you read cards that are laid upon pre-decided or named positions. Take a spread like the ten-card Celtic Cross, which is introduced by the reader speaking about all ten positions: ‘this covers you, this crosses you, this is beneath you, behind you, this crowns you, this is before you; one for yourself, one for your home, one for your hopes and fears, and one for what will surely come to pass.’ Each position is an essential part of the reading and helps define or frame how the card laid upon each position it is to be read. Here the positions enable the reader to speak about each card.
Lenormand cards work by proximity to each other, creating meaning beyond each individual card’s meaning, working by juxtaposition. This creates a more linguistic and non-symbolic method of reading. Just as we use different combinations of the alphabet to create different words, so too do Lenormand cards work together. If you come to Lenormand from Tarot, you will need to let go positional meanings because we are going to be reading in pairs, triplets and lines, and by association and juxtaposition rather than by spread positions. See below.

Esoteric Meanings & Symbolism: As stated above, esoteric tarot only arrived in the mid 18th century, before this, many esoteric meanings we attach to tarot today were not yet in consciousness. To us, many of the Tarot cards seem esoteric because their symbolism is associated with medieval and renaissance symbolism which comes from a different mindset. However, we should remember that cartomants have always used the tarot pips just like the playing cards, because that is what they really are. (Go to Italy and you will understand this better!) The trumps have arisen from a series of Classical sources (Hermit from Cronos as God of Time, Fortuna as Goddess of Luck), from the medieval executive (Emperor and Empress, Papesse and Pope), from everyday life (Bateleur or Magician as street conjuror) etc. 15th century tarot users knew the symbology of the tarot. They knew that the chariot was a triumphal float, that a man hanging from one foot was a traitor, that the wheel of fortune was what happened when you strove to get above your allotted position in life. They knew that coins were money, that swords were strife, that batons were staves of office or strength, that cups were pleasure. They didn’t worry about the esoteric meanings of tarot because they didn’t use cards for divination but for card games and for tarot appropriati where you made witty, poetic epithets with the cards, describing your friends.

Lenormand depicts ordinary objects (Anchor, Book,Coffin), places (Tower, House, Mountain), animals (Fox, Bear, Dog, Stork), celestial phenomena (Clouds, Sun, Stars). No-one needs be mystified by anything shown here: these were everyday things in the nineteenth century and, although we don’t use rods on children or horses any more or harvest with scythes, we still know what they were once used for.

Lenormand cards come with a playing card inset which is used by some readers as a secondary piece of information. So Clouds, which shows clouds with a dark or light side to them, also has an inset showing the King of Clubs: this card can speak about confusions and muddles worsening or improving, depending on which side the dark clouds face, but it can stand for a confused or mentally ill man in addition.

Cards Read by Image or Keywords: In Tarot reading, the images are frequently used as clues or visual triggers that help create meaning, despite each card having its given meaning, as we will see in the example below. In Lenormand reading, the images on the cards are standard images and no matter how variously these might artistically appear or which Lenormand pack they use, the cartomant reads the cards exactly the same way, every time. This difference is one of the main ones that confounds beginners.

When you come from Tarot, you’ve been used to buying and using the most aesthetically pleasing pack: while you know the standard meanings of the Trumps in a traditional deck, when you use a mythological tarot or a zombie tarot, you will automatically begin to associate meanings with that mythos or genre. When it comes to buying a Lenormand deck, many beginners are drawn to find an artstyle that they like best, using the same criteria as when they buy a tarot. However, it is the consistency and clarity of each Lenormand image that enable you to read which is a traditional deck is best: plainness and simplicity is here a virtue.

Many contemporary Lenormands have, for example, depicted the Coffin as a Sarcophagus: this immediately introduces a set of associations that are not actually present in the keywords by which we divine. Coffin is about endings, finalizations, illness, not about embalming, Egyptian myth, mummies or hauntings, for example, but it is hard to stop the mind going there if the images give you cultural, historical or social visual clues.

Passive and Active Significator: In Tarot reading, the Significator (a card chosen to represent the client) is often removed and left on the table while other cards are laid around it. It does nothing but represent them. In cartomantic and Lenormand divination, the Significator is generally shuffled into the pack and comes out as an active ingredient of the reading. The cards touching the Significator (the Man or Woman card) are more significant and have stronger effect upon the client than the other cards. Some other cards can indicate other people in the spread also:

the Kings: House, Lilies, Fish, Clouds.
the Queens: Stork, Bouquet, Path, Snake.
the Jacks: Heart, Child, Scythe, Rod.

The court cards or ‘honours’ as they were once known, have always been used by playing card cartomants as ‘people cards,’ and this method is still used in Tarot as well as Lenormand. Lenormand can also employ any of the 34 speaking cards as a ‘topic’ or a card that stands for the issue under question. So Fish might be chosen to stand for a client’s finances, or Book for their education.

Florid and Terse Oracles: If you go to a university, you will notice that some tutors use very complex language constructions and can be voluable, loquacious, even poetic in speech. But if you go to a building site or street market, you will notice that people speak tersely and concisely. Tarot is more like the university lecturer while Lenormand similar to a stall holder in a market: both can convey meaning to you, but one will take longer to do it than another. This creates a very different style of reading and interpretation.

With these basic differences in mind, let’s look at what we are doing when we read tarot, because you will understand better what I am showing here.

To be continued

An Interview With The Guild Founders – Part 2


The following is the second installment of an eight part interview with the Guild founders, Nadia K. Potter, Caitlín Matthews, Björn Meuris, and Stella Waldvogel.

2. Why is Lenormand suddenly so popular?

Nadia: Before the Lenormand took over the cartomantic scene in the United States about 2+ years ago, the predominating divination system was — and largely still is — the Tarot. In my opinion the Tarot community in the US primarily divides into 3 categories of readers:

(1) Intuitives — those that use a very limited set of rules when reading the cards, and basing their interpretation primarily on intuitive insights;

(2) Jungians — readers that approach the Tarot through a prism of psychology, focusing on Jungian theory of archetypes;


(3) Western Hermetics, who read the Tarot based on the magickal precepts of the Golden Dawn and other Western Hermetic lineages (Thelema, etc.).

Although diviners have always moved in between these categories, incorporating ideas and principles from all three schools, they’ve also kept a clear divide between themselves and the fortunetellers. As Tarot readers called themselves fancy titles such as a spiritual advisor or a diviner, fortunetelling was used as a derogatory term associated with uneducated charlatans, fake gypsy readers, and carnies; who, instead of reading the cards, supposedly have provided the client with cold scripts, while trying to scheme the innocent into paying them large amounts of cash due to fake prophecies involving dark curses and spiritual dangers. In addition, these fortunetellers are associated with reading playing cards, and other oracle systems — including the Lenormand. Interestingly, such fortunetellers were depicted in the American art as gypsies, or people of color.

It’s also important to note that due to the monarchy of Tarot in the United States people were not aware of many other cartomantic systems, and information of such systems wasn’t available or accessible to the American, English speaking public.

In my opinion, in the past several years several tendencies allowed the Lenormand to take a central place in the world of American divination. Firstly, the World Wide Web has allowed readers from across the pond to share valuable information and personal cartomantic techniques. The Lenormand being one of these has certainly picked the interest of many. Suddenly folks who learned the techniques of the Petit Jeu from their mothers or grandmother were freely sharing some incredible information via blogs, Facebook groups, and even video tutorial. Secondly, as readers begun experimenting with the Lenormand, they’ve quickly realized, myself included, the pragmatic, nonsense-free way of this method. We all were in awe of the in-depth, authentic, and highly accurate readings the Lenormand has offered, without the need of climbing the high horses of the American Tarotists.

Caitlín: This is a 200 year old oracle, the craft of which the English speaking world has received from Europe where it has been preserved and practically used for ordinary, everyday reading. It seems to the non-European world to have suddenly appeared because many English-speaking users have been using it, writing and blogging about it, but its popularity was already well established.

In an era of economic recession and uncertainty, small oracles tend to flourish. Lenormand has a pragmatism that tells it like it is, and this has proved attractive in the wake of two developments in the tarot world: tarot has become seen as increasingly complex by new readers while, at the same time, many new tarots have become slick in their artwork and over psychological in their make-up.

It is now very easy to produce and print cards, and so many card creators have made their own Lenormand decks over the last four years: some of these follow traditional models but many use photomontage, photography and non-traditional ideas as well. If you have chose the lushly illustrated Hawaiian Pineapple Lenormand (I just made that deck up!), it won’t matter how beautifully painted it is if you can’t, at a glance, which equivalent Lenormand cards the Volcano (The Mountain?) or the Surf-Board (Ship?) are supposed to represent! When radical changes like this happen, it doesn’t help transmit the skills to learners who are coming along, but is just confusing to them. This oracle deserves respect and we are very fortunate to be in the stream of tradition.

Björn: First of all I’ve been only involved a few years in the English speaking (worldwide) Lenormand and cartomancy community. Apparently the growing interest in the petit Lenormand took place some five years ago, resulting in a sort of hype nowadays. I just wasn’t aware of this evolution at the time. To be honest, I can’t tell you exactly why! I was not a witness of this evolution, and everything I got to know about English sources, I learned from my contacts in a retrospective modus. Living in Belgium I have been part of a very vibrant Lenormand community for more than ten years, both in real life and on the internet. The Lenormand cards have an established tradition and history in my country, like they do in Germany, France, and Holland of course. All those countries have a big Lenormand scene, that’s the main reason why you won’t catch German or Belgian readers that often in the Anglo Lenormand scene, not to mention the existing language barrier.

I have to say, they don’t know what they are missing, I made so many great contacts and friends among people that are really in the know. I really take my hat off to the people involved in this project. I’m privileged to know very good traditional readers in my own country, and I can assure you that many of the international Lenormand readers are as good.

Why are they so popular? How can you not love them?

Stella: I think there’s several factors at play. One is the times, predictive fortunetelling always sees a surge when times are uncertain, as Caitlín mentioned and as times are now, and Lenormand is the clearest, most predictive thing out there.

There’s a parallel with what happened to music during the 70’s. Some egos got overinflated and lot of bands got really boring, pretentious and self-indulgent: you might buy an album only to discover that half of it was a bloated keyboard solo. There were lots of lyrics with medieval words, and the cover art was often fantasy-themed. (There’s strong similarities to that in modern Tarot culture.) Then punk came along and cut away the fat – simple songs that lasted maybe two minutes, but they rocked. To paraphrase, “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Lenormand”, haha. It’s a reactionary thing – the further you pull a clock pendulum to one side, the further it’s going to swing the other way.

Nothing’s really changed on the Continent, Europe has embraced Lenormand since the very beginning. But ten years ago, there was nothing but LWB’s in english. You had to go online and find readers in other countries who were willing to explain it – luckily, a lot of Europeans are multilingual! Then things like the Treppner course started appearing, and by 2008 or 2009 we had a smattering of little english language discussion groups. It was very nice, for the most part, and everyone seemed serious about learning. But a couple of years ago it mushroomed here in the US – Lenormand started getting attention at Tarot conventions and the like, and there was a flood of decks, online material, and workshops, but sadly the quality tended to be very poor in most cases. Many of the people producing these things didn’t make an effort to understand the traditional method, much less master it – and Lenormand is the traditional method, by definition. There’s certainly a lot more STUFF than there was five or ten years ago, but there’s really not that much more actual Lenormand. But the interest is there, too, and that’s the silver lining in all this.

It’s a wonderful system, the most complete and streamlined that I’ve come across. It’s amazing how 36 simple cards can address all possible subjects – there’s no need to change them, and it’s always a mistake to do so! For example, when telephones were invented, they naturally fell under the Birds meanings – nobody added a “telephone card”. There’s a card or combination for everything, the system is perfect. Aren’t entire libraries stocked with various combinations of 26 letters? Why would you need more than 36 cards? The small size is an asset, too, it’s no problem to carry a deck everywhere.

Even though Lenormand seems to be booming on the surface, authentic Lenormand is almost endangered at this point – at least here in the US, where the flood of misinformation threatens to choke it – that’s why I think the Guild is so necessary. It’s a port in the storm, and no matter what’s happening “out there”, Lenormand is safe here.

The Cartomantic Mindset, Part 1

Why and how Lenormand Reading is different from modern methods of Tarot Reading
by Caitlín Matthews

If you are familiar with Tarot and are wanting to approach Lenormand for the first time, then this might be a helpful place to start, to understand why and how reading Lenormand is so different. If you approach Lenormand with a cartomantic mindset, you will arrive prepared.


Cartomancy is the craft of divining from cards. While it is a word often applied to playing card reading these days, it is a useful term for anyone who is taking up Lenormand reading for the first time. Lenormand cards are read cartomantically, which is an older method of reading cards, which I’m going to outline here.

Before Tarot went esoteric, before Lenormand cards were even born, people were laying out playing cards and reading them by juxtaposition with each other. It is from this era that we inherit the cartomantic style of reading that is used in Lenormand.

The image below is Etteilla’s spread called le Coup de Douze (12 Card Spread – and yes, it does have two extra cards for ‘the surprise.’) This is taken from the very first published book which outlined practical cartomantic reading with a pack of 32 playing cards, The Only True Way to Read the Cards, published in 1773.


Etteilla read the cards from right to left (most modern readers read left to right today and that is still the case with Lenormand cards) and used reversed cards. We see that the carte blanche (the blank card that acted as the Significator) is centrally placed here. The cards either side of it, which touch the Significator are King Hearts and 10 Diamonds, signifying a Blond Man who has an abundance of money, respectively. The line is read by pairing card 1 with card 2, card 2 with card 3 etc. until the line is read. This method tells the story as cards blend together. Many years later this same Coup de Douze spread was taken up by the Golden Dawn and translated into the fiendishly complex Opening of the Key spread, which takes several hours to lay and read.

Here is the case in point: cartomancy is simple, pragmatic and non esoteric. It doesn’t depend on a knowledge of astrology, it doesn’t require you to know which phase the moon is in, you don’t need to know numerology. This is one of the reasons why Lenormand is non-esoteric in nature and why we read in the ways that we do now: because the reading style dates from before the esotericizing of tarot in the mid-late 18th which was begun by Court de Gebelin and Comte de Mellet, and to which Etteilla himself contributed, though not before recording his own cartomantic methods.

The older style of reading is one that is nowadays only used by playing card readers and cartomants who use small oracles like Lenormand. It comes from a different mindset and, without taking this on board, it’s easy to try and read Lenormand like Tarot, which won’t help you at all.

To be continued

An Interview with the Guild Founders – Part I

The following is the first installment of an eight part interview with the Guild founders, Nadia K. Potter, Caitlín Matthews, Björn Meuris, and Stella Waldvogel.

1. Which decks do you read with and why?

Nadia: When it comes to Lenormand cards, I prefer more traditional and uncluttered styles, with playing cards inserts. My favorite, go-to, decks are a vintage Dondorf, and CartaMundi. Both of these packs have a lovely, time-capsule-like, feel to them. And most importantly, its easy to read them because I do not need to stop and wonder: “Is this the Clover or the Bouquet?” or “This must be the Snake because it’s card number 7, so why is a Chinese dragon is painted on it?”

I also like these particular decks because of the apparent directionality of the cards. For instance, it’s obvious what the Scythe is cutting, and where is the dark side of the Clouds.

Caitlín: My favourite decks are the Mertz, the Daveluy and the Lauren Forestell reprint of Das Spiel der Hoffnung. The Mertz is so clear and uncomplicated.

The Daveluy has the image, playing card, and text commentary in equal proportions upon the card and is useful for Near and Far or Distance style of reading. The smaller reprint of Das Spiel der Hoffnung is both delightful to work with but also useful when I read in a cramped space, which is often the case when I am travelling. Because I do a lot of world travel, I favour much smaller cards. In my handbag are a set of mini playing cards which came from a Christmas cracker. I just use the 6-Aces and upon them I’ve written their Lenormand number and name. These are always with me and can be read in any circumstances in public without remark.

Björn: When I started to learn Lenormand I had only one deck, the Cartamundi. This was my only deck for several years. I have a very special connection with this pack of cards. Nowadays I tend to use a different deck every day. Those I use most with my clients: Cartamundi, Piatnik, Daveluy, French Cartomancy, and Stralsunder.

I have an old Carreras pack, that I only use to read for my wife, myself, my family and close friends. The Daveluy is my personal favorite because of the brilliant artwork. Cartamundi is my long term partner and the Carreras is the most valuable Lenormand deck I own.

Stella: For the most part, I prefer using antique reproductions, since they follow Lenormand conventions. A lot of the newer decks have alterations that don’t take actual Lenormand reading into account. Form should always follow function. My three heavy rotation decks at the moment are Lauren Forestell’s print of Le Fanu’s Lilac Dondorf, which is my latest Dondorf pattern deck – I’ve worn out a couple of French Cartomancy decks and a Königsfurt. The Lilac is the Rolls Royce of Dondorf repros, though: original colors and a linen finish. It’s my at-home deck. And my purse deck is Lauren’s Purple Dragon, another Dondorf repro! Another one I use a lot is the Glück, I like the small size, tough cardstock, and the starkness of the images. It’s perfect for the Grand Tableau.

I have some other favorites that are delicate, like Caitlín’s Daveluy, and the Carreras cigarette cards. They’re my “for special” decks, like getting out the good china for company, lol. And I like the old standbys, like Cartamundi, Blue Owl and Piatnik. They’re inexpensive and always available, and they read well. But I use the Dondorf types and the Glück the most.