Why and how Lenormand Reading is different from modern methods of Tarot Reading
by Caitlín Matthews
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TAROT AND LENORMAND
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:
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
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