An Interview With Lauren Forestell

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(Interviewed by Caitlín Matthews)

What drew you to reproduce antique Lenormand decks?

This is a long story. Are you sure you want it?

When I first became enamored with the Lenormand it didn’t take long to be drawn to the antique decks because of the simplicity and clarity of the symbols.

I remember vividly when it began. I read Le Fanu’s blog in September of 2012 and saw his new find: Dondorf’s first Lenormand deck. Loved the lilac circles containing the card numbers and, opposite at the top, the publisher’s name visually balancing the card. Many of the colors differed from the Dondorf decks that I already had. And I was smitten with the colors that of the signature Dondorf back design.

I already had the large and small versions of the Carreras tobacco cards and the French Cartomancy version that use the Dondorf art. While I admire the art of the Dondorf decks, they all share flaws that I wanted to correct.

So I set about making up a mini version of the Dondorf design. Online I found another version of the Dondorf that contained a dragon in the circle opposite the card’s number. I decided to use the dragon and make it purple to match the number’s background.

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Another change I made was that, since I like black horses, the Rider’s horse became a black horse. The other changes that I felt necessary were to make the clouds lighter on one side, and to enable the Lord and Lady to face each other.

Something that the modern French Cartomancy deck lacked was a suitable back to complement the Dondorf faces. I decided to use the back from one of the Carreras decks that I had, with some minor changes, because the backs were so lovely. After all, one does spend a lot of time looking at the backs of the cards, and so I thought that the backs must be beautiful, too.

I thought that since I was going to create a mini and I didn’t know whether anyone was making minis, I decided make a few and sell them on eBay. The rationale was that if I liked minis someone else probably would, too.

One evening I saw a reference on one of the forums to the “Original Lenormand” deck that someone had produced from cards found at the British Museum. The post contained a link to the British Museum. There I found a picture of all the cards, the title of which translated as the “Game of Hope,” laid out together. I found the images so charming that I embarked on a search to find a copy for myself when I discovered that they had been produced as a limited edition. I was severely disappointed when I found they were, alas, sold out. I searched the ‘net and none was to be found anywhere, including ebay.

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I went directly to the British Museum. I was staggered to find what it would cost to buy a license to make one deck for myself, and shelved the idea but continued my search.

Eventually my friend suggested that since neither of us could find a copy of the limited edition deck and we both really wanted one, maybe some other people who’d missed the limited edition would want one, too.

I took the plunge, contacted the British Museum and bought a license to produce it. I launched a website in the hope of selling sell enough decks to recover the expense of securing the rights to make them. That’s all I really wanted: a copy of the deck for myself.

Since I made my first 2, what I called my “Purple Dragon” Dordorf deck and the “Game of Hope,” I am afraid that finding and restoring the antique cards has become almost an obsession.

What processes do you use to clean up old original decks and restore them to their beauty? What is your artistic background?

I was employed many years as a graphic artist and video producer/editor until my retirement, and subsequently continued to do random freelance advertising using Photoshop. I first began using Photoshop at the time of its introduction in 1990 as Photoshop 1.0. Since I work with digital images, not the fragile original cards, my tool is the computer using Photoshop.

When restoring them to a usable condition in the form of playing cards, I must work within the constraints of the templates provided by a printer. Specifying a non-standard size to accommodate the unique size of each deck would be very expensive because of the large quantities that must be ordered. Since I like the image larger and the border smaller, I need to choose a size that will best fit the originals and then adjust the aspect ratio to fill the space to allow for the largest possible image.

Then, since I have been working with Photoshop for many years, auto pilot takes over and I can selectively adjust the colors and contrast and otherwise manipulate the image in order to restore it to its former glory. The old, bent and abused cards are not always ‘square’ so they must be digitally straightened. Then the blemishes need to be corrected and, in some instances, parts of the picture must be reconstructed.

Some of the decks are easy to work on because they were probably relatively unused. But for the decks that were used and abused, each and every card needed individual attention, and the methods I used for each would take a lengthy lecture on the intricacies of Photoshop. Suffice it to say that many of the cards required on-screen high magnification to receive the detailed attention needed to restore their original beauty.

What makes these traditional decks so special?

I think the primary reason these antique decks are so special is because of the clean, uncluttered, and especially the original art. When I lay a line or a full board spread of these cards, I don’t have to look hard to see the symbols. The symbol jumps out and makes it easy to read the cards and see the relationships between the cards without having to visually wade through a lot of scenery or extraneous clutter that would divert my attention.

I also am drawn to the old decks because the art. I appreciate the elegant execution and straightforward and unpretentious pictures on the cards. The talented artists of all the decks, through their work, impart the flavor of the era in which they were created. Somehow they speak to me with a clarity that I haven’t experienced with any of the new crop of decks that appear almost daily.

What is your vision for the future of the Lenormand oracle?

The Lenormand grew from a few fortune tellers who discovered that the Divine was content to communicate with them through these cards. Through these conversations those fortune tellers developed a language that became a common language that could be passed on to and understood by others; a folk tradition named for Mlle Lenormand but brought to its maturity in the years following her departure from the Earth.

This is a clear, concise oracle that in my view needs little improvement. As times change, the concerns of people who want to consult it do not change; nor do the basic meanings of the symbols that are easily applied to the techno society that has since evolved. It is my hope that there are enough people who appreciate its history, who want to preserve the integrity of the Lenormand “language,” so that in another hundred years it will still be read in the same ways that it has been for the past 200 years.

Do you have a favourite among the decks you reproduce?

If I had to choose only one as a favorite deck that I have worked on, it would be one of the Dondorfs. However, whenever I pick up a different deck every so often, that one will become my new love — for awhile. My latest ‘love’ is one I have been working on lately, the Schmid, from the 1950s. It is definitely a period piece because the Gentleman is standing casually smoking a cigarette, which is totally apropos of its time.

What special difficulties do you encounter in this work?

Restoring these old cards began when I discovered my new passion for the Lenormand. I admired some of the beautiful antique decks that I saw online that were totally unavailable, or at the very least out of reach because of their rarity or their price.

After I bought one of the lovely old Carreras Dondorf decks, I was disappointed that, while they were gorgeous, they were fragile and therefore unusable if I wanted to preserve them. And they smelled awful and left my hands smelling just as bad. Handle them with gloves?? I think not. Then a light bulb went on: I have the skills to resurrect them and share the bounty with other people who also love the cards! I am so familiar with Photoshop that it was not difficult to find solutions to each problem that faces me with almost every card. I found each challenge fun to surmount. Clover + Mountain + Star.

What have you learned from such close attention to each card?

Spending time with each card was an intimate experience that gave me time to ponder its potential with regard to other cards. While I make no claim to be a fluent reader, I continue to muddle through and am enjoying every step of the way.

Lauren Forestell is the only producer of Lenormand decks fully endorsed by the Traditional Lenormand Fortunetellers Guild. You can purchase her works at http://gameofhopelenormand.bigcartel.com/

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Bjorn’s Quick Tips

The Dog and the Rider

Let’s look at the Dog and the Rider as people cards.

The Lady, the Gentleman, and the court cards (Kings, Queens, and Jacks) can all represent people in the Lenormand deck, as can a few other cards.

It’s especially interesting to look at where the Rider and the Dog fall in love readings. If one of them is near the Heart card, it may be that that person warms your heart. They can also add emphasis to other cards, showing you if a relationship is serious or just a fling.

The Dog and the Rider are very different characters, and affect the Heart in different ways.

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Usually this is the man who turns a woman’s head; the
attractive, proud, well-dressed, athletic man who radiates charisma. At worst, he may be arrogant (based on the horse), and vain.

He doesn’t have enough of the Dog’s qualities.

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This is often the man that the woman with a Rider for a partner wants. The Dog is loyal and faithful, like a guard dog. At worst, the Dog is boring and unattractive, lacking the qualities of the Rider.

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Fox + Person Card + Bear

Always remember that successful card reading depends on context. What a card combination means in one situation can be quite different to what it means in another, for example, the same cards can mean very different things depending on whether you’re reading about your family or your job.

In love readings, it’s important to pay attention to the following combination:

bearpkfox

If the Fox and the Bear flank the person card, as shown above, you’re dealing with a complex character.

Even though the Bear is a lucky card that gives support and strength, he’s got a jealous and envious side. When the Fox speaks about someone’s character, it says that he often acts out of selfishness, and only for his own benefit. He’s also not above bending the truth.

It’s striking to me how often in practise this combination indicates a jealous person who hides his jealousy well. Usually this is the kind of jealousy that arises because the person is tempted himself. The Bear keeps himself well-protected.

As mentioned earlier, it’s about context. What I say above isn’t a hard and fast rule, but an indicator that should be borne in mind and examined. Look to other cards for confirmation, or ask the person sitting in front of you.

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Queen of Hearts versus Queen of Clubs

When I first started reading the Lenormand cards, someone gave me a nice tip in the form of a story about the snake and the stork. It’s fun, and extremely accurate.

Note that in Belgium, the older generation reads almost exclusively with only one Lenormand deck, the Belgian Carta Mundi. It is also the most used deck on this blog.
If you use a different deck, this tip is the same, but you may have to adjust it depending on which way the Stork and the Snake are facing.

Did you know that storks eat snakes? In nature it is so.

It also makes sense in Lenormand reading.

If the question is about the outcome of a situation, or if this is a combination in the Grand Tableau, Snake + Stork means that after a bad time (lies, stress, etc.) there is a change coming. The Stork always brings a change in this combination, a positive one. Note the card after the Stork for confirmation of what the change will bring.

The Stork beats the Snake, at least if she has her in the crosshairs, because the Snake will not dare look at her. In nature, the stork watches the snake in the eye. Good wins over evil.

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If the Snake happens upon a situation where the Stork is not alert, the Snake can strike with her cold and calculated nature, so that the situation turns ominous and negative.

The stork may well eat snakes, but the snake is smart enough to hide behind the stork’s back. The Queen of Clubs wins over the Queen of Hearts only if she can approach her unexpectedly … the snake will always strike at unguarded moments.

In the methodology described above, with the Stork preceding the Snake, the cards may want to say ominous change or a vitriolic turnaround.

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Simple logic and practical use…

…is simply reading the answers the cards give to the questions you ask. Those answers are very much subject to the context you create with the questions you ask.

What is a good question?

How do I let the cards answer?

Frequently recurring questions you will have to deal with as a card reader:

‘Is my partner cheating on me?’
‘Will my relationship go wrong again?’
‘Will I fail my exam because I’m nervous?’
‘Will I lose my current job?’

These questions are all about legitimate concerns. But if you ask them the way they’re stated above and then throw cards, chances are very high that you’ll miss the message!

Why?

For the simple reason that you’ll be confused about what the cards want to tell you.
The questions listed above are questions about what we fear or things that we do not want to happen.

The desired answer is NO! But no matter, what cards should now appear?
Which cards will differentiate the severity or degree of disaster?
The positive and good luck cards confirm that things are all right, yes?
The negative cards don’t appear … this is reassuring, isn’t it?

‘Is my partner cheating on me?’

We always read the cards in combination with each other, but to see the problem with negative questions clearly, let’s just look at one card this time:

Our answer is the Coffin.

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An ending, no, and never, are core meanings of the Coffin. What does the card say to our question?
No, she isn’t cheating? He never cheated? There was cheating, but only in the past?

This doesn’t feel right, that a heavy, negative card that signifies endings, illness, death, or melancholy in other layouts, is the appropriate answer here. It is illogical and leaves room for misinterpretation.

A good question is the foundation of your cartomancy, Context and a good framework are of paramount importance to achieve as accurate information as possible from the cards.

How do you best ask such questions?

First and foremost, you rephrase!

Don’t ask: ‘Is my partner cheating on me?’ in this question, you ask for your fears, or what you do not hope for, to be confirmed. It is much better to integrate your desire into the question.
‘Is my partner faithful to me?’, ‘Will my partner stay faithful?’, etc., since that’s what you wish for.

This phrasing gives you a very different context, because now positive and good luck cards can confirm your hopes and desires, while negative cards can express your fears.

The Cartomantic Mindset, Part 2

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:

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.
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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