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.