An Interview With Lauren Forestell

unnamed2

(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.

photo 1

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.

unnamed

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/

An Interview With The Guild Founders – Part 2

1529174_10202591108526160_1864826402_o

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;

and

(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.

An Interview with the Guild Founders – Part I

1596577_10202591103366031_2032347389_o
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.