The popularity of Lenormand cards seem to have been revived for contemporary times, at least here in the U.S. Lately it seems that every tarot enthusiast will go through a phase of intrigue for these Lenormands. Well the other day a student asked me to guide her studies of the Lenormands. From there, I decided to write this nutshell summary. For the tarot enthusiast who has now suddenly taken on an interest in Lenormand cards, this post will serve as an introduction.
They’re oracle cards, not tarot, and generally speaking, they’re sub-divided into 2 kinds: the Petit Lenormand, with 36 cards total, which is the more popular version here in the U.S., and the Grand Jeu Lenormand, with 54 cards. I have not yet dabbled with the Grand Jeu Lenormand due to difficulties in getting a deck where I live (that is, for an economically reasonable price…because, sure, you can buy anything via the Internet these days), so I’ll focus on the Petit Lenormand only.
The oracle cards are named after Marie Anne Lenormand, who is considered one of the greatest and most influential French cartomancers of all time. However, the cards were not conceived by her. They were conceived after her death and may or may not have even been based on any of the cards used by Marie Anne Lenormand. They’re called “Lenormand cards” pretty much for marketing purposes. In fact, they may not even be French. Johann Kaspar Hechtel, a German businessman and factory owner, is credited with designing the Petit Lenormand cartomancy deck, initially as a parlour game called “The Game of Hope.” So in many ways, the name “Lenormand cards” might be a bit misleading.
Different Approaches to Card Interpretation
You may hear Lenormand practitioners refer to various schools or traditions of card interpretation. Particular sets of meaning of the cards have become popularized by region. There’s the French tradition, the German tradition, the Dutch, and the Russian tradition, to name a few. Some may further flesh the divisions out to note the Swiss-German or Austrian-German approach under the German tradition or the Dutch-Belgian approach under the Dutch.
Don’t get too caught up in traditions. These tradition distinctions, i.e., the German tradition, the Russian, or the French tradition, etc., simply represent regional differences. If the deck you’re using is based on a Lenormand deck originating from Germany or even Austria, then the LWB accompanying the deck is probably based on the German tradition. If you’re using a French Lenormand, then the LWB accompanying the deck is probably based on the French.
My suggested practice is to start with the LWB (“little white booklet”) for your Lenormand deck, but if a particular assigned meaning to a symbol doesn’t align with your personal attributions to that symbol, go with your personal attributions. So while the various “traditions” of interpretation are a great starting point, don’t adhere to it without critical thought. When there is a clash between your intuition and a book, always go with your intuition. If you ever want to be good at something, then you have to trust yourself.
Lenormand Card Interpretation Generally
Unlike tarot cards, which tell a narrative with each card, Lenormand cards depict a singular symbol per card, one singular concept. Thus, each Lenormand card is like a linguistic radical, or semantic root for the construction of Lenormand’s very own unique language system.
When you draw the cards into a spread, the cards form one cohesive statement, expression, or idea. Each card in the spread represents a noun, a verb, a predicate, a direct object or subject complement, adjective, or adverb. In complex multi-card spreads, such as the Grand Tableau, strings of cards can indicate prepositional phrases or independent clauses, and interpreted altogether, form the narrative. Like tarot, Lenormand card meanings can shift slightly based on the other cards in the spread. However unlike tarot, there are limitations to the extent that a Lenormand card’s meaning can be modified. That is why you may hear some folks say that Lenormand cards cannot be read intuitively.
The Signifier Card
What is traditionally in many older texts referred to as the significator, I refer to as the signifier.
In selecting a signifier in tarot, you can start with any factor, characteristic, or intent as reference. Every tarot practitioner will have a slightly different, personalized approach to selecting signifiers. Some use court cards, based on gender, age, and complexion. Other base the selection on date of birth. Still others choose the signifier from the Major Arcana.
In the Lenormands, it’s 28, Gentleman for a male and 29, Lady for a female and that is pretty much how everyone does it across the board.
Card reversals are highly significant to me in a tarot reading and will change the shade of meaning for the card in a particular spread.
However, with the Lenormand, I do not read with reversals. Each card is assigned one idea only, one root concept, and any modification to it would be the same way a word might get modified grammatically in sentence construction.
As I understand it, the majority of Lenormand practitioners do not observe card reversals with the deck, whereas in tarot, the majority do. If however you do read with reversals with the Lenormand, generally reversals will indicate attenuated energies, or something else obstructing the trajectory of that particular card. You would then look to surrounding cards to identify what is obstructing the purpose of that reversed card.
If you’re good at English grammar and know how to diagram sentences, that skill will be indispensable in reading Lenormand spreads. 2-card spreads are the easiest to begin with. 1 card represents the subject and the other card represents the verb or action card.
Here are a few examples:
Say you draw 2 cards for a reading. Identify one as a subject and the other as an action card. In the above example, I selected the Snake (7) to represent a subject, which in this case most likely indicates a deceitful woman. The Book (26) suggests secrets. Reading that as a complete thought, you might interpret it to mean you should watch out for a deceitful woman who is intentionally withholding information from you. This could suggest an affair, a backstabbing female colleague, or a woman in your social circle who is going out of her way to undermine you and she is doing this with secrets.
Say you draw 3 cards for a reading. Identify one as a subject. Here, the Gentleman (28) is most likely representative of a subject. This reading pertains to a man. The remaining 2 cards should be read together. The Moon (32) suggests (per my interpretive approach) honor that will be bestowed upon the subject, or in this case, the man represented by the Gentleman (28). The Fish (34) suggest money. This reading probably pertains to career matters. Someone is going to get a promotion at work!
I was drawn toward the Dog (18) as the subject of this reading. So this reading is about a friend. The Birds (12) card seems to modify the subject here, suggesting miscommunications, misunderstandings, or minor setbacks in the relationship. Crossroads (22) is the action card here: a decision needs to be made. A fork in the path is drawing near. Clouds (6) describe that fork in the path. Since it looks like the path in the right foreground of 22 is headed into the darker clouds on the left of 6, a storm is coming. Misunderstandings between you and a friend have led you two a crossroads in the friendship. Think twice and do not act in haste toward your friend, because if you do, you make take the wrong fork in the path and the relation will end in grief for all. The friend is represented by the Dog here, who is a loyal and trustworthy companion. Do not so lightly throw away this friendship.
In any Lenormand spread, each card represents one cohesive concept, either a subject or an action/event or the card describes a subject or action/event. Read the series of cards as a sentence or even compound sentence to reveal its meaning. These sentences are often declaratory, and thus are effective for fortune-telling purposes, unlike tarot, which are more ruminative in nature and can therefore be adapted for multiple purposes, from divination to psychological apperception or mind-mapping uses. Tarot is better suited for free exploration of the unconscious.
The Grand Tableau Spread
Like how the Celtic Cross Spread has effectively become the most popular go-to multi-card spread for tarot, the Grand Tableau is the most popular go-to multi-card spread for Lenormands. The Grand Tableau utilizes all 36 cards of the Petit Lenormand deck. There are several versions of the Grand Tableau.
Here are 3 of the most popular:
- 4 rows of 9 cards per row
- 4 rows of 8 cards per row + bottom row of 4 cards centered
- 6 rows of 6 cards per row
Go with the layout that speaks to you the most and stick with it. Consistency is key for accurate readings. I like to use 4 rows of 9 cards per row, so that is the one I’ll explain here. However, the techniques discussed in this section can be applied to any of the above three layouts.
To illustrate the points of this section, let’s use a case study:
First, locate the signifier card. The signfier card is your point of reference for the reading. If you’re reading for a Seeker (i.e., the client or the querent) who is a man, then the signifier, the Gentleman (28) is at F4 above. If you’re reading for a woman, the signifier, the Lady (28) is at D2 above.
Now, the cards below the signifier represent the Seeker’s unconscious or internal plane. However, these cards also represent the elements in Seeker’s life that he or she has control over. Cards above the signifier represent the Seeker’s conscious or external plane. These cards represent the world around the Seeker and how that world affects his or her life. Generally, these cards are people or events that Seeker cannot control directly.
In the example given, if the reading is for a man, then there is a lot going on in his life right now, almost chaotic, and he is going to feel a bit helpless and out of control in the face of this onslaught of happenings. If the reading is for a woman, then her life at this time seems more managed and under control.
Cards in the same row as the signifier represent the Seeker’s current life trajectory, past to present, left to right in a chronological order of significant events.
The man is probably a well-accomplished professional, i.e., the Sun (31) and may also be a father, i.e., Child (13). The future progression of Book (26) for knowledge, Stars (16) for fortune, and Tower (19) for work, the corporate world, or corporate hierarchy might hint to me that this man is a rising star in his field and may attain one of the C-suite executive officer positions someday. The House (4) and Ship (3) in his past suggest he’s traveled far from home to seek out his fortunes. The Lilies (30) also suggest to me a honorable, virtuous man.
If this was a reading for a woman, then she sure does seem to surround herself socially with a lot of characters. There are a lot of subjects in her direct row (row 2). She recently overcame betrayals, probably from a woman friend or peer, but luckily she avoided the worst of the threat that the woman posed, i.e. series progression of Fox (15), Snake (7), and Scythe (10) to the left of the woman signifier. As a result, though, she seems overly guarded, i.e., Bear (15), which is what’s preventing her from finding a rewarding and committed romance, i.e., Heart (24). The Ring (25) immediately below her may suggest broken vows in the past. Likewise, the Stork (17) suggests a change in her environment soon, the coming of some good luck, read: Heart (24) with Clover (2) below it, acquiring friends in high places, read: Dog (18) with Garden (20), followed by some pretty bad luck, read: Rat (23) with Cross (36). There will be theft. But she’ll overcome it all, read: Anchor (35). Her life circumstances will see her through to great commercial success, i.e., the Anchor (35).
Cards in the same column as the signifier represent the Seeker’s present moment.
Taking the example of the man, I’d say a lot has happened in his present that may have felt well out of his control (since the cards all appear above him). The Clover (2) suggests a real luck of the draw, toss of the dice, and sadly for him, it may have resulted in a broken romance, i.e., reading the Heart (24) with the Coffin (8). In light of the child the Seeker’s row (row 4), I might ask whether there has been a divorce or whether there’s been profound strife between him and his child’s mother.
Cards in a diagonal, top right shooting down at the signifier represent forthcoming influences on the Seeker that involve present day decisions that need to be made. Diagonal bottom right shooting up toward the signifier represent unconscious influences that will emerge soon and come to light. Diagonal top left shooting down at the signifier represent the direct trajectory of past external, conscious influences. Diagonal bottom left shooting up at the signifier represent the direct trajectory of past internal, unconscious influences.
Now taking the example of the woman, there sure is a lot on her mind (the two diagonals below her). Good news is coming, i.e., Letter (27), which will confirm the intuitive feelings she’s been having about the pending changes in her life, i.e., Stork (17). A man may be involved, i.e., the Gentleman (28) and she may even think it’s love, i.e., its appearance in the same column as the Heart (24). New demands in her life may pressure her to max out her resources, i.e., Key (33). The proximity of the Mountain (21) card to her signifier suggests to me enemies. She is for sure not yet over the sting of betrayal she suffered at the hands of the Snake (7).
Knighting is a technique used by intermediate to advanced practitioners of the Lenormand. It is essentially another way of determining significant influences.
First, locate the signifier. All the cards that represent positions that the signifier could move to on a chessboard if it was a knight piece are called the knight cards. Similar to the knight piece in chess, these knight cards represent imminent action in the Seeker’s life. The knighted cards to the signifier’s right represent the elements that will directly help the Seeker advance onward to the next stage of his or her life or toward the Seeker’s objectives. The ones to the signifier’s left represent past actions that still weigh down on the Seeker. Also, if there are few knight cards (i.e., the signifier is located near one of the corners of the spread), the Seeker may be in a repressed position or feel stuck between a rock and a hard place right now. If all four corners are clear, then the Seeker is in a position of empowerment.
The above illustration shows the knighted cards as to the female signifier. Cards indicated with a red box are the knighted cards. The red line from the signifier and through the two cards leading up to the knight cards represent the causes of the effect that the third knighted card represents.
Let’s focus on the future side for the female signifier. The first knighted card leads from the Bear (15) through the Heart (24) to the Coffin (8). What goes upward represents the most likely outcome. What goes downward represents an alternative future or possibility based on the same events (i.e., the Bear and the Heart), but instead of the Coffin (8) happening, the Clover (2) could occur instead. Here, I would interpret the indication to be in the love sector of the Seeker’s life. She looks for financial dependence, security, and a sense of protection from a lover and one such relationship is coming up ahead. It’s not clear, though, whether that relationship, which she has grounded on a sense of dependence on the lover, will lead to a great deal of grief, i.e., the Coffin (8) or she will luck out and secure a sense of happiness, albeit a fleeting one, i.e., Clover (2). The more likely outcome is the one going upward, or the Coffin (8).
Shifting the focus downward to the other two lowest knighted cards, we examine the Seeker’s unconscious. The knighted card on the left represent the past unconscious and the one on the right represent the future unconscious. The Child (13) here suggests a ticking biological clock: she’s been pining for a child, but it hasn’t happened for her yet. The Child (13) card, which is the result of the Bear (15) and the Stork (17) suggests a committed relationship where she is dependent on another. If she bears child, also considering the juxtaposition of the Child card with the Clover (2), it may work out for the best. In her past is the Ship (3), which suggests that she has traveled geographically far from home in an attempt to run away from emotional grief, pain, and adversities that she never ended up resolving for herself, i.e., note the trajectory of Scythe (10) to Mountain (21) and finally to the Ship (3). When the Mountain (21) appears close to the signifier card, it indicates obstacles.
Mirroring is about identifying the cards that represent the Seeker’s own reflection, or how the Seeker views him or herself in light of the circumstances indicated by the cards. Reflections are what the signifier sees from the standpoint of the ego.
The above illustration examines the male signifier, indicated by a red box. To the left indicated by a blue box is his horizontal reflection. The Sun (31) represents how he views his past. He is quite proud of his great accomplishments. He’s done better than most of his peers and he knows it. However, the Coffin (8) represents how he views his present. He has been deeply depressed by his feelings of inertia. He was on such a fast-track to accomplishment before, but right now he has hit a plateau and he doesn’t know how to get out of it to advance on.
Let’s examine the mirror cards for the female signifier. Her horizontal reflection is toward her future, the Heart (24). She sees and yearns for love. She sees herself as a lover and wants desperately to be loved and feel love. This is consistent with her vertical reflection inward. While the Ring (25) can indicate generally a contract, here it most likely represents marriage. This is a Seeker who yearns for a happy marriage and sees herself in a committed marriage.
By understanding the theory of the Lenormand cards and the Grand Tableau spread, you can make better sense of the reading process and feel more comfortable with formulating your own unique approach with the Lenormand. The 36 symbols of the Petit Lenormand represent the 36 fundamental units that make up human civil life.
In a Grand Tableau spread, the signifier card anchors the reading. Cards closest to the signifier, in a particular proximity to it (e.g., same row, same column, or diagonal) or in a particular pattern-relation to the signifier (e.g., knighting, mirroring, etc.) represent the strongest fundamental units influencing that Seeker’s life. The ones that are outside the pattern have weaker influences, but are still present, because all 36 units are always present in our lives. Thus, the patterns you see in the card spread are synchronous with patterns that occur in our lives. Up to down represent the planes of consciousness. Left to right (or right to left, depending on the methodology you adopt) represent the Seeker’s life chronology.
Note the distinction in theory here between tarot and Lenormand oracle cards. In tarot, the 78 cards are a representative of the akashic records compendium, comprising of the infinity of human intelligence and experience, irrespective of space-time. The theory of tarot is to select a signifier card as your ego to ground a reading toward your personal energies and then draw out the forces from that cosmic compendium that would best offer insight. In my view and practice, the tarot is more philosophical.
In the Lenormand, all 36 cards always represent 36 thematic elements present in your life at any given moment. Right now, all 36 cards affect you, though at different degrees of intensity and relevance. At all times, all 36 cards represent your current human experience, but some require your immediate attention while others are resolved or latent issues. The Grand Tableau spread is the best demonstration of the theory, which perhaps is why it has become the most popular Lenormand spread. In my view and practice, the Lenormand is more existential.
Lenormand Deck Recommendations
Typically, the decks are smaller than tarot decks. See above. On the left side of the ruler are the Lenormands. On the right is a tarot card from the Dreaming Tarot deck.
The Austrian based Piatnik’s Mlle Lenormand Cartomancy Deck is my current go-to Lenormand. The Swiss Blue Owl Lenormand is also highly rated. However, the U.S. Games Systems version has text on each card to aid in interpretation. If text written on cards sounds helpful to you, then consider the Blue Owl Lenormand. If text written on cards sounds cheesy, as it does for me, then I do not recommend it. Then there is the French Cartomancy deck by Lo Scarabeo/Llewellyn.
Like tarot, there are bunches of other Lenormand versions available. Since there really is no regulation of what constitutes a Lenormand, be careful and discerning. Just because a deck calls itself a Lenormand doesn’t mean it’s a Lenormand. For that matter, what the heck defines a Lenormand anyway when one legit version has 36 cards and yet another legit version has 54? For whatever it’s worth, what’s stopping me from publishing, I don’t know, a Benebell Lenormand with 44 cards? No, seriously.
My Overall Review
It makes sense for someone interested in tarot studies to also dabble with the Lenormand. These oracle cards are a lot of fun and make for great parlor entertainment.