The French Prophetess Behind the The Lenormand Deck | Cousins of Tarot Part 1
Let's talk a little about a part of cartomancy that goes mostly unknown and unexplored by the paranormal community. It's no one's fault besides a lack of knowledge, and a geographical disjucture. If we hop across the Atlantic to central Europe, specifically France and Germany, and head back in time a little over 200 years, we meet a fortune teller, or sybil, named Marie Anne Lenormand, (Le Normand). Madame Lenormand's work placed her in the circles of late 18th and early 19th Century high society. Her own published works are full of self-aggrandized and stretched tales of reading the cards for the likes of Napoleon and Robespierre, but the truth of that is disputed. Her talents for reading the cards from her personally adapted deck, however, was seen as a wondrous and highly sought after spectacle, and captivated Europe for decades.
Her own personal cards, the one modern decks are somewhat based off of today, evolved much like the more commonly known Tarot. An older parlor game, named "A Game of Hope", originated in Germany which was more akin to a racing game through cards, which used pictures and suits in play. That game served as the basis for the pictorial and numerical values of the Lenormand cards, and as a structure for the interpretations that come from the various spreads that can be laid. As interest in the occult grew over the years, the esotericism of the cards and their images became applied in divination practices in central Europe. Original parlor games using decks of elaborately painted and printed cards went through a transformation; the occult had needled its way in and their game play evolved into the imaginative and mystical applications we use them for today.
Lenormand cards only became popular, and named for Mlle Lenormand, after her death in 1843. Decks were created almost immediately by other famed sybils of the mid-19th Century, which used the celebrity of the Lenormand name to market them. Thanks to the work of the The Tarosophy Tarot Association, an exact reproduction deck has been created, while the original cards are preserved by the British Museum in London as well.
By 1845, just 2 years after her passing, a 54-card deck called “Le Grand Jeu de Mlle. Lenormand” was published. A 36-card deck called, the “Petit Lenormand”, was also released. Unfortunately, both of these decks were not actually interpretations based on her deck, they just used her name. Multiple artists and creators have published various decks since then, all under the title of "Lenormand cards", as her name became cannon for this style of deck. Research in the 1970's turned up clear connections between the German Game of Hope, and the evolution of the Lenormand deck in the mid-1800's. The imagery is nearly identical, as is the spread that comprises the Grand Tableau. The cards offer rewards or penalties, depending on the layout, giving this Germanic game an obvious familiarity to the duality of Tarot cards.
The cards themselves are seen as more of an oracle deck, as the images deal with everyday happenings, and provide practical outcomes, rather than a more psychological interpretation like Tarot. The cards work in direct correlation with each other, and are typically spread and interpreted in pairs. Larger spreads using all 36 cards are called a Grand Tableau. Fortunately, like Tarot, the cards in all their modern versions come with a book of instructions and the meaning of each image to get the ball rolling.
The way Madame Lenormand read her cards, and made her apparently astoundingly accurate predictions, came from her own evolution of learning, (which she claimed was taught to her by a master card reader as well), and working with a willing, eager-to-believe public. Due to so many theatrical and promotional writings about Mlle Lenormand, factual information from her life history is difficult to discern. She was definitely, however, considered the premiere cartomancy expert of her time by enough people to be written about and later marketed into a cartomancy staple for over a century. Whether she prophetically instructed the likes of Napolean, Empress Josephine, and their court in their future endeavors and life paths, or whether her own exaggerated writing about it caused people to believe it, we'll never have the answer.
While I don't think I'll delve into using these cards directly any time soon, I do absolutely love the original deck's imagery. There's an air of early 19th Century extravagancy, crystal goblets and silver jewelry under low-lit gas lamps, heavy fabric and draped doorways, that they convey. The cards have an aged but gilded notion of their budding use in the occult, and look as though they do actually hold the all the mysteries yet to be discovered. Oddly, or fortunately, it's the year of our Lordt, 2020, and we still exist within the same swirling ether of mysteries Madame Lenormand imagined, interpreted and evoked from her renowned cartomancy.
Find out how to create and read the Grand Tableau here.
The Tarosophy Tarot Association and original deck recreation can be found here.
Thanks for reading,