When it comes to reading the Petit Lenromand, I’m an unabashed throwback to an earlier era. The traditional decks with their simple, spare images are, as a rule, more immediately readable than many of the modern decks and their symbolic revisionism, however skillfully executed. As a trained graphic artist, I do appreciate a visually sumptuous tarot card, but Lenormand strikes me differently; especially in a spread as complex as the Grand Tableau, I want instantly recognizable images with zero ambiguity. The explosion of new decks of all kinds has not left Lenormand behind, and a fair number of imaginative reinterpretations are now on the market. Some of these – like Ciro Marchetti’s Gilded Reverie and Robert Place’s Burning Serpent Oracle – are wonderfully evocative, and firm favorites of my sitters. I also like the quirky vision of Paraluman Studio’s Gravenchase and Anino decks, and Edmund Zebrowski’s Pixie’s Astounding Lenormand – if a bit small – takes full advantage of Pamela Colman Smith’s divination-friendly artistry. But, unlike tarot cards, Lenormand cards aren’t normally used for meditation or spiritual self-development, so their practical usefulness is paramount in my opinion.
My main gripe with some of the latest offerings is that there seems to be a compulsion to modernize the images for a 21st Century customer base. Having the Rider sitting in a car or on a motorcycle adds nothing to the interpretation and seems like gratuitous tinkering to me. Turning the wooden Ship into an airplane or adding embellishments like people or animals to cards that historically have none also seems unnecessary. After all, it’s not like modern readers can’t unravel the implications of a vessel from the Golden Age of Sail. What it comes down to is artistic license rather than any pressing need to update the visual landscape. In the best cases it makes no significant difference, but in the worst it introduces confusion. A classic example of obfuscation is placing a nondescript heart-shaped object as a secondary element in a card titled “Heart.”
But enough of that. I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of the currently-available Lenormand decks that are on my short list for future purchase. In a traditional vein, just about anything from Lauren Forestell’s Game of Hope Lenormand on-line store (see my blogroll) is worthy of consideration, but I especially like the 1885 Wust. In the “less-is-more” category, the Wanderwust makes compelling use of discreet patches of well-chosen color in what is otherwise a black-and-white motif. The charming Fairy-tale Lenormand comes across as eminently readable, and the primitive-looking Ur-Lenormand appeals to my atavistic instincts. Anna K’s Lenormand is coming along nicely, and I’m eagerly awaiting its release. Lynn Boyle’s Nordic Lenormand, with its beautiful images from Scandinavian history and mythology, rounds out my wish-list for the foreseeable future.