“Is It Butter or . . .”

Some of you old-timers will remember the Parkay Margarine commercials from the 1970s where the Parkay box kept denying its oily origins by blurting “Butter!” Something similar has been happening in the world of Lenormand reading since the New Age tarot crowd got hold of it, and it has been the cause of recurring “flame wars” on the forums between the (mostly European) traditionalists and the (mostly American) modernists. Lenormand undeniably has a formal interpretive structure built into its method, and it is generally most effective when read literally rather than improvisationally. Intuitive tarot readers who come to the Lenormand cards after playing fast-and-loose with the tarot iconography seem to be intent on importing their imaginative, fluid and relatively informal style of reading and securing themselves a beachhead among the musty relics of an earlier era.

This sort of thing seems to be prevalent in trendy “postmodern” Lenormand circles, as if it’s viewed as some kind of challenge to “let light and air into” a stale system. Either that, or people just want to leave their personal mark on it. I often say that tarot is infinitely adaptable and flexible, with multiple layers of meaning possible in a single card. But I don’t extend the same latitude to Lenormand, which seems to benefit from being more narrowly focused. No more than a handful of utilitarian definitions is needed for each card; the creativity comes in the blending. Too often, being a self-proclaimed intuitive reader is code language for not wanting to have to learn anything, and just winging it. With tarot, I honed my intuitive chops the opposite way: by learning as much as I could first, which ignited my imagination, inspiration and ingenuity, the raw material that intuitive insight is made of. It was a relief to come upon Lenormand when I did, since the learning component seems to be a big part of the action, and intuitive free-association is a non-essential embellishment (perhaps even at times a detriment).

I find it interesting that learning and using the Lenormand method has really tightened up and added precision to my tarot reading. I worked solely with a non-scenic pip deck for decades and had to interpret it mainly with what I knew, not what I saw through free-association from the images. The cards were symbolic sign-posts and did not embody narrative vignettes. Not having a pre-loaded (and often unhelpful) story to contend with, I was able to pick out the “bones” of a reading’s framework more easily and effectively. Coming to Lenormand with that background, I was immediately enticed by its “intricate simplicity.” With Lenormand, the extraneous “flesh” is minimal and the “bones” show through. I find it lean and compelling as-is, and see little need to pad it with imaginative embellishments in most situations, however inspired they seem at the moment. Lenormand modernists insist that their flavor is genuine “butter,” but the traditionalists know it’s only “margarine” after all, no matter how deceptively tasty it is to undiscerning palates. I’ve discovered over the course of the debate that I love Lenormand not only for what it is, but also for what it isn’t: a malleable step-child of the tarot. Literal interpretation in Lenormand reading works just fine for it’s purpose, which I don’t consider to include psychological profiling. To be honest, I don’t see that as a strength of tarot either.

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