I realized yesterday that I’ve been remiss in not venturing into anything other than tarot lately, so this will bring me up to date at least on the subject of Lenormand cartomancy. I’m writing mainly for those tarot enthusiasts who have yet to explore its alternate reality but are intrigued by a new challenge. A few words of advice :
Perhaps most importantly, you can leave most of your finely-honed creative visualization (aka “free-association”) skills at the door. Lenormand is decidedly non-intutive in its operation, being far more literal and pragmatic than mystical or psychological. Each card represent a very narrow range of meaning that only gains broader scope of interpretation through its combination with other cards, both in narrative flow and positional significance. Intuition certainly plays a role in shading the degree of influence to accord each card in a set, but there are still a few guidelines for its application. It’s a much more structured system than tarot, so if you’re used to just letting your imagination loose on the images you could have a discouraging “square peg in a round hole” experience. The recent trend to include extraneous elements in Lenormand card design (usually putting people in scenes that have no need of them) seems to be aimed at making the atmosphere more familiar to tarot transplants, but it does a disservice to those who are serious about penetrating to Lenormand’s traditional roots. So get yourself a basic, inexpensive deck like the Piatnik or the Blue Owl to start.
Next, before shelling out for one of the more comprehensive Lenormand textbooks, get your hands on a freely-downloadable copy of the “Philippe Lenormand (PL) Sheet,” arguably the very first “Little White Book” ever packed with a deck of cards. It includes all of the core knowledge needed to get a firm grip on what each card is about, and it provides an interpretive baseline that will mostly hold true (with some allowance for historical obsolescence) throughout your adventure with the cards. This was the single best suggestion I received when starting out. When you’re ready for more, I heartily recommend Andy Boroveshengra’s Lenormand, 36 Cards as the most accessible next-level treatise.
There is a widely held opinion that one should begin study and practice with simple layouts, working up through 3-card and 5-card lines to the 9-card “3×3 square” and ultimately to the crown jewel of the Lenormand universe, the 36-card Grand Table, or “GT” (which is the conceptual blueprint for the PL Sheet). I think it all depends on how familiar you are with large, complex tarot spreads, and how much “meat on the bone” you want in your Lenormand readings. If you only do three-card layouts with tarot, you will be right at home with this approach. However, after learning the ground-rules for navigating the landscape, the only reliable way to see how the cards work in combination is to simply combine them and begin synthesizing their interaction. After working with the tarot for several decades, I was used to juggling a lot of details in my readings, so I jumped right into the GT and never looked back; the breadth and depth of practical insight on all facets of a querent’s life that can be gleaned from a single throw of the cards is truly remarkable, and its deconstruction into manageable narrative vignettes is both economical and eminently logical.
If you can, ruthlessly suppress the urge to say “Lenny” instead of “Lenormand.” Not only does it mark you as a dilettante, I think it plays into a trivializing of what is a fully-realized philosophical method of divination that predates the Jungian “psychologizing” of the other perfectly valid system of fortune-telling that once was the tarot. I see it as more pernicious than merely a handy shorthand way of coping with an awkward non-English word (which Anglophones can’t seem to agree on how to pronounce anyway); it feeds the appetite for the kind of “fast-food” reductionism of the weightier aspects of esoteric thought that seem indigestible at “first bite.” There is a telling line from the Tom Rush song Kids These Days that nails it perfectly: “Kids these days” he grumbles, “don’t like to chew, but they sure can swallow.”
Finally, know that Lenormand falls squarely into the category of “easy to learn but hard to master.” When I was the moderator of the Lenormand sub-forum at Aeclectic Tarot in its final year of existence, I was often flattered by my forum mates for my apparent expertise. But even after seven years of practice I still see myself as very much a journeyman. (It probably helped me to retain a sense of perspective that true Lenormand masters (and willing mentors) Andy Boroveshengra and Mary K. Greer were still active on the forum at that time, and Rana George had left not long before). Besides, I subscribe wholeheartedly to Terry Pratchett’s observation in Monstrous Regiment: “The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to those who think they’ve found it.”