A Tight Rein and a Short Leash

In the Lenormand system of cartomancy, traditional meanings are concise and pragmatic, the epitome of “what you see is what you get.” Lenormand cards have been popular in Europe for a couple of centuries but have only recently gained prominence and wider use in the United States. Understandably, its emergence has lured a large number of people with  previous exposure to the more imaginative and intuitive methods of tarot divination into trying their hand at the alternative. One result of the influx of knowledgeable first-timers is that there is a strong urge to bring the techniques of visual free-association and psychological analysis along with them, and to tinker with the old ways until they are barely recognizable (a process I call “tarotization”). I came to Lenormand after over forty years with the tarot, and when I saw its elegant simplicity, my first instinct was “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” I recognized that the psychological layer that was tacked onto the “fortune-telling” framework of tarot at the dawn of the New Age is a poor fit for Lenormand, and dedicated myself to avoiding or at least downplaying its intrusion into my practice.

Individual Lenormand cards gain breadth and depth when read in combination with other cards, not so much from trying to decode the artwork in novel and creative ways (something that tarot-weaned Lenormand deck creators also try to do in pursuing a unique niche for their work). The main beef I have with it is that traditional Lenormand meanings are spare snippets of observable fact, while the more elaborate approach of tarot as presently understood tries to introduce “intentions” into the mix by automatically assuming a psychological perspective. I found it much more compelling to match speeds with the “bare-bones” mundane thrust of the Lenormand tradition (as exemplified by the “Philippe Lenormand Sheet”) than to embellish it with incidental observations from my visual reaction to the images. Think of it as following a precise roadmap as opposed to relying on the sometimes addled advice of a GPS; in my book, Lenormand reading is more a “learned” art than a wholly intuitive one.

Take the Rider and the Dog as an example. In the simplest traditional terms, the Rider portends the arrival of a message (and sometimes describes the messenger) and the Dog shows a faithful and reliable companion or associate (perhaps a trustworthy male advisor who might be a doctor or lawyer . . . I know, try to forget all those snide lawyer jokes).


The interpretation might be “a heartening message from (or about) a friend,” “supportive news brought by courier”  or “good (or at least honest) tidings from your doctor” depending on the context of the question and the influence of other cards in the reading. In the revisionist view, we might hear something like “a young man wants to be your friend.” The prediction of a well-favored message becomes a statement of intent rather than a straightforward observation, which to my mind is “human-interest” freight the system was never intended to bear and that can impart a homogenizing blandness where before there was only objective clarity. If that’s what you want, why not stick with tarot? it excels at that sort of thing.

Anyway, I thought this example was a clever way to tie the title of this post into my customary practice of keeping a firm grip on my imagination when reading the Lenormand cards. As always, your mileage may vary.


4 thoughts on “A Tight Rein and a Short Leash

  1. I’ve recently discovered the Lenormand cards and set myself to learn their ways. It’s proving to be quite a challenge (which I’m enjoying) as I have to stop myself from reading too much into the cards – I’ve been noticing that they can be quite literal. Today for instance (or yesterday rather!) my forecast for today was Clouds + Tower and I immediately thought “oh no! what disaster is about to befall me?!?” In fact, it was that the weather was cloudy (rain and storms) and we changed our plans for a walk to a visit to a gallery in a converted mill (complete with its own Tower – the immense mill chimney). I hope that I will be able to use them for others at some point, and offer some good old-fashioned fortune telling!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you don’t have it yet, get your hands on Andy Boroveshengra’s excellent beginner’s book. Also, Bjorn Meuris has his beginner’s course material out in two books now but they’re a little pricey for their abbreviated length. As far as literal, I like to say “A dog is a dog is a dog, it’s not a fashionable lady walking a poodle on a leash through a park.” Some modern decks have human figures littering the landscape where all they do is complicate and confuse the meaning.


  2. Do you know of any place where an individual might obtain a pdf of the Philippe Lenormand sheet? I am really struggling to find a bare bones, quick and dirty Lenormand sheet.

    Also, I enjoyed your article. It must have been quite the challenge to dismiss 40 years of tarot experience and learn to read Lenormand correctly and without additives…although I confess I enjoy locating where I my psychological landscape using the cards. What is the title of your book?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lauren Forestell’s Game of Hope Lenormand site (now run by her daughter, I believe) has always had it available from the home page; that’s where I got it when Andy Boroveshengra pointed me that way. The book material I sent to a couple of publishers is titled The Literal Tarot but I’ve had no response from either one so it’s still in limbo. I may have to self-publish. I’ve also been encouraged to turn my nearly 600 blog posts into a book the way James Ricklef did with his ATA newsletter column, which may be a better idea.


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