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.