I’ve recently been involved in a debate about the necessity – or even the desirability – of large spreads. In tarot, I seldom use spreads smaller than five cards, and seven to ten cards is closer to my ideal (the Celtic Cross has been my mainstay for decades). In Lenormand, I prefer the Grand Tableau over all others because of its versatility, with the 3×3 square as a marginally adequate alternative (although, with increasing success, it’s starting to grow on me). As a kid and a budding artist, I was never content with the eight or sixteen-color Crayola sets and longed for the 64-crayon carton, which I never got my hands on before I outgrew crayons. So there is a psychological precursor for my attitude – call it “chromatic deprivation.”
I tend to think of Lenormand spreads in terms of narrative elements: a three-card line forms a phrase, a five-card line yields a sentence with seven cards lending slightly more detail, the nine-card square serves as a paragraph embodying several sentences, the fifteen-card “mini-tableau resembles a chapter of several paragraphs or even a multi-chapter “part,” and the thirty-six card Grand Tableau provides, if not a novel, at least a novella about the querent’s next six months to a year. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it works for me.
I’m very much a literalist when reading Lenormand. The only time I use intuition is in the blending of two or more cards into combinations, since not every card meaning in the set melds cleanly with every other and those matches that “feel” right within the scope of the reading are usually the best choice. Because I don’t give my imagination free rein to roam too far beyond the borders of what the individual cards are saying, I get more detail by including more cards in my layout. It’s a simple formula. The argument that too much information clouds the picture and precludes getting a simple answer to a question sounds valid on the surface, but the standard techniques for reading the cards allow one to explore as much or as little of the array as required. I have no problem “cherry-picking” what I need from a larger spread and ignoring the rest. Unlike mountaineer George Leigh Mallory, I don’t feel compelled to climb the mountain merely because “it’s there.”
This brings me to the subject of “topic” cards, of which the Lenormand system has several. The Heart and Ring excel as pointers to romantic potential, with the Ring also covering all types of contract or commitment; the Tree is the primary “health” card; the Fish (“abundance”) and the Bear (“power”) have to do, in part, with money matters; the Book represents knowledge and therefore education; the House reflects domestic affairs; the Lilies can speak of family, one facet of which is marital sex; the Whip relates more to recreational sex and similar types of vigorous repetitive activity; the Dog keys on friendships and other forms of loyalty and trustworthiness; depending on your preference, the Moon, the Anchor or the Fox can serve as the “work” card; the Ship, in addition to showing long-distance travel, can suggest an enterprise, and therefore business; the Clouds is the general purveyor of trouble. In the Grand Tableau, all of these cards are present and can be examined to the extent they figure into the context of the querent’s question, or otherwise disregarded.
In smaller spreads, unless one pre-positions them in the arrangement, the relevant topic cards have a reduced chance of showing up. While it isn’t essential that they do so in order to arrive at a judgment, my experience in getting a meaningful read on the subject without them has been decidedly mixed, relying too much on intuition to fashion the cards that do appear into the semblance of a useful answer. While we can achieve a reasonable approximation of the truth from such testimony, I’m not willing to place too much faith in it. Beyond the time it takes to lay out all 36 cards, the need to carefully scrutinize the panorama and the risk of over-stimulating your sitter (the “just one more question” syndrome), there is really no downside to using the Grand Tableau for almost any predictive scenario.