When Enough May Still Be Too Much

About half the time, I’m struck by a clever title for a new post and then have to go hunting for a topic to wrap it around. You can probably spot them with little difficulty, although you may have to think about a few. Here I want to talk about the trend of modern writers to load up Lenormand cards with a smorgasbord of keyword meanings that are more a product of the author’s vivid but overactive imagination than anything remotely connected to the tradition. The Rosetta Stone for the Lenormand reader is the one-page Philippe Lenormand Sheet that was shipped with most new decks for over 100 years; anything much more complex than that is tantamount to “gilding the lily” (in short, too much of “enough”). While amending the dated references is certainly fair game, and expanding on the original concepts is justifiable as long as the lineage remains apparent, going off on wild tangents fueled by free-association from the images is more a testament to the human penchant for putting our personal stamp on the status quo than to any pressing need for elaboration.

One of the things that fascinated me about the Lenormand system when I first encountered it in 2012 was how much can be accomplished with so little in the way of interpretive guidance. A couple of keywords for each card to address different contexts and a sensitive touch for the blending of card meanings in combination (what astrologers call “synthesis”), together with a handful of simple narrative protocols, were all that were needed to make practical judgments with the cards. A minimalist approach that adheres to the basics has always worked best for me. In most cases, I’m inclined to see a glass as “half-full” rather than “half-empty” and in need of topping-off. I never found any sense in getting all psychological with my Lenormand readings, since tarot – while it still can’t hold a candle to natal astrology in that regard – is better suited to the purpose. I want to see where a situation is likely to go, how it might develop over time, and not how the querent thinks or feels about it.

Once we decide on which card in a combination is the “subject” and which are the modifiers, we can craft simple phrases that convey the essence of the matter as we understand it. To use one of Caitlin Matthews’ examples, I want to see “the red book,” but not necessarily “the red book with the leather binding and the gilt letters on the spine.” It reminds me of one of the old grammar-school reading tropes so many of us “of a certain age” learned when we were very young: “See Spot run.” It never said “See Spot with the red collar and the brown patch on his face run across the newly-mowed lawn while Dick, Jane and Sally chase him and the sun shines in the sky.” That would have added nothing to the learning experience, and would have been information overload for a first-grader. A real-life example I can think of is a friend’s reaction when she first saw Ciro Marchetti’s version of the Dog card, which shows a friendly-looking canine holding a leash in its mouth: “Oh look, he wants to go out. Maybe he has to “go!” Understandable from an intuitive perspective, perhaps, but certainly far off the mark.

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