Lenormand is a form of cartomancy: the practice of using cards as a tool for divination. A Lenormand deck is made up of 36 cards that, like the Tarot, each have a unique meaning. Although Lenormand may not be as popular in the mainstream as tarot and oracle cards, it has a rich history and can be a powerful divination tool.
The History of Lenormand
The earliest version of Lenormand cards originated in Germany in the late 1700s, though their use was popularized in French salons. At the time they were not called “Lenormand,” but rather known as “Coffee Cards” because their symbols were based on those from coffee ground fortune telling. The oldest surviving deck is from 1799 and can be found in the British Museum in London.
The 36-card deck was used in a parlor game (another similarity to the Tarot) known as “The Game of Hope,” in which the 36 cards were arranged into a 6x6 square to essentially create a game board. Two dice were then thrown to see how many cards a player would move their marker across. Each card had bonuses or penalties for landing on it, with the goal of the game being to land on the second to last card, the Anchor.
Lenormand cards transitioned from playing cards into divination tools through the influence of French psychic Marie Anne Lenormand, also known as Madame Lenormand. Born in Alençon, France in 1772, Marie Ann Lenormand worked as a fortune teller and bookseller in Paris during the 18th century. In addition to other divination tools, Marie Ann began using coffee cards during her readings, adapting the meanings into symbols for divining. Marie Ann was very successful as a psychic, even earning enough acclaim to attract the interest of political figures such as the revolutionary Robespierre, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and Empress Josephine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte—all of whom became her clients.
Although Marie Ann was known for cartomancy, there were no official Lenormand Decks published during her life. The first Lenormand deck, Grand jeu de Mlle Lenormand, was created in France in 1845, two years after her death. Interestingly, the Grand jeu de Mlle Lenormand was a 54-card deck that bears little similarity to what most contemporaries think of as Lenormand. Rather, most modern Lenormand decks are modeled after the Petit Le Normand, published in Germany in 1846 and modeled after the 36-card deck from “The Game of Hope.”
Although we do not know the exact card deck Marie Ann Lenormand used for her readings, her name and reputation were powerful enough to inspire the creation and publication of the official divination cards that would continue to be used today.
Lenormand & Tarot & Oracle, Oh My!
Now that we’ve briefly covered the history of the Lenormand, you may be wondering how Lenormand is different from other forms of cartomancy like Tarot and Oracle? To make it simple, let’s look at the unique aspects of each:
Lenormand – A Lenormand deck has 36 cards, the names and meanings of which are the same across any standard deck. Lenormand cards create a story; during a reading multiple cards are arranged so that the positions of the cards in relation to one another specify their message. Generally, Lenormand deals with more tangible, straightforward events and issues, whereas Tarot and Oracle tend to delve more into the emotional and psychological.
Tarot – A Tarot deck has 78 cards, the names and meanings of which are the same across any standard deck. Like Lenormand, tarot cards tell a story and can read upright or reversed, as well as with a spread or without one. The Tarot tends to deal with the emotional and psychological in addition to the tangible world, and the four different suits of the Tarot help contextualize this during a reading.
Oracle – Unlike Lenormand or Tarot, there is no standard deck for oracle cards—each deck is entirely unique, with the card amounts, meanings, and themes being determined by their individual creator. Oracle cards generally serve better for singular messages; they convey ideas rather than telling a complex story the way Lenormand and Tarot are designed to.
Lenormand, Tarot, and Oracle are all fantastic tools for cartomancy. As they have some inherent differences, you may find that one is easier for you to learn or read with than another. However, many people also use these different decks together during divination.
Learning to Read Lenormand
If you’re interested in learning to use a Lenormand deck in your divination practice, here are a few ideas of how to get started.
1. Find Your Deck – There are many Lenormand decks to choose from, and though they will all include the same 36 cards, the style and artwork will vary. Especially because cartomancy is such a visual divination technique, it’s important that you resonate with the imagery of the deck you choose. A deck with images that spark your imagination will be easier to connect with intuitively. At Downtown Tarot Company we have a selection of Lenormand decks available that can be browsed in-store or online.
2. Read A Book – Many books have been published about Lenormand, with topics ranging from beginner’s guides, to spread ideas, to in-depth analyses of the cards. One of the books we recommend at Downtown Tarot for those looking for an introduction to the practice is Learning Lenormand: Traditional Fortune Telling for Modern Life. For those interested in both Lenormand and Tarot, the book Cartomancy With the Lenormand and the Tarot may be an interesting read.
3. Find Spreads – If you prefer a more hands-on learning approach, a great way to dive right into reading is to find some spread to practice with. Spreads are essentially a template for arranging the cards, where each position has a designate meaning. Spreads can range from simple 3-card arrangements to complex arrangements like the famous Grand Tableau: a spread that uses all 36 cards and covers multiple areas of your past, present, future, and overall life. You can find books on Lenormand spreads as well as many online resources.
4. Take A Class – At Downtown Tarot we host fun, collaborative Lenormand classes, ranging from beginner to advanced levels. Our classes allow you to learn from a professional reader as well as practice with other students. Our next Learning Lenormand level 1 class begins on Sunday, February 26.