About Face: I….the Lenormand | Helen Riding

Published by Alison Cross on

6 Clouds:  Lenormand (pub: Konigs Furt)

To ring some changes, I thought we could explore the Face Cards in the Lenormand Oracle, to see whether they work like Court Cards in Tarot (and if not – how in the heck do you use them?!).  My search has led to two wonderful people – Helen Riding and Andy BC – both extremely talented and well-versed in the lore of the Lenormand Oracle.

I first came across it a couple of years ago when I bought one that had been damaged from our TABI Conference stock.  Most widely used in mainland Europe, the Lenormand has not been as popular in the English-speaking world – UNTIL NOW!!!  The Lenormand is enjoying a massive surge in popularity and I thought I’d call upon this duo of Lennie Experts to talk about the deck and its history AND the use of face cards in some of the Lenormand decks.

In this first post of two, Helen Riding very kindly agreed to help get us all up to speed with the deck:

So – tell me first of all how you became interested in this deck, Helen

I was drawn to the Lenormand section in the Aeclectic Tarot Forum where Sylvie Steinbach had set up a free study group in 2007, the year she published The Secrets of the Lenormand Oracle which is one of the few English language books on Lenormand currently available. Early in 2010 I bought her book and several others and got hooked. I later put Lenormand aside while studying the Elder Futhark runes and Ogham but got caught up in the latest Lenormand wave on Facebook this year. I was reading Mystical Origins of the Tarot by Paul Huson at the time which shed some light on the meaning of the Lenormand suits and got me more interested in the history of the Lenormand system.

Tell me about the Lenormand deck (briefly – who was MMe Lenormand, what has she got to do with the decks available today?

Mlle Lenormand was a famous French fortune-teller in the 18th century. Despite the Age of Enlightenment, laws prohibiting fortune-telling and religious opposition, fortune-telling games and cards were extremely popular in Europe and Lenormand was a highly illustrious figure. After Lenormand’s death in 1843, publishers took the liberty of using her name on several fortune-telling decks including a 36 card deck which it later transpired was published in Germany c1799 as part of a board game with a secondary use of fortune-telling. Various artistic interpretations of this “Lenormand” deck were subsequently sold in Germany where all sorts of games for learning and entertainment were extremely popular in the 19th century. The association with Lenormand no doubt boosted the popularity of the deck and ensured its survival long after many other historical cartomancy decks have been forgotten. Even today many people still cling to the romantic notion that these were the exact cards Lenormand used, and while this deck may have been one of her many fortune-telling tools we just don’t have any evidence for it. We now know the deck was designed by Johann Kaspar Hechtel from Nuremberg and I hope more people acknowledge his role in the future (I am busy creating a Wikipedia page for Hechtel, so there will be no excuse not to know about him).

The cards sometimes include playing card images – why did that happen – were they always in this oracle or a later addition?

Hechtel’s board game Das Spiel der Hoffnung (The Game of Hope) may have been structurally based on or inspired by a 6×6 picture lottery board with 36 squares and combined with a stripped playing card deck of 36 cards traditionally used in Germany. The original illustrated cards preserved in the British Museum include both German and French playing card insets. The German playing card insets disappeared in the new so-called “Lenormand” decks published later and some publishers also replaced or supplemented the French playing card insets with text explaining the individual card meanings. These days many Lenormand cards have neither playing card insets nor explanatory text. I prefer the ones with playing card insets only as the playing cards can add a secondary layer of meaning to the cards and I find the canned text distracting although it can be useful to aid understanding of the traditional meanings of the cards.

Do different Lenormand ‘Schools’ favour different types of decks (eg – do the Germans, for example, make better use of the playing card elements?)

I would say most traditional schools prefer cards with playing card insets although most Lenormand authors disregard them except for the secondary layer of meaning of the face cards. Unfortunately when the German playing card insets were removed from the deck the original cartomantic meanings of the suits were mostly lost as they differ from the cartomantic meanings of the French suits standard today (although there appears to be an intended theme per suit, clubs and not spades is the trouble suit in Lenormand).

These are my personal Lenormand playing card suit associations:

♥ hearts: water element, love, relationships and family
♠ spades/leaves: air element, society, government and travel
♦ diamonds/bells: fire element, enterprise, fortune and misfortune
♣ clubs/acorns:earth element, survival, hardship and trouble]

There are face cards included in the playing card references in the Lenormand – which face cards are included (and if they are not all included, why are those that are not included left out?)

All the face cards (jack, queen and king) are included. The Lenormand deck is based on a traditional German deck with 36 cards equivalent to a standard French deck stripped of the 16 pip cards numbered 2, 3, 4 and 5. Anyone can easily modify a regular playing card deck and use it as a Lenormand deck.

I should point out here that the primary significator cards in the Lenormand system are not face cards. When the Lenormand deck was designed, aces were ranked highest in each suit and often given a similar treatment to face cards in illustrated decks. (As a matter of interest, the German equivalent to the French ace is actually the deuce as the aces were removed from German playing card decks early on.) This could explain why two of the aces are used as the primary significator cards. Man (A♥) represents a male querent and Woman (A♠) represents a female querent, with the other primary significator representing the querent’s significant other. Some modern decks include additional male and female significators to facilitate readings for people in same-sex relationships.

Apart from the face cards and primary significators, other cards that can represent people include Dog (10♥) which can represent a friend, known person or third party, Rider (9♥) which can represent a newcomer, messenger or visitor and Birds (7♦) which can represent a couple or siblings.

How does one interpret those face cards in the Lenormand (You can just provide a list if you want)

The face cards have primary meanings based on their main symbols:

♥ hearts: Heart (J♥), Storks (Q♥), House (K♥)
♠ spades/leaves: Child (J♠), Bouquet (Q♠), Lily (K♠)
♦ diamonds/bells: Scythe (J♦), Crossroad (Q♦), Fish (K♦)
♣ clubs/acorns: Whip (J♣), Snake (Q♣), Clouds (K♣)

Some readers interpret the face cards as various types of people as alternatives to their primary meanings, and some readers use either face cards or other people cards to represent same-sex partners in the absence of specific cards for this purpose. Personally I find too many cards that can represent people in addition to their primary meanings confusing and generally (never say never) prefer to work with the main symbols on the face cards which do however have an obvious relationship to the face cards.

In the hearts suit, Heart (J♥) can represent affection, Storks (Q♥) motherhood and House (K♥) family. In the spades suit, Child (J♠) can represent a child, Bouquet (Q♠) beauty and pleasure and Lily (K♠) maturity and experience. In the diamonds suit, Scythe (J♦) can represent danger, Crossroad (Q♦) alternatives or diversification and Fish (K♦) entrepreneurship. In the clubs suit, Whip (J♣) can represent aggression, Snake (Q♣) deception and Clouds (K♣) confusion.

You can find out more about Helen and The Lenormand at Helen’s blog

Facebook groups:
Lenormand Cards Study Group
Lenormand Cards Reading Exchange

Alison Cross

The Tarot's Court Cards are my specialist area.  They talk to me. Not LITERALLY though ....


Anonymous · 6th October 2012 at 3:17 am

Lovely, Alison. Am duly trying to get my head around the Lenormand method, and it is difficult to set aside all the Tarot meanings and intuition to work with this very practical fortune-telling system. But when read as is without a bunch of flourishes, and keeping in mind it's about card meaning relationships, I get some spot on predictions. Pretty amazing, actually. I have read a bit about the "court" card inserts from Andy, but found Helen's insights useful also. Looking forward to the next interview!

Tarot By Arwen · 1st October 2012 at 10:31 pm

Very enjoyable interview. Thank you!

    alisoncross · 2nd October 2012 at 10:01 am

    How was your trip? Missed your 'live' posts!

    Ali x

Carla · 1st October 2012 at 4:15 pm

I have a tin full of Lenormands–they are small and cheap, so very easy to accumulate! I had an intense flirtation with Lenormands a few months ago, but tarot came back soon after. Most likely during the long cold nights of winter, I will find myself turning more to study and get back into Lenormand again!

    alisoncross · 2nd October 2012 at 10:01 am

    They ARE small and they ARE inexpensive. Have you seen the one that Ciro Marchetti is working on?! Gorgeous!

Ania · 1st October 2012 at 3:50 pm

Not much help to me either, I'm afraid. I have the Blue Owl Lenormand which has the rhymes rather than the playing cards and the Mystical which has neither :/

    alisoncross · 2nd October 2012 at 10:00 am

    I'm not keen on the rhymes, but think that the playing card references could be useful – adding another interpretative layer. The rhymes can be a bit limiting, I find.

    Ania · 3rd October 2012 at 8:03 am

    I may acquire a playing card deck as well, but thought that the rhymes would be a good starting point for a Lenormand Noob to explore the original intent rather than try to wedge in Tarot meanings 🙂

    alisoncross · 3rd October 2012 at 8:09 am

    There are masses of excellent blogs and groups out there for those who want to begin to work with the Lenormand – I've included links to Helen's work and there will be links to Andybc's work too.

    My blog looks at Court cards, so the focus on the two blog posts (Andy's to come later today) whether the face cards in the Lenormand turned up similar personalities as the Tarot Court. Or whether the face cards in the Lenormand can add another layer of knowledge to what one already knows about the Tarot courts.

    Or whether they have no bearing at all 😀

    Ali x

    Anonymous · 5th October 2012 at 7:44 pm

    The poems are a bone of contention. Whether to have a deck with them or not depends really on both the quality of any translation and the reader. Most poems will refer to the method of the distance, used in the grand tableau in French tradition and the USGames translations (Red Owl with Blue Owl backs) were appalling. However, if you can get the cartamundi Jeu Lenormand Cartes de Bonne Aventure with French or English poems, they are okay.

    I use the Jeu professionally, and the poems are quite discreet – the Rote Eule deck has poems that are in your face.

Bonkers · 1st October 2012 at 3:31 pm

my one lenormand that i deigned to finally procure/dabble with does not have these insets so i'm mostly ignoring them for now, but informative post nonetheless :0

    alisoncross · 2nd October 2012 at 9:59 am

    I thought that it would be another way to explore face cards/court cards to see whether we can add to our existing knowledge of the Courts 🙂

    Ali x

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