Also referred to as “Petit Lenormand” (in reference to its size), it’s a card-based oracle or divination system based on a playing card game. It was invented in the 1700s by a German named Johann Hechtel, but ended up associated with a famous French fortune teller/cartomancer named Marie Lenormand, probably for marketing purposes.
How I got involved
I first stumbled upon Lenormand while looking up Tarot art. At the time, I was keeping an eye out for ideas for a theme for my Inktober 2017 challenge. Lenormand fit the bill nicely – 36 cards, a manageable number very close to 31 days of October. When I finished, I thought it’d be neat to turn them into real decks and actually start carrying one around and referencing it. Thus, the Fortune Inktober Lenormand deck came into existence!
I have friends and family who’ve used oracle and divination systems for decades. My personal long-time interest since childhood stems mainly from learning about them as reference material for art and stories. They’re a fantastic source of ideas and systems for symbols. Like astrology, it’s one of many things humans developed to help understand the world around us. We’ve been collectively building upon these systems for hundreds of years (in some cases, thousands or more!), creating rich histories and mythologies around them. I find them a fascinating lens for looking at how we as humans think, and how we create meaning for ourselves. This has largely shaped my perspective about these systems.
People use Tarot, Lenormand, and other such systems in different ways, sometimes for very personal reasons. I prefer not to impose my personal beliefs on others, but in creating a deck and sharing it with people who may be unfamiliar with how to approach this kind of thing, I do feel some responsibility to help provide information that can assist others in thinking about, employing, and enjoying them in a positive, productive way.
The following is not intended to be definitive – it’s simply how I approach and use my cards. The following includes content adapted and extended from some of my instagram and blog posts.
I don’t use oracle systems for predictive or fortune-telling purposes. (Philosophically, if we make the assumption that there are such things as fate and destiny, I personally don’t want to know because there’s little I can actually do about it. If something bad’s going to happen that I can’t control, I prefer not to ruin my otherwise good time dreading something before it happens. And if something good is going to happen, it’s going to happen anyways. )
For me, oracle systems are largely self-reflection tools. There’s no “magic” going on here – it’s you and your brain. You can get a lot of value out of them when you treat these things as tools that extend your own perspective and awareness. Think of them as extensions of your own mind; you look at the result and your mind automatically finds patterns. You make connections that have meaning for you. The cards (or whatever your system of choice uses) are basically acting like a wall to bounce ideas off of so that you can respond to something more concrete than just your own fuzzy thoughts. They’re also like mirrors, highlighting things important to you, or reflecting light on angles you haven’t fully considered. An external trigger forces you to be more aware of something and to look at it closely, instead of ignoring it. By forcing you to interpret something, you must pause to consider what it means to you, and for your situation.
It’s fun and interesting to think of it as a conversation with this thing that is actually yourself reflected back at you. As my friend atorier put it after trying it: “It’s an extension of you, but different enough that you’re like, ‘okay I listen’.”
Aside from self-reflection, as mentioned previously, the imagery and symbolism also make these systems great for creative purposes – storytelling, creative prompts, character design, and so on!
The system itself
With the above in mind, I find Lenormand quite accessible in a number of ways, particularly when compared to other, more complex systems. The cards are smaller (more portable), fewer in number (easier to remember), and contain much more direct, straightforward, even literal imagery. Dog is a dog and has associations with people you know, Heart is a heart and is associated with aspects of love, etc. It’s actually encouraged to have simpler, clearer cards. You can even make your own cards just by writing the names down on scrap paper… This lets you focus on translation/interpretation instead of being lost in pretty pictures. (Though I admit I do like pretty pictures.)
There are many options for spreads to use in interpretation, but Lenormand’s 2 card spread was hugely appealing because of how simple it is and how quickly it can be done. It’s very easy to work with and extremely low pressure.
Framing your question
When formulating and asking questions, I find it’s important to frame them in a way that gives the responsibility and – most crucially – the power to yourself to do something with the information you perceive. Otherwise, it’s little more than a Magic-8 ball – lots of novelty, not much usefulness. I try to think of it like the opposite of 20 questions. You can ask as many questions as you want, but only open-ended questions. Closed yes/no questions are banned! Yes/no isn’t a conversation, and often means you don’t actually want to have a conversation about something, you just want an easy way out. It doesn’t add any value to your personal development. Open-ended questions force you to be more creative, and open the door to a lot more personally interesting and enlightening conversations.
Reading for other people
Since I created the deck, I’ve been doing free readings at events to show people how the system works. When doing readings for others, particularly strangers, I always tell people they don’t have to tell me their question unless they want to, and I find it more interesting if people DON’T tell me before I walk through the cards they pulled. It’s really neat to see how people interpret the symbolism for their own situation. At first I was surprised at how often people said “Wow, that’s creepy”, especially when I was just rattling off various associations a card can have, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. A lot of the card combinations – almost all of the readings I’ve done where the querent has actually shared their question/interpretation with me – do become startlingly relevant and helpful when you hear people’s own insights, even if you recognize it as the human brain’s fascinating tendency and ability to find pattern and meaning in everything.
I once did a blind (unknown question) reading for a friend where she pulled Mountain (distant obstacle you’ve been observing for while) + Scythe (sudden cutting action/termination). Afterwards, she told me she’d been thinking about changing jobs. Another moving reading I did was a blind reading for a stranger, who got Birds (conversation, a couple) + Path (crossroads, making a decision, stop being ambivalent). He then explained he was thinking about proposing! I was blown away.
As eerie and incredible as these pulls (and some of the other examples coming up) can seem, remember that the context of the cards is largely created from the question and the personal meaning being held by the individual. No one is a blank slate – the querent was already viewing things through a certain lens, having certain things weighing on their mind, and wrestling with certain ideas and thoughts. You might have heard a story about a person struggling with a decision, and a friend flips a coin and without giving them much time to think, associates each side with a choice and asks them to call heads or tails. How the coin lands doesn’t matter – what matters is what the person wanted it to be, which helped to reveal their answer. It’s a similar situation here. There may have been other cards that could create equally, or even more eerie, matches. For example, in the proposal question, having the Ring show up (linkage/union) may have been even more startling, and other cards also have associations with people and relationships that can have meaning for the question involved.
That’s not to say there can’t be something mystical about coincidences in and of themselves! Just to note that the takeaway is largely driven by the person with the question – there are things they personally see or know that is not open to other people. I’ve had instances where I did a reading that the querent said was scarily relevant – then when they explained it to me, I still didn’t see the relevance myself. Haha.
The following are examples and ideas you may find helpful in using the cards.
Some questions I’ve asked
“What’s the point or reward of my drawing these Yu Yu Hakusho fancomics?” I love drawing them, though they take a lot of effort, and in the back of my mind there’s always the sense that spending time in fanworks is perceived as a waste.
- Cross + Ship (burden + great journey)
- Interpretation: Grin and bear it/slog through it and you’ll go far in developing your comics skills. It reflected a lot of the thoughts I’d been thinking about in my 2017 art year in review, and motivated me to continue working on my stories.
Trying to decide whether or not I should buy this cool expensive fountain pen I’d been eyeing, and wondering whether I’d really use it for what I imagined myself to: “What does my desire for this pen stem from?” In the back of my mind – is it worthwhile or frivolous?
- Snake + Letter (deception + communication and possibly the pen itself – my drawing on the card actually showed brushes/writing tools)
- Interpretation: You’re kidding yourself that you’ll use this pen for what you think you will. I laughed, and saved my money.
And here are a few examples from my friends!
“What can I do about my anxiety and nervous energy?” (regarding an upcoming medical appointment)
- Clouds + Ring (confusion/depression, temporal quality + cycle)
- Interpretation: “It’s telling me politely that I do this all the time, and the feeling will pass.” While this insight did support self-reflection and recognizing that it’s a pattern not necessarily unique to this appointment, it didn’t technically offer a suggestion for an action, so I suggested my friend ask again.
“But what can I DO about my anxiety and nervous energy?”
- Woman + Clover (The querent herself + good luck/gamble)
- Interpretation: “What?? Should I go gacha?? Hahaha, maybe I should, to take my mind off the appointment.” (My friend was also very active in playing a mobile game that had a random draw minigame component, the gacha.)
“What should I draw?” My friend was struggling with what to focus on in her work.
- Man + woman (most important male figure to the question + the querent herself)
- Interpretation: “More guys? More couples? Or I guess I should finish this drawing I started of my favourite character from this game… Well, now I have some options!”
“How did the D&D session I just run fare?”
- Heart + Garden (affection/good feelings + social gathering)
- Interpretation: “People had a good time!”
Finally, for fun, I tried carrying on a short conversation with the deck. Below are the results.
What do I think of myself?
- Ship + Star (Someone who’s come a long way on my dreams)
Why thank you. And what do I think of you (the deck)?
- Sun + Cross (Fun challenge)
Is there anything in particular I should try to do while working with you?
- Scythe + Crane (Don’t jump around so much)
Oops, sorry. OK, how can I better focus my questions?
- Tree + Ship (Think about personal growth and journeys)
OK I’ll do my best. Is there anything else I can take away from this quick little conversation?
- Snake + Heart (Focus on doing things for other people?? This one puzzled me unless I interpreted it in a bigger picture way.)
I don’t understand. Is there anything else I can take away specific to working with these cards?
- Book + Cross (Too much knowledge can suck)
OKI DOKI GOOD NIGHT. This is not a question but I’m interested in a response.
- Heart + Cross (Love you even if you’re a pain in the butt)
- Overview of card meanings and the Chinese/Taiwanese symbolism specific to my Fortune Inktober deck: Fortune Lenormand card deck information (this guide is included with my Lenormand cards)
The following are a few resources I heavily referenced while developing my cards. They’re also excellent starting points for people who may want to do more in-depth readings and try more complex spreads.
- CafeLenormand: A great website for getting started, covers the basics.
- LearnLenormand.com: Similar to the above.
- Anna.K Tarot Lenormand: This artist offers some intriguing modern interpretations for various cards that are either difficult to understand, or out-dated in their approach.
- LearningLenormand.com – Lenormand cards in detail: A great summary/snap shot of all the cards on one webpage, that I kept referencing from a high level perspective when I wanted to jump between cards to compare quickly. Aside from this reference list, the site also does readings using a generator (I haven’t tried it myself).
- The complete Lenormand oracle handbook: reading the language and symbols of the cards by Caitlin Matthews. Some parts of the book are bit too new age/esoteric for my personal taste, but it’s a very comprehensive resource, and has a lot of interesting ideas.