Before it was called Lenormand

Some years ago, noticing the similarities in various European oracle decks like the Lenormand, Italian Sibillas, Biedermeier, etc., and guessing that they had a common ancestor, we went searching for the ur-deck. We never found it, of course, though Enrique Enriquez guessed (correctly) that they might be derived in part from emblem books. (They share a common ancestor called Biribissi, an Italian board game that spawned Mexican Loteria as well!)

But a proto-Lenormand should be simpler to trace, right? Not quite. The earliest images anyone could find were from an 1846 deck printed in France, but primarily for the German market. I only knew two things: A) That the deck had nothing to do with Mlle. Lenormand, and B) That the deck was German (French oracles tend to be less stark, more rococo, with multiple figures playing out a scene on each card. Lenormand is more German than Wurstfest. 😉 ) When you google “Lenormand”, you don’t get anything prior to the deck being named “Lenormand”. And if it was named “Lenormand” as a marketing ploy after Mlle.’s passing, did it exist before that? Well…

“Detleff Hoffman has shown that their prototype can be clearly traced back to a lovely little pack of fancy cards called “Das Spiel der Hoffnung” (The Game of Hope), published around 1800 by G.P.J. Bieling in Nuremberg.”
– A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (1996), Ronald Decker, Thierry Deplaulis & Michael Dummett

Fortunately, the entire deck still exists, and the British Museum has an intact copy, which only went online last spring.

As you can see from the translated instructions here, it was used a lot like our modern Monopoly game. However, when I gave the link to Cat Yronwode (her luckymojo.com site is fascinating and worth checking out) her reaction was, “As described by the British Museum, that is not a board game. It’s a pack of pasteboard playing cards. It is not a proto Lenormand deck — it just *is* a Lenormand deck. ‘Description. Cards with French suits: complete pack of 36 playing-cards'” And she is correct.

The eerily-accurate Lenormand sprang full-blown into this world in 1799. Via a man who was trying to make a game.

I don’t know about you, and I won’t venture into “what it all means”, if anything, but I find this mind-blowing. 😀

Of course everybody wanted a copy – the most recommended Lenormands are the traditional, mostly-unadorned ones like the Mertz, Gluck, Dondorf, Piatnik and Blue Owl, and this one fit the bill perfectly – the only “extra” features are the German playing card insets, in addition to the more familiar French-suited ones. I almost went to the print shop with my scans, and would have ended up with a hot mess – the original deck was crudely cut. Tarot Professionals Ltd. to the rescue, and Ciro Marchetti did the tweaking: extending the aged coloring, adding a back design (the originals had plain backs) and framing each card with a thin black line. The resulting deck is pure pleasure. (It has a washed-out greenish tinge, like a paler version of mottled old green turquoise, that was probably a printing error. However, I quite like it, and don’t the Thoth “greenies” fetch the best price?)

The deck was printed in a limited run of 250 copies, but if you’re quick about it, you might still get one here.

Special thanks to Helen Riding, Caitlin Matthews, Mary Greer, Marcus Katz, Tali Goodwin, Ciro Marchetti – in no particular order – and anyone I may have left out who had a hand in making this all come together and bringing it to my attention.

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