What Makes A Lenormand Deck Traditional?

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Man and Woman cards from the BYO Lenormand by Rootweaver.

If you hang around Lenormand discussion groups, you’ve seen the schism. There’s Lenormand readers who insist on decks that follow tradition, and some people who are primarily deck creators, who take distorting the deck to the wall and insist that tradition should be scrapped.

I never understood why anyone would want to muck up something that works so well. (Criticism leads to much protest that you can’t stifle their creativity, but if they’re truly creative, why not create an ORIGINAL deck, instead of a malformed Lenormand? They insist that warping the deck is “innovating”, but the dictionary defines “innovate” as “To begin or introduce something new”, not regurgitating an inferior version of something that already exists.)

Yesterday we were discussing the Burning Serpent Oracle, an upcoming deck by Robert Place and Rachel Pollack. It’s based on Lenormand, but it’s not a Lenormand, and they don’t title it “Lenormand”. (***EDIT, 1/7/14: – At the time of this writing, the B.S. was being spoken of as loosely Lenormand-based, but not intended as a Lenormand. At some point, this was changed to “(the B.S.) can be used like a traditional Lenormand deck”. It obviously can’t, and I formally retract anything I may have said that could be construed as an endorsement.***)

Then a friend commented that “purist types would also out of necessity see a deck with a black person or a hispanic person as nontraditional. Since the traditional deck is all white people in it.” I was somewhat taken aback, but it gave me an insight into the schism and inspired me to write this blog. I think a lot of people might be “eating the menu.” No traditionalist I’ve intereacted with has shown an iota of racism. Many of us BELONG to some group that could be considered a “minority”, we’re not the straight white Germans of Hitler’s fucked up vision. Nor are we white supremacist Asatru practitioners with pea brains, meth mouth and tattoos of overmuscled Vikings. We don’t consider Lenormand “the deck of the white people”. It’s not about that.


The tradition isn’t about copying superfluous details – a traditional deck doesn’t require tri-cornered hats or fans either, else Piatnik would be nontraditional. The tradition is the method of reading the cards, and the closer the deck creator adheres to this, the better the deck. So playing card inset, number, Rider, Clover, etc. without excessive details.


Two birds is traditional. Just about any kind of birds but you need two, because of the “older couple/two of something” meaning. Blue Owl is considered a traditional deck and it uses owls (an entirely different species but still under the umbrella term “birds”), not doves or whatever like the older decks. Same with the Man and Woman. You need an adult male and female Homo Sapiens, take your pick. You can use different races and still follow the tradition. I would consider the cards at the top of this post perfectly traditional, right down to the facing directions.

You do have to keep in mind that it’s european for the logic behind some of the meanings, like Lilies (fleur-de-lys, kings of France, fertility, and therefore sex). But not for deciding on races or bird types or dog breeds. You can use images of any race. I would consider some things highly offensive, for instance, if a white person made a “Native American Lenormand”. But that’s because Natives are overwhelmingly sick to death of white people appropriating their culture and profiting from it. I think it’s a different ball of wax from the Buddha Tarot. Buddhists, as far as I’ve seen, seem quite happy that “the Wheel of the Dharma is turning in the West” and don’t seem to mind. But I’ll happily change my stance if I start hearing otherwise.

Racism is for people like that Gaudet woman who dress up like “Gypsies” and create appallingly racist blogs. Not us traditionalists. The guidelines for creating a proper Lenormand are all in the reading method.

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6 responses »

  1. I loved this post, and I genuinely think you hit the nail on the head. As I think you know, I’ve been accused of being both anti-American/xenophobic and homophobic due to this same issue.

    I would not class seeing an Afro-Caribbean or Asian Gentleman, Lady, Cavalier, or Child, as a non-traditional deck, unless they had also messed with orientation. Similarly, if they decided to re-colour the Kings, Queens, and Knaves, to reflect their colourings (which Erna Droesbeke von Enge did), I wouldn’t class that as departure, unless they decided to switch associations; which some people have done, in some decks albeit non-Lenormand, to avoid the “racist tag” on spades.

    Ethnic inclusivity does not necessitate radical re-interpretation. It’s therefore not a matter of traditionalism.

    However, the creator should know that having a Native American Gentleman or an Aboriginal Child would not indicate the ethnicity in the reading. Seeing the Moon and Bouquet in attendant is a very blonde man/child regardless of what is on the card. This is what they seem to struggle with: tradition is the methodology.

    To my own mind, as someone who is in an ethnic minority, the inclusivity for me comes in understanding I am represented in this wonderfully inclusive method of attendance/combination. It’s the same as the extra Gentleman/Lady cards – we have the Snake and Cavalier for same-sex relationships, these cards might not have been designed for homosexual relationships, but any reader worth their salt knows these cards will be the chap’s male lover! If the person allows themselves to get acquainted with the cards first, they would find this is a highly inclusive pan-racial oracle.

    Such simplistic multi-culturalism arguments betray nothing but a lack of understanding.

  2. I’m not certain I understand you in regards to the “Burning Serpent Oracle” regarding its not being a Lenormand deck.. You preface this with not understanding why someone would change beautiful traditional images. The first sentence in the accompanying book to this deck, “The Burning Serpent Oracle is a modern re-working of the Lenormand fortune-telling cards.” Most of the images reflect the traditional images except for the coffin being “the dead tree” the Mice card being “Owl and Mice”; there may be more. There are two extra cards. The numbers for the cards remain the same. When examples are given of how one can use note cards with names drawn on images as accurately for readings as decks; I don’t think we should get hung up on modernizing the images of Lenormand cards. I’ve seen some gaudy Lenormand card designs. This is not one of them. The artwork, is simple and tasteful. The two extra cards will take an adjustment but the fact is, whether you choose to endorse it or not, this is a Lenormand deck and quite a nice one.
    I can appreciate that change is difficult and when we become accustomed to something we hate to see anything changed. That then is a different topic. Yet considering how the Lenormand has evolved since its point of inception, I can’t say that I understand resistance to modifying these cards as cultures changed. This is indeed what has happened to this deck over 150 years; in addition to not knowing exactly what Mille. Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand actually used. If it was similar to The Game of Hope, our traditional decks bear little resemblance to that.

    • The reason the Burning Serpent isn’t a Lenormand is quite simple: additions and alterations. When you put a harp-strumming angel on the Clouds card, it isn’t about “trouble” anymore. You’ve changed the meaning and it’s no longer relevant to the Lenormand method, it’s something else. They’ve meddled with all the cards and made something that might be used as some kind of oracle deck, but certainly not a Lenormand.

      We know that Mlle. Lenormand used playing cards, and later, Marseilles Tarot. There’s no evidence that she ever laid eyes on Hechtel’s deck, the Lenormand name was attached to it after her death as a sales gimmick. None of this is anything to do with the reading method, which is based on Alemanic cartomancy, not French. And other than the omission of the Alemanic insets, our traditional decks are almost identical to the Game of Hope.

      It’s the meanings that have expanded naturally over time, without having to change the images. The Rider’s horse can now indicate an automobile, and there are cards and combinations for electricity, phone calls, computers, and social networks. All of this without having to plaster anything over the original images. If Bob and Rachel had bothered to study the system, I’m sure they could have done a worthwhile deck, but they decided to bang something out fast in order to cash in on an uptick in Lenormand popularity, and it shows.

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