I received this deck only a few days ago. I had been sort of following the funding campaign, but I am the world’s worst funding follower. I sort of vaguely grasp the concept during the brief lapses of my fevered deck shopping but am never an active participant. Unforgivable I know, but I’m of the “let me know when it’s out” school of deck purchasers. Plus there have been stories of people funding decks by lesser known creators which then disappear into the ether, leaving the backers sans money and sans deck. Does one really have to pay money up front before it is published? I’m never quite sure. I can’t imagine myself doing that, but then I have never read the small print. I don’t do preordering either. I’m happy to get on with life and buy the deck when it is in circulation. However, I must add, there was never any doubt that this deck would be published in my mind and I open myself to criticism in my reluctance to jump on board funding campaigns such as this while later gorging on the results. But here it is. Out and available. So I shall compensate by being vocal in my love of it. I read on Place and Pollock’s website for the project that the deck would be printed in Germany and the book in China, then last week I spotted some amazon marketplace sellers from Germany who had the deck in stock, so I assume the two facts are connected and that the deck arrived hot off the German press as it were.
Yes, I love it. I giddily started a thread over at the Forum. Silence. I have no idea why. Not pure Lenormand? But then the creators stated this from the start. To be honest, I expected something even less Lenormand after all that I had read, but when it arrived I flicked through the cards and knew that I would find it eminently readable. And that is from someone who likes their Lenormand decks stark and (since this quality is getting harder to find), largely historical. While I like my tarot decks florid and layered, I generally like my Lenormands with lots of white background. A bit like my notions of interior design. I can forego the brocade wallpaper, the different coloured walls and textures; I like to exhibit all my favourite objects against whiteness, so that their beauty appears more concentrated. While tarot for me might be the cluttered collector’s cabinet and museum storeroom, with its iconography going back centuries – I like my Lenormands to be capable of a single line of simple symbolism not unlike the line of exhibits on the white walls of a contemporary commercial gallery.
And yet despite this, I love the fact that this deck has had layers added. First impressions were of a deck which has intensified the traditional Lenormand imagination, just turned up the symbolic volume. The images are mostly recognisable – although I initially confused the Dead Tree with The Tree but it actually replaces the coffin. I thought The Girl & Boy was a new card (it reminded me of The Sun tarot card) but then realised that it was the Child. If I knew my numbering better, I might have been more on the ball. Within a few minutes I had oriented myself. The Burning Serpent has taken the Lenormand deck and made it more mystical, more spiritual and – in certain cards – more mythological (“a Lenormand of the soul” is its subheading). The Rider is Hermes aloft Pegasus, Hecate stands at the Crossroads. I thought the Sun card depicted Apollo, but it is actually Helios, according to the LWB. The changes are – for me – unintrusive. I surprise myself in embracing this new reworking of the Lenormand deck, its shift in focus. I have a sense that the Lenormand arena is now ready for a deck like this, and it doesn’t try to take anything away from the tradition or change reading styles. Nor does it believe itself to be “restoring” anything as those “true” Marseilles decks do.
I think that Robert Place’s eternally crisp and sharp lines ensure that this deck would never have the appearance of an overwrought, overdone deck in terms of its symbolism and readability. In lesser hands this deck might have fallen flat but we have two tarot luminaries working together here to create something harmonious, something that readers can really use. There is a 26 minute video on their site for the deck, showing Rachel Pollock doing a wonderfully languid reading which I found captivating to watch. You don’t have any sense of an authority at work here – in fact from the outset you have a sense of someone exploring a relatively new universe – and there is this over-riding feeling of experimentation and discovery, of seeing where the cards take you. As ever in Place’s work, I like the clarity and boldness of the images, the thick outlines and accomplished draughtsmanship. There are two Man and Woman cards which can face each other for gay relationship readings (I recognise the portrait in the Man card but cannot for the life of me identify it – somebody late Victorian or Edwardian, a writer perhaps. I’ve seen it before. It isn’t H.G Wells but it is somebody from that period.) The deck also comes with two extra cards – Isis and Osiris whose poses are based on the original Man and Woman cards. I have taken out the traditional Man and Woman cards and intend to use these additional Isis and Osiris cards in their place as I like their exoticism set against the other mythological touches.
The cards themselves measure 11 cm by 7 cm. The cardstock is exemplary – very light lamination and with a certain stiffness. When stacked, this 36 card deck is virtually the same height as a regular playing card deck so you can imagine that the thickness of the cardstock is a little more than the usual Lenormand deck. However, it isn’t stiff in an unwieldy sense, although would people really try and riffle shuffle a Lenormand deck anyway? It is comfortable to shuffle normally for me – the usual 36 card Lenormand decks can sometimes be a little too thin to shuffle if you’re used to tarot. Plus these cards are bigger and so essentially it feels just like shuffling a normal pack of playing cards. The backs are exquisite; Hermes framed in elaborate Kelmscott-style scroll work. The deck comes with a 14 page booklet which gives a short introduction and explanation for what the deck is proposing in the context of Lenormand card reading. There are also 5 pages of divinatory meanings – no great breaks with tradition here, pretty much all the classic meanings. There is then an introduction to reading with the Lenormand and an explanation of how to do the Grand Tableau as well as tips on the advantages of shorter three, five or seven card spreads. There then follows a section called “The Special Qualities of the Burning Serpent” – how to read with this particular deck, ignoring tradition, responding to the pictures, as well as the spiritual and mythological dimensions to a reading. It covers itself well – it doesn’t say you should ignore the Lenormand tradition – it reminds us that when there was a great boom in Lenormand decks (late 19th Century), we shouldn’t forget that this was also a time of great esoteric thinking and ideas alongside a fascination with the Egyptian and Greek civilizations. The booklet then ends with a list of which cards within the deck have had mythological touches added to them for you to bring those archetypes – if desired – into your reading.
Reservations? Surprisingly few. If you hold the cards in your hand you can feel how easy it would be to go either way – down the traditional Lenormand route, or bringing to the forefront some of the more mystical connotations of the cards. I like this dimension and feel that it could encroach upon a reading effortlessly and not be an issue or detract. The days you want a “purer” Lenormand reading – for want of a better word – you simply reach for the Dondorf. There are some tiny, entirely iconographic details which caught my attention, although I won’t go as far as to say that they bother me. I miss the multiplicity in the Stars card – there are no stars scattered across the sky. It depicts Archangel Michael. The “chattiness” of the Birds card is lost – we have an owl swooping with prey – it feels more in line with the notion of delivery/messages which I personally get from the Lenormand Rider cards. The point of the scythe is out of the picture frame – a tiny detail but I like to see sharpness. For the rest, I like the deck very much – it feels very cerebral – and look foward to getting my hands on Rachel Pollock’s book to bring added depth to my readings.