I have a soft spot for Brazilian Lenormands. I wish I had started buying them sooner and in larger quantities as I cannot always vouch for the durability of their cardstock. But there is something rough and unadorned about them, something blissfully uncultivated. As Lenormands get more and more refined and expensive elsewhere, the more I find that I appreciate the basic, down-to-earth, no-nonsense practicality of the Brazilian editions. This morning, whilst taking a detour back from a café where I had met a friend, I called in at a local Brazilian esoteric shop that sells candles, herbs, umbanda statuettes, altar accessories, crystals and incense. I love this shop, heavy with fumigation, strung with ribbons and shell and coral ritual necklaces. They sometimes have decks in stock too. Not usually tarot cards, more often than not what they call “Baralhos Ciganos” (“Gypsy Decks”) commonly known elsewhere as Lenormand cards. They are widely used in Brazil and often there are subtle or not so subtle differences. For example, one of the decks I own doesn’t have a “clover” card. It depicts a path with a tree fallen across it and is called “obstacles,” quite different from the usual clover meaning (though I have been told it denotes minor obstacles - compare with the Mountain card) . Mostly however, they are virtually identical in structure to the more familiar, traditional packs such as the Blue Owl or the Dondorf. In the shop I called at this morning I saw another copy of a deck I had bought a while ago and, being of quite poor quality, I bought another copy to keep as a back up as it was a deck I found myself returning to.
It is a curious deck, called “Cigano da Sorte” and then “de España”. Translated it means “Lucky Gypsy” but I don’t know whether it means “Lucky Spanish Gypsy” or “Lucky Gypsy cards, made in Spain.” I think the latter is unlikely as these are probably not made in Spain, though there is nothing to say they were made in Brazil. It is a strange mish-mash of a deck, with painterly images thrown together with some photographs. And yet there is an odd cohesion there that I have always felt drawn to. I think the florid borders help rein in the chaos and make them feel a little more uniform. It has that starkness of imagery that I like in my Lenormands, plus I like the fact that they feel so shabby and improvised, published on a shoestring, tossed together, a folkish-coloured bargain deck for cheap hopes and dreams.
There are many cards which I love in this deck. I love the elegant parlour wallpaper feel of the Birds card, the close up Fox card (a quick glimpse, the way they stare undaunted before darting into the forest), the fact that The Rider is not really a rider at all but rather a Crusader with his sword drawn. And there are some ugly cards; badly chosen, out of focus, mismatched. As in the Lilac Twilight Lenormand, the Man and Woman cards feel totally at odds with each other; the Man card portrays a proud Elizabethan hero, while the Woman card shows a busty paperback romance cover blonde seen through a wind-tunnel. I suspect that this would not be a marriage made in heaven. I can see this becoming a bête noire in Lenormand decks; Men and Women cards that just don’t go. Even worse is the Child card (see below), a freckled Holly Hobby greetings card girl from the mid-1970s. And yet doesn’t the naive choice of this image reflect something of the naivety that this card can connote? I actually rather like the crassness. Which other deck would dare to juxtapose late 16th Century portraiture with 1970s children’s birthday card art?
And it is this random strangeness, this brusque jolt between styles, that seems to make the cards speak. And for those who wonder what insightful meanings lie hidden between the pages of a Brazilian Lenormand LWB, I have to say upon reading this one that the meanings are all very familiar. It almost reads like it might have been translated from elsewhere, from English. I struggle to find a meaning that deviates from the norm. I find the deck easy to read with though, much easier than some of the carefully crafted ones out there, either entirely photographic, or mining the taste for scrapbook vintage. In a few decades’ time when the history of the current Lenormand Renaissance is being written and they will speak of the sophisticated flowering of many-layered Lenormands that risked being read as tarot, I hope that there is a place for these mass-produced little decks that aren’t considered very honed, sophisticated or collectible and will probably all be quite tatty by then. These are our present-day equivalent of Marseilles decks, cheap, rough and a little unlovely for the masses; to be used until battered, then thrown into the fire. I’d like to have at least one to keep intact.