It’s interesting to see how I judge the readability of a Lenormand deck against the readability of tarot. It is apparent that I am dealing with two very different elements – and the way I evaluate a deck rests on a few very pivotal factors. The clearer this becomes to me, the easier it is to spot from afar the decks that are going to work for me and those that aren’t. It also brings into sharp relief for me how differently I read them both. With tarot, the situation is far more ambiguous – I like layers, density, details, symbolism, unusual takes on a theme, big cards, small cards, the list is extensive. And it can have all of these things and yet still not read well for me. Not to mention the fact that a tarot deck can be inaccessible in readings for years and then suddenly we shift into a place where it unfolds for us and works well and I have no idea how this happens. Yet with Lenormand decks the cards need to be a certain size (no bigger) and very simple. In fact, I think that’s about it. No layers, no density, nothing intuitive. I like boldness, starkness, a certain aura of blankness around the symbol. It is increasingly clear to me that anything which deviates from this will be pretty and collectible but will make my readings fuzzy. In fact I won’t actually be able to read with it. I may try (because these cards can look so lovely all together on a table) but I feel like I am having to bend my brain unnecessarily and sort out the wheat from the chaff; extra work in a reading which I really don’t want to have to deal with. And I have found my ideal decks in this respect with some of the historic decks – the Bernd. A Mertz deck and the so-called Gluck deck are two of my favourites. I reach for them again and again. These deck designers knew how to create decks with a simplicity which we seem to have lost in our overladen, advertisement-soaked, multi-layered, stuff-for-the-sake-of it culture. Because referencing things is fun, apparently, and everybody abhors a vacuum and maybe, after all, it helps concentration? I look at these old decks and think “why reinvent the wheel?” These decks have everything you could possibly need or want, well they do for me at any rate. I was very happy with my Mertz and my Gluck and now – since yesterday – my Lenormand trinity is blissfully complete. I received a reproduction of the enigmatic Stralsunder Lenormand deck from here. It is a reproduction of a deck which can be seen in its entirety here, together with a little information about its history. It was published in the 1890s in Stralsund by Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkartenfabriken. You can see a view of Stralsund below, through Baltic reeds, taken circa 1890 when this deck was created.
The Stralsunder deck is one of a few reproductions now available from The Game of Hope website and the quality of these is admirable in every way (I recently reviewed the mini Purple Dragon Dondorf also from there). This together with the fact that I find these historical decks so highly readable make the site very dangerous for me. Dangerous up to a point I suppose; far better to know the decks that work for you than to spend years and lots of money trying to find what works and what doesn’t (like tarot). With Lenormand I think I know now. These decks work for me and so I can shop with ease. I also received the Dutch Lenormand deck which is also featured on the site and which is also very beautiful but that’s for another post. In comparison it feels rougher, simpler, whereas the Stralsunder has refined colouring, a sharpness of line (which I cannot capture with my camera), very accomplished engraving and shading plus it has been cleaned up so that the symbols really stand out and they really string together well when laid out in a line.
The size is perfect; a millimetre or so smaller than the Konigsfurt Dondorf Lenormand (that one with the needlessly updated playing card inserts or gothic German verses) and exactly the same size as the Mystical Lenormand. I love how the borders are not white; the card backgrounds are a gentle cream colour and the borders blend into this, so nothing glaring, nothing too bright. The use of colour overall is very gentle and warm and I think what truly makes a difference here is that there is a wider palette of colours than normal. Often these popular, folkish decks have a fairly narrow colour spectrum which enabled them to be reproduced in what would at the time have been mass production. This deck has a rich variety of tones; the greens in the background of the Lord card and in the foreground of The Mountain card bestow a certain amount of depth and give the foliage life and delicacy. The Rider is also sumptuously coloured. It can be fairly monochrome where it matters (i.e The Clouds) but with detailed court card insert so the overall effect is very harmonious. The swashbuckling Child card, with its Knave of Spades, is exquisitely detailed, as are The Fish with the King of Diamonds. The colouring really gives these cards life which, combined with the gentle creamy background, make this deck eminently readable for me. Only the symbols - that’s what I keep telling myself I need in a Lenormand – only the symbols. That and nothing more. The Stralsunder Lenormand deck comes in a well-made velvet bag. I tend to use my own bags or I like to pick up vintage cigarette cases from the flea market and clean up the old leather, but this bag is great for use with the deck, though I seem to remember there being some tins available for this deck too. The backs feature a blue flower with roots or branches and a blue border (see top photograph) and was adapted from an 18th Century cardback.
Another favourite feature of this deck is the fact that it has two Lord and Lady cards for same sex readings. This is something I find myself wanting more and more in a Lenormand deck and am glad to see it becoming more widespread. I would honestly go as far as to say that this is fundamental in a 21st Century Lenormand edition. To make up for for all those (ongoing) years of tarot decks with only heterosexual Lovers cards. Use the Rider or the Lily you might say. But I want the Rider and the Lily to give me other messages. And so often readings are about love and what speaks more clearly than two of the Lord or Lady cards facing each other in a Grand Tableau with a string of cards – maybe The Rider or The Lily – in between? I love how the Lord and Lady cards here have not only been turned to face each other (that was lacking in the first Tarot Professionals Game of Hope reproduction; I have to use the Lord card upside down when I use this deck), but they have been given slightly differing clothes. One man has a blue jacket and tax stamp, the other has a purple jacket and no tax stamp. With the Lady card, one has pink ribbons and a pink petticoat (?) whereas the other card has red ribbons and petticoat.
As soon as I unwrapped this deck I knew that this would go straight into my favourites box (where not many more will fit). Everything about it is perfect for me. The cardstock has that “linen” finish, lightly done, which is firm and flexible. The prominent card inserts (as far as I can see, looking closely at the originals) haven’t been changed. The deck has been rigorously cleaned up so there are no stains or ingrained dirt, just the colours in all their glory. An absolute treasure of a deck, one I cannot stop looking at, a showcase of high quality 19th Century German engraving, slumbering for over a century and now brought lovingly back to life.