With the current flurry of interest in all things Lenormand I toss this little gem into the fray; The Wahrsagen à la Lenormand deck. It doesn’t even appear to have a name in English as the title would be translated as “Fortune Telling in the Lenormand Style” which doesn’t really give us much of a lead. It is a beautiful little mid-19th Century deck and deserves to be more well known. “Little” is the key word here and this has to be the smallest Lenormand deck I have in my collection, smaller even than the Mystical Lenormand. A Grand Tableau spread could feasibly be laid out for your guests on a reasonably large tea tray if you took the scones, teapot and milk jug off first. I came back to this deck again today as I remembered the oddness of its birch/whip and mice cards (cards 11 and 23 respectively) and wanted to dig the deck out from my bedside Lenormand box and check them again close up. I have not seen any other Lenormand deck with representations as peculiar as these. Both can be seen below (birch/whip on the left, mice on the right). Try as I might, I cannot see any sign of a birch on the table, but I see this card as also meaning “taking stock,” or bringing things to the table, maybe laying things out on the table, exposed for all to see. Or that we ourselves are laid open, perhaps uncomfortably. In terms of the mice card I simply have to give it the benefit of the doubt. I assume the feint blob on the left is a mouse. Or mice droppings scooped up from beneath the wainscot. We just have to look at the card number and accept that – yes – it’s the mice card. So it must be a mouse (perhaps) stalking a pudding.
This deck comes in a boxed set and for those who do not understand German, only the cards themselves will be useful, but since the deck is reasonably priced I suspect most will buy the set and not begrudge it the German language hardback pocketbook which has a short history of Mme Lenormand and her cards as well as some card meanings. It is the deck that really makes this set worthwhile. It also comes with two folded facsimilie sheets (22.5 cm by 26 cm), one in French and one in German gothic script which contain directions for laying out the Grand Tableau and also brief card meanings. Whether this is contemporary with the original deck I do not know. The cards themselves measure 7.5 cm by 4.4 cm with square corners and I have taken a corner rounder to mine and de-cornered them, thus making them much easier to shuffle, something which would probably mortify the creator of this set who prided himself on issuing these cards with square corners to make them historically accurate. As they are such small cards the corners pricked the palms of my hands when shuffling and so it’s much more comfortable this way.
In terms of imagery, this is exactly how I like my Lenormand cards; the symbol at its most succinct, the playing card insert, the card number and nothing more. Clouded, overlaid, multi-referencing, tarotesque Lenormand cards begin to tire me now and I am amazed at the difference between reading a spread with these minimalist Lenormand cards and one with the more flowery, busier ones. It’s an effort to process them and I do not want that extra effort when I lay out the cards. I want all my concentration for the interpretation without having to decipher exactly what images I’m looking at. I saw a set this week that had a key on top of the book in card number 26, something I find unnecessarily distracting.
This Lenormand re-edition was put together by Alexander Glück. The original deck came from a private collection and was first reissued in 1982, a limited edition in a wooden box with every single card coloured by hand. From three copies of these he selected the best, most delicately coloured ones and put together a single complete deck, standardising the size of the images, making the paper texture uniform for the reproduction (a lovely aged cream colour), digitally retouching some details as well as writing the small companion book (which unfortunately I cannot read without the aid of a dictionary). The card backs on this set are an attractive rich blue colour with no pattern. Cardstock is firmly in what I would call the “dreamy” category; stiff, resistant yet shuffleable and with no unnecessary gloss. In short, the cardstock I dream all decks were made of. It is all the work of one very dedicated man who came across one of the rare boxed 1982 editions at a fair in Leipzig in 1994, promptly bought it and planned one day to make it available to other Lenormand fanatics, which he has now done. I have heard that this is also a limited edition though I do not know how many copies were made. It is available from the usual stockists such as German amazon, although you have to make sure it is the set as the book is also available separately and at first I ordered the “book only” by mistake, but no worries; snipped up, it’s illustrations makes an excellent resource for decorating tins to house other decks. The plan is to issue one for the English market which would be deck only but I think this is probably more of a hope than something which is currently under way. The deck comes in a very sturdy blue box and a cardboard insert which holds the shrink-wrapped deck and book (and not a tin as illustrated below; that was my own addition).
Regardless of the fact that much of this meticulously put together package is inaccessible to those who understand only English, it is still worth getting because of the charm of the deck (and the fact that it isn’t really very expensive). Those who permit themselves to become fascinated by Lenormand cards and find themselves wanting to delve deeper, have to accept that much of the literature is not in English and that which is in English may not always be the best. Yet it’s the cards themselves which tantalise. The colouring of the images in this little deck is breathtaking if you look close up, perfectly capturing the richness of mezzotint colouring, and doesn’t really come across in scans or photos, but Glück’s restoration work is impeccable. In the images for this review the scans seem pale and yet the photographs seem dark; in the flesh the tones are much more gentle. The cards are so small that you really need to peer up close to appreciate the exquisiteness of the detail; how an image so small can be so intricately shaded. It is especially noticable in the playing card inserts, the rouged cheeks of the Kings, Queens and Jacks, the emboidered finery and brocaded tunics. I also love the slightly naive illustrative techniques; the Sun with his crimped, frizzy beams. The oddly lanky tower; an image that makes the construction look even more isolated as there is no background, no landscape in which to contextualise it. The normally loyal yet static dog is seen here bounding excitedly across the card. The Gentleman holds out a flower, as does the Lady; if they came up together in a reading, face to face, they hold out a tiny flower to each other. One of the things I particularly like about this deck is that the Gentleman and the Horseman are facing each other and so can be used for readings on same sex issues between men (in others, like the Lo Scarabeo French Cartomancy deck, they face in the same direction so the effect is different).
This is a very beautiful historical Lenormand and one I would recommend. The market is fast becoming flooded with all manner of Lenormands, many with added layers, added inferences, added symbols that can take a reading in different directions. Of course we too must evolve with the deck, but for me there is nothing quite like a simple, pared down uncomplicated Lenormand in the old style. Naturally I like to collect the others too but I invariably find that these unadorned ones have a special place in my collection.