On Learning

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I have been thinking a lot recently about the subject of learning Lenormand.  This came about after having read a book that was supposed to help me become a better card reader and which resulted in me feeling hopelessly confused and question the whole endeavour. The experience fascinated me rather more than perhaps it should have done. Especially as I have subsequently felt all the joy and colour of Lenormand drain away and with nothing much left except the urge to analyse what happened. How can the learning experience have this effect on things? I then remembered – as I often do  – the experience of learning tarot in a vacuum, early 1980s, just me and my books and decks, nobody correcting me, propelled forward by my own thirst and good old-fashioned study – heck, even some memorising because not all of us have gypsy aunts –  and I realise that this method of learning doesn’t exist anymore. We couldn’t even return to it if we tried. The world has changed, we have changed. Learning is something you drag other people into. But back to Lenormand. How best to approch it? All I know is that I have to get myself into a certain state of mind to withstand the iminent onslaught of definitive books. I have two options; either become an expert within a couple of months (or less) so that nothing can threaten my foundations and destabilise me. Or bolt the doors and sing very loudly. I have this unnerving sense that I have to make myself somehow immune. You’d think that with all the information out there things have never been better and yet it all looks set to accelerate into gobbledegook.  But why does it feel harder to learn Lenormand now than it ever did? Partly there is so much to have to bookmark and not get round to reading. There is so much to put into “favourites” and then never look at again.  So many online courses to print off, bind beautifully and put on the bookshelf.  There are so many systems to set off against each other; French? Dutch? Peruvian? Pose a question out there – what does my bonsai think of me? – then post a three card spread and you will get a plethora of interpretations that won’t help you in the slightest because there are as many interpretations of Lenormand cards as there are people reading them. A daunting thought. Or maybe I should say – even more overwhelming –  there are as many interpretations of Lenormand cards as there are people dreaming of making a deck. I have a sense of it all being very oceanic and of myself being rather at sea.  So what is the solution, beyond the despair and door bolting? I confess I feel like creeping out the (unbolted) back door. By that I mean finding another oracle that nobody else really knows or has laid claim to yet, something obscure, historic and forgotten to be deciphered undistracted on my own terms. Digging through my stash of oracles I have a few that attract me, traditional oracles that nobody really talks about. Like the Modiano Nuova Cartomanzia set (“le corti d’amore”), 52 cards with a hotch-potch of Sibilla imagery, modernist illustrations mixed with crude, possibly Hungarian Biedermeyer derivative engravings.

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Or – even better – some oracles I found on the flea market without instructions. Now there’s something that casts down the gauntlet. Fabbri/Orbis did a series of oracles in conjunction with Lo Scarabeo circa 2001 (I have spoken of their publications before) and they didn’t come with instructions – a dream! – though I suspect that as they were part of a magazine series the magazines contained the instructions and I am lucky enough never to have set eyes on them. How much more exciting not to have instructions. I can make them all my own, research and translate the original meanings much as I did with the Modiano Tarocchi di Alan from Trieste. One of these Fabbri/Orbis decks is a (French?) Romantic Oracle which I know absolutely nothing about (see the very end of this post). Another is a “gypsy” sibilla with fairly straightforward images (see immediately below) but with 32 cards, not the 52 cards of the “Vera Sibilla”. It dates from 1870, with lithographs by Johan Conrad Jegel of Nuremberg;

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I find myself thinking that this might be the way forward. A lesser known oracle to make your own, nobody to ask about, no different “schools” to clash with. I often wonder where Lenormand learning will be within the next few years? And I wonder what this human urge is to lay claim to things – a sort of colonisation –  and how genuine the pleasure is in teaching. This heady rush intrigues me, what Lenormand learning means to people at this precise moment in the history of tarot. That’s the nub of it. It is a fascinating phenomena. But all this talk of how “to the point” Lenormand is merely echoes what people have been saying for ages about their tarot decks; “I know you think my favourite doey-eyed deck is fluffy, but lordy how cruel my deck is to me! It tells me such wicked home truths!” All this learning, all this talk of learning, all this vowing to learn, sprawls and ties us up in knots.  I have no idea how people do actually learn with all the contradictory subjective sources out there and not always knowing what to ignore and discard. I battle with the compulsion to shut down and reach for one of my decks sans instructions and not tell anyone which one it is so that nobody can put me right. I battle with this feeling that Lenormand is pushing itself away like boats from my shore, when only a short while ago I felt I had a grasp of things. And I’m sure there are more layers to come, more planetary, hindu and runic associations, more obfuscated sources as people clamour for what could be called “original” meanings when the horse has long since bolted and ’tis too late, too late. Decans were paired up with Lenormands in 2007. How traditional is that? It seems all we truly know is that the cartomancer herself read with a piquet deck (that’s 32 not 36 cards) and there was a “tharot” deck listed in her possessions (according to Dummett) and that historically and geographically Etteilla’s system was floating around at the time so maybe, just maybe, she was familiar with it, 1786-ish. But storks and dogs and little bouquets are so much more endearing. And of course Etteilla is so difficult. We will shortly be at the stage where we will be saying “but it doesn’t really matter if she herself didn’t use the system we invented for her; that’s not the point!”. Hence far better to go for a completely clean slate and choose another deck, go for unchartered territory and make it work for you  however you want it to. That’s what she did anyway. And if it’s good enough for her it’s good enough for me.

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About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
This entry was posted in cards, Random Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to On Learning

  1. melancholyaeon says:

    I’m in awe. Yes.This.

  2. ~Joan. says:

    Bravo.

  3. Vesta Decanted says:

    I’ve been following your writings for about a year; love it! I actually ended up recently getting the A’HA oracle, (and i tend to dislike oracles) because i wanted to create my own lexicon, I guess.Something about the black and white scratchboard drawings, and maybe that there were 77 cards and yet it so clearly was not tarot-derivative. However, in the back of my head I’ve known that once i decide what those cards ‘mean’ the meanings will lock in. Basically I’ve been squemish to do it. I still take it out and look at them a good deal though.

  4. Carla says:

    I know what you mean. When I begin to feel overwhelmed by ‘it all’, it means I’m listening too much to other people and not enough to myself. I had to cancel my membership at AT in order to lock myself out of the spirituality forum, because I was getting myself all in a dither about things people were saying there, and yet I couldn’t seem to stay away. I just kept reading everything and falling into more and more doubt about myself. I have left all the witchcraft and magic forums I used to go to for the same reason. I believe your cartomancy, your magic, your whatever-it-is belongs to nobody but you. Nobody can tell you how to do it, unless you let them. When you lay down your Lenormand cards, you can read them any damn way you please. If other people disagree with your interpretations, who cares? You shouldn’t. They obviously see no value in your opinion, so why should you value theirs? If the compulsion to seek outside confirmation that you’re ‘right’ seems too strong, stop going to the places where you find yourself doing that. Trust yourself instead.

    I think it’s a good idea to step away from Lenormand for a while, and when you do go back to it, go back on your own, with no books, no websites, no forums. Make your own meaning. Who the f*** cares, if I may be so blunt? It’s your world!🙂

    • Chiriku says:

      Carla, I sense the truth in your words, and want to enact them my own learning. But it’s hard to bring myself to let go of systems or formal commentaries on systems. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many people like me–studious from a young age, research-oriented, driven to know about all the different theories and techniques potentially ‘out there’–end up on internet forums. People who are oblivious to such things and who are perfectly content using their deck or decks the way that ‘works best for them,’ without any reference to ‘authoritative’ sources, are not haunting tarot or Lenormand forums and blogs and assembling a library of titles on the subjects.

      I suspect I ‘shouldn’t’ assign such high worth to so-called authorities external to myself–well, that’s what we’re all told nowadays, isn’t it? But my own nature as well as my cultural upbringing drive me towards it. There is always a Master, a Teacher, one who is not me, and I must seek them out and learn their trade secrets or methods–even if only to then come to the conclusion that I prefer a different Master or system.

      But the point is, a Master or System is always vaguely involved, even if only on the periphery, Unthinkable to use an RWS-based tarot deck without many and constant tips of the hat to the Order of the Golden Dawn. Ditto for the Thoth and the ODO and Thelema/Crowley. Or the Arthurian Tarot ( Hallowquest) and the Matthews’ companion books and the ancient and medieval source materials they reference. If there’s someone else authoritative who’s doing Golden Dawn-ism or Arthurian tarot differently, I want to and indeed must know. I must seek them out as well or else be haunted by a sense of incompletionism, that I have not glimpsed all there is to know on the subject and that I am thus potentially missing something in my use (or even merely appreciation) of the deck.

      This is relevant to Lenormand, the subject of this blog post, because I only this year began to dip my toes in the Lenormand waters. And of course, like Le Fanu, my attention was caught by the various European schools, the comprehensive-seeming instructional threads on forums started by people whom other members seemed to esteem as mini-authorities in the field. And of course, books, although I have been spared the haunting sense of incompletionism in that regard because I do not read most of the languages in which Lenormand texts seem to be published.

      All of which is to say: it’s not easy for me to tell myself, “Just listen to yourself; ignore the so-called authorities.” I have been driven to identify and seek out those authorities in many aspects of life. I am always seeking the Master, the Teacher, when every “New Age” source in this era tells me that the Master or Teacher is (must be) myself.

      • melancholyaeon says:

        Hi Chiriku:

        “haunted by a sense of incompletionism”

        This is your profound insight. But you are not incomplete. Until you get this about yourself, you will always be “haunted” and feel imperfect. This isn’t a “New Age” teaching, this is healthy adult psychological development! And it’s damn hard.🙂 Be strong and stay true to your path without falling into dependence on those outside yourself.😀

        I would strongly encourage you to carefully compare the so-called “teachings” of the Lenormand, or any other system, for that matter. With the Lenormand, there’s no mystical there to be found. It’s a parlor game from the mid-19th century. It’s not ancient or profound. It was an amusement meant for upper-middle-class German ladies on a rainy day. It was always a commercial entertainment product. In this case, a knowledge of the factual history of Lenormand sets you free!

        Any systems imposed upon them are completely artificial, and anyone who tells you otherwise is out for your money. So don’t believe them.😀 The supposed schools are a mish-mash of cartomantic traditions that come from the existing cultures and are often summarized by cash-driven, best-selling authors of their time, such as Etteilla. There is no one “pure” “authentic” “folk” tradition around the Lenormand.

        Any system you made up on the spot this afternoon has no more or less validity than that of [insert famous name with books here]. They are all creations and not very original. Again, Dummett has some hilarious & choice comments on the general development of various cartomantic “systems” in Wicked Pack. Read those and heed.😀

        Best wishes to you as you go about finding wholeness in your deep work.😀

  5. martyj1970 says:

    I’m sick and tired of reading forums and FB groups on how we should read. Carla, you have hit the nail right on the head! Yes, who gives a f*** how we read as long as it makes sense to us and the client. With all these systems around. Who’s right and who’s not really does beg the question🙂

  6. I’m with Carla and Martin on this one. Being booted from the forum world was one of the best things that happened to my reading. It’s when we ignore the loud noise of forums and books and the baying hyenas that we listen to the inner voice, which connects to the cards. I play with the cards on my blog now however I wish. I use which deck I like and read it how I want. It works for me and is very liberating🙂

  7. Share says:

    I am having this exact problem!! I tried about 6yrs ago…but then….everything was in German or whatever….nothing to go by…even then arguments about schools of thought, systems…but now. O. my. I’m lost and I very much have a passion for learning these cards!!i bought that new book by Katz…then hear so many saying its all over the place, another invented system etc. wtf. Worn out trying to decide, like you wrote…what to take, discard or who listen to. And I can even forget ever buying a Lenormand deck I want….everytime I see one either its sold out…only had 50copies made or seem similar crap. SO frustrating!! I had tried to order that Russian one….the castle one…can’t remember the exact name and it’s sister deck….couldn’t navigate the Russian and ended up losing out on those 2….I’m sure it’s sold out so I don’t even look. There’s been at least 10 decks I knew I’d resonate with only to find out …nope all gone. I don’t have the funds to just see a deck and buy it on the spot before their all gone! I have to save or plan and by that time (like with Chronata’s Lenormand….I have all her other decks…the original Minute Tarot and All Hallows’ and I I adore her style to bits…what was nasty about that loss was I caught the deck in time but she wouldn’t hod a deck until I could pay for it 2wks later…ugh!!!)….anyways….the whole learning debacle coupled with even attempting to acquire a Lenormand I can get into image wise….makes me too want to give up entirely. I though now would be the perfect time to learn with it so trendy but as you wrote, it’s just a mess with so many logs, ideas, styles, systems, feels like I’m lost and suffocating/buried. What to do? Not sure at this point….but yea….I’m beyond frustrated.

    • Le Fanu says:

      I know, I know. I hear everything you say! I think I said elsewhere to just get yourself a notebook and build up meanings from bits of research. I do think the Goodwin/Katz book is good in that it has some good solid meanings all in one place. The pages devoted to meanings are actually quite good to work with. Start with those as your basic meanings (like I say constantly, I’m no expert, but that’s how I started, building up meanings in a notebook and thinking about what the logical combinations might mean), i.e child + scythe = maybe something cut short in the early stages etc etc. In terms of them being snapped up, I think Lenormand is well on the way to becoming mainstream so pretty soon there’ll be lovely ones available in mass market editions; you know Ciro’s is being published by U.S Games and I heard that Schiffer were publishing Melissa’s. But really, learn the system with the LoS French Cartomancy deck – which is very lovely and has a distinctive 19th Century feel – while you’re waiting for some mass market editions to come out. There’ll be lots of lovely ones yet to come. The best ones are the minimalist ones really. You don’t need fancy layered ones…

  8. Lotus Padma says:

    Le Fanu, that was (as always) most elegantly and eloquently put. Much as Carla said – put the books behind you, and draw your own map. I find the Lenormand to be quite on point – but only if one uses it as a set of keys to unlock the intuition – like any other oracle or reading system. In the end, as with any cards, the only thing doing the reading is your gut…really.🙂 The simplest things/ideas/methods are usually the most efficient.

  9. Karen Mahony says:

    I completely agree Lotus Padma. The more I read, the more it becomes a matter of my own personal relationship with the cards, built up over time and drawing on my own experiences and feelings.

  10. JJ says:

    I’ll weigh in too since PLN and I were banned from AT at the same time and over the same issue, and this whole unpleasantness over Lenormand systems reminds me of that group bullying on AT, that sadly hasn’t disappeared. I was shocked recently to discover this whole controversy about systems of reading with the Lenormand, and how stroppy people were being over it all. WTF indeed.

    I use them as I like, sometimes comparing across decks or mixing them with tarot or oracles, sometimes drawing one or two or three cards and just doing what I do. They are quite enjoyable and there’s been an explosion of self-published decks that is interesting to follow. I made my own deck a few years ago and enjoy using that as well as published decks, but I no longer buy them as the frenzy turned me off.

    Mlle. Lenormand did her own thing and created a system. I figure you can use her system or someone else’s, or your own, or not use a system at all and simply enjoy a daily card. I am saddened to hear that so many people are being put off their cards.

    Pull back and be yourselves, do what you like, and enjoy your Lenormand cards!

  11. Applause!

    In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time I really read the instruction booklet or looked through the card meanings card by card. It feels like the general (and I mean very general) books published on matters such as Lenormand and tarot are full of jargon. It is redundant all throughout and won’t have very much to say. Perhaps the purpose of the book was to put profit in the bank. It really won’t have much that is transcendental, even though the books I have seen mentioned here are all very good. It is the mix of those coherent jewels and the mass market ones that end up making our heads spin.

    Go ahead, be a pioneer and enjoy yourself in the process! In the long run, you’re seeking eloquent answers. You could trim a non-traditional tarot deck and make it into an oracle. It would read better without the constraints of something that it is not anyway.

    Beautiful oracles, by the way.

  12. Leo says:

    I really enjoyed what you wrote. Nowadays, we can say that there is a sort of ‘lenormand-fever’ on the internet, and I really don’t know why and also do not know how to feel about it. I’d like to ask you how do you feel about people claiming that ‘you do not and cannot use your intuition with the Lenormand’? For me, this is just one more oracle as any other one. An oracle requires intuition in the very core meaning of the word. How can you say the cross is faith or burdens? Just by the cards around it? Or how can you claim someone works at home or just has a solid professional situation? I think people try to make it sound as if they knew this is the true original method of reading the cards, which I find quite demanding, specially for people who are starting – who read this and just give up. They tend to forget all the psychology behind the card reading process and transform it into something quite objective, which for me, does not make sense at all. Objectivity with divination or however one might call it.

    Also, I see you’ve got a copy of the brazilian version of the Gypsy Lenormand! Is it a nice deck? I’m a brazilian myself and I was really interested in it since it only differs from the Zigeuner for its clear and not black background, and would like to know what you think about it and the other brazilian decks you own.

    Good post anyway!
    Cheers,

    Leo

    • Le Fanu says:

      Hello Leo, I can never resist Brazilian Lenormands / Baralhos Ciganos, but it’s partly because of my fondness for Brazil and my own memories of visits to Umbanda shops in Rio and my instiable curiosity for Brazilian spiritualism and these mass produced little baralhos are all part of the same scene. However, there is invariably something a little substandard about Brazilian deck production. I never know why that is and it’s a pity. Cheap cardstock (but not cheaply priced neither here nor – I imagine – there). Let’s face it, they’re quite poor quality but I think of them as rough and ready decks for use anywhere, on the street, on the beach but I do wish the publishers would try a little harder. Only the other day I realised that my Brazilian Gypsy Lenormand has two Fox cards! My previous one (which I returned to the shop) had some cards which didn’t have the backs printed correctly. All quite typical unfortunately. But I still buy them and still love them. Thanks for the visit!

  13. morganesky says:

    UGH great timing, as I was just doing this last night, trying to learn more in-depth information about the Lenormand system, and coming away more confused and disappointed than before. I have the basics of the card meanings and some spreads to use, and will do what everyone suggests – journal and work it out my own way.

  14. Lotus Padma says:

    I have to comment again due to an experience I had today with the Lenormand deck. It’s not the first time this has happened to me with the deck. I asked about my day ahead, and I got Scythe, Fox, and Mice. According to the book meanings, this meant I would lose my job and suffer terrible financial consequences, or be cooking the books to hide sums of money illegally obtained (Fox, Mice). What actually occurred was what I thought would occur – I had to work hard to mow my large back 40 lawn (Scythe, Fox – and it took me two hours to do it) and I ended up going out and spending small amounts of money here and there, that I could ill-afford to do today (Mice.) I also paid my neighbor’s red-haired child (Fox) $6 to mow the much smaller front yard (Fox, Mice). So much for book meanings, and it just illustrates the point I made earlier – these cards are strictly point of fact – take the literal meaning of the pic, and use gut to interpret, and there is your accurate prediction.

    So much for the books, cooked or otherwise😉

    • Mr. Lucky says:

      Doing a 3 card daily draw is a mistake, from my perspective. Most lives change very little from day to day. 3 cards in a daily draw is not he same thing as a 3 card reading for a specific answer. I never do a daily draw and don’t plan to. Everyone recommends it, but the masses are often wrong.

  15. winter says:

    Awwww you are such a lucky flea marketeer!! I truly believe that the Haus card in the Gypsy Sibilla is the besthouse card I have ever seen, I adore it! Thans for sharing your loot Le Fanu! I am even inspired to attempt my first Lenormand reading! I have no such precious gorgeousness as you to indulge in though ;-/

  16. I guess it’s just a never ending debate about traditions, whatever the field. But sometimes the violence in it is shocking. I’ve seen your name in passing on a Learning Lenormand group on FB, and now I read this article. I found my experience pretty much in here. Too many different things, decks, traditions, big names, books, sites… Where to do ? What to keep ? It was a mess. And there was a fight and collapse apparantly, because one of the people who REALLY explained the basics on his blog shut it down 4 days after I’ve found it. Back to square one. Very hard to find ONE source that is both synthetic and complete, to learn the basics meanings without missing some, and ALSO the basics methods and spreads. HOW to read… because it’s so different.

    I’ve had a wonderful month by myself away from the internet, with my first deck, and when I came back ? Wow. The absolute shock. So what I did was NOT Lenormand reading ? Okay…. Back to square one. What was I doing then ? What should I do ? I guess I will take great benefits by learning the “traditional” method, but still, I’m too much of a seer to read words and cards. Cards speak to me, and that never follows tradition… So using a Lenormand is weird, and I have been taken aback and disturbed by all those affirmations.

    Maybe I should just relax and center, and see what comes up. Continue learning in my corner, the traditional method, but also centering to see what is MY way.

    And in fact, it is for all card reading. I realized that when a querent recently asked me how I did it, how I could read, how I read etc. And I had to verbalize that I’ve never used a book and don’t plan to, because I only use the cards themselves and it works. For me. That is MY way, I’m intuitive, I see, etc. Might have to actually work on having trust in myself.

  17. Mr. Lucky says:

    I learned Lenormand by keeping it simple. There is great power in simplicity, for it allows the message of the cards to speak to you without the confused noised of too many rules. Here is how it did it: I learned no more than 3 meanings for each card. I practiced combining two cards, then I was ready for spreads. First the 3 card spread then the 9 card spread. Most, if not all questions, can be answered by these spreads. Then I could approach the GT with the same simplicity: No houses, no mirroring, no knighting, no past/present/future designations, no cards on the angles are more important. None of it. And guess what, It became rather easy. Every book I picked up or any course I attempted to take just made me confused, so I dropped it and used the basic theory+intuition approach. If any of you are interesting in taking a similar approach you might check out Claire Seifert’s course. I highly recommend it.

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