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.
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;
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.