Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Saturday, 28 April 2012

    by Caitlín Matthews

The mystery of how men and women relate to each other is central to the work of the diviner: why does he treat me this way?  when will she notice me? how can we get back together? are common questions that clients bring to the cartomant or tarotmancer, who often find him or herself acting as an intermediary or interpreter of romantic relationships. However tempted, diviners must keep their neutrality while Eros aims his arrows indiscriminately.

The publication of John Gray’s popular relationship psychology book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus  in 1993 seemed to throw an original and quirky light upon the differences between men and women. But, in actuality, the connection between the feminine with Venus and the masculine with Mars has been established in cartomancy since the era of Etteilla, an 18th century French cartomant and tarot creator, and also of the unknown person who created the Petit Lenormand system – who may not have been Mademoiselle Marie-Anne Lenormand.  What follows is the mystery of the piquet deck, which I’ve chosen to pursue by investigating the footprint of Venus and Mars in the cards.

                                   Above: Petit Etteilla cards. Below: Mertz Lenormand

Etteilla was the professional name of Jean Baptiste Alliette Jeune (1738-1791), who lived at 48 rue de l’Oseille, Paris (now, rue de Poitou in the 3rd Arrondissement.)  Etteilla, whose calling card proclaimed him as ‘professeur d’alegèbre’, no doubt a cover for his esoteric activities that were proscribed under French law, was greatly inspired by the arcane writings of Court de Gebelin.  In 1770 Etteilla published a book called ‘Etteilla, ou maniere de se récréer avec un jeu du cartes par M***’ (Etteilla, or A way to entertain yourself with a pack of cards by Mr ****).  This system of divination was based upon the common 32 card or piquet deck that was used in France and Italy at the time, but with Etteilla’s unique spin.  A piquet deck is one in which the 2-6 cards have been removed, as was used in the playing card game, piquet.  

The playing card game of piquet, in which Ace is high, was mentioned by Rabelais in 1535, and was well established by the mid 17th century.  The aim of the game is to ‘get over the Rubicon’ by gaining 100 points in a partie or round. When players receive a hand containing no court cards, they may call ‘Carte Blanche’ and receive 10 points.  With only 32 cards, it makes a fast game in which concentration and counting are requied.  Etteilla obviously knew it well.

In his fortune-telling piquet card system, Etteilla assigned a 33rd card to the questioner, making a Significator card which Etteilla called ‘the Carte Blanche,’ obviously drawing on the game of piquet. Petit Etteilla cards also had upright and reversed meanings, at this time when double-headed cards had not yet been invented. He revealed a number of ways in which the cards could be laid in subsequent editions of a book called Etteilla, ou la seule manière de tirer les cartes (Etteilla, or The Only Way to Read the Cards) in 1773.

The Spread called ‘Coup de Etteilla’ from La Seule Manière de Tirer Les Cartes of 1773, using an ordinary 32 piquet playing card deck with the Carte Blanche shown at position 2 in the top right hand corner.

In his Petit Etteilla, Etteilla’s ascribes Ace of Spades to Venus, with the meaning of ‘a trifle,’ while to Ace of Hearts he gives the meaning of ‘the Present.’  When the card appears next to his Significator, which he modestly entitled the ‘Etteilla’ card, Ace of Spades signifies neglect, while Ace of Hearts means suspicion. The only other card assigned to a planet in the Petit Etteilla is the reversed 9 Spades: always an unlucky card in cartomancy, 9 Spades is assigned the meaning of ‘Illness’ in this system and is under the aegis of the unfortunate planet, Saturn. 

Why did Etteilla ascribe these cards to Venus and Mars?  Spades is not the first choice if you are looking for a card of Venus, unless you are exploring her Erisian tendencies.  (Eris was the Goddess of Discord.)  Mars is similarly not commonly associated with Hearts – it’s almost as if they have swopped suits!  Furthermore, Etteilla had already assigned the colouring and characteristics of people to the court cards, with the Heart suit representing blonde individuals, and the Clubs suit representing dark haired people, with Diamonds and Spades furnishing the professions and ages of different kinds of people.

If we peer back into the mists of time, we discover other more obvious depictions of Venus and Mars in cartomancy and tarot.  In 15th century French cartomancy, we find the Queen of Hearts is called Venus in the 1493 pack designed by Jehan Personne, master cardmaker from Lyons.   (Editions J-C. Dussiere.)  This pack assigns Queen of Diamonds to Helen of Troy, Queen of Clubs to Melusine and Queen of Spades to Jeanne la Pucelle.  Venus as Queen of Hearts seems entirely fitting, while the martial virgin, Joan of Arc, takes on the role of Queen of Spades.

Dame du Coeurs from Jehan Personne's Playing Cards of 1493

 We can also see from the Mantegna Tarot of c.1465 that Mars and Venus resemble the major arcana tarot cards of VI Lovers and VII Chariot, with Venus rising from the sea, the element of Hearts or Cups, flanked by Cupid and the three Graces as her handmaids, and Mars sits on a triumphal car like a returning war commander with his sword – the emblem of Spades. These are fitting emblems of the divinities of Love and War, belonging to the sequence of cards depicting the planetary gods.

Venus and Mars from the Mantegna Tarot c.1465

The association of Venus and Mars with the Ace of Spades and Ace of Hearts reappears only in the 36 card Petit Lenormand decks of the mid 19th century, as we can see from the early Lenormand Mertz deck shown at the top of this blog, dating from about 1848-50s.  The Woman and Man cards in the Petit Lenormand system represent the Significator: female and male clients have a dedicated card whose appearance in a tableau spread, where all the cards are used.  Wherever the client’s cards fall in the spread, those cards nearest to it are significant and have strongest effect: those further from the Significator are weaker and have less effect. A female client’s Woman card is examined, as well as the position of the Man card, since it may show how she and her significant other are associated. 

This system of cards is named for Mademoiselle Marie-Anne Adélaïde Lenormand (1772-1843) and is known generically as the Petit Lenormand; it has 36 cards, which is a piquet deck of 32 with the addition of the four sixes.  Lenormand rose from humble origins in Alençon to become ‘the sibyl of the salons’ in Paris.  A gifted diviner, she used many different methods to predict or envision her clients’ fortunes.  Besides coffee grounds, and the inspection of heads, faces and palms, she undoubtedly used the Petit Etteilla cards, German-suited playing cards (with their acorns, leaves, bells and hearts) and cards of her own devising that had constellations upon them.  (These were not the cards now known as Grand Jeu de Mlle. Lenormand or Astro-Mythological Cards which were produced by Grimaud two years after her death in 1845.) 

Lenormand wrote many books and, with her following, would surely not have been diverted from producing cards, had she so wished, just as Etteilla had done before her.  The production of such cards would not have proved impossible, given her immense income from celebrity clientèle.  It has been proved that Etteilla’s proactive publishing has its roots in his own experience as a print-seller: this would have brought him into close association with printers. With an eye to the main chance, he saw ways of benefiting from this association by creating books and card systems of his own. He invented not only the Petit Etteilla cards but two tarots: but is the piquet deck that interests us here.

In actual fact, the Petit Lenormand deck images derive from a German game called Das Spiel der Hoffnung, published in 1800 by G. P. J. Bieling-Dietz of Nuremberg. This was a board game in which 36 cards were laid in a square while competitors raced to be the winner; it was played by two dice to determine how one advanced around the board.  Like Snakes and Ladders, you might advance or retreat if you landed on particular cards.  The cards have the same numeration and images as the Petit Lenormand cards, conclusively proving that this was the origin of the images and their ordering.  The accompanying leaflet to the game also suggested a simple question and answer whereby 32 cards laid in eight rows of four might answer questions. (Compare the Coup de Etteilla spread above, which is an early form of tableau reading.)

Many people are astonished that this seemingly French system has a partial German origin. This game and the French method of fortune-telling with the piquet cards was evidently married together to create the Petit Lenormand style cards, in a Mars and Venus style marriage.   A close comparison  of the divinatory cards that appeared over the period from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century and beyond show a distinct trail back to this marriage of piquet and a German game.  Yet, despite Lenormand’s name being associated with this divination method, she did not necessarily invent it. The game called the Le Grand Jeu, published by Grimaud in 1845, appeared two years after her death and was merely a way of cashing in upon the Lenormand name.  Le Grand Jeu is a pack of 52 cards with classical images as their main picture, and so it is not a Petit Lenormand pack.

If we look at traditional Cartomancy, Ace of Hearts is associated with the establishment of house and home, settling down with a partner and with romance.  On the contrary, the Ace of Spades is most commonly considered to be ‘the death card,’ or which, at its very least, signals a call to change or an unwelcome development.  Yet, Mademoiselle Lenormand, after whom the Petit Lenormand cards are named, saw herself as ‘the Ace of Spades,’ a strong, healthy but hardly beautiful young woman who achieved celebrity status as a diviner to the Empress Joséphine.  Lenormand survived the Terror, to become  ‘the sibyl of the salons’ during the Napoleonic era and the subsequent Bourbon restoration.  Her survival of several terms of imprisonment for illegal divination is testimony to her toughness: she remained a life-long spinster, cultivating a sibylline appearance, wearing a black dress and a black wig which accentuated her dark eyes. 

Was it Lenormand who determined that the Ace of Spades, following Etteilla’s ascription of Venus to this card, should stand for all women, and Mars for all men?  Possibly – we cannot conclusively tell.  Whoever prepared and invented the Petit Lenormand cards followed Etteilla’s strange cross-ascribed suits and found them suitable.  Might the heart of a single woman looking for a man to complete her happiness  assign the Ace of Hearts to the male Significator? I leave it to your judgement.  In doing so, the Petit Lenormand inventor certainly pre-empted Jung’s concept of anima and animus by a good century, in the cross-ascriptions of Mars to the Ace of Hearts and Venus to the Ace of Spades!  

The Petit Lenormand style of oracles spread extensively and speedily through Europe, but most particularly into Germany where it has had its fullest expression.  This was partially been due to the draconian laws against divination that obtained during Lenormand’s own lifetime and into the present age.   Parlour oracles which married images to cartomancy, featuring playing cards upon them, resonate still with the Petit Lenormand system, especially the Sibylla Cards and Gypsy Oracle cards, which have a 36 card layout (though more modern or reproduction Sibyllas lack the cards these days.)   German Kipper Cards, which do not feature playing cards, also retain a 36 card format.  All of these cards stem from the piquet deck.

Etteilla and Lenormand remain the god-parents of the piquet deck fortune-telling cards that we know as the Petit Lenormand system. They are the Mars and Venus of piquet: a self-promoting dandy of an Ace of Hearts, and a plump and unlovely diviner who thought of herself as the Ace of Spades.  Their marriage of ideas has brought us a system of divination that many are rediscovering with wonder today, as conventional tarot exposition begins to pall, and the call of early cartomancy is reawakening.  As with any meeting between love and war, Venus and Mars still engage with their own brand of romantic dissention, but it is a fruitful edge whereat we may find the essential tools of divination.
Here is a Petit Lenormand spread for those who still wonder what Venus and Mars hold for them in relationship terms.  You will need a Petit Lenormand pack or else an ordinary pack of playing cards, if you are a cartomancer.  Place your Woman or Venus (Ace Spades) card to the left of position 5 and your Man or Mars (Ace Hearts) card to the right of position 6 and read away!

                           1.                                             3.
      WOMAN       5.                    7.                      6.            MAN
                           2.                                             4.

1. What's in her mind?
2. What's in her heart?
3. What’s in his mind?
4. What’s in his heart?
5. What she gives/withholds
6. What he gives/withholds
7. Where they meet.

Read cards 1 & 2, and 3 & 4, 5 & 6 as a pair. Then read 1,5,2 and 3,6,4  as triplets which show the disposition of the individuals in the reading.  Finally read 5,6,7 as a triplet to determine the nature of  the relationship at this time.

This article is extracted from Caitlín’s Enchanted Lenormand Oracle, with 36 cards illustrated by Virginia Lee, appearing in 2013. The book accompanying the cards gives background to the Petit Lenormand origins, a full list of meanings, guidance on how to read Lenormand cards (which are read very differently to the way in which we read tarot cards), as well as  practices and spreads that will help beginners deepen their experience.   
See http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/ for more details.


  1. What a wonderful article! Caitlin, i am excited about your upcoming Lenormand deck and book! And I am grateful for you sharing information in English about Etteilla's piquet deck.

  2. I am completing my Petit Etteilla Course currently and we can take back the tradition of cartomancy a little further.

  3. Dear Caitlin,
    I'm sorry for appearing out of the blue beneath this post, but I could not locate your e-mail address on your shared website with Mr. John Matthews. Maybe I was too hasty and have overlooked it by accident during the process--but I feel that I must convey my frustration to you regarding to your wonderful creation--The Steampunk Tarot. I have recently purchased the deck, and I absolutely loved it. I love the genre of Steampunk and I love you and John's reinterpretation of tarot in a Steampunk Imperium. However, I am frustrated because the publishing house (Tuttle) that distributes this deck throughout North America utilizes the most devastating print technology that bends the cards slightly in two directions, which makes it nearly impossible to shuffle. The artwork is stunning but the experience of the deck is completely inconvenienced by the poor paper quality. I've talked to many tarot lovers on Aeclectic Tarot Forum and many of them experience similar (if not worse) frustrations than I did. I am contacting you because I feel absolutely saddened by the fact that your wonderful creation cannot be enjoyed thoroughly across the tarot community because it is lamed by a mere technical issue. I don't know if there is any remedy for this issue, but if you have any control at all over the publishing process--I sincerely hope that a better edition will be made available in the future because I look forward to purchasing a deck that doesn't give me a papercut when I attempt to read it--as I am sure many other Steampunk Tarot fans do.

    Anyway. I am sorry for the complaint and I just want to let you know one more time that I adore the Steampunk Tarot and it is absolutely wonderful. From the bottom of my heart I wish the physical deck itself has the paper quality to champion it.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this humble comment.


    1. dear Kimberly, As the mere authors of the Steampunk Tarot, there is nothing I or John can do about this. The price of the package in the shop is costed well ahead of time, the paper chosen by the publisher and the cards printed in the far east. The Tuttle and UK editions were printed at the same time and are not different from each other. We are not consulted and anything we say will not be heeded, although we have made this comment many times. Sorry, blessings Caitlin

  4. The One and Only Petit Etteilla Course translates the whole of Etteilla's book and gives you a course so you can learn this system. http://www.cartomancy.net/us/etteilla-courses

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