Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

All blogs are copyright Caitlín Matthews.
If you wish to quote any portion of this site, please ask my permission first.

Saturday 22 March 2014



What is the best kind of deck to learn from? There are so many on the market that it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the choice: painted, photoshopped, photographic, thematic, traditional packs, clip-art and trade-advert packs. With such a range of decks to choose from and with some of these being produced privately and more expensive than the commercially available ones, you want to spend your money wisely and well.

(Just a selection of decks: L-R, from top: Lilac Lenormand, Blue Owl, Melissa Lenormand, Britta’s Wahsagenkarten, Postmark Lenormand; bottom: Magisches Lenormand, Victorian Lenormand, Ryder’s Lenormand)

Everyone has their own aesthetic response to artwork, of course, and this is often how beginners proceed: by appearance alone. But if you use the same criteria as for choosing a tarot, you can soon lose the plot in Lenormand. Tarots often have a lush imagery, so that it’s like choosing 78 very beautiful or charming pictures for your art gallery, but sheer proliferation of loveliness or whimsy will not help you in Lenormand. Think of Lenormand decks as you do of font that you read. If I switched to italic script, the clarity is immediately lessened: it might be fine for a short greeting, but pages of this would do your head in. However, if I chose to write for you in Walbaum FrakturEF, which is a thick historic German font, I wouldn’t blame you for leaving this page immediately. We need unfussy Lenormands just as we need clear font.

The criteria for leading your search include these questions:

• Are the cards crystal clear so that you can understand the image quickly?
• Can you easily distinguish Bouquet from Lily, or House from Tower?
• Do the cards come with a clear playing card or suit and number?
• Do the cards have a running sequence of numbers 1-36 printed on them?
• Are they are a good size for laying out all 36 in a Grand Tableau (regardless of the fact that you aren’t reading one of those just yet?)

1. Choose a deck where the images are clear at a glance.
If it is overwhelmed with astrological emblems, words, lush images or heavily loaded with photo-montaged cut-outs, you will never be able to steer your way through a Grand Tableau without confusion. Simple images enable your mind to make the connections between cards: complex cards delay that process. Here are two decks that show what I mean. The top one is Dream Inspires Lenormand by Flick Merauld who is a great photographer: I like the art a lot but, for a beginner, these two cards are unclear. The flower, if you know your horticulture, is a Lily, but because the number 30 has faded away into the white background, you can’t see this quickly enough. The card beside it is the Star, but it also depicts an owl, which could easily confuse a beginner with the Birds card. It’s also got a fire in it, which might take your mind elsewhere, away from the essential clarity and precision of Star’s meaning.


In the row beneath, we have a Russian Lenormand which gives us few clues as to the cards’ identities. I chose these three cards purposely, because they are only identifiable by their suit which, if you don’t speak Russian, could be problematic in itself on the first card. The first card is a diamond, but what does it signify? This is the Paths card and the Russian D is for Dama, Lady or Queen, in this instance. The middle card shows a cross but, no, it isn’t the Cross, because the suit tells us it’s a 9 Diamonds – so it’s actually the Coffin card, but it doesn’t actually depict one! The last card is 9 Hearts, so we know it’s the Rider, but because the horse is stationary, it could be mistaken for the Gentleman card. These cards are confusing to read with and, even though I’ve read for years, I cannot use this Russian one at all except in small layouts!

2. Do They Have a Playing Card or Suit Symbol on them? Some people feel that the playing card part of a Lenormand card is just extraneous, because they themselves haven’t ever used them. The traditional packs came with them because Lenormand or Petit Jeu (Little Oracle) decks derive from piquet (reduced 32 card) cartomancy. When Lenormand cards received a pictorial image, it was the playing card that helped people remember what the card’s divinatory meaning was about. But it was the German values of playing cards and not the French ones that ended up on Lenormand cards: in the German system it is Clubs which is the challenging suit and not the more usual French Spades.

Above we have, on the left, the Cartamundi Petit Jeu cards of Child, Sun and Mice; this is a later 20th century version of the c1860s Belgian Daveluy cards on the right.

 Here is a  larger card from the Daveluy: it has the playing card of Queen Diamonds, the text that enables the reader to interpret it and the actual image of the Paths below. Knowing that the Paths is also Queen of Diamonds is helpful to the modern reader who can indeed read the card as ‘choices, decisions, crossroads in your life or alternatives’ but it can also be read as ‘an ambitious or career Woman who knows (or thinks she knows) where she is going.’ As we saw in point two above, sometimes knowing the suit and number of the card is simply helpful for identification purposes. Combinations of cards which we read by juxtaposition with each other can also be read, as a secondary process, as combinations of suits, telling us a lot more about our cards. I will be teaching this in my forthcoming book, the Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook, see below.

3. Do they have a Numerical Sequence of 1-36?
The traditional numeration of Lenormand cards is the same whatever you pack you choose. Some packs will often have a title as well as a number, but some will have just a number. Those without numbers are less quickly read when you are learning. There are some fine decks without any such numbers, but they are less easy to read or identify. The pack below is one of my first non-traditional Lenormands, the mini Postmark Lenormand by Melissa Hanney. I have the ordinary sized deck and know it well, but when she made the mini, Melissa left off any numeration or suit-designation because of space considerations – as you can see, I’ve included my own notation here. For me this is fine, for a beginner it would be another story, perhaps? It is clear deck to work with at the ordinary size.

4. Is it Possible to lay out a Grand Tableau with them? In your considerations, bear in mind that when all 36 cards are laid out in a Grand Tableau, it is the cards’ simplicity that will count. If you have chosen the lushly illustrated Hawaiian Pineapple Lenormand (I just made that deck up!), it won’t matter how beautifully painted it is if you can’t, at a glance, tell the difference between the Tree and the Garden, or between the Dog and the Fox, or if you aren’t certain which equivalent Lenormand cards the Volcano (The Mountain?) or the Surf-Board (Ship?) are supposed to represent! I’ve seen many people try to read a GT and heard them say, ‘the Bouquet is over Lady card so that means you have a gift on your mind – oh, sorry, that’s the Lily, isn’t it? So - is your dad ok? This is not the kind of impression you want to give!

This is also why size is a consideration: you will notice that most Lenormand decks are very small, some even smaller than poker size playing cards. Don’t be put off! There is a good reason for this: if the pack you choose has very large cards, then you will need an enormous table when it comes to laying out all 36 of them in a Grand Tableau! I bought a pack a couple of years back which was nearly as big as an original Visconti Sforza tarot card (for which you need jazz pianist, Fats Waller, hands!) To have spread 36 of these cards, I would have needed a double bed-sized table and arms like an orang-utan! I gave them away finally as impossible to work with.

My personal choice for laying a Grand Tableau is a traditional mini deck, because I have a small table and am often travelling to teach, so that I’m reading cards on a small hotel table for clients. 36 mini cards still make a square of about 18 inches or 45cms. As you can see from this picture, the cards of this facsimile Game of Hope (the first Lenormand from 1800) entirely fill my small table. I can easily navigate between the cards because of the pale backgrounds.

I personally use a range of cards that are variations of the traditional packs, with both the playing card and the traditional image upon them, or with the playing card marked in the corner and the images in the centre. If you are learning, then you will need at least one such traditional style deck to start with. People ask me all the time what is my favourite deck and it’s very easy to say the Mertz, which is super clear and unfussy. It’s the deck that lives beside my computer and when I’m skyping with someone, I can take it in hand and ask it anything. As you see, it ticks all the boxes: against the white background, we have numerical sequence number, playing card and clear image.


Here is the Purple Dondorf deck, a facsimile made by Lauren Forstel, taken from Le Fanu’s collection. (You can get ordinary editions of the Dondorf very easily for a small cost.) It’s slightly less clear than the Mertz because it has painted backgrounds to the subjects, but it’s still very good to work with.

Below is a Grand Tableau using the c. 1890s Stralsunder Lenormand: again, this is a mini deck that hasn’t been cleaned up in any way, so it’s not as clear as a new Stralsunder I’m currently expecting in the post, but you can see immediately how each card has to really do its work if you are to read along the lines and make a joined up interpretation. The pale background enables smaller objects to leap out clearly: the cards with more painted backgrounds are not as easy to see unless you are sitting close to the cards. Unfortunately, many of the antique decks are very rare and mostly unavailable, although Lauren Forstel, see below, has brought some wonderful decks back into circulation by her clear reproduction.

But what if you don’t want to read cards with old-time people on them? Well, there are still very clear, bright modern decks that you can read with also, like the Magisches Lenormand by Gabriele Büttner and Sandy Plütsch. You still get numeration, playing card and a very clear image. Some clients like this deck because it has a very friendly, open feel to it and isn’t full of serious,or historical subjects.

Thematic decks are ones that follow a particular theme, mythos or concept. You can go onto using these after you have laid down the basics of learning the meaning and order of the cards. Once you have your bedrock of skills, a thematic deck isn’t going to throw you. Like learning basic acoustic guitar, within time you’ll be able to pick up another kind of guitar and learn what it can show you, because you already have that skill in your hands. Cultural decks are very nice if you have already laid down a base line by learning all 36 cards, but they can also mislead beginners into reading Lenormand more like a tarot card again. If the (non-existent) Hawaiian Pineapple Lenormand has assigned a circle of hula dancers to the card of the Ring, your mind will create associations with the Ring that are symbolic of dancing rather than of ‘agreements,’ which is one of the keywords of this card. In this way you will inevitably bring a whole host of cultural and metaphorical associations that finally detract from or cloud the core meaning.

Here we have Nepher Khepri’s Egyptian Lenormand which shows a sarcophagus for Coffin, the god Thoth for Moon and the Djed Pillar for Cross – I can read this pack without any problem because I have a knowledge of Egyptian myth and symbology: it doesn’t give me problems, but you might be tempted, as a beginner, to fuse the thought ‘Mummy’ with Coffin or ‘writing’ with the Moon, which wouldn’t help you. Below it are the mini deck version, to give you a sense of scale, of Carrie Paris’s excellent Lenormand Revolution, which is based upon the French Revolutionary theme: Lady is manning the barricades, Tower is the Bastille being stormed on 14th July and Gentleman is Louis XVI, still with his head on. These are not so easy to distinguish when all the cards are down, but, as a deck that a strong theme it works for me. A beginner is going to struggle to see the images quickly enough until they have the basics down.

Paris de Bono’s Japanese Lenormand deck pursues a cultural theme: the images are clear and the only point of unclarity for a Lenormand reader is that he has also intended them to have an alternative playing card use as well as a Lenormand one, so there is an upsidedown keyword which has nothing to do with Lenormand interpretation, but everything to do with the playing card meanings. Most beginners would find this off-putting. Tower has nothing to do with escape, of course! But if you wanted a ‘two for one’ deck, this might be helpful to you.

My own deck, the Enchanted Lenormand Oracle, with art by Virginia Lee, is somewhere between a traditional and thematic deck, as it is largely based upon themes in folk stories. Although the frame - by which the cards join up with each other - is busy, the central image is clear and the crystal ball images stand out when set side by side in tableau.

A lot of people decide make their own Lenormand: for your own use, a self-made pack is fine but, unless you have fine art skills, it may not be to everyone else’s taste. I’ve seen many home-made and marketed Lennies that I would rather not use because they are artistically not to my taste nor clear enough in execution.

One of the most charming self-made decks that still ticks all the boxes for me is by the youngest Lenormand creator: Ryder, the 8 year old son of Lenormand teacher, Rana George. It is eminently clear, well-drawn and identifiable. I use the mini deck myself and it’s lots of fun.

Every December I receive a lot of Christmas cards; a couple of years back I made my own Lenormand by cutting up the cards: you may recognize Ship. Tower, House, Rider, Lily and Scythe, but I made these just for fun and won’t be inflicting these upon you at any point, I assure you!

The cards I’ve selected here reflect my own preferences and tastes, of course, and I’m sure your own aesthetic is very different. But I’ve also chosen them to reflect the difficulties and help that cards can bring to the beginner who is taking up Lenormand for the first time. Every deck I’ve mentioned by name is usable and I mean no slight to any creator: I trust they understand that I’m not slating their work, just showing what is helpful or not so helpful for beginners. Lenormands, like cars, are vehicles and you want to chose the best model for the job. My first car had a racing engine and absolutely no insurer would insure me to drive out in it, as a new driver: you might also want to consider the CC of your engine power and find a good run-about Lenormand that will serve you while you are learning how to drive as well as navigate at the same time! You can aspire to faster, sleeker models as you learn.

Many of the traditional antique decks on this blog can be obtained from http://gameofhopelenormand.bigcartel.com/ This will include the forthcoming new and cleaned up edition of the Daveluy Lenormand, from the original cards in my possession, coming soon. Some decks will be easily available on Amazon, but others will have to be bought from overseas. Some self-published decks are no longer in print.

Coming in October 2014: The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook; Reading the Cards, their Symbols and History is a generic book on learning Lenormand. It has 416 pages and over 100 pictures, and includes a progressive way of learning based on practices, spreads, case histories. It is a stand-alone book and quite separate from the Enchanted Lenormand Oracle.