Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

All blogs are copyright Caitlín Matthews.
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Sunday 29 June 2014


Why and how Lenormand Reading is different
from modern methods of Tarot Reading 

If you are familiar with Tarot and are wanting to approach Lenormand for the first time, then this might be a helpful place to start, to understand why and how reading Lenormand is so different. If you approach Lenormand with a cartomantic mindset, you will arrive prepared.


Cartomancy is the craft of divining from cards. While it is a word often applied to playing card reading these days, it is a useful term for anyone who is taking up Lenormand reading for the first time.  Lenormand cards are read cartomantically, which is an older method of reading cards, which I’m going to outline here.
          Before Tarot went esoteric, before Lenormand cards were even born, people were laying out playing cards and reading them by juxtaposition with each other.  It is from this era that we inherit the cartomantic style of reading that is used in Lenormand.  
          The image below is Etteilla’s spread called le Coup de Douze  (12 card Spread – and yes, it does have two extra cards for ‘the surprise.’) This is taken from the very first published book which outlined practical cartomantic reading with a pack of 32 playing cards, The Only True Way to Read the Cards, published in 1773. 


Etteilla read the cards from right to left (most modern cartomancers read left to right today and that is still the case with Lenormand cards) and used reversed cards (which Lenormand reading does not). We see that the carte blanche (the blank card that acted as the Significator) is centrally placed here. The cards either side of it, which touch the Significator are King Hearts and 10 Diamonds, signifying a Blond Man who has an abundance of money, respectively.  The line is read by pairing card 1 with card 2, card 2 with card 3 etc.  until the line is read. This method tells the story as cards blend together. Many years later this same Coup de Douze  spread was taken up by the Golden Dawn and translated into the fiendishly complex Opening of the Key spread, which takes several hours to lay and read.
          Here is the case in point: cartomancy is simple, pragmatic and non esoteric.  It doesn’t depend on a knowledge of astrology, it doesn’t require you to know which phase the moon is in, you don’t need to know numerology.  This is one of the reasons why Lenormand is non-esoteric in nature and why we read in the ways that we do now: because the reading style dates from before the esotericizing of tarot in the mid-late 18th century, which was begun by Court de Gebelin and Comte de Mellet, and to which Etteilla himself contributed, though not before recording his own cartomantic methods.  

          The older style of cartomantic reading is one that is nowadays only used by playing card readers and cartomancers who use small oracles like Lenormand.  It comes from a different mindset and, without taking this on board, it’s easy to try and read  Lenormand like Tarot, which won’t help you at all. The art of reading a line, combining the cards as you go, is where this kind of reading began.

In the next blog of this sequence, we’ll look at the specifics of how Lenormand and Tarot are different and how this affects the style in which we read. 

For those who like to read with traditional, historic decks, I thoroughly recommend the cards produced by Lauren Forestell: these facsimile  decks are printed on good linen cardstock, with clear images.  http://gameofhopelenormand.bigcartel.com/

The One and Only Petit Etteilla Course
by Caitlín Matthews

Etteilla (1738-1791) wrote the first self-instruction manual on cartomancy in 1770, enabling readers to divine with a piquet deck of 32 playing cards.  Written before the impact of esoteric tarot, this influential book revolutionized divination.  Its unique methods of reading have remained largely unexplored by readers who have been deterred from studying them because his work was written in 18th century French or not available in English.  Now for the first time, his book can speak directly as you learn to read Petit Etteilla for yourself.

On the One and Only Petit Etteilla Course (so called in echo of Etteilla’s own style of writing!) you will create your own Petit Etteilla Deck, learning how to apply his 18th century meanings in a more helpful modern way.  The complete text of his book is translated and explained clearly so that you can read for yourself how his methods work. 

Throughout his book, Etteilla gave many spreads outlining the case history of one woman for whom he reads sequentially. He invites you to lay out the cards for her, just as he has done, so that you can learn his methods quicker. The original illustrations from his 18th book are included so that you can follow him. 

The text is arranged over several lessons, so that you understand the source material for yourself and how it is applied in practice.  This is supplemented by my explanations, examples of spreads and case histories so that you begin to learn the methods by daily practice.  I also provide smaller spreads that can be practically used on a daily basis.

The course enables you to learn cartomantic combination from Etteilla’s keyword meanings. This precise method of reading is very different from the interpretations of Tarot reading but, because all the meanings you will ever need are already written upon your cards, you can immediately read and combine them without the need of memorization. By building up your reading from simple pairing and short line spreads, you will gain confidence and soon be reading Petit Etteilla for yourself and others.

Features of this course:

  • The first complete English translation of the revised 1773 edition of La Seule Manière de Tirer Les Cartes by Etteilla, fully annotated
  • Side by side original Etteilla and modern applications of the meanings
  • Learn to read using Etteilla’s meanings and spreads
  • Practise your skills using case histories 
  • Learn cartomantic combinations
  • Gain confidence in reading for clients
  • Create your own Petit Etteilla Deck
  • Illustrations of Etteilla’s Original Spreads, including The Wheel of Fortune, the Spread of Twelve, Spread of Fifteen, Etteilla’s Spread, The Dovetail Spread, Horoscope Spread.
  • New, shorter spreads for everyday divination

Available from http://www.cartomancy.net/en/courses/petit-etteilla

Sunday 15 June 2014

In the Future, You Will Be Raped by Brigands! or How Not To Interpret For Your Client

‘In the future, you will be raped by brigands!’  is probably the worst line ever to fall from the lips of a cartomancer into his client’s ears.

These deathless words make us wonder what was the reaction of the lady for whom Etteilla was reading? He uttered them  as part of his interpretation of the Petit Etteilla cards in the Dovetail Spread in his book of 1773.* 

Dispute des Brigands after Alexandre Marie Colin, 1829
 Etteilla reports this spread at breakneck speed, summarizing his findings from the cards like this: ‘In brief, it says in the future you will be raped by brigands. You will decide to change your behaviour, but this won’t succeed. Among those who have made this attack on you will be a light brown man. Advantage for your husband.’ Even if you or I saw such a thing in a spread, today we would not speak this aloud so baldly!   

When you read for others,  you also  have to express what you understand in words to a client and that means you need to become fluent in interpreting cards aloud as well as for your own benefit on paper or in your mind.  As you read for others, each client’s own needs and concerns bring you to engage with areas of interpretation you had not previously considered. 

Not only do you have to read the cards in context with the question, but you also have to express what you understand in suitable language. If you read for an engineer you will use very different metaphors than when you read for a young English student or an elderly artist.  It’s helpful to keep your metaphors and comparisons general and understandable, without jargon.

The way we read is not only about presenting what the cards say,  it is about the tone and tenor of your interpretation too.  You will communicate the import of the cards more sensitively with a man still reeling from being dumped by his girlfriend than you might with a tough businesswoman who wants you to tell her the absolute truth about her trading prospects this month.   It isn’t that you will hold back on the truth, just that you will handle and express your findings in well chosen language without brutalizing, spooking, bewildering or upsetting your client.
What you do not say aloud is also responsible cartomancy. Sometimes you see things in a spread that should not be disclosed unless the client first speaks about it. Only the other day I was reading Lenormand for a female client who was worried about her husband’s long absences: when  I discovered Man on the house of Woman and Bear on the house of Lilies in the same Grand Tableau,  my immediate impression was that her husband could be a secret cross-dresser but, since this was information that might cause offence and had not been flagged up by her as a possibility, I kept my own council. These combinations could equally indicate that she and her husband simply cross-polarise the usual male and female roles between them.
You may get a sense that there is an undisclosed matter hanging over a reading that might be revealed, but creep up on it, introducing a topic only if it is appropriate for the client.  Crashing in with, ‘I see that you were raped,’ or ‘your clandestine affair is revealed here,’ is not what someone comes to be told; however, if they come in order for you to read about the rape or about their affair, then that’s another matter.  

Very few of us would get away with a pronouncement like, ‘in the future, you will be raped by brigands!’ But sometimes you may indeed read something troubling that is coming up or has already happened to the client.  Predicting future difficulties for a client may make him fearful or superstitious, while lingering on past problems may retraumatise him. So what do you do?

Here is a line of Petit Etteilla that would suggest such a possibility:
My own Petit Etteilla cards with the Joker as the Etteilla or Significator card :   K  + A +r8 + 8 + Etteilla  
 It literally reads, right to left, ‘In solitude while abroad enjoying yourself, a striking man…,’ as a line and then the two meeting cards at either end (King Hearts and 8 Spades) complete the sentence with ‘ …is abusive.’  The sense is clear: the woman is abroad and lets down her guard while enjoying herself.  Etteilla (the Significator card) pairs with the 8 Spades to give us ‘Solitude,’  and 8 Clubs gives us ‘distant or abroad.’ The Venus card of Ace Spades is one of sexuality, so while it might be about her general enjoyment, it could equally be about a sexual assault.  King Hearts has some physical characteristic and could well be a blond or fair-haired man as well.
In terms of reading about the past, my rule of thumb is, has the client already mentioned a traumatic issue like being sexually assaulted abroad?  If she hasn’t, I don’t go into detail but merely say, ‘there was some kind of attack while you were abroad.’  If the client confirms this, that’s enough. If she wants to say more, she can. Otherwise, we pass on without more comment.

But in terms of a predicted future event, like an assault while on holiday, that is shrieking on all frequencies to you, the responsibility is to warn or caution. Let’s say the client is a woman of the world, with good confidence,  I might say, ‘When you go abroad, I’m sure you’re going to have a pleasurable time, but you need to watch out for a particular guy, especially when you’re alone. He might be someone who looks like he would be a good lay, but he’s got an abusive streak in him. Just be careful.’

Had the client been someone who couldn’t receive that news without going into a melt-down, or a much younger woman whose confidence isn’t so great, then my approach would be different. I might say, ‘When you go abroad, it would be best to go round the sights and the shops with another woman. Avoid being alone, especially in remote places or down-town.’  This would invariably bring up a question from the client, in response, ‘What do you see?’ To which I would reply, ‘the cards are saying you should be careful not to be alone in case of some opportunistic man taking advantage of you while you’re out enjoying yourself.’  So she asks, ‘What kind of man?’ I reply, ‘He’s got some facial or other characteristic that makes him distinctive – could be a scar or a tattoo or a broken nose, something like that nature.  He’s the kind of guy who’s out for a good time, but at your expense.’ She is warned, but less explicitly.

When it comes to broaching the full extent of a reading, we cartomancers have to avoid becoming the brigands ourselves. Cartomancy is not about shock and awe, or scoring points, it is service of guidance along a path that the client is currently walking, sometimes rather shakily.  The job is not to knock them off the path or to lose them, or make them fearful of their journey, but to orient them until they come to the next clear signpost or into familiar regions again.


Il Sentiero dei Briganti or the Brigand’s Path is a mountainous route stretching from La Monaldesca to Vulci in North West Italy

Ask these questions of yourself while you read:

- What kind of client are you reading for? What is their state or condition?
- How are you conveying the information of the cards?
- Is your tone of voice appropriate to your client?
-Are you using language that they understand?
- Can they hear and receive the difficult messages that you read from their current standpoint?
- What are the most important points to summarise from the reading for the client to implement?
- What in the reading enables the client to go home with some hope and confidence?

Kindness and consideration for your client is the respect by which you honour them.  Speaking intelligently and in context to their condition enables their understanding of what you find, however hard the message.   

*Etteilla’s La Seule Manière de Tirer Les Cartes of 1773, has finally been translated into English as part of the One and Only Etteilla Course which will be available in September from http://www.cartomancy.net/en/courses/petit-etteilla

The One and Only Petit Etteilla Course
by Caitlín Matthews

Features of this course include:

  • The first complete English translation of the revised 1773 edition of La Seule Manière de Tirer Les Cartes by Etteilla, fully annotated
  • Side by side original Etteilla and modern applications of the meanings
  • Learn to read using Etteilla’s meanings and spreads
  • Practise your skills using case histories 
  • Learn cartomantic combinations
  • Gain confidence in reading for clients
  • Create your own Petit Etteilla Deck
  • Illustrations of Etteilla’s Original Spreads, including The Wheel of Fortune, the Spread of Twelve, Spread of Fifteen, Etteilla’s Spread, The Dovetail Spread, Spread of Thirty-Three, Horoscope Spread.
  • New, shorter spreads for everyday divination