I know that many or my readers come to Lenormand, as I did over a decade ago, from Tarot, having used Tarot for many years. Yes, we all know that it’s a different cartomancy system with different symbols, but is basically pretty much the same as Tarot and can be used and viewed interchangeably, right?
Aside from it also being a card-reading system, Lenormand is completely different from Tarot. The way it works is different. The way you read is different. The fundamental principles are different. The ethos and approach is completely different. If you truly want to get the most from what the Lenormand system has to offer, there are some key adjustments you’re going to need to make in your approach if you’re coming to it from Tarot.
So what are the main things to be aware of?
There are only 36 cards, and they all carry equal “weight”
Tarot, of course, has its 78 cards; its four suits, the Minor Arcana, all depicting the various stages of progress on the ‘journey’ of that suit, as well as the Major Arcana, the big symbols of life. It – at least, as it is used today—symbolically has a strong sense of the spiritual journey about it, of a working to a higher level, of uncovering the mysteries of the universe, being “allowed in” to discover great secrets, of spiritual discovery and a higher power.
There is no such division in the Lenormand Cards. Each of the 36 cards has one symbol, no one symbol is deemed “higher” in the sense of being more important or further along a spiritual path than another, and the underlying meaning of each symbol remains the same regardless of a deck’s imagery. (More on that issue later). All Lenormand symbols relate to everyday things, objects and concerns, the day-to-day of ordinary people’s lives. That doesn’t make such concerns “lesser” or “base” though, although I have sometimes seen it characterised that way. Why should it be?
As humans, we all know what love feels like, value friendships and homes and family, understand the need for safety and having enough resources to live day to day. There’s our Heart, Dog, House cards. We make commitments and promises (Ring) we deal with officials or status issues (Tower) we go from childhood to adulthood to old age (Child, Lily), we learn things, face challenges, make changes in our lives, deal with problems, sadness, happiness, the lot. They are universal. And universality is one of the keys to the Lenormand system.
Lenormand is more direct, grounded and blunt than Tarot
As such, Lenormand is way less of an esoteric, mystical system than Tarot. It has less of the New Age about it (although I am probably prejudiced against that having lived in peak new age town Brighton UK at the height of the New Age revival in the late 80s, early 90s. I have to confess, there is very little tie-dye or patchouli incense in my Lenormand world!) The Lenormand does involve a degree of unlocking mysteries and truths but there is far less of the ‘initiation’, of the ‘being party to a higher power’, to spiritual awakening. It is more about uncovering what is there, seeing what is already in front of your eyes. Grounded, and fairly earth-bound.
If I had to personify the Tarot, I would picture a teacher, a guide, a higher power, with an air of mystery, giving me the keys to many-layered secrets.
Lenormand? More that tactless but spot-on relative or neighbour who will tell you exactly what they think of your life whether you asked their opinion or not.
You have been warned…
Lenormand meanings work from the inside out, not the outside in
From my own experience, I’ve found interpreting Lenormand basically works from the core outwards. To read and understand Lenormand, you take the most fundamental, universal meaning of that card and its symbol and you apply it outwards to the context and world you are in. You then combine it with the meanings of surrounding cards, also in that context to give nuance. The individual card meaning itself is like a seed, which then branches out to meet the world in which it resides. .
Tarot, however, it is far more exploratory. It deals with more spiritual, so-called “higher” concepts, and has a more intellectual, or some might even say, elitist, element (if you know a little of the history of Tarot, you will see how that side of it came about.) The nuance is in the symbolism itself and the ins and outs of that. To access the knowledge the Tarot brings, you as a reader come to it from the outside in. It is the cards themselves that give you a doorway in a way. It’s why meditating on a Tarot card, for instance, is pretty effective; most of the nuance already contained in the card and you dive deeper and deeper into that and explore it further, discovering more and more in the process.
Lenormand does not use card reversals
Tarot cards have a whole extra generated set of meanings when the card is reversed; usually the negative aspects of each card’s meanings. This isn’t the case for Lenormand.
Firstly, there are specific cards in a Lenormand deck which generally have either positive or negative meanings. Check out my posts here for more on negative Lenormand cards:
Secondly, the negativity or not of a card is deeply affected by the surrounding cards, as well as card order. Why? Because…
The Lenormand system is based primarily on card combinations, NOT single cards
The fullest meaning of Lenormand cards comes not through the meanings of individual cards like Tarot but from combining each one with others to tell a story. That is where you get the full picture of Lenormand; that is where all the nuance, detail and story generation lies.
As with a language, each Lenormand card is like a building block with regard to the bigger picture. It’s not true that you cannot consider each card by itself as some readers claim; after all, such universal life concepts as “Love” “Fate” “Family” “Safety” are not meaningless at all. To use the comparison to the seed, a seed has its own energy, remember, its own life force and that’s pretty much how it works with Lenormand.
Check out the Lenormand Card Meanings page for more detail on meanings
However, you will get MUCH more from the Lenormand system from combining the cards to create and generate new meanings, in the way that the system is intended. It is creative, expansive and outward-looking. It puts fundamental concepts and things and people and situations together to generate new meanings; hundreds and hundreds of them are possible from the seed of just one card.
All of the main Lenormand layouts are designed with this in mind. It is about the cards combining, not them individually – very different from Tarot.
Lenormand is a conceptual (& practical) NOT a visual system
As I’ve done above, you’ll often see Lenormand being compared to a spoken or written language, and with good reason. It works in much the same way. Language starts with a core, universal, fundamental concept that you then create a word for. The word is simply a symbol of that concept. Your ‘word’ could be in any language, be made up of those in the English alphabet, or in Cyrillic script, or in Chinese symbols. It could be made up of Egyptian-style hieroglyphics. It could, as in most Lenormand decks, be made up of a drawing or illustration that represents, usually fairly simply, that thing.
That symbol is your means of communicating that concept. But however you do it, it still represents the same basic underlying idea.
Building A Story
Just as with language,in Lenormand, those concepts combine, into sentences and paragraphs to tell a story. Often that combination changes, gives nuance to or magnifies those meanings. A whole new “meaning” is created; in a sentence, a paragraph, ten paragraphs, a whole book. The situation you’re using them in also impacts that. Only now do you have the big picture.
But Tarot doesn’t work this way. It is about spiritual discovery. You discover the concept through the imagery in the individual cards and relate them to where they are placed in a given spread. It’s like a gateway. Yes, there are “concepts” behind the symbols, but they are spiritual in nature. You use the cards themselves to explore the concepts. Your cards are a tool for that discovery and all its nuances. The symbols in Tarot themselves matter hugely in this.
Lenormand meaning stays the same regardless of card design
Related to the above, as well as the idea of working from the inside out rather than the outside in, this is an absolutely crucial difference between how the Lenormand and Tarot systems work at their best, from a reader’s point of view.
Underlying concept, not representation or manifestation, is key
For Tarot, the imagery IS one of the main doorways to the meaning. It’s key, and so many meanings and nuances and clues can be embedded within a card, for additional exploration.
For Lenormand, the basic underlying concept is the key and you apply it out into the world. Absolutely fundamental difference. Don’t waste time getting hung up on specific imagery or stressing about the number of meanings on Lenormand card lists! If you are, you’re trying to apply Tarot methods to a completely different system and are missing the absolute beauty and potential of the Lenormand system, particularly for intuitive purposes. Lenormand works from the inside out, always. From the most fundamental, universal concept you can have, like a seed, upwards and out.
Artwork is irrelevant to Lenormand meanings
Yep. Sorry. This is why it doesn’t matter one bit in terms of card meaning whether your Lenormand card is a word written on a playing card, a computer graphic, a photo you took on your phone, an elaborate gothic design, an 18th century illustration, an exquisitely hand-painted watercolour, an Art Deco scene. It doesn’t matter if your House has a path, trees and big garden, or just a cottage on its own or is a kids’ drawing. It’s still a House and most fundamentally means “Home” – the rest of the design is wholly irrelevant to the meaning. Any versions are manifestations of that same basic concept.
Sure, you may have a personal preference in terms of design, you may want your cards to reflect your sensibilities and use to draw you personally better into the single fundamental meaning of that particular card. I do too, and I love checking out the different decks. There are some beautiful decks about, and of course, we all have our own preferences and reasons as to which we’ll choose and why.
But that really is all it is: personal preference. Just bear in mind that although the imagery we prefer can help us resonate with the cards, beautiful, design, artwork and exploration of imagery is not at heart what the Lenormand system is about.
So in summary, then, some of the biggest differences between Lenormand and Tarot:
- The Lenormand has 36 cards, the Tarot 78, split into Major & Minor Arcana
- Lenormand is much more direct, often to the point of bluntness! It is less of an exploratory or ‘spiritual’ system, and speaks more to everyday concerns. That doesn’t make it less ‘meaningful’.
- Lenormand works from the inside out, based on universal core meanings
- In Tarot, meaning comes mainly through individual cards. In Lenormand most of the meaning, detail and nuance comes from combining the cards.
- You don’t have reversed cards in Lenormand, but in Tarot, all cards have a reversed meaning
- Lenormand works more like a language, with a basic underlying meaning behind the card.
- The artwork and design can add nuance to the meaning in Tarot. This is NOT the case in Lenormand, where a card’s meaning is always exactly the same across designs.
Do You Need More Guidance?
Go to my Lenormand Tips page for more tips about common issues and problems.
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