Now, if you’ve been exploring Lenormand for a while, you may have come across completely different meanings for certain cards, depending on who you talk to, who you’ve been following, which books you’ve read, what you’ve been doing up til now and in which traditions. Quite often, you’ll hear people talking about German and French traditions, or Belgian, or Dutch, or Russian, or talking about traditional versus modern or even more intuitive methods.
Which, once you come across the fact there are some major differences in meanings and methods, can be horribly confusing.
You may, for instance, look at the meanings I use here and go “Whaaaat? That’s not what I’ve been taught!”
Or you may find someone else’s elsewhere and go “Whaat? That’s not what I’ve been doing. That’s not right, surely?”
You may do some historical exploration and go, “Oh no! I’m not sure the meanings I’ve been using are the proper authentic ones, but I don’t know which those are.”
So how do you sort through it all?
How I Read Lenormand
Now, should say, how I read Lenormand and what I share about it is based on how I personally read the cards and what works for me. I didn’t just make it up though. I learnt Lenormand using the taught meanings now widely known, which are often seen as modern French, although I dip in elsewhere, as well as through my own practice, trial, error, exploration and experimentation. (And no, I don’t make any meanings up or try to treat them like Tarot!) But in this tradition, it means, like many other readers, I tend to use, for example, the Fox card for employment and the Whip to denote sex.
As you may be aware, though, those aren’t necessarily the only cards that can be used for those meanings. And if those aren’t meanings that work for you, that’s fine. As I’ve said on many occasions, I’m not pretending to be some guru whose religion and methods you MUST follow as if they’re the One True Way. I’m just exploring, experimenting, sharing here what I’ve learnt and found and what genuinely works for me in my own readings. You can really never stop learning, and I’d encourage anyone learning and practicing Lenormand to do the same.
Traditional Meanings: A Little Bit Of History
So WHY are there wildly different meanings about, especially on particular cards? And how do you know which “version” is correct and true? Is there such a thing as THE ‘definitive’ meaning and method? And if you’ve been using one core meaning and discover there’s another one for the same card, does that mean you should change what you’re doing and all your previous readings were wrong?
No, not at all! Or at least not necessarily. Let’s explore.
The biggest problem here with wanting to find the definitive traditional meanings arises with: well, which tradition are we talking about? What exactly is the origin?
Game of Hope
The Lenormand Cards themselves, as they appear today, originate in the German card game Das Spiel der Hofnung or Game of Hope, by Johann Hechtel and published in 1799. Although the Game of Hope did come with instructions, its original interpretation instructions were fairly loose (See my post on Playing the Game of Hope. There were NO instructions originally as to the meanings of each card, other than that some were negative and positive in connotation) and fortune telling was only one of its possible uses; it was more of a Snakes and Ladders type game than an oracle.
Phillipe Lenormand Instructions
But when the cards originally used in the Game of Hope were published and essentially rebranded as Le Petit Jeu Lenormand in the mid 19th Century using the name of famed French fortune teller Mlle Lenormand to add credence, it came with a whole new set of instructions, purportedly from a descendant of hers, a “Philippe LeNormand”. Unfortunately, it seems most likely that his character was more of a marketing “authentication” ploy than a real descendent, BUT these instructions were printed and published with nearly all Lenormand decks produced for around a century.
You can find an example of those instructions, HERE . Many of the modern, especially German, meanings find their roots in these instructions. So in many senses, and for many readers, that makes those on the Philippe Lenormand sheet both the truly ‘traditional’ meanings AND methods and basis of what followed. I’d suggest if you really want to go back, start here. Over time, of course, readers applied their own cartomancy methods and own nuances in their own cultural realities, and naturally, passed them down to others. That largely accounts for some of the regional differences we see today.
They are, however, also sometimes a little different from the meanings you’ll find me using and also the way in which they are used. Traditionally, they employ a Grand Tableau only and the cards’ meanings alter, sometimes becoming their own opposites according to the closeness or distance from the Querent card in that layout: often known as the Near and Far method of layout. Now, this isn’t something I’ve been using here at all, but I’ll be going more into this and Traditional Grand Tableau reading in a later post.
It’s worth pointing out, though, to go back to the Game of Hope, Hechtel didn’t just randomly pluck the ideas for his images out of thin air and pair them randomly with certain playing cards. The Game of Hope is a hybrid, that likely originated in earlier cartomancy systems (Mary K Greer in particular has done some work on this, particularly on the Viennese Coffee Cards, which share many of the Lenormand symbols although not the numberings or playing cards, and believes they are a direct precursor. You can see an English-made example of these here at the British Museum website: you have to admit they are pretty similar!) Other writers and researchers think it may be that the Lenormand cards were part of a much wider card oracle tradition. So in that sense it may be pretty hard to find the truest, purest, original meanings of the cards. They mostly, as symbols of ordinary objects and things, relate to how that thing functions in real life, and how it was seen culturally at the time.
So How Do We Know Which Meaning Is “Correct”? Does It Matter Which Tradition We Use?
Well, it matters in the sense you need to be consistent about your Lenormand readings and meanings, and that Lenormand is a language. The best advice really is, at least when you are starting, to pick a “school” and stick with it until you are well practiced with the cards. It’s not like you can just make up completely random meanings as you go along, even if you consider yourself, as I do, a more ‘intuitive’ and experimental user of the cards. It doesn’t mean I don’t follow SOME rules and consistency. The cards themselves are not THAT intuitive in terms of meanings in the way that, say, Tarot would be; they’re just down to earth. My intuition, I find, really kicks in from understanding that underlying core, or essence of the meanings, based in the function of the symbol of the cards. I don’t, though, follow a rigid or ‘pure’ set of rules or believe there’s only one way to read. I don’t know many readers who do.
That said, I couldn’t, for instance, suddenly decide that the Storks means “terrible danger” or “pink” or even “watch out for pigeon droppings.” I have to ensure I’m sticking broadly with core and established meanings, based on the underlying essence of the card. I only apply those outward to different circumstances in order to focus them. It doesn’t change the fundamental underlying meaning.
Which, in the case of Storks, say is around changes and improvements. This is pretty much the same across all traditions. Even in the traditional instructions Storks foretell a change of abode, delayed if the card is far from the Querent in the Grand Tableau.
Are Most Of The Meanings The Same or Similar Across Traditions?
Happily, MOST of the fundamental core meanings are the same or similar across countries or methods, or at least you can see the underlying links, although some may emphasise one aspect of that meaning over others. Most, I’ve found, will apply that core, essence meaning, as I’ve learned to do, to the context of the question. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the point of the card symbolism is to provide an easily recognisable language, rooted in day to day life.
For example, Storks pretty universally signals the core meaning or essence of change, although the exact change involved (job, house, just a sense of a new beginning, changes in the workplace, a new start in love, a house) will depend on the context, the question asked and the surrounding cards. The Heart is a love or passion, whether romantic or no; the Ring has a core meaning of bonds and ties, which lends itself to contracts, marriage and so on.
However, there are some common cards that have variance in core or essence meanings that you may come across in your explorations. Here are the cards where you commonly find such differences.
Cards Where You May See Different Core Meanings or Emphasis
Clouds: Confusion or Doom?
This one’s more an issue of emphasis, but across traditions or ‘schools’ the Clouds are often far more of a negative card than just the interpretation of “confusion and uncertainty” I use suggests. The Clouds, for many readers, are often seen as a very bad omen indeed, overshadowing everything they touch.
In the traditional readings, the presence of the Clouds near other cards can completely negate and change their meanings, and is mentioned far more than any other card. For many readers, they signify impending disaster. Whether the light or dark side of the Clouds is facing towards the Querent is also significant (the light side brings good luck according to the Philippe Lenormand instructions, the dark, the opposite) and whether it is already behind or ahead of the Querent also.
Birds: Chatter, Hardships or Trips?
Most modern French-leaning interpretations like mine have the Birds signifying primarily verbal communication, chatter, sometimes pairs.
But you’ll tend to find the more Germanic (also Russian) meanings put far more emphasis on the Birds meaning upsets, anxieties and difficulties. In addition the traditional instructions have”hardships” as the meaning when near the Querent and “surprise, short or pleasant trips” (very birdlike) when far. You’ll notice, though, that although wildly different, both of these come from what birds in real life do themselves. They tweet and chirp to each other (communication); their movements mirror nervousness; they are often in pairs, they fly, and birds can sometimes be a bad omen in some cultures. It’s just that one ‘tradition’ puts more emphasis on some of those aspects than others.
Fox. Work or Deceit?
The question of whether or not to use the Fox as the Work/Employment card or one of the others (Anchor or Moon most usually) is probably one of the most common disputes over card meanings. In truth, there isn’t an original specifically designated “Work” card, mainly because of work and career in the way we’d see things now wasn’t quite the same thing in the mid 1800s and earlier. The Ship represented good fortune in trade; the Fish, in “marine enterprises” and the Anchor, again, success in seafaring enterprise! Unsurprisingly, a lot of 18th century focus is on seafaring and trade and fortunes made that way. The designation of the Fox for work (clever Monsieur Reynard, using his wits to get what he needs) is specifically a very recent invention (first appearing, I believe, in Mary Marco’s book in 1989) and one that appears to be followed by a number of modern French readers and teachers since.
I tend to use it as the work keycard because thats’ how I was first taught, but it does jar sometimes, and I sometimes use other cards to pick up on the main aspects of work, like ambition, like organisation. The far more common interpretation of the Fox across ALL traditions is that of “wrongness” or “deception.” For the Philippe Lenormand interpretation, this is especially true if the Fox appears near the Querent in the GT. If it is far away, the suggestion is that the Querent may be misjudging the individual to whom it refers.
Moon. Work, Creativity, Emotion or Accolade?
In some traditions, rather than the Fox, it is the Moon card that represents work, although creativity and imagination are often be part of that, mostly in the sense of innovation as well as the idea of a vocation. There it is, up in the sky, shimmering, glowing, illuminated.
But in most traditions it appears the Moon most often means honours, recognition and accolades, even adulation more than that, with mood mentioned more as a side issue, more in the sense of emotional satisfaction. Some readers emphasise more the emotional nature, rather more like the Tarot Moon, some the creativity, although it should be said, the Lenormand Moon isn’t the Tarot Moon.
The Philippe Lenormand has the Near meaning of the Moon as fortune and honour; the far as grief and misery. Here you can see that in the negative meaning, there is an emotional element.
Anchor. Work or Stability?
Pretty much all traditions have a sense of stability and permanence in general with the Anchor, but the German tradition primarily uses the Anchor as the job card as well, although emphasising the stability or stabilizing aspect of that in life.
The traditional instructions give the Near meaning as “Success at seafaring enterprise and true love” Far: disappointment & inconstancy (so it is ‘constancy’ does appear to be a key positive meaning here.)
Whip: Is this the Sex card or not? Or Arguments, Or Punishment, or…
The card is about conflict and quarrels across the board, also often punishment or chastisement.
However, much like the Fox, the Whip meaning as sex (in its sense of friction, vigour, two people rubbing up against each other, essentially!) appears only to be used by modern French readers, and is rarely used for this by those following more the German style.
Lily: Is THIS the Sex card or not? Or Maturity, or Purity, or…
Another card that causes confusion. There’s actually quite a lot of difference across the spectrum with this one.
Age and maturity come up a lot, as well as peace, virtue, family life and purity (this includes the traditional meaning: so sex is not mentioned here, although there are mentions of virtue and lack of virtue!)
However, it’s more a Germanic tradition where this card appears to mean sex and pleasure
So Which Core Meaning Do I Choose & How?
Most people end up using the meanings of the system they first learned, as I did with what’s loosely termed the French modern, although, as I say, not everyone agrees with all of those meanings. And in terms of actual readings, it can all get a bit chicken and egg, where once a certain card is what you use for a certain meaning, it becomes the card that appears in your readings for that meaning, for you.
However, you may find that some meanings just don’t seem work for you in your readings with what you’ve been given. Personally, I’ve only ever experienced this really with the Fox card in what could be a non-work reading; the other cards as I have them have tended to work well for me, and as I say, across most of the cards, the core meanings are very much the same.
So if that’s the case for you with a particular card or cards, why not see if one of the other meanings seems to work better for you? No, that doesn’t mean you just get to randomly make up whatever you feel like for the card by focusing on the imagery for ‘clues’, this isn’t Tarot, but do experiment with using the other meanings from other Lenormand traditions you find.
What matters ultimately is finding what WORKS. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. Just be aware that there is some variety out there and experiment with readings as much as you can. Why not try interpreting readings with this or that technique and card meaning emphasis and see which turn out to be the most accurate for you? Pull some cards for the week and do a compare and contrast using the different meanings or aspects of meanings. Just be aware that there may be others than you are most familiar with and using, and that they’re not necessarily “wrong” even though they may not be what you personally do. Variety is the spice of life and all that.
Do You Need More Guidance?
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