As I mentioned in my last post, the instructions that came with most Lenormand decks from the mid 19th century onwards were the so-called “Philippe Lenormand” instructions. These were printed with the Game of Hope cards when they were rebranded as Le Petit Lenormand after the famous French fortune teller. They gave a particular way of reading and interpreting the cards in a Grand Tableau that are very different from the way I and many readers read them now.
Even so, you should be able to see the roots of both the common modern meanings of the cards and to different methods of reading.
So in the next few posts, I’ll be covering the following issues on the Traditional Grand Tableau.
- What The Main Differences Are
- “Traditional” Card Meanings incl. Near & Far
- Example “Traditional” GT Reading
- How Does The Result Differ From How I’d Read?
- Which Method Is “Correct?”
- Blending Traditional and Modern Methods
What Do We Mean By “Traditional”?
Hechtel’s “Game of Hope” Cards
As I mentioned in my previous post about different ways to read the Grand Tableau, the Le Petit Jeu Lenormand cards that we know as Lenormand today were first printed in Germany. The first “Lenormand” cards were actually nothing to do with Mlle Lenormand at all, but have their origins in a card-based parlour game called The Game of Hope (Das Spiel Der Hoffnung) created by one Johann Kaspar Hechtel (Left) in Germany in 1799.
You can play my version of Hechtel’s Game of Hope by checking out the post here:
The images on Hechtel’s cards, exactly the same as on the Lenormand cards today, appear to be based on “coffee cards” which were popular in Vienna coffee houses in the 18th century. These in turn, appeared to have meanings based on the reading of coffee grounds, something I’ll cover at some point in another post.
Hechtel’s original instructions did include an option to use the cards for fortune telling, but the instructions themselves were quite vague on this: they just tell the players to “create an amusing story” from the cards appearing around the Man or Woman card in the spread. (So you see the storytelling origins!)
“Game of Hope” Rebranded to Le Petit Jeu de Lenormand
In the mid-19th century, Hechtel’s Game of Hope cards were rebranded using the name of Mlle Marie Lenormand, the celebrated French fortune teller of the Napoleonic era, as Le Petit Jeu Lenormand. (There is also another completely different deck of 52 cards called Le Grand Jeu de Mlle Lenormand, which again, appears to have little to do with the lady herself, but does involve complex meanings mainly based on Greek mythology as well as additional symbolism. This, I should note, has little in common with the Lenormand decks we’re using here, but again, is something I may explore in later posts.)
When Hechtel’s Game of Hope cards were rebranded in the mid 19th century, they came with instructions, purportedly from a descendant of Mlle Lenormand’s, a “Philippe LeNormand”. It is these that we refer to when we’re talking about “traditional” Grand Tableau Readings.
You can find a sample translation here:
OK, So What Are The Main Differences?
The Cards Have Different Meanings
You can see the origin of many of the current card “essence” meanings that I and most other readers use, but there are also some meanings that are very specific to the context, era and culture (including social conventions) that they were produced in. Since this version of the cards originated in Germany, they tend towards the more Germanic school of interpretation. Check out my post here on different Lenormand ‘schools’ of meaning:
Their Meanings Vary According To How Near and Far They Are From the Querent Card in the Grid
This is one of the most important differences between say, how I would usually read the cards and how readers who consider themselves strictly “traditional” will. The instructions often give different meanings for the cards according to whether they are Near or Far from the querent card.
What do we mean by near and far?
Well, for the purposes of the Grand Tableau ONLY (because it has so many cards), a good rule of thumb is to say that “Near” cards are those primarily which touch the querent, and, with slightly lesser power, those that are one card away. So cards one and two places away from the Querent.
For “far” cards in the Grand Tableau, use those five cards away and more.
The rest are kind of ‘middling’: they may or may not be of significance.
They Also Vary If They Have Negative Cards Around Them
This kind of relates to how modern readers read them, with negative cards modifying more positive ones. The card that is mentioned the most as a negative card in the Philippe Lenormand instructions is the Clouds.
Some readers, therefore, view the Clouds as the most negative in the deck.
Other readers consider any of the cards we know as negative to perform the same negating function as the Clouds in these interpretations.
The Storytelling Aspect Is Still Really Important
As you’ll see in the example linked to above, the reader is still expected to weave the cards and interpretations together into a story
That said, as you will see below, the Near and Far readings (or the instructions) aren’t actually particularly intuitive, and they can be rather inconsistent and confusing.
Nonetheless, in many of the cards, you can make out the roots or essences of the modern meanings used today.
“Traditional” Meanings, Including For Near & Far
For the purposes of the Grand Tableau only:
Near: Cards directly next to (one away) and two away from the Querent card
Far: Cards five places and more away from the Querent Card
Unlucky Cards: Clouds but also Snake, Fox, Mountain, Scythe, Cross etc
“Trees’ Cards: Cards which include greenery e.g. the Garden, the House etc
I’m also including a note about this meaning’s relation to more modern or familiar readings of the cards. (The cards shown are the Lo Scarabeo deck, so not particularly traditional themselves!)
1. Cavalier (Rider)
Near: A messenger, good news from nearby or soon
Far: A messenger, good news from afar, or later if not surrounded by negative cards
Surrounding Cards: If surrounded by unlucky cards brings bad news rather than good
Relation to Modern Meaning: Very similar: delivery, often personal, of news
Near: Good luck, unless surrounded by negative cards. If so, great pain, but of short duration.
Far: No specific meaning given. Some readers suggest it means isolation.
Surrounding Cards: If surrounded by Clouds or other negative cards, great pain.
Relation to Modern Meaning: It essentially makes ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ according to the position.
Near: A short journey. Some readers also suggest opportunity.
Far: Great wealth acquired by trade or inheritance.
Surrounding Card: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: Historically, although there is a journey element, the traditional meaning focuses far more on the trade and business aspect from a time where a huge amount of wealth was being generated through seafaring and voyages of discovery.
Near: Success & prosperity in all undertakings. Even if things are unhappy for the person, the future is looking better.
Far: No meaning given
Surrounding Cards: If card is in the centre, beneath the querent, be wary of people who surround him or her
Relation to Modern Meaning: The House here is far more related to the status of the individual but this would have included your family, your family name, your household and who is nearby. It’s about your standing in society.
Near: You need to look after your health as there may be concerns.
Far: Good health. Additionally, if surrounded by other ‘green’ cards, fulfilment of wishes.
Surrounding Cards: Other “Tree & greenery including” cards, such as the Garden, signify fulfilment of wishes and positivity
Relation to Modern Meaning: As now, the Tree is related to health and vitality but also positivity in general. The most important thing to note in the traditional reading is that nearness to the querent signifies health problems.
Near: No meaning given, but look at other cards and position. The closer it is to the querent, the worse it generally is.
Far: No meaning given, but look at other cards and position. The negative influence could be lessened but also look at the ‘side’ the clouds fall on as below.
Surrounding Cards: With the clear side towards the person, good luck, the dark side, ill fortune.
Relation to Modern Meaning: This gives a much more negative view of the Clouds than in most modern readings; for some readers, the Clouds is the very worst card in the deck. Other readers see all negative cards as having equal negative weight to the Clouds, but you can see why it is given such negativity, as the Clouds overshadow and ‘darken’ everything.
7. Serpent (Snake)
Near: Severe misfortune; deceit, infidelity sorrow
Far: The same but less severe, with easier resolution of problems.
Surrounding Cards: n/a but check them as an indication of what the nature of the problems may be.
Relation to Modern Meaning: Again a negative card, but particularly with a deceit or betraying element
Near: Dangerous disease, death, loss of fortune
Far: Less dangerous, minor illness or annoyances
Surrounding Cards: Worsens if surrounded by other negative cards.
Relation to Modern Meaning: Another extremely negative card which, in traditional meanings, essentially does what it says on the tin and is very stark. It means death and illness, whereas more modern meanings also include ‘endings’ and sometimes depression too. It’s a kind of ‘life-draining’ card.
Near: Happiness in every respect
Far: No separate meaning given, but still a generally positive card.
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: A card which has remained as a positive. In traditional meanings as now it also carries connotations of ‘societal niceties’ too: things like politeness, good manners, pleasantness in general.
Near: Great danger Be on your guard.
Far: No meaning given, but some readers view it as attacks on people near the querent rather than the querent themselves.
Surrounding Cards: Lucky cards surrounding it can reduce the danger of the Scythe, but also see surrounding cards for nature of the danger or risk.
Relation to Modern Meaning: Another very negative card which perhaps has had its meaning diluted somewhat, but historically, it is a warning card, warning of the danger of the blade, an attack, harm, a cut with a knife. I’d still use it in this sense as well as for more metaphorical ‘cuts’, including making decisions.
Near: Quarrels at home, domestic afflictions, marital strife, fever, sickness
Far: No separate meaning given, but can indicate less severe.
Surrounding Cards: See surrounding cards for nature of strife.
Relation to Modern Meaning: This still is the most used meaning of the cards today; strife, conflict, punishment, something that is meant to challenge. The ‘fever and sickness’ represent a challenge for the household to surmount. Some modern readers also use the Whip to denote sex; this tends to be more the modern French, and it is rooted in the idea of ‘conflict’ or ‘friction’. You’ll see that most Germanic readers tend to opt for the Lilies to denote sex and sexuality instead. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t really dealt with directly in traditional decks, although there are hints in the meanings of the Lilies.
Near: Hardships to overcome, but of short duration
Far: The completion of a pleasant journey
Surrounding Cards: n/a but suggest looking at surrounding cards for nature of issue.
Relation to Modern Meaning: Most Germanic ‘schools’ still use the Birds more as an indication of problems than communication, rather like I’d use the Mice cards here; there’s an element of nervousness and bickering to it. Note all meanings from all ‘schools’ tend to focus on the actions of birds in real life, whether it’s ‘pecking’ ‘chattering’ or flying, as here with the ‘pleasant journey’
Near: The person moves in good society, is well thought of and is kind to everyone
Far: no separate meaning given
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: Very different, obviously to most of the modern meanings which relate mostly to youth, rather than being a ‘kind’ and ‘pure’ individual, I am very much reminded here, though, of the Tarot card the Six of Cups, with its children and the air of innocent giving, purer times, simple generosity. I’d say more that this reflects the social culture of the times, the mid 19th century and so on. Nonetheless, innocence is still a key aspect of the Child card’s modern meaning.
Near: Mistrust people close to you, because deceit is nearby
Far: There is no danger from those around you; you may be being unfair
Surrounding Cards: n/a but check the cards for nature of the problem.
Relation to Modern Meaning: As discussed previously, the Fox is, in nearly all traditions, concerned with deceit and general wrongness. The “Work” meaning really only came about in very modern French interpretations (the 1980s) although has remained in that ‘school’ ever since
Near: Messenger of good fortune
Far: Be careful of the envious
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: You can see here, especially with the ‘envious’ part connected with good fortune, both an indication of money but also a sense of self-protection.
Near: Good luck in all enterprises
Far: No separate meaning given, but assume less powerful.
Surrounding Cards: If surrounded by Clouds or negative cards, a series of unhappy accidents
Relation to Modern Meaning: The traditional meaning is less about ambitions and more about good fortune, the stars smiling on you.
Near: A change of home, very soon
Far: A change of home much later
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: So we see the ‘change’ aspect here and the sense of the new, although the traditional meaning specifically speaks about changing the home.
Near: Your friends are faithful and sincere
Far: Be cautious, especially if surrounded by Clouds or negative cards
Surrounding Cards: If surrounded by negative cards, do not trust your friends
Relation to Modern Meaning: This is pretty much unchanged: friends and friendships.
Near: A happy old age
Far: An illness, especially if surrounded by Clouds
Surrounding Cards: If surrounded by Clouds it can mean sickness or death
Relation to Modern Meaning: You get the sense of establishment and seniority, but this is much more like the modern meanings that are sometimes associated with the Lilies.
20. Park (Garden)
Near: You’ll visit very respectable company and should make intimate connections
Far: Watch out for false friends
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: Obviously, the focus on of ‘respectability’ of company is very much of its time, but in essence, this is about social circles and socialising outside the home and who you associate with, as it is with interpretations today.
Near: A mighty enemy
Far: You can rely on powerful friends
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: “A mighty enemy” is a much more specific version of the obstacles and blockages that are most often represented by the Mountain today, but the power and immoveability, intransigence of what you may face is still a key feature.
22. Roads (Crossroads)
Near: No specific meaning given, but some readers suggest an important problem will present itself to be resolved.
Far: You’ll find ways and means to avoid any threatening danger
Surrounding Cards: With Clouds or other negative cards, a sign of disaster
Relation to Modern Meaning: As you can see, the Crossroads tends to have a much more negative meaning in traditional readings, with more of an emphasis placed on a problem to be resolved, but the more modern interpretations around choice seem to have their roots in the ‘ways and means’ aspect.
Near: A theft or loss, but the object will soon be recovered
Far: An unrecoverable loss or theft
Surrounding Cards: n/a although may refer to nature of the loss.
Relation to Modern Meaning: The erosion and loss aspect is more apparent in traditional meanings, with the mice the stealer of food and also the association with poverty. The ‘nervousness’ or ‘small problems’ aspect often seen in more modern meanings is more akin to the traditional & Germanic meanings of the Birds card.
Near: Joy, leading to union and bliss
Far: No separate meaning given
Surrounding Cards: n/a but Ring or Anchor would suggest something longer lasting
Relation to Modern Meaning: This one’s stayed pretty similar, focusing primarily on romantic love.
Near: A happy marriage if to the right of the person
Far: If left of the person, a falling out and the breaking off of a marriage
Surrounding Cards: If on the right of a person, a rich and happy marriage
Relation to Modern Meaning: Again, you can see it’s almost identical but the traditional meaning deals exclusively with marriage and marital unions.
Near: You’ll find out a secret; be careful when trying to resolve it as could be negative
Far: No separate meaning given
Surrounding Cards: You can judge by these in what manner you discover the secret and whether it is good or bad
Relation to Modern Meaning: Rather than being about education and knowledge in general, the traditional meanings focus solely on the ‘secret’ and recovery of a secret aspect of the Book.
Near: Luck coming from afar. News.
Far: No separate meaning given
Surrounding Cards: If Clouds or negative cards, much grief and disappointment
Relation to Modern Meaning: News, in much the same way as it is now.
The querent, if male. All other cards are read in relation to position of this card. Can relate to significant male in female querent’s life.
The querent if female. All other cards are read in relation to position of this card. Can refer to significant female in male querent’s life.
Near: A happy life, if free of negative cards
Far: No separate meaning given
Surrounding Cards: Clouds or other negatives, a family grief. If Lilies above the person, they are virtuous and pure, if below them, their moral principles are doubted
Relation to Modern Meaning: This traditional meaning is far more concerned with purity and morality than many modern meanings, and as such is more connected with the sexuality aspect in the German tradition (although sex is not mentioned at all in traditional readings). The age aspects in many modern interpretations are more closely aligned with the Tower in the traditional.
Near: Happiness and pleasure
Far: Misfortune and sorrow
Surrounding Cards: Clouds or other negative cards obviously show negativity
Relation to Modern Meaning: Again, this card’s meaning has stayed pretty much the same since the 19th century.
Near: Great fortune, honours and fame
Far: Grief and misery
Surrounding Cards: Negative cards likely to negate good fortune indicated by the Moon.
Relation to Modern Meaning: This links more to the idea of ‘reputation’ that the Moon has in some modern interpretations, and also those (e.g Belgian) which use the Moon as the work card. You can see here that this is rather like the Stars in most modern interpretations, with talk of fame and honour.
Near: The certain success of a wish or desire
Far: The failure of a wish or desire
Surrounding Cards: Careful of negative cards.
Relation to Modern Meaning: So traditionally, the Key is really the ‘yes’ card, so you can see its link both to the idea of Fate or Destiny and also of importance, with you being handed the key to your wishes and desires.
34. Fishes (Fish)
Near: The acquisition of a large fortune by marine enterprises & a series of successful undertakings
Far: The failure of any speculation, even if well planned
Surrounding Cards: none specific, but as usual, check the surrounding cards.
Relation to Modern Meaning: Here, you can see the links both to money and abundance, but also the more enterprising, entrepreneurial nature of the Fish shown by its modern meanings around business of all kinds. So although they all, in keeping with the era, focus on seafaring, the Fish shows a more ‘risky’ approach taken than in the traditional interpretations of, say, the Anchor (success, certainty) or the Ship (wealth through trade, possible journeys).
Near: A successful enterprise at sea, great advantage in trade, and true love
Far: A thorough disappointment in ideas, inconstancy in love
Surrounding Cards: Again check surrounding cards.
Relation to Modern Meaning: What we can see in the Anchor card’s meanings, including its opposite indicated by the Far meanings, is that it’s about success and certainty in life. It is also why it is still used, particularly in Germanic interpretations as the card for work.
Near: A bad sign, but the misfortune may not last long
Far: A bad sign
Surrounding Cards: n/a
Relation to Modern Meaning: The Cross remains universally a card of troubles, burdens, bad luck and life tests.
So Does This Mean Other Meanings & Methods of Reading The Cards Are Wrong?
No – but it is worth you knowing where and how they started, so you can decide how much of the traditional methods you wish to try out and incorporate into your current practice.
In terms of meanings, obviously, these meanings are, first of all, in the context of the particular country and era in which the cards and instructions were produced. As the game spread across countries and were passed down over time, regional adaptations to meanings happened naturally, hence different ‘schools’ of interpretation, although most of these differences are relatively minor. At the end of the day,, they use basic everyday symbols that were around long before this particular card game was, so do bear that in mind when deciding how ‘pure’ you need to be in your methods. Really, it comes down to what works for you.
As far as method is concerned, I personally don’t find the Near and Far methods of separate meanings particularly intuitive and prefer to work with key essences in terms of meaning. The Game of Hope prior to the “Philippe Lenormand” instructions, remember, simply suggested ‘making a pleasing story’ from the cards around the Querent or particular cards, so in fact methodology was rather loose.
However, it is worth trying the Near/Far method out in a Grand Tableau to see if it works for you, and also comparing it to others.
So in my next post, I will be doing exactly that and giving some step by steps as to how it can be done!
Do You Need More Guidance?
Go to my Lenormand Tips page for more tips about common issues and problems.
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