I have this feeling that Tarot cards were originally read much more like the linguistic method used for Lenormand cards. The Rider-Waite-Smith illustrated Minor Arcana cards and the Golden Dawn’s focus on visual–mythological interpretations of the Tarot images seems to have led to a more psychological and spiritual journey set of interpretations over the past century or so.
The Tarot’s Original Pip Cards
The Major Arcana have always stood out on their own as individual spiritual messengers, but the Minors were originally just symbols and numbers (they came from playing cards) with traditional meanings unrelated to any “picture” or “story,” like they still are in the Tarot de Marseille decks, which Jean Noblet developed in 1650.
The Lenormand Cards and their Method
Lenormand images are pictorial, but also much simpler and more down-to-earth than Tarot imagery. No fancy mythological, cabalistic, or astrological references here. Just playing-card links (you can also do divinatory readings with playing cards, although I have not studied that yet).
The meanings associated with these cards are simpler and more complex at the same time. Simpler because they have one central object, and the meaning is assigned to the object, with some variation due to the context of question. Most of the variation in meaning, though, lies in their position in relationship to other cards. Doing a single card reading with Lenormand is almost impossible, like having the subject of a sentence on hand, but no adjectives, verbs, or objects to complete it. Lenormand is more complex because your primary source for the message is in those relationships among the cards. There is no “story” built in to a single card. You have to construct your reading like a sentence and remember the meanings and relationships through practice.
I find the system quite linear and analytical compared to the visual-intuitive approach normally used for Tarot. It’s an extremely effective method for getting a heads up on the energies surrounding a concrete question about daily life.
Applying Lenormand to the Tarot
Some folks have tried to make the Lenormand system work the way Tarot cards are usually read these days, but I don’t think they lend themselves well to a visual-intuitive interpretation. I don’t really want the Lenormand cards to turn into just a small-scale set of Tarot cards for mundane questions. Then we lose the method that makes them interesting and effective in readings.
Instead, I’ve taken some of the methods I’ve learned for different draws in the Lenormand system and applied them to Tarot. Most of what I’ve learned about analyzing groups of cards has come from Andy Boroveshengra. In addition to working with some of his earlier course material, I also use his more recent book, Lenormand Thirty-Six Cards, as a reference for step-by-step building of readings from multiple cards. I’ve also found Caitlín Matthews’ The Complete Lenormand Oracle Handbook extremely valuable.
In the basic approach to Lenormand, cards to the right of the first card act as adjectives, modifying the cards to the left, with distance eventually minimizing their impact on cards farther away.
So, let’s apply this method (subject-adjective-adjective) to three Tarot cards for a reading on how to deal with a potential job loss.
We begin with the subject card (Five of Cups), the first drawn, and see that a job loss is quite likely, or at least things will not go the way the querent wants them to. The second card modifies the first, like an adjective does with a subject in a sentence. What does it tell the querent? That his loss is likely temporary, since, in spite of opposition, he should be able to recover. The third card indicates that his opposition (note this card is primarily modifying the one that falls to its left) comes from a King of Swords-type, maybe someone who has trouble dealing with any kind of mistake or one who is jealous of the querent’s talents.
Advice in this case would be to use these insights to decide whether to fight back or accept the loss and move on knowing that the opposition comes from, say, the owner of the company. The final decision (as always) is with the querent, but this information gives them some clues as to what to expect.
Positioning is almost everything, though. If the last two cards change positions, then the King of Swords may act as a support for the querent (sitting right next to the upright cups in the first card and the potential victor in the third). The Seven of Wands would then indicate that the K of S would fight for the querent.
Other Lenormand Spreads for Tarot
This is just a taste for how the Lenormand method can enhance your Tarot readings. You can also use a mirroring technique with longer draws, like a five-card draw for the week. In this approach, you would pair the outside cards with each other, for example, then the inside cards, and use the center card as a focal point with the others’ relationships having an effect on it.
Lots of challenges in this five-card draw, starting with the Devil as the focus card. To mirror, you look at the Three of Cups and Hermit together, then the Ace of Cups and King of Cups to find a message that modifies the negative energy of the Devil, or lets you know where your weaknesses may lie. Looks like the Ace and King might indicate a struggle over falling for the shiny new feeling and not accessing the calm-and-control influence of the King. Meanwhile, farther away from the Devil’s influence, you have a message that indicates a conflict between being with friends versus being alone, maybe. Go ahead and see what the pairings might mean for you.
I’m not sure I’d do the equivalent of a Grand Tableau (uses all 36 Lenormand cards), though, with Tarot cards! That would make for a really long reading analysis. But I do use one of Andy’s techniques to analyze all the possibilities in a 3 x 3 square, where you can look at distance factors as well as vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, and even diamond patterns to get more card relationship information.
I have more Lenormand-to-Tarot detail on my blog in the Lenormand category, if you’d like to know more.
Joanne Sprott has been reading the Tarot since 2012 and using the Lenormand system since 2013. She has also served as co-chair (2015–2017) and then webmaster (2017–2019) for TABI. Joanne’s own Tarot musings can be found at Cosmic Whispers Tarot; for more information on her Divine Physics deck and to sign up for production updates and pre-order goodies, head over to the deck’s page on Joanne’s site.