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What can we make of the film Ex Machina via a Lenormand lens?
A young employee wins a trip to the isolated home of the genius founder of the largest internet search company. He is asked to test if a new AI (artificial intelligence) robot truly simulates human intelligence and emotion, in what becomes a radical kind of Turing test meant to determine the difference between human and machine.
Spoiler Alert . . .
As usual, I drew the cards before seeing the movie:
The basic meaning of this spread is: With the arrival of a guest (Rider) comes a theft (Mice) of success [joy, life, energy] (Sun) and an obstacle (Mountain) to something new or young (Child).
First, this is a well-written, intellectually compelling mystery-thriller-horror film in the sci-fi genre. But a friend who saw it hated it and wanted to discuss my impressions after seeing it. So, at the end of the film I asked myself what the writer might have picked as a “What if . . .” scenario for the basis of the movie:
“What if a modern Dr. Frankenstein creates an AI that, instead of having emotions, is, instead, a pure psychopath?” This immediately had me thinking of the Frankenstein story in relation to this one. In Ex Machina, the young employee, Caleb, flies over a wasteland of snow to arrive at a mountain retreat where the house’s electricity is going hay-wire. At one point he and his boss, Nathan, climb to the base of a glacier. The parallels to Frankenstein’s monster who is created in a isolated lab, via electricity and ends up on an ice flow in Antartica are notable. Unlike Mary Shelley’s imagined creature, this one only mimics feelings—perfectly.
“And, what if . . . this AI runs amok?” Now we have a parallel to man versus machine in Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this AI is female. The horror here lies in the mimicking of emotions.
“So, what if . . . this robot AI is an adolescent male’s greatest fantasy – a blow-up doll, sex toy?” Shades of Season 5 of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, where Warren creates the BuffyBot sex toy for Spike!
“Or, what if . . . it is about scientists eskewing consequences in light of the possibility of invention?” And, indeed, Caleb quotes Oppenheimer: “I am become death, destroyer of the worlds,” making note of the potentially horrible consequences of curiosity and invention.
My friend was deeply disturbed by the hatred she felt was expressed by the two AIs. My sense was that it was, rather, the expediency of a pure psychopath (to put it in human terms) seeking to freely perpetuate itself—as would a meme, versus a gene. Interestingly the AI is named Ava—Eve, suggesting that she will be the ‘mother’ of a new species.
I’m not going to get into the mind-games involved in the tests, which ultimately attempt to determine if the “feelings” expressed by the AI could be real. Please, see the film.
What the Lenormand spread—Mice-Sun-Rider-Mountain-Child—points to is the arrival of a young man at the isolated mountan retreat (of genius inventor, Nathan). Caleb, who is presented as hardly more than a boy, must overcome all obstacles (Mountain) to steal (Mice) a new being, Ava/Eve. Between Caleb (Rider) and Ava (Child) is an insurmountable barrier (Mountain)—both a physical wall and the barrier of not being able to see into the other’s ‘mind’. The theft will block/stop Nathan’s new project and Ava will escape her imprisonment by flying over the mountain at the dawn of a new day (Sun). I shouldn’t overlook the role that the ‘theft’ of electricity (a modern meaning of the Sun card) plays in the story. There’s also the play on the title of the film: “ex machina”: “deus ex machina” is a term from Greek/Roman drama for when an improbable answer to a dilemma appears as if out of the sky, originally a crisis solved when a “god” descends out of a machine onto the stage. In the spread, the mountain represents the dilemma, and a helicopter literally appears out of the sky to first bring the visitor, Caleb, and then to take away the new being, who is herself a machina.
I also drew three Tarot cards for something else I should be aware of in the film and received:
Lovers – High Priestess – Knight of Swords
These cards point to another side of the story – the love story between Ava and Caleb (who we think will be her knight in shining armour), which turns out to be a set-up by Nathan, playing off of Caleb’s internet pornographic fantasies. Ava, in her temple imprisonment, isolated purity, and deep insight (she can tell when Nathan is lying), is very much a High Priestess, who will become a cold-as-steel warrior, wielding a blade.
The contrast between the Lovers, Priestess and Knight of Swords also makes clear a disturbingly misogynistic layer to this film that plays on priviledged white male sexual fantasy, nubile sexual enslavement and racial/sexual stereotyping. The question remains as to how conscious or unconscious all the layers of this were. Were they meant to make us question these things or were were they below the consciousness of the film’s creators?
Added: A central question implied by this film is: What happens when you take the “Deus” out of “Deus-ex-machina”? If for a moment we consider Deus to be wisdom, then the Machina (machine) feeds on information but, we might assume, lacks wisdom. What does this suggest?
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I’ve completed one session of my 5-week Petit Lenormand course and can hardly wait until the next session. I have so much information to share. I recently bought a very early 20th century booklet on fortune-telling with German-suited playing cards: Green Leaves, Red Hearts, Bells and Acorns, as found on the Spiel der Hoffnüng cards. A friend is translating the book for me and, at first glance, it seems to provide a key to the Lenormand suits.
In looking for images to illustrate these old suits I came across an astonishing double-headed version of a deck that was popular in Germany, Austria and Hungary. In it the Daus cards (2’s which substituted for Aces) represent the four seasons, but look at how the pictures match the images on the Pages:
Starting on the right: Wintery Acorns (Eicheln) are Clubs and both the Jack and Daus feature birch rod switches.
Summer’s Bells (Schellen) are Diamonds and both cards show wheat being harvested with a scythe.
The red Hearts (Röt Herzen) of Spring (same in both decks) are all about hearts and flowers, the blossoming of love.
The green Leaves (Grün Laub) of Fall are Spades and show two children pressing wine grapes, while the Jack of Spades depicts a child at play. The Lenormand text for this Jack calls it is a card of goodness. Country customs often turn grape stomping into a time of fun and frivolity. Fall is also the season when children return to school.
A 1830 32-card set of German Fortune-Telling Playing Cards (Munich: Franz Josef Holler, made by Comptoir Industry of Leipzig)
I then found a webpage featuring German cards printed with fortune-telling meanings. This deck falls right between the 1799 Spiel der Hoffnüng game (the direct forerunner of the Lenormand cards) that is illustrated with both German and French playing cards, and the 1846 emergence of the German fortune-telling deck named after Mlle. Lenormand.
While the individual card meanings don’t seem to match the Lenormand cards, the suits do, and they show a fortune telling tradition that is quite different than the English and French systems most of us are familiar with. I’d be very grateful to anyone willing to translate some of the verses above into English. Please post translations in the comments.
You can sign up anytime to access my Lenormand course or to order the DVDs at Global Spiritual Studies.
While it’s hard to tell what beast is shown on the 10 of Acorns (Eicheln), we also find a beast (Bear) on the equivalent 10 of Clubs. Both of them have envy as a keyword. The original Lenormand instructions read: “Bear means happiness, but it also indicates it is necessary to avoid discussions with an envious person.”
I went to see the play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” last night. As I like to do, I drew cards before going so I could contemplate them during the performance. It enhances the experience for me to be more aware of the dynamics, character conflict and themes as they are occuring.
For those who don’t remember the movie with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, or who never saw the play: A middle-aged couple, George and Martha, have invited a young couple, Nick and Honey, over for late night drinks after a dinner party. What follows is a series of drunken mind games getting more and more deadly as they all head straight for nuclear armageddon. It was played as a very black comedy. Luckily, it was done by a local troupe of fine actors who gave the play their own unique twist. I focused on George and Martha.
I hadn’t remembered many details of the drama, so I was thrilled by how perfect the cards turned out to be. I did two spreads. The first one was with the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. What was I to think when three out of five cards were reversed Court Cards? As it turned out, the play provided excellent examples of how these Court Card types can “go wrong.”
Martha definitely has father issues. Her father is president of the college where her husband teaches in the history department, a sorry disappointment in that George never fulfilled the potential for which Martha had picked him—to become head of his department and eventually take her father’s place. Really, she is the one who should have done so; she, we are told, “wears the pants in the family.” But, her father has never really “seen” her. George sees that she’s the one who should have been king and he keeps her from falling into total despair.
George wields words like a sword, slashing and burning with derision, scorn and disgust all who come within his reach. A word-smith, he’s comfortable with attack and is always looking for a worthy opponent, only most of them fall far too easily beneath his sword. Martha does not.
He’s also her Knight in Shining Armor, tarnished beyond repair and, if we are to believe him, the agent of the deaths of both his mother and his father.
While many other themes can be found, this card clearly points to this one: how we hurt those we love and how little love there can be when one doesn’t love oneself. It suggests the lengths they will go in order to not feel sorry for themselves, despite being emotional wrecks.
Among other things, this theme is played out through the failure of both couples to have given birth, to have had a child—the empty, deflated womb (poof!). The card could also be a nod to the alcoholic haze they are all in.
• What is the central conflict?
The Chariot reversed, crossed by Death.
This is war; a horrible end is always just around the corner, the death of every supposed victory cuts off one-after-another means of escape or reconciliation. The play culminates with a fresh story, concocted by George, the botched novelist, in which he tells Martha that a telegram has been delivered informing them of the death of their son on the day before his 21st birthday. The Chariot is often seen as the son of the Empress and Emperor (3+4 = 7). That the existence of a son is just another game they play with each other doesn’t diminish the agony of a mortal wound—the seeming death of another piece of themselves and their relationship—that ultimately strips them down to the bare bones of who they are.
I also drew five cards from the Petit Lenormand Deck asking for a description of the plot, and I got:
Heart – Mountain – Letter – Book – Man
24-Heart: love and relationships
21-Mountain: blocks, obstacles, barriers
27-Letter: written communications, documents
26-Book: secrets, knowledge, books
28-Man: a man, the querent or significant other
This is the story of love (Heart) that has insurmountable blocks (Mountain) keeping it hidden (Book) and from being communicated (Letter). George (Man) wrote (Letter) his biggest secrets (Book) in a book that never got published (Mountain – blocked by Martha’s father). The characters are continually sending messages to each other, uncovering secrets in an attempt to touch on their true hearts that are unreachable behind the barriers they’ve erected in their disfunctional lives. As I mentioned, George (Man) is the wordsmith who is essentially composing (Letter+Book) all the scenarios (the scripts-within-the-script) to get at what is most deeply barricaded (Mountain) in each person’s heart (Heart). The Letter is also central when George claims that a telegram has arrived reporting the death of their supposed-to-be-secret son (Book+Man).
Finally, I added the numbers of these cards together and got 126, reducing it to 9-Bouquet (1+2+6=9). This stumped me at first. What could the plot have to do with a beautiful gift or invitation? Of course!—the play opens with Martha having invited the other couple over for drinks. But I was even more astounded when George mockingly presents Martha with a bouquet of flowers that he proceeds to throw at her, stem by stem.
Before the play, I also felt compelled to look at two other cards contained within that sum of 126: 12-Birds and 6-Clouds. These were perfect to describe a play that is all about conversations (Birds) or, more properly, dialogs between two couples (Birds can also mean two or a couple) that play on deliberate misunderstandings, fears, doubts, instability, sensibilities fogged with alcohol, and confusion as to what is true and what isn’t (Clouds).
Decks: The 1910 (Pamela”A”) Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The Königsfurt Lenormand Orakelspielkarten, based on the 19th century Dondorf Lenormand (borders cut off).
Also check out my post involving reading for the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild.
The 36-card Petit Lenormand cards have taken the divinatory world by storm.
Two years ago only two classically-based Lenormand decks were available in the U.S. Since then there’s been a deluge of over 50 new decks (most with creative designs and self-published). Interest is supported by dozens of Facebook and forum study groups and websites in English, plus many more in other languages. Until this year, only two English-language books were available (compared to sixty or more in German, Dutch, French, Russian and Portuguese). By early next year there’ll be at least five or six new English-language books.
Two things are essential to a Lenormand reading: 1) a set of cards containing the Lenormand numbers, names and/or pictures, and 2) learning the traditional Lenormand system. Certainly, a person can use Lenormand cards as oracles: making up their own meanings, projecting stories onto them, and reading the images as symbols, but that is not what is meant by a Lenormand reading. One can use any object or image for an oracle reading; Lenormand includes specific meanings and methods.
14 Reasons Why the Lenormand Deck and Traditional System Are So Special:
- The images or ’emblems’ on each card are simple, everyday, iconic items: Dog, Fish, House, Path, Clover.
- The deck was first published in 1846 for fortune-telling and came with card meanings and reading instructions that were directly based on 18th century ’emblem cards’ and coffee-ground meanings. For over 220 years decks have been published with nearly identical images, instructions and meanings.
- Since the late 20th century original meanings have been expanded and adapted to reflect modern life. Even though variations exist, they are minor, such that a traditional reader can understand the interpretation of someone else, even from another country.
- Lenormand readings are extremely precise, mundane, concrete, blunt and accurate.
- The pictures are not read symbolically! The narrow range of meanings, which are functional rather than symbolic, ensure there is little ambiguity about their significance.
- Intuition plays a major role in reading the cards, enhanced by knowledge and experience.
- While a few cards are similar to Tarot (Moon, Stars, Tower, etc.), they have very different meanings.
- All the cards are used in a standard layout, the Grand Tableau (“Big Picture”). Modern layouts provide shorter snapshots or portraits of a particular issue.
- In a reading, significance arises from card combinations: House+Book can be a school or library (a house of knowledge or secrets). Cards are not read individually but in pairs or larger groups.
- Lenormand cards work well for answering yes-or-no questions, describing past and present life situations, making short-term predictions, finding lost objects, and describing people and their condition. They can also address timing.
- The cards are easily adapted to modern situations as long as the integrity of the whole is not broken. For instance, Stars (like the nodes in a web) is the internet and, along with Garden (the public), they represent social networking.
- One has to learn the basic meanings and to practice combining cards and other interpretive techniques in order to develop one’s skill with Lenormand.
- There are many layers involved in learning the cards, such that one can learn enough to get started after only a workshop or presentation, yet it will take several years to gain proficiency and handle all the layers of significance.
- You can combine Lenormand with Tarot and other modalities, calling on each for its area of strength. For instance, Lenormand is great for describing the plot of a story or movie, whereas Tarot is generally better at describing theme, character conflict and motivations. See examples HERE (Virginia Woolf) and HERE (Beasts of the Southern Wild).
Bonus: Lenormand is fun!
I found a long and ultimately very disturbing account of Mlle Lenormand, written only a month after her death in the summer of 1843, and by someone who seems bent on portraying the great fortune-teller in the worst possible light for purposes of entertainment and as a warning against the perils of prophecy. It begins well enough.
It is said that out of the myriad thousands of esprits forts in Paris, but few could be named who have not at one epoch or another of their lives sought aid and counsel of Mademoiselle Lenormand.
Though quite a girl at the time of the first revolution, yet had she already acquired such celebrity in the art of divination, that many of the poor trembling marquises of the ancient regime flew to consult her upon their place of refuge, ere they dared take wing like frightened birds at the approach of night. . . . She used to say that Robespierre himself had trembled, when upon seeking her in disguise, unknown as he imagined, she had revealed to him her knowledge of his state and station. She would even laugh with malicious glee when telling how very pale his hideous countenance had turned, when at each shuffle which he gave the cards, the “Grand Pendu” [Hanged Man] would turn up, telling an awful tale of blood and violence.”
The author, a long-time resident of Paris, identified only by the initials “G.C.,” despite the disturbing stories he had witnessed (and recounted earlier in the article) of the great fallen low and the low rising just as predicted by Mlle Lenormand, sought her counsel one damp February day. But let’s let him tell the story.
It is now four years ago since I myself was led into the same folly, which I had ever been accustomed to condemn so much in others, and being in a sad dilemma. . . . I resolved to waive all responsibility, vis a vis de moi-meme, and go and consult Mademoiselle Lenormand. …
After waiting for nearly two hours while a storm raged outside and listening to a young woman and her elderly companion in the inner sanctum as they cried out against what must have been a fearful fate, our author entered the room of the celebre devineresse for his consultation:
She was, with astute knowledge of the part she had to play, seated in deep shadow, while the full light of the lamp was turned in the opposite direction, where stood the chair ready to receive the pale, eager consultant. This circumstance, and the sombre hue of her attire, certainly did contribute to throw a degree of mystery over her whole person, and it was some time before my eye, getting accustomed to the dim atmosphere, could succeed in tracing her outline with distinctness.
I was surprised to find in the powerful and dreaded adept, a person of short stature, and of immense bulk, doubtless the consequence of her sedentary life; and yet in spite of this, at the very first glance, it was easy to perceive that she was not a person of ordinary or vulgar aspect. Her face was round and flat, yet full of meaning, and there was a cunning restlessness in her bright blue eye, which seeming never to fix on any point, yet lost no one peculiarity of the ” consultant,” turning the blush of timidity, the stern gaze of defiance, or the smile of incredulity, equally to her own profit ere the divination began, and who, knowing well how very far events are ruled by temper and disposition, drew her own inferences therefrom, and foretold such wondrous possibilities, that timidity would listen all aghast, and incredulity disbelieve no longer.
On the table at which she sat were spread in awful mystery the Grand Jeu! Several worn and tattered volumes, looking dim and cabalistic enough, were scattered here and there, and from a red morocco case beamed and smiled, in matchless beauty, the miniature portrait of the Empress Josephine, the gift of the imperial lady herself. A chased gold cup given by the same royal hand stood near, destined to receive the gold pieces left there by her visitors, as the price of the fortune which she had awarded them. …
One end of the table was completely covered by piles of silver crowns displayed in long rows—rather ostentatiously methought. A large black cat was seated on the elbow of the chair, with blinking eyes and purring murmur, but to do the lady justice this was (saving the cards), the only token of witchcraft I could see around. …
She had already shuffled the cards and placed them before me, and begged me in a quick sharp tone to cut them with the left hand. She then again shuffled them, and while they passed rapidly through her fingers —for long habit had given her an agility I had never seen rivalled by the most keen card-playing old dowagers—she asked me the usual questions.
“What was my age—what animal I loved best, and what was my favourite flower?”
I observed that while she spoke her eyes were cast down, but while wailing for my answer she glanced at me with sidelong inquiry.
In nine cases out of ten the questions came upon the “consultant” unawares, and it was evident that this was the moment of hesitation upon which she reckoned for examining unobserved the expression and physiognomy of the credulous listener.
Her skill from long experience was such that it is verily believed she seldom or never erred in her judgment of the “consultant’s” station, character, or reasons for coming to consult her, and she was thus enabled to lay bare the past, the present, and the future, with such wonderful precision, that the thunderstruck victim would listen in open-mouthed astonishment. …
I shall never forget the impression conveyed by that deep voice as she spoke in low whispering words, rapid and monotonous, the decrees of Fate which stood revealed in the painted pictures she fingered with such marvellous dexterity.
It was a curious study to behold this woman play in mere sportive malice with the heart’s most tender sympathies, and I could imagine the thrilling effect which that whispered torrent of words might have upon the trembling maiden seeking her, perhaps by stealth, to confide all her misery to that willing ear, or ask counsel of the Powers of Darkness, when heaven and earth seemed to have abandoned her. And then the trembling suspense too with which the pale listener would await the sentence !—to her the decree of life or death— and yet murmured forth by those cold wrinkled lips, without change of tone or manner, without hurry or delay, merely as the sentence pronounced by the cards, and with which she herself, save as the interpreter, had nought to do. Of small import to her was it whether the decree brought weal or woe, bright dreams of happiness or grim visions of despair. …
The conference lasted for about an hour, during which time she ceased not speaking—her eyes half-closed, and bent upon the cards she held before her. I had the curiosity to lean across the table and gaze upon the set which she had lain down upon my entrance. They were sinister and hideous, well calculated to strike terror into the heart of the over-curious “consultant.” There lay in foul array the grim figure of the “Grand Pendu,” the blood-stained visage of the ” Supplice,” and the pale, livid face of the ” Suicide.” The cards were of about twice the dimensions of the ordinary pack—the cross-bones and skull formed the aces, and the hearts and diamonds were simulated by drops of blood! . . . The cards were ragged and worn by frequent use, until some of the figures were well-nigh obliterated.
She told me with much mildness, and with a degree of conviction which, if not real, was certainly admirably counterfeited, that this was the pack from which was drawn the measure of men’s lives, but added, it was a fearful search—that she never pressed it, but the “consultants” were ever eager to solve that one dread problem, either for themselves or for others near and dear. She said she advised me not to try, for they had already been shaken but a short time since; and told me that the extra charge was fifty francs. . . .
Choosing not to discover his ultimate fate, our author takes his leave.
It is at this point that the account assumes the character of a classic 19th century horror story, for G.C. finds on the street an elaborate gold snuff box left by the young woman and old lady whom he had heard sobbing as Mlle Lenormand told their fate. The box contains a portrait of a handsome young man. He endeavors to discover the names of these women and learns they are impoverished nobel women, the Marquise de Keradec and her grandchild, Solange. He seeks them out to return the snuff box. He finally finds them in a mean hovel, dead via some powder that they had burned on the coals, and, next to them, the following note written by the elder woman:
“It is the eleventh hour of the night!—he comes not—neither will he come. She who knows all things, foretold that if he came not now, we should behold him no more. He is gone before us doubtless, and it was her kindly manner of giving us this warning. Oh, what a fool was I to hope even for that single instant!
“He who first enters here, must search the chamber with great care; he will find a golden box, which, by some evil chance, I have mislaid since yesterday. Let him who finds it, remember that I have wanted food and raiment, and yet have kept that bauble through all the penury which has been mine, because it was all that remained to me of my gallant boy, whose brave spirit gushed forth in the cause of life and liberty amid the green valleys of our loved Bocage.
“It would have soothed my death now to have had his image on my bosom; but even this poor consolation is denied me. I myself have sought it until I have grown weary. My brain is troubled, and my sight is failing. Ha! the clock of the Carmelite tolling the half hour !—that single stroke!—it is like the summons to eternity !—it is well that I am ready—there—let me kneel and pray—ay, it is well to pray—for”
The pen had dropped from her hand, for there was a large blot upon the paper which hid the meaning of the concluding words. She had died while yet her prayer was on her lips. Let us hope that it was heard at the bar of heaven and not refused.
Our author gives his report to the authorities and, just as he is leaving, happens upon a clerk who recognizes the name, saying that a young man had just recently tried to find these women. The author finds the man and learns that he is the brother of the young woman. He had gone to Argentina to try to revive the family fortunes. Because some letters had miscarried and the women had moved, he had been unable to find his sister and grandmother. In fact, he had tried and, on account of the storm, had failed to get their address from the clerk at the exact hour that Mlle Lenormand had told the women: “The principles of good and evil are struggling at this very hour. If you see him not to-night you will behold him no more.” This presentiment has proved true because, in despair, they killed themselves that very night.
I am told that with the restlessness of woe, armed with my information concerning Mademoiselle Lenormand, he went, before his departure, to seek her, full of reproach and bitter accusation, declaring that it was doubtless her hard prophecy which had driven the weak and credulous mind of the marquise to despair.
The “devineresse” listened with composure and in silence, as if overcome by the justness of his reproaches. She then turned thoughtfully to the large volume wherein she inscribed at times her “Oracles,” and after remaining for a few moments buried in deep calculation therein, she raised her eyes flashing with delight, and exclaimed joyfully,
“The combination then was just. It was my first trial; and since that day I have not dared to use it, for it was a fearful risk. Why came you not before? Could I have known that it would have proved so correct as this, I might have made discoveries yet more important. Leave me now, I pray you, while the inspiration is yet upon me, that I may recall, if possible, the means by which I had arrived at such important ends. Blame not me, young man, I but read the book of fate as it was unfolded to my sight, nor sought to deceive with false words or to betray ; and,” she paused a moment, and added with a self-satisfied smile, “See you, I have met with my reward, for the combination cannot be denied!”
He concludes his account:
For myself I never again sought the sorceress, nor dabbled in her magic lore. The lesson had been too strong a one to pass unheeded by. I even resisted the invitation conveyed to me through a friend to visit her once more, for I thought of the Marquise de Keradec, and of the sweet Solange, and remembered that they both might yet have lived honoured and happy, had they but left to Providence the disposition of their fate, nor sought with rash and guilty mistrust of His divine mercy to forestal His all-wise decree.
Given the tone of the piece and the magazine in which the account appears, I can only hope that this story contains as much fiction as it does fact.
From The New Monthly Magazine and Humorist. 1843 (Part the Third). (London: Henry Colburn, Great Malborough St.).
I have spent the past two years obsessed with the Petit Lenormand cards, a deck of 36 fortune-telling cards created in Germany in 1846, based on an earlier multi-purpose game called the “Die Spiel der Hoffnung” created by Johann Kaspar Hechtel in Nuremburg in 1799. The Petit Lenormand appropriated the name of the Parisian Mlle Lenormand, the most famous fortune-teller of her age, who died in 1843, shortly before the newly incarnated deck appeared. I’ll write more about these cards later.
I am announcing here for the first time that I have found an earlier set of 32 fortune-telling cards that are the undoubtable forerunner of both the “Spiel der Hoffnüng” game and the Lenormand cards. My source is a 1796 book in English in the British Museum entitled: “Les Amusements des Allemands, or The Diversions of the Court of Vienna, in which the Mystery of Fortune-Telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup is unravelled, and Three pleasant Games, viz.: 1. Fortune-telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup. 2. Fortune-telling by laying out the cards. 3. The new Imperial Game of numbers are invented.
The work is based on an Austro-German set of cards from 1794. An introduction to the book states:
“These entertaining games first made their appearance at Vienna, in 1794, where they still are the favorite amusement of the Empress of Germany, and the Imperial Court. They have since been diffused through all the fashionable circles in that country. The Editor, therefore, has to hope that, in a country where the liberality and curious discernment of its inhabitants is so conspicuous as that of Britain, they will not be held in less estimation.”
While there are only 32 cards, most of them are exact forerunners to Lenormand cards. The few variations, like Lion, have close replacements as their Coffee-ground meanings indicate. For instance, “Lion, or a ferocious beast” has the same meaning as the Lenormand Bear.
It’s been thought for several years that the Lenormand images were derived from Coffee-ground fortune-telling or Tasseomancy. This work is the missing link that proves this theory. It has been curious that several of the Lenormand images were not found in the old lists of coffee-ground emblems, but now we know that several cards were added to the original set. The reason for the expansion of the deck to 36 cards probably came about when Hechtel decided to combine “Les Amusements des Allemands” with the German 36-piece playing card deck, which was then more popular than either the 32-card Piquet deck or the 52-card deck.
The Empress, for whom these were a ‘favorite amusement’, was probably Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (1772–1807), the last Holy Roman Empress, first Empress of Austria and mother of nine. She was described as:
so jealous that she does not allow him [the Emperor] to take part in social life or meet other women. Vicious tongues accuse her of being so passionate that she exhausts her consort and never leaves him alone even for a moment. Although the people of Vienna cannot deny that she is gifted, charitable and carries herself beautifully, she is disliked for her intolerance and for forcing the Emperor to live isolated from everyone. She is also accused of interesting herself in unimportant matters and socializing exclusively with her lady-companions. With them she spends her evenings singing, acting out comedies and being applauded.
Could the “unimportant matters” mentioned above include her use of fortune-telling cards?
Here is the full British Museum description of the book:
A sequence of 32 playing-cards bound (at the British Museum) as a small book, having on them emblematic designs of various character, and below moral apophthegms to which the designs have reference. Each piece has a number at the upper left-hand corner answering to certain explanatory and descriptive tables given in a book of directions which accompanies the cards. The title page of this book of 31 pages bears the following lettered inscription: “Les Amusements des Allemands, or The Diversions of the Court of Vienna, in which the Mystery of Fortune-Telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup is unravelled, and Three pleasant Games, viz.: 1. Fortune-telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup. 2. Fortune-telling by laying out the cards. 3. The new Imperial Game of numbers are invented”, and “London: Printed for Champante and Whitrow, Jewry-Street, Aldgate, and may be had at every Booksellers and Toy Shop in the Kingdom, 1796.” Engraving and letterpress Backs plain (according to Willshire) 1796.
Bent Sorensen has offered this list of the 32 Emblematic Fortune-Telling Cards, according to the numbers found on the cards:
16. Tree I – Labor, Pains, Long Effort
29. Tree II – Money (the result of one’s labor)
30. Worms or Vipers (“Bugs”)