Having studied and read Tarot for 15 years, I was surprised to find that I had kind of strayed from the Lenormand system. When I started studying it, naively believing it would be easy since I was familiar with Tarot, the differences really hit me hard. Yes, they are both card decks. Yes, they are both used for divination. But they are completely different, so I have listed the three main differences I believe lenormand and tarot have.
1. Algebra vs Music
My very first experience with a Lenormand deck was actually virtual – I purchased the Ciro Marchetti Gilded Reverie Lenormand app just to acquaint myself with the system. I own Marchetti’s Gilded Tarot and Legacy of the Divine Tarot, finding them great decks to offer for readings and for personal meditation. I am more of a spiritual Tarot reader and I always encourage my students to develop a personal connection with their decks, since the meanings of the cards are so often illuminated by your own personal intuition.
Going through the Lenormand cards, I was struck by their beauty and the depth of the symbols (as is often the case with Ciro Marchetti). However, during my first readings, I struggled immensely and was almost ready to call it quits, when it finally hit me – ironically, in the shower, as many moments of clarity tend to.
While both of the systems use cards and card meanings for divination purposes, they entail completely different approaches towards interpretation. So I came up with a concept that rings truest to me:
While both a part of Mathematics, Lenormand is Algebra and Tarot is Music
In Lenormand, I find the true capacity of the art of interpretation is brought forward by following the grammar and abiding by the rules. The solution is always clear, right in front of you and easily interpreted – leaving little room for miscommunication. Tarot, however, is all about interpretation, your feelings, your intuition, your deck etc. I can do an ad hoc Lenormand reading tearing 36 pieces of paper up and writing the name of the card on each – I could never do this with Tarot. I have learned to respect the grammar and logic of Lenormand and I have become grateful to letting go of the control that I feel I have when reading Tarot.
2. Divination vs Meditation
Funnily enough, I feel Lenormand takes a braver reader/querent than Tarot does. I know this is a little unusual, since Tarot often poses a mystical, sometimes even a dark aura around the reading and I have found many people who deliberately choose lighter-themed decks in professional readings just to keep their customers happy. I always like to paraphrase Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece “Good Omens”, where the Madame always put a pot of Brussels sprouts on boil before a client came for a reading, for an air of comfort. Media and popular culture have painted a rather dark picture of Tarot and I find that most people know the appearance of only the “negative” cards – Tower, Death, Devil etc… Not to mention that my most used deck is the Sacred Rose – well, it’s pretty hard to stray from negativities when a bleeding guy on the Five of Swords is drawn.
Despite of all that, the “bravery” in Lenormand comes not from scary or mystical images, but of being blunt. I can do a very deep and spiritual Haindl Tarot reading on the forces that influence the querent’s life, but a three card draw from Lenormand about the future of your relationship that shows a Coffin, a Cross and a Mountain… You get the idea.
I feel many people find this bluntness off-putting and it is often tempting for readers to “ease the message” a little bit (e.g adding cards if the last card in the Grand Tableau is very negative etc). I believe this is more the case with very experienced Tarot readers – I had the exact same temptation in the beginning. I would often start my reading with first-time customers by doing a single card draw without posing a question and then move on from there, building the spread as we went. Designed for people who wished to become regular customers, this was a wonderful way to get acquainted with the person and also to let them embark on the journey themselves.
I cannot emphasize enough how wrong that feels for me in the case of Lenormand, since the spreads and readings follow a certain grammar and a certain order of things. If you don’t like the answer, well…
Personally, I also find it easier to do pathwalking or to work on personal issues when using Tarot. The cards are so deeply entwined with all kinds of energies and different mystical traditions, I have spent a decade studying some cards and still finding new elements and aspects to them. With Lenormand, I have the exact opposite feeling – the more a study a card or work on it, the more specific and clear the meaning becomes, until it crystallizes in front of me and becomes a concept I fully understand. Lenormand cards also have differing meanings, but dependent on the grammar of the reading.
3. Tradition and Systematics
The Lenormand system is named after Mlle Lenormand and its history is easily trackable. Even today, there are hereditary teachers who have received their knowledge and practise from the source. Tarot, however, boasts a far more ambiguous and mystified history – irrelevant of whether or not you believe Tarot started in Medieval Italy or in the catacombs of ancient Egypt. Certainly we could mystify Lenormand as well, claiming its ancient sources from Gypsy cartomancy systems, but to me the best resonance is with 18th-19th century French salons. Clarity, honesty and straightforwardness are the things I most cherish about Lenormand – be it in the readings or the tradition itself.
This is why I strongly adhere to traditional practices in Lenormand (albeit the “traditions” themselves can be quite contradicting), whereas Tarot is very liberal and allows for almost endless flexibility.
This is most evident in the spreads the both systems offer – Tarot offering literally endless possibilities, while I am quite uncomfortable improvising any Lenormand spreads. This is due to the interaction of the cards – Tarot has a more flowing energy and the connections between cards become evident easily across any spread. As described above, I often add (or remove) cards during a reading as we go, further expressing the different flows and channels. Lenormand operates on grammar and requires a good structure to the spread in order to be well readable. In Lenormand, I use the following spreads:
1) Yes/No Spread. Draw one card for Yes/No. Interpret. Draw a pair of cards for clarification.
2) Two Card Spread
3) Line spread – 3 or 5
4) Nine Square
5) Grand Tableau…
…and that’s it!
With Tarot, I use of course the classical spreads like PPF or Celtic Cross, but over time I have developed several of my own spreads; not to mention I love integrating different symbols and systems to my spreads which allow endless opportunity. Some years ago, I used to do a huge Life spread with different areas of life spread out in small four card spreads with focus cards – and sometimes I do a reading with only three cards.
The tradition is least evident with the decks. I have no problem doing a Lenormand reading ad hoc in a train by scribbling the 36 cards on random pieces of paper (has happened!). One of my favourite exercises to learning Lenormand is searching for appealing images for each card and creating personal decks. Or you could use an old deck of playing cards – anything, really.
Reading Tarot, the deck is extremely important to me. Don’t get me wrong, initially I think that the intuition flows through you and you receive the message with or without the cards, but the personality of the deck adds immensely to the reading. It is only my personal preference, but I don’t read with novelty decks. The only one I own is the Golden Klimt Tarot – I am just a fan of his art – and I don’t offer this for readings usually (except one time, when a lady wanted a relationship reading with this deck, since Klimt’s “Kiss” holds a special meaning to her and her spouse).
Tarot is heavily associated with the symbolism it involves, and the mystic traditions it entails. It is less associated with the “creators”, and more with universal knowledge and collective consciousness. In the case of Lenormand, I like to think of it as a coherent system, hereditary from Mlle Lenormand (and before that), and I more than wish to adhere to it from the respect towards the tradition
These are the three differences covered in this post. Leave a comment on your own experience as well!
How was your transition from Tarot to Lenormand? What are the most important differences for you (if any)? What is your personal experience with the differences?