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A very brief introduction to Tarot

Arguably the most popular method of divination today, or at least the most famous cartomantic system, Tarot is a deck of 78 cards divided into the 22 images of the Major Arcana and the 56 of the Minor Arcana. With new decks and books being published almost on a weekly basis, it is truly passing through its golden age, a pinnacle of its half a millennia long history.

Even though many authors have attempted to assign Tarot a mystical Ancient Egyptian origin, the system actually comes from 15th century Italy and was based on playing cards first brought into the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs a century or so prior. The images of the Major Arcana in particular have always captured the imagination of many but their symbols, heavily impregnated with meaning, are actually depictions of allegorical figures that were a staple of trionfi – triumphal processions and parades popular in Italy at the time. Still, the characters and situations represented do carry with them a heavy load of symbolism and have, over time, become powerful archetypal figures in their own right.

The Minor Arcana on the other hand is more akin to regular playing cards. It is divided into four suits – those of Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins. Each corresponds to a different elemental force – Fire, Water, Air and Earth respectively – and contains ten numbered (pip) cards, which may or may not be illustrated, and four court cards – namely Pages (or Princesses), Knights (or Princes), Queens and Kings – each standing in for a different sex and age. They are often interpreted as “people cards” while the pips stand for common life situations. Images of the Major Arcana however point towards more momentous events of higher, spiritual nature.

While Lenormand and Kipper (already discussed in earlier blog posts) rely heavily on large layouts (which, peculiarly enough, lack any designated positions) and card combinations, giving the cards a semantic quality – Tarot on the other hand is a pictorial system, using almost purely visual stimulation to ignite the spark of intuition.

It is suitable for divination, meditation and pathworking, for those whose intuition is triggered by ocular stimuli. Once accepted as such, it can prove to be comparatively easy for purely pictorial interpretation. Tarot can also be an excellent tool for spell work. When read as an oracle, its messages are general but often run deep, offering an excellent tool for exploring spiritual matters and aiding self-development. Tarot’s elaborate correspondences connect it to various other occult disciplines such as astrology, hermeticism, kabbalah, numerology, ceremonial magic etc. and thus provide the reader with a strong springboard into other realms of the occult.

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Grand tableau Lenormand spread (8×4+4)

After the three-card spread, the line of five, the Portrait, the Trigger and the Petit tableau, finally comes the mother of all cartomantic layouts – the Grand tableau. It is the most comprehensive fortune-telling method you can use without reshuffling and rearranging the cards and employs literally the entire deck of the Lenormand. With all 36 cards laid out before you, it is very likely you may feel intimidated at first, having no idea where to begin. Still, there is no need to fear. The truth is – if you can read any of the above mentioned spreads – you can read the Grand Tableau. The whole thing rests on the same principles, and uses the same rules we have learned so far to give deeply insightful and extraordinarily precise forecasts. Cards are always read in pairs or strings and nearly any topic you need insight into can be treated as a separate ‘Portrait’. But let us establish the basics first.

There are two ways of reading the Grand tableau and, in this article, we will discuss the more traditional one. The cards are laid out with four rows of eight, plus a small fifth row at the bottom consisting of four cards. The second version is formed of four rows of nine and functions on the same principles as its Kipper counterpart but that is a topic left for another post. Our current focus is on the 8×4+4 formula. Reading it is not as hard as it may first appear.

Once all of the cards are before you, the first thing you ought to do is locate the significator. 28. Lady will serve as one for a female and 29. Gentleman will do for a male client. This will represent the querrent and serve as an anchor of the entire reading. The cards that are found to the left of our ‘person card’ will represent the past and those to the right the future. Just like with the Portrait, what is above is likely to belong to the realm of thoughts and aspirations while what is below will remind us of cold, hard reality. Of course, this is just a vague, general rule of thumb and your intuition will play a large part in forming the correct idea and assembling this seemingly kaleidoscopic jigsaw puzzle. Other rules apply too – pairs, corners, diagonals – you already know them all.

If there is a particular area of concern you may have, locating its symbol in the spread will help you greatly. The Tree will serve to inform you of health, House will stand for matters of your home and family , Heart will more than obviously focus on love, Fox on your current job, Bear on your boss, the Anchor on your overall career or life’s calling, Fish will correspond to money, and Ship to travel. Once you find what you’re looking for, simply treat the surrounding cards as an individual Portrait spread and you will easily gain insight into what is about to pass in the area of your life that is the most important to you at the time.

Considering the size of the Grand tableau, it is good to mention to idea of distance – the so-called near-and-far method. It happens so that, the closer a card is to your significator, the stronger influence it will have on it, and the farther away it may be, the less relevant it will be. The concept of directionality is also of importance as some cards face one way or the other (in particular the people cards, but also the Clouds, Scythe and Book) which then focuses their effect in one direction and thus modifies the meaning depending on how the other cards are positioned.

The possibilities of the Grand tableau are practically endless. Still, it is not a spread you should use on a daily basis. Considering its size and complexity, as well as the time frame it can cover (for it can go as far as one or even two years into the future), makes it a seasonal occassion, or at least a tool you pull when you have a set of interconnected issues at hand that you want to tackle. It’s a “general” reading but one that will provide you with A LOT of information. Use it wisely.

Nine-card Lenormand ‘Portrait’ spread (3×3)

The process of learning to interpret the Petit Lenormand is, for most people, a slow one. No divination system is something you can expect to become a master of overnight. Instead, work and dedication are needed, as well as a patient, step-by-step approach. Since we’ve already covered the three- and the five-card spreads, the next stepping stone on our journey to mastery is the so-called ‘Portrait’ spread. Sometimes also referred to as the ‘Box’, it is the ultimate building block for any larger layout. You can easily imagine the Grand tableau itself comprising of many small Portraits. This simple spread essentially consists of three lines of three but is so much more than that. It can be read in many different directions and offers more information than you’d ever expect from nine simple images. But let us start at the beginning.

The first line (1-2-3) is that of thought. It covers our ideas, dreams and aspirations, what is “above” us, and what we aim for. The second line of cards (4-5-6) belongs to reality, to our current state, our day-to-day life – either the pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into, or the blissful existence we so very much deserve. The third, bottom line (7-8-9) is the undercurrent shaping the situation, the foundations it stands on – what is below us, where we come from and what baggage we’re dragging with us. In such a spread, the card in the center (5) will be either the significator (describing the person the reading is done for) or the core of the question, its essence, answer and outcome. Whether you pre-select the significator or allow any random card to fall in this place is up to you. Bear in mind that this will largely determine the direction your reading will take.

The second step in interpreting a 3×3 spread is determining the time frame – what has come to pass and what stands before us. The first column consisting of cards 1-4-7 belongs to our past. 2-5-8 represents our present. 3-6-9 signals what awaits us in the near future. Usually, this particular type of layout doesn’t venture beyond the one month mark and is ideal for short-term predictions.

The 3×3 spread also brings with it a couple of new features. In addition to previously mentioned mirroring (where 1 can mirror 3, 4 opposite 6, and 7 can go with 9), now we can also read the cards diagonally. This new method is impossible in layouts that follow a straight line. It is normally done from the upper left corner to the lower right (1-5-9) and from the lower right to the upper left (7-5-3), following the direction and the chronological progression of the reading itself. Another technique (one that is commonly employed at the very beginning of the interpretation) is to consult the corner cards (1, 3, 7, 9). They are good to glance over to determine the context (the ‘frame’) of the reading and give it structure. Again, all of these ideas (and some others) will be useful once you decide to tackle larger spreads that follow.

Five-card Lenormand spread

The layouts in Lenormand vary greatly in size and complexity and offer answers to “yes or no” questions as well detailed forecasts for up to several year into the future. Still, most of us tend to turn to the cards for immediate answers to pressing everyday concerns. For this, the five-card spread (also sometimes referred to as “a line of five”) is one of the more popular ways of gaining insight into the workings of the world and a glimpse into what is likely to pass. The layout is small enough not to take up much of your space nor time, and can be spread out anywhere at the blink of an eye. At the same time, it is definitely large enough to offer plenty of detail on any given topic.

The basic principle of reading a line of five is very similar to the previously discussed three-card reading. The best way to go about it, especially if you happen to be a novice, is to read it straight through – left to right, as if it were a sentence – treating each individual card as a word or an expression in your short story.

A line consisting of Tower + Bear + Clover + Fish + Scythe may thus be interpreted as “the large company you work for will stop giving out small financial bonuses.” To clarify this further, we should say that the Tower tends to stand for an official institution or place of business while the Bear normally amplifies the card that comes before it. The Clover on the other hand denotes a small (with particular emphasis on its diminutive quality) win, a brief stroke of luck, a bonus which, in this case, is of financial nature due to the Fish being next in line. All of this however is about to cease because our narrative, our sentence if you will, ends abruptly, as if cut off by the razor-sharp Scythe.

The other way of going about interpreting any five-card spread is to read in pairs, treating each couple of cards as a separate concept or idea. If we use the 1+2, 2+3, 3+4, 4+5 method, we need to make sure that we are not dragging the meaning of each card from the previous pair into the next, as already discussed in the post on card combinations.

One thing that differentiates the line of five from that of three cards is the possibility of multiple instances of “mirroring”, or pairing of cards on the opposite sides of the center. By using this method of combining card 1 with 5, and card 2 with 4, we can gain further insight into how the story will unfold. This creates a multi-faceted experience and offers far more detail we can work with. It also gives us another building block and another stepping stone on our way towards understanding the Grand tableau.

Three-card Lenormand spread

The interpretation of Lenormand is reliant of the same part of our mind that processes languages. The semantic nature of the system becomes our new idiom, its keywords become the vocabulary of our cartomantic vernacular, and its rules the grammar. We read cards as pairs or strings, the first being a noun, the second an adjective, third the verb of our cartomantic sentence, the fourth an adverb and so on. If we become masters of this core system, we will easily be able to build upon it and incorporate larger numbers of cards until, over time, we reach the Grand tableau. For now, we will stick to basics.

If we spread out three cards before us and already have a clear idea of the question we would like answered, we should be able to read the images (or rather keywords) in smooth forward narration. The first card will be the core of the answer, the noun, the second will likely serve as the verb, describing the action that is taking place, and the third might find itself in the role of the object of our little sentence.

For the sake of greater clarity, let us assume you have asked your little deck of cards for greater insight into your situation regarding work. The cards you have pulled are Bear, Snake, and Bouquet. In the context of employment, the Bear normally stands for your boss or any sort of authority in power over you. The Snake on the other hand is a tricky card indeed and can signal backstabbing and even open hostility. At the end of the line, the Bouquet can point towards work in the beauty industry or with luxury goods. With these ideas in mind, we can easily come to the conclusion that your boss or supervisor will go out of their way to make your life impossible at the beauty salon you are currently employed in. Time for a change perhaps? Real life may not be easy but reading Lenormand can be.

Once you’ve mastered this method, you can build upon it with another, perhaps more efficient and thorough way of interpreting a three card spread. Instead of just going through it like a simple sentence, left to right, you can read each individual pair – 1+2, 2+3 and 1+3 – treating the second (center) card as a hinge connecting the two sides of a symmetrical picture.

If you were to ask about the future of your friendship with your current best friend and pulled Woman, Heart, and Whip – the story implied by the first two cards would be that of your female confidante being honest and truthful at all times, providing you with love and support that you need. The Heart and the Whip would hint at a well-intended but highly argumentative person which would only be confirmed by further “mirroring” (connecting the two cards standing at the opposite end of a line) of the first and the third card, telling us that she is indeed a little firecracker. Thus, we can conclude that this friendship is strong enough to withstand any disturbance, despite your friend’s unpredictable nature.

Both ways of reading a line of three cards are equally useful and it is largely a matter of personal preference, situation and intuition which will help you decide which one to resort to at any given time. As always – practice makes perfect.

Setting the context and asking questions in Lenormand

Even if your experience with Lenormand is somewhat superficial, you must’ve asked yourself at least a couple of times – how can I make my readings more precise, more accurate, with a deck as small as that of 36 cards? One answer is – card combinations. If employed correctly, they are very likely to create an entire kaleidoscope of meanings and make your readings more vivid and more truthful. But what if that is not enough? What happens when you have a Man and a Ship and you are not quite sure whether the Woman’s significant other is about to go on a long trip, or if her lover-to-be comes from a faraway land? Enter – context.

A well formulated question and a tightly defined context can save just about any reading from turning into a blurry mess. It is something you must do before starting the fortune-telling session and, if needed, keep going back to until you have answered the question presented to the best of your abilities. The importance of this process cannot be stressed enough. Instead of a vague “Tell me about my love life.” (which might as well work with Tarot), it is far better to be as precise as possible and ask “What is likely to happen if I pursue David in the next few months?”. In the latter, the course of action, the object of said action, and the time frame are all strictly outlined, giving the cards a tight frame they simply have to fit into. The less wiggle room you give Lenormand, the more accurate its answer will be.

When it comes to “yes or no” questions, be sure to always phrase your query in a positive manner. Instead of “Will I lose my job?”, ask “Will I be able to keep my current job?”. This way, you are sure to avoid confusion. Affirmative cards (hearts and diamonds) will signify a “yes” while negative cards (spades and clubs) will push the answer towards a more definite “no”.

When interpreting a larger spread (such as the Grand tableau), you are likely to be faced with multiple potential meanings. In such circumstances, it is advisable to take into account the surrounding cards. This is yet another form of focusing on context that is likely to help you hone your intuitive talents and employ them to the best of your abilities. Even if you do have actual psychic skills, they can always be improved on. Certain tools and methods, anti-intuitive as they may seem at first, will allow you to tap deeper into your subconscious and inspire your higher self to communicate more clearly, thus making your readings better than ever before.

Card combinations in Lenormand

If we are to observe the current trends, most people interested in Lenormand seem to be coming from the world of Tarot. This can be both a blessing and a curse. While the average lover of Tarot will approach the new system easily and without the tip-toeing caution of a complete beginner, excessive self-confidence and assurance that the two methods are one and the same can lead to their downfall. The truth is, the two decks couldn’t be more different. While Tarot keeps its focus on single images, on sinking into them and meditatively exploring their symbolism, Lenormand has a different set of rules altogether.

Assuming that you have already managed to memorize all (or at least most) of the individual card meanings, you will need to face the fact that Lenormand requires you to use them not as pictorial referrences and meditative tools but instead as mere keywords. Yes, unlike Tarot, Lenormand is purely semantic and uses a language-like structure to tell its tale. Instead of sticking to a rigid structure of spreads, positions and individual card meanings, it uses card combinations as its blueprint for divination.

Each card is treated as a word, a pair of them as a simple phrase, a string – a sentence. The resulting readings can be very literal, specific, surprising, sometimes funny, but also oddly accurate. A House and a Dog may mean a family pet or a friend’s house. A Man and Fish will represent a fisherman or a banker. Add to that the Tower and you will have an investment banker working for a large hedge fund. The possibilities are endless. In order not to get lost in them, context is paramount in determining whether the Coffin is the sign of imminent demise or just a box you keep your jewelry in.

Most commonly, the first card is taken as a noun and the one behind it an adjective, following the pattern of Romance languages (the system is at least in part French, after all). The second card thus becomes the so-called “modifier” of the first. This can be confusing at times but if you commit to it, it will soon start making sense and giving results.

In larger spreads (such as the Grand tableau), you will often need to read certain cards as parts of different combinations. Going through a horizontal, vertical, or even a diagonal line, you will encounter the same card over and over, each time paired with a different set of images. In such circumstances, it will be important not to pay attention to what the card meant in a previous pairing. In each new interpretation, each new line, each new sentence, you shall treat the card as if you are seeing it for the first time. This way, you will remove from it the baggage of its previous couplings and be able to use it afresh, allowing it to shine in its full interpretative power.

Let your intuition guide you. Be spontaneous, be playful, don’t be afraid to utter an interpretation that sounds silly – chances are it’s the right one. The Snake and Fish may stand for the water pipes in your house while a three-card set of Snake + Fish + Mountain may indicate a blocked sewer. You never know. All this gives any reading countless nuances and plenty of room for your intuition to engage and shine through. Possibly no other system can trigger our deeply rooted, natural psychic abilities the way Lenormand does. Take advantage of that.

36. Cross / Six of Clubs (Lenormand card meanings)

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36. Cross / Six of Clubs (Lenormand Fortune Telling Cards, Carta Mundi)

Everyone has their Cross to bear and, in Lenormand, it is quite a heavy one. Along with the Clouds, it is the most challenging symbol in the deck. Derived from the the cross Christ had to carry on his road to Calvary and on which he was to be crucified, it is the grin-and-bear-it kind of card. Since the entire fortune-telling system we are dealing with comes from a heavily Christian late 18th / early 19th century background, it is precisely this sort of connotations that remain the strongest for this particular card. It is a picture of great difficulties, sacrifice, redemption, or nothing but a cruel punishment carrying with it suffering, endless ordeals and limitations.

On the other hand (and on a less frightening note), it can stand for faith, be it Christian or of any other religious path. Next to the Tower, it is likely to represent a church or a temple. If it finds itself clustered with Coffin and Scythe, it can foretell pretty grave health issues so – beware. Its influence comes sooner than you’d like but stays for a long, long time.

35. Anchor / Nine of Spades (Lenormand card meanings)

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35. Anchor / Nine of Spades (Lenormand Fortune Telling Cards, Carta Mundi)

In the original Game of Hope from which Lenormand is derived, the Anchor signified the final destination and reaching it would make you the winner. This is why, along with the Sun, it is one of the most auspicious cards in the deck. What makes it unique is its sense of stability and endurance, making it appear like a positive counterpart of the Mountain. That is the sort of heft is possesses but heft of the good kind. It means that the positive situation you are likely to find yourself in will last for a long time, that you are well grounded, and that your plans are soon to come to fruition. The Achor’s effect is slow but steady, making it a direct opposite of the quick and volatile Stork.

It makes any other card more stable, quite literally anchoring it in its place. This universal symbol of hope also holds the meaning of your life’s calling, career stability, your true self and your determination to succeed. It is your personal core but also your professional path – often amalgamated into one and working in perfect sync.

34. Fish / King of Diamonds (Lenormand card meanings)

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34. Fish / King of Diamonds (Lenormand Fortune Telling Cards, Carta Mundi)

Fish, swimming freely and often proliferating on a massive scale are the symbol of cash flow. This is your “money card”, the one you focus on when you want all your financial questions answered. It is your little cartomantic financial advisor and the cards that surround it will give you insight into what is likely to pass. Of course, prudence and common sense are a must and you shouldn’t use Lenormand as your only source of advice but it is still a good method to gain yet another opinion or perspective on the topic at hand.

The King of Diamonds represented on the card is a true magician when it comes to money. He is a successful businessman and can bring you a steady financial influx. With him, money always flows. The card can also stand for any body of water, be it a river, pond or sea and, coupled with Ship, can foretell overseas travel. It can also point towards any kind of liquid, including alcohol. In health-related readings, it tends to stand for all bodily fluids but particularly for blood, especially when near to the Heart. It’s timing is swift.