Can I Say My Opinion, Please?

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It’s been a while since I’ve done this. And really, I’m not quite sure where to start.

The cartomancy community got fractured a few years ago, badly. Over Lenormand. Suddenly, everybody had an opinion about this, about traditional reading. There were personal attacks – a lot of them. Not to mention a rash of plagiarism the likes of which I’d never seen before. It was all so ugly it’s just painful to think about.

I’m not a fighter by nature. I’m just not. And this stuff – all this stuff that was happening – all these people with all these vicious words – it wasn’t helping. I don’t know how many friendships were broken over this. I don’t know how many livelihoods were lost. I don’t know how many good people got chased away from this community because they thought we were all crazy, and because it was a scary place to be, but it was more than a few. I saw so much of it.

I went away. I felt so much like I’d failed. Failed the cards, failed history, failed – you. I started writing about Lenormand because it’s such a fun little deck, with a lot of history and a lot of folklore behind it. It has a wonderful reading method passed on by oral tradition that anyone can learn. I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of it over the years, and I wanted to share that with you. After the Lenormand wars (isn’t that a silly concept?) started, the message, what I wanted to say – it got lost in the din.

I was one of the first people to write about this deck in the English language. You couldn’t even get a copy of it outside of Europe and maybe Brasil back then.

How times changed. There was a trickle of decks. Then a flood. And all these Lenormand experts appeared, pro-tradition and anti-tradition. I’m not really sure where they came from. Me, I’m not an expert. I know a lot about these cards, but I’m not an expert.

But if you listened to these folks, a few things came to be considered pretty much fact, though the facts often contradicted each other. Tradition was designed to keep you out of Lenormand reading. That, they said, was only for the elite. Besides, it wasn’t even a living tradition. It was something stodgy and boring and near-death, and each card had a meaning that needed to be memorised. You’re a dilettante if you use card combinations (or if you don’t), proximity is the only true reading style, hell, if your deck has one bird on the Birds card, or three, instead of two, it’s not traditional. Even if you could remember that and the myriad other details, you could never read about your life. Because the cards were designed in the late 18th century, and people – they weren’t really people back then. They didn’t care about things like home, family, work, love. They weren’t like us.

So…what you really had to do was to read with psychic ability, though it’s generally called ‘intuition’ in non-traditional circles. If you tried to learn traditional reading, you’d be brainwashed; made a sheep. It also meant you weren’t a creative person, because to be creative you need to have utter contempt for both knowledge and history. And if you don’t do it that way (which way?), you’ll never be a real reader.

If you’ve ever wondered why anyone outside this community thinks we’re crazy, why no-one wants to get involved with us, you don’t have to look much further than this. And it still goes on.

Can I say my opinion, please?

Those folks lied to you. I’m pretty sure they lied to themselves, too, and probably fear of being wrong is what caused this inexorable split that looks so much the same on both sides. You lost, I lost, the cards lost. This neat little fortune-telling game – it wasn’t fun anymore. Too many people were trying to claim some identity for it, some personal or political symbol, and in all that madness, the deck itself pretty much disappeared. It simply couldn’t hold the weight.

So. Here we are.

I’d like to try this again. Maybe this time I’ll do it better. I’m a traditional reader. We didn’t used to use the word ‘traditional’ to describe it until pretty recently, because it was simply how you read Lenormand cards. And at the end of the day – Lenormand is a deck of cards. Nobody’s going to come to your house and arrest you because you’re playing with it wrongly, and if anyone thinks ill of you for doing it – they’re wrong. Pure and simple. If that’s what you want to do – feel free. Please.

But I would like to talk a little bit about what the tradition is, that thing I so much wanted to share with the English-speaking world.

Tradition is inclusive. It’s alive. It’s designed to let you in. It’s also a lot of fun to learn and work with. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, but you’ll be no worse for learning a bit about it – I promise.

Back in the days of pre-esoteric tarot (and even in the early days of esoteric tarot), card reading was a skill, a craft. Most card-readers were illiterate, so they passed on their knowledge through apprenticeships and orally.

Lenormand falls squarely into this tradition. The deck has been used for a little under 200 years to tell fortunes, and wherever you find a pocket of Lenormand readers, whether it’s in Rio or Kiev, the Book + Gentleman is going to mean a man you don’t know yet, and the Gentleman + Book will mean a learned man. All around the world. For 200 years. Passed on by people who couldn’t read and write. And they did that because this language, this funky, wonderful card language – it mattered to them. A lot. They kept it going in the absolute faith that somewhere down the road, people like you and me would find it and get as much enjoyment out of it as they did.

Think about that, for a couple of minutes.

They didn’t do it to keep you out. They did it to let you in. As my friend Björn Meuris said: ‘Reading cards is a magical act. But you don’t have to be a magician to do it’. And he’s so right. You don’t need to be psychic, or clairvoyant, or have spirit guides, or do any rituals to read Lenormand. All you have to do is learn the craft of reading.

There’s a lot more to talk about, I know. But for now I’d like to leave it here. Just for a bit.

I hope you’re doing well.

–Chanah

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18 thoughts on “Can I Say My Opinion, Please?

  1. Ever so eloquently and gently stated. Where or how it all went ‘wrong’ is a total mystery. I hope that this post will be seen far and wide. And will help to stitch up the community.

  2. Hi Chanah, long time no contact. Life gets in the way…
    Loved your Lenormand rant.
    Just commenting to let you know others have enjoyed it too but apparently not commented here. Hope you’re keeping well. OC x

  3. I couldn’t agree more with you, Chanah! I’ve left most of the fb groups on Lennies for that very reason – i know it’s a tradition and that’s what i wanted to learn, but then i saw scholars of whom i am in awe, being told off by clueless newbies without minimal knowledge or decency or whatsoever… Oh, and the eternal ‘well Coffin is a positive card to me because it had all another symbolism in my own system of belief…” *rolls eyes*

    • There have been so many misconceptions on both sides of this thing that people have hurled at each other as absolute truth, Ruth. Folks have lost their livelihoods. And the personal cost has been horrible.

      It has to stop. We need to do something different.

  4. This was a great article to read. I do use FB groups to learn Lenormand but was rejected from joining the “Real Lenormand” group. I don’t know anything about the “Lenormand Wars” as I am a newbie but doesn’t traditional Lenormand mean that it is only for the selected ones and the regular masses like me are not welcomed to learn it?

    Not having a grandma or aunt who knew Lenormand but stumbling on it “by an accident” online (after seeing some ancient Lenormand cards and getting attracted to them), I will not be one of those who learnt by oral tradition. So what will I most likely do? I will Google “Lenormand” and see what comes up. I will have to go through all the websites and groups, perhaps all the books available on amazon and learn it by trying them all out. How can one know which Lenormand is a real one and which one – a fake one?

    After spending a year or so in one FB group, I myself start feeling my *imperfections*, readings don’t work, don’t fulfill, there are questions rising. Books don’t have my questions listed, it’s not that we don’t want to learn. It’s really hard to find resources and it’s also hard that even when they are found, the *real* Lenormand readers do not seem to welcome those lost souls with their arms open.

    So what can be the solution? A Lenormand diploma that could be confirmed by only one institution? A Lenormand school that decides upon one method or the same card meanings that could be called “standard Lenormand” similar to “standard English”?

    PS This comment was not an attack or insult or some provocation. I adore your articles and as you let it out in your article, I felt like letting out too but I am not sure if I was able to pass my thoughts the way I wanted to.

    Sincerely,
    ES

    • Probably some fair statements in there. So I’ll try to answer. I don’t have a facebook. I did for a few months, but it was just too weird, so I left. I do remember getting kicked out of most Lenormand groups, despite almost never posting – but a couple of group owners had stolen a lot of my material, so probably they didn’t want me around.

      As for people being unwelcome, well, there are some fairly dysfunctional folks in this community, though it’s not true of everyone. But elitism? That’s dumb. It’s card-reading, after all, and until my generation most card readers didn’t know how to read and write words. It’s hardly a middle-class occupation. I’ve heard a couple of people claim it’s only for the elite, but they’re folks who’ve been reading for only a couple of years themselves, and maybe because of very painful life circumstances they’ve got their whole identity wrapped up in a deck of playing cards. I can’t really explain it because I don’t understand it myself, and I haven’t seen it very often at all. But if they’re being jerks and making you feel bad about yourself – stay away from them. Only advice I can give you there.

      I don’t know too many snotty ‘real’ readers, but I’m told they exist en masse. I’m often told all of us are like that. Nobody ever gives me names, though, when pressed, so is it possible that it’s really not everyone, and just a few bad apples? It can colour your perception; we tend to remember the bad far more than we remember the good.

      If you do want to learn traditional reading, the best suggestion I can give you is to check out the Lenormand Heritage International blog in my links list. It was put together by me and a few other people specifically to list resources that are credible, at least if you trust my judgement. The LHI folks also have a facebook group for learners – it may be worth your while to check it out, and it’s linked in the blog. I’m not a part of it myself, but I know everyone who is, and none of them bite.

      Sorry you’ve had such a rough go of it, and I hope you find something of use here.

      • Thanks, Chanah, for replying. I also see card reading as something that grandmas do or a common family pastime (if they read cards).
        Yes, I guess we all had not so good experiences on Facebook…
        I really appreciate the Lenormand Heritage website and I have checked it out shortly after writing my comment above. I got many of my answers there (such as sources).
        I joined the Heritage group and it looks nice and welcoming.
        I wanted to ask about the copyright. When is it being infringed? Let’s say I learn Lenormand meanings from book X and then, naturally, I would use them for my “daily draw Lenormand blog” or at the group. Is this copyright infringement and when is it a copyright infringement?
        This is a question that I always wonder about.
        Thanks for all your help.

  5. I just stumbled upon your blog and this post, Chanah. You hit the nail on the head with this post. I used to blog years ago when I was first learning the lenormand (went by the name Spiritsong) but got so turned off with what I was seeing happening, that I dropped out of all the groups. I still read every day (both the lenormand and the oracles) and have proven very clearly to myself that they are a wonderful divinatory tool. I’m with Madame Seaqueen and Andybc in thanking you for taking the time to write this and share. I have always respected you and have enjoyed your thoughts on cartomancy. Hope you are happy and well :)

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