Lenormand — if not symbols, than what?

Mary K. Greer has a post up about Lenormand cards, in which she asserts

The cards are not read symbolically! The narrow range of meanings, which are functional rather than symbolic, ensure there is little ambiguity about their significance.

I love Greer’s work and have always admired it, and the rest of her post is interesting (in fact, she has several very valuable bits of research on her blog for those interested in the Lenormand:  this post is particularly interesting, as it provides evidence that the Lenormand did not begin as a game afterall).

But I cannot understand what she might mean by this statement.  A symbol is “aliquid stat pro aliquo,” or “something that stands for something else.”  If I draw a Lenormand card –Mice, let’s say — and say “Busy, but without much profit, and maybe small annoyances as well,” I’ve read that card symbolically.  Even if I read it as “Oh, gosh, you have mice in your house!” I’ve read it symbolically.  The card isn’t a mouse: it’s a symbol of a mouse.  A mouse isn’t small annoyances; it’s a symbol of small annoyances.

Later on, she offers an example:

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.

If this is not reading symbolically, I have to wonder what is.

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3 Responses to “Lenormand — if not symbols, than what?”

  1. Thanks for playing with my blog post. I love hearing other sides of the story. Sure, a very limited form of symbolism is involved in Lenormand as all our communications are through symbols. But, as a central methodology for deriving meaning in divination, symbols aren’t limited in their references. Lenormand, generally is.

    The better term for Lenormand is probably “emblematic,” referring to “a special design or visual object representing a quality, type, group, etc.”

    For instance, I don’t know anyone who reads the Lenormand Child card by saying, “This picture shows a child with a butterfly net running to capture a butterfly. The net represents all the snares that life presents to the new soul represented by the butterfly. So, here we have one’s “inner child” who is struggling to ensnare the soul in the net of materiality. The number 13 on the card refers to the betrayal of Judas (flesh betraying the Spirit), but also to the thirteen Lunar months of the old Goddess calendar and thus that we are all children of Mother Nature.” We do this regularly with Tarot, not Lenormand.

    The Lenormand Child card is read according to the same limited range of emblematically or functionally related meanings, no matter what details appear on the particular deck you are using (a picture isn’t even essential). It can mean one or more children, something new or small, or a beginning, innocence and goodness, play and toys, affection and trust, naiveté and, with negative cards, immaturity and irresponsibility, and other things that serve similar functions in our lives.

    • Aha! I see that what we have here is a difference in definition. I see “symbol” and I think of its specialized meaning in semiotics, which of course not everyone does (you’d think I’d eventually remember that, but no). In semiotic terms, you’re suggesting — I think — that Lenormand symbols tend toward the iconic, in which a signifier maps to a small range of signifieds. A stop sign is the typical example: no one is going to spend a lot of time thinking about all the various associations and implications of a stop sign, because it maps to a rather simple action.

      I don’t think the Lenormand is that iconic (and I’m sure you don’t, either), but I do agree that each particular Lenormand symbol carves out a smaller semantic space than that carved out by each individual tarot card. I imagine that’s why Lenormand cards are read almost exclusively in combination with each other: if you have smaller semantic spaces, you can define meaning more effectively by putting them in relation to each other.

      As far as tradition goes, there is certainly an evolving tradition of meaning that goes back to various traditions of cartomancy. You have plenty of evidence on your blog of that fact. But I spent far too long studying post-structuralism to put much trust in the concept of “tradition.” Very often, tradition is a construction used to justify present practice, and it only appears unbroken and unchanging because it has been constructed that way in the present. The remedy to that construction is careful examination of historical records, and I am pleased that you are doing that on your blog. It always makes my day when you’ve uncovered some new historical evidence.

      Dare I hope that you might come out with a Lenormand book one of these days?

  2. Great – we are on the same page here. When I think symbol I tend to think of Jung and dreamwork, etc. I prefer emblematic over iconic or signs. In the realm of “Emblem Books” there is a distinction between “Devices”, which tend to mean one thing and can be specific to a family or city like on a family crest, and Emblems, like those devised in the late Renaissance that were broader, often allegorical with moral admonitions attached. The Viennese Fortune Telling Emblems of 1794 (on my blog) clearly come out of this tradition. I plan on writing more about this soon. If all of these terms were on a continuum, I’d place Lenormand closer to the emblem part of the scale. It seems that, for you, symbols would be the name of the whole scale, which is understandable.

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