In Part 1 of our interview with Marcia McCord, Tarot reader and deck creator, we talk about the basic differences between a Petit Lenormand deck and a “normal” Tarot deck. In this blog, part two of three, Marcia delves deeper into the history of the Petit Lenormand and 78-card Tarot decks, and discusses the Grand Tableau spread.
Marcia: Though some people believe that the Tarot originated in Egypt or Morocco, most of us pretty much trace the origin of the Tarot from written evidence. And there were police reports about breaking up bar fights in northern Italy where people were playing a game called Tarocchi. At the same time, they were talking about fortune telling with that kind of deck. So, we trace it to the late 1300s.
PYN: Are there actually police reports like that?
Marcia: Yes, there are. Because you look in the “normal” places and there’s nothing, so you try to figure out where are the alternative sources, so finally we found the bar fight. So that’s why I love Bob Place and I love Mary Greer and the work they’re doing because they’re meticulous researchers.
PYN: I was thrilled when Mary Greer turned up this lecture by Jung on the Tarot. Because I’d always heard that Jung wasn’t interested in Tarot, and there was only a one sentence quotation by Jung where he mentioned it.
Marcia: There are so many people saying, “there’s nothing to do with Jung in Tarot!”
PYN: It’s not that there’s nothing to do with Jung in Tarot, it’s that Jung was interested in Tarot.
Marcia: He was! He looked at it really deeply. So we have the more ancient but not ancient origins of the Tarot. But with Lenormand you can really trace the origins. There was Mademoiselle Lenormand.
PYN: What was her era?
Marcia: She was besties with Josephine and Napoleon. And there are stories which haven’t been verified that she was in prison a couple of times and so was Josephine, so there’s a possibility they may have met in prison. Prison was different then than what we think of.
But she was this lady who read cards. As far as we know from the descriptions of people’s encounters with her, she used a variety of decks, from a deck like a whist deck to Tarot decks [Tweet this!]. And in her most famous predictions, she predicted to Napoleon that he would become the emperor (which at the time was a pretty crazy thing to say), and that he would lose his empire if he ever got rid of Josephine. And he did and he did. So it was an interesting set of predictions for that. And like most card readers, she died destitute.
She died in 1843 and she lived in France. In 1845, apparently the Germans came out with a great marketing scheme saying that “this is the deck just like the one that Mademoiselle Lenormand used.” So actually, it’s an early advertising ploy.
The birds and the scythe and the bear imagery came from a much earlier tradition that we’ve traced to the 1700s and the Game or Book of Hope, which is actually a way to allow men and women to flirt with each other. There were between 32 and 36 cards and there were fun little sayings on it and you could read the sayings and giggle and make eyes at each other. So that’s one of the things they’re working on now is trying to get some of the rights to reproduce some of those Books of Hope to be able to publish some of those decks. The British Museum has several copies and people have been digging through the boxes in the basement to find out that information. Well those were not built on playing card insets, and it looks like somewhere the images got associated, and that’s an area for future research. But that was always a fortune telling game.
So there’s a huge tradition of oracles and now the tradition that we have out there of oracles of any size – from James Wanless’s very large deck of cards and one of my favorites, the Edward Gory Fantod deck.
PYN: I have the Fantod. I love it. I have no idea how to use it but I have it.
Marcia: The thing with oracles is there are no rules so you can use them any way you want. But the Lenormand does have rules. There is a strict tradition associated with it. Well, or is there? There are several traditions. A French tradition, a German tradition, a Belgian/Netherlands tradition. So people will say, “What do you consider the work or employment card.” I tend to go with the German tradition only because I see the fox as being a work card for me, the wily fox. A lot of people say the fox is a liar. No, the fox does what he needs to do to get the grapes. So does everybody. But a lot of people say, “No, the anchor is work.” But that is so last century. I’m sorry, there’s nothing stable about work conditions today that would make me think that work is a stable condition. Because the anchor is stability. Some other people would say, “Well, sometimes I think of the snake as being work.” So there are a lot of different traditions.
PYN: I would imagine that would be a lot like Tarot. Some people see a card and say, “It always means this,” and others would say, “Well… no.”
Marcia: And that’s a lot of the controversy that’s happening on the group chats. Do you go with the tradition or try to get an intuitive view of it. My own deck reading experiences, I started reading regular playing cards when I was a kid. What are the rules for that?
PYN: You do what works for you.
Marcia: When I read, it’s like looking down into my glass of water here [holds up glass of water], and it’s really difficult to see different layers or how far away things are. And what cards do for me, it’s like wearing glasses. So it basically flattens out that picture for me so that it makes more sense in a linear fashion. So it makes the non-linear world a little more linear. But like anything else, my glasses probably aren’t going to work for you. So I think that’s the important part of it. Some people scry, some people read palms, some people touch things, and know everything about what happened. Some people have dreams. Some people use cards.
But I think one of the things that you have to do, especially with Lenormand, is you have to suspend your disbelief for a moment and say, “WHAT DO THE CARDS SAY?” Tower + book = book tower = library.
PYN: What are the other principles of reading the Lenormand deck?
Marcia: One of the things that’s really important is that there’s something called the Grand Tableau, which is something you probably wouldn’t do with a Tarot deck. The Grand Tableau is actually laying out all 36 of the cards. Ordinarily, with the Tarot, you’ll pick your few and there’s something about what are the odds that this combination of these three cards coming up and what do they mean for you? But with Lenormand you lay out all 36 cards. You can do it in four rows of nine. The older tradition actually is four rows of eight with four down at the bottom. And there are some positions that you read. But the important part of that is that what’s important isn’t what cards came up, because they all did. What’s important about that are the relationships of cards to each other – near or far, the influence that they had. If you are having trouble connecting with your mother, who is maybe represented by the bear, you are way over in one corner of the reading and there is no straight line to your mother and you can say, “Here’s why. Here are the ways you may have to go to speak to your mom.”
PYN: This is so interesting to me because when I was in Morocco I got a card reading by this woman and I didn’t speak any French and her English was… Well, it was better than my French. And it was a little deck with seven through Ace, and she laid out the whole deck. That was probably how she was reading it. I figured out some of what she was doing – cards modifying each other – but with the language barrier I couldn’t grasp all of it.
Marcia: So there are a few landmarks in the Grand Tableau. The four corners of the bigger square have significance. The center four cards are kind of the heart of the matter. The four cards that are down at the bottom are usually called “karma cards” so if you find yourself in a repeating pattern, it probably has something to do with this. The left side is the past. The right side is the future. And then you figure out straight lines. You are always the woman. A male querent would always be the man.
PYN: So there’s a woman card and a man card.
Marcia: Yes. And a lot of the newer decks are trying to be more realistic about relationships and say, let’s have two women cards or two man cards to read relationships, which is also a nice alteration. But you can also do that with a traditional one, because there are other female and male cards within the Lenormand, where you can say if you’ve got the other guy, that other guy might be represented say, by the Rider, someone who’s coming in from a different place, the new person.
Another aspect of what you can do differently with that is that in your life, you have all of these realms, all of these topics. So within the Grand Tableau, if your client asks, “What about my financial situation?” You can look at what’s around the Fish, because the Fish has to do with the flow of money. And so what’s closest to the Fish? Because everything effects your money, but there are things that are bigger influences. So you can go to each topic based on what card it is and say, “What’s my kinky sex life?” And look at the Whip card. I don’t have a kinky sex life – can I say that? And more’s the pity!
So you can ask about health, and look for the Tree, and see what’s around that. Or they can ask, “What about my grandfather?” And look for the Lily. If someone asks, “What’s going to happen with my work?” You can ask them to tell you more about their work – do they work for a small company or a big company? If they work for a big company, see what’s around the Tower, because things that your company can affect you too. So you can have a happy company and a happy you but a very unhappy boss.
In part three of our interview, tomorrow, we’ll go deeper into Lenormand card interpretation, directional interpretations, and Marcia’s work developing Tarot and Lenormand decks.
Marcia McCord self-published the Picture Postcard Tarot, the Art Postcard Tarot and the Victorian Trade Card Tarot, the Tea Tarot, The Dust Bunny Lenormand and the Off-Center Lenormand, taking her inspiration from her childhood spent in her mother’s antique shop. She reads professionally in addition to being a columnist for Timeless Spirit e-Magazine. Her blog, revealing the all-too-human side of Tarot and Lenormand, takes an upside-down view of the human comedy while Marcia takes life one card at a time: http://www.marciamccordtarotreader.blogspot.com/. Knowing that they would pout if she did not mention them, Marcia lives in Vallejo, California, with her husband John, their rescued cats and one very patient, long-suffering cocker spaniel.