The Fox Outsmarts the Bear: Lenormand and Career Readings

The Fox Outsmarts the Bear: Lenormand and Career Readings

A recent review of our book, Learning Lenormand, criticised it for referring to the original “Game of Hope” cards in 1800 from which the Lenormand is copied. The reviewer stated emphatically that the Lenormand was “certainly not the game of cards” to which we referred often, as if understanding the origins of the deck in no way was useful to learning.

My personal opinion is that appreciating the context in which the deck was developed – and why it (out of the many possible variations) survived, is essential to my reading. I’d like to give one example, of how appreciating the history adds to real interpretations, in this case with careers.

When the Game of Hope was first used as a parlour game, the tale of Reynard the Fox would have been common knowledge – as we cover in the book. The Fox in the deck of images would have instantly been seen in this light; as the trickster and master manipulator, looking after number one.

Here is an image of Reynard at the Ways.

Reynard at the Ways

Reynard at the Ways

In the original instructions for the game, we see that the “cunning fox leads the player astray”, actually taking them back to the woods (Tree)! So it is a somewhat tricky card when appearing in our reading, for both good and ill, depending on its context.

We should also look at the Bear in career readings, in this context, as a powerful boss, employer (company), or already established power. The relationship between the Fox and the Bear, for me, comes from the original tales of Reynard, where the Bear features as an active character.

The Fox and the Bear in the tales of Reynard are recognised as self-interest versus the establishment. Reynard tricks the bear in a number of different ways, always taking advantage of the bear’s self-confidence and single-mindedness. The Fox works by indirect methods, manipulation and controlling the communications between the various parties, to his own ends. The Fox (unlike the Snake in the grass) is an enemy in plain sight – just in that they look after “number one”.

We can have some sympathy for the fox though, as he is also employing his self-interest to look after and feed his family back at the den. In some Lenormand decks we see him stalking the chicken who is totally unaware of their role in the natural pecking order.

So when someone asks me about career in a Grand Tableau, I always think of the context in which players would have played the original Game of Hope, and the stories they would have told each other from those images. These would have been informed by their own experience of the tales of the time, including Reynard the Fox.

So, as some example combinations:

Fox + Moon: Self-Promotion
Fox + Bear: Conflict with Authority
Fox + Fish: Self-Interest leading to Gain

And as a general rule, when looking at career questions in the Grand Tableau, I always consider where the Fox and the Bear are positioned relative to each other, and the cards between them. Is the Fox able to overcome the Bear to secure his own position? Is the Bear bringing a Cross and Coffin to stop the Fox in his ways? How can the Fox get round the Bear, if the Bear is in the way of the Fishes …? Considering these two cards as the querent and the established power in their career, and likening them to the tales of Reynard, really helps me make sense of a reading.

Of course, it may not always be a negative situation – there might be a Bear underneath the Fox, supporting their self-employment or innovative ideas (Child). This would signify a powerful supportive person, particularly if the Bear is close to the Fishes (resources, money). The Fox may be close to the Tower, a place of authority and structure (it symbolised a border post and watchtower in the original context of the game), hence at a threshold in their path.
When weaving a tale of the Fox and Bear, we can see archetypal stories and characteristics of those animals written into (and out of) us. They play out in real life as self-interest versus establishment, and this is most noticeable in career aspects of a reading.

So I would say to anyone who does not consider that the original game, its instructions, and historical context, have anything to do with Lenormand reading, consider too that they may be missing a big part of the heritage of the cards.

Tali x

Ten Ways to Learn Lenormand

Ten Ways to Go About Learning Lenormand

1. Read Books. The more the better, and the more in different languages that you can, the better. Many readers across Europe learnt from books, or books have written down what other readers have used in their readings. In writing Learning Lenormand, we spent two years purchasing and reading French, German, Portuguese and Brazilian books. Although it can be initially complex, dealing with ambiguities of language and contradictions (sometimes within the same book, never mind between different authors), it soon pays off – your readings will be deeper, more flexible and fluent as you create your own accent of the literal Lenormand language.

A small selection of Lenormand Books.

A small selection of Lenormand Books.

2. Study the History. The Lenormand has developed over a shorter period of time, and in a more constrained way, than Tarot, for example, until recently. It makes it far easier to trace the development of the lexicon and grammar of the card meanings, starting with the Game of Hope. We can then range through cartomantic meanings and associations, and symbolic systems such as dream interpretation and coffee-grind readings, etc. This will again widen your ability to appreciate the symbols and create readings.

3. Practice. There are many online venues, such as our own LEARNING LENORMAND study group on Facebook, where you can practice with others. All will be dependent on the people creating, joining and contributing to the group, so find the best place for you to practice.

Reading the Grand Tableau

Reading the Grand Tableau

4. Read what experienced readers have to say on their craft. Whether they learnt from their “grandmother”, or picked it up over four decades of reading from their home, making it up from what worked, everyone has an opportunity to share their methods and styles.

5. To start, don’t get too carried away with deck-purchasing unless you are a collector or enthusiast for different decks. Whilst we promote the innovative and beautiful new decks now appearing on a weekly basis, for a beginner, we recommend the Piatnik, Dondorf, Blue Owl, our own “Original Lenormand” (from the original 1800 game of Hope by J. K. Hechtel), or whichever deck appeals most to you. Once you have got reasonably confident in one deck out of maybe three or four you have purchased, then dive into the cartomantic ocean waiting for you with many possible new decks!

Lenormand Decks

Lenormand Decks

6. Take Courses. As with any subject, you will learn differently with different teachers, no matter what the content. It is important you find someone who teaches in a way that works for you. There’s nothing more frustrating than good content presented badly, or in a confusing manner. If you are paying for a course, then check whether you are getting value compared to “free” content online. A paid course should be so because it features an experienced teacher in the subject, high quality research or material, or high production values – or a combination of those things, which cost money to produce.

7. Ignore anything you might read about “tradition”. Stating that there is a definitive singular tradition (whether based on language, geography or teacher) is a very difficult thing to prove. There is a lot of ongoing research into this, and until it is published, there will be a lot of “noise” about “THE German tradition” or “THE French tradition”. It would be fantastic if we could get ten different (and isolated from each other) readers in Germany, speaking German only, each of whom we could demonstrate learnt from several generations back. We could then interview them, and their parents and grandparents. We could then compare their lexicon (card meanings, i.e. FISH = MONEY), and grammar (card combinations, i.e. FISH + CLOVER = Luck in Money). We could then check that all 36 meanings and any combinations were IDENTICAL across all ten readers, and their parents and grandparents. We could then ensure that they were NOT identical to anything published, or had consistent variations. THEN we could begin to suspect an entirely separate oral tradition, belonging to a particular language or geography – and we could then look to trace any written source, such as cartomantic manuals in old German dating back to the last several centuries. A big job …

8. Stick to one set of “rules” or meanings. Read left to right, or right to left, read the Bear as Money, a job or mothers, but only one of those things (meaning you’ll need another card for the other things), and so on. But stick to one set. Read, practice, and over time you’ll calibrate that to your experience. As an example, one reader (in tarot) always read the 5 of Pentacles as “poverty”, but consistently got financially comfortable people for whom that card was coming up. He started to ask them about their situations, and soon discovered that the card was more about “deferred comfort”, that’s to say, people investing for the long-term, going on an expensive course so they couldn’t enjoy the comforts of life, etc., planning for the long-term. So now, for him, that card means that, rather than “poverty” as he started using. Just test one set of meanings until it snaps into place.

9. Use as many cards as you can. In Lenormand, I feel, I learnt best by starting with the Grand Tableau, even though I only read a few cards in it to begin with. I then branched out, rather than got frustrated with trying to make sense out of two or three cards. It was avoiding what I see often with beginners, “Oh, I am doing two cards for my daily draw, and I got “CLOVER + FISH”, lucky money, or money bringing luck, any other ideas?” Well, that’s it, really! I’d be more interested then to know where that was coming from, how I could recognise – or indeed – encourage this situation. And I’d need more cards to tell me; where’s the Fox, the Bear – is it an opportunity at work? Where’s the Mountain, the Snake, the Cross – anything to stop it happening? And so on. At least with starting with the Grand Tableau you have the opportunity to read outwards as and when you can, and with context.

Reading the Cards

Reading the Cards

10. Have fun, explore, take your time, and bring your own voice to the cards. We feel the Lenormand has a unique “literal Lenormand” language in the world of cartomancy. It will be a while before the current interest settles into longer-term usage in a wider audience. Some things will re-surface and be taken up by a lot of people, other things will remain peculiar to just one reader. Some teachers and decks will flourish, others will falter. There are still new discoveries and insights to be made, and this will take time. Don’t waste it by doing anything other than enjoying your own personal studying and reading of the cards.

Lighthouse Spread (Imbolc)

In today’s Tarot Timetravel, we use the Lenormand Oracle (or any other oracle deck) to get a balance between our past and future, in a one-off spread to be used only on Imbolc. We also see how to read positive oracle cards in negative positions, and negative cards when they appear in a positive position.

At Imbolc, February 2nd, it is a pivotal time between the seasons, and we begin to see the first light of Spring and Summer to follow. We have a brief moment to reflect on what we have learnt in the often quieter time of dark winter, and what we wish to take into the light. In effect, now is the time to consider our resolutions, not at the artificial start of the calendar year. So let us time travel to the seasonal time, rather than our calendar clock time, and align ourselves for the future.

As this year we are re-discovering the “Tarot of Antiquity”, particularly such decks as European decks including Kipper Decks, Lenormand Oracle decks and the Marseilles and Swiss IJJ, I am going to be featuring a lot of the Lenormand type of decks. Today I am using the Lenormand Blue Owl deck, although this spread will work with any oracle deck. An oracle deck is often better for this method as the cards are usually more literal and mundane – Marcus Katz prefers his Psycards deck for this one.

Let us imagine we stand on a rock upon the coastline, inbetween the sea and land. Ahead of us is a great lighthouse, with two beams rotating into the early dawn light. We stand for a moment inbetween time and space, past and future, here and now.

Shuffle your deck and consider your past and future. How has it been, where do you want to go?

Then pick out 7 cards and layout the spread as below, as a lighthouse with two beams of light coming from it:


CARD 2 – CARD 3 – CARD 4                                                           CARD 5 – CARD 6 – CARD 7

The first card is laid out at the top and this is the lighthouse or beacon card, its power crowns the spread, the light splits in two and radiating its energy left and right, each card depicts the nature of steering towards or away.

There are three cards laid out in a row (or you can lay them out in a column) on the left and three on the right. The left is indicative of what you should steer away from, the right is what you should steer towards. You can read them together, or break the positions into the following context.

These cards are also signposts – you should learn to see that if you go past one card, you will reach the next. This gives you at least three levels of warning before making bad decisions, or three levels of “warmer – hotter – found it!” on the positive side of the reading.

On the left (negative/past) side:

The first card on the left column (2) represents the tip of the iceberg. This card shows what will show up first when you are going the wrong way in the future, based on the mistakes of the past.

The second card on the left column (3) represents the shallow reefs. This card shows what will start to happen if you miss or ignore that warning. You know what this card means, as it as probably happened before.

The third card on the left column (4) represents the Sirens. This card shows the final last-chance warning you will receive before committing a bad mistake in the future. Ignore it at your peril.

Now on the more positive side, we have the three cards representing the signs we can follow in our future that will guide us to our safest dock, our home, and create destiny from our fate.

The first card (5) on the right column represents the coastline. This is the card that tells you what to look out for, even if it appears not to be important, as part of your souls quest of return.

The second card (6) on the right column represents the Harbour. This tells us what you should expect to see in your life if you are heading the right direction.

The third card (7) on the right column represents the Dock. This final card indicates the nature of our destiny, and suggests what will be happening when we are closest to our own true path.

To illustrate the deceptive power of this spread when conducted on this one sacred day, here is an example which I conducted for someone last year:

The Beacon/Lighthouse: 34 (The Fishes)

Whilst most see this traditionally as a card of material gain, to me this card is about spiritual self-discovery, taking the opportunity to rise to the call and look to a new adventure.  The fish are very much in the forefront of the card, the water symbolic of the emotions that we wallow in. This is Neptunian realms of emotions; we are motivated by emotional stimulus. It suggests that rather than being a lighthouse, your call is to follow the tide of your emotions – trust them and they will lead you to where you need to go – a true sense of “going with the flow”. In this position the card bodes well, for there is little struggle suggested in the year ahead – you have learnt to trust your tides.

We then look at the warning signs to be heeded in the year:

The Tip of the Iceberg:  19 (The Tower)

The Tower can be used as a look-out post, the presence of this card in the spread counsels to be aware of impending risk or danger that you may be exposed to. You need to plan for any outcome good or bad. Build up a defence system around yourself, protect yourself from negativity. Imagine that you are safe and protected behind the walls of this tower. This is also a card advising getting a better perspective of a situation that has arisen, look at in a more objective manner, be practical about this, do not become too subjective or over emotional, rise above the situation and figure out a solution! You will know you are at the tip of the iceberg any time you feel defensive. This is when you should bail out, retreat, or make your way around the arising situation.

The Shallow Reefs: 18 (The Dog)

When you feel trusted, or called upon to give trust to someone, this is a further warning – you are being drawn into the shallow reefs. Whilst usually the most delightful card of the oracle, here it shows that your trust has led you astray in the past, and will be a sign in the future that you are going astray again. Be more of a fish than a dog, then!

The Sirens: 4 (The House)

Again, a most stable and positive card here is in a position which is negative. It shows how the house can be a prison – a stable environment has suffocated you in the past. If you find yourself too comfortable this year – you are perilously close to losing yourself to the siren song. It may even be too late, so be aware this coming year that every moment you are “out and about” is keeping you from your doom. Get out there!

Then on the future/positive beam from the lighthouses beacon:

The Coastline:  9 (Flowers/Bouquet)

When people are praising you, when giving you gifts or compliments, do not run away! This is the welcoming coastline that beckons you closer. You may not be used to this, having been away from this shore for so long. Perhaps you have not gained or been given recognition in the past, but that is about to change. Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive to you, seek the limelight more often, be the happy centre of attention. When you open your arms, flowers will follow.

The Harbour: 8 (The Coffin)

A negative card, perhaps, in an entirely positive position. So here, like we saw with our positive cards in negative positions, the poles are reversed again. The coffin indicates that our safe harbour is to be found when we put things in the grave – when we bury what is outworn and obsolete. When we dig deep and discard all that we do not want to carry into a new life. This is a sign, then, that our harbour is waiting for us. Following our course to the coast, we have opened ourselves to others and been changed – it is then up to you to bury your old self. When you find yourself thinking of loss, this can be taken as a sign you are even closer to the dock of your future.

The Dock: 30 (The Lily)

How will you know that you are on your path, that you have learnt from the darkness of the year and are making your way to the light of the future? The Lily shows a certain sense of purity and virtue – a clean spring feeling of light. It indicates that you will sense a great clarity as you hone in on your own path, a quietness, even a calm so profound it feels empty. After you have buried your old self, your new self will seem fresh and clean – waiting to be gifted again to the world. You will know that you are on the right beam of the lighthouse every moment there is clarity – avoid confusion or being overburdened. The answer lies – for you this year – in pure simplicity itself.

I hope you have enjoyed this spread and the use of the Lenormand deck, and I look forward to any comments if you decide to try it yourself – use this method as an excuse to dust off an oracle deck, or use a new one! Safe sailing until our next time-travelling instalment!