When “Bad Is Bad”

Although I’m a newly-minted traditionalist in the Lenormand system of divination, having been involved only since 2012, it strikes me that the tradition has been  undergoing a gradual degenerative decline (or maybe an insidious “dilution” is a more apt word for it) that probably isn’t entirely reversible. Converts from the more fluid/squishy realm of tarot wander in and set about rearranging the furniture to suit their preconceptions. (Another cartomancy blogger calls it “The Great Piling-on” from a few years ago.) The affirmational crowd assumes that any indicator can be bent to a positive end with enough intuitive repurposing. In the early days of my engagement, there was considerable resistance among tarot insurgents to any reading method that could not be recast in purely intuitive terms. Even a couple of the more prominent writers in the field have bowed to this edict, some more enthusiastically than others. (It looked to me like they were tossing a bone to a potential tarot-centric readership.) But one of the first things I realized about Lenormand, after recognizing that it isn’t an especially robust tool for psychological self-analysis, is that there is a certain literal intransigence about it. At least nominally, “bad is bad” no matter how much ingenious spin you care to put on it, although as the recipient of less fortunate influences there are always insightful ways for one to accommodate the inconvenience.

More manifestly than with modern, psychologically-inflected tarot, there is an acknowledged distinction between “good,” “neutral” and “bad” cards in Lenormand (Andy Boroveshengra has a useful list and commentary on this in his book, Lenormand 36 Cards, which I’m reproducing below). As the saying goes “You can put lipstick on a sow but it’s still a sow,” or similarly and more bluntly, “You can’t polish a turd.” What works with tarot in finding the silver lining in any ominous cloud, due to the multi-layered flexibility of each card, doesn’t find nearly as much traction with Lenormand, where the range of card meanings is much narrower and their interpretation much more structured. Also, free-association from the card illustrations, which drives so much imaginative inspiration in the art of tarot reading, is frowned upon with Lenormand imagery (a particular bone of contention for tarot transplants). Attempt to reinvent the narrative landscape too strenuously and you no longer have a bona fide Lenormand reading.

Andy’s List:


Cloverleaf*, Bouquet, Stars*, Heart, Sun, Moon, Key, Fish


Cavalier, Ship, House, Child, Dog, Storks, Lilies, Anchor


Bear, High Tower, Park, Roads, Ring, Letter


Tree, Snake, Birds, Book


Clouds, Coffin, Scythe, Rod, Fox, Mountain, Mice, Cross

* Cloverleaf and Stars become negative with the Clouds

“The neutral, neutral-positive and neutral-negative can be intensified or mitigated by falling with positive or negative cards. For example, Letter would become positive with the Fish and Sun (news of a financial success), but negative with the Coffin and Mice (news of financial loss).”

– Andy Boroveshengra, Lenormand 36 Cards, self-published (as far as I can tell), 2014

As long as I’ve been at it (47 years this year), I still believe that reading the cards with precision and grace is a life-long learning experience. Just when we think we have something nailed down with certainty, a new wrinkle pops up courtesy of the human condition that moves the goal-posts. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but with Lenormand I think it can be assimilated without resorting to “kitchen-sink” eclecticism.

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