The Literalist

I’ve recently been involved in a debate about the necessity – or even the desirability – of large spreads. In tarot, I seldom use spreads smaller than five cards, and seven to ten cards is closer to my ideal (the Celtic Cross has been my mainstay for decades). In Lenormand, I prefer the Grand Tableau over all others because of its versatility, with the 3×3 square as a marginally adequate alternative (although, with increasing success, it’s starting to grow on me). As a kid and a budding artist, I was never content with the eight or sixteen-color Crayola sets and longed for the 64-crayon carton, which I never got my hands on before I outgrew crayons. So there is a psychological precursor for my attitude – call it “chromatic deprivation.”

I tend to think of Lenormand spreads in terms of narrative elements: a three-card line forms a phrase, a five-card line yields a sentence with seven cards lending slightly more detail, the nine-card square serves as a paragraph embodying several sentences, the fifteen-card “mini-tableau resembles a chapter of several paragraphs or even a multi-chapter “part,” and the thirty-six card  Grand Tableau provides, if not a novel, at least a novella about the querent’s next six months to a year. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it works for me.

I’m very much a literalist when reading Lenormand. The only time I use intuition is in the blending of two or more cards into combinations, since not every card meaning in the set melds cleanly with every other and those matches that “feel” right within the scope of the reading are usually the best choice. Because I don’t give my imagination free rein to roam too far beyond the borders of what the individual cards are saying, I get more detail by including more cards in my layout. It’s a simple formula. The argument that too much information clouds the picture and precludes getting a simple answer to a question sounds valid on the surface, but the standard techniques for reading the cards allow one to explore as much or as little of the array as required. I have no problem “cherry-picking” what I need from a larger spread and ignoring the rest. Unlike mountaineer George Leigh Mallory, I don’t feel compelled to climb the mountain merely because “it’s there.”

This brings me to the subject of “topic” cards, of which the Lenormand system has several. The Heart and Ring excel as pointers to romantic potential, with the Ring also covering all types of contract or commitment; the Tree is the primary “health” card; the Fish (“abundance”) and the Bear (“power”) have to do, in part, with money matters; the Book represents knowledge and therefore education; the House reflects domestic affairs; the Lilies can speak of family, one facet of which is marital sex; the Whip relates more to recreational sex and similar types of vigorous repetitive activity; the Dog keys on friendships and other forms of loyalty and trustworthiness; depending on your preference, the Moon, the Anchor or the Fox can serve as the “work” card; the Ship, in addition to showing long-distance travel, can suggest an enterprise, and therefore business; the Clouds is the general purveyor of trouble. In the Grand Tableau, all of these cards are present and can be examined to the extent they figure into the context of the querent’s question, or otherwise disregarded.

In smaller spreads, unless one pre-positions them in the arrangement, the relevant topic cards have a reduced chance of showing up. While it isn’t essential that they do so in order to arrive at a judgment, my experience in getting a meaningful read on the subject without them has been decidedly mixed, relying too much on intuition to fashion the cards that do appear into the semblance of a useful answer. While we can achieve a reasonable approximation of the truth from such testimony, I’m not willing to place too much faith in it. Beyond the time it takes to lay out all 36 cards, the need to carefully scrutinize the panorama and the risk of over-stimulating your sitter (the “just one more question” syndrome), there is really no downside to using the Grand Tableau for almost any predictive scenario.

8 thoughts on “The Literalist

  1. I think a lot of this might be due to your background working in shops: lay one spread and riff on it for the required amount of time.

    Had you worked the lines, you would think differently – often there is no time to lay a GT, but instead as many questions as can be crammed into two minutes, lol. Yes, you could lay the cards in advance, but then you sometimes get several calls back-to-back!

    Or you could be reading on the fly with no table at hand.

    In other words, there ARE downsides to using a GT every time.

    I’m quite used to reading small spreads without topic cards, without going “intuitive”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • None of my sitters over the last several years have asked for a Lenormand reading and the shop owner, being ignorant of it, didn’t promote it. So the majority of readings I did publicly were tarot sessions. Those occasions when I did read Lenormand were in different settings where there was plenty of time, so I indulged myself. Maybe in my new locale I will have reason to perform short lines, and we shall see. If I can lift such a line out of a GT and read it, the only uncertainty will be the frequent lack of a “centering” topic card for a specif question. My previous experiments with 5-card lines have gone so-so; I’ve only done three cards for combination practice.


  2. I’m not sure what good a “centering” card would do in these instances. I see it as taking up valuable real estate in small draws. A reading is made up of three things: how the cards fall, card meanings/combined meanings, and context. If you have context, you don’t need a topic card.

    Some people won’t give you any context and just ask for a general reading. They want to play Test The Reader, lol. In that case, if I was doing a small draw, I would take the center card as the topic but I obviously couldn’t preselect it.

    But if there’s a specific question, you already know what the topic is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be honest, I wouldn’t be doing it at all if I hadn’t been reading over the last seven years that it isn’t uncommon to do so, although it seems to be more prevalent in the 3×3 square. It does seem to make sense to have a “focus” card, cut to the chase as it were. I’m undecided whether it would be worthwhile to lay another card on top of it during the draw. I’m not entirely rooted in the tradition on these things, my Mensa sensibilities don’t give me any rest when it comes to thinking through the possibilities. The spreads I develop probably testify to that.


      • It may not be uncommon , but it certainly isn’t necessary.
        I suspect it’s a carryover from Tarot. How many people lay a significator for a CC, cover it, cross it, but don’t read it? LOL.
        It’s easy to find things that a lot of people do. They saw it in a book, or saw someone else do it, but never questioned it. Whether those things serve any actual purpose is questionable.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I stopped using a significator with the CC some time ago for that very reason: it wasn’t serving any purpose with a “live,” talking significator sitting across the table. In my case, the interest in a “focus” card probably stems more from my use of Elemental Dignities in tarot, which creates combined meanings similar to Lenormand combinations, although the main purpose is different. I’m experimenting with topic cards mainly because I AM questioning them, and the only way to know is to try both ways.


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