East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A new deck for the collection

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Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand was a very popular fortune teller during the Napoleonic era, that became (in)famous when she became the card reader and confidante of Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife. She was also arrested for espionage – and for witchcraft, but it was hard to make the accusation stick in post-Illuminist France. When she died she left a fortune to her only heir – that being a devout Catholic burned all of her stuff, and wanted nothing to do with her, but kept the money.
Better known as Mlle Lenormand, Marie also created her own tarot deck – and I received a packet this morning containing a new Lenormand Tarot deck for my collection.

And the Lenormand Tarot is particularly interesting if you want to use the cards for writing experiments.

The Lenormand Tarot or “Petit Lenormand” consists of only 36 cards, and bears only a passing resemblance to the Smith-Waite tarot we are mostly familiar with. The cards show objects and concepts like ships and lighthouses, wells and flowers, various animals and characters, books and keys and masks. Each card also carries a number and a standard playing card value.

The deck my perpetually baffled postman delivered this morning, and that was supposed to be a Christmas gift by a friend (thanks!) is the Gilded Reverie Lenormand, in its “Expanded Edition” of 44 cards. The cards are designed by Ciro Marchetti, and have a distinctively steampunkish/Edwardian feel. But being an artifact of the Napoleonic era, it also includes a sinister-looking Anubis doing his thing with a mummy sarcophagus, in what looks like a subterranean chamber. And being French, it features a couple of scantly-clad ladies.

By representing very obvious general concepts, like “travel by sea” (but could also be “hardships ahead”), “a twisting staircase” (but also, “choices ahead”), “the Egyptian god of death waving at you” and so on, it becomes pretty easy to try and use these cards to build short stories – and after all, what is a tarot reading but an exercise in interactive storytelling?

I have been putting together a booklet about using the Petit Lenormand as a tool for writing, and now I’ll do some more experiments with this new and in fact quite beautiful deck.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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