This article is part of a collection of blog posts dealing with “Lenormand vs. Tarot” issues. You can find a list of other relevant instalments >> here.
The first part of the Lenormand vs. Tarot Basics discussed how and why Lenormand cards are usually read in pairs, by combining two cards’ meanings, while Tarot cards are read individually, one at a time. In this second part, we will take a look at how and why Lenormand spreads traditionally come in only two basic shapes while Tarot spreads come in all kinds of shapes.
two types of spreads vs. countless variations
demonstration of both
Lenormand spreads traditionally come in two basic shapes. Either, a number of cards are laid out in one row, a String. Or, they are laid out in a square, with rows and columns – a Tableau. Most usually, Strings contain 3 or 5 cards. Tableaus often contain 9 cards, or all 36 cards which is very popular and called a Grand Tableau. More detailed reading instructions for Strings and Tableaus, you can find >> on my website!
Tarot spreads, on the other hand, come in all kinds of shapes. There are spreads in the shape of rows, and squares, too, but there are spreads that form circles, or two diverging paths, or a cross shape etc. There are so many different ones that I can show but a tiny sample here. More detailed reading instructions for a selection of Tarot Spreads you can find >> on my website!
Please note that searching for “Lenormand spreads” online, you’ll find quit a few more shapes than just Strings and Tableaus. But, even though they are declared as Lenormand spreads, many of these are actually Tarot spreads. For such original Tarot spreads to work at all with Lenormand cards, you’d have to treat the Lenormand cards as if they were Tarot cards and do a Single Card reading for each position in the spread. And yes, you could certainly do that! It’s just that you’d then also miss out on the innate strengths of Lenormand cards and techniques. And Strings and Tableaus are actually much more varied than they seem because of the multitude of techniques which can be applied to them.
Edit: The above is not to say that there are no Lenormand-suitable spreads with different shapes than lines and squares – there are. (Scroll down to the comments for a beautiful example presented by parsifalswheeldivination!) It’s just that when you look for non-String, non-Tableau Lenormand spreads online you will find so, so many which are called “Lenormand Spread” but are not, and won’t work well. So for beginners, I recommend sticking with the traditional Strings and Tableaus. Those should definitely work!
the reason for the difference
Again, I’m partly speculating; I don’t know for a fact why the two different approaches developed. I do believe it is quite likely, though, that the difference has a lot to do with what we discussed in the article Lenormand vs. Tarot – Basics 1.
Because Lenormand cards are read in pairs, you will want to use spreads in which as many cards as possible have definite neighbouring cards to use for these pairings, for these combined interpretations. So you’d quite automatically go for simple, symmetric, “closed” shapes like lines and squares. The latter have the added advantage that there’s not just a left and right neighbour in many cases but also an above and beneath neighbour to combine a card with.
Tarot cards, on the other hand, are read individually, each card by itself. Thus, there is no need that each card has as many definite neighbours as possible. So you will tend to go for more “open”, “frayed” shapes which can visually stress the whole spread’s purpose or the individual positions’ significance. (For example, a card removed a bit to the bottom left would visually scream: “I’m something you’ve left behind!”.)
I agree that tarot spreads usually don’t work well with Lenormand cards, but I also think it’s possible to create Lenormand-specific spreads that depart from the standard line or rectangle shapes while staying true to the way the cards are read. Here is a kind of “sinuous” 36-card tableau that uses 18 pairs and that can also be read in series.
You’re absolutely right; it is possible to create Lenormand spreads with different shapes that still work really well for Lenormand! (I only meant to say that a lot of what can be found online as “Lenormand spreads” are really not – I’ll adjust my text to make that clearer as soon as I’ve got time!)
Your Serpentine Fire Spread is a beautiful spread, and it is obvious immediately that it would work well with Lenormand cards and techniques – while the shape is less “closed” than the standard tableau, there are still so many (maybe even more) meaningful, significant ways in which pairings can be created, in which each card is connected to another. For anyone else who’s reading this: go and take a look, it’s definitely worth your time!