Research by Detlef Hoffmann indicates that the Petit Lenormand can be clearly traced back to an oracle called ‘Das Spiel der Hofnung (sic) / Le jeu de l’espérance’ (The Game of Hope), published around 1800 by G.P.J. Bieling in Nuremberg, Germany. This suggests clearly that publishers of the time tried to capitalize on Mlle Lenormand’s good name, and re-branded the Game of Hope: ‘Le Petit Jeu Lenormand’ shortly after Mlle Lenormand’s death in 1843.
If the Petit Lenormand wasn’t Mlle Lenormand’s creation, then what did she use?
Well, we know with very good certainty that Mlle Lenormand used a variety of divination techniques and tools ranging from ordinary playing cards, to palmistry, and even astrology in order to read peoples’ fortunes, but nowhere in her writings do we have any indication of her using any of the cards that now bear her name, or this ‘Game of Hope’ for that matter.
We do, however, have several accounts where she personally used ordinary playing cards. These were perhaps her preferred method because carrying ordinary playing cards wasn’t a crime. Carrying a Tarot deck with her everywhere she went, however, might have stirred up a lot more trouble with the authorities at the time, and it is no wonder that the sign on her door said: “Libraire” and didn’t refer to any fortune telling services!
There is also some speculation on just how many cards Mlle Lenormand used, but we don’t know for certain if Mlle Lenormand used a full deck or an abridged one (I’m short of a stack myself… hahahah!), but because of the Petit Lenormand’s 36 cards, it was widely believed that the Petit Lenormand decks were inspired by a Piquet deck (Piquet is a French card game that uses an abridged deck of 32 or 36 playing cards). Hoffmann’s findings is obviously pushing us to re-evaluate this position. That said, Mlle Lenormand is believed to have purchased the Petit Etteilla as one of her first oracles when she first started reading cards as a young woman (citation needed). Etteilla was definitely inspired by a 32 card Piquet deck. These oracles differ in that the Etteilla uses a 32 cards plus a blank card. She may have even read Etteilla’s instructions on how to make her own deck..! For those of you who can’t read French, I have translated his instructions on how to create a Petit Etteilla.
Irrespective of their origins, the Petit Jeu Lenormand has seen a tremendous amount of success over the centuries, and I hope that you will still take pleasure in using them as much as I do. I will, however, continue my research and to follow Mlle Lenormand’s footsteps and let you all know what I do find out on Learn Lenormand.