The Petit Lenormand can be clearly traced to an oracle called ‘Das Spiel der Hofnung’
It translates into The Game of Hope, and was first published around 1800 by G.P.J. Bieling in Nuremberg, Germany. This suggests clearly that publishers of the time tried to capitalize on Ms. 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 Ms. Lenormand’s creation, then what did she use?
Well, we know with very good certainty that Ms. 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, 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” (bookstore in English) and didn’t refer to any fortune telling services!
52 cards, 36 or 32?
We don’t know for certain whether Ms. 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 is widely believed (perhaps erroneously) that she only used a 36 card deck for her readings. There is a definite link between the Petit Lenormand deck and a Piquet deck (Piquet is a French card game that uses an abridged deck of 32 or 36 playing cards).
As a card player, I personally don’t see why she’d only carry around an abridged deck, when one could carry around a full deck and use it for cartomancy readings (besides, every card player knows you should carry at least two decks to play cards with)! She could have as easily removed the extra cards if she wished to do a reading based on less cards, and told the authorities that she had been playing cards with an acquaintance.
Some researchers have suggested that Ms. Lenormand purchased a copy of the Petit Etteilla for her very first oracle. The Petit Etteilla was definitely inspired by a 32 card Piquet deck (which was the norm when Etteilla created his oracle), and differs only in that the Etteilla uses 32 cards plus a blank card.
Ms. Lenormand Grew Up at the Height of Etteilla’s Career.
She would have been at the very impressionable age of 16 when Etteilla’s career peaked in 1785, and was 21 years old when he died..! I’m certain that he was a tremendous influence on her.
For those of you who can’t read French, but would like to read more on how to create their own Petit Etteilla, I translated his instructions on how to create a Petit Etteilla for you.
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.