From the Archives: Madame Lenormand’s Fortune Telling Cards

I am still deep in book mode, with a May 1 deadline bearing down on me–I feel a bit like the heroine in a melodrama who is tied to the tracks and knows the train is coming  through the tunnel ANY MINUTE NOW.   (Don’t worry.  I’m not waiting to be saved, though My Own True Love is making life easier anyway he can.)  While I get myself off the tracks, here is a post for your amusement that originally ran in 2018.  (Which seems like decades ago.)

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Back in February I spoke at the Civil War Museum at Kenosha, Wisconsin, as part of their annual Civil War medicine weekend. I was a featured speaker, but the heart of the weekend was the 17th Corps Field Hospital–a Civil War reenactment unit from the Midwest that “heals the sick and treats the wounded ‘Under the Yellow Flag'” at events across the country from February through October. Like the best re-enactors, they are accurate and passionate. They are also skilled performers. I urge you to attend one of their events if you get the chance.

As I wandered through the re-enactors’ displays, I passed a woman seating at a small table in the corner. She was dressed in period appropriate-clothing, but her dress was more elaborate than any nurse would have worn and she had no exhibits laid out. “Read your cards?” she asked as I went by.

I needed to distract myself from the inevitable pre-speech jitters,* so I sat down, prepared to be intrigued by tarot cards yet again. To my surprise, I was treated to a history lesson along with my card reading. Instead of using tarot cards, the reader used Lenormand cards, named after Madame Lenormand, a famous nineteenth century French fortune teller. (Some sources claim that Lenormand adapted the deck from a pre-existing parlor game, the “Game of Hope”.)

We don’t know much about Lenormand’s early life–her biographies are inconsistent and have the whiff of mythology. She is generally believed to come from Normandy–le normand. What we do know is that Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand (1772-1843) rose to fame during the Napoleonic era, reading the cards of notable figures who passed through Paris. According to one account, she once read Napoleon’s cards. Instead of telling him what he wanted to hear, she informed him that according to the cards he would ultimately be unsuccessful in his military conquests–a piece of fortune-telling integrity that landed her in jail for a time.

Lenormand successfully plied her trade in Paris for forty years, making enough good predictions for influential people to earn both a reputation and a small fortune.

As far as my reading went, that’s between me, the card reader and the cards.

*Those jitters are crucial. They seem to be tied to the energy that makes the speech come alive. But they aren’t comfortable.


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