Enikő Vághy: Hello, numinous community, and welcome to another round of Cards on the Table. Today, I have the joy of speaking with Gary Howell who has come highly recommended by our Founding EIC, Fox Frazier-Foley, and Director Emeritas of Digital Outreach, Saumya Arya Haas. Gary, it is a pleasure to speak with you. Would you mind starting off our conversation by introducing yourself to our audience and explaining how you identify within the spiritual and magickal community at large?
Gary Howell: Hello, my name is Gary Howell, and I’m a Houngan Asogwe, which is a Priest in Vodou, in La Source Ancienne Hounfo. I have been practicing Vodou for 15 years in New Orleans and have been reading cards for about 22 years. For the past five years I’ve been reading Lenormand and offering spiritual counseling through my Facebook page Ti Bon Anje Conjure.
EV: Since you are knowledgeable of and skilled in the tradition of Lenormand, could you tell us about the history of this form of divination? How did you come across Lenormand and what drew you to it?
GH: The Lenormand divination system gets its name from Mlle Marie Anne Lenormand in the 18th and 19th centuries, who practiced fortune telling in France. She was reportedly so adept, Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte [sought her for readings]. I came to find Lenormand, after reading Tarot since I was 12, from my goddaughter Julie Valdivia who offered me a reading while she was visiting from Kansas City. Her reading was so accurate and without the pomp and pageantry that can come with Tarot, I was hooked and started shopping for my first deck.
EV: I only just recently became aware of the brilliance and beauty of Lenormand by virtue of an app I downloaded on my phone. When an individual with previous knowledge of the Tarot comes across a Lenormand deck (be it of a virtual or physical variety), they immediately notice its aesthetic and practical differences. Would you mind describing these differences? For instance, how is a Lenormand reading unalike a Tarot reading, and how do the symbols and images depicted on Lenormand cards differ from those displayed on Tarot cards?
GH: The first difference is that a Lenormand deck tends to be smaller than the Tarot. Lenormand typically has 36 cards per deck compared to Tarot’s 78. The biggest difference between the two, in my experience, is that Tarot deals with grandiose parts of your life, with Fate and your Psyche, where Lenormand is more down to earth and in your face.
EV: Would you say there are any similarities between Tarot and Lenormand decks?
GH: Similarities between the two systems really come in the form of four card names: The Tower, the Moon, the Sun, and the Star. That aside, the cards have very different meanings in both systems.
EV: Compared to the tradition of Tarot, Lenormand does not seem as well known or as frequently practiced as other forms of card-based divination. When I venture into the realm of magickal Twitter and Instagram, I definitely see more posts of Rider-Waite decks and intricate oracle decks than I do traditional Lenormand decks, and I’m not so sure if that is fair considering the history of Lenormand and the efforts of Mlle Lenormand. Why do you think the tradition of Lenormand has been kept in the dark?
GH: Cartomancy has been around for ages, in one form of another. But, I believe Tarot gained most of its popularity with the Rosecrucian Movement in Europe, then gained even more momentum when Waite redid them around the turn of the century. The Golden Dawn, and its very elite and well known members, brought much of the Occult that we know today into the mainstream society. Adding in the Spiritualist/Spiritist Movement that happened later on, having a séance or having a medium on hand to read your fate was very to do. Personally I don’t think that Lenormand is being held in the dark or held ‘back’ in any way, I think that it’s just not associated with divination in America as much as in other countries. In Brazil you’ll find fortune tellers reading with an expanded Lenormand deck. If you were to get a reading from a Haitian Houngan or Mambo, it would be with playing cards, with a heavy association with the Lenormand method. I feel like Lenormand has really been getting a name for itself within the past five years. Hopefully it’ll get just as big as Tarot!
EV: What is your personal Lenormand philosophy and regimen? When you prepare to give a reading, do you purify your space with sage or perform any other cleansing rituals? Also, assuming that there is more than one specific version, what type of Lenormand deck do you use?
GH: Before every reading I prepare a simple glass of water and a white candle for my Ancestors and Guides. Water is an energetic filter of sorts and keeps a healthy fluid barrier between me and the Querent. I always put a dab of Florida Water in my palms and pass it around myself just as a general cleanse. Unfortunately, I bought my deck online and don’t think that they have a name.
EV: I’ve heard that some individuals believe that performing daily Lenormand readings for themselves is beneficial. I would like to know if this is true because, with the Tarot, querents are usually advised against conducting multiple readings as this allegedly diminishes the strength of their intuition. They so badly want to get a certain answer that they will attempt the same spread over and over until they are met with a sequence of cards that somewhat echoes their desired result. Does the same issue apply to Lenormand?
GH: I think it’s almost encouraged to do daily Lenormand readings on yourself. Again, Lenormand is a little more down to earth than the ethereal Tarot. I don’t know where the rule that someone shouldn’t have readings too close to each other came from, but it certainly doesn’t apply for Lenormand.
EV: What is the single best piece of Lenormand/Tarot/magical/spiritual advice you have been given that you would like to share with our readers?
GH: The biggest advice I can give someone looking to try these systems, or even the art of divination, is to find out what works for you and master it. It’s not about how many different divination tools you can utilize, if you can’t properly grasp any of them, it’s not worth it. It’s kind of like putting on someone else’s glasses; you may be able to see, but not as well as if you were wearing your own glasses.
EV: I love that way of describing it. Gary, this has been a marvelous discussion. Thank you for participating in Cards on the Table—I’ve learned so much!
GH: Thank you for having me! It’s been my pleasure to chat about Lenormand!
Gary Howell is a Houngan Asogwe based in New Orleans, LA.
Enikő Vághy is currently a graduate student at Binghamton University, studying English Literature and Creative Writing. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in journals such as Street Light Press and Paterson Literary Review, among others. A proud descendant of immigrants and factory workers, Enikő uses poetry to share her personal history and bond with people from various walks of life. She firmly believes that when women unite, anything epic is possible—to her, Agape Editions represents this power perfectly.