THE BLUE AND RED OWL DECKS
If you follow me on social media, you might notice that every week I post a Red Owl quote.
The Red Owl deck is one of two traditional Lenormand decks. We say ‘traditional’ because they’re the older versions - as far as we know - of the 36-card Petit Jeu Lenormand.
The Blue and Red Owl decks are similar in every way except in one of their insets: The Blue Owl has playing cards associated with each card, and the Red Owl has a quote.
Modern decks are based on the Blue and Red Owl decks, however, the more common format is the Blue Owl’s. So most modern-day decks have the playing card inset and very few have a quote.
Also, the playing card association with each card is unchanging. For example, the Scythe is always the Jack of Diamonds regardless of the deck author and illustrator.
On the other hand, decks that have a quote often have their own quotes for each card instead of copying the ones on the Red Owl cards.
So, why is there value in examining the Blue and Red Owl decks when starting out with Lenormand?
These two traditional decks demonstrate elements of Lenormand’s cards that give obvious and not so obvious clues about how to read Lenormand.
Let’s uncover them.
LENORMAND’S CARD INSETS
Insets are typical of the Lenormand deck and few other decks have a similar design and concept.
Insets are elements of a card that are not directly related to its main image.
In terms of their design, they’re often smaller than the main image and are positioned at any card corner.
When it comes to interpretation, not all insets are relevant to a card’s meaning.
Also, those insets that can be relevant to a card’s meaning don’t always align very well with the meaning of the main image, which can cause a bit of confusion.
However, insets are not as significant as the card’s main image and I’ve never come across a Lenormand author who gives them more importance than the main image.
Each of the Blue and Red Owl decks has 3 insets: The card number, the playing card or a quote, and the mysterious letter ‘M’.
It is not known what the Letter ‘M’ refers to. It doesn’t point to anything interesting in Mlle. Lenormand’s name or history, and it may just be the name or symbol of the card printing company at the time.
The card number refers to the card’s sequential position in the deck. So the Rider is the first card and has number 1, and the Cross is the last card and has number 36.
The playing card or pip inset is a regular playing card that is associated with a Lenormand card.
Pips come in all four suits (hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades), but they only come as the numbers 1 (or aces), 6-10, and the courts Jack, Queen, and King.
This means that you won’t find cards numbered 2, 3, 4, or 5 in the Lenormand deck, and you won’t find any knights.
Remember that Lenormand’s deck has only 36 cards, whereas the full playing card deck has 52.
It is a mystery why Lenormand selected to have these pips for her cards. But keep in mind that there’s a good chance these cards aren't originally hers. History has it that the Lenormand Petit Jeu comes from the Game of Hope - a story for another day.
The Red Owl deck has both the card number and letter ‘M’, but instead of the pip inset, there’s a quote.
These quotes are quite helpful because they give us the card meanings and also give us clues about a Grand Tableau technique called the Near and Far.
So with this overview of the Lenormand insets, let’s explore them a little more.
THE CARD NUMBERS
I've got a post dedicated to Lenormand's card numbers, but let's go over some things about them here.
Card numbers are only the sequential number of the cards. They don’t have any known meaning that contributes to the overall interpretation of the card.
So in this sense, they’re useless.
The most significant use of the card numbers is for a Grand Tableau technique called the Houses spread.
The Houses are the cards laid out in their order in the configuration of a Grand Tableau.
There are two versions of the Grand Tableau, the Piquet and the Tableau of Nines, so the Houses can be laid out differently depending on which Tableau version you’re running.
The Houses are in fact imaginary, though some Readers might have a table cloth with the Houses on them, or use another deck to represent them. I just refer to either of these two illustrations, above.
The actual Tableau is when the cards are laid out randomly on top of the Houses. The cards are then interpreted in light of the House they land on.
It’s an interesting technique but it’s not the most common way of reading a Tableau.
The pips are interesting and helpful but they can be tricky. The reason is that they don’t always follow the common understanding of the suits.
Specifically, clubs are the suit of challenge in the Lenormand deck - not the spades.
This contradicts our typical associations with the suit of spades, whether we’ve come across it in the Tarot (through the suit of Swords) or by using a regular playing card deck for divination.
Despite the fact that Lenormand’s clubs are different from our typical understanding of them, being familiar with the character of each suit can help us make sense of the cards.
When combined with the pip number (not to be confused with the card number), we can refine the meaning of the pip.
For example, Jacks being energetic and exciting and the clubs being challenging, the Jack of Clubs produces an aggressive energy. This Jack is the pip associated with the Whip.
Like the suits, each pip number has a specific meaning that adds to the card interpretation.
The people pips, or courts, can also represent real people in a reading.
Sometimes, the pips can be at odds with the main image of the card.
For example, the Ring is generally neutral but it is powerful for relationships, so you’d think it would be associated with a more positive suit like the Hearts. But the Ring is the Ace of Clubs.
This said, these apparent misalignments are few and for the most part the pips are helpful in a reading.
In addition to contributing to the meaning of the cards in a reading and using the courts to identify people, the pips can be used for yes / no readings.
The different suits are used to represent yes, no, likely, or unlikely, and an odd-number of cards are “summed up” to suggest what the outcome is.
While this might be practical, I do not feel it is always effective. A ‘computational’ approach to the cards tends to overlook the energy of a reading, which I feel is always important.
I personally prefer to use the meaning of the card’s main image to interpret whether an answer is positive or negative.
THE RED OWL QUOTES
The Red Owl quotes give us plenty of clues about the card meanings.
For the most part, they give us short but helpful interpretations of the card, enough to expand on it and interpret it in deeper ways, I feel.
For example, the Flowers’ Red Owl quote reads:
“From beautiful flower bouquets, happiness arises. Not small joys, but luck in everything maximizes.”
It’s pretty clear that the Flowers is an all around positive card. Nowhere in the quote does it say that the Flowers can be negative or can be influenced by negative cards.
On the other hand, the Bear’s Red Owl quote reads:
“Strength and luck’s the message when the bear is in your sight; but beware your social circle for its envy, malevolence or spite.”
Here, it’s clear that the Bear can go both ways: It can be positive or it can be negative.
So how do we know which one it is in a reading? We look at nearby cards to see how they’re influencing the card in question.
Another key that comes through the Red Owl quotes is clues about the Near and Far method of reading a Tableau.
Here’s an example from the Cross:
“The cross is a prophecy of misfortune of all sorts. The farther away, the worse it will be; Near, the pain will be strong and short.”
Now, I personally don’t interpret the Cross as this negative, but the reference to how far or near the Cross is, is clear in the quote.
Near or far from what?
The significator, i.e. the Man or the Woman depending on which one represents the readee.
Near and far is a Grand Tableau method whereby the cards are interpreted depending on how near or how far they are from the significator.
In other words, card meanings are (for the most part) different depending on whether they are close or far from the significator.
Like the Houses technique, Near and Far is a special Tableau technique that isn’t used often.
Like the Blue Owl deck, the Red Owl can be hard to find these days, that's why I compiled (with permission) all of AGM Urania’s Red Owl quotes into this free resource.
DO YOU HAVE TO USE THE INSETS?
The short answer is no.
You don’t have to use the insets and you don’t have to read a Tableau as a Houses or a Near and Far reading.
Of course, the more you know about the deck and the more techniques you know, the deeper your practice will be. But you can get by well enough with Lenormand by focusing on the meaning of the main image.
You can also do a Tableau effectively by reading its many rows, columns, and diagonals.
In fact, the Houses and Near and Far methods are somewhat limited. They’re complimentary techniques that we use in addition to the main Tableau-style techniques of interpreting a Tableau.
Your day to day practice won’t be affected very much by the pips and Red Owl quotes.
This said, the Blue and Red Owl decks are an excellent source for taking your Lenormand practice to deeper levels.
The pips can open up more possibilities for you when you interpret the cards, and exploring techniques like the Houses reading or the Near and Far opens up new dimensions to your Tableau.
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