The Great Cartomancer – Mademoiselle Lenormand

Marie Anne Adelaide Lenormand gained considerable fame during the Napoleonic era for her fortune-telling abilities. In fact, she was called the “The Sibyl of the Faubourg Saint-Germain” and “casting horoscopes, palmistry, divination by cards, were, it seems, among her cabalistic arts of unveiling the future.”[1] She was also considered the greatest cartomancer in France and because of her skills she greatly influenced the French field of cartomancy (fortune-telling or divination that uses a deck of cards).

Mademoiselle Lenormand, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mademoiselle Lenormand. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Born to a draper in 27 May 1772, in Alençon, Normandy, Lenormand was orphaned at the age of five and educated in a Benedictine convent school. From an early age she “was put in communication with heavenly bodies.”[2] At the age of seven Lenormand found “herself suddenly endued with this supernatural intelligence. Her debut in the art of divination took place … when she learnt her first catechism. The youthful scholar predicted the head of the convent would soon be discharged. She was put en penitence for this prediction, but it turned out to be [true].”[3] From that point forward Lenormand’s course seemed set and that accurate prediction was followed by many others.

By the time Lenormand left the convent she was earning a living as a fortune-teller. Well-known people came to visit that included comte de Mirabeau, duchesse de Guiche, princesse de Lamballe, and Madame de Staël. Unfortunately, some of her predictions (those given to Jean-Paul Marat, Maximilien Robespierre, and Louis Antoine Léon de St. Just) eventually “brought her at length within the walls of a prison, from which she was led to execution.”[4] Fate was on her side and at the last possible moment she was saved by the Thermidor Reaction, but because of the persecution she suffered while imprisoned, her fame grew.

The Left Hand of the Empress Joséphine According to Palmistry, Public Domain

The left hand of the Empress Joséphine according to palmistry. Public domain.

This aided her once the stormy days of the French Revolution passed and Lenormand turned her fortune-telling skills into profit. In time, Joséphine de Beauharnais came to hear her fortune, and when Lenormand’s words came true, she became the fortune-teller to the French Empress, who began to bring Napoleon with her.  But it was not just the well-known and famous that came to learn their fate. Ordinary countrywomen and countrymen also visited and listened closely as Lenormand told them their fortunes using her own self designed custom 36-card deck.

Mademoiselle Lenormand Giving a Reading, Public Domain

Mademoiselle Lenormand giving a reading. Public domain.

Not everyone thought of Lenormand in the same way. The Morning Post stated:

“This wonderful old witch was unquestionably the most skilful [sic] guesser that ever existed. At a single glance she knew the sort of people who came to consult her. She knew the esprits forts by their arrogance and insolence, but for them she had no mercy — with a gesture of indifference and monotonous voice she foretold miseries, sorrows, and catastrophes. She told them a tale of ruin, sorrow, desolation, and death, and the esprits forts returned to their homes all sad and sorrowful.”[5]

She lived for some forty years at No. 5, Rue de Tournon and above her doorway was inscribed “Mademoiselle Lenormand, Libraire,” an inscription that helped her to avoid trouble with the police. When visitors rang the doorbell, they found the door was answered by a servant. They were then ushered into an apartment described as “nothing extraordinary,” because the most extraordinary thing was a book shelf that held thirty or forty books and consisted primarily of Mademoiselle Lenormand’s own works, Les Souveniors Prophétiques and a few others on “cabalistic subjects.”

In the afternoons her rooms were thronged with admirers. First-time inquirers waited with bated breath for the great fortune-teller to arrive. Yet, when the great Lenormand appeared she was nothing spectacular:

“[Lenormand was] a short [excessively] fat little woman, with a ruddy face, overshadowed by the abundant curls of a flaxen wig, and surrounded by a semi-oriental turban, the rest of her attire being much in the style of a butter-woman.”[6]

Mademoiselle Lenormand, Public Domain

Mademoiselle Lenormand. Public domain.

Lenormand invited her inquirers to sit at a table where she shuffled the cards eventually presenting them to the inquirers who then cut the deck with their left hand. After the cards were cut, she dealt them one by one while telling the inquirer his or her fate sometimes unintelligibly and so quickly, it was impossible to keep up with her. She also had the ability to describe a person’s characteristics, tastes, and habits:

“[Lenormand did so] accurately, probably in part from … observation. Very often she mentioned remarkable circumstances in their past life with great correctness … Of the failures, probably innumerable, nothing was heard. [But] in justice … her natural shrewdness and observation frequently enabled her to give advice … of considerable advantage to the inquirer.”[7]

Example of Lenormand's 36-Card Deck From 1890, Author's Collection

Example of Lenormand’s 36-card deck from 1890. Author’s collection.

Because of her fortune-telling skills, Lenormand amassed a small fortune. She owned several properties, including houses and lands in Alençon, a château at Poissy, and a spectacular house in Paris on Rue de la Santé. She also owned a “large collection of very good pictures, principally representing the acts and deeds of members of the house of Bourbon; also a vast collection of very curious notes respecting the events of which she was either a spectatress [sic] or an actress, all written in her own hand.”[8]

Lenormand died on 25 June 1843 in Paris. She was buried in Division 3 of the Père Lachaise Cemetery that overlooks Paris. Newspapers publicized her fortune stating that she possessed 500,000 francs. However, her papers were said to be worth much more. Because she never married, her estate went to her one remaining relative, a nephew. He was a devout Catholic and did not believe in fortune-telling, thus he destroyed all his aunt’s occult paraphernalia and papers.

The loss of Lenormand’s papers were immeasurable to the fortune-telling community. However, the loss of Lenormand was even greater. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote:

“Mddle. Lenormand will never be replaced. It will be in vain for vulgar pretenders to aspire to fill her throne. The faith is extinct; the last sybil is no more…the cards are in confusion [and] the king of the future is without a sovereign.”[9]

References:

  • [1] “The University for November,” in Armagh Guardian, 9 November 1847, p. 2.
  • [2] “Memoir of Mddle. Lenormand, the Celebrated Parisian Fortune Teller,” in Devises and Wiltshire Gazette, 27 July 1843, p. 4.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] “Mlle Lenormand, the Pythoness of Paris,” in Morning Post, 12 August 1843, p. 6.
  • [6] Littell’s Living Age, Vol. 5, 1845, p. 317.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 318
  • [9] “The Last of the Sybils,” in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 16 August 1843, p. 2.

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