… she took in addition to some seven packs of cards that already lay upon the table, seven more. They were however different kinds: tarot cards, old German cards, whist cards marked with celestial bodies, and cards with necromantic figures I know not of. She now shuffled one pack after the other, giving me each pack in turn to cut. I went to do this with my right hand, naturally, and she stopped me: ‘No, with the left hand monsieur!’ I know not if she did this to mystify me, or as if a point of great seriousness. I cut with my left hand the second pack, but then the third with the right, to which she instantly cut in: ‘Left hand, monsieur!’ Out of each pack I had to draw, with my left hand once more, cards of a certain amount prescribed by her and of unequal amounts: from the tarot cards, for instance, 25; six from another; from the third, 10 and so on. She arranged these cards on the table discarding the others…Karl-August von Malchus
Marie-Anne Adelaide Le Normand was born and baptised on 27 May 1772, in Alençon, Normandy. Shortly after her death a hostile biographer posted an earlier date of birth. However, parish records in Alençon show she was born the third child and second daughter of Jean Louis Antoine Le Normand and Marie-Anne Gilbert in 1772.
Jean Louis was a draper who died a year after his daughter’s birth. Left with three children, Marie-Anne Gilbert remarried, then died herself before her daughter turned five. Her stepfather placed Marie-Anne and her older sister in a Benedictine Convent for their education, moving them later to the Order of the Visitation. Le Normand was very clever and precocious, and the education that she received was clearly of some merit. Later she showed a head for figures that was quite remarkable. The popular myth that Le Normand predicted the replacement of an abbess during this time is not supported by primary records.
When Mademoiselle Le Normand was still a teenager she moved from Normandy to Paris, where she was made an apprentice dressmaker. It was at this time she is said to have encountered a woman named Madame Gilbert, who could have been a maternal relative. Madame Gilbert introduced Le Normand to cartomancy.
Tradition holds that Mlle Le Normand acquired Etteilla’s Manière de se récréer avec le jeu de cartesnommées tarots. However, from her own writings and those of her clients, it is clear that if Le Normand did commence her apprenticeship with the Etteilla method then she did not continue with it.
Once the Revolution began, Le Normand was quick to try to remain on the good side of the new powers. She failed, and was eventually arrested and taken to la Force prison at the height of the Terror; not for being part of the resistance, as she later claimed, but for fortune-telling.
It was during this time that Le Normand first became linked to the former Marié Josephe Rose de La Pagerie, later the Empress Josephine. It is said that Marié Josephe sent a message to Le Normand to enquire about her estranged husband’s fate. Le Normand said he would die, but that Marié Joseph would not, and would make a second, more brilliant match.
MariéJosephe’s son Eugene recorded in his memoirs how he and his sister, Hortense, ran messages between their mother and several others during the Terror. Marié Josephe was known to use psychics and fortune-tellers, an interest shared by her friend, the Russian Emperor Alexander. We do not know how often Marié Josephe consulted Le Normand, but all of the Empress’ modern biographers accept that she did.
It was the end of the Terror, and the move towards the Empire, that marked the start of the impressive accession of Le Normand’s fortunes. It seemed to centre more on her association with the fate of several men than Marié Josephe. Le Normand had – or the populace believed she had – predicted the deaths of St Just, Marat, and others. Thus she became a rising star in the beginnings of the Empire, becoming a wealthy woman in her own right.
Some have cast doubt on the level of her fame. But this ignores the writings of independent clients and diarists, French and otherwise, and the newspapers that covered her death. All attest to her celebrity. The remarkable queues outside her home, the scale of her funeral, and the newspaper columns devoted to her all say she was a very famous fortune-teller.
The records also record that she was an extremely accurate one, too. There can be a denial of either her celebrity or abilities.
Wealth allowed Le Normand to aid her siblings. She arranged a marriage for her sister and sponsored her brother’s military career. Both died young, to Le Normand’s grief. Le Normand took on the responsibility of looking after her sister’s son, Michel-Alexandre Hugo, her only close relative, who entered military service.
Just as she did not use the Petit Etteilla, neither did she invent the Petit Lenormand. The cards were invented by the German, Johann KasparHechtel, and began their life as a German racing game called Das Spiel der Hoffnung, or The Game of Hope. They were only relabelled ‘Petit Lenormand’ after Marie-Anne Le Normand’s death.
As discussed elsewhere, we do not know as to why this rather obscure game was resurrected and renamed. Certain early editions sometimes mention that the cards were reproduced from a set of cards found among Mlle Le Normand’s possessions. It is impossible to prove; however, the present author suspects that this may be so.
In Les Oracles Sibyllins (1817), Le Normand describes two readings she did. The first is with tarot cards:
… what you aspire to will have wilted long before you have picked it. For, as you see, the Hermit, carrying the lantern, commands your game, sir, and it informs me that it is in an obscure idleness that you will pass the last days of your life, and that the sovereigns of Europe will not decline… so, give up, now, all their benefits and honours that rest on you now. The Academy will never count you among its members and the future reserved for you seems to me, sad and dark…’Mlle Le Normand
She also mentions the Fool, the Devil and Death cards. The Fool indicates the rash and “intolerable” nature of the client’s undertakings. He exits, unhappily on page 160, having cast her 78 cards to the ground with an angry fist.
The second using a 32-card pack, as in the game of piquet:
“… I took a game of piquet, composed of thirty two cards. I cut three times, and placed them in rows eight by eight taking care to examine the corners of my tableau [she says extrémités meaning the corners].
After having noted right and left, I noticed at the second line: the Valet of Diamonds and the Seven of Spades reversed, the Ace of Spades with the Nine of Spades, and in front of the King of Clubs was the Queen of Hearts opposite the Eight of Spades, that seemed to foretell sorrows.
I said to the consultant: Your fears are not wild, as the father and the son both present. Both are hurt, but the young man very seriously: run, promptly to their aid, while there is still time. Your son is ashamed of his sinful ways, and already I see his soul is open to remorse, and your husband has followed in his steed, for he has already given over aid, for the King of Spades, together with the Eight of Diamonds, means that a man of skill [she says “a man of art”, so a lawyer, physician] has taken action to stop, if possible, the progress of that illness (“evil”) that shows nothing very alarming. Fortunately, the Nine of Hearts, that is, tells me that you promptly see an end to your cruel anxieties, and the Queen of Spades with the Nine of Diamonds foretell no further delay to this.
And, this I do swear, my patron confirmed as truthful picture but could not forgive her son of his dubious ways. So I advised her to careful investigate his intentions, saying: “Quickly, quickly, cut with the left hand, Madam”.
So returning to the cards we found the Queen of Diamonds followed by the Valet of Spades.
I said: the Ace of Hearts with the Ten of Spades prove your intentions to undertake a journey. You will see a man and a woman who will enflame, in your imagination, the sins of your son. For these venial soul have a double goal: to divide you from your son and obtain for themselves the fruits of your long savings…. and so I thought to myself, that this client and her kin were one of those thousands of men who abound in our capital, and with investments out across the surface of the globe.
So I said: listen to me Madam, your son is guilty and he should be punished. Pretend, just for a moment, to be very angry and make your forgiveness more subtle to time and agree, as a worthy wife and try to appeal pity. For, yes, the father is outraged, so speak with the language of the heart, for this is the truest and most eloquent. I see these four Valets return with the King of Diamonds, so this quarrel comes from an opposing view. You son will end a distinguished man, when the Great Family (the Bourbon dynasty) return to govern, so for the sake of this and the love we all bear, forgive him.”Mlle Le Normand
The closest match, in terms of meanings to Le Normand’s summarisation, is in the parlour tradition, which was the basis for J.J. Grandville’s Le Livre du Destin. Even those who wrote about Le Normand using several decks do not describe The Game of Hope.
Le Normand died on 25 June 1843. She was buried two days later at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise after a lavish funeral. Her grave is regularly maintained and visited by modern card readers from France and other countries.
Le Normand – Les souvenirs prophétiquesd’unesibyllesur les causes secrétes de son arrestation (1814)
Le Normand – Les oracles sibyllinsou la suite des souvenirs prophétiques (1817)
Memoirs of Karl August von Malchus – The Dublin University Magazine, vol. 30
Decker, Depaulis, Dummett – A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot (1996)
Dicta – Mademoiselle Lenormand: Voyante de Louis XVI à Louis-Philippe
Erickson – Josephine: A Life of the Empress (2004)
Hall – Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine 1796-1814 (2010)
Hibbert – The French Revolution (1982)
Johns – Empress Josephine’s collection of sculpture by Canova at Malmaison (Journal of the Historical Collections, May 2004)
Marco & Goffinet – Petit Lenormand: Méthode de cartomancie. Brussels: Servranx, p.224.
Rey & Emanuel – Alexander I: The Tsar Who Defeated Napoleon (2012)
Various – Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau (2006)
Williams – Josephine: Desire, Ambition, Napoleon (2013)
During her lifetime Mlle Le Normand did sign her surname as ‘Le Normand’. We have several extant examples of her handwriting. After her death, her heir, Lieut Michel-Alexandre Hugo, distanced himself from his aunt’s trade and denounced her so-called successors as well as decks that carried her name.
Portrait: Public Domain / / Wikimedia Commons
Grave: Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons