The life and Divination Practices of Marie Lenormand

Marie Anne Lenormand also referred to as Sybil of the Faubourg Saint Germain, was a French fortune teller of great fame in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Even though she was born into a humble background, Marie is considered the greatest cartomancer of all time in France. She made her wealth serving the powerful and rich folks who sought her exceptionally accurate predictions.

Early life

Maria Lenormand was born on May 27, 1772, in Alençon, Normandy to Jean Louis Antoine Lenormand and Marie Anne Guilbert Lenormand. She was orphaned at age five and was housed and educated at a series of Benedictine converts. Nuns in the converts were concerned with the young Marie’s unstable situation.

She would often predict which of her schoolmates would get into trouble. It is said that she once foretold accurately who would replace the abbess in charge of a local convert (an appointment that was made by the king). This cemented her early characteristics of clairvoyance.

In 1786, at age 14, the pudgy and plain girl asked the nuns to send her to Paris, where she got a job at a milliner’s shop. She started with easy sewing chores and designing beautifully decorated hats that were worn by women during that time. She proved herself to be ambitious and intelligent. She even learnt basic math and the fundamentals of bookkeeping, skills that she would use later while running her own business.

Studies in Divination

Marie Lenormand cultivated her natural talent for divination by studying the craft of prophecy. She had access to libraries in her convent years and she was therefore able to read about divination histories, including the Roman and Greek oracles, the Druids of Europe, and the ancient prophets of the Babylonians.

She also explored horoscopes and dream interpretations by ancient philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. While she learnt palm-reading and chiromancy, she rejected current fads like reading egg whites and coffee grounds. Instead, she developed different eclectic techniques that complemented her ability to foretell events and discern hidden truths.

Lenormand the “Bookseller”

Channeling her native talents and experiences, Lenormand set up a business as a “seeress.” While the sign at the door read “bookseller” and the waiting room was full of reading materials, Marie did not deal in books. Her working area had unusual items including paintings, musical instruments, stuffed animals, lizards and snakes preserved in bottles.

She would ask her clients a series of questions while shuffling a deck of cards. Referencing the images on individual cards, she would then deduce the client’s future.

During this time, her reputation had preceded her to different towns and thus was catering to clients from an array of social classes. Besides, the turbulence of the times (the downfall of the church and monarchy as the pillars of society) caused anxiety for citizens both poor and rich. Therefore, people came to her seeking something they could trust and believe in.

Prediction for Robespierre

Maximilien Robespierre, the chief architect of the Reign of Terror, and his comrades are among those people who visited Lenormand’s salon. Lenormand made predictions that they will all die and not by their own death.

The first one to die would be Jean Paul Marat who will be torn to pieces. On July, 1793, Marat died at the hands of a fanatical Charlotte Corde and when people carried the punctured corpse of Marat, Robespierre recalled the predictions. Robespierre, angered by the event, ensured that Marie was arrested for “counter-revolutionary activities.” She was sent to the Conciergerie prison. Days later, Robespierre was executed and that saved the life of Marie. She was allowed to continue practicing divination because the execution of Robespierre proved her truthfulness and added her fame.

The Empress Prediction

Due to the dubious nature of her profession, Marie was arrested several times but would be released shortly after. It was during one of her imprisonments in 1794 that she met Madam Josephine de Beauharnais, the wife of aristocrat Alexandre de Beauharnais. Lenormand predicted that Josephine would survive a terrible calamity but had a brilliant future with her husband.

On July 23, 1794, Monsieur de Beauharnais was guillotined but his widow Josephine was released from prison. Determined to test Marie’s prediction, Josephine and her friend disguised themselves as maids and visited the salon in 1795. Sources have it that Lenormand knew of their deception and foretold Josephine’s rise to Empress. The young woman who had been widowed could not believe in such prophecy, but a year later, on 9th March 1796 she was married to General Bonaparte who would later become the emperor.

Prospered Through Political Regimes

As Napoleon strategically took control of France, news of Lenormand’s talent spread quickly through the French court. By 1804, Napoleon declared himself as the emperor and as a friend of the empress, Josephine, Marie was sought out frequently by courtiers. She acquired properties and wealth and continued to ply her trade.

Ironically, even with the fall of Napoleon in 1814, Marie Lenormand retained her status within the French court. This is usually associated to her public predictions about Napoleon’s final years. Furthermore, when Tsar Alexander I of Russia came to Paris in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat, he became an admirer of Marie.

It was also during the fall of Napoleon that she began publishing various books that she wrote. For years, Marie Lenormand kept her salon and the collection of books on the shelves grew to incorporate the dozens of volumes she had authored. That included a two-volume account of the friendship with Empress Josephine, treaties on the occult, and a memoir.

The Death of Marie Lenormand

Lenormand had been able to identify trusted allies in time of social and political turmoil but her predictions about her death proved untrue. She had been sure she would live until the age of 124 but she died on 25 June, 1843, at the age of 71.

Her only surviving family member, a nephew who was in the army, became heir to her estate. Being a fervent catholic, the nephew burnt the collection of occult paraphernalia but kept the monetary fortune that was estimated at 500,000 francs.

The Lenormand Legacy Lives On

After the death of Marie, her name was used on several cartomancy decks such as the deck of 36 illustrated cards referred to as the Petit Lenormand or the Lenormand cards. Originally the Lenormand cards were named the “Game of hope” and were simply a parlor game. But over time, the images on these cards proved themselves suitable for other esoteric purposes. Therefore, the cards kick started a trend that would prove a mainstay in occult circles.

Over the next century, the popularity of the Lenormand cards spread to central Europe, Russia, Balkans, and Brazil. Other nations, immersed in their love for cards, were to catch a glimpse of the Lenormand decks only with the dawn of 21st century technology. Today, the oldest decks that date to 1799 are currently held in the British Museum in London.

Loved, respected, and feared on equal measures, Marie Lenormand was a French diviner whose name continues to live on. Many influential people of the time sought her uncannily accurate predictions. Today, Fortune-telling with the popular Lenormand cards is many people’s favorite way of finding out the secrets of the future. The cards are also another way of peeking into one’s own mind and perhaps help you to design a possible course of actions that you can take.