HOW TO COMBINE CARDS' MEANINGS

Please note that I'm an individualist card reader! The following tutorial demonstrates what has worked for me. If you want to make sure that you learn to combine card meanings according to a specific, traditional, school you need to look elsewhere!



Table of contents

0 Starting out
0.1 >> What are combined meanings?
0.2 >> Why combine two cards' meanings?

1 How does combining meanings work?
1.1 >> One card is topic, other card modifies
1.2 >> The Grammar of combinations
1.2a >> Noun-Adjective combinations
1.2b >> Noun-Verb and Verb-Noun combinations
1.2c >> Combinations through Conjunctions
1.2d >> Amalgamations
1.3 >> Traditional, "fixed" combination meanings

2 Additional considerations
2.1 >> How to find the "correct" combination meaning
2.2 >> The use of other's combination meanings



0. Starting out


Before you read on, please familiarise yourself with the following two cards and the keywords I allotted to them. Even if you yourself normally use different ones, just for the purpose of this exercise try to memorise the ones given here. They are the ones I'll be using in all the examples throughout this chapter.

Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
attributes (or adjectives): big, challenging
activities (or verbs): to challenge, to silence
Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
attributes (or adjectives): small, weak
activities (or verbs): to initiate, to begin, to weaken

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0.1 What are combined meanings?

Put in the simplest terms possible two cards' meanings are combined by taking two cards and connecting one keyword of the first card with one keyword of the second card. This combination of keywords will then have the form of a fragment of a sentence or even a complete sentence.
For example: We take the keyword "challenge" (Mountain) and combine it with the keyword "small" (Child). This creates the combined meaning "a small challenge" - which is the fragment of a sentence. If you want to form a complete sentence, you could frame the combination as "The challenge is (but) small." A very similar but semantically slightly different proposition would be "There is a small challenge."

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0.2 Why combine two cards' meanings?

Firstly, if you want to read Lenormand the way it's intended to, there's no way out of learning this technique. It's the basis for all readings. And there's a good reason for that. While Tarot, with its 78 cards, covers a huge range of human experiences, human life, with Lenormand there are only 36 cards. Combining their meanings creates infinitely many more layers of meaning and possibilities of interpretation!
And, apart from this practical consideration, combining two cards' meanings is pure and simple fun! It didn't feel like that to me at first - when I was just starting out it all seemed complicated and technical. But once I'd practised a bit it turned out to be quite intriguing; a playful and intuitive technique.

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1. How does combining meanings work?

1.1 One card is topic, other card modifies

In most readings, it's helpful to pick one card as the topic or starting point, and the other as something which modifies the topic, or follows after. The traditional rule is that the card to the left has to be the topic/starting point, and the card to the right modifies/follows. I personally view this more as a rule of thumb. But no matter whether you want to adhere to it strictly or also tend to a more lenient approach it is important to be aware that the order in which you combine your two cards will usually have a noticeable impact on the meaning you create. I'll demonstrate it on our example of Mountain and Child:

Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
adjectives: big, challenging
verbs: to challenge, to silence
Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
adjectives: small, weak
verbs: to initiate, to begin, to weaken

Here, the Mountain is on the left. If we keep in line with the traditional approach it serves as the topic or starting point. This means that our combination is about about the issues the Mountain adresses, which are modified or followed by the the Child's. Examples for combined meanings would be that:
The difficulties [Mountain] are rather small [Child] or are caused by inexperience [Child].
Someone or something silences [Mountain] a weak person [Child].
Something which seems challenging [Mountain] might actually turn out to be weak (= easy to master) [Child].

Now let's reverse the positions from Mountain+Child to Child+Mountain to see how the combined meaning changes.

Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
adjectives: small, weak
verbs: to initiate, to begin, to weaken
Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
adjectives: big, challenging
verbs: to challenge, to silence

Here, our combination is about about the issues the Child adresses, which are modified or followed by the Mountain's. Examples for combined meanings would in this case be that:
A beginning [Child] is challenging [Mountain].
Someone's inexperience [Child] causes difficulties [Mountain].
Something yet small [Child] might end up becoming a huge challenge [Mountain].

Note: I called the "left card is topic, right card modifies" rule a rule of thumb for three reasons. One reason is that it is not always applicable. Sometimes you don't have a left and right card but a bottom and top or below and above card. The second reason is that in some spreads it makes more intuitive sense (at least to me) to not read (and thus combine) from left to right but from the center outwards (which to one side of the center means to use the right card as topic and the left card as its modifier). And the last reason is that sometimes it doesn't actually make much difference which card is used as starting point. This is definitely the case when you combine through >> amalgamation. But it can also happen through semantic means. Here's an instance taken from the examples above. Compare those two scenarios:

a) "This combination is about the difficulties you're having [Mountain]. They are caused by inexperience [Child]."
b) "This combination is about your inexperience [Child]. It is causing difficulties [Mountain]."

Yes, there is a slightly different nuance, a slightly different focus. But overall, looking at just these interpretations, both are saying more or less the same.

However, even if you also come to view "left card is topic, right card modifies" only as a rule of thumb: For practise purposes I recommend sticking with it! We'll definitely stick with it for the duration of this tutorial.

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1.2 The Grammar of combinations

Combining cards' meanings is a play with semantics by grammatical means. For the meaning of a sentence can change quite dramatically depending on which grammatical form of the individual words you use (noun, adjective, adverb, verb etc.), and how you string them together (e.g. by using conjunctions like "because" or "if"). Maybe the examples above already made all that abundantly clear to you. In this case, there's no necessity at all to read any further. You can go and start experimenting! But in case they didn't, or if you are more analytically minded or like to go about things in very structured ways, the following paragraphs explain the grammatical aspect of card combinations in more detail.

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1.2a Noun-Adjective combinations

The Noun-Adjective method is probably the easist way to combine two cards' meanings. For the first card, you pick a keyword in the form of a noun, and for the second card, you pick an adjective. Let's take the same two combinations from above, Mountain/Child and Child/Mountain, and construct Noun-Adjective combinations:

Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
Child:
adjectives: small, weak

With Mountain as noun and Child as adjective, an example of a complete sentence would be "The difficulties [noun] are small [adjective]." The cropped version, only the fragment of a sentence, is "small difficulties".


Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
Mountain:
adjectives: big, challenging

Here, with Child as noun and Mountain as adjective, an example of a complete sentence would be "A beginning [noun] is challenging [adjective]." The cropped version, only the fragment of a sentence, is "a challenging beginning".

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1.2b Noun-Verb and Verb-Noun combinations

With this method, a combination meaning is created by making one card a noun, and the other a verb. Here, things become a bit more complex. For the card to the left, the topic or starting point, can either be the noun or the verb. And a verb can be active or passive. An active verb describes what someone does. A passive verb describes what is done to them. (For example: A person challenges someone vs. a person is challenged by someone.) I don't think there is any other way to choose among these options but intuitively, and depending on the context of the question. In the case of our practise examples with Mountain and Child I purposfully picked keywords which would work for all options:


Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
Child:
verbs: to initiate, to begin, to weaken

If the Mountain is the noun and the Child the active verb, you get "A challenge [noun] begins [verb]". The Child as passive verb offers the combination "A challenge [noun] is initiated [passive verb]."


Mountain:
verbs: to challenge, to silence
Child:
nouns: beginning, inexperience, weak person

If the Mountain is the verb, on the other hand, you get "To silence [verb] a weak person [noun]" or "to be challenged [passive verb] by a weak person [noun]".


Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
Mountain:
verbs: to challenge, to silence

If the Child is the noun and the Mountain an active verb you get "A beginning [noun] challenges [verb] someone." The Mountain as passive verb offers us "A weak person [noun] is silenced [passive verb]."


Child:
verbs: to initiate, to begin, to weaken
Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge

If the Child is the verb, on the other hand, you get "to initiate [verb] a challenge [noun]" or "to be weakened .[passive verb] by difficulties [noun]."

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2.2c Combinations through Conjunctions

With the conjunction method, you connect the topic of the left card with the topic of the right card by using a conjunction. Now, what is a conjunction? In a strictly grammatical sense conjunctions are connecting words between individual words or (parts of) sentences, e.g.: "and", "or", "but", "because", "then". But there are also idiomatic phrases which fulfil the same purpose, e.g.: "on the condition that" or "as soon as". Especially for the purpose of connecting two cards' meanings you can also view phrases like "leads to", "results in", "in relation to" or "conflicts with" etc. as conjunctors. In other words: the conjunction method means that you can connect the topic of the left with the topic of the right card by any words which create a sentence both comprehensible and relevant to your concern. The "problem" here is that what is relevant depends a lot on the context. So in the examples below a lot of context will already be mixed in with the original keywords.


Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
adjectives: big, challenging
verbs: to challenge, to silence
Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
adjectives: small, weak
verbs: to initiate, to begin, to weaken


You only dare challenging [topic Mountain] person X because you know [conjunction] they are weaker than you [topic of Child]."
"What begins as silence - a lack of communication - [topic Mountain] will soon [conjunction] weaken [topic of Child] your relationship.
"Something which seems big, challenging [topic of Mountain] at first might turn out to be [conjunction] rather small and easy to overcome [topic of Child]."


Child:
nouns: beginning, a weak person, inexperience
adjectives: small, weak
verbs: to initiate, to begin, to weaken
Mountain:
nouns: difficulties, silence, challenge
adjectives: big, challenging
verbs: to challenge, to silence

"Beginning something new [topic of Child] will lead to [conjunction] challenges [topic of Mountain]."
"You will be weakened [topic of Child] if [conjunction] you take on too big a challenge [topic of Mountain].
"Something which seems small and weak [topic of Child] at first might turn out to be [conjunction] rather big and difficult to overcome [topic of Mountain]."

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2.2d Amalgamations

One other way to combine two cards' meanings is by amalgamation. This is an option when the two cards you want to combine have, among their many meanings, some which are conspicuously similar, seem to hint at a shared issue. You might then merge these into one very empathic amalgam. Now, with the example we've used till now, Mountain and Child, this doesn't work. So I'll demonstrate on two different examples. The first is a combination of Tower and Mountain:

Tower:
no; to refuse
Mountain:
stubbornness, to not move

This combination of a no, of refusal, and stubbornness, an unwillingness to move, we could merge into "It's very, very definitely NOT going to happen!"
Now let's try the same method with a different pair of cards - Tree and Anchor:

Tree:
roots; enrooted
Anchor:
hold; to stick with something

This combination of the issue of roots, and of having a hold, we could merge into "someone is holding on extremely tightly" or, more positively, "very, very strong foothold".

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1.3 Traditional, "fixed", combination meanings

For the sake of completeness: There are some combinations for which Lenormand tradition has very fixed, specific meanings. One example is the combination of Stork+Child which would strongly suggest pregnancy to traditionally minded Lenormand readers. I don't treat of these traditional, "fixed", combination meanings in my writings because I don't use them to guide me (I might still come up with very similar interpretations on my own). But if you are interested in learning them, you can easily find them online.

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2. Additional considerations

2.1 So how do you find the "correct" combination meaning?

The more present the individual cards' meanings are in your mind, and the more practice you have, the faster your brain will be able to come up with possible combination meanings. You might eventually be able to create a dozen or more on the spot! But even if you don't: As soon as you come up with one combination meaning that gives you helpful input regarding the question you had you can stop associating. When something makes sense and is helpful for your reading there's no real need to go any further - except for fun or practise, or if it's exactly what you would have liked to hear. That should always make you suspicious and look for alternatives. These might be less convenient but more productive in the long run.
Sometimes though, even when already quite experienced, you won't be able to come up with any combination meaning which is relevant to your concern. You'll look at two cards, and after coughing up a few generic and useless meanings your brain will just blow you a raspberry. What I do when this happens is to first read up on other possible meanings of each individual card. Because often it is a keyword that I had hardly used up to this point which quickly turns out to be helpful. If that doesn't work, I look up combination meanings other people use.

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2.2 The pros and cons of looking up other people's combination meanings

No, you don't have to create your own combined meanings from scratch. There are plenty of websites and books where you can look up other people's suggestions - including mine. Doing that is a brilliant way of getting a feeling for how combining cards can work. And in many cases, other people's suggestions will indeed be helpful for your reading. But there is one problem: Combination meanings are quite associative and situational; their productiveness depends on the querent, on the question the querent asked, and on the location in the spread the cards turns up in. While a specific combination meaning might be very relevant to one person's question, another person, with a different question, might find it completely useless as an answer to what they wanted to know. In short: There is a clear limit to how helpful other people's combinations will be to you. It definitely is most beneficial to eventually learn to create combination meanings yourself and only resort to other people's suggestions for inspiration or when you get stuck.

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