Mystery of the Bear in Lenormand: Reconstructing Hechtel’s Enlightenment

Johann Kaspar Hechtel

*Copyright 2014 by michellelenormand. No reproduction of this article or its contents in any form without permission by author.

I am an art historian so when I speak about the symbols of Lenormand, I come at it from a place that inhabits both anthropology and archaeology as its base of research. There are certain methods art historians use to date and ascribe origins of images and symbols in art. These methods are based on written historical accounts, belief systems, and objects/relics in existence at the time. They are then analyzed and dated according to the available data. There are many instances in history when art historians believed a relic to be one thing at one time, and then had those beliefs uprooted due to an archaeological discovery that negated its time, history, or meaning. What is known about the object becomes redefined in new and exciting ways. We are at this juncture right now in Lenormand.

I am not a cartomantic historian by any means, and the only deck I read is Lenormand. However, I was a muralist for the Catholic Church and had to do a great deal of research to uphold and defend my artistic representations as it pertains to Canon Law in Vatican II. So when I see the images of Lenormand, I see something completely different than most other people blogging about the history of Lenormand. I see historical symbols that tell stories about the people who made them. An example of this is  the World Trade Center prior to September 2001. Most people then viewed the Twin Towers as a symbol of grandeur and economic power. Now we see photos of the towers and we think of terror, grief, and fear. The way we view, make, and refer to images changes over time, as does the meanings due to changes within our perceptions of our world. With this in mind, let us reconstruct the home and resting place of Johann Kaspar Hechtel, the creator of the closest cousin to the modern Lenormand deck, at the time of the publishing of his deck, the Game of Hope, in 1799.

Nuremburg lies in the Bavarian province of Germany now, but in 1799, it was part of the Holy Roman Empire.(1) Nuremburg was once considered the “unofficial” capital of the Holy Roman Empire because the Imperial Diet and court would meet at Nuremburg Castle. The town became quite powerful, and in 1219, they were given the privilege to mint coins and to have an independent customs policy. It grew into a major trade center on the route to Rome.(2)

Nuremburg Town Hall, otherwise known as the “Rathaus,” was first constructed in the 14th century, and then underwent renovation in the 17th century, a time dominated by the Baroque and Roccoco art movements. The Rathaus has three elaborate allegorical facades over the main portals. The construction of the facades date to about 1616-1622.(3)

What does this have to do with Lenormand and Hechtel, you ask?

What we in the 21st century, technological age generally take for granted is the speed and ease with which we communicate and the ease in exchanging and producing printed material. The only methods by which the populous received information during Hechtel’s lifetime was through printed newspapers and pamphlets, and through paintings and sculpture. There was no camera for a journalist to pick up and shoot the dead floating on a raft or to capture Napoleon’s best side as he marched into Egypt. Books were expensive back then so the upper classes were the only ones who could afford them. Painters and sculptors were paid to translate ideas to the masses, who would go to exhibits and actually pay attention to the buildings around them because art was their only source of visual documentation of events. David made a reputation in the late 1700’s painting Napoleon as propaganda for his powerful ventures (Napoleon Visiting Plague Victims in Jaffa) (4). And art was done to illustrate some of the biggest news events of the times: disasters (The Wrath of the Medusa by Gericault)(5), political upheaval (The Third of May by Goya) (6), and yes, the Reformation (Cranach the Elder’s Wittenburg Altar) (7) and dawn of the Enlightenment (Study of Hercules For the Brandenburg Gate by Schadow) (8). To underestimate the significance of art and printing in the everyday lives of people in the years prior to the invention of the camera and printing press would be a grave mistake for any historian.

One facade of the Nuremburg Town Hall depicts a lion, symbolizing Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, and a bear, symbolizing Persia and Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon. The conquest of Babylon, i.e. the bear conquering the lion, is sited in the bible, Daniel 7:5, “And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!” This passage is generally understood to be that it was God’s will that Cyrus’s conquer Babylon, that the Bear usurp the Lion, and thus the facade relates to the victory of God’s will to squelch paganism. The over-the-top scale, grand allegory, and heavy decor characterized by the Baroque style marks this facade, which originates in Italy, home of the Vatican. It is not a coincidence that it ended up here, in Germany, during the years of struggle and Reformation. Known to art historians is the fact that Italy heavily promoted the use of grandiose biblical allegory in the Baroque period to serve its own ends. It became very popular around the world as a result, despite the iconoclasts.(9)

Nuremburg Town Hall Facade

Johann Kaspar Hechtel was born in Nuremburg on May 1, 1771. He was married, ran a brass factory, and died there at the young age of twenty-eight in 1799, the year he published the Game of Hope. Hechtel would have seen and lived with a Town Hall facade glorifying the Roman sensibilities, despite the Reformation and the destruction of graven images by iconoclasts rampant throughout Europe. The Enlightment welcomed these images left by the Baroque period as they recalled the great philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome. Classical architecture with its perfect symmetry was borrowed from ancient Greek and Roman design during Hechtel’s lifetime. Some biographies claim Hechtel authored anonymous treatises on the scholarly subject of physics (10), which begs the question, “Why were they anonymous?”

Let us look at the way Nuremburg was governed during Hechtel’s life:

In 1786, Frederick William II, a native of Berlin, ascended to the throne as the King of Prussia. (11)His father, Frederick the Great, had been a staunch supporter of the Enlightenment, criticizing his son for his more mystical, religious leanings. Frederick II  soon terminated his father’s ban on coffee and tobacco products upon assuming the throne. During his years as prince, he had come under the influence of Johann Christoph von Wollner, a Rosicrucian, Freemason, and devout Orthodox Christian  whom the prince’s father, Frederick the Great, thought was “a treacherous and intriguing priest.”(12) The young prince joined the Rosicrucians and Freemasons, becoming enthralled in mysticism, and earning him the ire of his father. Under Frederick II, Wollner ascended the political ranks to “Privy Councillor of Finance,” but essentially acted as Prime Minister, though not in name. His real aim, however, was the religious ministry, and within two years, he had succeeded. On July 9, 1788, he issued the now famous edict that banned Evangelical ministers from preaching anything except that which was contained in their official books, by way of protecting the Christian populace from “the Enlighteners,” and placed educational establishments under the religious Chritian Orthodoxy. (13)Reflecting upon the time, the Christian Orthodoxy and Catholic religions appear to have been favored. He also formed a kind of “Protestant Inquisition” in Berlin, and in the end sought to undo nearly all of the advances of Frederick the Great in the Enlightenment era.(14) Immanuel Kant relocated his publishing, engaged in a public war of words with the authorities, and censorship greatly hindered secular thought.(15)

Symbols serve the powerful in many ways. The facade of the Nuremburg Town Hall found its way into Germany during a time of great strife with Rome, Rome having promoted the Baroque style as a way to assert itself in the face of Protestantism. Using imagery from the Bible, the facade depicts a secular Nebudchanezzar with a lion and the blessed Cyrus with a bear, that ended up as an imposing facade in the hometown city center of Johann Kaspar Hechtel. Hechtel’s lifetime was very tumultuous- a life of extremes. Hechtel was born during Frederick the Great’s reign, a reign that advanced the ideas of philosophy and science, seen by some as “irreligious,” and secular. At the age of fifteen he witnessed a radical change in his society via the ascension of Frederick William II and his promotion of Wollner. Hechtel’s biography clearly states he anonymously published treatises on physics, a subject that would have undoubtedly brought him into the crosshairs of the mandate of the new Minister of Religion. Publishing non-religious material inside the Prussian state was greatly curbed due to the new edict of 1788. Hechtel would have had to have gone to a great deal of trouble to publish his works on physics in his day. He may have been one of the dreaded Enlighteners. Yet one more big event occurred in Hechtel’s life. In 1797, Fredreick William II dies and his son, Frederick William III ascends to the throne of Prussia.(16)

Like his father before him, there is no lack of contempt on his part for his predecessor. Frederick William III systematically unravells his fathers ministry, taking Wollner with it. He is disgusted by his father’s wanton affairs and his debauchery, and goes onto to have ten children and a very happy and trouble-free marriage until his wife, Louise, dies. He does away with all the stringency placed upon the German people by his father and manages to curb the government’s spending. However, Nuremburg has sunk deep into debt, and by 1806, the Holy Roman Empire is dissolved and Nuremburg becomes part of Bavaria. Indeed, in my humble opinion, the only good thing Fredrick William II managed to do for Germany was repeal the coffee ban.  And Fredreick William III had the good sense to leave it alone.

Hechtel never lived to see Nuremburg become part of Bavaria. By the age of twenty-eight he had witnessed three radical changes in government, including the ban on coffee in 1777 during his youth. Having a cup of coffee for a youth must have been like sneaking into the liquor cabinet today! The repealing of the ban no doubt had an effect on the fifteen year old Hechtel. All of a sudden roasting coffee beans was legal, but now publishing secular material was banned.

What affect did this have on the young Hechtel? He had watched the authorities of his day go to extremes in society furthering their agendas. He was raised with Enlightenment values, but then saw them outlawed as a teen. How he managed to publish his work in physics, we don’t know, but he did it. By the age of twenty-six, in 1797, the strident regulations in publishing were eased and he could now read a newspaper with his morning coffee. He could publish secular material, and so we now have his wonderful “Game of Hope.”

The Lenormand’s German meanings for the Bear are “an official, an entrepreneur, power, strength, and jealousy.” Its German health meanings are “corpulence and weight issues.” During his lifetime, Hechtel witnessed how the use of power and strength affected himself and his community. He was a Bear in the Lenormand sense- the owner of a brass factory. But in the Game of Hope, the Bear is paired with the ten of Acorns, which in its French cartomantic equivalent- clubs, as in the Lenormand, means “bankruptcy.” The Lenormand uses typical French-style suiting (hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds). But the North- German suits are the same. They are sometimes called “Berlin” suits.(17) According to AndyBc’s Lenormand study course, which I was lucky to take part in several years ago, we are to take the card playing insert and combine it with the symbol on the Lenormand card. Therefore, we are led to believe that the official (Bear) is bankrupt (ten of Acorns/Clubs). Acorns/clubs are the most negative suits in the Lenormand deck.

Bear card from Lauren Forestell's Game of Hope

Bear card from Lauren Forestell’s Game of Hope

Most people, when they think of symbols of Germany, think of the Iron Cross and the single and double-headed Eagle. However, Berlin’s symbol has been the bear for many years. (18) Some etymologists now believe the Slavic root word of “Berlin” to be the word “berli,” which is a rigid net submerged in water to catch schools of fish in the Slavic language. Slavs were some of the original settlers of what we now know to be Berlin. Albert the Bear, the first Margrave of Brandenburg is widely believed to be Berlin’s namesake, however. The city was part of the Holy Roman Empire as well as part of Prussia, which found itself heading the empire in the 1700’s.

Was the Bear in Hechtel’s Game of Hope Frederick William II, the fat King of Prussia in its capital, Berlin, the man who had imposed strict censorship in publishing, the hypocrite who led a debauched life, and then plunged Nuremburg into debt? Was it Hechtel’s nod to Napoleon’s advances by using the “Berlin” or “North-German” playing card suits? Or did he make a cartomantic reference to German history with Frederick Barbarossa stripping Henry the Lion of his possessions (12th century***) or the militaristic rise of Berlin under Frederick I and his son, Frederick the Great as Berlin’s population had topped 100,000 in Hechtel’s day? The Town Hall in Nuremburg is compelling because it is at the heart of the city’s authority, once a place where people were tortured, and then was rebuilt with the ornate, biblical Lion and Bear motif, echoing classism and the great thinkers from Greece and Rome to an Enlightened mind. And like the ancient story of Nebudchanezzar and Cyrus, Hechtel himself usurped the Lion from the Viennese coffee deck** and replaced it with a Bear.

In my estimation, the Bear seems to be one of the few cards that addresses any link  whatsoever to Judao- Christian religion. It is a very personal choice for Hechtel for some unknown reason. I have also seen where the other additions to the deck- the Stork, The Book, and the Tower- all appear to be of a unique orientation in meaning and choice. It does not, however, rule out that there is no historic meaning for those particular symbols. The Bear is not found in the coffee reading list discovered by Huck on

If the Bear was meant to refer to St. Corbinian, a Frankish Bishop who evangelized Bavaria and established a Benedictine Monestary, the bear would have been depicted with a saddle on its back. Legend has it that the bear attacked his packhorse on the way to Rome. St. Corbinian commanded it to carry his load all the way to to Rome on its back, whereby he set it free and returned to the German forest. The saddled bear is St. Corbinian’s attribute, and the bear that appears in the Berlin coat of arms is quite different (21), being “reared up on one side,” as Daniel 7:5 describes. It does not appear Herr Hechtel was fanatical about religion, but was instead, a free- thinking product of the Enlightenment.























*Helen Riding’s amazing blog for historical research on the Lenormand and others:

*British Museum link to Duremouri deck (showing the Bear on the deuce, separate from 10 of Acorns):

**Mary K. Greer’s discovery of the Viennese Coffee Deck and mention of the Lion and Bear link here:


Photo of Nuremburg Rathaus: Jailbird

Photo of Hechtel: Wikipedia


15 thoughts on “Mystery of the Bear in Lenormand: Reconstructing Hechtel’s Enlightenment

  1. A wonderfully illuminating article and one that I am pleased to see confirms some of the views I’ve voiced re the Bear (i.e. the gender differences lying in the social-political differences of the German princely states). I’m so pleased to see these cemented by one more knowledgeable than myself on iconography.

    Your attention to detail and grasp of the reduction of the HRE and Electors’ influence into the ascendancy of Prussia have made an important contribution to the oracle’s origin. Particularly, this highlights issues that have – for me – always been at the forefront of my mind regarding the potentially erroneous link between coffee/tea reading and the petit-Lenormand (as you know, I don’t believe these symbols grew out of either, despite the similarities between the symbol-combination method).

    Recent attempts to forge the similarities into an absolutism, to define an origin, are bulldozed off the page with such important study into political and culture changes in the wake of the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire and the Prussian ascendancy. Thus we get a thoroughly Germanic “mundane” origin.

    • Thank you so much, Andy!

      It is very easy for people nowadays to skip looking at the time in an anthropological or archaeological way because of the ease of our modes of communication. Beliefs and perceptions are changed daily. The Bear, for me, is the one symbol so far that signifies a thought process in Hechtel’s mind. The wonderful blog that Helen Riding does has the 1793 Duremouri deck with its accompanying acorns/club meanings. However, the Bear in that deck is on the deuce of Acorns, not the ten. She has the Lenormand equivalents listed but the photo from the British Museum shows the Bear clearly on the deuce, or Ace, as it would be handled, I suppose. (I am very knew to cartomantic history). So it begs the question, “Why did he move it to the ten? And why did he replace the Lion? Was it because he didn’t want a piquet format? If so, why change the Lion?

      I really appreciate your commentary, Andy. 🙂

      • Well as you know, I read a “German” pack of cards and for:

        10 of Acorns:

        Bad news, often delivered in person, but also with legal writs. With 2 of Acorns can be letters of condolence, a will, or severance and debt demand.

        2 of Acorns:

        General misfortune. Bad news. Termination.

        I don’t believe the deck that Helen blogged on is typical of German cartomancy, per se. It looks like an early “Parlour” deck which was published in Italy, Hungary and France. As such, it likely follows a particular variation (with emphasis on variation), the same as Book of Destiny does, et cetera.

        In addition the instructions for the early Lenormand always strike more in line for how fortune-telling with Jass is done. So Hetchel – in designing the game – might have been drawing from those sources too. He does give the Gentleman and Lady the aces of Hearts and Spades, as Etteilla does, but I learnt the Ace of Spades (Leaves) as female too. “A tear of Eve.”

  2. Pingback: Researching the Bear Card : Michelle’s Article. | ANDY BOROVESHENGRA

  3. Thanks for this, Michelle, it’s great having all this at a place I can link to. Good research. 🙂

    And I’m about half sick to death of seeing those coffee cards touted as a direct forerunner of Lenormand.

  4. What is the explanation for the similarities between the coffee cards (including the accompanying book text) and the Lenormand deck and the text of 1846 if they had nothing to do with each other?

    • It’s not a case of just ignoring them; it’s a case of taking their weight in context to the historical usage of the same symbols in central Europe. Not one of the thirty-six symbols contained within the oracle are found solely, or to a higher proportion, in coffee/tea reading. That alone circumscribes the idea of using coffee reading or tea leaf reading as a primary source.

      At best you’re looking at secondary source – with both the deck and coffee reading cards borrowing from the same common trend i.e. the German States and the former Holy Roman Empire.

      • The Lilies also were a favourite motif of the Bavarian Royal Family who traced their descent from the St. Louis. The Fleur-de-Lis is often touted as the symbol of the “Bourbon” family but it pre-dates that dynasty as rulers of Spain and France.

  5. I want to add – I love the article with all its historical detail that I find fascinating. I didn’t know about the ban on coffee (from 1777 to 1786?). Thank you so much.

    • I don’t think coffee cards, the Duremouri piquet, or any other deck that existed prior to the Game of Hope is without an indiosynchratic element to them, in some way. Artists had to create those images and these decks were competing for customers. What is the point in owning the same deck created by a different person if it isn’t distinguishable from others? All I am saying here is that art, whether it is a sculpture, a painting, or a hand painted deck of cards from the 18th century, are subject to the whims of their creators.

      • I, michellelenormand , am coming up as “Anonymous” on my own blog because I am hopelessly bad with technology. Anyway, I agree with Andy, in that there’s a lot we don’t know about because, if we are going to base our hypothesis on coffee, then at best we can go back only to the Renaissance to search for sources to support it. Yes, coffee reading had something to do with it; yes, the politics of the day had something to do with it; yes, playing cards had something to do with it; but none of those things are mutually exclusive when someone decides to create something.

    • Andy- yes! I saw where the bear was also a symbol for Spain. Lilies, when they are white, are symbolic of the Virgin Mary…of virtue in the virginal sense. Hence, I believe Phillipe Lenormand’s instructions refer to it as such, which leads us to think that is why they are white in the older versions of the deck.

      Mary- Thank you so much for your interest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s