Cracking the Whip’s History in Lenormand with the Marquis de Sade

Scan 11

The Lenormand Whip card by Piatnik.

*Copyright July 15, 2014- Michelle Lenormand. This article and all contents on this blog may not be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the author. 

The WHIP in Lenormand is a fascinating card. It’s reputation is intense, passionate, argumentative, gossipy, repetitive, sexual (in a dysfunctional, kinky way) and obsessive. How did it earn it’s naughty character? Well, let’s take a look at the period in time from which it came.

It first makes it’s racy debut in Hechtel’s Game of Hope in 1799. During Hechtel’s time, morality games were all the rage, and rivalry ensued  between France and Germany in the game market. Let’s not misunderstand this, however. We CANNOT look at the past with the eyes of contemporary society and culture. Back then, not many people could afford to run down to the nearest toy shop and buy a deck of cards, let alone a game consisting of much needed, and costly, brass game pieces and dice. There was also the problem of literacy. The literacy rate for Europe (and even less in the American colonies) was only about 30%-60%* for men only. It would take much longer for women’s literacy to rise and the average person to afford to buy books; books were the possessions of the upper middle class and wealthy. That means most people got their information via oral tradition and, yes, rumor. The people buying the games were the upper classes who were educated. This means that the way we think of simply purchasing a game whenever we want to is totally wrong when applying that concept to the average conditions of people’s lives in 1799. Some authors have indicated this in their writing about Lenormand, which is faulty reasoning. Games were not plentiful and not everyone had them.

Now, the WHIP certainly has a relationship to the ancient fasces, but the Egyptian Crook and Flail hieroglyph, which features two whips crossed, predates it by thousands of years, yet has the same the meaning of the fasces. (Link to image:

They both mean to either unite or to tear apart- the single whip/fasces being to tear apart, while the double whip/fasces means to unite. An assertion of the power of unity, the Egyptian whips and the Roman/Etruscan fasces are virtually identical in their meaning. The meaning within the context of the time of an object is how we discern the origins of the object. So how did an essentially Egyptian symbol end up in a German fortunetelling deck?

The world has known of the existence of hieroglyphs throughout time, but it wasn’t until the 4th century, and solidly by the 6th century, that the knowledge of how to read them disappeared. This co-incided with the rapid expansion of Christianity throughout the world, and later, Islam reinforced that the lost knowledge would stay lost for many centuries. By this time, Rome conquered Egypt, and what we know of the powerful machine that was the Roman Empire, is that they LOVED to appropriate symbols from those cultures that they defeated. In fact, after overthrowing the Greeks, the Romans imprisoned their greatest artists and forced them to teach Roman artists painting and sculpture. What did the Romans do after the imprisoned Greek masters instructed their artists? They destroyed every known Greek sculpture they could find, ensuring that the works of sculptors like Praxiteles (arguably the greatest sculptor in antiquity) would be forever lost to time, existing only through the texts of ancient authors. Then they slaughtered the artists. (1)

Based upon what we know of history, then, it would appear that the fasces was appropriated by the Romans (2), who then spread its meaning throughout the Roman Empire as a powerful symbol of unity after the conflict in Egypt, essentially saying, “Look at how we have dominated your culture and taken your sacred script as our own.” (3) Usurping cultures in this way is a visceral lesson and indeed, a trait characterizing the Roman Empire. From there, the fasces made its way into mainstream European cultures under the control of the Roman Empire.

Even though the world knew of the mysterious hieroglyphic language at the time of Hechtel creating the Game of Hope, no one knew its true meaning. Deciphering the hieroglyphs would not occur for another quarter century. The now quaint intimation of chapbooks and fortunetellers at the time proclaiming secret knowledge based on the hieroglyphs very much plays into the image made for the GOH.

The WHIP card also relates to the Biblical Psalm 23:4, “…Thy rod and thy staff.” (4) It is apparent in this following map how closely King David, the author of Psalm 23:4, could identify with the Egyptian symbol of the shepherd’s rod and staff.

Jerusalem closely bordered Lower Egypt, the seat of power in Egypt. Psalm 23:4 alludes to this ancient Egyptian symbol.

Here is a link to a picture of King Tut’s sarcophogus where the rod and staff are prominent, seen as tools of unity, power, and leadership:

Although we know that the birch rod is not a part of the image seen on Tut’s coffin, we do know that the way it is depicted, with both rods and fasces being crossed, is a direct reference to the ancient Egyptian symbol. The birch rod is presumed to be derived from the ancient fasces, both being a bundle of wood rods tethered tightly together. (5)

One of the juiciest subjects for rumor during Hechtel’s time was the infamous Marquis de Sade. (6) He procured the services of both women and men to service his extreme appetites, as well as having had a prolonged, illicit affair with his wife’s sister. First appearing before the court in 1763 after a number of prostitutes complained about him mistreating them, the police put him under surveillance. He was imprisoned for only short sentences from 1763-68.


In 1768, when he faced his first major sentence on a rape charge, the Marquis became the talk of Europe for both his perversity and his libidinous appetites. He was accused of taking a woman to his chateau where he held her captive and  physically and sexually abused her. She ended up escaping through a window. Afterward, the Marquis’s mother-in-law obtained a “lettre de cachet” from the king, a royal order of arrest without any stated cause that excluded him from the jurisdiction of the courts. It proved disastrous for him later.

A short while after the rape charge, he was convicted of poisoning prostitutes with Spanish Fly and commiting sodomy, along with his manservant, Latour, in Marseille and given a death sentence. By the time the sentence was passed, he had fled to Italy, taking with him his wife’s sister and Latour. He and Latour were later arrested and imprisoned, but escaped four months later. Over the next several years, complaints would mount against him by his young female employees who claimed sexual mistreatment. The father of one of the young women attempted to shoot the Marquis, but the gun misfired.

In 1778, the Marquis was tricked into traveling to Paris to see his dying mother and was imprisoned at Chateau des Vincennes using the letter de cachet. He was there with the Comte de Mirabou, who also wrote erotic literature and was known for his debaucherous life, though they hated each other. In 1784 he was transferred from Vincennes to the Bastille, and then to an insane asylum in 1789. In 1790, he was released from prison under the newly formed Constituent Assembly who abolished the instrument of the letter de cachet. And within a year he published his first major novel, “Justine (Or the Misfortunes of Virtue),” which was centered around the main character enduring the sexual domination of a host of characters, her life portrayed as hopelessly unfortunate. A few years later, 1797- 1801, he published “Julliette, (Or Vice Amply Rewarded),” a treatise on the life of Justine’s sister, who is her opposite, and who engages in wanton depravity only to be rewarded with happiness, pleasure, and wealth.

So what we must look at now, is the inescapable symbolism of the Marquis de Sade within the image of the Whip and Broom (Fasces) of the GOH during it’s time. The Marquis had already been the object of rampant rumor for over twenty years prior to Hechtel designing the GOH. His exploits were the subject of whispers and outrage. His court appearances, subsequent imprisonment and confinement, and invariable escape and release made news every time he was caught and escaped. He shocked the world with his first published novella, “Justine” in 1790, several years prior to the GOH. We must assume that he was familiar with the Marquis’s exploits because Hechtel was very educated, having anonymously published a work on physics. The Marquis enraged politicians like Napoleon with his work and lifestyle, causing the news to cover every salacious detail of the Marquis’s exploits. By 1797, two years before Hechtel died, the Marquis had just published his second novella, “Julliette,” which again caused outrage.

The coincidental imprisonment of two of history’s greatest debaucherers, the Marquis de Sade and the Comte de Mirabou in the same facility at the same time can’t be ignored. The designation of the WHIP as a symbol of writing must be based on this ocurrence. In the instructions to the Game of Hope, a forfeiture of 2 marks is made if the player lands on the “Rod,” his forfeiture being referred to as a “castigation.”

I have found in my own readings that the WHIP shows itself in relation to artistic pursuits. For example, WHIP FLOWERS is a drawing or print. WHIP FLOWERS FISH is a painting. WHIP FLOWERS HORSEMAN is dancing. MOUNTAIN FLOWERS WHIP is a carved stone relief or engraving. MOUNTAIN WHIP a sculpture (in progress) and MOUNTAIN FLOWERS sculpture or object d’art, such as a piece of ceramic.

So when we view the WHIP card, we now have new insight as to the basic meanings we have come to know. Yes, it is a symbol of strife and violence, of perversity and obsession, but also a symbol of unity. It is known in the Traditonal Lenormand practice that the card to the right of the WHIP card is what is able clear the strife. My research confirms that this is so, but also sheds a little light on how and why those meanings came about, as well as some deeper meanings within it, such as “two men.” There are some traditionalists who use this card for twins. No doubt the meaning of this comes from the simultaneous imprisonment of the Marquis de Sade with the Comte de Mirabou, seen as “two peas in a pod.”

The other thing that can be taken from the WHIP in its deeper meaning is a Jewish man, or someone from Egypt. If we are looking for spiritual guidance via the Lenormand, look to the WHIP for referencing Psalm 23:4, if this is your intention. If you are like me and you like to revel in a little salacious gossip, you may throw a spread around the WHIP to see what people are saying about you. (And if you are indeed like me, you’d rather have it be juicy than boring.)

In short, we have a new wealth of information we are now armed with having done a little research into the history of the image itself. By using its symbolic history in art, we can ferret out some of the deeper meanings in the hope of more complete understanding of the cards and being in better service to those we counsel.


*The literacy rates for northwestern European countries are highly disputed, with ranges as low as 30% and as high as 60% among males only. Calculating literacy rates for the total population is highly debated, as very few women were literate.

**Portrait of the Marquis de Sade by Charles-Amedee-Philippe van Loo- the only portrait he ever sat for in his lifetime.







For information about slavery in Roman times:


28 thoughts on “Cracking the Whip’s History in Lenormand with the Marquis de Sade

  1. Fascinating discussion of the card with reference to how some publishers pictured it in and after the late 19th century. I would have found it more compelling if your history had referred to the earliest images of the Birchrod card (see the Mertz / Kunst Comptoir decks) – a bundle of twigs, sometimes in mid-air and sometimes lying on a table (the most common depiction until the Dondorf & the Piatnik). It’s interesting that you don’t mention the well-known German folk-figure of Krampus whose imp carries an identical bunch of twigs, which name for this bunch of twigs is the same as the name of the card. I find it a closer match to the site mentioned by Fennario on ‘birching.’

    • Hi Mary,
      This is not a discussion about how card decks pictured the birch rod subject at all. My research is on the images as they appear on the cards in relation to their meaning in history. Because many people who are researching the history of card decks have no background in image research, they wrongly make assumptions about where the images, which just so happen to be on a card, have been derived. The images of Krampus have nothing to do with the images as they appear in the GOH and in Lenormand, simply because he is not pictured. Yes, there may be one birch bundle on a table, but it is brown and stained with blood in the GOH. Krampus is nowhere to be found and his bundle of birch is golden, not red. There is a single birch bundle on the table, and I make mention that one bundle is symbolic of strife and division. Krampus has no association with writing, a meaning that is very important to Lenormand, nor does Krampus have anything to do with “two men.” The Crook and Flail and the crossed Fasces predates all card decks and has carried with it archetypal and historical meaning that, frankly, at times overshadow, and at other times blend with images used in both cards, folklore, art, and design. While your focus is clearly on the history of cards, mine is not. It is like comparing apples with oranges- some people don’t like apples and some people don’t like oranges. I just have a little blog, Mary, with under 30 followers- if you don’t find my research compelling then I don’t know why you keep reading it. It’s too bad because I happen to find your work very compelling.

    • I think the issue is Krampus is an incident of the usage of birch rod as opposed to the actual birch rod as a symbol. One also has to remember that Krampus has several dichotomies in how he is presented. As a child I saw people dressed as Krampus during the Advent season and chains not birches were used.

      • Yes- in image research you have to go with what’s physically depicted, not with what could be construed as an “inference.” Culturally speaking, there could’ve been some influence, but that’s not what we have in Lenormand’s meaning or imagery. I could take the image of a turtle, for instance, and make any number of associations from any number of sources globally, but what defines it is how it is shown and the meanings derived. Sexuality, writing, 2 men, unity- none of it fits as a viable symbolic source. Krampus’s history is suspected to pagan/Pre-Christian, and I have no doubt that is the case. However, we don’t have a viable source with it- there is Baal and Milkom, who both did horrendous things with children, and that is very ancient. But it would be a stretch to say he is source material for Krampus, or that Krampus is a source for Lenormand.

  2. Here’s an example of how Krampus could be seen as faulty source material: If we know for sure, and it appears this is the case evidenced by the Roman coin minted in 44BC, that the Fasces was related to the crook and flail post- Alexandria, then we know that the image of the Fasces was truly spread throughout the Roman empire. This means that each culture could interpret the birch rod locally, within their community, and those local, folkloric sources will use the birch rod in different ways. There were a great MANY countries throughout the Empire. How can we be sure that this particular birch rod is the right source when we know Germans served in the Roman army?

    • I agree completely with you and Andy that Krampus is not the ‘source’ for the Birchrod card. However, I think the bunched twigs lying on the table (or suspended in air) has the same source for both the card AND it’s use in the Krampus art and legend, and that is as a means of spanking for punishment known in English as birching or switching using birch twigs. When I was a kid spanking was still a regular part of schooling, although in Texas they usually beat the kids who were fighting or acting up with a ruler that sat prominently on a table in the front of the room. When I moved to Germany in the 5th grade I learned that Krampus meted out the same punishment using birch switches. In Scandinavian countries they use birch twigs as a stimulant during a sauna (to get the blood moving to the skin’s surface?).

    • I agree that the crook and flail may have influenced the later Dondorf and Piatnik imagery, but I’m not convinced that Egypt or the fasces of the Roman empire was the source for the Game of Hope and Kunst Comptoir imagery.

      • It’s too general, Mary. Is it possible it influenced the GOH? Yes, but it has no relationship to most of the Lenormand meanings. There is no devilish imp depicted. No historian who submits that as viable research could substantiate a direct visual reference to Krampus without Krampus depicted. In no way do I say that Egypt or the Fasces was used as primary source material- what I wrote is a chronology of how the symbol evolved, and what we now have in Lenormand. I’m sorry you find this so challenging, but it really has nothing personally to do with you or your work. It’s just research on an image. If you didn’t mean to apologize, then please stop commenting.

      • What I’m saying in this article is that the Marquis de Sade is the MOST LIKELY source for the meanings we now have! Now maybe his exploits resonated with the German folklore of Krampus and the two birch rod symbols became related…that is possible. But for you to think Krampus is the one and only source during time characterized by the Marquis’s exploits, I have to say UNEQUIVOCALLY that YOU ARE WRONG. Please stop mischaracterizing my writing.

  3. If the Crook and Flail were the original source of the Dondorf imagery, wouldn’t the card have meant rulership and authority? The image represents the shepherd’s crook (rulership over the animal kingdom) and the flail was used to thresh grains (rulership over the vegetable kingdom) or also to herd animals. The Fasces, usually bound with an ax in the middle, was a symbol of strength through unity – the power of the Roman empire in which all the states were bound together under the power and rulership of Rome. Wouldn’t these meanings have been included in a card meant to depict the Fasces or Crook and Flail?

    • What I say in the article is that the oldest meanings are “strife and separation” in the case of a sing whip or single fasces, and “unity” in the case of a double whip or fasces. And the card that we now have means these things. I don’t know why you are persisting in trying to disprove my research. You’ve read the article, as have others, like Rana and Caitlin. If it’s not your cup of tea then please get off my blog!

      • I also say the heiroglyphic images CANNOT be directly related to the GOH, Mary! There was no deciphering of it at the time of the GOH. It’s the Marquis de Sade all the way, and if Keampus’s lore happen to fit with what the Marquis’s exploits were, then all the better. But there’s NO DEPICTION of him to base ANY conclusion on. If you find a LENORMAND deck with Krampus on it, then you have proof. Until then, you don’t.

  4. Wow, if you don’t want people to comment close them. Your pretty petty the way you are responding to Mary’s questions and comments. If this is true research you could be a bit more open to discussion you have a theory and thats all it is. You made quite a few jumps IMHO and I found the additional commenting helpful in the thought process to further research.

    I’m not convinced in either direction.

    • This isn’t AT or LCSG, Shari. In the larger world, people debate things. And BTW, it’s bad form to come to someone’s blog and call them “petty” for defending their position (and doing a good job, I might add.)

      Oh, and something else, it’s “you’re”, not “your”.

      • Thank you, Stella. When it’s your own blog and a giant comes after you on it, something is wrong. And “petty” is really the heart of why a giant would come after me anyway, isn’t it? I really dislike when people come onto my blog and accuse me of something THEY are guilty of themselves. But you know- if they want to make asses out of themselves, then so be it.

    • Shari, I know you mean well, but you have no clue as to what you’re defending. First, if you had done your research on my blog, you will see where there are several places that I have been deferential to Mary. In fact, I had (HAD) a lot of respect for her prior to this exchange, and she was a role model in many ways. This entire experience has shown me how disappointing meeting one’s heroes can be. Let’s get one thing straight: she’s a giant in the metaphysical and the publishing world. I am a metastatic cancer patient who studies the images for the pure love of it, and because researching images is what I have done for a living and am educated in it with a degree. I don’t sell books, workshops, or card decks. Maybe one day I might, but there’s very little reason and absolutely no benefit for a giant like her to even engage me- I have under 30 followers and about 160-some Facebook friends. I have never published. The whole exchange with her smacks of insecurity and bullying.

      Secondly, it’s clear to me, and to others, that she doesn’t know basic protocol for image research or theory. There are certain criteria one has to meet in order to present convincing scholarly data in art history ( and therefore the history of symbols) and she hasn’t fulfilled that basic criteria. Image research is extremely different that general historical research. It’s like someone who paints pretty landscapes on Sunday critiquing Monet. Everyone has an opinion, yes, but whether it’s valid or not is what’s at question here. I’ve already had an anthropologist, a university history professor, and 2 highly respected authors of Lenormand books say my research is spot on. Do I care what you or Mary think? No. Neither of you know what you’re talking about nor have bothered to really examine that what you think might not fully be true. I suggest you be a bit more detached on this subject.

    • Michelle is arguing her theory. That is not petty: it is called deliberation of examination. Go and visit any reputable historical or academic platform, or better yet, sit in on two historians discussed theories and you will soon similar debates (even worse!).

      If you want petty, I suggest you visit AT’s deck creation thread. Or better yet… the threads where very petty people post links to people’s blog and urge other people to go and post in order to ‘defend’ someone who is not in need it. Mary is far more knowledgeable and capable, Shari, than any of the stirrers.

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