Lenormand: To leave the Key on the Coffin


The Petit Lenormand course has started again and that means a new group of students practising and studying the meanings and combinations of these funny and practical divination cards. Although the basic meanings are fairly easy to learn, there are of course all kinds of peculiarities to the various combinations of cards. It’s fun to see where these special meanings come from. A good example is the situation in which – in a spread – the key ends up directly above the coffin; In this situation, I will look in the direction of financial setbacks, poverty, having little money or having debts. What is behind this?

In the past, the key was a symbol of the ‘power’ of the housewife. Already at the beginning of the17th century, this symbolism appears in texts in the Netherlands and in Flanders. When a man had incurred a lot of debts at the time of his death, his widow was given the opportunity to ‘redeem’ herself from this by literally placing the house key on the coffin of her deceased husband. In doing so, she refused his ‘inheritance’.  In the beginning, only ladies of nobility were allowed to do this, but later it became a general right of all widows. It was of course a difficult and embarrassing thing to do in front of everyone. Therefore, over time, the custom changed; For example, the woman was allowed to leave the keys in the door. Or she could hand them over to the mayor of the town or to the pastor. The widow was later also allowed to take her best dress (“a tamelyck cleet”) and a bed from the house.

Nowadays it is possible to refuse inheritances on a beneficent basis. When we encounter the combination in a lenormand spread, we think of debts or money problems. The expression “He is so poor that the keys are on his coffin” is sometimes still used in Flanders.

This way, there are many meanings assigned to card combinations based on old customs or expressions. I really love to dive into them and find their origins. It depends of course on the country or region you live in. I have tried to find out if “Putting the Key on the Coffin” is also known in other countries. Because sometimes instead of ‘Coffin’ the word ‘Put’ (= covered grave) is used, it is difficult to find out if also other countries know this expression. I searched in German, French and English but couldn’t find it. Perhaps other words were used, or this was not something that was practised elsewhere. It would be nice to collect meanings from other regions and compare them. I have put it on my to-do- list…….so many tarot-related-subjects and so little time!

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