Card #13

Make Friends with Death

 

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How many times has a tarot card reader had to explain the Death card to a frightened querent?

Don’t worry! The Death card doesn’t mean death – it means change and transformation.” No doubt more than one of us has received a skeptical look as we try to assuage the fears of our client upon seeing this ominous card.

This is a much easier explanation if your deck featured a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis on the Death card, as I imagine some deck out there does (surely there is a butterfly-themed tarot deck out there). But in most decks, a skeletal being almost always represents Death. Also present is a sickle, reminiscent of the grim reaper. Traditional Rider Waite decks often portray this figure on horseback with dead and dying people left in its wake.

The Thoth deck is wrought with imagery and symbolism. In Crowley’s Death card, he portrays the figure busy at work with the sickle, slashing it back and forth, creating bubbles in its wake. A variety of figures in various stages of life are shown in the watery images. It also features a snake, a symbol of resurrection and reincarnation, and a scorpion that reminds us that this card is associated with the astrological sign Scorpio.

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The Death card is the sign that the butterfly needs to emerge from its chrysalis, and that it’s time for the snake to shed its skin. Like these creatures, we humans also metaphorically need to shed from time to time. On our path we must grow and change into the people we are meant to be.

We are fluid beings and every experience leaves us changed. And yet we all know of someone, perhaps ourselves even, who sometimes allows themselves to get stuck for too long. While some of us love change, others detest it.

I love change, and I applaud the Death card (hence the title). Recently the Death card worked its way through my life as I found the strength to work my way out of my own comfortable chrysalis. I spent much time hiding in the “broom closet” as most of my family members are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was raised to believe that anything to do with the occult or spiritualism was simply communication with the Devil. I was terrified of what my family would think of me when they found out that not only was I not a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, but I was a practicing tarot reader and part-time Pagan!

Sadly, my last living grandmother passed away very suddenly this May. I never wanted to disappoint her, because she was so loving, gentle, and innocent. She was deeply afraid of the occult and I didn’t want to break her heart with my fascination with the topic. With her passing, I found the courage to be more transparent about who I am as a person. A new time had begun in my life and it, ironically, started with death.

The coming out was just the first part of my transformation, as this year has given me several personal challenges that are causing me to reconsider who I am as a person and how I want to live my life. At 36, I’m beginning to realize the importance of living for ourselves, and not to simply conform to what society expects of us.

Thank you, Death, for helping me to grow and change into the person I was born to become. I look forward to the next visit, dear friend.

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Answering Yes/No Questions 

Yes/No Questions: Hard to Avoid!

Any tarot reader will tell you that despite your best efforts to use tarot for guidance and to encourage only open-ended questions from your clients, people inevitably want to ask yes/no questions.

And who can blame them, really?

The truth is that we all want to know what’s going to happen. Despite our best efforts to live in the present and not to worry about the future, WE DO. I bet even Eckert Tolle (author of The Power of Now, who I adore) will occasionally lie awake some nights wondering how his next book will be received or how his next overseas tour will go.

If tarot readers are being honest, even they have probably used the cards to attempt to answer a yes/no question from time to time. I know I have. In fact, learning how to answer yes/no questions was one of the first things I attempted to learn when I began to learn tarot. I wanted to know the future, damn it!

In my studies I researched a ton of different ways you can answer a yes/no question, but one in particular really resonated with me. This method was developed by Susyn Blair-Hunt and is featured in Barbara Moore’s book entitled Tarot Spreads: Layouts & Techniques to Empower your Readings.

In this method, you will use the following guidelines in deciphering the cards:

  • Major arcana and even-numbered minor arcana indicate YES
  • Court cards and odd-numbered minor arcana indicate NO

To perform this spread, you will shuffle the deck while considering the question at hand. You lay the deck down, then you cut it twice to the right so that you have three piles. You then leave the three piles on the table.

Starting with the pile on the left, lay down one card face-up. Then lay down a card from the middle pile, and then finally a card from the pile on the right.

Lay down another card from the pile on the left and the center pile. You should have a total of five cards.

At this point you will consider how many cards indicate “Yes” or “No.”

5/5 indicate “Yes” – An enthusiastic YES!

4/5 indicate “Yes” – Very probable YES.

3/5 indicate “Yes” – Probable, but not certain.

2/5 indicate “Yes” – Not likely, but possible.

1/5 indicate “Yes” – Very unlikely.

0/5 indicate “Yes” – An enthusiastic NO.

One of the best things about this spread is that the cards will provide additional information on the question, and will help you determine why something may or may not occur.

An example would be helpful, so I’m going to address a question about some land that my husband and I are trying to sell. I decided to do a quick spread on the question, ”Will my husband and I sell our land soon (in the next three months)?”

I decided to use one of my favorite decks, Thoth. Before you get hung up on my caption, please know that in the Thoth deck the Knights are actually Kings in the traditional sense of the tarot.

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In order from left to right: Two of Disks (YES), The Fool (YES), The Lovers (YES), King of Cups (NO), 4 of Wands (YES)

Thank you, cards! Managing this land has been a juggling act, as it required that we jump through a ton of hoops to get it listed. There was also the expense of having it surveyed and paying to have it advertised. To be honest we could have handled the process in a much more expedient manner, but we were distracted by other more fun things and didn’t get the land listed for six months. We were also a bit foolish in our initial asking price and had great faith that it would just sell, and it didn’t. We recently made the decision to lower the price despite my husband’s initial feelings that it wasn’t enough, but with the 4 of Wands I’m certain we will have cause to celebrate soon. We just lowered the price this week. (If the cards are right, it should sell by the end of January).

I hope that you will find this method helpful in your own readings when you have a yes/no question or if a friend or client persists in asking them. However, I encourage everyone not to put too much stock in yes/no readings. The tarot is not intended for this purpose and to reduce it only to these kinds of questions is to miss out on the wealth of hidden knowledge that it contains.

Reading Tarot Reversals 

Tarot Reversals:  Not for the Weary

When learning to read the tarot, one of the biggest questions that will plague a new reader is whether or not to read reversed cards. This decision has big implications. If you decide to trudge forward with learning reversals you have just taken on the responsibility to learn, not 78 card meanings, but 156!

Even the most diligent shuffler may find that the occasional card will present itself reversed. How the reader deals with it varies a great deal from person to person.

Common ways of handling reversed cards:

  1. Many readers decide that reversals are too much work and that the 78 cards within the tarot deck already provide enough information for them to provide in-depth readings to their clients. These readers will often turn upright any cards that may present themselves as reversed, and carry on with their reading like nothing happened. There is NOTHING wrong with this approach, particularly if you are a new reader.
  2. Some readers will take strides to avoid reversals, but if they show up they will pay particular attention to the reversed cards, and the message of that card will be strengthened. I did this for a long time.
  3. Some will strategically reverse only three cards in a deck, and if they turn up in the reading that will mean they are extremely important (Mary K. Greer talks about this in her book The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals).

Then you have those like me, who will shuffle like a madwoman and will let the cards turn anyway they please!

Determining how one will interpret reversed cards is tricky. There are so many ways you can interpret them and none are wrong. I believe the way that is most resonating with me is found in Joan Bunning’s book Learning Tarot Reversals.

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Joan’s approach is to avoid traditional ways of thinking of reversals (opposite meaning, blocks in energy, delays) and to think of these cards as phases of energy.

You can think of energy phases almost like the cycles of the moon as it moves from the New Moon (absent), waxing (growing larger), full (fully present), to waning (growing smaller). Energy can be felt in a myriad of different ways – it can be absent, just coming into our lives, strong and fully realized, and finally waning.

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In Joan’s method, we can think of an upright card as embodying the fully recognized energy of that card (like the full moon). In other words, an upright card represents the traditional meaning very strongly, and it encapsulates that energy perfectly in its purest form.

When a card is reversed it means that the energy of that card is absent, entering our life, or waning and fading out. It is up to us to determine what phase the energy is in. We do that by considering the other cards in the spread and the situation as a whole.

Last week, the Tower made an unfortunate appearance in my life, and it left me bruised and battered. As I laid down my Celtic Cross today, wouldn’t you know, the Tower appeared reversed in the near future position? This is because the energy of the Tower will be waning from my life very soon. I am very much looking forward to this.

Experiment with this method and see if you don’t find reversals a little less threatening. If you are intrigued, I encourage you to pick up Joan’s book from Amazon. Published in 2003, it is still relevant and very well-written.

I have greatly enjoyed incorporating Joan Bunning’s perspective in my readings as I struggle with those reversed cards. As much as a pain as they can be (no one likes uncovering a spread that is filled with reversals!), I adore the extra information they bring to the table.

Let the cards fall as they will!