As an oracular system reflective of the human experience, the tarot contains both cards of happiness, joy and celebration, and cards that show loss, grief, and mourning. Thus I find it an excellent companion to understanding life’s changes and transformations, especially those that are difficult, trying and sometimes overwhelming. One of these is grief.
Acknowledging the end of a situation: the Death card from the Anna K tarot
I am writing about grief because it seems to me – and not just to me – that collectively, we are all going through a grieving process. The events of the past few months have brought severe limitations and an undeniable feeling of the party being over, for good (the party here can be any of the distractions or indulgences featured in our modern life, such as retail, tourism, etc). For some of us, this has come as a complete shock, followed by a tidal wave of disbelief, anxiety and stress. Others among us, aware for some time that our global systems – be they economic, political, healthcare, education, tourism, agricultural and so on – were at best unsustainable, have been in one way or another preparing for significant changes and disruptions for some time. While this approach offers some buffers against our current vicissitudes, it still does not remove us from the wider sorrow felt in our community, or our loved ones, friends and family, and a collective way of life that is now slipping away with the outgoing tides of cyclical, historical patterns.
With this in mind, I created a simple 6 card tarot spread on grief and the grieving process. This is by no means an exhaustive spread, and there are many other questions that can be asked and added to the spread, however I think it is a good starting point. I note that the grieving experience can be about any type of ending one experiences as a loss: the end of a career, a relationship, a business venture, death of a relative or friend, the end of a cycle, etc.
The layout is as follows:
A 6 card tarot spread on grief: general layout
What do I need to acknowledge about this loss?
Where do I find hope and healing to help me (or to support me) during this time?
What do I need to do to help support myself during this time?
What is my source of strength to help me process this/ move forward?
What meaning (or understanding) does this experience bring in my life?
(Optional) Outcome card of going through this process
A few thoughts on the questions and the layout…
The first question was based on the popular Kubler-Ross model first stage of grief, which is denial. I don’t personally see this model as a complete description of the grief process (and it has been criticised on a number of points for this reason and others), however and nonetheless, I still acknowledge it as having merit: denial is still something I have observed being exhibited on more than one occasion (and by myself too, may I add). So it made sense to make this the starting point.
Cards 2 and 3 flank the central first card, so that Card 2, on the left, describes where we get help from outside of ourselves, whereas Card 3, on the right, describes where we get help from within ourselves. I think this is paramount to the whole spread: empowerment comes from being able to help ourselves, rather than adopting the “woe is me” attitude that shouts out in desperation “why has god/universe/world etc done this to me“; but also equally, we must look and see where there is help and support from the outside and allow ourselves to rely on this.
Card 5 is really crucial to this spread, in my opinion: this is something you will find common to virtually most, if not all, discussions on loss and grieving, whether you look to religion, spirituality or psychology: the ability to find some meaning that helps anchor you in life.
Grief tarot spread using the Victorian Romantic tarot
Following the structure above, here is my own spread and interpretation for an ending that occurred earlier this year for me:
1. What do I need to acknowledge about this loss: Ace of Cups This tells me that the loss is not necessarily as bad as I thought it was, since a new beginning (Ace) is in this position. I love the imagery of love and union here (which is what I chose on the tarot bag for this deck, seen to the left above) – this is a card of immense hope, divine synchronicity and auspicious new starts. In summary: it is nowhere near as bad as I think it is.
2. Where do I find hope and healing to help me (or support me) during this time: 7 of Cups This is a card about imagining the potential future possibilities available to me. I find the imagery eerily similar to my life’s circumstances: there you see someone, who has all the gold and riches behind them, turning his back on it to try an catch something that is yet to be revealed, something that cannot yet be seen. The accompanying book by Karen Mahoney states,
“Perhaps some of the temptations and opportunities shown are real – and just waiting to be grasped? The Seven of Cups is about possibilities; it points to all sorts of daydreams, desires and ambitions. It challenges us to choose between them, and to separate the possible from those which are mere illusions.”
So the message is that I find hope in the knowing that there are many options and possibilities open to me, yet I must choose wisely what I accept, or which opportunities I actively pursue now.
3. What do I need to do to help support myself during this time: 10 of Swords
This is an incredibly distressing imagery, and the 10 of Swords in general is a difficult card to receive. It is the card of very painful endings, the kind that are heartbreaking. Yet, here it is, in the position of what I need to do to help myself, and to that I answer: acknowledge that ending, no matter how painful. Interestingly, there are two characters in the imagery, yet only one is real.
4. What is my source of strength to help me process this/ move forward: Queen of Pentacles
This tells me that it is me, who is really the source of strength, meaning that I do have the strength to go through, overcome and move forward. Also, this is a card of wealth, and the Queen of Pentacles denotes someone who is pragmatic, down to earth, financially secure and grounded in her home and garden. These are all attributes fitting to my current situation, and this card serves as a remainder of that.
5. What meaning (or understanding) does this experience bring in my life: The Lovers
Traditionally in the tarot, the Lovers card is a card of choice, so to me this spoke of the power of choices and about the power of love as well.
Making the right choice is the central meaning of this card, and if talking about vocational purpose, this is all about finding what you love, and pursuing that above all else.
6. Outcome card of going through this process: 8 of Pentacles
Here we have the card of the worker, often showing an apprenticeship of some form taking place. This card is all about work, career and any training required for a new path in work, telling me there are some new work avenues or opportunities opening up.
… well, I kinda like the fact the lady in the card is just admiring the craftsman’s execution, rather thank working per se 🙂
I am hoping that providing this tarot spread and my own insights into it will invite you to try it out, help clarify what you are going through, and find some guidance and meaning to what may be very trying circumstances.
Blessings to all,