21. The World: Rebirth

The Tarot teaches us a lot about cycles. From The Wheel of Fortune, forever going around and around, to Death, showing us the transitions of life and the world around us. We have come to the final card of the Major Arcana, The World. What comes next? There’s a hint inside the symbolism of the card itself:

Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

We see again those depictions of the human/angel, eagle, bull, and lion that represent the four fixed zodiac signs. We saw them in The Wheel of Fortune. We see in some depictions an Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail. The woman in the centre has crossed legs, reminiscent of The Hanged Man. She holds wands like The Magician.

I am reminded of the concept of Flow, being ‘in the zone’. The woman in the World card is in a state of flow with the whole world. She recognises that she is connected with everyone and everything else. The wreath resembles a seed or an egg, or the 0 that represents The Fool. 

Within the completion of the Fool’s Journey is the seed for it to begin again. Remember beginner’s mind? Look back at your journey in life as if you are The Fool again. Recognise how far you have come, and how far you have yet to go. Rebirth happens throughout life, again and again. Notice the infinity signs in the wreath around the woman.

Graduations, birthdays, celebratory events such as these represent an ending, but also a new beginning. You accomplish things not so that you can stop, but so that you can do something new. Take a moment to pause and reflect. This is a card of harmony and fulfillment. 

If you have been reading these posts in order from card 0 to card 21, I would like to say thank you and congratulations. You have completed a long and difficult journey as The Fool. If you have not read them all, I would encourage you to study each card step-by-step so that you can understand how The Fool got here. 

I will be back soon to begin writing about the Minor Arcana, which are the remaining 56 cards in a standard Tarot deck. I am also planning to write about the following topics:

  • Reversals
  • Picking your first tarot deck, misconceptions, and shop recommendations
  • Deck reviews
  • Tarot spreads and how to ask questions
  • Pamela Colman-Smith (the artist of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck)
  • Book reviews and other resources

I hope you will continue learning about tarot with me. Please let me know if there are any topics you would like me to cover. You can find me on Twitter or Instagram, and there is a contact page linked at the top of this website. If you click ‘About Me’, you can find ways to support my work if you are able to. And of course you can subscribe to get email notifications every time I post in the sidebar.

Mac the cat looking at the Aces of the Minor Arcana

20: Judgement: Call to Action

It’s time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions: who are you, and what do you want?

Iroh’s words are a huge call-out. This is the part of the journey at which The Fool must take all the lessons they have learned up to this point, and put them into action. It’s a big step. Let’s recap what The Fool been through. 

The Fool began full of potential, but unaware of that. As The Magician, they learned that they can use their skills and qualities to manifest what they want from life. As The High Priestess, they learned that they must also look inward, and learn to see things from different perspectives. Next, as The Empress they learned to nurture and love themself. As The Emperor, The Fool learned about boundaries and structuring their life. They learned the difference between good and corrupt leadership. The Hierophant’s lesson was to lean on the experiences of those who have come before them, to seek wisdom from others. The Lovers gave them the power of choice, and then The Chariot taught them to use those decisions to move forward independently and rein in their thoughts. Next they learned Strength, where The Fool learned to channel their beliefs and desires into a productive and compassionate direction. 

The Hermit taught The Fool to take time to trust their authentic self, and The Wheel of Fortune taught The Fool that sometimes life is out of your control, and you have to be open to change. Justice was about being accountable, and holding others accountable too. The Hanged Man taught them that when you feel trapped and unable to make a move, sometimes you have to sit with that and let it pass. You may find a new perspective. Death was about the cycles and transitions inherent to life, and Temperance taught them balance and nuance. The Devil taught The Fool to look at their own shame and what holds them back. This was followed by The Tower, which was a huge upheaval that came about from suppressing problems. Rise and try again.

The Fool then learned from The Star that there is a calm after the storm, the strength of vulnerability. The Moon taught them to see through illusion, in particular destructive feelings and thought patterns that could hold them back. Then The Sun taught them to heal their younger self and feel true childlike joy. After this card, Judgement, there is only one more card in the Major Arcana. The journey is nearly over. What can we do with what we have learned?

Like Justice, Judgement asks you to be accountable. Let’s look at the card:

Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top-left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

We see an angel, possibly depicting Gabriel or Metatron, sounding a horn. That’s the call. The people below, clearly dead, are eager to face their final judgement. The Sasuraibito and This Might Hurt decks don’t rely on biblical imagery. The woman in the Sasuraibito Judgement card is cocooned, awaiting transformation. This Might Hurt depicts Anubis, the Egyptian God of the dead. He weighs their heart against the feather of truth. Again, it’s about accountability, and uncovering who you really are. 

If you have been following this journey as The Fool has, holding a mirror to yourself and allowing yourself to face each challenge step-by-step, then you may have made changes to the way you think. Coming to terms with your past and fearlessly facing your future is no small thing. Trust yourself. You are at a crossroads. Like Iroh asks Zuko:

Who are you?

What do you want?

Forget expectations, forget what anyone else has told you. You go on this journey independently, and you make the decisions. Are you on the right path, for you? Own your past, your mistakes. Take charge of now and the future. If you accept yourself as you really are, as the heart that Anubis weighs, you can find freedom and move on. 

If you pull Judgement, look at the bolded words above in the recap. Have you truly taken on the teachings of each of those cards? What do you still need to spend a little time working on? Remember that you have your whole life to be working on these qualities and skills. Compassionately look back on your life and identify what you are doing well, and what you could improve. 

Are you ready for The World?

19. The Sun: Healing Your Inner Child

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

The Sun is such a happy card. In the traditional imagery, a child joyfully sits atop a horse, as the sun shines down and sunflowers grow tall in the background. This card represents release, liberation, and feeling totally alive. The baby represents innocence, the banner victory, and the sunflowers represent happiness and positivity.

But if you look at this card and have mixed feelings because you are reminded of your own less-than-joyous upbringing, you are not alone. I want to talk about healing your inner child so that no matter your previous experiences, you can begin to enjoy the positive vibes of this card.

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Have you ever had a really strong reaction to something that shouldn’t have been a big deal? You may not know why you felt that way- the root cause. It might be that you hit a trigger of something that affected you when you were a child. Your body remembers, even if your conscious mind doesn’t.

Buddhist monk and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh said:

The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing the inner child’s pain will transform negative emotions.

He says that in order to heal our inner child, we must listen compassionately and practice mindfulness. He describes mindfulness as a way to improve your mind’s ‘circulation’, assisting your mind to do what your liver and kidneys do to get rid of toxins. How do you remove these metaphorical toxins from your mind?

When you were a child, you were largely unable to understand the nuances of adult communication. If a parent was angry about something, you may have thought it your fault, not understanding things like a stressful work situation, or mounting bills. If an adult said something cruel to you, you may have believed it must be true. An adult said it after all.

If your childhood experiences were particularly difficult or abusive, you will likely need the help of a therapist to untangle all the threads of your life and heal from those experiences. But there are some things you can do yourself to help the process along. Not everyone has access to a therapist, but that doesn’t mean you are a lost cause.

Think about the parts of you that are most childlike. Playful, vulnerable, impulsive, needing security. Try to visualise those qualities as being your younger self. If you have any photos from your childhood, looking at those can help. You may want to look into Internal Family Systems Therapy, which uses the idea of ‘parts’ within your own mind as a way of healing from trauma. It relies on the idea that the mind is multiplicitous, that is, made up of multiple, sometimes contradictory parts.

In a way, you have to re-parent yourself. Think back to things that happened to you that weren’t okay. Talk to yourself, visualise picking your child self up and giving them the love and support that you needed at that time. If this is too hard right now, try recalling happy memories and visualise being a positive and supportive influence on your child self. If you have issues with visualisation, such as aphantasia, consider writing a letter to your child self instead.

It can be harder to be compassionate to yourself than to others. This is why visualising child you is important. Treat that child like you would any other. Tell them you are proud of them, that they deserve the best in life. Tell them the good things about them, how smart, or kind, or creative they are. Remind them that you are there for them and they do not have to be afraid. Imagine (if you can) playing with the child and spending time with them.

If you pull The Sun, imagine that child in the image is you. You are innocent and joyful, you can be silly and playful, and you are protected.

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The lotus grows only in muddy water.

 

 

18. The Moon: Cognitive Distortions

The Moon is such an important celestial body for all of us here on Earth. The word moon comes from the word for ‘month’, which shows how important it is for us when it comes to measuring time. The Moon’s gravity causes tides, of which there are two high, and two low in 24 hours.

The Moon has been, and in many cultures continues to be used as a way of marking time. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, today (12th August) is in fact the 22nd of June.

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We only see one side of the Moon, because it is in synchronous rotation with Earth. Occasionally we can see about 18% of the far side, but we didn’t see the rest until 1959. This can make the Moon seem very mysterious. Before the far side of the Moon was photographed, I wonder what humans used to think it was like.

The Moon is also associated with many deities such as Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. In China, they have Chang’e, who flew to the Moon after drinking an immortality elixir. In Japan, Tsukuyomi angered the sun Goddess Amaterasu so much that she created day and night so that she would not have to be near him.

Let’s look at The Moon as a tarot card:

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

I love how strange it looks. The Star Spinner version depicts Chang’e who I mentioned above. There’s a quote in the Sasuraibito Little White Book for The Moon that I love:

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. – Pema Chodron

This card represents illusions and fears. It gives you a feeling that you’re not sure if what you’re seeing or experiencing is real. Think of the word ‘lunacy’ meaning madness, which comes from another name for the Moon: Luna.

According to A. E. Waite, who co-created the RWS deck, the wolf and the dog represent fears of the mind when there is only reflected light to guide you. Your animal self, fight, flight, or freeze. The crawfish represents universal fears.

This card has a lot to teach us if we are struggling with mental health, or if we are neurodivergent and struggle with masking a lot. I am reminded of the concept of Cognitive Distortions, which are thought patterns in which you interpret reality in a negative and damaging way. If you have ever done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), you will have heard of these:

All-or-nothing thinking– Also known as ‘splitting’ or ‘black-and-white thinking’. This is when you see a situation as all good, or all bad. There is no grey area or in-between. Often perfectionists struggle with this one. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect, and that you can overcome difficulties without getting everything right. Accept what you cannot change, and know that you’ll get it right next time.

Overgeneralising– This is when one bad thing happens and you think ‘this always happens to me!’ This is a distortion which I think can be improved by gratitude journaling. If you log the good things that happen to you, you can read them back when you’re feeling like nothing good ever happens.

Filtering– This happens when you only remember the bad things out of something that happened. Dwelling on the negative will hurt you. It’s important to recognise when something bad has happened, as rejecting bad feelings will hurt you just as badly. But don’t let the bad outweigh the good.

Disqualifying the positive– This is when something good happens and you dismiss it as a one-off. Alternatively it can mean that someone said something nice to you and you think they don’t mean it. Remember that people say nice things because they care about you.

Jumping to conclusions– It can be frustrating when someone says what they think you mean before you even get to say anything right? So when you’re communicating with others, let them tell you what they mean, and don’t assume. This can also be associated with self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you can’t achieve something, you probably won’t try as hard and you’ll end up being right. Try to keep an open mind.

Catastrophising– This is where you think the absolute worst case scenario will happen. I recommend letting your mind go down that path and make a quick plan for if the worst does happen. That way, you’ll see that no matter what happens, you can cope. And it probably won’t be that bad anyway.

Please remember that this is just one view, and that CBT does not work for everyone. If you find learning about Cognitive Distortions useful, then great. If not, then feel free to throw that idea out and find something else that resonates with you. My other recommendation when thinking about The Moon is the book The Gift of Fear. This is a book about using your intuition or gut instinct to empower yourself.

When you pull The Moon, take a moment to meditate or journal about fears and illusions, and ways that you can use your own intuition to see through them. The Moon doesn’t ask us to solve anything just yet, only to begin letting your mind work through things.

If you are struggling with your mental or neurological health, please contact your GP. I find tarot to be useful as a self-help tool, but it cannot replace therapy.

17. The Star: The Calm After A Storm

The Fool has just experienced a huge upheaval when they encountered The Tower. They are feeling totally lost, not sure where to go from here. That’s when they meet The Star, one of my favourite cards in the whole deck.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

The Star gives you this feeling of healing; it feels like coming indoors from the cold, someone gives you a cup of tea and you relax on the sofa with the fire on.

The figure in the card looks so confident in her own skin, she looks at peace and relaxed. Nakedness is vulnerable, but allowing that vulnerability gives you strength. Similarly to Temperance, The Star is pouring water and is part on land and part in the water. She is in tune with all parts of herself. The grounded and realistic parts, the flowy, emotional parts, all in harmony.

As you see the water flow on the land, you begin to understand how everything on earth is connected. The Star knows this, and relishes in it. The water nourishes the plants in the earth, or is heated by fire and rises into the air. All four elements united.

Above the woman in the image is one big guiding star, surrounded by seven smaller stars. These seven are said to represent the chakras. The stars have eight points, so they represent The Star of Ishtar. Ishtar, or Inanna, is an ancient Mesopotamian Goddess. She is associated with many things, such as love, beauty, war, and justice. She is often associated with Venus. Inanna-Ishtar is important to many feminists because of how powerful she is compared with the male Gods of her pantheon.

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Goddess Ishtar on an Akkadian Empire seal, 2350-2150 BC

What is your guiding star? Stripped back to your most important values, what truly matters to you most? If you pull this card, find your home inside yourself. No matter what you have been through, you can heal and you have the potential to do many wonderful things. Journal or meditate on what is important to you, and what makes you feel like you are home. How can you find healing?

As we go through the remaining few cards of the Major Arcana, we will begin to consider, what is our calling? The Star is asking us to begin thinking about these big questions so that we can find inner peace.

The Star is associated with my Zodiac sign, Aquarius. If you would like to know which tarot card is associated with your sign, have a look at the list below. Do you think that card represents you well? See if you can remember what some of these cards mean, as we have covered all but one of them by now.

Aries – The Emperor

Taurus– The Hierophant

Gemini– The Lovers

Cancer– The Chariot

Leo– Strength

Virgo– The Hermit

Libra– Justice

Scorpio– Death

Sagittarius– Temperance

Capricorn– The Devil

Aquarius– The Star

Pisces– The Moon

Sometimes when we begin to heal, when we begin to ask ourselves the big questions, we can encounter confusion and uncertainty. That’s what we will be exploring next time, with card number 18: The Moon.

 

 

16. The Tower: Fall down seven times get up eight

The Tower is the most hated (misunderstood) card in the Tarot. When I look at tarot subs on Reddit, I see a trend where people say something along the lines of ‘I pulled The Tower and now I’m worried something bad is going to happen to me.’

As you know if you have been here on this blog before, I don’t think the cards can tell you if something bad is going to happen to you. But even if they could, I don’t even think that’s the message that The Tower has for us. I don’t think any of the cards have a purely pessimistic meaning.

When have you felt something change so dramatically that you know things can never be the same again? Losing a loved one, breaking up with someone, being rejected, events like these are Tower moments. You might feel like the ground is crumbling all around you. It’s shocking, like a bolt of lightning.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

Tower moments happen to us all, and they’re unavoidable. In the imagery above we see a tower struck by lightning, and people falling to the rocks below. It can be hard to see anything positive in this image, and we shouldn’t force ourselves not to feel pain when we see it. That’s actually what this card is teaching us. Feel the pain and get through it anyway.

Sometimes you have a situation that we have neglected or repressed for so long that it starts to ferment and brew. If we keep avoiding these situations eventually they become so full of pressure that they explode and we are forced to make huge changes. Think revolutions, both literal, and the metaphorical ones in our personal lives. Leaving an abusive partner, quitting your job, leaving a neglectful home. Sometimes it is about ego- changing your mind about something you believed for a long time. Suddenly realising you weren’t right about something.

The catalyst for such change can be small, and it’s totally unexpected. You just can’t take it anymore, or can’t keep making excuses. That’s why this card can be so difficult. It’s not gentle. After it happens, you don’t know what to do, or if you can carry on at all.

But when things start to settle down again, you will be able to get up and try again. Dust yourself off and take a deep breath. And this time, whatever was holding you back before is gone. You’re resilient, you survived this huge event. Then you get to enjoy The Star, my favourite card in the Major Arcana. But you only get new beginnings when you have left something behind.

I know I said The Tower isn’t a bad card, but I have to mention how much I love the jokes people keep making that 2020 is a year of ‘all towers’:

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What tower events have you experienced in your life? How did you learn to heal from them? Meditate or journal on these thoughts, because The Tower is trying to help us to become better prepared for the next time we face upheaval. As always, please be kind and gentle to yourself.

We’re in the home stretch of the Major Arcana now and I’m looking forward to telling you all about The Star.

七転び八起き

Fall down seven times, get up eight

 

15. The Devil: Shadow Work

When The Fool meets The Devil, they learn what can happen if the teachings of Temperance are not heeded. This is an important lesson, one that many people learn the hard way.

The Devil is all about self-destructive behaviours, ways that you are holding yourself back. These things can be negative thought patterns, addictions, or habits you want to change. Basically everything that is really hard to change. It’s important to be kind to yourself while going through this process. Self-blame can bring you back into a cycle of pain and anxiety.

Please excuse the pun, but don’t demonise The Devil. This card helps us to see those things that hold us down so that we can begin to heal.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

The Devil is usually represented by Baphomet, who is adapted from the Greek God Pan. You may know this figure from when The Satanic Temple attempted to erect a Baphomet statue outside the Oklahoma State Capitol. Baphomet is a mix of human and animal, male and female. Their power is an illusion in the Rider-Waite-Smith depiction- look how loose those chains are- the people could escape. Change is in your hands.

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Compare The Devil to The Lovers. It’s almost like The Devil is mocking the other card. Baphomet is pretending to be the angel, but is also taking on a Magician pose. We are reminded of the choice that The Lovers taught us about. Are there any choices you have been making that are holding you back in some way?

I really like this point Little Red Tarot makes about The Devil:

In that same vein, there’s a more mundane message here about materialism. Addiction to ‘things’ is a sad issue of our time – it leads to huge amounts of waste, a throwaway culture, and a sense of not having enough (which ultimately means: not being enough). Think of the way beauty products are marketed, for example: by creating insecurity. We buy to fill the need, to fix ourselves. Our inner demons tell us that we need ‘things’ to make ourselves more beautiful, successful, popular, good. The Devil can represent becoming bogged down in this stuff, forgetting about the bigger picture and what is truly important in life.

I’d like to introduce a way that you can begin to shine a light on those parts of yourself that you may try to hide, that you feel shame about, that need some love. It’s called Shadow Work, and it’s a concept that was introduced by Carl Jung.

I think Tarot is a great way to do Shadow Work, because it can bring to the surface thoughts and feelings that aren’t in your conscious mind. Jung said that everyone has a shadow, and the less that you are aware of it, the darker it is. It’s that painful part of yourself that you try to pretend isn’t there.

I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t go into too much detail here- you can research shadow work and find plenty of resources. But here are some questions you could journal or ask your Tarot deck if you’re interested in trying it:

  • What am I hiding from myself?
  • What holds me down?
  • How do my thoughts/behaviours hold me back?
  • What is the root cause of my pain/anxiety/addiction?
  • What is blocking me from resolving this issue?
  • What do I need to forgive myself for?
  • What can I learn from my shadow self?
  • How do I move forward?

Make sure to be in a safe, comfortable place, and be in a relaxed state of mind when you approach questions like the above. See if you can designate a safe person you can go to if you become overwhelmed, and afterwards make yourself a cup of tea or run a bath. It’s hard work and deserves a relaxing reward.

Be kind to yourself.

14. Temperance: Queerness in Tarot

Along with The Hierophant, Temperance is one of my birth cards. It embodies what I think is one of the most important aspects of Tarot:

Balance.

The great thing about balance is it’s a non-judgmental concept. There are many people who will tell you things like ‘stop eating carbs’ or ‘go for a run every morning’. Whether or not you think those things are healthy, it’s not always practical to completely stop or start doing something. Habits take time and willpower to form. Embracing balance means to do what feels right to you, just keep it in moderation. Not much in life is black and white, and Temperance teaches us to appreciate the grey areas in life.

This isn’t about being a centrist, or never taking sides, it’s about recognising nuance, and the myth of duality. What do we often see as dual, or binary?

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

An idea I love about Temperance is that it can represent the inherent non-binary nature of gender. Rather than there being two genders, male and female, it makes more sense to see gender as a spectrum:

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If you look at the symbol on the character in the Temperance card, you see a triangle inside a square. A triangle has three sides, and a square four. The third and fourth cards of the Tarot are the Empress and the Emperor, so it is like this character blends or balances those energies together. That is also what they are doing with those cups, and also by having one foot on land, and one in the water. Bringing together opposites, balancing and mixing what we usually see as separate.

There are other ways that you can bring this balance into your life. As the Little Red Tarot post says, think about things like work/life balance, or not making extreme decisions.

I am reminded of something that Weston says a few times in his podcast Root Lock Radio: you contain multitudes. I’m not sure who came up with that phrase first, but it possibly comes from this poem by Walt Whitman:

Song of Myself, 51
Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

When you pull the Temperance card, think about what aspects of your life need balance. A lot of people struggle with black-and-white thinking. This is also sometimes called ‘splitting’. It’s the inability or difficulty to see the middle ground. Look for words like ‘never’ or ‘always’ in your thinking patterns: ‘I always screw things up’, ‘I’ll never find any friends’.

Noticing these patterns is the first mindful step towards reframing your thoughts in a more nuanced way. What ideas do you have for changing such thoughts?

Earlier I mentioned habits, and that’s something we will revisit next time when we discuss card 15: The Devil. Like Death, this is not a scary card, but it does show us what can happen if we do not practice Temperance.

13. Death: It’s Not Morbid

Transitions. Not just of life to death, but child to adult, day to night, winter to spring to summer to autumn to winter again. Birthdays, the phases of the moon. Becoming a parent, student to employee to retired. Some of these transitions are easier than others. But we all go through many.

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Following and honouring the cycles of the natural world can be very grounding, and if you ever experience dissociation, I recommend it.

Being afraid of death is very common, but so too is being afraid of change. And that’s what the Death card is all about.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

I love the symbolism of this card. Look at the different ways these characters react to Death. The bishop is praying, or maybe pleading for his life. The woman is turned away, she can’t even bear to think about death. The little girl doesn’t understand and offers Death a flower. There’s a king lying dead. All the power and the wealth in the world couldn’t protect him from death. Death himself has a flag with a white flower on it. They typically represent purification. In a way, death can be seen as purifying, as you go from rotting flesh to clean white bone.

 

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Did seeing that make you feel uncomfortable? I guess it depends what culture you are used to. The Toraja people of Indonesia live with their dead family members. Rather than a sudden transition from living to dead, by living with their loved ones’ corpses, they are able to slowly come to terms with their loss.

Like I said, this card represents transition, cycles, and change. How do you react to change in your life? Are you avoidant, or do you jump right in? many changes are unavoidable, and accepting that fact is freeing.

The Fool spent time contemplating their life as the Hanged Man, and now it is time to make necessary changes. What is no longer serving you? Think about things like your career or your relationships. Let go of unhealthy attachments, because if you cling on, you will only experience much more upheaval and pain later on. We will see how that manifests as The Tower in another post.

This card does not represent a literal death, as The Fool still has a long way to go on their journey yet. But it is such a useful metaphor, and can be a healing one to meditate on. If you pull this card, take time to journal or meditate on the transitions in your own life and the ones you experience around you. What do they mean to you and what can you learn from them?

If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the Order of the Good Death, which you can find out about here.

I am reminded of my favourite mantra which comes at the end of the Heart Sutra:

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

It means ‘gone gone, completely gone, to the other shore, enlightenment svāhā‘ and the Sanskrit is pronounced ‘gatay gatay para gatay parasam gatay bohdy sva-ha’. Svāhā can’t really be translated but it’s kind of like saying ‘amen’.

You can listen to a performance of the Heart Sutra by Imee Ooi here; please be patient as the lyrics begin about a minute in, and the mantra is the last line!

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12. The Hanged Man: Limbo vs Liminality

Something that I’ve thought a lot this year (2020) is that it feels a lot like we’re in limbo.

Limbo is a word I’m sure you’ve used before, but have you thought about where it comes from? It’s from Catholic theology and refers to having died but not entering Heaven or Hell. The reason for this can be that you committed sins and need the redemption of Jesus to enter Heaven. Alternatively, it refers to infants who died before being baptised and therefore have not been freed of original sin.

I think a better word is liminal, which comes from Latin and means threshold. Liminality is a concept which refers to being in a transitional space. Twilight is liminal, as it is neither light nor dark. Flying in a plane is a liminal experience, as you are usually crossing time zones and borders. What time is it on a plane going from London to New York?

The reason I prefer the word liminal is that limbo has this implication that you’re trapped, maybe forever. Liminality is more about going through an uncertain period and being able to come out the other side. I really hope we do recover from the pandemic soon.

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch

This card depicts a person hanging from a tree, but not by their neck. They have one foot tied up, and they look surprisingly comfortable. The Hanged Man has a halo around their head which makes them seem enlightened in some way.

The Hanged Man tells us that there is nothing we can do just now. Be patient and wait for what comes next. It asks us not to be hasty, which can be really difficult. Many of us want results fast, we want to be moving forward and making progress. Sometimes it’s not the time for that.

Have you ever been going through a hard time, maybe trying to deal with an illness, and felt like time is slipping away, like everyone else is moving ahead and you’re stuck in the past? The Hanged Man reminds us that if we don’t give ourselves that time and space to recover, we can’t move on. It’s okay to allow yourself to stop.

Another interesting interpretation is that The Hanged Man has a different perspective from being upside down. Maybe you’re a little stuck in your ways and need to look at things differently.

There’s a place in Japan called Amanohashidate, which roughly means ‘bridge to heaven’. if you bend down and look at the view between your legs, the ‘bridge’ looks like a dragon soaring into the sky. By changing your perspective, you get a whole new view.

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Some have suggested that this card represents Odin. According to legend, Odin hanged himself from the world tree, Yggdrasil in order to obtain knowledge. He had to surrender and sacrifice himself in order to get what he wanted. Here’s a poem attributed to Odin about his experience:

I know that I hung on a wind-rocked tree,
nine whole nights,
with a spear wounded, and to Odin offered,
myself to myself;
on that tree, of which no one knows
from what root it springs.
Bread no one gave me, nor a horn of drink,
downward I peered,
to runes applied myself, wailing learnt them,
then fell down thence.

When we have to make decisions, often to choose one option means to sacrifice the other. Have you ever had to sacrifice something to make the right choice for you?

Next time you pull The Hanged Man, consider, is it a time to wait and contemplate rather than take immediate action? Do you need to look at your situation from another perspective? And maybe you have to consider what you’ll have to sacrifice. It can be a good idea to journal these thoughts, and use that time as your liminal space to figure out what is best for you.