I don’t know if it is because I am changing my views about my Tarot ethics, because of the recent hype with Tarot of Santa Muerte or because I spend too much time walking around graveyards and watching Caitlin Doughty. Whatever the cause, I am astonished at the overall denial of death as a physical thing within the Tarot Community.
Death is such a “forbidden” or taboo topic in so many ways, when you want to approach it as an spiritual person you may even be seen as dark or spooky and when it is taken to your Tarot practice it may even be taken as unprofessional.
“Thou shall not predict death.” Well, you know what? The most certain prediction I can make, 100% guarantee of satisfaction or full refund is that you, dear reader, will die.
Now, we are not speaking about diagnosing, suggesting treatments or scaring the hell out of a querent and predict an ominous death. That is pointless and a source of anxiety and anguish that one can definitely spare to their fellow human beings. However, trying to erase death as a possibility, sugarcoat it with transition and change or outright deny that Death can mean death, feels equally wrong.
You are probably wondering now what is the point of acknowledging that Death can mean death if you cannot make a prediction about it. Right? If you have been following me for a while, you are probably familiar with my belief that not everything that the cards show to the reader is meant to be disclosed. It is not about death itself, it is about the surrounding circumstances, about what you can do.
Let’s say, for the sake of the discussion that I, as a reader, am dealing with a reading that is showing me the death of the querent. First thing you would want to look for is the rest of the reading, does it look like something avoidable, as if the cards are giving you a warning? If so, you may want to say something along the lines of “It is not a good moment for you to take physical risks, you may feel a little lightheaded with all the open fronts of issues that you are dealing with and you probably need to pay closer attention to daily activities in order to prevent some inconvenient accident!” There you go, it is not ominous, it is not scary, it is guidance, which is what the querent came here for.
What if it doesn’t look like a warning? What if your querent is really running out of time? Again, there is no need to take a scythe from under the table and tease your querent’s sweet face with it. You can try something like this instead: “The cards are indicating that it is a great moment for you to rearrange your priorities. Is there something that you truly want to do? There are very favourable energies around you that will help you achieve those things that you have been postponing. At the same time, you have plenty of people who love you, and spending some time reconnecting with them and prioritizing the people that you love, even those that are now strangled, seems to be something that will make you feel aligned.” See? Nobody runs away from this, do they?
Even the above-mentioned examples sound a tad bit convenient. But how about dealing with the real deal? A querent who has been diagnosed terminal, enquiring about their own death? I have not had the opportunity yet, but I feel that there is so much that Tarot can offer to people in this situation in order to help them come to terms with their own death. If only we could stop watching death as something scary, as something that we choose to ignore, and could at least, not welcome it, but admit is as a part of the journey just as important as life is.
Following the lines of the post, I decided to interview the fantastic Jessica Fox, from Voyage to the Hearth. She is a very special reader, not only for her skills but also for her “muggle” job: She has been an oncology nurse and now she works on labor and delivery, we can say that she is pretty much in touch with the very beginning and the very end of life, and I bet that she has some pretty interesting things to say!
Tarot and Deathnial. – A conversation.
Q. – So, Jessica, as a member of the spiritual and Tarot community, do you perceive a generalized denial of death as a reality?
J.F. – Thank you so much for interviewing me on this topic as it is one that I am incredibly passionate about! I absolutely do perceive a generalized denial of death throughout the tarot community, and within many of our societies as well. I think it is evident in the movement away from death in the art of cards, and into a space of rebirth, reincarnation and change. I understand and appreciate the concepts, and I have decks that include this focus on death and love them dearly; but I think there is a time and a space to recognize that death will deﬁnitely come to us all, and avoiding the reality that there are hard endings in life, doesn’t make the reality go away.
Q. – Why do you think this happens?
J.F. – I think this happens because people are afraid. The tangible reality that we will all die, does not come without fear for many. I have seen quite a lot of death, and yet, I still worry about missing out on the love of my family, or other worldly experiences that will come with my own demise. I believe it is human to fear death. We live in a time, when modern technology has made us capable of avoiding a lot of the death we would have seen in previous eras, such as different disease control mechanisms, and better care for sepsis, heart attacks, strokes and so on.
Also, death has been removed from the home. There was a time in which, your family died in your home, and this was normal. Now, people often die in hospitals. The movement toward expanded home hospice care, as well as the death positivity movement is changing this trend; but still, many people have never seen death, which is an inescapable experience we must all go through. I think that we have been conditioned into avoiding the hard, dark, scary parts of what death is, and instead focusing on what comes after the death itself. This is evident in all things; if we have something end in our lives, we are encouraged to “look at the bright side”, “it’s not an ending, it’s a new beginning” “they went to a better place”, and so on, coming from wellmeaning supporters. Often, I feel that these sorts of comments, that we ﬁnd ourselves saying to others during hard times, miss the point entirely. I feel that we miss out on a lot of any ending experience, including death, when we do not look into the full mystery of what an ending is, before focusing on how to move past it. We don’t give death, and other endings the full sacred space and attention that they deserve by avoiding looking it right in the face.
Q. – How has being in touch with death impacted your life?
J.F. – Death has impacted my life by rearranging my priorities. When you work with people who are affected by cancer at too young of an age, your idea of what is important, changes. Death has made me more conscientious of the importance of being surrounded by family, of what my goals are, of how irrelevant money is to life, and how you can’t spend more than necessary pursuing or staying in something which takes away from your existence. There is no time to do anything other than love the life you are living, because we will all die, and there is no escaping that.
Q. – Tarot and other forms of divination or communication with the “other side” are pretty much focused on what happens after death. What do you think that Tarot can do pre-death?
J.F. – I had actually never considered this, because when people are facing a terminal illness, it’s not easy to have a frank conversation about what is being faced. There are phases to that type of discussion, people grieve, get angry, grieve some more, and there are those will ﬁnd peace with it. It is a difﬁcult sea to navigate with the appropriate respect, compassion, and consideration for all facets, particularly if you’ve never faced that type of diagnosis yourself. Having said that, I think this is where, for the person who is open to it, tarot would become an invaluable tool for working through some of the psychological, emotional and spiritual difﬁculties. People worry about their families, well lets talk about that, through tarot. People worry about what will happen after they die, we can’t know, but we can do some readings about coming to peace with NOT knowing. I think, like any good therapy session, tarot would be an invaluable tool for coming to terms with a lot of feelings surrounding this at times unfortunate, yet inevitable event, but only when somebody was ready for it.
Q. – My experience with death has been quite brief and I was too involved to perceive it as anything else but a painful event, however, death is to me just as sacred as life. From the perspective of a sensitive person, how does death feel on a spiritual level?
J.F. – This is a tough question, I have seen painful deaths, and I have seen very peaceful ones. I would say on a spiritual level, I have always felt that you can feel when they acknowledge the presence of death in their soul. There is a sort of quiet, calm that comes over people before death occurs. I think often times, people hold onto life for their family’s sake, and this is the most spiritually difﬁcult part of being a witness to death. Even when there is no more talking, no more movement, and the death rattle is upon them; they can hear and worry about their families’ pain. Death is a liminal space, and a sacred one in which it is a time for those around to give dignity to the person who is passing, and to give them permission to let go, that their family will be okay. Death ﬁlls a space, and then leaves shortly after. It is an indescribable thing.
Q. – Does it have something in common, even if in a twisted way, with how does birth feel?
J.F. – Birth, is very much like death in a spiritual sense. Birth is on the same threshold as death, and ﬁlls the space in the same way; full of expectation, uncertainties, and the thread of change. It is like all moments of time culminate in one room, and while there is a different type of anticipation; they feel largely the same.
Q. – How can we approach death as an spiritual, yet physical event in a more positive way?
J.F. – I think the best way we can approach all aspects of death, are to talk about them. Seriously. Talk about them. Talk about the family member who passed with fondness, talk about your own death, talk about what you fear, what you hope for, what you want to have prepared, and what you will do if there is unexpected change and nothing to be done to prepare. I think we can approach the people we know who are facing something terminal, and offer them our silence. It is always up to the person to come forth and have conversation, but I think in offering our love and support via listening, silence, hugs, movie marathons or tarot readings, we are doing a lot more than can be said. A lot of the time, people don’t know what to say- so they say nothing, and that seems to be more hurtful than helpful. Talk about it.
Thank you, Jessica for such a brilliant collaboration. Now, for you are the professional when it comes to the topic, what kind of questions do you think that would enrich the discussion?
J.F. – One of the things that always comes up in my mind is the use of past-life readings; I often see these as a tactic to avoid life as it stands in the present; and how to make the most of our life now (controversial I know). What do you think about past-life readings Maria, do you think that they are a way of avoiding our present life, and even our own inescapable death?
M.A. – I have mixed feelings with everything that takes way our responsibility. The whole past life thing is, under my perspective, just as the soulmate concept, something that is entirely out of control.
More than a way of avoiding our mortality, I see them as a way of avoiding being responsible for our own poor choices. It is easier to think that your life is not working because you are paying a karmic debt for something you did in a past life, than to acknowledge that most probably, your life is not going as expected because of you. However, now that I think about it, there is also a sense of “continuity” in these beliefs. Perhaps a way to feel more important? Like, “What I do in this life, will matter for many lives to come!” As a way not to confront the unconsciousness of death?
J.F. – Do you think that modern tarot readers should approach a reading about their own death at least once in their career?
M.A. – I had never thought of this up to right now, probably as a result of the whole “deathnial” thing. But, hell yes! If we are able to confront such a reading ourselves, we would begin to understand how to effectively work with others.
J.F. – Do you think that death, in tarot, can literally mean death? How would you know if it was pointing to literal death instead of a change?
M.A. – Of course it can. It is not a common happening, but it does happen. Although, thinking about this, I have another question in mind: To what point is it a rare event or we choose to overlook it?
I mean, I know readers that have been reading for years and years and they swear up and down they have never seen death in a reading. Perhaps that is the point, they haven’t seen it, but it was shown to them?
In my experience, whenever a physical death has come up in the cards it has been crystal clear. First of all, in order to distinguish you need to take the context into account. No matter what an ominous combo you get on the table, if you are asking about your job prospects or your new boyfriend, it is certain that we are not talking about actual death. So far I have only seen death in two contexts: Asking straight away and in general readings. In a general reading, to me it hasn’t just been an ominous combo, but it “pops out” of the reading, and I can’t really explain it, but it is something you know.
J.F. – How does the idea of death being a tangible reality change how you will approach your own everyday life?
M.A. – Honestly? It freaks me out, but I am working on it. There are moments when I feel terribly aware that I will die, and the idea of not being anymore causes me anguish, but it is also a motivation. I am a professional procrastinator, and sometimes I just tell myself: You have been laid here for three hours, this is what you want to remember doing in your death bed?
As well, awareness of my mortality helps me take things less seriously. I am not a physical risk taker, I do not enjoy that kind of things, but when it comes to decision making, thinking that no matter what I do, someday it won’t matter, helps me not to beat myself up. I mean, death can be empowering in that way, I usually talk to myself like “Hey Mia, if you screw this up, in a few years nobody will even remember your name, so who cares? And if they do remember your name, you can be sure it won’t be because you did this wrong!”
J.F. – Do you think it is appropriate to communicate with the dead via tarot readings? Or do you think these only give false comfort to the living?
M.A. – I am a strong believer that there is an afterlife, that there are spirits and that one can communicate with them. Usually communication with the dead through Tarot cards is something that is pretty much symbolic, so the individual who is seeking answers or communication is probably the most indicated person to proceed with that reading. It is not like mediumship or something, it is more of an internal conversation with your ancestors.
I do not have a strong opinion about whether or not it should be done, in this case, whatever works for you is fine. However, I do have a suggestion: Most of the times I have dealt with this kinds of situations, conversations with the other side are mainly for forgiveness purposes. People, say your “sorrys”!
J.F. – In what ways can individuals who are not in the medical community commit to promoting more death positive conversation?
M.A. – Death is a reality for everyone. Diagnosis and treatment of illnesses are for medical professionals, but there is no way of hiding from death. Acknowledging it, talking about it, sharing our fears, asking questions, this is how we can contribute to it. Quoting Meet Joe Black, “Death and Taxes.” The unavoidable fate of humankind!
How is being curious about something that will certainly happen to me, to you, to every single living being (except for the immortal jellyfish!) morbid or inappropriate? If we can just start to have conversations about death, I’m sure we can come up with ways of making it more approachable. Don’t get me wrong, it is not like “Yay! I am thrilled that I will die!” But avoiding the topic will not prevent it from happening.
Now focusing on the Tarot Community, we have an invaluable tool that serves as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual world. If we stop avoiding death as a valid topic, magic can happen!
Have you enjoyed this post? I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and questions on the matter! How do you bring death positivity to Tarot? What scares you of death? Let me know!