As an End of Life Doula Student at The Anam Cara Academy and psycho-spiritual tarot reader I am constantly looking at ways in which we can heal from grief. I have been actively using tarot in my own spiritual practice for eleven years after being inspired by fellow tarot reader Kelly-Ann Maddox but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to use it to work through my own anxiety around death. It had become a welcome tool in my own mental health tool kit, so when my grandmother died in October of 2019 I found myself laying out the cards across my bedroom floor and sorting my way through the first installment of loss.
The tarot has been used by a few brave psychologists such as Dr. Arthur Rosengarten to work with willing and open-minded clients. It can be used for reflection, memory retrieval, and integrating the subconscious with the conscious part of ourselves to name just a few uses. All of the archetypes and elements of the human condition can be found within the rich images of the tarot which provide an excellent baseboard for interpretation of the psyche.
When the Coronavirus pandemic began, even with all of my previous work surrounding death, I still found myself filled with anxiety, so much so that my sleep pattern changed and I began compulsively looking up the statistics. I had to remind myself to slow it down and get to the root of my own anxiety. I began at the surface by asking myself, “What am I worried about right now?” The answer was simple: dying and the people I love dying. I prompted myself to go deeper, “what next?” Again the answer came to me: Living a life that is unfulfilled. Suddenly getting to the end and never having lived. Missing the point of it all. Missing the love and moments with those who mean the world to me.
I believe when something as big and as devastating as the Coronavirus happens everyone is confronted with their own mortality. It becomes like an unwanted dinner guest that won’t seem to leave. Our survival instincts take over and our senses become heightened. Often, if we have not dealt with how we feel about death in it’s totality, we will become panicked at the face of it. During this time many people are experiencing grief and heartache over the loss of a loved one. As a collective we are experiencing a mourning of the life we lived before social distancing measures were put into place. Depression, shame, frustration, anxiety, and unease are just some of the symptoms that can be experienced by social distancing. Although we logically may understand it is good for our continued survival, we can’t help but experience the effects of limited contact as social creatures.
With so much going on it may seem counterintuitive to talk openly about death but that is exactly what the death positive movement argues is needed. We all die, every single one of us, and to pretend as if it wont happen one day creates even more fear and closed door communication. In an article written for Healthline Dr. Robert Neimeyer of the Portland Institute for Loss and transition is quoted as saying “it’s a way of moving toward a neutral acceptance of death and embracing values which make us more conscious of our day-to-day living.”
When we are able to talk openly about death we better equip ourselves not only to handle it when our time comes, but to help those we love through the transition. We are able to understand how best to prepare for death, have compassion for the dying, and confront our own denial. If as individuals we haven’t worked through our own denial of death we cannot properly care for a dying family member, our conscious mind may know what is happening, but subconsciously we will be running away from the reality of it, making us unable to be fully present in the moment.
So how would tarot help us in the way we death with and think about death?
The 78 cards from the Fool to the Ten of Swords can teach us something about our relationship with death. When the cards are laid and reflected upon they can be open doorways into the habits, actions, and decisions we make on a daily basis. When confronted with the idea of death, would we still make the same decisions or take the same action? Tarot allows us to zoom out of personal view and look at our lives from an all encompassing perspective.
Many of the tarot cards themselves show depictions of death, destruction, and loss. These are natural parts of nature and human existence. These visual representations aren’t something to be feared but something to be confronted and worked through for a better understanding of ourselves.
One way someone can use tarot to work through their anxiety around death, or destructive behaviors around their fear of death is to begin working with the Major Arcana. The visuals in the cards will bring up memories and insight that begin the journey inward. Sit with the cards pulling one after the other and with a journal begin to write down what comes to you, continue writing without stopping yourself. This process can be done through twenty minute intervals or in an hour sitting.
You can also work strictly with a specific suit. The tarot comes with four suits: Cups, Wands, Coins, and Swords. Each hold their own meaning: Emotion, Action, Health/Wealth, and Intellect. By separating the suits you can focus on one area of your life and break it down in a deeper more condensed way. By asking yourself how death affects you in each area you can overcome the way fear manifests itself in your relationships, emotions, projects, career, and thinking patterns.
There are many ways to work with the tarot. When I work with clients often we begin by identifying one area to tap into and often through the process of pulling the cards other underlying areas will be revealed. By changing the we talk about death, we eventually change the way we care for the dying, and carry out end-of-life services. We begin to see our own limitations, boundaries, and emotional processes and find ways to be more free and present in the lives we are living. Working with the tarot in a death positive way changes our perspective and the smallest moments become highly significant. It pulls us away from the fast pace over extended versions of our lives and back to practicing gratitude on a daily basis.
Nothing is a greater teacher about the nature of life than death and dying.
The Anam Cara Academy can be found at www.connectanamcara.com