Tarot came into my life by way of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who read for me fortuitously during a very wild and swirly time in my life more than a decade ago. Soon afterwards, I purchased my first deck. the collective tarot, made by a bundle of queer artists in 2007 (out of print). A lot of people think tarot cards are a tool of divination, a way to see what comes next. I see tarot cards as truth-tellers, witnesses, and mirrors.
Navigating Your Grief Through the Wisdom of Tarot
The History of Tarot Cards
Where does tarot originate? To whom does it belong? Is it ok to use? Honestly, I don’t know for sure. Some sources say it originated in Egypt, others China. Some claim it as a Roma tradition, while others name Kabbalah as the source text. Western historians swear it’s European in origin, specifically from Italy. So far, I’m holding these conflicting stories as all holding some truth; knowing that this tradition has been transmitted, transmuted, translated, traded, and taught by several cultures through generations, and is constantly being adapted.
As far as I have been able to learn, use of Tarot is not a closed cultural or religious practice. Because of complex histories of migration, theft, and colonization, folks who don’t have these practices in their direct lineage should, in my opinion, proceed with care, curiosity, and respect, and seek to learn from (and cite and pay) Tarot teachers and readers who are marginalized. Some of the people I look to for wisdom and leadership include Cyrée, Eroca, Leah, Aunty K, Asali, and Steph.
What Are Tarot Cards?
Most decks are 78 cards, split into the major and minor arcana– the minor arcana resembles a deck of playing cards, ace to ten in four suits, which correspond to the four elements, and some face cards/court cards. The minor arcana is sometimes called the Fool’s Journey, a representation of a learning/transformation process or narrative, beginning with the Fool, ending with the World, with Death (transformation) as the midpoint.
None of these Tarot cards are The End, especially not Death.
A lot of people think of tarot cards as a tool of divination, a way to see what comes next. This is a completely legitimate and common use of the cards, but it isn’t really what I do. Most often, I use tarot to clarify what’s happening *right now*. The cards are truth-tellers, witnesses, and mirrors.
Below you’ll find a list of the cards in the major arcana, and a reflection question or a snack-sized piece of grieving advice for each one. Grief is a chaotic spiral, not a straight line, so this isn’t a chronology of a mourning process, it’s more like a fractal. You might visit one of these points a lot more often than the others. You might stay in one place for a while, then skip a bunch of the others. None of these Tarot cards are The End, especially not Death.
Shuffling the Tarot Deck
If you have a deck, I invite you to shuffle it and flip a card, and then take the corresponding advice, if it resonates. If you don’t have a deck, give dice a roll and check out the number that comes up. Use a random number generator, or just pick one that feels right for you.
You don’t know what you’re doing and that’s perfect; you’ll figure it out as you go. Bring snacks.
You have resources and skills. Even if you’ve never grieved before, you’ve done other hard stuff. What can you borrow from other experiences (breakups, moving, job changes, etc)?
The High Priestess
The world around you would like you to “get over it” (and likely, get back to being “productive” asap) but that’s actually so fucked. Trust your guts and your feelings. Reach backwards for ancestral practices.
How will you signal/flag to others what you want and need? Do you have to play a certain role right now? How can you intentionally prepare for that role and also let it go? How can clothing, jewelry, or other signifiers support you in doing what you need and also letting others know what to expect?
Connect with people with authority and/or experience (bosses, elders, spiritual leaders, artists/books/music) and get their point of view, but don’t accept it wholecloth. There are parts of it you need, but not all of it is right for you. Filter!
The hardest way is not always the best way. You are allowed to choose what feels good, what is easy, what makes you feel safe, connected, and sweet.
Some days you’re going to be impressive and productive, and some days you might not be able to get out of bed. Neither of these are cause for pride or shame– they’re just different moments. Neither one is forever, and the most painful thing might be ignoring what your body is telling you about what kind of day today is.
Surrender surrender surrender surrender.
Take a little time alone, not to netflix and dissociate, but to really be with what’s there. You don’t have to pretend to be okay.
The Wheel of Fortune
The only thing that we can know for sure is that things will not remain exactly as they are. No feeling is forever. Octavia knows– everything you touch you change, all that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change.
Break a difficult silence. Say the truth out loud, even if you’re pretty sure no one wants to hear it.
The Hanged Man
When things feel really stuck, find a way to make a tiny choice. Your options might be frustratingly limited right now, but you still get to choose.
Things are changing– and so are you. You’re transforming! What are you leaving behind? What are you becoming?
Slow the heck down! Be more gentle. Get help or advice from a friend whose skills are super different from yours.
It is very likely that you are not the problem. Is there a way that a structural or societal force is impacting you (but wearing the disguise called “Your Fault”)? Is what’s happening actually just misogyny, transphobia, racism, weight bias, ableism, etc?
This is the realest shit. Bad news, something difficult revealed. Even so, it is better to know than not to know. What happens when you acknowledge how hard this is?
You are not alone in this. Likely, there are people who care about you who want to help. Let them! If you don’t feel like those people exist, or reaching out to them doesn’t feel possible, then lean on the resources that are *always* there for you. There is nothing water can’t hold. The ground will bring you back no matter how far you leap. There is nothing you could say that would make a tree want to leave you. You will never hurt the sky with your screaming. You are not alone.
Things might feel really intense, maybe a little out of control? Make some art about it. It doesn’t have to be good, and you don’t have to show it to anyone.
Not everything about endings is bad. Is there some relief you’re feeling? You’re allowed to feel it!! Have you been released from the mental and physical load of caregiving? Or just the complicated emotional experience of waiting? What little space has opened up because of this loss, and what might you like to do with that opening?
How is this experience revealing more to you about who and how you are? What has surprised you about your own feelings, responses, needs, or process? Is there stuff in there you want to hold on to? Stuff you want to shift or let go of? You can. But you’ll have to do it on purpose.
Honestly, have a dang dance party. Whether in a sweaty club or alone in your kitchen, find a way to remember how much joy and pleasure your body can hold. You are still here, and that’s good.