Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tarot of the Dead & Past-Life & Karmic Tarot

Tarot of the Dead, Monica Knighton, Llewellyn Publishing 2004
The deck I'm going to share today is the Tarot of the Dead, by Monica Knighton, published in 2004 by Llewellyn (currently out of print, I believe).  The theme of this deck is the Day of the Dead, with motifs that hark back to early 20th century Mexico.  The imagery is skeletons, with one exception which I'll explain in a moment.

The Minor Arcana is not graphical - it is pips only (with some subtle cues other than number of pips included), and the suits involve iconic early 20th century symbols:  Wands are Pens - signifying creative energy,  Cups are Coffins - the containers of the Dead, Swords are Pistols (instrument of conflict and hopefully not an alternative to applying thought), and Coins are Reels - as in movie reels, harking back to the early days of Hollywood.  Movies capture the 'real world' which is the realm of the material.

Because of the lack of imagery, it is necessary to read the minor arcana from the context of understanding its numerical and suit energy, making it less intuitive than some decks.  I am going to be honest and say that I don't care for this particular deck's interpretation of each suit element, and when I read with this I either try to ignore the imagery of the suits entirely or - more likely - just put the Minor Arcana away and work with it as a Major Arcana only deck.  For the most part, this deck is in the category of 'novelty deck' only for me, although I enjoy it on those terms.

The card I want to highlight is the exception I mentioned above - Death, perversely, is the sole card depicting a living person.  Death here is seen as a blond woman, clearly vibrant and alive, heavily pregnant.  I find this charming, and it makes sense to me why it is - this isn't just a Tarot deck about death, it is the Tarot OF the Dead.  That is, it is from the perspective of those who have died, just as Dead of the Dead skeletons tend to show those who have passed on continuing to lead 'normal' life as skeletons.

So what would be the death of someone that is dead?  This makes me think that perhaps if reincarnation is in play, the death of one dead is to be born into a new life and forgetting who you are.  This is the transformation of one who is dead, irrevocably 'killing' them as they are now.

With that in mind, I decided to use the book Past-Life & Karmic Tarot, by Edain McCoy to further explore this deck.  This book was also published in 2004 by Llewellyn, and is also out of print, I believe.  Most of its spreads are long and complicated - as perhaps an exploration of a past life and karmic issues ought to be, and obviously, they'd be of use primarily to those who subscribe to past life and karma AND wish to seek insight into a previous life.

But - they are also very good, only slightly modified, if one finds themselves in a pattern they wish to alter and need help understanding the cause and effect of how they got there.  Additionally, storytellers wishing to use Tarot to explore a character's backstory and motivation could do worse than applying a few of these spreads to their character and seeing what comes up.

Because most of the spreads are so complex, I chose the least long one I could find, and decided to tackle it as a thumbnail sketch of a fictional character that might be the basis for a story if I chose to flesh it out and give her a plot.

This is called the Dark Moon Spread.  It is composed of 3 cards, with an optional 4th.  For storytelling, I'd go with the 4th card, because a story without any tension isn't very satisfying, although it's sort of nice to have a life with disruptive tensions resolved!

Dark Moon Spread

'to show you what is hidden from you in terms of karma from a past life and how  that karma will manifest if you stay in your same course in your current life'

1.  Unresolved Past Life Issue
 A major issue or event from a past life that remains unresolved in your present life.
X La Rueda de la Fortuna (The Wheel of Fortune)

We can see here a skeleton riding a penny-farthing bicycle, surrounded by imagery pointing to the four seasons.  The song "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" comes to mind here for me.  Our character was a rambler who never stayed put, never established roots and probably did a lot of gambling - possibly with a pattern of skipping town when a bet didn't work out in his favor.  It looks like a rather free and easy life - but it may not have made him a good gamble for anyone wanting or needing to be involved with him.

2. Karmic Debt
Something hidden from you in your current life related to the incident in Card 1, in which a major karmic debt was incurred.
4 de Plumas (4 of Pens/Wands)

The way this was worded didn't work for me very well, so I rephrased the explanation: The karmic debt incurred in this life from  the unresolved issue in Card 1.

Here we have the 4 of Pens.  Since it is non-visual, we want to look at the numeric and suit meaning.  Pens/Wands have to do with creative fire, inspiration, desire and the will.  Fours are about stability of the suit - so the 4 of Pens has to do with stability of the desires.  Traditionally, the 4 of Wands is about home and hearth, and weddings (and other family milestone celebrations). It's what our Rolling Stone deliberately eschewed in his previous life.  And so, in this one, our character's Karmic Debt - the thing that must be corrected and learned - is how to create a safe haven for herself and family, how to embrace and protect the harmony and wellbeing of the home.  A Karmic Debt is likely to come out as struggles - challenges the person must overcome.

And so we have a motivation for this character - how to establish a safe and happy homelife, how to avoid taking off when things get difficult, how to allow herself to get attached to others without feeling like it is a leash?

3. Outcome of current path
The outcome of Card 2, if you continue on your current life without changing course.  If you are happy with this outcome, you may be already on the path toward wisdom and learned the lesson of your karmic debt.  If you dislike this outcome, draw a 4th card.
3 de Pistolas (3 of Pistols/Swords)

Here again, we have to look at the card according to its elements - 3s are the first full manifestation of the suit, so the energy is at full-throttle, and also not always particularly matured.  Pistols/Swords are thought, logic and tend to be also about conflict of various sorts.  I think we all know that words and attitudes can, indeed, be weapons.

The 3 of Swords is often depicted at as a heart punctured by three swords - it is heartbreak, but of a specific sort, where the unvarnished truth pierces you to your very core.

For our character, this is where the Karmic Debt of needing to stop running away from attachment and allowing herself to build a life with others and to let herself regard somewhere as 'home' is.  This is the crisis  of the story.  She has come to a realization that home and family HURTS.... and that it is also something she badly wants and needs for herself.  She is at a place where she can't run anymore to numb the pain of loneliness.... she has to be willing to walk into the fire to keep people she realizes she loves.

Clearly, no good place to end this tale - so we draw that fourth card.

4. Solution
How to overcome your karmic debt in this lifetime - positive change you can make now.
VI Los Enamorados (the Lovers)

Not much of a surprise, eh?  Classically, the Lovers card isn't just about loving - it's about making choices based on love. Often the choice is about what is right only for you, and what is right for others. What is  the ethical thing to do, versus the self-centered thing to do.

Our character has a lifelong struggle with not running away or sabotaging relationships when they get complicated. Their challenge in this lifetime is to be able to be in a family and within a secure home - once they see this as something they want rather than a trap to be avoided, it will stop being so hard.  They've recently come to realize that this is something  they truly want - that far from finding the open road 'freeing', it is lonely and 'homeless'.  The people they love and wish to be with have been found, and perhaps they've realized that they have self-destructively pushed others away and set out to unconsciously ruin the relationship they've built.

So here is their answer - stop being that Rolling Stone, and start acting like a Lover.  Put others first.  Be willing to hang onto them, be willing to be 'smitten'.  Be willing to choose what's best for you and others instead of operating out of avoidance.

Such a story would be pretty much a classic romance - I can alsmost see the formulaic movie motive in the last 5 minutes where one character realizes they simply cannot lose the other and chases  them at breakneck speed to say so before they get on that plane and disappear forever.  Probably this is popular as it is because so many people attempt to protect their heart by never giving it, effectively creating for themselves the heartache they're attempting to avoid.

'Til next time!
~ Lynda


  1. Love your interpretation of the lovers. I agree with you (perhaps because I've done, I've been the girl running back out of the plane after realizing that I was going to do something dumb). Wow, how freeing that is... to say those words. Not so easy a year or so ago. When it was happening we used to call it The Dark Times--the period of my indecision. Now, I look back, and see it as very bright ;-)

  2. I loved the images in this deck but the Wheel of Fortune as a penny farthing was such a delight I laughed out loud! What a wonderful idea and how apt. The Wheel is about rising and falling, just like trying to ride one of those things. Lovely!