Upon re-reading my trumps-generated list of topics in the February 22 blog piece, the topic that stands out for me in this moment is Palliative Tarot.
If someone who knew that they were in the process of dying called upon me in my capacity as tarot consultant, how would I handle it? What would I do? What might their session look like? If at all, how might taking the tarot into their experience be of value?
I’m not sure that there would be anything to “handle”. What an honour to be invited into the presence of one of life’s significant rites of passage.
What would I do? First, let me address what I would not do. I would not use the tarot for forecasting or prediction; we would already be aware of what’s on the way. I’d do my best to not impose my worldview about death and dying on the person. I would not launch into any “There, there, you’re going to a better place soon” speech. How insulting to talk about something that isn’t a certainty. So, what would I do? I would listen to the person, draw out what’s on hir mind and in hir heart about what they’re experiencing, ask them what brings them to the tarot at this time, jot down key points that seem fruitful to explore. If what emerges seems to want to be turned into a spread, I would co-create questions for that spread with the querent. I would give them time and space to look at decks so we could use the one(s) that are most appealing to them. The co-creation of questions and the selection of a deck(s) would provide an element of choice for the person, a couple of the few things about which they might feel they have any power to choose.
Their session might look like a typical reading in which we hold a dialogue about the cards that turn up in the spread positions we generate. Or the session might be something more free-flowing; they might ask a question and pull a card and we’ll talk about it, then allow that to inspire another question for which we would draw a second card, and so on. Another way that the consultation could unfold would be to simply invite the dying person to look through the face-up tarot pack and sort the cards into piles that make sense to them according to colours, characters, moods, or actions depicted in the images. They would take their time creating these categories, then telling stories about each in turn, allowing both sweet and bitter memories to emerge. I would ask them honest, open-ended questions about each story and notice where that takes them then gently summarise what I hear in each tale so they would know that someone heard them. The process of sharing stories plus the ability to choose which cards belong together according to personal preference would again bring in an empowering sense of autonomy about something in their life. I might pull a card at random at the end of the consultation to respond to the question, “What does Name most need to hold in hir heart and mind about all of this?” to help tie together loose ends.
Then again, the dying person’s needs may prescribe something that’s very different to what I’ve outlined here, so we’d carry out what the moment called for.
All of this would be of value to the person by, as suggested above, giving hir a sense that s/he is still capable of making some choices, has autonomy in how s/he remembers and learns from hir own life stories, and has been witnessed in a respectful, sacred manner. This can be a rich, centring way to honour the deathing journey.
I realise that this is only the tip of the iceberg of a potentially larger topic, so I invite readers of this blog piece to add ideas, questions, and techniques to the ones I’ve offered here.
Image: Trump XIII, Death, from the Margarete Petersen Tarot