Cartomancy and the Lessons of Life and Death

by Anna

Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Lisa Freinkel Tishman, PhD, author of the new Mindful Tarot.

Lisa Freinkel Tishman, PhDLately I’ve been drawn to playing cards, and to a very simple cartomancy. Each day I’ve been drawing a card from a simple deck of playing cards. As a Tarot reader, I’ve been loving the smaller format of a 52 card, poker-sized deck—and exulting in what the card company calls the “air cushion” feel of the plasticized card stock. But more than these tactile delights, what’s been thrilling is to read my life each day through the cards, and to read the cards through my life. Beginning with a very loose sense of number and suit drawn from my work with the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) Tarot, I then open myself to the associations that the day itself brings.

Today was a case in point. My card was the 10 of Spades. In the RWS deck, this card corresponds to the 10 of Swords: a card that points toward devastation and ego death. The 10 of Swords suggests the kind of self-transcendence that busts us (often very painfully) out of our stasis.

In a playing card deck, the arrangement of the pips reveals a slightly different quality. The 10 of Spades is noteworthy for its symmetry and evenness: two lines of four suit elements flank a deuce of spades. Moreover, the deuce consists in one upturned and one down-turned spade. The tips of the two spades point respectively upwards and downwards. I find myself thinking about a spade as a tool, a shovel, for digging in the earth. In turn the spade-as-shovel reminds me of the grave. I find myself thinking about death and spirit—about dust and open sky.

An hour or so after drawing this card, I find myself at the side of a dying man. I am a hospital chaplain, and this man has had a stroke. He has decided to give up treatment and to go on hospice. For the most part, he has lost the ability to speak. His sentences are only one word long. But he is crystal clear in his intention. He reaches his hand out to me, gripping it warmly, and gazing into my eyes gently. He tells me that he’s “ready” and that he’s “going.” And he speaks one word again and again as he holds my hand: “Peace.” Peace. Peace.

In the RWS deck the 10 of Swords seems terrifying and desolate. But today I learned that the 10 of Spades is the card of peace.

Our thanks to Lisa for her guest post! For more from Lisa Freinkel Tishman, PhD, read her article, “Tarot: Looking at Both the Mundane and the Divine.”

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