Iduna´s Apples

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Bad cards (Part One)

Is there such a thing as a bad card in the Tarot?

Yes and no.

I know that´s not really an answer.

There are definitely cards in a Tarot deck that cause almost universal fear or disgust, the kind of cards when you just want to ignore them and reshuffle the deck, right?
Among them are: Death, The Tower, The Devil, Seven of Swords, Eight of Swords, Nine Of Swords, Ten of Swords

Actually many cards of the suit of sword leave us with a squishy feeling because the have a bend towards negativity. After all, the sword unlike the wand, pentacle or chalice is a weapon, an instrument of death. Swords were forged to kill and that I find that reflected in the suit of swords many times.

But the real question is, are these cards bad? And how do we deal with them when they show up in a reading?

The Tarot is a mirror of life. The cards and their symbolism reflect the human condition, our experiences, our triumphs and failures and the people we meet and interact with on our journey. From that perspective ignoring the cards we are afraid of is in vain as we are actually ignoring reality. We stick our head in the sand, pretending that what we don´t see is not there or will pass without affecting us. This very unlikely to work. If the light is read and you cross the street anyway, a car is likely to hit you whether you wear a paper bag over your head or not and when it does it will hurt whether you saw it coming or not.
So let us say that ignoring cards we feel uncomfortable with is an option in theory but not really a good one in practice. Now if we acknowledge the cards that are dealt in a reading what can we do to cope with the baddies mentioned above (and some more)?

Since the dear, the disappointment and the anxiety are known to me as well let me rant about my approach a bit. Perhaps it is useful for you as well.

Here is the first card I would like to stare right into the face.


 That is him, the Grim Reaper, the skeleton in black armor. Death is the great equalizer, arguably one of the two moments in life when we are all equal. Talking about death, even thinking about our own demise is a social taboo. It is plainly something we re “deadly” afraid of and of course this stigma transfers consciously or subconsciously to the card. It stirs all the deep-rooted and deeply buried (forgive the unintentional pun) fears about the end of our lives.

Or shall I say the end of our lives – as we know it?

This is probably the first misconception about the Death card that needs to be dispelled. The card does NOT signify the physical death of anyone. There is no card in the Tarot that actually foretells that someone is going to die in a literal sense.

What the Death card signifies is transformation and change and since we are all creatures of habit that is scary enough for us. We are set in our ways and our routines, rituals and patterns. We are fixed in our mindsets. That is why it is called a mindSET. Even if the circumstances of our lives are less than what we long for, we more often than not accept the devil we know instead of embracing chance. Even our physical bodies have a certain built-in inertia, an energy conserving program that makes us expend energy only to fight or flee. 

So even if we know that DEATH is not physical dying our resistance to the card remains because change is a little death and unpleasant in itself. To make it worse Death does not take excuses. You cannot say to the skeleton “Come back next fiscal year. I´m too busy for you now.”  Death and change come at their own time and if you resist you get trampled down like the king on the Death card who thought he could exercise power to resist the skeleton.

Death and change in inevitable but in this fact also lies a great chance. You can embrace them, you can ride the wave, roll with the punch (pick the figure of speech you like) and come out on top of the situation. The bishop and the child face death with curiosity and calmness.

The child knows no fear yet, it explores everything with unbridled joy and an open mind and the bishop has learned to overcome fear through wisdom and experience.

There is one figure in the card I have not yet addressed and that is the young maiden who seems to look away from the skeleton yet smiles at it shyly at the same time. We live in a world that has elevated youth to a divine status. The world belongs to those who are young, successful, vibrant, rich and full of energy. They are our role models, they are the ones who get the best parts in Hollywood, they are tech-savvy and the ones who get the best jobs. They are plain modern and cool. But the state of youth is a temporal one. Last time I checked thirty years of age was the generally accepted breaking point between youth and adulthood. What comes afterwards? Well, death occurs. The transformation from youth to adulthood to middle age to old age is always a little death. Each time we cross a threshold. We get wrinkles and grey hair too and billions of dollars are made each year to disguise that fact through layers of make-up and anti-ageing products.

But how bad is an advanced age in reality? Is it something that we need fear? To begin with, no matter how much we fear the aging process it is going to happen anyway. Change is inevitable. We can mask our age but time marches on whether we like it or not. Chance is inevitable and comes at its own time. I know what I´m talking about. I´m already middle-aged and out of the demographic group that is most interesting for advertisement and marketing.

So we do age, no matter what. But again is it all bad? Is it even something to

be ashamed of or something to fear? I answer all these questions with a resounding NOW!

It is not a rumor but a fact of life that while we accumulate years and mileage we also accumulate experience. Unless you are absolutely shallow – and I doubt you are if you are reading this – you learned something every time you walked around the block and came back a little wiser. In the age of instant access to the internet we have forgotten that those who have ben on the third rock from the sun a little longer can often teach us something. They are the hermits, kings and queens of the Tarot deck. Yes, there was a knowledge transfer even before the world wide web and it happened orally from one generation to the other. The passing of knowledge from the elder to the younger was once the norm rather than the exception. So the older generations still fulfill an important function as seen in many retired professionals who coach other in their fields of experience. That is the kind of transition from feeling old to feeling young again that the Death card facilitates and suddenly age is really just a number.

Only problem is that today even more perhaps than in the past the younger need a certain maturity to listen in the first place. I know, I was there too about thirty years ago. But again these attitudes do change too for the better and I thank the universe for the little ego death.

That is what the Death card is really about, the passing of an ego (trip) or a role that we used to occupy and that we no longer can or want to fulfill.

But even if I consider the idea of physical death, there is another fact that makes the Death card a little more comforting and it comes from my shamanic experiences. You may have to take my word for it for now but today I *know* beyond a shadow of doubt that only our physical form dies when we pass on. There is a part of us that is indestructible and immortal that moves on into a new life.

The part that stinks a bit is that we have to leave all our old memories  at the entrance when we walk into the next one. But even those memories can be recovered when the time is right. If you look at the Death card again, the river, the ship, they go somewhere. There is something beyond the towers where the sun sets and the skeleton in black armor, he is not the end but merely the gatekeeper.

We cannot avoid the encounters with our little ego deaths but we can control how we react to it and if we react with calmness, wisdom and a little curiosity we might actually be able to befriend the armored rider.

And now on to the next bad boy in the deck….

… the great adversary ….

… The Devil ….

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