Category Archives: Halloween Tarot

Happy Halloween!

As an October baby, I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday, in fact. I have enough Halloween decorations to adorn two houses, and enough Halloween clothing to wear for the entire month of October.

This year has been strange, though, in that I don’t even have a pumpkin to carve, and I haven’t worn a stitch of holiday-themed clothing until today. I can’t attribute this lack of preparation and celebration to any one cause; rather, it seems to be the cumulative result of a number of small circumstances that have been piling up all fall.

Today is THE day, however, the high festival of The Great Pumpkin himself. I am wearing orange socks adorned with black spiders and white webs, a candy corn-covered turtleneck, and an orange t-shirt with a jack-o-lantern face. I have a huge stash of candy for this evening’s visitors, and I baked pumpkin bread. Some of my daughter’s friends will gather here after school to eat Monster Burgers and Butterscotch Brooms before trick-or-treating; my son plans to canvas the neighborhood as a some form of dead Roman. I think I’ll mull some cider (maybe add a little bourbon?) to take off the chill as I answer the door.

Because Halloween is descended from Samhain, an old new year’s festival, I thought it would be fun to do a new year’s reading with my favorite cards, the Halloween Tarot. I even invented my own spread (with inspiration from Christine Jette’s Tarot for All Seasons and Monica’s Tarot in a Teacup).

Seeds for a Fruitful New Year (card layout)

Apples are a fall fruit, despite the fact that the global market means we can get them year-round. They belong to the botanical family Rosaceae, which is characterized by flowers with radial symmetry and five parts: sepals, petals, and in the case of apples, ovaries. If you slice an apple in half across the middle, you will see that the ovaries form a five-pointed star around the core, and each ovary contains a seed.  I used this as the basis of my layout, which I call my Apple Spread for the New Year.

The first card is the core, that which is at the center. I drew the Hanged Man, which the Halloween Tarot pictures as the Scarecrow, that  brave and brilliant thinker from Oz. The two birds also allude to Odin (who was accompanied by two ravens) hanging on the World Tree to gain the wisdom of the runes. This card is about wisdom — not knowledge — won through patience. Being upside-down gives one a different perspective, so this card also speaks of the wisdom to be gained by shifting one’s point of view.

The second card is the seed of what needs to be accepted. I drew the Five of Bats, which depicts a bully stealing and hoarding that which belongs to others. I take this to suggest that greed and avarice will continue to predominate a lot of behavior over the next twelve months. If we recognize that these base motives are behind many of the world’s ills, we may be better prepared to combat them.

The third card is the seed of what needs to be released. I drew the Six of Bats, which is about moving on. This card always seems a little sad to me; the people in the boat look forlorn, but that might well be a projection of my own reluctance to let things go. We don’t see any faces in this picture — perhaps the passengers are smiling, looking ahead to what lies before them. The buildings on the shore are brightly lit and inviting, and the woman holds a carved jack-o-lantern on her lap — they could be on their way to a Halloween party! Maybe the thing we need to let go of is our fear and pessimism.

The fourth card is the seed of what needs to be kept. I drew the Queen of Ghosts, whose throne sits on land though she is a mermaid. She represents the capacity to feel deeply and to nurture emotional connection with others. Those seem like good things indeed to hold onto.

The fifth card is the seed of what needs to be focused on. I drew the Four of Ghosts, reversed. Some people don’t bother with reversals, but I like the additional challenge they bring to a reading. This card is about apathy, particularly the kind that arises from self-imposed isolation. The youth in the picture is literally surrounded by friendly spirits, but seems closed off to them and their ministrations. I read this reversal to suggest that we focus on turning this trend on it’s head — be more attuned to those who are reaching out to us, and be the one who reaches out to break the isolation of others.

The sixth card is the seed of what needs to be learned. I drew the Queen of Bats, who holds the sword of discernment in one hand and welcomes a bat, image of thought guided by listening, with the other. In the next year, let us learn how to listen with care and intelligence, and learn how to welcome and nurture the role such listening plays in discernment and sound judgement.

Enjoy your Halloween celebrations, whatever form they take, and husband the seeds that have been planted in your life so that they bear good fruit!

(All card images from The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West.)

5 Nov 12 update: I’ve decided to rename this spread Seeds for a Fruitful New Year.

Hiero what?

One of my favorite cards from the Halloween Tarot is the Hierophant, which features my old friend the Mummy. I find this especially delightful because the traditional imagery for this card doesn’t do much for me: some overdressed priestly person (often a pope) seated stiffly on a throne, with servants or followers fawning at his feet. Yawn.

From the Halloween Tarot by Kipling West

In the Halloween Tarot, the Mummy sits on a throne, but he’s unadorned, simply wrapped in his bandages. He is seated comfortably, elbows resting on the arms of the throne, and the way his toes turn in makes him look even a little shy. The green cats at his feet seem more interested in playing with his trailing bandages than in fawning, and the black cat perched on his shoulders appears poised to leap down and join the fun.

Things are about to get interesting, and the jackal heads that top the oversized canopic jars flanking the throne seem to know it, as does the grinning jack-o-lantern impaled on the papal cross. But the Mummy isn’t concerned with any of that — his gaze is f0cused on us.

There’s a certain irony in choosing the Mummy to illustrate this card. By definition, a hierophant is one who interprets and explains sacred mysteries. While the Mummy is no doubt privy to all kinds of arcane knowledge, his tongue was cut out before he was mummified; in his current form, he is unable to speak. How, then, is he to share his hard-won personal knowledge about the mysteries of life and death?

Perhaps that is the point: some things must be experienced, cannot truly be taught, and should not be interpreted for us by another. The Mummy as Hierophant reminds us to be careful of granting authority to others, especially when it comes to the great mysteries. He also serves as a warning that knowledge misused may produce terrible consequences.

And thus the question may be answered: the Mummy can teach us through the example of his own story, simply by sitting there and looking us straight in the eye.

Thinking about tarot

I haven’t always liked tarot. For a time, I viewed it as a terrifying incarnation of evil. My understanding of many things changed as I aged, and I eventually reached a point where I stopped avoiding tarot with superstitious fervor. I was no longer philosophically opposed to it, but I wasn’t much interested in it either.

From the Halloween Tarot by Kipling West

I’ve long been a fan of classic monster movies, so when I came across Kipling West’s Halloween Tarot, with its cartoon clarity, bright colors, and iconic monsters, I was smitten. Anything that so lovingly featured my old friends Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Bride, and the Mummy was worth a second look. The images are populated with costumed trick-or-treaters, jack-o-lanterns, friendly ghosts, and black cats. I couldn’t resist! The Halloween Tarot became my first deck and remains one of my favorites.

Now that I realized tarot didn’t have to be mystical or sinister or take itself so seriously, I was intrigued. I found all sorts of fun and fanciful decks, from baseball to Harry Potter to Alice in Wonderland. I found decks whose images could be hanging in a museum and decks whose art could be featured on Saturday morning cartoons. Who knew there was so much beauty and variety in a bunch of cards?

I have come to enjoy tarot like I do art, film, literature, music, dreams. I appreciate the layers of meaning such things have, the way they reflect life back to me, the way my soul sometimes resonates with them. I don’t believe tarot has mystical powers, but I know it sometimes makes me smile or gives me pause. And that, to me, is reason enough to like it.

Ace of Bats

From The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West

From The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West

Today’s card is the Ace of Bats. In the Halloween Tarot deck, Bats correspond to the traditional suit of Swords. Swords is customarily associated with the element of air, and is seen as representing the mysterious realms of the mind. Bats are obviously creatures of the air, and the erratic appearance of their flight strongly resembles the way in which our minds flutter from one thought to the next.

Aces are beginning cards, representing abstract principles on which their suits are based. Truth is the fundamental principle on which activities in the realm of thought and the mind are based. Truth is both the goal of reasoning and its starting place.

Look at the card: a single bat hangs suspended from a purple hand, which emerges from a cloud. The bat is at rest, but alert—its eyes and ears are trained on the viewer. One wing is open: the bat is showing us something, inviting us to look closer.

This card is about truth. Like the bat, truth is not always pretty or pleasant, and there is usually more to it than meets the eye. Facing the truth requires a certain amount of courage, and we can sometimes find courage by arming ourselves with the truth. The dark side, or reversed meaning, of this card, therefore, would be cowardice. This shadow meaning is always present, no matter what the orientation of the card; many find that the shadow meaning is more heavily emphasized when the card appears upside down.

(The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West, U.S. Games Systems, 1996.)