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Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Saturday 12 January 2013


I am aware that these two words in one sentence may create disquiet, but I regard prayer as something pertaining to all people everywhere and not just the province of one kind of person or belief. Since my engagement with tarot has always been a relationship with the wisdom of the oracle, I do not see any dichotomy in it for myself. During the last few weeks I’ve been very tired and scattered due to the circumstances around me.

Both within my own family and among those near to me there’s been a lot of upset, fear and disturbance. My response to this is always to spend more time in prayer, by which I mean centre deeply in the bedrock of the earth and engage with the powers of the universe. I bring to mind the person or situation and make witness to those powers that they may uphold, strengthen or help as best they may, without my interference on my part. This kind of prayer means not dictating a solution to difficulty as part of the prayer but just a general ‘help them at this time according to their needs,’ which, of course, I cannot fully know or understand.

This Midwinter I was given the ultimate set of Rachel Pollack’s wonderful Shining Tribe Tarot, reproduced in a large, limited edition. I’ve been going through each card every night. Last week, I decided to pray with them. This way of prayer is a dialogue between our question about the mystery and the answer that each card can reveal. From each card, a new question is suggested from some image or juxtaposition on the card, and another card is drawn to answer it. Sometimes there is a practical action from the card, sometimes it is just a statement of what is. It is not for us to alter or fix things, but to support and witness. If you would like to try this, then take your time, give it space and quiet, don’t try to lead the prayer but rather follow where it leads you.

My elderly father over the course of these last weeks has sunk to a state of semi-consciousness in hospital and it’s hard to know what is best for him. Holding the cards loosely in my hands, sideways as if about to open the pages of a book, I asked the first question, ‘What is medicinal for him?’ I allowed one card to show itself. It was XIII Death, the ultimate medicine for life’s ills.

Shining Woman’s Death is a red being behind whom is a box which opens and from which ribbons stream out. I sat with this for a while until I noticed the two little roses making a barrier between the viewer and Death itself, so I asked, ‘Whom does he meet at the threshold? I drew one of the 5 extra cards of this limited edition deck, entitled the Sphinx in Eden, which is related to the suit of Rivers or Cups. (This is not in the published editions.) It shows a very restful sphinx seated beside the Tree of Life, while a shining spirit appears above it. This figure reminded me of my mother who died a few years ago. Those who met the Sphinx usually had to ask a question, so I asked, ‘How does my father answer?’ In answer, I drew 8 Trees (Wands), which shows a woman leaping clear of a burning house with poise and grace. This is the card which often comes up when someone realizes that they need to leave a situation that’s become untenable or dangerous. It’s a card of freedom and survival for those who are enduring the unendurable.

This led me ask ‘Into what freedom does he leap?’ I drew Place of Rivers (Page of Cups) Marvellously, this depicts the same woman seated contemplatively at a pool situated at the confluence of two streams, while on the hillside above is a dolmen tomb or monument. The peacefulness of this place was refreshing, I could feel. It was a place in which my father could release the last doubts and just be himself. I finally asked, ‘What is the blessing he finds there?’ My next card in response was 4 Trees (4 Wands) which shows a house guarded by four trees. Two grow to the eaves of the house itself while the other two lead the way, arching over. A grain of wheat stands between. The blessing he finds is the way home, where the simple gifts of being wholly himself are welcomed. Last night I prayed again, since my father is having problems making the last step. I asked ‘What does my father need now?’ I drew V Tradition (Hierophant). It shows five red presences meditating around a central flower. My eye fell on the little fish looking out of the water. I realized that my father needs to know that there’s a way over and that there is someone to receive him. He doesn’t have any formulated belief system, having come from a family that has no church-going habit or curiosity about other states of being, so this is a hard step for him.

So I asked, ‘How do I help him know that?’ I drew 3 Rivers (Cups) This shows three streams of blood flowing from one bowl. By remembering the ancestors who have gone before him, my father can be emboldened to step into the mystery of death. I will speak about ancestors tomorrow when I visit him again. With his sister, he is the last of the older generation still alive. ‘How will the ancestors assist him?’ I drew 2 Rivers (Cups) where two fish make a circle and where one fish leaves and two come into the ocean. I liked the way in which same mountains, sea and fish reappeared here from V Tradition, and also the fish from the Death card of the prayer above. It seemed to me that the ancestors offer a unique space for him in their deep mountains.
I then asked, ‘What does he need to complete his journey? And drew VI Lovers, two beings conjoin over the mountains. It reminds me that my parents hardly ever spent a night apart the whole of their lives. This is a reunion that is much longed for, but it requires vulnerability and acceptance to enter the embrace of death itself. ‘What frees him to make his way?’ Speaker of Birds (King of Swords) is an African figure with a bird upon its brow. The quiet but insistent pecking of the bird has begun to remind of his heritage and give him authority to inhabit the space of the living waters that the fish in 2 Rivers invite him to enter. It is a passage that is utterly out of my hands. A PRAYER FOR MY FRIEND I have a friend who is very lost at present. This richly gifted man has been sunk in depression and has been causing great anxiety to those who know him. He has almost closed off from seeing people. While our practical assistance stands ready, none of us can help if it can’t be accepted. Prayer is the only way of witnessing this friend.

Holding the cards loosely and allowing each card to reveal itself as a result of my questions, I first asked ‘What will help my friend?’ 5 Birds was drawn: it shows a person with five circling vultures overhead. The stark answer was ‘acknowledging and confronting the situation.’ So I asked, ’What power arises from this acknowledgement?’ and drew Speaker of Rivers (King Cups). It shows a shoal of fish following a greater fish on which is written the words of a line from the storytelling Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, ‘And on the way I told a tale of such power…’ the continuation of which is ‘that all who heard it had thoughts of repentence.’ It shows the power of the storytelling imagination, and has the confident power of creation flowing through it, which is how we all used to see my friend. I asked from this, ‘What story will he tell?’ and drew VIII Strength. The Lion stands upon a mound, fierce in defence. His story will be about the struggle that many artists and creators go through in order to defend their sacred craft: this is what is at the heart of his present depression, that there is no acceptance of his deepest gift.

I asked, ‘What will the story bring?’ 9 Stones shows someone independent and at ease with their craft, hawk on wrist. To train up a hawk is no easy matter. You must wake and watch with your bird and not sleep or do other things until it is ready. It is a demanding thing to follow any craft, but ultimately satisfying for the one who gives themselves in this way, so I asked ‘How will he be satisfied?’ XIX The Sun was the answer. The ultimate return of joy is through the means above. When everything flows as it should, there is the happiness of satisfaction. This prayer was offered sincerely for my friend. It enabled me see him in a way that is helpful rather than as a helpless or depressed person. His creative mainspring, this prayer reminds me, is not gone from him but is still struggling to be the thing that heals him. As long as we witness to his craft, his struggle and remember him as the man he is, rather than identifying him with his condition, he will be supported better by us all.

Anyone who is interested in purchasing a copy of this limited edition of this powerful deck from Rachel, please visit http://www.rachelpollack.com/index2.html. The standard edition of the Shining Tribe Tarot is still available from Llewellyn Books at the time of writing in 2013.


  1. This was beautiful. I never EVER tell someone not to pray for me. Prayer, in my belief system, is energy sent/received. It is an offering to a higher power requesting an energy send. How can that be wrong?

  2. Beautiful and profound! Thank you for sharing this personal family event with us!
    Resounds deeply with me, my experiences as a caregiver through sickness and hospice.
    My prayer is the blessing of love, peace and strength to your father, you and all your loved ones!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. It inspires a wonderful use for the Shining Tribe Tarot... or any Tarot.
    Wishing you peace and comfort as you assist your father on his journey.

  4. Thank you, dear friends, for your kind response! It is lovely to know that you are with me.

  5. I can tell how powerful this was for you, Caitlín - a deep communing with something more than our individual selves. I find that Rachel's cards often speak with the profundity of an oracle. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 82. I thought about him and how we had one last week together while he lay unconscious in Hospice Care.

    What you have shared, Caitlin, is so close to my heart and beliefs. I found using cards in this situation the highest form of communication, guidance, and support, shared with an open heart and love. So glad you opened your heart and shared your personal experience with the world.

    Feel free to read about my Hopsice Care experience with the cards on my webpage: https://mysacredjourney.wordpress.com/hospice-care-and-communication-through-cards/

    Love and Light,

  7. This is by far one of the most powerful blogs I've had the honor of experiencing. Thank you for sharing so freely of yourself in such a difficult time, and allowing us to heal through your process as well. This was powerful prayer. What was beautiful about this prayer is that it was more than an invocation; it was a powerful conversation between yourself and wherever the wisdom comes from....that bigger Source of wisdom.

    I'm so sorry to hear about this difficult time for you as you watch your father head closer to his ultimate transition, the one we will all make. He is lucky to have you by his side.

  8. I came to your words and thoughts early this morning when only the cats and I were stirring. I am so grateful for this and I was startled to be reminded that some would be upset with the idea of Tarot and prayer together-that this is fact best sums up why I rarely go to any church. Thank you so much for this offering and thank you for sharing out loud this manner of prayer which so many of us,I think, practice but don't talk about.

    1. In this country, Singing Sparrow, more tarot readers than Christians would have been upset! Quite the reverse of USA. My father died this morning at 6.30am

  9. Dear Caitlín,

    I send you prayers and light as you are move through this time of the death of your father. I hope this helps a little. I know that the wisdom tradition that you help to pass on and working with the Shining Tribe can help a lot.

    Your Celtic Devotional and Rachel’s Shining Tribe were such sources of strength, guidance, and support when my partner John died in a car crash this last November 3rd. He was working on a job that took him far away from me to Montana; he was 2,500 miles away/ all the way across the U.S.A.. I got that kind of call you never want to receive from a police officer that he had not survived the accident. I have worked with the Celtic Devotional for many years and so turned to it to find just the prayer I needed: Soul Leading for Someone Who Has Died Suddenly or Unexpectedly. I prayed it right away, I prayed it on the plane, I prayed it in the circle with his co-workers, I prayed it at the crash site and left a copy of the prayer there, and a whole group of us prayed it in the memorial gathering to celebrate his life. Thank you for this payer. I don’t know what I would have done without it.

    I took the Shining Tribe with me to Montana where I went to claim his body. When I saw him in the funeral home, I thought it was so like he was sleeping. The morning before I went to the crash site, I took a little time to meditate and pray. First I used the prayers in the Celtic Devotional, then I turned to the Shining Tribe. My only prayer I could muster was, “Help,” and the Tribe offered me the 6 of Birds which shows the Sleeping Goddess of Malta and a bird rising up above her. I felt a wave of relief when I looked at the image. before I even thought to consider the meaning. Then it came to me it was a picture of John’s Soul rising up.

    As we drove to the crash site, a red-tailed hawk rose up above the cars. It was as if for a little while it led the cars and then veered off to the east to fade into the distant mountains. My prayer for help led to this beautiful image.

    The combination of the Celtic Devotional and the Shining Tribe gave me a living payer.

    Hmm, your sharing has turned into my sharing. Now that I am talking so much about my recent loss, I find that people then tell me of their losses: a one-year old child who died, a thirty-seven year old husband, a mother, a father. There is so much death there below the surface that we don’t speak of, but when it leaks out it invites us to be with such power and pain and even beauty in the memory of the one lost or the support received. Thank you for opening that door here.

    May your father go forth under the strength of heaven, with the splendor of fire, supported by the depth of sea, and surrounded and encircled by all the elements.

    Be well,

  10. Thank you, Caitlin, for sharing such a moving and personal use of the tarot. I use the tarot to inspire prayer as well and this method you shared here will add even more depth to my own. I too witness these prayers you send out for those close to you, may they be what they need to be for everyone involved.

  11. Beautiful. Thank-you for sharing two very personal readings.

    I wish your father well in his journey. He will be well looked after.

  12. My father died on 13th January 2013. I feel that this prayer with the tarot helped both me and him to get to that threshold and pass over. He is going onward, I am still coming back, which is why this blog has been silent for so many months. Rachel's wonderful Shining Tribe cards are still an inspiration to me. Thank you all!

  13. Caitlin I have felt that I should at least send a message to you and your husband, from a pagan and well namesmith in Oklahoma. I am writing a report on King Arthur the Director's Cut for my English Class. I know this is off topic however I do not feel it so much because this movie has helped me though some of the toughest moments in my life. My dad is a minister, and I am of a different path.
    With your father something is in your name that is jumping out... "I'm within" .... While it is a different aspect of divination and a middle name and Maiden name missing. That is all I am to get as well as "the seas".

  14. Beautifuuly written. Thank you for sharing this Caitlan. And I love the shining Tarot and did not know Rachel had written more and so it is a series. I remember Shining Woman Tarot with the rivers and trees and stones and birds from the mid nineties. xx


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