Samhain is my favourite time of the year, when the air becomes crispy, when the leaves on the trees change colour and wear magnificent crimson, gold, orange and brown hues. Animals such as squirrels are busy burying nuts, bees are pollinating the last flowers, mushrooms are appearing and generally speaking, nature is preparing for the big sleep.
Time to stay indoors more, to prepare and enjoy earthy food, to read books and to honour our ancestors, to remember them, to reflect on the passing year and to be grateful.
Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival that marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of longer, darker and colder days, in other words winter. It is believed that the veil between the material and the spiritual world is at its thinnest around 31st October.
Samhain starts the new cycle of the wheel in the Pagan calendar and is effectively the beginning of a new year. The festival of Samhain is marked by honouring ancestors, bonfires, divination, feasts of apples and magic.
One of the most recognisable symbols of Samhain, is of course the pumpkin and subsequently the Jack O lantern.
The story of Jack-o’-lantern is an ancient one, involving a human and the devil and trickery.
When I heard that a Jack O Lantern tarot was going to be available in the UK, I was overjoyed, as what is it not to love? Tarot, pumpkins and Samhain. Simply perfect.
The first thing that catches my eye when I look at a new tarot is symbolism.
Many of my students know how important it is to understand symbolism within the tarot, as it can help tremendously when reading the cards for oneself or a stranger.
Many decks are very pleasant and are aesthetically amazing, but are poor in symbolism or the energies of the deck are “off”.
With the Jack O Lantern tarot (Copyright Lo Scarabeo) , I was surprised that the symbolism of both the tarot and Samhain display a rich tapestry of energies, which in turn is perfect for divination on Samhain’s night.
Without further ado, let’s have a look at some pumpkin cards and their symbolism and compare them with the most recognisable tarot of all time, the Rider Waite Smith.(Copyright US Games)
Please note that I will refer to the Rider Waite Smith as RWS and Jack O Lantern as JOL, to make things simpler when comparing cards!
My favourite card of all, a misunderstood card about being foolish, totally reckless, immature etc. That is far from the truth, it is rather a card for listening to the calling of one’s soul (amongst other meanings of course).
With both cards, we can feel the sense of travelling and movement with the symbolism of the boots, whilst innocence is depicted in both cards with flowers (a white rose with the RWS, and deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladona) which is lethal and hallucinogenic with the JOL)
In the RWS pack the wand and the Fool’s sack has a wing on the bag (one of the very few belongings the Fool will need). And in the JOL pack the wand is present but, the sack is now a bat (symbol of foresight, and protection).
The protector in both cards is of course, the dog. The instinctive part of us, trying to warn the Fool about the danger of the cliff. With the RWS, the dog is active, trying to attract the attention of the Fool. With the JOL, the dog is more aggressive in their warning, biting the boot to stop the Fool. And an additional symbol has been added, a bird, on the grass (which of course is a symbol of spirit and soul). The Fool card in my view is the representation of the soul being born into this world and undertaking the journey through life (the Tarot).
The belt on the Fool’s waist (RWS) is made of beads representing the planets and their principles. With the JOL tarot, a cat belt has been added. Cats are essential to Samhain, as they represent magic, protection, death and rebirth and of course, independence which is the essence of the Fool.
Both Fools wear androgynous clothes, rich in colours, with the RWS, trees and fruits together with red under sleeves talk about the Fool’s connection to nature, the untamed part of us and passion. With the JOL, the colours are more within Samhain, orange (creativity, passion) and purple/green (perhaps linked to the heart and crown chakras, following one’s heart/head).
The yellow sky in the RWS, represents optimism, warmth, the intellect and golden opportunities, whilst all these attributes are embodied in the Fool’s head (a glowing pumpkin) in the JOL.
And of course, the cliff (danger) and mountains (wisdom/healing) are present in both decks.
3 of Swords
One of the cards that transcend words, as the visual is extremely powerful and any human being will understand the symbolism of a heart pierced by swords: being heartbroken.
In ancient times, anatomy was not as understood as today, and people thought that the centre of thought was the heart not the brain. The JOL portrays this notion as we can see a head pierced by three powerful swords. No blood can be seen, but instead roots emerging from the cranium giving birth to candy floss clouds. In other words, thoughts can trap us in a permanent state of confusion, pain, sorrow, and mental anguish. If one is not careful it can lead towards depression. We have four owls (owls are a symbol of wisdom), trying to distract the head from the internal process going on. The head is floating above mother earth, means we are not connecting to our world anymore creating trauma. Consequently, we are shutting down our emotions causing heightened distressing thoughts.
The RWS depicts a simpler version, a heart pierced by three swords (Mind Body and Spirit) in a grey sky, with clouds and rain. The meaning is the same, trauma, sorrow, pain, and to a more simplistic extent, extreme stress due to external events, the fight or flight mechanism necessary to survive when presented with situations which require us to tackle them head on (redundancy, divorce, separation, bereavement etc).
Both cards remind us that everything in life is temporary and things change all the time, it is what life is about, change, loss, gain, completion, new cycle, end of a chapter and the list goes on.
Pain is a powerful emotion that can be transformed into healing and sometimes creative outlets, or positive things. Sorrow will ease with time, one has to acknowledge it and ride the wave, eventually the wave will arrive on a shore and life will go on.
On a personal note, I was going to write about the 3 of Swords (and the rest of my chosen cards) on the day my beloved Lugosi (my rescue Persian cat) was put to sleep. On that afternoon, I had managed to write only about the Fool, the card that to me, represents the soul.
I was distracted by a phone call when I was gathering my thoughts about the 3 of swords. During the telephone conversation, my boy jumped on my desk to tell me that he was not feeling well (he had a tumour on one of his lungs and we knew that he was on borrowing time at 16 years old). We called the emergency vet and it was decided that the best was to let him go. He was put to sleep on the spot and passed away in my arms.
The 3 of Swords has been so apt to let me know that a soul (the Fool) was about to embark on a new journey and that I will be left heartbroken and totally bereft. All the cards I had chosen in the morning to write this article were in fact a message from the Universe to let me know about the event that will unfold later on. Somehow my higher self knew and these cards were chosen to leave a powerful message.
Almost 12 years ago we went to the Celia Hammond Trust to adopt him and his friend Karloff (who is also grieving hard).
The rest of this blog is in memoriam of my beautiful boy!
5 of Pentacles
Another powerful card because of its visual. The theme of destitution, poverty and hardship is well depicted with both the RWS and JOL.
In the RWS, we have two beggars, barefoot in the snow, the male has crutches and a bell around his neck (an indication that he is a leper) and the female looks tall and thin. They are passing by a church (stained window with 5 pentacles arranged as the tree of life, with two towers on the top indicating that life has its up and downs but help is always within reach). The cold ground and the snow remind us of the harshness of life when our health declines, when our safety net is no more (losing a job, having a house repossessed, separation, divorce etc) or, when we feel emotionally disconnected from life.
The JOL goes a bit further in the depiction of the harshness of life/health/finances as the only comfort the two beggars can find is death (disguised as a monk). Only death understands and offers protection and the end of torment. This can be so true when one is terminally ill, or when we are faced with a decision to put to sleep a beloved animal friend.
Sometimes a clean state of affairs is necessary to start the new, which is depicted by the bat (instead of the stained window of a church in the RWS). Bats are a symbol of foresight, letting go of fear and flying free from it. Supernatural powers are also a spiritual attribute of the bat. So apt with this version of the 5 of pentacles!
Queen of Wands
IMHO, one of the most magical queens, fierce, enthusiastic, passionate, independent, sincere, creative and intuitive (raw intuition/gut instinct). This queen is often the card depicting psychic, tarot readers, healers and independent personalities. A queen to my heart (with a strong Leo ascendant, it has to be).
With the RWS, the Queen of Wands sits on her throne, with her legs wide open, not concerned that it is perhaps not lady like and unaware of what other people may think. We are not worth her gaze, she is looking away, perhaps looking at her next adventure or next steps. She does not dwell on the past; the present and the future are more exciting to her. Her sceptres are as unconventional as she is, a simple sunflower and a wand with three leaves (Mind Body and Spirit or, a link to arcana number 3, the Empress: Gaia). Her black kitty reminds me of Bastet (originally a sun Goddess), is the only being looking at us.
Cats are of course, a symbol of magic, hidden knowledge, independence, fierce love, protection and mystery. The Queen wears a cat brooch meaning she has integrated some of the characteristics of the cat, but so much more needs to be discovered.
The lions on the throne are a symbol of royal houses, power, and are linked to Sekhmet the Goddess of war and healing.
With the JOL, the queen is looking straight at us, her gaze is intense and we can see the power emanating from her eyes (her eyes look like feline eyes).
She still holds simple sceptres such as a sunflower with the head of a fierce lion, and a wand with twelve leaves (twelve months or twelve signs of the zodiac, reminding us of the circle of life and death).
She wears an elaborate crown with three levels (Mind Body and spirit) with a Moon on the top. This Queen is indeed in touch with her higher self and her psychic intuition. The lower part of the crown has a feline face on it, as cats are magical beings.
The little Bastet/black cat is also present in the card, rubbing their head against the statue of their sister Sekhmet. The queen has a rather large depiction of a cat hanging from some kind of cape, a puma perhaps? This represents a significant source of her understanding of healing, love, unseen forces and cycle of life and death. She is a powerful queen who understands the unknown (her purple robe linked to the crown chakra). A green face is seen behind her crown, showing that she acts on impulse from the heart (green is the colour of the heart chakra). She is the one that can go deep and come up with healing words, healing messages when it is needed. She understands instinctively what you are going through. She has a direct line with the unknown (the cherub in the sky together with the three crows symbol of second sight). She is not scared of being whom she wants to be.
4 of Cups
Ah, the card for apathy, discontentment, and no enjoyment of life.
If you want to know more about the card, I wrote an article about the 4 of Cups on my blog a few years ago.
With the RWS, we are presented with a young man, with crossed arms, leaning on a tree, seemingly lost in his thoughts whilst looking at three cups standing in front of him. His whole attitude is one of boredom and apathy. This young man does not seem to realise that excitement in life is still around, if only he could see the hand of the magician giving him a brand-new cup to fill with love and enjoyment.
The young man does not notice nature around him, the tree and the grass, the blue sky and the whole of nature supporting him.
The JOL on the other hand, is showing a figure in green and purple (colours that are found throughout the deck, meaning the interaction of the heart (chakra) and the spirit (crown chakra)), sleeping against a seemingly dead tree. Again, the figure does not seem to realise that help is at hand with the skeleton hand offering a golden cup with a purple ribbon (a kind of holy grail to step into a new lease of life).
Two leaves can be seen on the dead tree, the promises that life can be renewed after a period of introspection or apathy.
The vulture perched on the shoulder of the figure is a symbol of death and rebirth. Emotions come and go, from the happiest to the saddest. Everything has a cycle and whilst it is ok to pause and to feel a bit disconnected, the purple wizard hat on the floor, reminds the figure that magic can be found again, if only one is willing to look for it. The bat on the hat vouches for it.
Interestingly enough, the figure is barefoot, which means that if he wants, he can connect to mother earth and her loving energies, as the blue mountains of healing seen behind the tree.
A very important message is to find happiness again, it is not yet lost, it may well be different but still there.
I hope you enjoyed looking at the cards from two different packs, the symbolism may appear very different, but yet the magic is there, the essence of the cards is intact.
These cards obviously had a very personal message for me, and it was a bit cathartic to write this blog. Life goes on, it always does!
I hope you will have a magical Samhain
Oephebia and the kitty monster (and the one in spirit)
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