For me, it expresses itself in my gut, that center space between the belly and the ribs; strangely, it’s a feeling of tightness and nausea. This is how I choose my tarot cards. This is how my body guides me when working with the cards and my intuitive self. Oracle cards and the tarot are one of the primary pillars that support my mystical exploration into the concepts and connections of body, altar, and home. I value them as more than tools, but rather familiar friends who support my journey, guiding lights in the dark, and offerers of gems of wisdom when I don’t even know I need them. I reach for my cards when I need a fresh perspective, when I need to tap into the subconscious, knowing parts of myself so that I may offer myself a way forward. The cards are not fortune tellers, they don’t predict the future, but rather they offer up options, stir up thoughts from the bottom of the pot, and often provide comfort.
Early conversations with the cards
My introduction to the tarot began when I moved to Hawai’i in early 2012. My oldest friend [who was living here at the time] had recently been gifted the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. As part of her effort to help me heal the broken heart I had at the time, she settled me into a daily rhythm of pulling cards over tea every morning. The Tower, Death, and the Devil cards were frequent pulls for me back then [if you’re a tarot user you know what I mean]. Ultimately, there are no “bad” cards in tarot despite the intensity of some of the illustrations and card names. There is always opportunity for resolution, for rebuilding, for new beginning, but also sometimes things need to fall apart first.
Breaking tradition [in the best way]
Similarly to how my introduction to the cards happened in my state of grief, so did the creation of The Future Ancestor Tarot. Created by Filipina-American artist Alexa Toledo Villanueva, this precious set of 78 cards was born during a period of mourning over the loss of Alexa’s late grandfathers, to whom she has dedicated the deck. Using sumi ink, collage, and pieces of nature that she found around her home on coast Salish land [also known as Seattle, Washington], Alexa has reimagined the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck into a conversation with one’s relationships to the ancestors, community, and self.
[paper cut-outs of sumi ink paintings that Alexa used for the creation of her deck imagery. Photos by Lexa Luna Studio]
Instead of the typical four suits of swords, cups, pentacles, and wands plus the twenty-one major arcana cards, The Future Ancestor Tarot deck contains suits of candles, cups, needs, and seeds plus a collection of major arcana that mostly mirrors the traditional cards but with some beautiful revisions. The High Priestess, The Emperor, The Lovers and many others remain [or for those who may be enduring a period of big personal change, The Tower, Death, and The Devil are still there too], but The Hanged Man becomes Metamorphosis in Alexa’s deck, and Hierophant becomes Virtue.
[The Future Ancestor Tarot’s reinterpretations of some of the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith major arcana cards]
Like reuniting with an old friend
I found Alexa through Instagram several weeks ago; how I found her I can’t even remember. It was one of those magical crossing of paths that one occasionally stumbles upon in the little land of squares where you wonder “how am I just learning about this now?” Being on my own journey of connecting to my ancestors and as someone with a keen eye for extra special oracle decks, I immediately was intrigued by the simple, ink illustrated white box with the grieving figure on the front, the full moon adorned card backs, and of course the title; it was love at first sight. Connected by a shared creative intention that is grounded in respect for nature, Alexa and I agreed on art trade. She shared that she was soon headed to Uruguay to deepen into her art practice, so in exchange for one of my pinafore aprons that would serve her during her retreat, she sent me my own Future Ancestor Deck.
[The Vita apron I traded Alexa in exchange for a Future Ancestor Deck. The Vita apron is adorned in block printed images symbolizing personal and collective resilience and life force.]
I’m pretty sure I wept a little when I first opened the box and thumbed through the cards in my hands. Each one, a visually gentle, tender expression of the deeply symbolic messages; the figures in them feel like old friends, grandparents, ancestors. I appreciate a deck that requires little in terms of interpretation, relying mostly on one’s personal response to the imagery rather than having to refer to a code book to understand the cryptic messages. A small, brief tri-fold pamphlet accompanies this deck as guidance for interpreting the cards, and somehow contains profound messages in single sentences. Needless to say, The Future Ancestor Tarot is my new favorite deck to work with as it feels gently supportive at this time of great collective change and grief for so many things.
Let’s pull a card
I chose two cards today with the collective in mind. I was intending on pulling just one to share a guiding message with us all, but two spoke to me via that guttural welling up of mild nausea I’d mentioned before, along with a new sensation that expressed itself as a tingling in my left ear (it sounds funny, I know). Working with the cards has shown me the importance of surrender, that there is no avoiding it when a message needs to come through. So I surrendered, and set aside both cards, face down, side by side, then turned them over at the same time revealing instantly that these two messages supported one another.
The Ace Of Seeds and The World. Visually, they feel like sibling cards, similar yet distinctively different, both figures tenderly holding onto things, one being a seedling, the other being the earth, one card in white, the other in black. Side by side they feel like an evolution, a story of growth, from the planting of and tending to a small seedling, to embracing an entire fertile world. The interpretation guide reads that the suit of Seeds relates to matters of the body and earth, the Ace encouraging an embrace of this moment of growth. The World card, the twenty-first and final card from the collection of major arcana, shares that this is a moment to feel the fullness of gratitude and lessons learned and that it is now time for a new journey.
Feel relevant? Collectively? Personally?
The closing section of reflection prompts below are invitations for you to process what these cards are bringing up for you. Write it down, meditate on them, carry them with you throughout your day. Surrender, and allow these messages to unfold in whichever ways they do for you. Each of our personal interpretations will be unique to our lived experiences and individual perceptions of reality and that is the magic that tarot offers.
What growth are you personally experiencing at this time?
Where do you see growth happening on a collective level?
What lessons are being learned?
To what or to whom do you feel gratitude for in offering these lessons?
What new journey do you anticipate being on the precipice of? How might it serve you personally? How might it serve the collective?