William Blake Tarot
Created by Ed Buryn
A Deathbed Reading with the William Blake Tarot
This short article presents the bare bones of a much longer story describing how the death at home of my husband Jack was made sacred by the Unseen World.
During the last five days of Jack's life, a married couple who were old friends moved into our home to help me care for him. On the night of their arrival I introduced them to the William Blake Tarot deck and suggested that we each pull a card at random. We only asked, What we need to know tonight about what's happening? I pulled the Knowledge card, Mike drew the Sun, and Carolyn chose the Moon. We were all were intrigued with the obvious symbolism of these cards, which depicts our friends as the male and female archetypes arriving to support the Wise Woman in her sacred task of assisting her husband's rebirth to a new form.
We settled down on the living room floor and decided we would each pull a card at random every night. In addition, I selected one card on behalf of Jack, asleep in the adjoining bedroom. At that point the Tarot began to make explicit that the Unseen World was indeed with us and provided the following progression, with each card chosen at random from a spread deck.
On the fourth night before Jack died, his random card was the 6 of Science Passage. The figure shown is Urizen, an tired old man carrying a ball of light that casts dark rays. The ball is obviously a burden. Overhead, the woman (myself) spreads the clouds, making way for him. She is depicted against the stars of Pleiades, a feminine force in the Universe, and the Belt of Orion, a masculine force. At this point, his body is struggling between life and death. Like the figure of Urizen on the card, Jack's hand would reach out for support in walking. This card is a clear image of our relationship as I work to make his last days as clear and peaceful as possible. It is also elementally about the female/male principle represented in the stars of Pleiades and Orion.
On the third night before his death came the 4 of Science Repose. Again the bearded Urizen is depicted, this time leaning backward yet reaching upward for relief. He is immersed and drifting in sulphurous fluids. At this point Jack was highly feverish, his heart working hard, building psychic energy in order to let go. He drifted in and out of consciousness. There is peacefulness in this card, with intimations of surrender. Jack can no longer walk, even with help.
On the second night before the end came the 10 of Science Defeat. Analogous to the 10 of Swords in the traditional Tarot, the card was pulled on the last day of struggles. The morning after we pulled this card he voided his last fluids and his shoulders collapsed. We had to support his limbs with pillows. After that he stopped returning to consciousness. The card clearly depicts surrendering and plunging into the flames, yet overhead birds fly in a pale sky as if promising rebirth. There is courage, beauty, and spiritual realization here. When reversed, the card looks like the Christ reaching for Spirit, with complete surrender. The card seems to promise that from total physical defeat emerges spiritual breakthrough.
The night before Jack died we pulled the Triumph card, XII Transformation, corresponding to the Death card in the traditional Tarot. Jack was breathing in a rattle, burning with fever. We did not know it was to be his last night. On the card, the angel of Time reaps life. The red angel is the newborn soul, 'joined at the hip' with the blue death angel. Its face is hidden, indicating we can't know where the soul is really going. The card depicts the instantaneous moment of death when the old body ends and the new begins. The next day, April 29th, at 2:25 in the afternoon, I was tending to Jack and suddenly noted, in a sort of unearthly stillness, that he was not breathing. I sat next to him and placed my hand on the middle of his back. I received his last five heartbeats in the palm of my left hand. I walked around the bed and and lay next to him under the Tree of Life bedspread that covered him. As in another world I lay with him for an hour during which hot pulsing energy flooded the room, not body heat but pure energy.
That night I pulled the final card of the transition, the Angel of Poetry. In this card, the figure of Los, the regenerate symbol of the undying Imagination, is strong and vital, posed before a blazing sun of eternal life. Kneeling in front of him is the human soul in the process of merging with his angel, with the sun, with his Zoa. The card represents complete epiphany. In Jack's case, it shows him going back to the source.
Jack's death was the most powerful experience of my life. Now I am like a body who has lost part of itself, and I grieve for the phantom husband whom I cannot believe is gone. The progression of the William Blake Tarot cards comforts me: it symbolizes and reflects how we were supported in making this a sacred death. The cards clearly described the dying process in an organic and beautifully symbolic way. Each night the cards 'came through' for us, and reflecting on them reminds me that Angels, Spirits, and the will of God were with us all the way, and remain with me still. Although I suffer and burn, these cards help me to remember that we are all held by higher beings.