A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. November's Theme: "Celebrate"
Volume 4 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Technically Tarot

with Jeannette Roth

I'm not entirely sure this column is about tarot.

I know it isn't the column I initially intended to write. When the folks at Timeless Spirit informed me the theme for this issue was "Celebrate," I was looking forward to having a bit of fun - deliberating as to how I would interweave that concept with the process of how we relate to the cards (or they to us). I kicked around a couple of ideas - how to better "celebrate" the minor arcana, perhaps. Or how to use a "daily draw" to celebrate the small joys we so often tend to overlook, even though they pop up with relative frequency when we take the time to keep watch for them…

But last week, everything changed. Last week, my beloved father was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

It's possibly the most insidious form of cancer - hiding away, avoiding detection until it's too late to respond to treatment. Now, instead of busying myself with the usual daily routine of buying decks and sending them onward to new homes, I spend my days keeping a bedside vigil - alternating with my mother and sister, trying to keep dad comfortable, reassuring him that all the necessary arrangements are being made, and watching him hour by hour slip farther away from us, knowing our remaining time with him is measured not even in months, but in days. He sleeps most of the time now, and I watch him in silence, thinking about the beautiful journey we've had together, and about the separation we are about to face. And sometimes I shed a tear.

But mostly, I smile.


My father was a man of great wisdom, but few words. Despite a career as a college professor for 36 years, he rarely lectured to us about anything. Upon reflection, I suppose such taciturn behavior is a natural characteristic of the genuinely wise; they know the world is full of glib words and casual advice, and prefer to wait until what they have to say truly matters. It is slightly ironic, then, that he had in me a daughter whose penchant for chatter should rival that of an auctioneer who is behind schedule on an overcrowded sale day. It wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I began to more fully understand and appreciate the value of silence, and how masterful my father was at speaking volumes while hardly uttering a single word.

To say he was not a demonstrative man is an understatement. From time to time, people who knew him only as a casual acquaintance would comment to me that they found him… inscrutable. Controlled. Reserved. At times, perhaps even cold.

And I - and anyone else in the room who truly knew him - would just smile.

'Tis true he rarely said "I love you" to his family - and then, only if you had said it first. Nor was he particularly prone to verbalizing praise or approval, although he was equally reticent in regards to criticism and disapproval. And yet, if you watched, and you listened to the silence, you could see and hear it all so very clearly: love, pride, respect, concern, humour (so much wonderful humour!), disappointment, and occasionally, anger. It is difficult to describe exactly how people like my father, who maintain such an understated exterior, manage to communicate in such a deep and profound manner. Either you've had someone like him in your life, and know exactly what I mean, or you haven't. If you are in the latter category, then perhaps the best I can do within the limitations of human language is to cite the old adage, "still waters run deep," which nonetheless remains a considerable oversimplification.


In addition to his teaching duties at the university, my father was often retained to work as an international economics consultant. He collaborated with both governmental and private organizations on projects in developing nations. During such periods, his duties would require him to travel, and he was frequently away from home - sometimes for weeks at a time. As a result, in our early childhood, my sister and I naturally bonded somewhat more closely with our mother, who was always there to "hold down the fort." And yet, I can clearly remember that one night when, after I was safely tucked in bed and the lights were out, I began to cry, my heart heavy with a strange sort of sorrow for my father. I was perhaps 8 or 9 years old at the time, and I do not recall the exact chain of pre-slumber thought which triggered my emotional outburst. I do, however, recall getting out of bed, and padding my way to the living room in my little footy pajamas, where my parents were sitting in quiet conversation. Naturally concerned, my mother asked what was bothering me. I responded by going to my father and hugging him as tightly as I could. When the tears subsided enough for me to speak, I explained: "I always remember to tell you how much I love you, mommy. But I think I've forgotten to tell daddy how much I love him."

That was the start of an infrequent but persistent pattern which endured for many years. Every once in a while, I would think of my parents, and the tears would come unbidden. As I grew older, I slowly began to deduce the true psychological underpinnings of this disconcerting emotional phenomenon: it was the very natural fear we experience during those times when we consciously acknowledge the mortality of those we hold most dear. Although my parents had never experienced any serious health problems, the knowledge that they would someday likely precede me in death was more than I could bear. The mere thought of that hopefully far-off yet inevitable event could induce heaving sobs, to the point that I began to doubt my ability to ever make it through the experience without suffering a complete and permanent breakdown.


Spirituality was never a much-discussed subject in our household. My parents had both been raised Protestant, but had largely abandoned church-going before I was born. When confronted by my sister and me with the usual questions about life, death, and the origins of the world, my father would leave it to my mother to provide us with the usual "children's Bible"-type responses - and that was that.

And yet, it would be wrong to characterize my father as anything less than a deeply spiritual man. The specific details of how he envisioned the Divine Source were never clear to me, yet by the same token, I never felt it necessary to ask. What was eventually clear to me was he believed one's personal spiritual path could be just that - personal - and there was no sin in deciding to walk down that path alone.


After a very brief flirtation with Christianity in my early college years, I settled in to the notion I was most probably an atheist. After all, if my father could live a moral, even exemplary life without seeming to believe such behaviors were mandated by some sort of omnipotent (and possibility punitive) essence, why couldn't I? Of course, given my relative naivety at the time in regards to spiritual systems, I wrongly equated the rejection of "mainstream" religions as being synonymous with atheism. It was an error which was fortunately corrected a few years later, when my social circle broadened, and I came into contact with a number of practicing Wiccans and Pagans. Although I never adopted a truly pagan approach to spiritual matters, I ultimately incorporated elements of the "pagan toolkit" into my own spiritual studies, including the western version of the Qabalistic "Tree of Life" and… tarot.

It was through my tarot studies that I was slowly able to pull together the pieces in a meaningful way. Previously, it seemed as though fragmented, psychospiritual ideas were bouncing around in my brain like lottery balls in a spinning cage; occasionally some surprising and exciting goodies would pop out, but only a few, and never in sequence. While my own primary sensory channel is the auditory one, I already knew at some level, thanks to my father, there are limits to what words can express. The images of the cards vibrated my soul the way words vibrated my intellect; they pulled thoughts and knowledge buried deep inside me closer to consciousness, if not to absolute concrete understanding. It has been a slow and never-ending process, but one which over the course of 20+ years has managed to provide me with some measure of understanding and peace I doubt I personally would have ever found by following a specifically prescribed spiritual path.

I think one of tarot's greatest strengths is its ability to raise our awareness of not only the amazing wonders we encounter between the time of our birth and the time of our death, but also the wonders preceding and following those two events. To put it another way: tarot frames the brief candle which is our life inside the larger picture - a picture whose beauty we can truly come to comprehend across space and time, despite the limitations of our earthly five senses to perceive it directly. Of course, at their core, all of the great religions and theologies of the world do the same, but it seems to me the real message becomes lost in words that cannot truly describe the process, yet are often taken at face value nonetheless. Such an approach fosters belief, and even valuable faith - but for some of us, faith and belief are not enough. Tarot, on the other hand, offers few words, but within the silence, it somehow manages to impart not only belief and faith, but genuine wisdom.

Sounds like a guy I once knew…


Between the time I began writing this column and the time I write these words, my father passed. He made his transition in the company of my mother, my sister, and myself - the three ladies he loved and cared for most of his life. It was the day which, for many years, I had dreaded so intensely, and for which I had shed so many tears in advance. Yet now, as I stood by his bedside, holding his hand, and watching him take his final breaths, I was filled with wonder and awe, and a profound sense of honour for being allowed to share this astonishing and mysterious experience. Although I have naturally shed some tears, and will undoubtedly do so again during those times when my longing to be with him again succumbs to the occasional, all-too-human bout of anxiousness, I can now also find a joy in the experience which offsets the sorrow.

Today, I do not mourn the death of my father. Instead, I celebrate his life, and the next steps he takes on his personal spiritual journey.

I love you, dad.

William Charles Merrill
1934 - 2006

Jeannette Roth has been collecting and studying tarot decks for over 20 years, and has presented lectures on topics related to tarot evolution and imagery around the midwestern U.S. for nearly 15 years. She is the co-owner of The Tarot Garden, which maintains the largest publicly-accessible database of 20th and 21st century tarot and cartomantic decks in the world.

Feel free to check out Tarot Garden's auctions on eBay!

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