Tarot and the Five Stages of Grief

By Hope Ballard, CTC

A wise woman named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book titled On Death and Dying in 1969.  In it she identified five stages that people work through to deal with grief and tragedy.   These stages are: DENIAL, ANGER, BARGAINING, SADNESS (DEPRESSION), and ACCEPTANCE.   Since that time the psychological world found that the Kübler -Ross model was also applicable to daily living and the events that can upset our daily routines.  

For example you go out and have a little too much fun and the next morning you over sleep.   Your eyes open up to full sunshine, you hear birds singing and you look at the clock....NO that CAN’T BE RIGHT!  So you look again, or you run through the house to look at other clocks.  This is called DENIAL! 

Next comes ANGER, perhaps you slam the clock down, or throw it, or at least give it a good chewing out....”that stupid, stupid clock, that worthless piece of %$)(# clock.”  

After the cussing the realization comes upon you...  you are going to be late for work if you don’t get your arse in gear.  Now come the muttered prayers as you frantically throw on some clothes...Oh God if I can get to work on time I will never stay out late partying again.  Oh Lord let me just get to my desk without the boss noticing and I swear I will set two alarms and will never be late again. This is called BARGAINING. 

At last you come to SADNESS, the realization that there will be no way to get to work without being late and the sadness sets in.   How irresponsible, how childish, how dumb can I be?  I can’t afford the loss in pay, I can’t afford the point against me for being late, what have I done?  Why do I even bother?   For a while you indulge in your sad feelings.

Finally you lift your chin up, realizing that you must take your lumps as you earn them, call work and explain that you will be late and soldier on about your business.  This final stage is called ACCEPTANCE. 

As we all know people seek the guidance of a tarot reading for many reasons and often enough the querent is going through a personal crisis of some sort i.e. loneliness, break up, financial stress, loss of job, loss of home, death in family, a move of some sort, etc; each person going through the 5 stages of grief in their own way.   Now keep in mind that everyone is different and not everyone goes through the stages in the exact same order.  Still yet, the imagery of the Tarot Cards can often identify what stage of grief a person is in and give us a clue as to what stages the person has been through and what stage the person is likely to go through next. 

Recently I did a reading for a woman who had yet to come to ACCEPTANCE with her divorce.  I used the Deviant Moon Tarot deck by Patrick Valenza , published by US Games and here are a few of the cards that were drawn and how I interpreted them. 


The cards pulled showed me that she had moved beyond DENIAL

(6 of cups, showing a child-like belief that things would be ok)



and into ANGER (2 of Swords, two people at loggerheads)


and although she had done some BARGAINING (5 of Cups, pleading, begging) it had fallen upon deaf ears 


and back to ANGER she returned with a vengeance (8 of wands).


In the future positions the cards indicated that she needed to prepare herself for a time of SADNESS when the realization was going to hit her that she would not be able to change her situation (9 of Wands).


And at last a positive assurance that a shift in thinking would aid her to come to a stage of ACCEPTANCE whereby she would be able to move on with her life (6 of Swords).



Remember that interpreting the tarot is a very personal thing with each reader having their own “twist” on the card meanings.  As an exercise I found it interesting to go through a tarot deck and see what cards fit into each of the 5 stages.  Being able to identify the qualities of the 5 stages of grief in the cards of the tarot and using that information can add another layer of depth to your reading and help facilitate the healing process for your client.

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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2010

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