Dark Beauties

A Look at the “Darker” Cards Through the Eyes of the Artist
By Maria Strom

Have you ever done a Tarot reading for someone and the Death card comes up and a look of horror flashes across her face? This has happened to me, many times, especially with people who are new to the Tarot and don’t know the deeper meanings of the cards. I hear myself consoling: “Don’t worry, it’s not literal, it’s about an ending or a transformation.” Most of the time, my words soothe her into relaxing enough to hear the true message of the reading. But sometimes the powerful image of black-clad Death trampling over people with his white horse strikes fear so deeply that it claims her attention; and she risks missing what it and all the other cards are trying to tell her. 

I don’t believe in “bad cards”.  Actually, I’ve always been attracted to the “darker cards” in the deck. I love Death’s opportunity for letting go. Recently, I pulled the card in a reading for myself and felt so relieved; I felt reassured about my life’s path. Yes, I was ready to let some old ways die. I had done the work and I was ready to move forward into a new phase of life! 

The Tower is another card that’s dear to me. It screams liberation, whether it’s in the form of profound spiritual growth, breaking free from the restrictions of the ego; or a more practical release from the constrictions of a crappy job or a bad relationship. It’s a card that offers so much for those willing to accept the pain of letting go—and trust in life itself—to provide the future we can’t yet see. 

Another card that appeals to me is the Moon. I’m drawn into the surrealistic landscape populated by a wolf and his cousin the dog. And I love that creepy little crustacean popping up from the depths. It’s a shadowy world of feeling that takes courage to navigate, but knowing the depth of oneself is worth the sacrifice. And of course, the Tarot always offers hope. The sun in shining up ahead, just over the hill, encouraging us to stay on the path. 

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These are a few of the cards that I call “dark beauties”. And they are the reason that I’m creating my own deck. My goal is to reinterpret all the cards in a modern language of symbols that twenty-first century people can easily read. But most of all I wanted to shine some light on my dark beauties. The Tower was the first image I painted. To convey the powerful energy released from the breaking up of the limitations of ego, I painted a bright yellow light pouring out of the crumbling structure and a woman propelled out of the top. Free from the ego’s constrictions, she flies, arm’s stretched above her head—Superman style—her true Self in all her glory! Now she is free to create an authentic life worthy of her awakened Self. 

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My Moon card shows a woman, naked in her vulnerability, wading through the shadowy waters, guided by the promise of the Sun. Here, too, the journey requires a deeper understanding. Her true Self is beckoning her to delve into her own depths, to acknowledge parts of her Self that have been locked away. Once we shine the light onto our shadow Selves, once we truly own them, we can recognize them as teachers instead of threats. 

For example, our jealousy does not want to live in the shadows. Every time we feel jealous, it’s screaming—please look at me! —as if it were a child doing cartwheels in the living room but, our jealousy feels icky to us and we don’t want to feel that. Our image of ourselves is one that does not include this feeling. We push it away or project it on others. 

When we accept our jealousy, we thereby accept ourselves in all our humanity. We stop blaming ourselves and others; and this previously orphaned emotion doesn’t have to throw temper tantrums to get our attention. The simple act of acknowledgement unburdens our jealousy of the guilt and shame that have caused it to take refuge in a dark corner of ourselves. Now we can see our jealousy clearly and, as if by magic, the power leaks out of it like air from a balloon. Once that we are okay with our jealousy, we can and work with it. The dance of denial that caused this feeling to build up, plague our minds with negativity, or erupt into a jealous rage ceases. By loving all aspects of ourselves, we naturally become more compassionate to others. When jealous people make snarky remarks, we can remember our own connection to jealousy, and by forgiving ourselves we can pardon them more easily. 


Death is the most abstract image I’ve created so far. The black and white silhouette of a woman is surrounded by an owl, a butterfly, and a lotus flower reaching out into space with an umbilical cord-like stem. For the ancient Egyptians, the owl was the guardian of the underworld, a protector of the dead. In any transformation, whether it’s the result of deep spiritual growth or the ultimate transition that comes at the end of our lifetimes, the wisdom and protection offered by the owl is a blessing. The butterfly is a radical symbol of transformation, known for changing from a caterpillar into a winged symbol of beauty. The symbol of the butterfly seemed to fit, because beyond the obvious beauty involved in the process of becoming our true Self, it points to the fragility of all temporal existence. All life must die. We die and are reborn many times in our lifetime. When we embrace the meaning of this card, and the transformation happening within us or in life circumstances, we open up to our true Self and our spiritual path. The lotus that somehow manages to rise up from the muddy depths to bloom into a graceful flower, speaks to the mystery and power of the process. 

All submissions remain the property of their respective authors. All images are used with permission. Tarot Refletions is published by the American Tarot Association - 2015  Questions? Comments? Contact us at ATAsTarotReflections@gmail.com