Meditating on Death


What started as a weeklong study of the tarot’s major arcana – or in everyday speak ‘the big mysteries’ – turned out to be a two week meditation on Death.  I had originally intended to post weekly and well I guess that too had to fade.  In the words the poet Ikkyū:

Yesterday’s clarity is today’s stupidity
The universe has dark and light, entrust oneself to change
One time, shade the eyes and gaze afar at the road of heaven.

Which one might argue is the unifying wisdom of the tarot.

Life-death-rebirth.  This passed year, personally, has been one of major upheaval.  In all areas: career, finances, health, identity, relationships ending, family losses.  For various reasons I’ve been training less, physically, and I feel my body completely restructuring.  Now that’s a trip!

Someone mentioned to me a while ago that I may need to go through a grieving process and I was sort of like, “Why?!”  And when I named last week that in some way I have been dying, it completely floored me.  But what really knocked me out was that Death was coming through as something that was for me and not against me.  Death as friend.  Death as mentor.  Death as adviser.

Then I got the news that my Granddad was going in for heart surgery, and well you can imagine, that was a lot!  After some complications, he’s doing well and stable.

So what I ended up doing is sitting with my own death.  Through a process from Arnold Mindell’s book “The Shaman’s Body.”

Drop your personal history and use death as an adviser.  To begin, describe yourself: Who are you normally?

Samuel Draper

What have you been doing?

Working as a dancer.  Partied last night.  Largely unemployed.  Tattooing folks.  Spending a lot of time reading cards and doing my spiritual work.  I’ve been trying to get out of dance and move into something else.  I spend a lot of the day sitting, occasionally getting up to do some physical training.

From what kind of family do you come?

An evangelical Christian British family.  Nuclear family: Mum, Dad, brother, sister, pets.  Other relatives have always lived far away.  Though my paternal Grandparents moved to the same town during my teenage years.

Describe your gender, race, religion, profession, and nationality.

I am seen by the state as male but feel myself to be non-binary.  I am white British, but wish my ancestors had never come up with the terms ‘white’ and ‘black.’  Rather, I am pale-skinned.  A recent DNA test revealed my ancestry (at least 500 years back) to be British, Irish, French, German and Scandinavian.  However there is some shame about being British 1) because it’s not exotic and 2) because of all the suffering we have caused and still cause.  I am a witch; weaving the traditions that come across my forwards path.  Learning what my particular spirituality is.  Hmmm.  Okay.  I have been working as a dancer but am trying to have a more eclectic career track.

How do you see your body?

I appreciate my body in many way, it’s flexibility and general state of health.  But in many ways I don’t like it.  Wishing that everything were bigger and skin clearer.  I see my body as average, athletic, but blemished.

Is it weak or strong, ugly or beautiful?

Good-looking but not awe-striking.  Good enough.  Weak, sensitive, receptive.  But strong in some ways.  Definitely resilient.  I have thought of myself as ugly frequently.

Are you successful, or not?

Other people have seen me as successful, in terms of following your dreams etc.  And in that sense, I agree.  I have been fortunate enough to do that.  I have enough.  And I have what I need.  In fact, I’m truly grateful for that.  But I feel like I still have more to accomplish.

Go into a fantasy you have had about your death.  Describe how you imagine death coming to you.

I imagine that I will die at 80, hopefully 90, in my sleep.  Peacefully and still of sharp mind.  Pavle (my partner) will have gone, only a couple of moments before me – or we could even die sleeping side-by-side.  That would be the most beautiful.  In our bed.  Both having lived such full lives.  Our kids will have felt it coming; as have we.  And we will have set up a ritual together with lots of art-making and sharing, telling stories and poems together.  Crying with joy.  And the deepest, purest sadness at the mystery.  We will not be afraid, but in pure unknowing.  And by morning, as the sun rises, we will be gone.  And Pavle and I will hover above our bodies, to see our children and grandchildren paradoxically laugh and cry.  We will kiss their heads.  They will feel it and we will be on our way to explore the stars.  To meet our ancestors and the lights.  Be on planets like Saturn.  Pavle will be able to live in his psychedelic logic and I will be able to live like a lotus on water.

Experiment with letting this fantasy of death take over.  Let go of your ordinary identity you described in the beginning of this exercise.  Imagine why death might want this identity to die.

Death – this beautiful white cloud? – might want the identity previously described to die so that I can be free to live the life fully and joyfully that would lead up to such a satisfying and peaceful death.  Yes.  Yes.  Indeed.  Indeed.  Death wants me to cut away the grease and mould to live a life unfettered.  So that when death comes, I can say, “Yes, I’m ready to go.  I did everything.”  Hmmm…

What part of you is meant to die, so to speak?

My skin.  My attitude towards it.  The tension in my joints.  And the tension beneath my skull.  I am ready to shed a layer, literally.

To shed old ideas about death and what is coming.  The colour of death is white, not black.  And can be the seeping into harmony with all that is.  It is not necessarily something to be afraid of.

To let go of trying to figure out.  I keep thinking of the Zen Centre.  With every sentence I write.  Hmm.  That brought me into the darkness of my body – my internal space.

Imagine and enjoy, if possible, the detachment that comes from death.

I do enjoy the detachment that comes from death.  It’s cooler, calmer, more humid than the unfeelingness of the banker [a fantasy from a previous exercise].  It’s detachment with feeling.  Rather than numb isolation. … It’s lovely.

Imagine and experience living the freedom of your death in life, in the moment, at work, in relationships, and in the world.

Makes me want to go take a shower now.

To finish off, I would like to note that I do not prescribe to the belief that ‘life is about death’ or that Death is THE great mystery of life.  One of the beautiful things I am learning to reflect on through the tarot is that it is but one of twenty-two.  And it does not come at the end.  It’s in the middle.

Death appears in the thick of life.


– translation of Ikkyū is Sonja Arntzen’s from “Ikkyū and the Crazy Cloud Anthology” 
– image is my own

Four aces (exploring the elements)


Week 2 of The Alternative Tarot Course is all about exploring the elements – earth, air, fire, water – through their associations with and crossovers between the four suits of the minor arcana.  In the spirit of beginnings, one of the exercises is to look at these aspects through each of the four aces.  Here are my notes.

What kind of portal is this?
I tend to think of each ace as a promise.
The promise of the suit.

Ace of Cups

The Ace of Cups presents us with the promise of release.  Letting those emotions flow.  Thus passing between borders.  It’s when it’s been cloudy and overcast and grey outside for a few days.  It finally rains and I have that cry I’ve been wanting to have for weeks.  Fluids definitely teach us about the cyclical nature of our existence.  Water rains, only to evaporate and become clouds again.  We drink water in order to pee and sweat it out.  The cycles of the moon, the tides of the ocean and cerebrospinal fluid.  The circulatory system, menstruation, blood mysteries.  Things easily become expanded with fluid because correspondences and membranes are permeable.  On the cards is a clear case of pathetic fallacy.  The release and refreshment of the individual.  The figure is old but expresses a childlike joy.  Emotions enable us to embody paradoxes and timelessness.  Childhood glee and trauma can surface at any time in our lives, as can the contemplative needs of an old soul.

Ace of Disks

Flesh.  Fat, muscle, bone, skin.  Our gut.  The enteric nervous system.  Second brain.  It feels more meat and potatoes to write right now.  And I notice I haven’t eaten breakfast yet.  But the cushion on this chair is comfy, as are my sweatpants, hoodie and sports socks.  Suddenly I notice how I really appreciate temperate air, that is neither too dry nor too humid.  This is a Goldilocks and the Three Bears-type situation.  She’s a fag hag too (though Margaret Cho’s term ‘fruit fly’ might be more appropriate on this occasion) and probably a Taurus.  She wants the bears to take her shopping for something cosy but edgy, then go for brunch.  The suit of earth is about balancing needs and wants – and probably has a lot to teach us about capitalism and exploitation.  Are you working too hard, too much?  There is a spiral of life at the navel.  All life begins here and all physical life grows in a spiral.  If you are fortunate enough to have a tree close-by, you can see by the pattern of the bark, the path they have taken.  If you spend long enough, with your hands against the trunk, you will feel how the tree is simultaneously spiralling both up and down.  Lumps and bumps.  Viscera, organs, poop.  Gardening, sleeping.  Touch is multidimensional.

Ace of Wands

The promise of magic.  This is when Merlin or Dumbledore waves his hand and turns the candle on and off.  Or when a book jumps off the shelf that matches exactly where you’re at right now.  It’s not a full-blown duel, firework display or like travelling to the rainforest to participate in ancient ceremony.  It’s a hint.  It’s about personal power.  The ace of this suit is about abilities we already have that perhaps lay dormant and less developed, that start to shimmer as an idea and then we’re getting obsessed with origami or writing fan fiction and don’t know why.  It’s also about how a small flame, just a little light, can completely transform a room.  Small actions with big impact.  Detail is important.  Power isn’t only about explosions and bulldozing.  How you approach a person or topic and name them are very important.  Fire is about subtlety.  An awareness that is sadly lacking in many spheres of life.  Placement and timing.  In one instance, making a spark can celebrate a birthday.  In another, the same action creates a destructive forest fire.

Ace of Swords

Seeing clearly.  The glint of awareness in a queen’s eye before she does an epic and brutal read.  Her vision is all-encompassing, but highly selective.  Words cut.  The pen is mightier than the sword.  A tongue as sharp as steel.  Supposedly the way our eyes physically see is by constantly scanning for difference as it processes light.  And it is analysis and observation that in turn explains to us exactly the mechanics of how we analyse and observe.  This is incredibly useful, but can also have a cannibalistic function if left unchecked.  The brain likes to think it’s in charge.  Thinking renders things possible or impossible, perhaps at times contrary to practical reality.  One last thought…  X-ray vision…

photograph taken by myself and cards featured are from Ellen Lorenzi-Prince‘s Tarot of the Crone.

What is tarot (to me)?

oracle matrix

As a child, I came across a book in a bookshop and flicked through.  It contained an image of the “Female Pope.”  I was enraptured by this heretical image and the feminisation of Christianity.  I thought, “I would like to be her.”

I want to go deeper into some form of divination.  I had a reading with Eroca Nicols (who can be contacted at for in-person and Skype readings) last Summer that really inspired me to pick up a deck.  And the work of Lindsay Mack has convinced me that I have the knowledge and experience I need in order to go about this in a self-directed, body-felt way.  Shuffling and working with the cards is so tactile and concrete, and the images lead one into imaginal realms.  It feels like, by moving laterally around a question, one goes very deep or zooms way out.  And also I just find it fun!  I’ve found recently that when I’m not interacting with the cards, I wonder what’s happening with them.  The cards have their own life.  It’s like when you’re reading Harry Potter and put the book down to go about your day.  It feels like the story is still unfolding.  It ignites my imagination.

Excited.  Exhilarated.  Gleeful.

Divination, healing and working with nonlinear time.

It’s magic.  It can deal with the patterning of connections between individual and collective environments that other methods fail to address.  It can be a useful tool for learning to hold and wield the more challenging and abrasive cycles of living a human life.  Pointing towards lineages of teachings that act as – or just are – medicine.

One can engage with the tarot on a variety of scales: for fun; with a fateful mindset, or for profound suggestion.  Corresponding to this, differing people also work with it from contrasting ethical standpoints.

In my opinion, the most important qualities for a tarot reader are: compassion, discernment, imagination, intuition, creative communication and ethical symphony.

In learning tarot, I hope to flow with my healing process and its textures – which include joy and play.  And to support others too – even just anecdotally.  More passionately though, I hope to GO ON AN ADVENTURE!  And to embody these archetypes.

My main challenges might be that I can sometimes live in my head.  Very cerebral.  Haha Aquarius!  And self-doubt.  Old stories of unworthiness.  Fixed thought.

My tools for overcoming them are meditating; holding these states as sensations, rather than narratives.  Journalling.  Taking time out to do other things, duhhh.  Speaking with trusted friends and mentors.  As well as using the cards themselves.

Can tarot predict the future?  This is an interesting question I’ve been considering.  YouTube explanations of the 10 dimensions are helpful for considering things like this.  But from the perspective of our regular perception, I’ve come to think of it this way (at least for this morning)…  The nature of the future is that which is not yet formed.  How does one describe a sculpture that is to be made?  One can delineate the materials it will be made from and the general but more or less accurate direction it will go in.  One communicates what is going on in one’s imagination.  One can compare to similar things already existing.  One can speak of method, process and just the general vibe one is going for.  And there are always outliers.  Details, slips and influences that make their cameo.  Then there’s agency of the hands that form the clay.  We use the same faculties when envisioning the outcome of any kind of project.  That’s an answer for now.

– my journal entry from Week 1 of The Alternative Tarot Course

image: Gloria Foster as The Oracle in “The Matrix.”

The Eternal Beginner

Fool – Magician – Fool – Magician – Fool – Magician – Fool – Magician

I always seem to be the beginner at something.  I never get to be the expert.Some part of me desperately wants to be the expert. … To know shit. … But that’s not my way.

I always seem to begin a new interest in order to gather tools which teach me to be a beginner at the next thing.

It could be flakiness.  But it’s equal parts curiosity!

It’s time to stop waiting for the day I will know enough.  So this blog is for sharing my beginner experiences.  To perform the ugly duckling.  To allow myself the grace of awkwardness and discomfort in enthusiastic beginnings.

I will start with Little Red Tarot‘s The Alternative Tarot Course; publishing my journal entries.  (Let’s see what interests unfold from there.)

It’s an offering and an encouragement.  I hope you too find what follows encouraging.I’m excited by the work of Zenju Earthlyn Manuel right now.  So here is a talk she gave, on the topic of offering:

Sam x