Do you believe
you’ve lived before?
a party I attended in 2006, I met a middle-aged man who claimed
to have recovered memories of a past life. After dinner, he pushed
back his plate of bread pudding and announced, “In a former
life, I was a black woman. I clearly recall giving birth to a
baby in the middle of a cotton field behind the railroad tracks.”
the same year, I met a woman known for her ability to help others
glimpse their past lives. She darted around the room, peering
into people’s eyes and announcing what she saw: You were
a fish. Yes, definitely a fish. And you - you were a horse. And
you? You were a dancer in Russia, but you starved to death before
you could make your first performance.”
also met a young man who very quietly recounts his own past-life
story: “I dream about this place constantly,” he says.
“I lived in a muddy, rutted village. We were always cold
and usually. There was something wrong with my teeth; I was always
in pain. There’s another man there - overweight and dirty
and ragged. We work together, but at some point, he kills me in
an argument over food.”
2005, ABC News covered the dramatic tale of James Leininger, a
six year-old-boy believed by his family to be the reincarnation
of James M. Huston, Jr., a World War II fighter pilot. A number
of people, including Huston’s own sister, have been convinced
by the vivid details Leininger seems to recall of his life and
people believe stories like these are proof of the reality of
reincarnation. Others insist that “reclaimed memories”
are nothing more than half-remembered dreams or vivid fantasies.
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, I do know this:
if you’re interested in exploring the idea of past lives,
your tarot deck is a powerful tool for doing so.
A Secret Teaching of the Tarot?
has long been one of the esoteric tarot’s “hidden
teachings.” Over the years, many writers have equated the
Fool with themes of life, death, and rebirth. Kabbalistic
systems often equate the Fool with Kether, the crown and “The
Source of Life” - an assignment that suggest the Fool’s
descent form the world of potential into the world of distilled
readers equate the pack over the shoulder of the Rider-Waite-Smith
(RWS) Fool as the repository of memories and wisdom collected
during previous lives. The Fool’s number - when he’s
given a number at all - is usually zero, a number who’s
shape suggests the idea of endless cycles. And, of course, there
is the Majors, achieves the integration and enlightenment suggested
by the World, and then begins the journey anew.
then, would appear to be woven into the fabric of the modern esoteric
tarot. The fact, combined with tarot’s unique ability to
tap thoughts, memories, and stories long submerged in the subconscious,
makes the deck a powerful tool for exploring past lives.
Words of Caution
you plan to work with tarot as part of an effort to illuminate
past lives, please keep the following cautions in mind:
Past-Life exploration is a serious venture. Attempts to peer into
previous lives should not be taken lightly. Proceed with this
exercise only if you feel a compelling need to make a connection
with a prior self.
Not all past lives are pleasant ones. Repressed memories (whether
forged in your current or your previous lives) have often been
buried for a reason.
Past lives often don’t “perform on demand.”
As a result of dreamwork or meditative regression, you may wish
to explore a specific incarnation. The details uncovered by this
exercise may relate to that existence…or come from another.
Be open to whatever insights occur.
Not everyone can be Helen of Try. While you may fancy having been
the “face that launched a thousand ships,” you may
connect with a fairly mundane prior existence. Fame is not necessarily
an indicator of a successful incarnation. The insights you achieve
as a lowly shopkeeper may be more important than those achieved
in a more high-profile previous life.
process of reviewing a prior existence is simple but powerful.
I recommend you perform this experiment only when you have a minimum
of one hour to pursue it; otherwise, you may rush through the
steps and neglect important insights.
for this reading by grounding and centering yourself using whatever
tradition you honor. Turn off cell phones, telephones, televisions,
and other distractions. Do whatever must be done to avoid interruptions
during this work. The experiment may be undertaken in any setting;
however, you may find it useful to dim the lights, light candles,
play meditative music, or burn incense. You should feel protected,
empowered, and safe.
Two: Meditation on the Fool
whatever deck you prefer, remove the Fool (or its equivalent).
Once you are seated comfortably on the floor, take the card in
both hands and focus on the
illustration. Clear your mind. When distracting thoughts occur,
acknowledge them, tell them, “I’ll deal with you later,”
and return your attention to the card.
time, your focus will soften or your eyes will grow heavy. When
this occurs, allow your eyes to close - but maintain the image
of the Fool card in your mind. Think of this image as a frame
of film. When you feel ready, prompt your “inner projectionist”
to play the card’s “movie” in reverse.
you are working with the RWS Fool, the young man in the illustration
will walk slowly backward. The clouds above him will retreat toward
the distant horizon. The rose he carries will revert from blossom
to bud. The white dog at his feet will cavort in reverse.
your inner eye on the Fool as he shrinks from your field of view.
When you can no longer see him, allow the image of the card to
slowly fade to black.
Three: The Reading
open your eyes. Replace the Fool in the deck and shuffle it. Beginning
at the top, deal eight cards into an upright column: three cards
above, two crossed cards in the center, and three cards below.
One: Your Gender:
This card holds clues to your gender during a past life. Don’t
obsess on the apparent gender of the character in the illustration.
While this may be an indicator of your previous gender, the really
important question to ask is this: what gender do you feel the
card symbolically suggests?
Two: Your Family:
This card indicates something of importance about the family into
which you were born. The Ten of Cups may suggest a large, happy,
loving environment. The Justice card may point to a strict, sterile
household where rules were more important than freedom. The Eight
of Cups may suggest that something was missing from your home
environment, and could be read as anything from “an absent
parent” to “life as an only child.”
This card provides insight into your core identity during this
previous lifetime. A Major in this position indicates a behavior,
belief, or would view that dominated this existence. (The Lovers,
for example, might indicate you spent this lifetime desperately
seeking a soulmate…or that romantic relationships were always
a challenge for you).
Four and Five: Critical Situation:
These cards are a snapshot - a “Kodak moment,” if
you like - of a critical situation that arose during your previous
life. The two cards represent two energies, forces, or people
whose interactions created a climax of life-changing dimensions.
If you find the Eight of Wands paired with the Four of Coins,
you might decide your previous self received a sudden insight
(Eight of Wands) that prompted him to save food and money (Four
of Coins) in preparation for a coming disaster.
This card represents all-important response you made to the crisis
defined by cards Four and Five. The Devil in this position might
indicate that the fellow from you previous example hoarded his
provisions for himself; the Six of Coins, though, might suggest
that he endeared himself to others by freely sharing his resources.
Seven: Life Lesson:
This card symbolizes the life lesson you learned during this existence.
Expect this card to refer, at least in part, to the crisis outlined
in cards Four and Five and the response signified by card Six.
The Tower in this position, for example, might indicate that,
as a result of being led to help others, you learned to escape
the prison of obsessive self-interest.
Eight: Influence on Your Present Life:
This card will reveal how the existence depicted in this spread
colors your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and choices today. The
King of Swords in this position could suggest that your cool handling
of a past-life crisis prepared you to be a present-day leader.
On the other hand, the Two of Wands might suggest today’s
inability to stick with a course of action is rooted in self-doubt
left over from a previous incarnation’s self-doubt.
about a past life is one thing; knowing how to use this information
to foster positive change and growth is another.
you have genuinely opened up yourself to the revelations of this
reading, collect all the cards, shuffle them, and draw three new
cards, placing them in a simple horizontal line.
One: Honoring the Past:
This card suggests something you can do today as a means of acknowledging
the work you performed in the past. The Four of Swords might prompt
you to offer a prayer for the person you were, or the Star card
might lead you to make a libation - a small offering of wine or
water, poured out over an altar of small stones - in recognition
of a former self.
Two: Putting Wisdom to Work:
This card suggests a way you can put your past life experience
to work today. If you discover, for example, that you worked as
a successful craftsman in the past, drawing the Eight of Coins
might encourage you to take up a handicraft you could use to enhance
Three: Looking Forward:
Reconnecting with past lives can be exciting, but your present
life has lessons of its own to teach! This card, which hints at
your current life’s agenda, will suggest a matter in the
present that requires your attention. (Drawing the Hierophant,
for example, might motivate you to schedule more time for deliberate
spiritual practice.) Pondering how this card extends or builds
upon your past life experience will be both satisfying and enlightening.
Tips for Past-Life Explorers
Take some time to explore the insights suggested by this reading.
Expect connections among cards to reveal themselves in subtle
ways. One good way to expand and preserve the information you
gather during this exercise is to translate it into a journal
entry by writing a paragraph or two about each card.
Want to explore a specific past life you’ve glimpsed before?
Choose cards deliberately to represent what you do know; draw
random cards to “fill in the blanks” and complete
If some cards remain inscrutable, or if you feel uncertain about
the information you receive, you can always supplement your insights
with commentary cards: additional cards drawn to amplify or enhance
the meaning of the original card. Place commentary cards to the
right of the cards they modify; they will “extend”
the story and allow you to glimpse additional details.
Even if your current beliefs do not embrace reincarnation, this
spread can still provide you with a great deal of insight. After
“generating” a past life with the cards, try interpreting
the story you’ve crated as though it were a symbolic dream.
What truths about your present life might this “past-life
Llewellyn's 2008 Tarot Reader by Mark McElroy