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Afternoon Tea on the Day of the Dead

My grandfather, Thomas R. Vernon, standing in front of a type case setting type. He holds in his left hand the "stick" used to set type and with his right hand picks up a piece of type with a single letter on it and puts it in the stick.
My grandfather, Thomas R. Vernon, standing in front of a type case setting type. He holds in his left hand the “stick” used to set type and with his right hand picks up a piece of type with a single letter on it and puts it in the stick.

When Louise from Priestess Tarot gave us the assignment of discussing who we would invite to an afternoon tea on the Day of the Dead, I immediately liked the idea. She posted our topic quite early, so I had plenty of time to let this percolate. As the deadline grew nearer, I wondered, who will I invite? Joseph Campbell came to mind. Fictional characters like Gandalf and Frodo or Alice in Wonderland tempted my fancy. I knew the intention was more along the lines of inviting an ancestor on this holiday that celebrates those who went before. Perhaps I could invite my paternal grandfather, who died before I was born, but who I always felt a connection to. And if I was going to work with an ancestor, what better deck to use than the Ancestral Path Tarot (by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995)?

A photo of another relative in the printing business. The article discusses how all Vernons were printers!
A photo of another relative in the printing business. The article discusses how all Vernons were printers!

In my beginning tarot class, The Magician’s Tools (formerly Journey through Tarot), I do an exercise called “This is Your Life.” The assignment is based on the old TV game show–I never saw it, but it’s been spoofed often enough on other shows that I’m familiar with the basic idea. You are introduced to people from your past, first getting a clue about them by hearing their voice from offstage. So for this assignment, I have people first think of a person from their past (we do three total) and then ask themselves, what would that person say to me that would remind me of them. Then they pick a court card to represent the person (looking at the images on the cards and making an intentional or analytical choice, this is not a random draw) and select a non-court card to represent what the person would say.

So I’m going to invite my grandfather for tea. According to the records that I found online, he was born February 8, 1893 and died July 10, 1960. I know he died from smoking before I was born. He ran a print shop in New Jersey. I have always been fascinated by writing, printing, editing and publishing, and I suspect I inherited these interests from him.

We’re going to meet in the big old house he and my grandmother raised their four sons in. My grandmother lived there alone for decades after he died and we usually drove from Michigan to visit her for Thanksgiving. There was a beautiful, formal dining room, but I think I’d like to have tea in the kitchen. There was one of those rectangular formica kitchen tables there, I think it had a gray top and I want to say yellow or yellow and gray chairs. It was set next to a window that looked out at the side yard and the driveway and garage, a great spot to wait and watch for someone who is coming to join us.

King of Cups and Prince of Circles Ancestral Path
The King of Cups and the Prince of Sacred Circles from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.

I look through the court cards in the Ancestral Path deck. I wouldn’t say any of these cards look like the photos of my grandfather that I’ve seen, but I’m drawn to the King of Cups and the Prince of Sacred Circles. The King of Cups shows in the foreground a king in chain mail and crown sitting on a throne outside, looking suspiciously off to the side. A castle is in the background, beyond a moat or other body of water. The setting sun glints off the stone walls of the castle. This king is not in his castle, and since I never knew my grandfather, the idea of him ruling but not present seems right. He holds an ornately bound book under one arm, reminding me that he is a printer. On the other hand, I like the Prince because he’s holding a pipe, reminding me that my grandfather was a heavy smoker. There is a beam of light slanting in behind his head. I like the way the light connects this character to Spirit, as if my grandfather were shining in and animating the figure on the card. I like his forthright expression and straight-ahead gaze. I think he will talk to me. I’ll use these two cards together to represent my grandfather.

Because my grandfather died before I was born, I don’t have any particular phrase I would expect him to say for my “This is Your Life” game. But in my head I keep hearing “Do it right.” My father and grandmother both seem strict, so I’m not sure this isn’t them, but maybe he was strict too. I look through the deck and choose the Eight of Sacred Circles. It shows a woman bending wood into hoops and covering them with cloth or hide. Some are finished, some discarded. It looks like she is doing it over and over trying to get it right.

The Eight of Sacred Circles from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.
The Eight of Sacred Circles from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.

I’d like to ask him some questions as we sip our tea, looking out the window at the driveway. What did you like best about working at a print shop? I shuffle and randomly draw the Prince of Swords. Weapon drawn and raised over his head, the other arm outstretched, this man is poised for attack. I imagine my grandfather liked the fast pace, the deadlines, the fast turnaround. Getting a job done quickly and efficiently, moving on to the next like a warrior defeating opponents one by one.

The Prince of Swords from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.
The Prince of Swords from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.
The Wheel of Fortune from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.
The Wheel of Fortune from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.

I ask him what his favorite thing to print was. A random draw reveals the Wheel of Fortune. A zodiac belt divides the lower part of the card, featuring an image of standing stones against light piercing down from the clouds veiling the sunrise; above, planets swirl in the galaxy. To me, he’s saying he loves getting up early in the dark, and working until the light comes up, signaling his deadline for getting, perhaps, a daily newspaper printed. The standing stones suggest he likes history, maybe even metaphysics (probably just wishful thinking on my part). The planets above suggest maybe he likes printing articles about science or about the solar system. If he published a newspaper, he would have published an article when Pluto was discovered in 1930. The lower right corner of the card features two open books, both with text and illustrations. I’m guessing he likes anything that has a more complicated layout, not just typesetting.

The Kind of Sacred Circles from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.
The Kind of Sacred Circles from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts, published by US Games 1995.

My last question is what his favorite daily task was in the publishing business. I pull the King of Sacred Circles. His father started the newspaper, and since I had chosen the Prince of Sacred Circles for him, I’m guessing he means that he liked working with his father. This King is beating a drum. At first I thought it meant doing any kind of repetitive, daily task, just getting into the rhythm of the day. But I think it also might mean drumming up business, calling people to gather together to hear the news. Maybe he had to deliver the papers to newsstands, and liked doing that.

I enjoyed my conversation with my grandfather, and learned a lot. I hope you enjoyed it too!

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Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Fort Collins Tarot Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the Psychics of Isis and has been featured at SpiritWays, the Mercury Café and psychic fairs throughout the Denver Metro and Northern Colorado. She is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.

© 2014 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
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Afternoon Tea on the Day of the Dead

7 thoughts on “Afternoon Tea on the Day of the Dead

  • November 3, 2014 at 6:57 am
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    Great photo of your Grandfather and such a reminder of how labour intensive it used to be to get words published. I wonder what he’d have made of blogging?

    • November 3, 2014 at 9:36 am
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      I know! According to my dad, who worked in the print shop from the age of 9 through high school, my grandfather was a small job printer and did things like business cards and stationery; things I used to go to Kinko’s for and now go to Vistaprint for. So much has changed.

  • November 5, 2014 at 7:46 pm
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    I really connected with this because I too feel the presence of my paternal grandmother whom I have never met. Thanks for sharing

  • November 6, 2014 at 1:17 am
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    A lovely post, Joy! I adore the Ancestral Path Tarot (it was the second deck I ever owned!), and you got some fascinating insights from it. I enjoyed the way you used the elements on the cards, beyond their traditional meanings, like in the Wheel representing history and science and the flow of a working day 🙂 Interesting to think what his job and life must have been like – a different approach to history!

  • November 6, 2014 at 7:48 am
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    A wonderful read, and very interesting. The deck you used looks lovely – I have heard of it but haven’t seen many of the cards!

  • November 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm
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    A gentle, loving connection, Joy. Very nicely done. I like the questions you asked.

  • November 8, 2014 at 1:01 am
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    It’s been lovely to hear about people’s ancestors in this Hop 🙂

Comments are closed.