Objectively, I know that when the clock rolls over from 11:59 PM on December 31st to 12:00 AM on January 1st, that nothing will be fundamentally different about the world. I know that the calendar change isn't a magical portal to a new world, a fresh start. And yet...I love New Year's Eve. I love the thrill of a good ending, a big going away party, glitter and champagne and the abandon of "if not now, when?" Where the Winter Solstice is sacred, solemn, a magical rite of passage, New Year's Eve is the glitzy, party twin, the sister who knows that an ending deserves as big a party as a new beginning.
This year, though, I don't feel the magic. I am quite frankly dreading the change to 2021, when we'll be asked to make resolutions, fill in planners, set SMART goals, and generally get all worked up about what we'll accomplish in the next 12 months. I can't shake this foreboding deja vu, a lingering sore spot from New Year's Eve 2019, when the new decade was as fresh as a mint penny and my heart was full of hope. Like an ex who's not quite over it yet, I just don't want to be hurt again. I'm not ready to get back out there, start seeing new resolutions, casually date a few planners, maybe take the plunge and pop the big question (will you be my life coach?) I'm still on the power ballad playlist at 90 decibels and sushi take-out every night stage of this break-up with 2020.
If you're still here after that extended metaphor, what I'm trying to say is its OK if you aren't excited about a new year or planning ahead. The future is still so uncertain, despite the wave of relatively good news about vaccines. We lived through and lost so much this past year - it takes time to process trauma on this scale. When I started thinking about what I wanted to tackle at the end of the year, I realized that I needed to reflect on everything that has happened and try to pin down the truth of 2020. Was it the longest or shortest year of my life? Was it overwhelmingly full, or mind-numbingly empty? How, exactly, did I manage to forget the entire month of April? As I spun these questions out, I kept picturing a giant mirror - a huge, reflecting pool that might conjure up the past year a la Ebenezer Scrooge and help me sort everything out.
Mirrors are powerful tools. They show a cutting, unfiltered truth, one that can be easily mistaken for the only truth. Mirrors amplify the essence of a thing or person, reflecting it infinitely to either the best possible or worst possible outcome. Mirrors are portals, doorways to an inner world that can trap us beneath the glass. They are dangerous in the way that all truthful things are.
For this spread, I included a very brief ritual to ground your past year in the present. Integrating difficult truths takes time, and oftentimes more than journaling or meditation. As you review your year, pay attention to your reactions and needs. It's OK to need to reach out to a close confidante or professional for support when confronting the pain of 2020. If you aren't sure who to reach out to, the following hotlines are staffed by excellent listeners and advocates:
NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-6264 (available Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (available 24/7)
A 2020 Reflection Tarot Spread
What You'll Need:
a tarot or oracle deck
2 pieces of paper or pages in a journal
a favorite pen, pencil, or marker
a patch of ground you can dig in OR a dish of salt
Once you've gathered your supplies, get comfy. Find a spot in your home that feels safe and comfortable. Grab your favorite drink or snack, light a candle or spray some room fragrance. Put on music or white noise, or enjoy the sweet silence. I find that I'm willing to spend more time on a spread if I let myself settle into the moment. Now, take one of your pieces of paper and make a list of all the failures you experienced in 2020. Don't panic! Just reflect on the things that didn't work out how you planned, the duds, the failures to launch. No need to write a detailed explanation, just a few key words. I titled my list, "2020 Duds". Once you've finished this list, take your other piece of paper and write out all the successes you had this year, the unexpected windfalls, the moments of joy you cultivated. I called this "2020 Wins". This might be a harder list to make, so take your time. Remember that something doesn't have to be finished to be a success. I included in-progress items like "started learning Italian on Duolingo", but this is something I'm excited about and has brought me a lot of happiness over coffee.
After you've made your lists, grab your tarot or oracle deck (it's OK if you need a little break after making your lists - enjoy that beverage or snack!) Shuffle your deck and think back on 2020. Remember your resolutions or expectations at the beginning of the year, read over your two lists, think about how you are feeling today, at the end of this year. Now, lay out the cards in the spread below, including your lists of wins and duds..
Your hopes for 2020: this card represents the expectations you had at the beginning of 2020. Did you make a list of resolutions last year? Or perhaps you have notes from a year ahead tarot spread last year. Think on those goals and how they influenced your year. You might find it most helpful to shuffle through your deck and find a card that best represents what your hopes were for the year. Place your lists of wins and duds side by side under the first card.
An illusion about your 2020 duds to dispel: we tell ourselves stories about your failures and misfires, and sometimes those stories are designed to cover up a hard truth. What unhelpful or hurtful story have you been telling yourself about these experiences?
An illusion about your 2020 wins to dispel: similar to the stories we tell ourselves about our failures, we can misrepresent our successes to downplay their importance or our own impact - or play them up into more than they are. What do you need to let go about your 2020 wins?
A truth about your 2020 duds that you're overlooking: like holding onto illusions about our failures, there may be a hidden truth to uncover. What about these experiences have you not considered?
A truth about your 2020 wins that you're overlooking: if you're anything like me, you might be prone to undercutting the reality of your successes. What truth have you not accepted about your wins? Its possible they don't look like the wins you hoped to achieve at the beginning of the year, but what can you do to honor the reality of the present?
The essence of your strength in 2020: what trait, resource, or decision carried you through this difficult year? If you had an especially difficult time listing wins, or if you had a very long list of duds, pull 2 to 3 cards in this position. You likely had a wealth of strengths that helped you survive and it's time to recognize your resilience.
After you've laid our your spread, take the time to ponder or journal about your cards. How do they make you feel about your successes and failures? Do they make you reconsider the story you tell yourself about the year? Take as long as you need to explore this spread.
When you are ready, clear your cards and shuffle them back into your deck. Take your list of wins and stick it to a mirror in your home. Read over your list and then look at your reflection. Consider the illusions and truths about your wins that your cards asked you to consider. You might find it helpful to say some positive affirmations aloud to your reflection. Leave your list on the mirror for as long as you like, but at least until you feel like you have truly acknowledged what you accomplished in 2020.
Next, take your list of duds and head outside. Find a patch of ground and dig a small hole. Fold or crumple your list and bury it in the hole. While covering your list with dirt, imagine a plant or grass growing over the list, being nourished by the soil around it. Our failures are a foundation from which to build, they inform how we can be more successful and prepared in the future. Let go of your losses from this year and allow them to feed something new.
If you do not have a patch of ground that you can dig in, fill a shallow dish with salt. Fold your list of failures up and submerge it in the salt dish. Imagine the salt is washing away the ink from the page, and the burden of your losses from your mind. Leave the paper submerged overnight, and then dispose of it in the trash or recycling.
My 2020 Reflection Spread
I struggled with my tarot practice this month, and for most of the second half of 2020. I am an extrovert, and I find my magic flows best in groups of people. So the longer I stay in isolation, the more I feel like Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring, "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread." While exploring this reflection spread, I found I had to return to the cards over several days to sort out the meanings and relationships - a timely reminder that there is no best way or timeline to practice magic.
1. Your hopes for 2020: The Star
Well, that's a bit on the nose. Pure, innocent hope - that about sums up my wide-eyed excitement on January 1, 2020. This was the year I was going to get married, earn a graduate certificate, get a new, fulfilling job, launch a business, connect to nature more deeply, explore the world. For a creature more comfortable with cynicism than hope, I was uncomfortably vulnerable in my excitement. Which made 2020 feel all the more like a sledgehammer to the face.
In this deck, the Star is portrayed by Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka from a Russian fairy tale. Even after Ivanushka is turned into a goat, his sister vows to care for him and love him with the hopes that some day they can break his curse. This is the faith of a child in happy endings, an open-hearted wish for better days, a breath released after too long held. In hindsight, I likely knew that this year wasn't going to be a fairy tale of love and prosperity (I am still a Scorpio, after all), but I remember the feeling of possibility of a new decade.
2. An illusion about your 2020 duds to dispel: Justice
Here, Justice is represented by the Korean amhaeng-eosa, a mythologized group of royal inspectors with the power to punish wrong-doers and uplift the righteous. I think it is easy to tell ourselves that the failures we experience are 100% our fault, that we only get out what we put in to our world. Honestly, I hold this idea of Justice closely. It allows me to feel that I have more control over my future than is really possible (or healthy). Looking over my list of duds from 2020, it's tempting to say that if only I had worked harder, took more risks, made smarter decisions then I would have achieved all I wanted to. Yet, there was so much about this year that was out of my control. The hiring freeze most companies instituted wasn't my fault, yet it undoubtedly affected my ability to secure a new position. When you consider the many intersecting forms of oppression and discrimination that people experience and how those systems of harm affect our ability to achieve our goals...suddenly Justice is not so cut and dry.
3. An illusion about your 2020 wins to dispel: Ace of Wands I like to shuffle my deck between laying down each card, and the Ace of Wands jumped out of my hands while I was shuffling for this position. The Magic Paintbrush from Chinese folk tales is a powerful icon. With a magical wand like this, it's easy to imagine that impossible riches are within my grasp. Many of the wins I listed for 2020 are beginnings - launched, started, met, etc. I feel like I am on the first step of a magical quest and that if I find just the right tool then I'll be able to manifest wealth and success. You might suffer from "the right tool"-itis like I do. "If only I can find the right notebook and pen, then I'll be able to sit down and write my novel." "If only I had the right set of books, then I could start practicing that witchcraft tradition." "If only I had the right shoes, then I could start hiking more often." Reading my list, it's easy to see where my imagination wants to take me and I can already feel my brain jumping in the way and yelling about the right supplies, the right instructors, before I set off. But like Ma Liang knows from the Magic Paintbrush folk tale, the intention behind the action is so much more important than the tools used to act.
4. A truth about your 2020 duds you are overlooking: 2 of Wands
I'm always pleased to see a Roman god in my spread - it feels like my ancestral Italian family looking out for me. Janus is an interesting character; born a mortal man, he was elevated to godhood by Saturn after offering him safe harbor in his kingdom, which eventually became the city of Rome. Janus is one of the patron deities of Rome, and especially loves beginnings and endings, gateways and portals. In this position, Janus reminds me that most failures are not periods, but rather ellipses. Oftentimes, there is nothing stopping us from trying to restart an endeavor aside from our own shame or fear. I look at my 2020 duds list and I see things that if I want to, I can try to achieve again. Just because I didn't finish my book draft in 2020, doesn't mean I will never finish it. I wasn't as involved in my community as I wanted to be, but there's nothing to stop me from spending more time volunteering and organizing in the future. At the end of the year, it's easy to forget that we can carry our goals into the new year, that we carry our dreams through the doorway to 2021.
5. A truth about your 2020 wins that you are overlooking: 5 of Wands
What I love most about this card is the action, the play-fight between the Pandavas is full of motion, chaos, energy. The 5's in tarot are all about conflict and change, but here there is comradery amidst the chaos. In the Mahabharata, the brothers share everything equally including their success, failures, and risk. They might fight amongst themselves occasionally, but ultimately they are united against the common enemies they encounter. When I look back over 2020, I feel the isolation and loneliness most deeply. Yet, the moments that shine through as victories are the places where I was able to connect in common cause with others. Whether it was raising money with an Instagram read-a-thon, taking a virtual writing class, or finally tying the knot with my amazing partner, 2020 reminded me how much my life is enriched by the people in it. This year was a struggle, but we survived it together, even when "together" had to be adapted.
6. The essence of your strength in 2020: The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man is an excellent card to represent 2020. This was a year of stasis in so many ways for me personally. At times it felt impossible to move forward, and the more I fought to escape the inertia, the more deeply entangled I became in the brambles. The Hanged Man in this deck is actually a princess, Sleeping Beauty, an old symbol of the in-between fastness of cursed sleep. As a child, I always resented this story of a girl waiting idly for a prince to rescue her and her kingdom. While I still think this story contributes to toxic ideas of masculinity and femininity, I can also see the strength in Sleeping Beauty's situation. The Hanged Man tells us that now is not the time for action, and that we'll find wisdom in waiting, and Sleeping Beauty is saved by such a decision. If she had not fallen into a deep sleep thanks to the work of a good fairy, she would have died instead.
So many of our kindred did not survive 2020 - as of today, December 30th, 1.79 million people have died of COVID-19 worldwide according to the New York Times. Those of us here today, did whatever we could to survive and in many cases that survival depended on us doing nothing - staying home, cancelling plans, avoiding people and places and so much that makes life, life. I am sure I am not alone in feeling that 2020 was a year of cursed sleep, and that I can only hope that one day soon there will be a key to waking up and returning to life.
In some ways, ending with the Hanged Man and Sleeping Beauty's story feels like starting back at the beginning again with The Star. Trapped in the castle behind the thick brambles, I can only dream of better days ahead and hope that the dreams come true soon.
Alex is the founder and primary tarot reader for Dead Reckoning Tarot. She has been working with tarot cards since she was an anxious and overeager teen, and now as an anxious and overeager adult enjoys finding ways to infuse the every day world with magic. When she isn't slinging cards, you can find her cuddling her small dogs or crocheting in central Kentucky. You can book a tarot reading with Alex here.