Halloween Divination- Tarot and Oracle Cards with Iris Groveland

Halloween/Samhain is often used as an advantageous time for various forms of divination, as the concept is that the veil between worlds is at its thinnest, and the time is ripe for communication. There are myriads of methods that people use and enjoy, from scrying with water or mirrors, reading tea leaves (tasseography), use of a pendulums and/or message boards, or use of cards (cartomancy). 

If you are a visual person, your love for divination and love of art make can have a happy marriage in tarot or oracle cards. In picking a deck, you can feel drawn to the art work or drawn the subject depicted in the art. Maybe you like animals or fantasy creatures, fairies or angels. Or maybe you like a particular style of art, use of imagery, or color spectrum. Halloween imagery is perfect for divination cards and we’ll look at two different decks: The Halloween Oracle by Stacey Demarco and The Halloween Tarot by Kipling West. These are not, by any means, the only decks available. A quick internet search will unveil many other decks, from the big publishing houses to independent artists. Explore and see what resonates with you!

To start, what are the differences? The easiest summary is that oracle cards are somewhat more fluid and there is a broader range of reference whereas tarot is a much more “fixed system.” Some describe tarot cards as the pages in a book and oracle cards as the chapters. A one-card concept with an oracle deck might be more specifically elaborated upon with a tarot card spread, whose archetypical images have a semi-traceable historical line of reference to mythological, astrological, and numeric symbolism. Its division between Major and Minor arcana can hold together a linear storyline whose characters and symbols can create a somewhat more uniform interpretation. Oracle cards can use any subject matter, imagery, or form of storytelling or tools of reflection to present a more fluid interpretation, more like a dream as opposed to a prescription.

That being said, is one better than the other? Absolutely not! Many card enthusiasts own decks of both varieties and some readers will even use them as a combination during the same reading.

So let’s play!

The Halloween Oracle is a 36 card deck with artwork done by Jim Manton and published by Blue Angel Publishing. Its images cover traditional Halloween themes from black cats and cauldrons, to skulls and Mexican Day of the Dead concepts along with more folk-based ideas such as barmbrack, a bread with objects baked into it as sort of fortune cookie. The book that comes along with it is thorough but not overwhelming in detail. 

Each card’s imagery is described and given some historical context or mythological background, and then a meaning that might cover both sides of a message, the positive and negative, the light and the dark.  Some oracle deck instructions will give you a specific, reversed meaning (meaning, when the card comes out of the deck upside down as read by the querent); others just give you both sides of the story to consider. The cards are large which allow you to enjoy the artwork without straining your eyes and the artwork itself is both incredibly clear and straightforward without losing any elegance.  

The Halloween Tarot is authored by Karin Lee, illustrated by Kipling West, and is published by U.S. Games Systems. If you enjoy whimsical and folk-style art along with your normal Halloween faire, be prepared to have your striped socks charmed right off your ruby-slippered feet! 

As stated earlier, the tarot has set number of cards (78) and follows a system of Major and Minor arcana, which form the framework of a storyline with obstacles and details that serve as the messages in your reading. 

The history of tarot and the comparison of tarot suits (found in the Minor arcana) to playing card suits has as many different versions as it does authors who have written about the subject. 

I leave it you, good reader, to conduct your historical research with openness and discretion. What we will say in regards to this deck is that the traditional suits of the tarot have been shifted to match our Halloween theme:

Pentacles = Pumpkins
Cups = Ghosts
Swords = Bats
Wands = Imps

This deck is published in a few different formats, some including things like a storage tin, others including a more detailed booklet and/or foldable card layout pattern. 

There is also a deck of playing cards with the artwork of this deck which would also make a nice gift. 

The images and patterns, like most tarot, are rooted in the traditional Rider-Waite system of imagery and symbolism, so those with a running familiarity with tarot will have fun comparing the two different styles. Those who are brand new to tarot will still be able to enjoy this deck and the playful associations may actually serve as a valuable learning tool as they explore tarot as a whole. The artwork is whimsical and fun, but doesn’t shy away from the darker and more serious nature of some of the card meanings. 

For example, the Devil:

While the deck’s curious black cat (who appears on every card in the deck as part of your journey) looks on, the image is not drawn to frighten you, but beyond the smile of the devil and her playful blue dress (get it?), the message of breaking free from the things that might be enslaving you is still clear.

On the other hand, the Death card, stereotypically used to frighten in popular media, is drawn to cheer and encourage the idea that death simply means change. A smiling skeleton is watering pumpkins so that they can grow and change into jack o’ lanterns while other images depict aspects of death as a cyclical metamorphosis, not a tragic ending. All the while, our black cat friend gets a little head rub on the skeleton’s leg because cats.

Halloween is both a sacred and fun holiday for many, a time to honor the end of a season and prepare for the coming winter; a time to honor passed loved ones and a chance to communicate with them while the veil between worlds is thin. The recently passed can travel through and move on. It is simultaneously a time to remember and a time to let go.
These cards are beautiful pieces of artwork and art can help us appreciate all angles of the holiday, the sadness and the joy; the delicious and spine tingling sense of spookiness and play; and the cumulative memories that make this holiday and season a favorite for many people. 

Happy reading and Happy Halloween!

Avondale Cemetery Flint, Michigan

Located on the edge of downtown Flint nestled between an empty National Guard Armory and boarded up buildings lays one of Flint’s oldest cemeteries, Avondale.

Aventine Cemetery is also there, so close they look like one cemetery when you walk around the grounds. Aventine is the burial site of several area Civil War Veterans as well as Veterans from other eras. It is located on a portion of the grounds of Camp Thomson, a Civil War era rendezvous and training facility named after Colonel Thomson of Flint. The cemetery was abandoned by the city of Flint and left in disrepair. The Brothers of the Gov. Crapo Camp No. 145 decided to "adopt" the cemetery as a project and they keep it minimally maintained.

It is hard to tell where one cemetery ends and the other begins so I’ll just refer to the entire site as one location.

This sad, haphazard cemetery is full of crumbling headstones and toppled monuments that no one cares enough to repair. In recent years the cemetery has been vandalized repeatedly. These vandals not only damaged physical stones but destroyed parts of Flint’s history and heritage. Many of the stones damaged were over one hundred years old.

"Avondale represents people of all walks of life from Flint, from the mayor to the working person," said David White, president of the Genesee County Historical Society. "It's very unnerving to see the damage because it's so disrespectful to the buried and so costly to repair." (The Flint Journal May 7, 2015)

During my visit I noticed a large tree had split and fallen on top of numerous grave sites sometime recently because it was still full of leaves that had not completely dried up and crumbled yet. The tree branches and leaves conceal countless headstones and gravesites. Yet no one has made an effort to remove it.

The cemetery has been mowed but that seems to be the only maintenance occurring in this sad and lonely place.

This was my first visit to Avondale.

I knew of the cemetery but had never seen it before. Its location is on the outskirts of downtown Flint, an area where the gentrification has not yet reached, perhaps it never will.

Modern cemeteries are carefully planned and mapped out. Avondale is a scattered mess. Plots and stones are everywhere with no rhyme or reason.  Some of this may be due to the old Flint Cemetery residents being disinterred and reburied in Avondale in the 1950s when the city moved roads and a hotel was built on top of the old cemetery grounds.

During my visit I was on high alert, mostly due to being in a bad part of town, but something sinister lurked in the shadows that were everywhere in this cemetery even though it was a bright, hot, summer day.

Most of the cemetery was historically interesting yet sad. Nothing overtly creepy, not even the eerie crypts and mausoleums that were becoming one with the natural surroundings, until we drove to the back of the cemetery to circle our way out. I think I discovered the source of the cemetery's sinister subtext.

Photo by Ari Napolitano
Photo by Ari Napolitano

A derelict shed stood in shadowed darkness with pile of debris in front. Trees and vines had almost swallowed the structure whole. Only one garage door was visible and it hung open, darkness reaching out from its depth. Fear and trepidation filled me. Though it would have been a great subject for photos I would not get out of the car nor would I let my children get out. Something evil lingered in that old shed and I had no desire to face it.

My daughter snapped this photo through the car window

After that we hustled out of Avondale and made our way to the opposite side of downtown Flint to Glenwood. (More on Glenwood in my next cemetery post).

Here are more photos from Avondale by Ari Napolitano

Interestingly, right before setting up this post I read an email from Atlas Obscura  with a link to an article about Tree Stump Gravestones

I had to check it out because I knew there were several tree stump gravestones in Avondale that we snapped photos of. 

To the best of my memory Avondale is the first place I have ever seen tree stump gravestones. If they are in a cemetery I have visited before I just didn't pay attention.

According to the author of Tree-Stump Tombstones, Susanne Ridlen, tree-stump tombstones can be found in graveyards all over the US.  They date mostly from the 1880s to the 1920s, when funerary art was moving away from the grand mausoleums and obelisks and turning the focus of death back to life. A tree is a powerful symbol of both eternity and humanity, recalling the tree of life and tree of knowledge.

The tree-stump tomb stones qualify as folk art. They also have ties to secret societies, fraternal orders, and unions.

Haunted Flint
Haunted America Series
Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani 

Publisher: The History Press

Release Date: September 2, 2019

ISBN-10: 1467143049
ISBN-13: 978-1467143042

Book Description:

Sinister Secrets in Flint’s History

Home to ancient burial grounds, unsolved murders, economic depression, and a water crisis, Flint emits an unholy energy rife with ghostly encounters.

Colonel Thomas Stockton’s ever vigilant ghost keeps a watchful eye over his family home at Spring Grove, where guests occasionally hear the thump of his heavy boots.

Restless spirits long separated from their graves lurk among the ancient stones in Avondale Cemetery.

Carriage maker W.A. Paterson’s spirit continuously wanders the halls of the Dryden Building, and something sinister and unnamed resides in a Knob Hill mansion waiting to prey on impressionable young men.

Join authors Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani on a chilling tour of Flint’s most haunted locations.

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