This post features cards from the Numinous Tarot. All photographs by Meg Jones Wall.
The end of the year can bring a lot of pressure. There’s expectations around family and holidays, but there are also a lot of narratives around the self: sharing what we’re proud of, setting goals and ambitions for the next year, making vows and resolutions for how we’ll improve. We’re all supposed to be constantly growing, striving, expanding: building our personal empires, uplifting our communities, succeeding in every aspect of career, wealth, health, relationships, and happiness.
It’s fucking exhausting. And while I believe that everyone has their methods, rarely do these kinds of intention-setting rituals or dream maps actually inspire me to be better: instead they just make me feel ashamed about all the things that I didn’t accomplish, all of the goals that I didn’t reach, all of the desires that I didn’t even try to manifest.
After this long and exhausting year, I’d like to invite you to a ritual that’s simple, quiet, personal. This is something for your heart and soul, something that doesn’t center capitalism or prosperity or outward-facing symbols of success but instead makes space for the things, the people, the ideas that really and truly matter to you.
What do you love? What are you tired of? Where have you been striving for something you don’t even know if you still want? How have you changed? What have you learned? Where do you find inspiration, and where are you feeling depleted? In short: how are you, really? And how do you want to be?
I want to invite you to a ritual that’s just for you: one of reflection, illumination, and ultimately, forgiveness.
There’s a phrase that plagues spiritual communities, one that is parroted so frequently it’s nearly lost all meaning: release that which no longer serves you. It’s one I’ve written about before, one I’ve complained about often — not because it’s bad advice, but because it’s far too simple, too casual, for what we really have to do when something is proving toxic, traumatic, or unsatisfactory. It’s a sweet little phrase that glosses over something that is actually intensely difficult, that minimizes the intense effort of change.
Growth, rebirth, transformation, is not a pleasant or comfortable process.
In the major arcana, Judgement is the last step before the World: the final action we take before fulfillment, satisfaction, completion. After all the ups and downs, the wins and losses, the joys and sorrows, we reach a place of clarity, purpose: one final choice, one last shift. Judgement is an archetype that we tend to associate with a significant realization, unveiling, recognition. The Numinous Tarot uses the name Awakening for this archetype, and it’s exactly right: this is when things click into place, when we acknowledge who we are and what our purpose is, when we claim our destiny. I associate Judgement with forgiveness — this is the moment when we acknowledge the pain, guilt, anger, sorrow, frustration, or uncertainty that we’ve been carrying this whole time, and finally let it go. We say goodbye to an old version of ourselves, a set of expectations or perceptions that we’ve been clinging to, a dream that no longer reflects what we want. And in doing so, we authentically, finally, accept the truth about who we are.
Like Death, like the eight of cups, like the six of swords, often we have to choose a new path in order to facilitate the process of transformation. Change requires some kind of decision, a deliberate willingness to acknowledge the passing of a belief or desire or goal and accept a new one. We can’t stay in that toxic relationship or that demoralizing job or that destructive community without consequences – and it’s very hard to bloom when it takes every ounce of our energy just to survive. But abandoning what is familiar can feel terrifying and destabilizing, even when we know that those things are causing us harm. And sometimes, these familiar things are as simple as a personal narrative, a story that we tell ourselves about who we are, what we do, how we define ourselves.
We may call something ambition, but it’s really a sense of urgency or being somehow “behind” everyone else, which can push us to always be moving, chasing, reaching, striving. We may pride ourselves on something we call caution but really it’s a fear of failure, which can make us afraid to take risks, can leave us defending the familiar and the safe even when those things bore us to tears. We may cling to something we call humility but really it’s a feeling of unworthiness, which can push us to underestimate our abilities, to talk down to ourselves, to believe that we are not deserving of the life we want. And left to fester, unacknowledged, these sensations can turn into distress, humiliation, or self-loathing.
Shame can feel impossible to shed. Even in the face of victory, triumph, reaching and exceeding our own expectations, shame can get its hooks into us, keep us tethered to past mistakes, past choices, past desires. It’s something that doesn’t always go away completely, something that even time and love and therapy can’t always fully erase. But it doesn’t have to hold us back from growth, from happiness. It doesn’t have to prevent us from moving forward.
Put another way: a caterpillar doesn’t just make a quiet little cocoon for themselves, fall into a peaceful slumber, and wake up refreshed, with a beautiful new form. Instead this process is complex, lengthy, and drastic, as this creature follows its instincts to protect itself within a chrysalis, dissolve parts of its body in enzymes, and grow new aspects of its final form. There are endless metaphors tied to this process: that we must endure pain to transform, that lasting change takes time, that we don’t always know what cycle we’re in until we see the results. But there’s more to see here, more to interrogate. Do you think that the butterfly looks back on its life as a caterpillar with regret, embarrassment, or anger? Do they feel shame about the creature that they used to be? Do they berate themselves for not flying sooner, even though they didn’t have their wings yet? Or do they simply recognize that they were a different organism, with different ambitions, following a different path?
Butterflies don’t cling to the branches they once walked along, don’t resign themselves to only using their legs, don’t force themselves to stick with an old way of life long after it makes sense. They simply gaze up into the sky, flutter their new wings, and let themselves soar.
What if instead of clinging to the familiar, you gave yourself permission to imagine another kind of life? What if instead of punishing yourself for everything that you haven’t done, you celebrate everything that you’ve accomplished? What if instead of focusing on who you aren’t, you praise the person that you are?
This ritual begins with a tarot spread. I have written and published many spreads throughout the years, from seeing the self clearly to getting grounded to letting the cards drag you, but this one is particularly focused on digging into the ways that fear, regret, and shame might be limiting your ability to see yourself, or the opportunities that lie before you, with clarity. Shame has a way of holding us back, of telling us that we don’t deserve to pursue the things that we want or need. Yet when we treat ourselves with compassion, when we extend empathy, we create space for forgiving ourselves for who we used to be. And when we are strong enough to show ourselves mercy, the real healing can begin.
I would encourage you to grab your favorite deck, carve out a time and space when you can work without interruption, and be gentle with yourself as you work through this reading. The cards may offer some truths that you find difficult to face, yet this is an essential part of the ritual. What have you been afraid or unwilling to acknowledge? How might you feel unworthy, undeserving, uninvited? Where are you itching to grow, and how are you talking yourself out of that process?
Use this spread with patience and awareness, meditating on each individual card as well as the story that the cards tell together. Take the time to journal through each of these card positions, to ask questions of yourself, to let your intuition speak. What is being revealed? What are you learning about yourself?
After performing the reading and taking plenty of time to journal, gather a piece of paper, something to write with, a fireproof bowl, and matches or a lighter. If you like, you can also grab a piece of rose quartz for self-love, rhodonite for compassion, obsidian for letting go, or peridot for transformation.
Look at your cards, your journal entries, and your own heart. What are you ready to release? This isn’t about what you think you should give up, what you know everyone around you is eager for you to say goodbye to. Instead, this is just about you, about what resonates, about what you deeply and truly want to be free from. What are you tired of carrying? Write that down on the paper, and be honest.
Now, take a moment to meditate on what you’ve written. Imagine your life free of this emotion or burden, and let any feelings or truths bubble up without judging yourself for what they are. How would it feel to be free? Are you ready to say goodbye? Fold the paper into a small square, and place it in the fireproof bowl. Carefully light the paper on fire, and as it catches and burns, imagine your fears, your regrets, your shames being lifted up and away from you, rising in the smoke. Watch the paper shrivel and burn until nothing remains but ashes. Dispose of them in whatever way feels right to you: you can bury them, bring them to a crossroads, or scatter them in water.
If you like, you may want to also include an additional spell that invites something new in: abundance, joy, healing, connection, or whatever else you want to commit to working towards. I love honey jar spells, but you can also make a spell bottle, do some candle magic, create a self-love or intention altar, or create something you can revisit when considering your intention, like poetry or a playlist. But know that this ritual is powerful all on its own, and that we don’t always have to fill up the empty spaces right away. Sometimes letting ourselves feel light and free, acknowledging that we have set a heavy burden down, is enough.
Are you ready to forgive yourself?
RITUALS is a nine-part miniseries edited by Vanessa Friedman. The writers who contributed to this miniseries will share all sorts of rituals: rituals for love, rituals for grief, rituals for forgiveness, rituals for inner peace. We’ll publish a few pieces each week through December 31. Please share your rituals in the comments, and let our contributors know which rituals in particular speak to you.