In Estonian pagan mysticism, Toonela (pronounced Taw-neh-lah) is the “Underworld” where spirits of our dead ancestors dwell. Instead of Halloween or Samhain (which we also celebrate according to the lunar year), we have a Night of the Souls on the 2nd of November, which marks the beginning of the Time of the Souls. It is a time during which the veil gets thinner and spirits gain an access to our world (and we get to glimpse Toonela). It is said that when the fog sets, the spirits come – and true enough, after Samhain, the grey and the dark set in, guiding us through the dead marshes. This period lasts long, as it also marks the start of the dark winter – in the darkest month of the year, it seems as though the sun never rises and it gets pitch dark by 3 or 4pm. Even if the sun does rise, it offers a halcyon glow of deep blues and greys, the perfect setting for a world where the dead and living mix and mingle.
This week has indeed felt otherworldly, there are shadows lurking in the dark and the veil sure seems thin. So sure enough, as I was pulling the cards for this week, what fell out of my Sacred Rose deck, was the 5 of Cups and then… Death. And then Lovers.
This is one of my absolute favourite depictions of the Five of Cups (in a generally amazing deck, the Sacred Rose) – it is a card of emotional struggle, of loss, despair and hopelessness – look at her, as she empties her cups in hysteria, completely oblivious to the fact that a white rose stems from the cup at her feet.
Johanna Gargiulo, the artist, says that this card is about loss, sadness, regret and the failure to enjoy life. I agree with her, but I always want to add a hint of madness to it; there is something otherworldly about this card, something that tells us we are consumed or possessed by something we don’t really understand. What better timing for this card to pop up than the beginning of the time of souls and spirits? They do have the ability to drive us to insanity. The descent to the months-long darkness is hard and people often go into depression when the cornucopia of colourful leaves falls down one morning, only to be replaced by a haze of halcyon greys. When the leaves fell, tiny twinkling lights from the other houses in my surroundings appeared in the fog, calling me to cross the veil. And cross the veil we will.
This is, to me, one of the all-time best depictions of Death. He looks away from you, beckoning you to to follow his purple robes. He looks like an old friend, not a foe – and he expects you to know it is time to go. It is sunset now, and your days are over. Death doesn’t translate to literal death for me, it is about crossing the veil, making your descent to the abyss and then reappearing as a tempered version of yourself. But the gates of Toonela are clearly open, and the spirits are here to claim their bounty – my partners grandfather died this morning and my ferret is gravely ill. The presence of Death makes you wonder about Life, and re-evaluate what is important – this is what triggers the change and transformation.
But as with all transformation, we are first presented with a choice, as we find ourselves on the crossroads, headed back towards the kingdom of the living. Where will I go next?
The Lovers will pick us up on the crossroads and present a choice. We tend to forget that we have free will, which is our blessing and a curse at the same time. Use your free will! It is your time to manifest yourself, and only then will you evolute to a higher plane.
This will be a week you will remember long from now. Talk to your ancestors, leave food out for them on the table. Visit the graves of those long lost. Visit those who might not be far from a grave. Notice those who lurk in the shadows, but greet them as your equals. Send them your best wishes and lead a life they would be inspired to visit.