Over the weekend, I had a conversation with a lonely person. I was chatting with a friend outside a pub when he approached us and struck up a conversation. He tried to make a connection with us by sharing stories about his expensive homes and cars, but unable to impress, he awkwardly retreated back to the bar. Later at home, I started thinking about that man and looked him up in the Tarot, as I do sometimes with people and situations. I found him (can you guess which card?) and then I sorted through and found seven other cards where I saw loneliness indicated. The more I looked at the cards, the more I found they fell into two distinct groups. This is how loneliness shows up in a tarot reading, by shutting down and building walls, or by retreating inward and away.
This post is a monster, so grab a cup of coffee before you continue! 😉
PS – The deck in my photos is a Morgan Press edition of the Morgan Greer Tarot (now published by US Games). This particular edition is very old and out of print, but you can still get a copy of the US Games version of this gorgeous classic deck on amazon.com*.
The top row, the Eight of Cups, the Three of Wands, the Five of Cups and the Hermit, are all facing away, looking down and off into the distance. The bottom row, the Four of Pentacles, the Eight of Swords, the Two of Swords and the Hanged Man, are all forward-facing, but closed off; paralyzed or suspended or guarded and defensive.
Let’s start by examining how this might come up in the top row of cards.
The Eight of Cups – Loneliness in the Eight of Cups is due to our inability to be satisfied with what we have in our lives. Our cups are full, but for whatever reason, we’re not able to receive them. This may not necessarily be because of past traumas or emotional unavailability either; this loneliness manifests when we have to leave our friends and family to pursue education or work; or in cases of long-distance relationships. In all these instances though, there is action involved in creating the distance and the loneliness is, to a degree, intentional.
The Three of Wands – The Three of Wands is the kind of loneliness we experience when we’re waiting for the ideal situation to come around before we can truly commit to a relationship. Outside of this context, the card may indicate having greater insight and looking for new possibilities. But the danger of that waiting, of all that insight into who we are and what we want (or what we think we want), is that sometimes we miss out on what’s right in front of us. We instead buy into the notion that THE singular answer to all our problems must be out there somewhere. This often manifests in relationships as the “Soul Mate” dilemma. She’s amazing, right? But is she your SOUL MATE? When the Three of Wands comes up, you should carefully consider whether you’d even know the ideal situation if it hit you on the head with like, a big wooden wand, or if you’ll just be watching and waiting and waiting and watching.
The Five of Cups – The Five of Cups is a sad card to find in any spread. There’s a real sense in this scene that the cups that were once full, have now emptied. What was once fulfilling, no longer satiates. In the Morgan Greer tarot, the ruins of a castle are seen on the horizon, beyond the water. This card is that feeling that we have when we know, just know, that we’ve fucked up a relationship past the point of no return. It’s the card of love that’s been lost. The Five of Cups is regret, disappointment, and that gnawing obsession we have with what might have been. The Five of Cups is doubly tragic because while we’re unable to move past heartache, we’re not able to see there are still two cups standing. What is remembered, lives.
The Hermit – The Hermit chooses loneliness as a means to spiritual growth. In the same way a monk or guru may choose isolation, silence, or some other form of self-restraint in order to clear the path for insight, the Hermit is an active player in the process of self-discovery. Sometimes this card comes up in situations where the querent is suffering from what you might call serial monogamy—bouncing from one too-deep, too-fast relationship to the next, because they’re afraid of being alone. Likewise, if you’re constantly pushing people away by instigating drama, the Hermit may be telling you to get right with yourself before you can truly be right with anyone else.
In the second row of cards:
The Four of Pentacles – The Four of Pentacles is a card where our loneliness is again, self-imposed, but this time because we’re afraid to relinquish control. What would happen to your carefully constructed universe if you allowed anyone else to share it? How would you impose your will? The other side of the Four of Pentacles is the sort of loneliness that manifests as a material obsession—the miser or Scrooge. When the Four of Pentacles is the root of your loneliness, fear and the need to be in control are the driving factors in your misery.
The Eight of Swords – Loneliness in the Eight of Swords comes form external factors. Isolation, obligation, and codependent relationships can all create an Eight of Swords feeling. This is one of the scarier cards to pop into a reading, but what’s hopeful when we look at this card though is that the remedy here might be physical rather than emotional/mental. If you feel alone in your situation, fixing the situation or physically removing yourself from it may be all that’s necessary to move on. In some cases, that’s easier than retargeting your heart’s desires.
The Two of Swords – The Two of Swords in the Tarot is often indicated for situations in which we have to carefully consider and balance out our options. She’s blindfolded, like Justice, so we may think there’s shrewd action happening, but I see this card come up so often when the querent is unable to make a move and unable to see the path ahead because they’re caught between conflicting desires. Whether that’s a love triangle, torn between two arguing friends, or the wishes of a family/community vs. the wishes of an individual, we don’t get out of these situations by sitting still and shutting down. I always advise deliberation and introspection and I think there’s a lot to be gained from meditating on options, but we shouldn’t waste our lives stuck in the middle, if being in the middle makes us miserable.
The Hanged Man – Like the Hermit, the Hanged Man is the other Tarot card I identified from the Major Arcana that can reflect loneliness. Both of these cards often come canned with deep, spiritual implications. For a lonely person though, martyrdom can be both the source and result of the problem. When the Hanged Man comes up in a Tarot reading, think about the sacrifice that’s being made, for whom and to what end? If you give enough of yourself away, if you ignore your own needs for the sake of others, if you’re sacrificing self-care, respect, or reciprocal love and affection, you are the Hanged Man, and you are more likely to feel alone in your ordeal.
I think it’s safe to say we’ve all felt these different kinds of feelings from time to time, have tried to make connections, failed, lost love, walked away from friends and family. In my next post, I’ll take a look at a few different examples of relationship and communion/community found in the Tarot, but until then I’m curious, how do you find the Tarot speaking of loneliness? Which key cards do you look for?