Ancestral Tarot: Uncover Your Past and Chart Your Future, by Nancy Hendrickson
Weiser Books, 1578637416, 202 pages, March 2021
Ancestral Tarot: Uncover Your Past and Chart Your Future by Nancy Hendrickson immediately drew my attention because it combined two interests of mine: tarot and ancestry. I have been working with the tarot for almost 30 years and have used it countless times for advice, guidance, and clarification. Ancestry has been a newer passion for about the past 10 years. I have an insatiable interest in learning about the different ancestors that live in my family tree, all of them coming from Southern Italy. It’s the stories of these blood ancestors that intrigue me – why they did the things they did and how they lived. I truly feel the blood of these ancestors coursing through my veins.
Hendrickson does an amazing job of illuminating how one can use the tarot as a tool for ancestral communication to: “identify and access ancestral gifts, message, powers, protectors, and healers… and use the tarot to discover ancestors you may not have known you had.”1 As one who has decades of experience in genealogy and tarot, she is well-poised to write on this topic.
In this book, Hendrickson writes that there is really no order recommended in which to read the book. While she understands that one might want to delve into issues around one’s family of origin for example, and start with that chapter, she does suggest doing the tarot spreads and journal prompts introduced at the beginning of the book to form a foundation for working with one’s ancestors.
I automatically connect the term ancestor to my family of birth origin, or as she calls them, Ancestors of Blood – grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents – on down the line. Yet I was immensely intrigued to read about how she broadened the term “ancestor” to include two other types: Ancestors of Place and Ancestors of Time. Ancestors of Place are those ancestors with whom one has a genetic connection and who lived in the one’s ancestral homeland a long time ago, but those whose names are not known. Ancestors of Time are ancestors from past incarnations.2 I have this inexplicable draw to Ireland and was hoping to have a “conversation” with those Ancestors of Time to see if there may be a connection.
The book is divided into eleven chapters. Chapters one through three contain an introduction to the three afore-mentioned types of ancestors. Hendrickson also writes about how those who are adopted can work with their ancestors. She provides tarot spreads to help one find an ancestral spirit guide for the journey as well as using the tarot to ask questions about the purpose of one’s walk with the ancestors. As she writes, “Chapter 3 will load you up with a variety of tools for the journey. I hope your backpack is super-sized – because you’ll be given a lot to work with!”3
I did the spread to help me determine what type of ancestors I wanted to work with initially – those of Blood, Place, or Time. While my head was pulling me to one column of cards – that of the Ancestors of Time because it was comprised entirely of Major Arcana cards, my intuition pulled me to work with the Ancestors of Place.
The majority of my ancestors that I can trace come from the same province in Benevento, Italy. Ironically, Benevento was through to be the gathering place for witches, a place where they would not be prosecuted. I remember hearing about the “Evil Eye” growing up and was given an amulet to wear to ward it off. In fact, when my daughters were born my grandmother gifted each of them with their own amulet. I also remember hearing about great-grandmothers who knew how to do the “overlooks” that could remove the curse of the Evil Eye.
Looking back, maybe it was from my Ancestors of Place that I have inherited some of my interests in Italian folklore such as the Evil Eye and witchcraft. When asked how I could expect to benefit in my work with my Ancestors of Place I drew the High Priestess card – inner knowing seems to be spot on. Finally, when asked what message my Ancestors of Place had as I begin this journey, I drew the Page of Pentacles – learning how to manifest, being a voracious learner – and ironically, the astrological correspondence of the card is Capricorn – which is my birth sign. So much insight just from one spread, which as you can see really helped me to reflect on the unknown ancestors from this spirit of place and make connections to present day in my life.
Moving along, chapter four, “Meet the Family,” held information on using the tarot to work with one’s present family to reveal familial patterns. Then chapters five, six, and seven deepened the work with the three ancestral types. Chapter eight covers the importance of keeping a tarot journal for this journey of discovery. The final chapters nine, ten, and eleven offer ways to create “ancestral altars, sacred space, and crystal grids.”4
While I have provided an overview of the focus of each of the chapters, one should realize that there is a tremendous amount of information offered in each one — too much to digest in one reading. I came to understand that working with one’s ancestors is not a quick walk in the park, but rather a dedication to spending time with the ancestors, more of a slow, multi-leveled revelation versus a quick answer. I realized that I had to dedicate the time to do the spreads and journal promptings, to listen for the answers that bubbled up over time, and to put the pieces together to understand the story. From understanding the story and receiving the communications I could begin to work on self-healing and to experience hidden ancestral gifts emerge.
Hendrickson’s writing style is very straightforward and comprehensible. However, I feel that having an understanding of the tarot is beneficial before diving into this book. A tarot novice might easily be overwhelmed by the spreads, especially since one needs to use one’s knowledge of the tarot for insight into the cards as a form of communication with their ancestors.
The only downside I encountered was in chapter nine, “Pairing Up,” she writes about using an ancestor’s birth date to calculate personality and soul numbers. Unfortunately for me, the majority of my ancestors were illiterate, and their birth dates are more approximations. Many of the church records that housed information on births and christenings were destroyed. However, I immensely enjoyed the final chapter, “Ancestral Rituals,” which covers how one can honor the ancestors through rituals such as creating altars. This has always been a meaningful activity for me. I truly liked creating an ancestral altar using items that “came” to me as I was meditating on what to include on it.
The Appendices in the book provide additional information. Appendix A provides an overview of the tarot – or “Tarot 101”5 as it’s referred to. Appendix B offers recommended reading on the tarot and Appendix C offers genealogy resources.
I very much enjoyed working with the exercises in Ancestral Tarot as a new way to connect with my ancestors. Through combining tarot and ancestry, Hendrickson has opened a whole new realm of possibility when it comes to communing with our family and spiritual lineage from beyond the veil. I highly recommend this book for those who want to use the tarot to work with one’s ancestors and discover a connection to their ancestors beyond those of their bloodline. I nod in agreement with Nancy’s observation that “the search for ancestors is really about a search for self. Work with the ancestors and the person you find is you.”6
Anne Greco is a non-fiction writer who writes about her life experiences and travels with humor, keen observations, and the hope that her words will remind us that “we’re all just walking each other home.” Her book, Serendipity: Chance Pilgrimages, tells the story of Anne encountering her places of power. As she reconnects with herself at each site, Anne also develops a deeper understanding and appreciation of her connection to both the seen and unseen worlds. Learn more about her work here: http://annegrecowriter.com.