Here's a seven-card Tarot spread based upon the ancient legend of the Seven Sleepers, a Greek story popularized in Christian and Islamic lore about a group of youths fleeing from religious persecution who fall asleep in a grotto outside of Ephesus and awake centuries later to find a very changed world. (It's a rather heart-wrenching tale, as the awakened sleepers go off in search of their families and find only strangers living in their homes who treat them as if they've gone mad. The seven finally realize that they had slept for centuries and do not belong to this new world, so they lay themselves down to die.) The Roman Martyrology commemorates them on July 27, hence the timing of our Tarot spread in their honor. Our illustration appears in a retelling of the story by the great American humorist Mark Twain. Though the sleepers' names have been lost to the ravages of time, Twain identifies them thusly: Trump, Gift, Game, Jack, Low, High, and Johannes Smithianus.
Draw one card for each sleeper in turn. Here's how to approach the seven, and because the legend is so old, we'll include some antiquated interpretations:
Trump: Like the "trump card" of a game, this points to a valuable resource that you can use in order to gain an advantage, perhaps in a surprising way. An antiquated meaning for "trump" is a helpful or admirable person.
Gift: This suggests something that ought be given willingly, without compensation, like a present or donation or bequest. It may also suggest a natural ability/talent that you can tap. An antiquated meaning for "gift" is a "thing lifted up," as in an offering or sacrifice to a higher power.
Game: This refers to a competition, a pleasurable distraction, perhaps a gambit. Skill, strength, or luck may be at play. Antiquated meanings of "game" are "a jest or joke" and "a laughing stock," so the Tarot card would identify something to be lighthearted about.
Jack: A jack is a device for lifting heavy objects, so a Tarot card placed here will identify a way to ease a burden. An antiquated meaning of "jack" is an unskilled worker (hence the old saying, "a jack of all trades and master of none"), so the Tarot card would point to something that needs training, experience, or practice.
Low and High: The "highs and lows" of life recall the Hermetic axiom, "As above, so below." Low (something worldly) will illuminate what is reflecting from on high (something spiritual). A Tarot card on "low" might indicate a stepping stone, while that on "high" might point to something to reach toward. An antiquated meaning for "high" is "holy," so the Tarot card would indicate something sacred. An antiquated meaning for "low" is "shout," so the Tarot card would carry a strong emotion.
Johannes Smithianus: This is a fancy way of saying "John Smith," or a typical human being. Everyman is the name of the principal character in the 15-century morality play. The Tarot card here will point to your better qualities, such as kindness or sensitivity. Originally, "human" and "humane" were the same word, so an antiquated meaning is "compassion."
Three optional cards to draw:
Mark Twain notes that on the gravestones of the seven sleepers were also inscribed, in ancient letters, the "names of three heathen gods of olden time, perchance: Rumpunch, Jinsling, [and] Egnog [sic]." So three additional cards may be drawn:
Rumpunch: One of the original names for this sugarcane liquor rum was "kill-devil," so a Tarot card for "Rumpunch" would point to a way to dispel darkness.
Jinsling: An old nickname for this juniper berry liquor gin is "kill-grief," so a Tarot card for "Jinsling" would point to a way to dispel sorrow.
Egnog: This creamy egg punch ritualistically marks the occasion of a holiday and is synonymous with comfort, so a Tarot card for "Egnog" would point to a source of strength, relief, encouragement, consolation, and/or cheer.
A final possible card:
Some versions of the legend, including Mark Twain's, feature a canine companion to the seven sleepers. The dog Ketmehr accompanied the seven when he accidentally ran his head through the loop of a noose that one of the youths was carelessly carrying. When the seven fell asleep in the cave, Ketmehr lay at the entrance and scared off any strangers who approached. So a Tarot card in honor of Ketmehr would point to a guardian or source of protection, perhaps even an accidental or unwilling safeguard. In the legend, when the sleepers awaken, the dog is long gone, with nothing save the brass that was upon his collar as evidence that he had kept guard.
Mark Twain's account of the seven sleepers appears in The Innocents Abroad, 1869. The earliest known version of the story traces back to the Syrian bishop Jacob of Sarug (c. 450–521), itself derived from an earlier though lost Greek source. A well-known medieval version of the story appears in Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend (c. 1260). The story is also told in the Qur'an (Surah 18, verses 9–26).
— Craig Conley is author of The Young Wizard's Hexopedia, the Tarot of Portmeirion, HarperCollins' One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, Pomegranate's One Letter Words Knowledge Cards Deck, and Weiser Books' Magic Words: A Dictionary. He is co-author of New Star Books' Franzlations: A Guide to the Imaginary Parables. He has published dozens of articles in such magazines as Verbatim, Pentacle, Mothering, and Magic. His work has been profiled in the New York Times, the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News, Publishers Weekly, The Associated Press, and dozens of others.