Woody Allen said, “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” While it is very funny, it is also very true for most of us. It’s one of those subjects that we’d rather not think about. And if we do have to talk about it, we use a euphemism.
“Mama bought the farm.”
“Daddy kicked the bucket.”
“Uncle Joe checked out.”
“Aunt Sweet crossed over.”
“Brother John went toes up.”
“Sister Jane punched the clock.”
It is easy to say “If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character… Would you slow down? Or speed up?” like Chuck Palahniuk, but the answering of that is more difficult. Still this is not a journal for exploring how each of us approaches that inevitable moment. We are talking about the Tarot here.
In the Major Arcana, there are three BigBadBehometh cards. One of those is Card 13–Death. (quick–cue the scary music and soft footsteps coming up behind you.) It’s Death and he (or she) is here for YOU! RUN!
Oh sit down and stop shaking, ya sillies! In my years of reading (and remember, I started reading in 1980), I have only seen the cards predict actual physical death three times. Yes, each time it did come true. Made me want to walk away from the table and the cloth permanently the second time. Odd, isn’t it? I didn’t get as upset the first time. That was a woman’s grandmother who was so close to Death she might have been in the room with me tapping me on the shoulder saying, “I need to go now.” The second? Well, let’s just say that it was about someone who should not have been anywhere near the Grim Reaper but was selected anyway.
In the Tarot, Death predicts Change. Not change, but Change with a big scary ugly painful C. It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. It’s going to wear you out and then twist you up to see if it can’t wring any more drops of misery out of you. Then it will lay you out to dry so you can renew yourself. That’s right. There’s a kindness to Death in the long run. It removes you from a misery usually. Sadly that misery is often one we are very very attached to and don’t want to let go of.
We are like toddlers sometimes holding on to things even when they, like that ratty dirty hole-covered cloth scrap that used to be a blanket, need to be recycled. It takes a Major Freakin’ Life Event to make us drop it so life can replace it with something we need more.
In the RWS deck, Death is a skeleton on a horse. This is a direct reference to the baby on the horse in the Sun card. In front of Death stands a king holding out gold. A child is there as well as a young woman. None of them stand a chance when Death comes calling. You must answer the door. Begging won’t get you out of it and you can’t buy your way out either. Even innocence is not going to pay this piper.
Many decks express Death in this way. The deck I use for professional readings has a much different view of Death. Here we see a woman’s body on funereal pyre. She is going up in flames. In the foreground are various figures–each reacting to the death in different ways. But the background of this card is what is important to me. See the flames? There is a definite shape to them.
If you look, you will see the phoenix rising. A symbol of the renewal that comes with death. Even painful change makes room for something else, right? The idea of the phoenix is renewal and rebirth. Rising up from the ashes.
So when Death comes calling in your Tarot spread, don’t hide under the bed. Open the door and let him (or her) in. It’s like eating your vegetables. You know you are going to have to deal with it sooner or later. By dealing with like an adult instead of a child, you have the opportunity to go through this period of change with as much grace as any of us can manage.
How do you face painful change? What does Death look like in your Tarot deck? In your world?