This is the Death card in the Rider Waite Tarot Deck. Looks a bit gloomy apart from the Sun breaking through doesn’t it?
It does tend to evoke a little concern when it show up in a reading. I can see that on a client’s face. But this card is actually a good card to work with as far as I am concerned. It signifies transformation.
Let us take a walk through the card. That is, if you dare to venture into the territory of Death symbolism with me.
Death is wearing black armour and is riding upon a white horse. Note immediately that if people have horses at their funeral parade it is usually a black one. This is a white one. The Grim Reaper is an age old symbol of Death. In his left hand he carries a black flag with a white rose. The mystic white rose is a symbol of life and resurrection. So we have black and white, opposite sides of the pole, representing duality. They are merging in this image, just as life and death are interwoven, just as light and dark, conscious and unconscious, and Sun and Moon.They dance, giving us a sense of their separateness and their merging, for without one facet, the other could not be. They swap places, they shift our perspectives.
The Sun is rising. Look at the bright yellow. Warming and life affirming.When the Sun of an individual life sets on the physical plane it rises on the spiritual plane. The bodies are left behind as they are not needed. The Sun also represents the rising of consciousness. A new day of consciousness is born. There is enlightenment.
The characters depicted are a mixed bunch,a dead king, a curious child, a despairing woman and a praying bishop. Death is not swayed by any of them. He does not discriminate in terms of class, status, gender and age. Death puts an end to the illusion that we are all different and separate. Death is the great leveller. (I would say that life is the great equaliser too. It is the conditions that you are born into that are different. This is my sociological hat) It does not matter what class you come from, whether you were attractive, won the lottery, what you believe – it is the one thing that we cannot escape. Apart from the birth experience it is the most well trodden path that we will all take. It is the one thing that is so certain but makes us so uncertain.
It is all about control isn’t it. We like to have dominion over things and be in control. But this is beyond our control. Plus what is beyond the gate from life is beyond us in terms of our thinking.
The Sun is appearing over the two pillars. These pillars appear in other cards, The High Priestess, Justice and The Moon. They symbolise a gateway. Death is just that, a gateway and so is any change. Note that it is not blocked by a door and that the Sun is lighting the way. A change in the level of consciousness. The Sun lights a path and it is also fire and fire transforms things into another form. It emits energy and changes and empowers energy forms. Thermodynamics tells us that energy is never created or destroyed. It is converted from one thing to another.
There is a small ship that is sailing on what seems to be the River Styx. This river is a mythic landmark that separated the land of the living from the land of the dead. You did not have to swim across but were ferried by a boatman named Charon.
As I started to write this post, Derren Brown’s “Welcome to Apocalypse”programme came on. Aha I thought. This signifies the message of this card excellently. What fortuitous timing. Derren Brown, The Apocalypse Part One
The first of a two-part show,” Apocalypse” where he convinces a man, Steve, that Earth has been devastated by a catastrophic meteorite strike. Survivors roam around but are lethally infected. He is one of the few survivors. He was chosen as he fit Derren’s criteria. His parents describe him as taking life and them for granted. Derren and a large team including computer whizzes, and actors orchestrate a simulation of what would be broadcasted on TV and the internet and feed this misinformation to Steve’s phone. It works like a dream and he is taken in mentally and physically. Derren intends this experience to be the ultimate wake up call for Steve and a catalyst to teach him the value of life and to make him change how he lives. A major transformation of consciousness to shift him to a new way of being.
This programme has attracted mixed reactions. Some people think it is genius, some sinister. But I am just using it to illustrate what this card symbolises.
We can all go through the pillars at any time.
We are actually dab hands at experiencing mini deaths. They are a frequent aspect of our lives. It can be that we come to the end of a project, a holiday, we move home.Orgasms are called the mini death. We are used to change. Days come and go, nights, years, dream, plans, ambitions.
Some people hold on to things and mainatin the status quo even when it is obvious that the situation, person, strategy no longer serves them in a positive way.
You could do a mental inventory to see where you are at in terms of transfomation. Do you go with the flow of the River Styx regularly or do you cling to your old forms on the shore? Do you shun the Sun of your consciousness when it tries to wake you to move to a new phase of your life?
You could look at these questions or just think and see what comes to light..
Where are you afraid to let go or move things forward?
What do you need to mourn?
What part of your life is dying so that you can be reborn?
What transition are you heading towards and preparing for?
If you wish to you make this exercise into the kind of ritual that is right for Samhain/Halloween, you could write down on a piece of paper a list of what things are holding you back from transforming your life into the one you want. Psychological traits that you have identified are very good to use here. They could be fear (this could be fear of your own success and how things would change), laziness, lack of confidence, lack of self worth etc. You could get a tin (a cauldron is excellent) and put a candle in (make sure you are safe and look at fire hazards) and when you are ready to let go of these “obstacles”, toss the paper into the flame and watch it burn, being transmuted by the fire into the opposite quality. KNOW that it is your energy, as you wrote the words down, that is being transformed.
You can also remember the ancestors that have passed over, that have gone through the doorway to another form of consciousness and ask them to empower you with the strengths that you need, that you are going to make the best of your life as a tribute to them. Ponder on and acknowledge what charateristics they had that you could use.
If you wish to, of course, you could do this on December 31st, which is when people like
to examine their lives and make new resolutions.
May the Sun illuminate your journey and guide you to be the best that you can be.