Tarot has gained a sinister reputation thanks to popular media conveniently manipulating certain cards to add flash and suspense to horror and mystery stories. You can already imagine the card referred to in this article, the skeleton on horseback bearing a black banner and armor, passing by the poor and powerful, all pleading for mercy but none receiving it, a sunset in the background. It is, of course, the “Death” card. Easily mistaken for a literal death, this card has amassed the power to invoke fear in those who do not understand the purpose of Tarot and the archetypal and symbolic power of its images.
When consulting the Tarot it is not advisable to inquire about physical death. The answer serves no purpose and will be unclear anyway. Life contains a million endings none of which may be due to a physical death, and the lifespan brings a million changes before one is released from mortal binds. The Death card does not mean the end of one’s life is near. It bears a sinister energy because it represents that which most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, fear more than actual death - living through change that we have no control over.
Recall the lessons of the Hanged Man, release through acceptance and development of a new perspective. After experiencing some degree of sacrifice, loss, and stagnation, the Hanged Man becomes wiser. For all his time contemplating (after all there wasn’t much else he could do in his situation…) he emerges with a new vision and it is not likely what he would have wanted had the crisis never occurred in the first place. He is set back on his feet, but the road he must walk is no longer the carefree daredevil path of the Fool, it is a lonely and sorrowful path through transition, through Death’s domain. It is as if life has set him free to experience growth and transition, but it is far from paradise. A major change is at hand, and some endings are part of this. The Death card portends a large scale transition that redefines the self. Whether it is “good” or “bad” is irrelevant. It is happening whether you like it or not.
Growing pains accompany any transition. Adolescence brings excitement, new ways to test boundaries, and painful heartache that accompanies exploration into relationships, independence and limits. The Death card brings a similar rite of passage, an initiation into a new chapter in one’s life. One must be willing to surrender ideas, attitudes, and perhaps even important identity roles and relationships that have been outgrown and are not suitable for this transition. This tends to be a slow process of metamorphosis where we learn one stage at a time what will lie ahead and what more sacrifices and adjustments we need to make. Death brings awakening. We cannot hold on to old illusions as we walk this road and the bleak horseman is there to remind us that endings are beyond our control but give way to new motion, new growth and new connections.
Ever wonder if a butterfly misses being a caterpillar and dreads the instinctual pull toward cocoon building? Ever consider if they resist the process, mourning the loss of so many legs and the security of life without wings? Likely we simply see the final product as so graceful and beautiful that one would never think that a butterfly would grieve its new shape and abilities and miss its previous identity. Yet here we are, facing the Death card and without the security of knowing we will emerge with greater abilities, gifts, and growth than we started out with, we cling to what we have known, begging the horseman to pass us by with minimal “damage.” Death is here to remind us that change brings new opportunities and that by letting go and accepting the transition we can embrace our new beginnings with the grace of the butterfly.
Article by: Angela Kaufman. Angela is a Priestess for the Dragon Warriors of Isis Coven in Upstate, New York, and the co-author of Wicca: What's the Real Deal? She is a professional tarot reader. For more information about Wicca: What's the Real Deal? visit http://www.wwtrd.webs.com.