Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Tarot Card of the Week, June 12-18, 2017: Death

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver

As I gaze upon our lush North Carolina woods, hovering on the threshold of Summer Solstice, this week’s card seems like a surprise. This week, Death comes calling.

Of course, as we prepare to celebrate the longest day of the year, our friends below the Equator have been much on my mind, as they make ready for Yule and Winter Solstice. At Winter’s dark triumph, Death seems obvious.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the very zenith of our rites of Light and growth. Yet after next week, we will then begin the long descent into the growing darkness.

So it would seem that, as is the way of the Tarot, the arrival of the Death card is perfectly timed after all.

In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, we have probably the most recognized (and misunderstood!) image in all of Tarot. The skeleton is carrying the flag of the Black Death, also interpreted as the White Rose of the Golden Dawn, or as the symbol of the Rosicrucians.

The king is struck down. The priest faces death, praying for mercy; the young maiden is partially turned away; and the child, completely innocent, faces the grim rider, offering a simple bouquet of flowers.

In the background, a boat sails upon a river, reminding us of the mythological River Styx, upon which a boatman ferries the dead to the Underworld.

There is either a sunrise or sunset (depending on your point of view about death), occurring between two guardian watchtowers that are nearly identical to the ones that appear in The Moon.

Death Of What?

Death comes to us all. How we face it says everything about who we are and what our life has been about.

As I celebrate 45 years of Tarot practice in 2017, I find myself less inclined to quickly call Death “change” or “rebirth” as I once, unfailingly, would.

This is not meant to frighten people, and yes, I still reassure my clients that that it rarely means physical dying, depending on other cards in the spread, or if I am using a deck that calls the thirteenth Major Arcana by some other name, like “Transformation.”

But it is my observation that quite often, Death means some kind of death. Death is, after all, the most decisive fact of life. And, as a Witch and a Pagan, I don’t sugar coat its meaning; after all, it is a natural, vital part of Mother Earth’s wisdom.

Something is going, and going for good.

Yet, it is hard to think about Death in this time when everywhere, life is bursting at the seams.

With skies filled with birdsong, and farmer’s markets overflowing with Summer’s bounty, permanent, irrevocable loss and change is not what we want to think about.

But change is a certainty, like it or not. And this card indicates there is a big transition waiting in the wings.

With the current political dramas unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic, especially, I would suggest that we are seeing another important ending in this bigger, ongoing ending of the era.

Death is our truth-teller and adviser; it is the shadow that makes a clear delineation for our perspective. Whether it applies to us on a personal, private basis, or whether we are considering our global systems of governments, economies, and the environment, Death is the messenger that urges us to get real.

Although rarely a very pleasant occurrence, we can make Death our ‘advisor’ as the sorcerer Don Juan advised Carlos Castaneda.  Knowing that each life is sacred, and every moment is precious can do wonders to help us focus our attention and priorities.

A Personal Observation, If I May

Several years ago, here on this very blog, I wrote:

How do you feel about death? How do you deal with it? In many traditions, meditating upon, or even attempting to experience through trance and ritual, one’s own death is a vital pathway to wisdom. And it seems to me that the refusal to comprehend and understand our finite time in this incarnation is folly indeed.

In what ways is Death our liberator or teacher? What, in our lives, is dying now? What is it time to release forever? How might the reality of our own eventual death, or those we love, or the things we care about, help us to make wise choices about what time remains?

For the past year, I have skated along the edges between life and death. My cancer diagnosis was confirmed a year ago next month. But for a few months prior, I already knew I was in grave trouble; I was just waiting for the official exams to inform me how close to that edge I was.

However, my astrologer friends, like Lynn Hayes, had already noticed I had some heavy Pluto transits bearing down on me.

Pluto is the planet ruled by the God of the Underworld, the ancient God of Death and Rebirth. Pluto highlights our cultural and personal struggles to thwart chaos, and face the most extreme loss of control – Death. In Pluto’s hands, all becomes transformed, and the old life is peeled away to reveal the new.

I can tell you that I have been peeled away to within an inch of my life at times. I am stupefied sometimes to still be able to walk, talk, and tell about it, because I grieve for those good souls I met along the way, who live no more.

But at even the worst of times, one golden thread I clung to was the consideration of what I would do, if granted a reprieve for this, my one wild and precious life.

I have made more peace with this issue than I ever thought I might need to, and still live to tell the tale. My encounters with the Reaper appear to be receding, for now (knocking on wood). I grow stronger daily, both in body and in my resolve to wisely and well celebrate what time may still remain for me.

To Be or Not To Be

So.. what about you?

What needs to be pruned off, wiped clean, emptied, released, to make room for new growth? What brilliant edges are revealed by this ever-present shadow?

Coping with the great, vast unknown that lies before each and every one of us is the ultimate challenge, isn’t it?

This is where the buck stops, if we have not drawn that line anywhere else in our lives (I wish our “leaders” were paying better attention).

It is here that our masks and pretenses are stripped away, for good or for ill. We are who we have made ourselves, year after year, thought by thought, deed by deed. And in the face of our mortality, what have we got?

Ultimately, I see Death in the Tarot as a directive that it’s time for us to clear the dead wood and pull the weeds. In that act, we must choose what we wish to see flourish and what we consider to be life-draining. Death demands impeccable honesty.

Yes, Death promises new growth, but only if we do the hard pruning, letting go permanently of what has passed its prime or no longer thrives. Without this, all life would be stunted and suffer. If we shun this responsibility, we sow the seeds of The Tower.

The fruits of Summer do not last, and all too soon, everything must die. So let us savor and bless the sweetness that still is, and let go with grace when it is time.

Blessed be.

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  • June 12, 2017, 3:04 pm Melissa Curran

    Sending you blessings for more strength and vitality every single day. Many blessings to you and yours.

  • June 12, 2017, 6:07 pm Macha

    I always enjoy and learn from your posts, Beth.

    Caveat: I consider myself to be conversant in Tarot but far from an accomplished reader. Many years ago (early ’90s), around this time of year (just before Independence Day) a young friend at work asked me for a reading for her birthday which was around that time. We did a Celtic cross spread and in the immediate future the Death card came up. Of course, I hastened to explain that it didn’t necessarily indicate a physical death. A week or two later she was murdered.

    Then another office-mate asked me if I’d seen anything about this in our reading. In the main I didn’t remember all of it, so I said no. But I did remember that Death card and its placement. It has haunted me ever since. I have rarely attempted to read for someone else since that occurrence.

    I want to say her name because what is remembered lives — Juliette Rivera. We knew who had killed her, and he’d been suspected in the deaths of other women, not just here in California. He used aliases and carried around big wads of money. He tended to meet these victims in sports bars. He slipped the police that time, but they knew who he was. The case was aired on TV and the perp’s former sister-in-law phoned in and said she was positive he’d done it. So far he hasn’t been caught and brought to justice, and I don’t know if there have been more victims. I won’t say his name because he had several and further, I don’t want to expose myself or this site for libel.

    Juliette Rivera, we remember you.

  • June 12, 2017, 7:54 pm Beth

    Wow. Macha, thank you for this powerful post.
    I am so sorry for the senseless death of Juliette, and all others who have died at the hands of this killer.

    And sorry, too, that it has haunted you to have not been able to discern the danger for her (if in fact the cards were indicating any at all).

    When the message of the cards is fraught with warning or peril, it is very, very hard for a casual reader to know how to best communicate it.

    On the one hand, we don’t want to freak out the querent, but on the other hand, sooner or later, a reader may discover after the fact that they were not somber enough about the reading, because something BIG was happening.

    My heart goes out to you, and to Juliette and all who loved her. May Justitia’s long, strong arms find the perp at last, and may Her rectitude be swift and sure.

    What is remembered lives.

  • June 12, 2017, 9:28 pm Sue King

    Thank you for this, Beth!! It comes right when I’m facing a major restructure of my own life – in my case being laid off from work after 10 years. I realized today that even with the shock of losing my job (there was no warning this was in the wind) I’ve been given a gift of a huge re-set button. So, the question is, what am I going to do about it? I’m working on that and the thoughts I’m having are definitely outside of the box. I’m happy to hear that you are feeling better, getting stronger!!! Sending much love your way – Blessings Be hon <3

  • June 13, 2017, 8:51 am Beth

    Melissa – Thank you so much for your kind wishes. Your post brought grateful tears to my eyes. Bless you.

    And Sue – what a shock for you. But I love how you are choosing to rebound from this and see it as an opportunity. One of the other quotes I have used when the Death card has come up may be inspiring for you — I hope so:
    “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life…Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
    ~ Steve Jobs

    May this new beginning be the true path to your heart’s desire. Blessings! ♥

  • June 13, 2017, 1:01 pm Saffron

    Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being here. You are loved and appreciated!

  • June 14, 2017, 9:55 am Beth

    Thank YOU for being here, Saffron. I appreciate your kind thoughts more than you might imagine. ♥