Death don’t have no mercy in this land.
— Rev. Gary Davis (1896-1972)
And so, this week, Death comes calling. Personally, I have spent the last three weeks sitting with Death – two deaths that have broken my heart. Of all the cards that could have spoken to us this week, it is the last I wish I would have chosen. But here it is.
In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, we have perhaps the mostrecognized 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.
As the years of my practice go on, I find myself less inclined to quickly play down Death as “change” or “transformation” as I once would. No, I don’t want to be dramatic, or frighten anyone, or create a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yes, Death does mean those things, and it does not necessarily mean physical dying.
But sometimes it does. Death means some kind of death.
Of course in a reading, the interpretation of this card will vary, depending on the context of other cards in a spread. But for our weekly, single-card drawing, it stands alone.
Death comes to us all. How we face it says everything about who we are, what our life is about.
Death is, after all, the ultimate fact of life. As a Witch, I don’t sugar coat it, nor distort the fact that it is a natural, vital part of Mama Gaia’s wisdom. After all, endless physical incarnation for every being born would be a nightmare. And for us to live, we must kill and eat plants and (some of us) — animals every single day. Death is our faithful teacher, the Dark Mother who awaits us, the unflinching truth-teller.
This week, we might pause to consider what, in our lives, is dying now? What is it time to release forever? Now, in the harvest season, what has come to fruition and must now irrevocably change? What chapter is closing?
How might the reality of our own eventual death, or those we love, or the endings of matters that seem so important to us, help us to make wise choices about what time remains? How do you want to be remembered? What stories will be told at your wake? What legacy will you leave to your beloveds and those who come after you?
We can make Death our ‘advisor,’ as the sorcerer Don Juan advised Carlos Castaneda. Whether this 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 tough-love messenger that tells us to get real.
Death is the shadow that makes clear our edges and perspective. Knowing that these days of late Summer are fleeting is what makes them sweetest. Blessed are we when we know it.