We receive the third Major Arcana card in a row this week, and with notable timing. The last time we received this card was exactly one year ago (the only difference being that in 2010, Monday was the 15th, instead of the 14th). Following two other big completion cards, The Sun and The World, the Death card of the Tarot comes calling with even more weight than usual.
In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, we have perhaps the most recognized image in all of Tarot. Under the setting Sun, 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.
Death comes to all, old and young, high-ranking and poor. No religion, no wealth, no power or deed can prevent the ultimate harvest. Death takes those we love from us, and then, far sooner than we might wish, ends our own lives on this good green Earth.
In the past several weeks, including just this past Saturday, several dear friends of mine have tended to the deaths of their mothers. This is one of the hardest goodbyes we ever have to say. Now my friends are making their long, lonely journey of grief.
What Death are you, too, facing?
We are now moving deep into the season of Death that lies between Samhain and Yule. Every leaf that flutters by is a reminder of our mortality. The birds are hushed; the Crone Moon wanes; dark night’s power grows. Now, while the Sun is in Pluto-ruled Scorpio, we descend into the dark Underworld.
Every year during this time, we face our mortality, either dramatically, or in a small but sharp reminder or two. Although rarely a very pleasant occurrence, we can make Death our ‘advisor,’ as Yaqui shaman Don Juan described it to Carlos Castaneda.
Awareness that each moment is precious, and one of what will be, in the end, a finite series, can do wonders to help us focus our attention and priorities. 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 now to make wise choices about what time remains?
Also, because Death is the Shadow/Teacher card for this Emperor Year, perhaps it is a reminder that we are who we have made ourselves: year after year, thought by thought, deed by deed. In the face of our mortality, what have we built? What will future generations say of us?
The Death card portends enormous change. A long journey that we have all been on reaches a very serious climax this week, although we may not see its results for some time.
This week, before all the holiday craziness gets a full head of steam, you might take some time to have a conversation with your faithful ally and advisor, Death. What unfinished business needs your attention? How would you ultimately wish to be remembered? What stories do you want told at your wake? What legacy will you leave to your blood kin and to your kindred of spirit who come after you?
Death is the shadow that makes clear our edges and perspective. Knowing that these final beautiful days of late Autumn are fleeting can make them the sweetest.
Blessed are we, when we understand Death’s urging to embrace our one wild and precious life.