Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away.
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time,
It’s not always going to be this grey.
All things must pass
All things must pass away…
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
Well, my friends. The parade of Majors continues, and this week’s card follows in order from last week’s. Hot on the heels of the 12th Major, The Hanged Man, Major Arcana number 13 comes calling. It’s been a while, but this Full Moon week, let us say hello to Death.
The image of Death from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is probably the most recognized card in all of Tarot.
The armored 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, perhaps reminding us of the River Styx, upon which it 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 towers that are nearly identical to the ones that appear in The Moon.
We are now only a little over a week away from the transition between the days of Samhain and Yule. In the Northern Hemisphere, we are in the deepest dark heart of the year, when much of Nature is undergoing dormancy and death.
Despite the glittering holiday lights, the hectic scheduling, the pressures to buy, spend, and party, this is the time of year that belongs to the Dark Goddess, as well as the Wild Hunt — both of which teach us of the brevity and preciousness of our mortal lives.
All things must pass, and irrevocable loss comes to us all, from small to profound, including our own current incarnation. Having spent the last five or so months in my own life and death challenge, I can say that how we face such events teaches us much about who we are, and the ultimate meaning of things.
Death in Tarot Readings
As my Tarot practice has matured, I have found myself less inclined to instantly tell my clients that Death is “change” or “transformation” as I once, unfailingly, would (although those terms are not untrue).
Usually, the interpretation of this card in a reading will be affected by the other cards around it, giving it more context and clarity, unlike these weekly single-card draws here on my blog. So it is almost never a harbinger of anyone’s physical death, including the querent’s.
But it is my observation that Death always points to a pivotal ending, sometimes physical, sometimes figurative. Something important has run its course, and needs to be released.
I see Death in the Tarot as a directive that it’s time for us to 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.
Something has reached a natural ending, and thre is substantial and irrevocable change in the works. This change may be inner or outer or, most likely, both. It is timely and natural, but there may be much resistance to it. Leaves fall every Autumn, in the Spring the trees are green again with new leaves.
Make room for the new in your life – let the old go, lovingly, gently, willingly.
Death is, after all, the ultimate, unalterable fact of life.
For us to survive, death comes to plants and (for some of us) animals every single day so we can eat. Death is interwoven in the cycles of life and the seasons. As a Witch, I don’t sugar coat it, nor hide the fact that it is an essential part of Mama Gaia’s wisdom. Endless physical incarnation for every being born would be a nightmare.
Rather being a terrifying, twisted taboo, as it has become in our culture, death can be our faithful teacher throughout our lives, the unflinching truth-teller, and the Dark Mother who cradles us at our ending.
Clearing and Liberating
This week, we might pause to consider what it is time to release forever. What chapter is closing?
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.
Being reminded that every moment is precious 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 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?
What, in our lives, is dying now? In what ways is Death our liberator or teacher? With eyes and hearts wide open, what is it time to release forever, so that, unencumbered, we may ring in the coming new year?
This week, say goodbye. This challenging year that was, is nearly gone, dying in the long dark nights of Yuletide. Remember that this darkness, too, shall pass.
So let us welcome this messenger of the shadow, who makes clear our edges and perspective. His message may be a bittersweet one, but blessed are we when we heed it.