The Faces of Death


For Seekers – Practices for Soul & Spirit – Seasonal Observances – Tarot

We are in the season of saints and souls and the beloved dead.  We are also stand in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy where at least 167 people have lost their lives in the United States and the Caribbean.  More stories of loss are told each day.

The Tarot’s origins are connected, too, to times of death.  In Tarot for Magical Times, Rachel Pollack takes the long view of Tarot history and highlights how the deck makes it appearance and gains attention in periods of catastrophic change.  Tarot comes into existence asEuropeis recovering from the bubonic plague, called the Black Death, that wiped out a third of the population, devastated whole cities, and made death a terrifying presence in the lives and collective consciousness of Europeans.

A quick but horribly painful and disfiguring death left many to die without last rites, denying them heaven, and a rotting body that would seem hard to raise at the time of the Second Coming.  The plague seemed to deny both life and the afterlife. This left a deep scar on the culture.

The Renaissance followed but death remained a fearsome force, contributing to the infamous reputation of the Death card that continues to this day.

Today we sit with this face of death as the Northeast and the Caribbean recover from Sandy.  It is a very real and powerful face.

But it is not the only face of death.  Other cultures and spiritualities have different views of death.  Reincarnation and the continuing presence of those who have passed beyond the veil are just two examples.  And today is Dia de lost Muertos which has a playful and celebratory tone to a time to remember the ancestors.

As Tarot has blossomed since the 1960s, the different faces of death have entered into the deck.

In our last Journey into the Tarot sharing call on the Death card, we entered into images such as these and found that it was the seeds and energy of life there amidst the dark and surrender that called our attention.

Death showed its supportive and beneficial face as a welcomer of souls and as part of the process of life.

Judy Nathan shared a wonderful story of being with her brother as he was dying and how their time together over several months was just as beautiful as it was challenging.  She talked about it as making the intimate leap with the one who is dying.  To accept and move with the energy of death creates a deeper and more intimate connection.

The wonderfully evocative idea of the intimate leap reminded me of my friend Chuck who died of stomach cancer a number of years ago.  After the first bout of chemo was unsuccessful and the tumor reapeared massive, he came home to die.  He welcomed us in at this time to be with him in the reaming time left.  Oh, he did accept death in a saintly way and often said, “I’m mad I won’t write more poems or see the poems you write!”  But we were honest about death and being with him in the time we had left was a gift.  And I still feel him with me.  I’ve thought about just giving up on writing poetry a few times (who’s listening anyway?!?!) but then it is almost as if Chuck whispers in my ear, “Don’t do that!” OK!

Death will come for all of us.  Meeting its many faces ahead of that time can help us and those around us make that transition in better ways than our mainstream society generally offers.  Meditating with, taking action inspired by, exploring different version of the Death cards from across the Tarot tradition is a bridge to help us understand the mystery that lies beyond this life.

[Death images in the order that they appear are:  Tarot of Marseilles version, Star Tarot of Cathy McClelland, and Tarot Roots of Asia.  On the Journey call, we also used the Gaian Tarot Death card that you can see in a couple of past posts here.]

Leave a Comment

November 2, 2012, 2:01 pm judy

What a lovely, thoughtful post, Carolyn.
Thank you for this tender look at an often harsh subject.

November 17, 2012, 11:18 pm megan jackson

I great analogy of death and tarot.Thanks

November 25, 2012, 4:28 pm Jean

Just thinking of you.

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