Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Death cheated out of the limelight again?

Life asked Death, 'Why do people love me but hate you?'
Death responded, 'Because you 
are a beautiful lie,  and I
 am a painful truth.'

When I bought Silver Witchcraft Tarot (LoScarabeo 2014), I got just the deck, not the book-and-deck set, because 1) it was cheaper, 2) I have very little storage space and 3) I would very seldom consult the book. A few of the cards in the deck are a bit of a puzzle as a result, but the Death card is easily interpreted, if slightly disappointing.

I say disappointing because I don't really like it when tarot decks are squeamish about the Death card. People always say that the Death card means transformation. And we see that here, with the empty shroud, and the larvae and butterfly representing metamorphosis (I like that, I use butterflies myself on this blog you may have noticed), and in the pillar of light which shows the route to heaven or enlightenment that this person took after death.

And that's the key -- transformation takes place AFTER Death. Death itself is not the manifestation of transformation.




Death is scary. It's messy. It's undignified. I remember something Dr House said in an episode: " Our bodies break down, sometimes when we are ninety, sometimes before we're even born, but it always happens and there's never any dignity about it. I don't care if you can walk, see, wipe your own ass. It's always ugly. Always. You can live with dignity, we can't die with it." I've never forgotten that. I know what he means -- death isn't beautiful. And neither is the experience of the Death card. It may be the transition from life to a beautiful hereafter, and metaphorically a transformation from one state of being to the next, but the moment itself -- never much fun. Being in the midst of transformational change hurts. Childbirth hurts. I can only assume it doesn't feel too great for the baby, either. Is the Wolf Man happy when he's changing into the Wolf Man? Doesn't look like it to me! It's the same for us in our lives. Leaving an old way of thinking or being for good and ever is a painful, wrenching thing. Even if we want it. I don't mean to be morbid, but even people who want to die and commit suicide experience pain and indignity at the moment of their death. The release comes after. It may be weird to think of changing your life as 'dying', but we use that sort of language all the time, we just don't think about what it really means. Something must be broken down, crushed, dissolved, lost. It's no picnic.

And so that is what the Death card means to me -- not just a lovely butterfly but the painful struggle of breaking open and wriggling out of the cocoon, the messy bit that is necessary to get you from one side to the other. Cards that focus on the moment after -- that just feels like a cheat.





12 comments:

  1. Hi Carla I absolutely agree with you I don't like sugarcoating Death at all.
    I like it how you compare childbirth with death.

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    1. I think Wolf Man may have been more apt, but if you've been there you've been there!

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  2. Yes, I agree too - Death is a 'death', something ends.

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    1. I guess I am getting a little tired of Death being a butterfly. It is a Buddhist tradition to meditate or even pass a night in a graveyard in order to face the reality of the dissolution of the body. A Buddhist contemplation runs: 'I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. May I realise my true nature and liberate all living beings from suffering.'

      This sounds profoundly morbid, but the Buddhist philosophy is that suffering occurs because we fight against the reality of change and loss. When we learn to accept the inevitability of old age, illness and death, we liberate ourselves.

      So yeah -- death is the end. :)

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  3. Have to say life can be pretty ugly too and I believe there are may things far worse, above and beyond death. North America has developed an unhealthy view of death as it has become hard at arms length. Something we are in denial of. Sex used to be the big taboo to talk about. Now it is death. I am reminded of the story of Skeleton Women in Dr. Clarissa Pinkola's book, "Women Who Run With The Wolves'. She refers to the Lady Death as her Life/Death/Life nature, and in this form Lady Death is not a disease, but a deity.

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    1. There are many things far worse than being dead, but dying itself is about as serious as it gets. My point is only that transformation hurts, and that is something that is often dramatically glossed over in many contemporary tarot decks. (I've read 'Women Who Run with the Wolves'.)

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    2. I still haven't read Starhawk, though. Have you?

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  4. I agree Carla, dying is serious but not the worst thing and not always the most painful. Being with those who are dying helps the living to learn to die. We are all dying, but to be fully alive makes dying easier I think and less painful. There are lots of folks not living but are upright and walking around without meaning.
    I am not familiar with Star Hawk.

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    1. I'm really focusing on the tarot Death card in particular here, rather than death itself, but that's okay. Starhawk wrote a famous book called The Spiral Dance (1979), a classic work about goddess worship which helped launched the ecofeminist movement and focuses on ecstatic experience and mystic visions.

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  5. Sounds very interesting Carla. Thank you for sharing that.

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  6. I just got my Silver Witchcraft deck today and the same feelings about the death card.
    I have the book as well and Barbara explains that they are representing Death in the view of Nature and as transition.

    What is welcoming in this image is the image of emptiness, the whole the card is mostly empty and that is an invitation for something new to come in.

    It is a vastly different image than what we are use to. and I do agree with your feelings on Death,

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    1. Hi Angelo, thanks for taking the trouble to comment on my blog! :) I can see, in this case without the book, the intentions behind the Death card in this deck, which are the same intentions as in most contemporary New Age type decks, that almost invariably modify 10 of Swords, 5 of Swords, 5 of Pents, Death, and Judgement. A deck that refuses to look squarely at adversity has its place. But sometimes you just want to see an acknowledgement of suffering, because it does exist.

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