By Judy Jennings © Copyright 2013
“Every morning becomes a resurrection to the awakened soul.” Paul Foster Case
Termination. Eradication. Obliteration. These are thoughts that typically leap to mind at the sight of the grim reaper of the thirteenth major arcana. However, in the language of the Tarot the Death card symbolizes not physical demise, but rather, the state of mind of a person at the moment of transformation.
It is only after the Traveler has emerged from the processes of the twelfth triumph that she is psychologically ready to accept the inevitable changes of the thirteenth major arcana. The enlightened perspective developed in The Hanged One helps to prepare a person to move into this new chapter in life. Both destructive and creative, Death is a card filled with the resounding energies of change, rebirth and renewal. Here the self seeks to merge with Spirit, and creativity is expressed through rebuilding. Old ideas give way to new thoughts. Tradition yields to modernity. Hope rises from grief. As Paul Case put it, “Change your ideas and your old conception of personality dies.”
Residing directly underneath The Lovers in the layout of the Three Worlds of the Major Arcana, Death works in synch with the sixth triumph. Love and cooperation flourish in The Lovers, while in Death, attachments must pass. The presence of Love, however, adds meaning and transforms the efforts of the Traveler into something greater, assuring that our works are not in vain.
While most often depicted in Tarot as wielding the traditional scythe, the Rider-Waite version of Death offers a skeleton armored in black, riding a white horse. The significance of these colors, according to Rachel Pollack, is that black absorbs all colors as death absorbs all individual lives, while white is the color of purity, but also of nothingness. Other symbolism in the Rider-Waite version of Death expands beyond the customary as well. A rendering found in many traditional decks shows a scythe-wielding skeleton looming over two live heads sticking up out of the ground. One of the heads belongs to a royal and the other to a commoner, emphasizing Death as the great social equalizer. The RW version broadens the psychological scope of this theme by including four figures, rather than two, each one exhibiting a different reaction to the confrontation with Death. The fallen king represents the resistant ego, while the priest looks directly into the face of Death, demonstrating the strength of faith. The woman and child signify varying degrees of acceptance. Artist Pamela Coleman Smith may have made a rare political comment here, as well. The headdress of the priest associates him with the Piscean Age, presiding over subjugated figures that are representative of the repressive attitudes in that age towards women and children. The presence of flowing water in the background indicates the stream of the subconscious, and the Sun rising behind the towers represents Higher Power and the Source of Life. The symbolism of the Death card is full of powerful influences from the subconscious mind, a high degree of primal energy, and an opportunity to continue traveling in the direction of the Great Work. In this state of mind, the act of intentionally thinking positive thoughts results in changes in every aspect of mind, body and spirit.
Meditate on Death for the Release Of Fear.