A darkened room. Flickering candles. A bangled, bedazzled psychic. Red velvet drapes. A curl of incense and/or a mist machine on the “low” setting. The querent leaning forward, tense. The dramatic pause before, in a jangle of costume jewellery and a flurry of grey, curly hair, the psychic turns over a tarot card – Death!
It’s not really strange that even before getting within spitting distance of tarot, most people have at least some vague notion of the Death card. It’s a dramatic device par excellence, and why not? Most card imagery features a Grim Reaper of some variation. Coupled with the general misconceptions about tarot (for most people’s it’s something to do with “the occult”, which covers all manner of sin), Death is great for the cheap plot trick.
But here’s the thing: even after some time of knowing about and working with the tarot, Death still gets a nervous chuckle out of me whenever it shows up in a reading. Even precluding the common misconceptions about its meaning, it generally signifies that most uncomfortable of things to a two-times natal chart Taurean – change. And not surface change: it goes beyond externals and circumstance. It’s a change inside, a dying and a rebirth, often crucial, but almost always uncomfortable, disconcerting or downright unpleasant.
A few months ago, Death showed up in a daily draw I did for myself. I won’t say I shit a brick, but I spent most of the day on edge, expecting devastating news or some stark betrayal or the end of my life as I knew it. Very melodramatic, right? Of course, a piano didn’t fall on me, no dark secret of mine was revealed, and my world didn’t crumble down around me. In hindsight, I think Death meant the start of some long-ailing thing’s last slither from my soul, but to Past Me, doom was imminent.
That’s Death in a nutshell: it prompts a hell of a lot of self-reflection.
The #WeeklyTarotFYI card for this week is Death (no shit). Nervous chuckle begat, I reminded myself that I’d asked about guidance and had a bit of a stare and a ponder. What struck me most about Kim Krans’ The Wild Unknown version is that the card doesn’t actually portray death, just decomposition. The bird’s death happened off-screen or on Krans’ Hierophant, depending on your interpretation of that card. If the focus of The Wild Unknown’s Death card is decomposition rather than death itself, it waters down the “scare factor” of the card somewhat because it’s talking about something that’s already dead.
That gives us something even meatier to consider. When decomposition occurs in a field somewhere, in an open space, exposed to nature and the elements and the work of animals and insects, decomposition is “good” in the sense that the bird’s corpse goes through the natural process of breaking down. That process feeds and nurtures a whole array of critters as it occurs, and in the end little is left of the bird’s corpse. It’s only when decomposition is resisted – a dead rat in a crawl space, for instance – that it becomes problematic.
This week, Death’s asking us to “air out” the dead stuff we’ve left to rot in our minds, hearts and souls. It’s time for us to get out of the way of a process that is ultimately for our own well-being. The change has already happened; within us, something’s already died. Keeping it hidden away won’t bring it back. Rather than holding on to it, we need to trust that its breaking down will nurture something within us.
What to let go of, though? When we see the Death card in a reading, I think most of us instinctively think of one thing or another. Much like a dead rat left to rot in a ceiling, we know it’s there – we smell a rat! Well, it’s time to put a plastic shopping bag over our hands and go fish it out so we can send it to the Great Field Out Back in the sky. An unpleasant task, but a needed one.