Transitions. Not just of life to death, but child to adult, day to night, winter to spring to summer to autumn to winter again. Birthdays, the phases of the moon. Becoming a parent, student to employee to retired. Some of these transitions are easier than others. But we all go through many.
Following and honouring the cycles of the natural world can be very grounding, and if you ever experience dissociation, I recommend it.
Being afraid of death is very common, but so too is being afraid of change. And that’s what the Death card is all about.
I love the symbolism of this card. Look at the different ways these characters react to Death. The bishop is praying, or maybe pleading for his life. The woman is turned away, she can’t even bear to think about death. The little girl doesn’t understand and offers Death a flower. There’s a king lying dead. All the power and the wealth in the world couldn’t protect him from death. Death himself has a flag with a white flower on it. They typically represent purification. In a way, death can be seen as purifying, as you go from rotting flesh to clean white bone.
Did seeing that make you feel uncomfortable? I guess it depends what culture you are used to. The Toraja people of Indonesia live with their dead family members. Rather than a sudden transition from living to dead, by living with their loved ones’ corpses, they are able to slowly come to terms with their loss.
Like I said, this card represents transition, cycles, and change. How do you react to change in your life? Are you avoidant, or do you jump right in? many changes are unavoidable, and accepting that fact is freeing.
The Fool spent time contemplating their life as the Hanged Man, and now it is time to make necessary changes. What is no longer serving you? Think about things like your career or your relationships. Let go of unhealthy attachments, because if you cling on, you will only experience much more upheaval and pain later on. We will see how that manifests as The Tower in another post.
This card does not represent a literal death, as The Fool still has a long way to go on their journey yet. But it is such a useful metaphor, and can be a healing one to meditate on. If you pull this card, take time to journal or meditate on the transitions in your own life and the ones you experience around you. What do they mean to you and what can you learn from them?
If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the Order of the Good Death, which you can find out about here.
I am reminded of my favourite mantra which comes at the end of the Heart Sutra:
gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā
It means ‘gone gone, completely gone, to the other shore, enlightenment svāhā‘ and the Sanskrit is pronounced ‘gatay gatay para gatay parasam gatay bohdy sva-ha’. Svāhā can’t really be translated but it’s kind of like saying ‘amen’.
You can listen to a performance of the Heart Sutra by Imee Ooi here; please be patient as the lyrics begin about a minute in, and the mantra is the last line!