Arcana In Balance: Death



Like the guy on TV said “I love it when a plan comes together”.

How cool is it that we get to the Death card just in time for the Halloween season? This card even came up in conversation on “Menage A Tarot” (the podcast I co-host with David Dear of “My Own Minister” and Kate of “Daily Tarot Girl”. I agree with David. When it comes to the death card, you gotta have the grim reaper on there somehow. And like the zombie part of the podcasts upcoming Halloween episode…I also love it when a little humor is thrown in for good measure, like the Reaper character from “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”. Or better still, the Grim Reaper in Dave Turner’s fantastic e-book “How to be Dead”, to which I owe my newfound love of HobNob cookies and the frequent ear-worming of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”.

But I digress. Mostly because I’m not entirely sure how to write an “Arcana in Balance” post about a Tarot card singularly defined by its utter lack of balance. The earlier cards in the arcana had a nice ‘this-or-that’ , yin vs yang kind of dualistic balance. Then they worked their way up to the more complex balances of the Justice card, which had a balance point more like a baby mobile than a Yin Yang symbol

And here we are today with a card that as black and white as it comes. Is it is or is it ain’t. There is dead, and there is not dead, and not a whole lot in between, at least from the physical perspective.

Physically, dead may be dead, but as Bill, Ted, Mr. Turner and countless spiritualists and mediums have shown us, it isn’t necessarily all there is. There is more to  the Death card than corpse-i-fied grossness.

It’s ghost season.

The up side to the death card is its allusion to a life afterwards. Life after deathis a deeply held belief in the countries and cultures where Tarot evolved. In those deeply Catholic societies, heaven, hell and life after life was a foregone conclusion. Enter the nineteenth century spiritualists, mediums, Rosecurcians, Hermetics, Golden Dawn movement and so on. Tarot is believed to be strongly influenced by these schools of thought which also held a strong belief in life after death spiritual activity as I understand it. In this context, the death card is a far cry from the prediction of doom and demise seen in contemporary horror movies. At its root, the death card carries a message of continuing life.

There you have the reason for the Death’s card message of life-altering change.

Some things change us forever. Some changes have the irrevocable finality of death, yet are followed by life and joy. Marriages and births are examples. Once you’ve married, you may get a divorce or an annulment, but you can never un-experience what you lived through. One you are a parent, you can never un-do that event. The Death card arriving in a reading mean you are immediately doomed. We all are going to die, sometime, but this card means you have some living to do first…and maybe even after too.

Some people dread change as much as death. To them change is loss, is death. For them a card of deep change is a fearful thing, even with the promise of more on the other side.

If there is any balance point to the death card, it is in how you react to change. Is a change coming the same as the Grim Reaper arriving on your doorstep or is it a transformation. Is it a loss…or the touch of spirit?

It’s ghost season.

There is no balance in death. It comes to everyone, without exception. There is no balance in change. It comes to everyone. This card is more choice than balance. Do you choose to see the rebirth, transformation or do you see only the loss. It’s both. Not a balance, but  a swirling melange of complicated, emotionally charged finality and change. There is great sorrow in loss of life. There is great joy in the touch of spirit guides and crossed-over loved ones.  Such is the nature of the death card. Such is the nature of Halloween. It is healthy and necessary that we face, and honor these realities, as complex and emotionally charged as they may be.