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(For a list of all card articles, open March 2008 on the sidebar).

Friday, 7 March 2008


you are the fire that unmakes all things
you are the earth that swallows the ashes whole
you are the waters that wash the earth towards the sea
you are the air that stokes the ocean, into waves, into whirlpools
you carry us over.

you are my blood, you are my bones, you are my breath
you are the fire inside me.

you are what I might become, once I am gone.

Well, here's a place my path likes to bypass.

I have no beliefs about death - not even any knowing guesses, the way I have for the other things I claim not to have beliefs about. (Not being so full of shit is one of my goals with this blog). If pressed, I'll say I believe in something hovering between conservation and reincarnation; the works people have done, and the words they have said, are present for as long as they remain part of the web of the lives of others. Their bodies are turned over in the ecosystem, and become a million other things; so do their thoughts and ideas. The main reason I don't accept full-on reincarnation is because we are born so bloody stupid - you'd think there'd be some baseline of emotional growth that was retained, some stupid mistake we wouldn't have to make over and over again.

But we grow, and learn; we change, chemically, as we bond with others, have our worlds turned around by dear friends. Our identities mingle. We are shaped, as if in the hands of a turner, by every passing point. What we become cannot be predicted when we begin.

We are all washed away eventually, and what then?

(The most useful thing (imo) about the doctrine of reincarnation, in the Buddhist sense, is that it comes with a twist most pagans forget; Buddhists have no soul. I don't completely grok how someone's karma is passed on to the next cycle if there is no soul to bear it; a theology tutor once explained it as being like passing a flame from a lit candle to an unlit candle; they are not the same flame, and do not have the same bearer, but the first flame has definitely led to the second. But yes; the soul is a Western, Christian construct and sometimes you do well to set it to side.)

(You'll meet Death at the gateways; he is a gatekeeper. Some people walk on as fast as possible, but some stay there. Some people will have the power to kill you again and again and again - kill you, or die with you. They're wonderful people; you can get lost in them.)

This particular Death I'm looking at, from the Intuitive deck, is all blood, bone, and fire; there's a shield in front of it which features a butterfly. I'm sure this would be very nice and uplifting if it didn't make me think of Perdido Street Station. >< The intended message is that death is just a chrysalis, and that any chrysalis can be represented by the Death card - but really, walking into it, how do you ever know?

They say (I think Pollack says this in big capital letters. Either her or Eason or both) that drawing Death does not mean you or anyone else is going to die. This is true in the short term, for sure, but; everything dies. People die. Entire worlds die, though I was considering saving that story for the Emperor's entry. Great swathes of your life can die overnight. (I'd imagine this has happened to you several times already). You could come out a butterfly. You could also come out a slake-moth; maybe you already have.

Death is a world without you in it. (Or it's a you without your world). For me, right now, Death is knocking on the glass pane at the top of the door, walking in, picking up her empty teacup and kissing her on top of the head. I will cry again if I picture that too clearly; it was my world, and it's four thousand miles away from me now.

Tarot readers who are into numerology tend to see the last 12 majors as each being related to the early major that bears the sum of its digits; for Death, being the 13th card, this would be the Emperor. The RWS and other trad depictions of Death often feature, among the dead on the earth, a crowned head; the Reaper does not spare the tallest stalk. (Stupid Nine of Pentacles). The other aspect of the relationship from this side is responsibility; Emperors, as sublime control-freaks-in-chief, will have (or desire to have) a monopoly on legally permissible violence within their realm; they will decide which deaths are important to prevent, and which are acceptable casualties. (I totally mistyped that as 'causalties'; I shall pretend this is a deep and meaningful typo). Yes, it's fucking political. The Tarot depiction of medieval institutions - popes and papesses, jesters, virtues, things in the sky - was political all a-fucking long.

The opposite of Death is Strength. Cross this inevitability of endings, transformations, with Strength's calm integrity of self and you have...a great big mess, but it adds up to 21, so that's all fine then.

One last note; as Nemesis bridges Justice with the High Priestess, there is also a twisting line between Death and the Moon, and along it, on eight insectile legs, walks the scorpion. It's a bit fuzzy in my head, but I think the Death end of this line is called the well of fire.

Images of Death:

The Hello Tarot urges us to take this very seriously.

The Robin Wood gives us a different look at the traditional Death. (All Death flags make me think of Yorkshire, this one especially). Note the butterfly. As in the Intuitive deck, it may, metamorphosis aside, be connected to the fact that the butterfly in Greek myth is a symbol of Psyche, whose name means soul.

Amano's Death. I'm fairly sure the character on this card is Izanami. In Japanese myth, Izanami was the first thing that ever died. After having produced many divine children successfully, she died when she birthed Kagu-Tsuchi, the god of fire. Her brother-spouse-fellow divinity Izanagi went to a dark place called Yami to find her, but by the time he'd got there she'd already eaten the food of the dead (why did so many people come up with that reason why dead people have to stay dead?) She wandered away from Izanagi to go plead with the lords of Yami to let her go; Izanagi got impatient and followed her, setting fire to his comb to light the way, and found that by that light her body looked all rotted, maggoty and scary. So he runs away, bars the land of Yami with a giant rock, and traps her there; she retaliates by creating mortal death, saying she'll take a thousand of Izanagi's people every day, but he responds by saying he'll give life to 1500 people every day.

So there's Izanami, trapped in the underworld. What can we learn from this myth? Why, that the creation of life is masculine and the death of life is feminine; that a non-beautiful woman is evil and should be shut away. (There is a subtext about how menstruation is a) just nasty and b) connected to death). Ghosts in Japan, especially vengeful ones, are overwhelmingly female.

Much <3 for the Roots of Asia Death, with a tree growing out of his middle. I think this card chimes with my own abovementioned thoughts on dead people. It also reminds me of Guan Yu and his mountain.

The Osho Zen Death, many-armed and floating on a giant flower in the sky.

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