I've been thinking a lot recently about the role and meaning of death in my life. Death has been a very real, physical part of my year, and it has been something that I've wanted to explore more deeply for some time. I thought I would incorporate the Death card from the Tarot in this post as it's meaning fascinates me.
(Death cards from various decks. Decks from top left, clockwise: Wild Unknown Tarot, Shadowscapes Tarot, Favole Tarot, Wooden Tarot, Dreaming Way Tarot & The Wildwood Tarot)
In Tarot, the Death card is one of the most notorious. It is one of the cards that always pops up in movies, shrouded in fear and ill omens. It is a card that I have quite a soft spot for, partly due to the misunderstanding so often attributed to it. I want to show people that it isn't a card that needs to be feared but one that can teach us great lessons.
It is a card that I have been pulling regularly ever since I started reading the Tarot. It is a complicated card, like the subject matter it represents, and I feel that this is a large part of why it is one of the most feared and revered. It still elicits mixed reactions whenever I pull it, sometimes it feels familiar, like a light to guide my way. Other times it makes me nervous, it shows me that change is coming, and sometimes that is very hard to accept.
For, above all else, that is what I think the Death card represents. It is the very essence of what Death brings to a situation, change. Death takes the old and carries it away, leaving space for the new to grow. Once final it is irreversible, and that can be very frightening. I find the Death card to be very honest, it appears when it needs to, regardless of whether you want it to or not. The same can be said for change, it happens when it needs to, not always when you want it to. This can be painful to deal with, it is so easy to try to resist change and often so much harder to let go, truly let go, with the knowledge that some things you were holding onto may be carried away.
I have let go of many things this year. Death has looked me in the face again and again, shown me the hand used to take something away. One of the most obvious examples of this for me has been the pets I have lost this year. As of this morning, when my sweet hamster Bernadette passed away, I have lost 7 pets this year. Some have come as total surprises, and some I have seen coming. I don't know yet which is worse, or better. With each death that has come I have experienced many different feelings. Fear, sadness, heartbreak, emptiness, anger, relief and even peace. It has started to look more like a gift than a curse. Some deaths have been so sudden that I felt as though I couldn't regain my equilibrium afterwards, nothing seemed to make sense. Others I have had time to grapple with, to come to terms with in some way, to accept. I have grown used to the strange feeling just after you lose a sweet little soul, as if the world might just stop. Yet it doesn't, and that in itself can feel odd and confusing. Part of me sometimes feels overwhelmed by the fact that everything continues as normal, for how could it when something so massive has changed? Yet at the same time I also find it comforting, that everything will keep going, everything will keep moving, and I will too.
Another death, more metaphorical but just as painful, has been the changing of my relationship. That too has embodied the key message of Death to me. It is a death that we thankfully had time to face together, and come to understand in some small way. Certainly not completely, for at times I feel as though my whole body hurts with sadness, and I doubt myself still and my ability to find worth and meaning on my own, but enough to know it was what we needed. If we had run from it, we would have been afraid, and I still believe it would have caught up with us. Standing and facing it, even walking willingly beside it, I knew we were making the right choice. It was time for that change to happen, but we had the choice of how it would do so.
Throughout this year I've also come into contact with Death in less obvious ways, ways that sometimes took months for me to unravel. For instance I have spent a lot of this year with the Owl alongside me. It has turned up everywhere and anywhere, and for a long time I had no idea why. Although I enjoy it, I cannot say it is an animal that I feel especially kindred with. On my first night back at my parents, I heard an owl hooting in the tree opposite my house. For months I felt the presence of a Goddess, but had no idea who. All I knew was that she was trying to come through to me as an owl. From that I did research and thought it was Diana, but then something else clicked into place and I realized it was Hecate, who is sometimes associated with owls. When I realized who was calling me, something clicked into place. I had been seeing her in different ways throughout the year, one form I have often seen her in has been as a lady of indeterminate age, cloaked in black, sitting beside me and placing her hand on my back. This has happened on many occasions when I have been upset to the point of panic, at which point I always feel as though a black cloak is being pulled over me, protecting me, shrouding me, holding me tightly and safely.
Another Goddess closely associated with Death is Kali, somebody who I have worked with for a few years now. It took me quite some time to accept her presence in my life, for at first I was terrified of her. One night I woke up and rolled over to come face to face with her, clear as day, and I jumped! After that I stopped running and started listening. My most recent encounter with her was a few weeks ago, in a dream. In this dream she had ripped my head off, and was holding it. I could see blood leaving my body, but I was not afraid, and there was no pain. I knew that the blood was carrying away what no longer served me. It was showing me that I had done what needed to be done, so that I could let go. This is apparently quite a common vision that people have when Kali is working with them, something I always feared before I experienced it.
I still have a lot of work to do in my work with Death and with change. Yet I can also look back on the path of this year and see the lessons it has taught me, of releasing, relinquishing the need to control and of trust. For as frightening as death can be, I have also come to see it as something that can be kind, a friend, a release. It does not have to be bad, in fact a shift of the light, of perspective, can make it good.