The Worth of a Scorpion

Once upon a time, a great warrior went hunting with the goddess Artemis and her mother, Leto. During the hunting, he boasted that he would kill every beast on Earth. The Goddesses were not happy, and so they decided to create a Scorpio to do battle with this great hunter. It is told that it was an epic battle. So mighty it was, that it caught the eye of Zeus itself. In the end, the mighty warrior fell and the scorpion won.

After the battle was done, Zeus decided to honor the victor and place it in the skies, among the stars. When Artemis and Leto knew about this, they asked Jupiter to also raise the fallen warrior to the skies, which Zeus ended up doing, as a cautionary for humans about the dangers of excessive pride. The hunter’s name was Orion, and you can easily see both constellations in the sky. Interestingly, Orion and Scorpius appear on opposite sides of the celestial sphere and they’re best seen on different times of the year: Orion in the northern winter; Scorpio in the summer. But never both at the same time, just in case Orion gets boastful again and that nasty Scorpio is somewhere near…

The bringer of Death and the gatekeeper of Darkness

The idea that a small, crawling beast like the Scorpio can kill a hunter capable of “destroying all the creatures of earth” is an amusing one. There are echoes of that story of David and Goliath, with the small, puny scorpio being able to take down such a mighty warrior like Orion. Now all scorpions have venom and this venom is enough to paralyze or even kill its intended victims. But only a few species have a venom capable of killing a human being.

Even so, the Scorpio is equated with death. Orion’s death is not the only one credited to this tiny animal. Another example is the story of Mithras, the Persian god of light who slew a bull so that its blood could fertilize the Universe and thus create life. However, the evil Ahriman, sent a scorpion to sting the bull’s testicles and thus, destroy all life.

From Egypt, comes the story of Isis and the 7 scorpions. According to the myth, these seven scorpions have all sworn to protect both Isis and Horus, who were fleeing from the killer of Osiris (husband of Isis and father of Horus). One night, Isis and Horus, along with their seven guardians arrived at the Delta Town of the Two Sisters. They seemed shelter there for the night, at the house of a rich woman. This woman, however, was not convinced by the scorpions and refused them lodging, making them all take refuge at the home of a poor, but well-intentioned woman. The 7 scorpions, however, would have none of that and decided to take matters into their own hands.

Six of the scorpions lent their sting to the seventh, a large bold scorpion by the name of Tefen. Tefen crawled its way back to the rich woman house and stung her son. The son died and immediately the house burst into flame and water fell from the sky, even though this happened outside the rain season. The rich woman was completely distraught. She ran throughout the village, crying and asking for help, but no one would come. As she had refused help before, so help was now being refused to her. Eventually, Isis heard her cries and relenting, restored the child’s breathing by reciting the names of the 7 scorpions, sons or Serket and her guardians. The poison died; the child lived and both the fire and the water stopped. As for the mother, realizing what had happened there, donated all her wealth to the poor woman who had welcomed Isis in.

In China, the scorpio’s venom was part of a formula to create something truly potent: gu poison. Spiders, centipedes, scorpions, toads and snakes would be put in a jar and forced to fight each other in a highlander-styled competition where only one could survive. It was believed that this survivor possessed such a concentrated toxin, it could kill a men in a matter of days.

In old Babylonia, scorpio men were employed by Tiamat to guard the gates that give entrance to the Land of Darkness, to which the sun god goes each night to rest before rising the next day.

As below, so above

These stories are just a few examples of the type of narratives that were built around the Scorpion animal and that ended up being reflected on the star sign of Scorpio. Which is why when people speak about the themes of this star sign, they will usually mention death (and eros, which is never too far behind), the journey into the underground and even their sense of justice.

And Power. Power is big with Scorpios. As you saw in the first story, a scorpion was powerful enough to take on Orion and kill him. But not only that, his power caught the eye of Zeus itself who decided to celebrate the animal and its accomplishments, by getting him a place in the sky to shine upon us all. In the second story, a scorpion is responsible for a house starting to burn and for rain to fall down from the sky on the dry season. Power. Scorpios have power to correct misdoings and power to kill as they please. Now that’s something!

When Jupiter entered the sign of Scorpio last week, all I could think were the stories. Specially the one about the Death of Orion, as it involved both parties: Jupiter (as the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus) and Scorpio. While most texts that I chanced upon stressed how important and revealing this transit would be or what the consequences were of the movement of the Lord of Expansion (Jupiter) into the Realm of the Underworld, I continued to think that Jupiter is entering the House of an animal he admired so much he placed it (again, as Zeus) in the sky. True, there is the revealing and the raising the whole dark / shadow / repressed part of oneself, but still…

Orion died at the hands of the Scorpion, because he was too boastful and attracted the attention of the wrong people. Orion died, because what he bragged around didn’t correspond to the truth. And Orion died because the truth that that Scorpio represented ended up being too much for him. In the end, Jupiter elevates the Scorpion, not only for its power, but also for being a reflection of a Truth so mighty most people don’t resist. Scorpios love Truth and they will wield it as a weapon against you if need be. Be aware of that, the next time you provoke a Scorpio; remember Orion and how lucky you were by not being killed by their sword play.

The entrance of Jupiter in the World of Scorpio could then be seen as a two movement dance: the first act would be the confrontation with the issues that need to be handled / killed, which will obviously lead us into Shadow work territory and all that it entails. But the second act would the the ascent of the Scorpio to the heavens itself, as a recognition of the qualities that make Scorpions such powerful animals..

Now shadow work will most probably take us to those places where we lock everything that we deem not fit for our daily life: emotions, impulses, desires, fears, and more all get buried far away from the light, in the Underworld. Confronting these issues will undoubtedly takes us through these Nether realms, something that — as stories warns us — is not an easy thing to do. The fates of Inanna and Orpheus should be enough to shine some light on how those journeys can change those who end up doing them. But these stories also shows us something else that we might already have intuited with the title: there are great riches in the Underground and now that Jupiter — Lord of Expansion, Sovereignty and Abundance — entered the House of Scorpio is the time to go after them and bring them up to the surface.

As we do this, and again taking the myth of the death of Orion as a guide, we will draw the necessary attention from the outer powers to elevate us to the stars. By killing that which needs to be killed, we are opening the door to something bigger, more powerful. But to achieve this, we need to be faithful to who we are. It is a time of sharp truths and unpleasant honesty which, like the Scorpion in the story, we will be called to face.

What do the cards have to say about Jupiter in Scorpio?

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The idea is to go deep inside oneself and to emerge from this cycle in balance. There are some common elements in the cards of the World and the Hierophant, like the four elements at the corner and the two center figures. So the background remains the same. However, the woman is no longer wrestling with the snake, but has, in the Hierophant card become the sage. The serpent is also transformed into a shadow-person and now lies peaceful at the feet of that very sage. But to achieve this, we need to pass through the Hermit. To walk along the dark corridors of the mind, looking for those things we have left encased and forgotten.

Looking at both the World and the Hermit, it’s easy to see why this cycle has been seen with caution: the shift inwards implies that we have to face ourselves and whatever lies inside us. The horizon turns pitch dark and not even our weapons can shed some light here. You can see exactly that in the card of the 3 of Swords.

But while things doesn’t look good, what exactly are we being asked to deal with? Our motivations and expectations for once (as seen in the King of Cups and the King of Coins). Well… that’s to be expected. If indeed, the Lord of expansion goes Underground, then luck and abundance will get buried. Whatever you might think, this is not that bad. Riches have always been underground. Our food, water and everything else we might need also comes from the earth. So our focus has to change and turn into the earth. To get to those riches, we need to use our roots. Which takes us nicely into that third card, the 8 of Coins: we stop expanding, trying to reach higher planes. We stand our ground, and that’s it. There is a need to be cautious, for sure (5 of Wands) and centered (4 of Swords) while we deal with the naked truth that comes to meet us (Prince of Disks) and how it binds us.

All of this just to say “stop defending yourself from yourself, and open up to what’s inside  of you”. As below, so above. As we turn into ourselves and deal with what’s inside of us, so too does the world turns to us and extends a hand or two to ease our way up. The first thing that comes to us is a sense of lightness, that we’re so light we can almost escape the ground and fly. And why wouldn’t we fly? We’re dealing with the excess luggage so now it’s time to rise. To move up. So off we go.

The second thing that comes to us is we are now able to operate fully. The shadow-woman who appeared in the card of the Hierophant is now glued on the Pope, meaning that for all intents and purposes, this work was successful and we’ve managed to rise from a split personality to a fully working character where even our “ex-shadow” is called upon to contribute. Which again, goes into the whole theme of Riches in the Underworld. And what could be more precious than that part of us that we decided to lock up in the basement?

In the end, the cards say that this will be a time of personal discovery. It will be a time to get re-acquainted with who we really are, ground ourselves and close every rip we can find in ourselves. The Scorpio is once again asked to kill that which boasts it’s better than the rest of the world, but can’t resist a single creature of darkness. Or a single creature of truth.

 

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[Review] The Marseille Tarot Revealed by Yoav Ben-Dov

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Yoav Ben-Dov was an asset to the tarot community who passed away nearly a year ago, in December 2016, at age 59. He studied physics and the philosophy of science in Tel Aviv, was a student of Chilean-French cartomancer (and film director and polymath) Alejandro Jodorowsky, and held a doctorate in the philosophy of quantum mechanics.

He worked on a restored version of the Marseille based on the deck published by Nicholas Conver in 1760 and titled his restored deck the CBT (Conver/Ben-Doav Tarot) Marseille.

He developed his own method of reading the Marseille, which he called the “Open Reading” and which he detailed in a book of the same name.

In 2017, Llewellyn published his comprehensive book on the Marseille tarot, titled The Marseille Tarot Revealed: A Complete Guide to Symbolism, Meanings & Methods.

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I first ran across this book at my local library this summer and wanted to have a look before I bought it. It had been on my radar since it was published but I hadn’t had a chance (or time) to get my hands on it. It wasn’t long before I had decided I wanted to make this volume a permanent part of my essential tarot library.

Ben-Dov said he had three principle aims in this book: a general introduction to the tarot and the reading process, a guide to his “open reading” method, and a handbook to reading the Marseille specifically.

A few things set this work apart from the many others out there on the market, especially given the resurgence in popularity and “trendiness” in recent years of the Tarot de Marseille and the French school of cartomancy.

The Open Reading Method

First of these is Ben-Dov’s method, which departs from a vast majority of readers (including myself) who insist that the question is of vital importance. (It should be noted that when he refers to a reading, he is working in person and face-to-face with the querent, which gives him a lot more to work with in terms of body language and psychological input than is possible when doing telephone or email readings.)

Regarding questions, he states:

“As I see it, even if the querent comes to the reading with a clear and precise question, we should regard it only as a starting point. People are not always self-aware enough to know what exactly it is that troubles them.”

Open reading relies much on the skill and experience of the reader to help the querent uncover what’s “really” important in terms of the reading session. He says that taking a querent’s question “at face value and giving them a definite answer is usually not productive.”

Right or wrong, an optimistic prediction may lower the motivation of the querent to make an effort, as they may believe that success is guaranteed. A pessimistic one could also lower their motivation, this time because they may think all is lost anyway.

I absolutely agree with Ben-Dov’s observations here and he succinctly states the reason why I also avoid making “predictions” for clients and prefer to view the reading session as a process of coming to clarity and insight for proactive decision making.

Ben-Dov’s way of assigning meaning to the cards in the open reading method is something I found particularly challenging. It caused me to stretch my thinking in terms of card reading. I had already worked on elements that loosely resemble the open reading in my work with Enrique Enriquez, namely the idea that cards have no fixed meaning, nor do their positions. This will challenge many readers who used “cookbook” style texts to learn the cards, especially non-Marseille decks. However, it’s a worthwhile exercise and challenge for any reader who wants to develop a more holistic approach to card reading.

We don’t start by interpreting each card separately; instead, we first try to see the whole picture that the cards form together.

Everything Is a Sign

Ben-Dov relies on another concept that may not appeal to all readers, but which plays an important role in his way of reading: “everything is a sign.”

Generally speaking I tend to agree with him on this (ex: cards jumping the deck during shuffling, spontaneous mental images or phrases I may receive prior to shuffling or during a reading session), but personally he goes a little too far for my own taste, truly including everything as a potential sign, down to the querent’s choice of clothing, accessories, and hand movements while shuffling.

I don’t disagree with him that everything can be read as a sign. However, I think each reader has to draw in for him or herself how much he or she wants to accept to read as a sign. I would be overwhelmed if I felt I had to systematically consider absolutely everything down to the last detail in the reading session and surrounding environment as a sign. But the principle here—that meaning can come from any stimulus that arises during the reading session—is absolutely valid and worthwhile.

He includes several practical examples with actual spreads in which his interpretation draws on his own intuitions and experiences. He describes how “usually” cards are interpreted as such but in a particular reading he “felt” it meant something different, based on “something in the querent’s presence.” This could be too ambiguous for a beginning reader who’s looking for hard and fast maxims to grab onto.

His method will also present a challenge for readers who insist that a question provides the necessary context for interpretation. When he provides a three-card combination without providing a question and begins offering possible interpretations (“may be” and “could represent”), it could sound to some like random speculation with no anchor point.

What’s refreshing, however, is that this method opens up new possibilities to readers who have self-taught with mass market books.

Reference for Individual Meanings and Divination

The book will prove useful as a reference manual. Each card of the major arcana is delineated with a large photo and several “functions” of the card. This gives structure with enough flexibility to leave room for individual interpretation based on the open method.

Many readers struggle with reading the pips in the Marseille because they have very little symbolic content, and here Ben-Dov has an entire chapter on how to read them, including a quick reference section of brief interpretations for each of the “number cards.” The court cards have their own chapter as well.

This is a thorough manual that does a great job of multitasking. It teaches accurate tarot history, examining the French and English schools past and present; the particulars of the Marseille deck; Ben-Dov’s own reading method; reference information for each card in the deck; as well as symbolic meanings in terms of colors, numbers, figures, and body parts.

In addition, Ben-Dov’s background in Hebrew (he wrote the first tarot book to be published in Hebrew) allows him to comment on Cabbala and possible uses for Hebrew letter correspondences. There’s also a handy reference table.

The book is printed on a lovely stock, in full color on a satisfyingly shiny and heavier-weight white paper than you normally find in paperback books. At $15 for either paperback or Kindle version, the price is also very affordable. I’m a Kindle fan, but I recommend you purchase this volume in paperback because the tactile quality is worth it.

Did you like this post? Read more of Shelley Ruelle’s writing on the tarot here at Maelstrom Tarot or at her tarot blog, Sparrow Tarot.

Gaining Clarity By Using Multiple Tarot and Oracle Decks

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The Fortuneteller, Mikhail Vrubel

In the past on my own blog I’ve talked about the fundamental differences between tarot cards and oracle decks. I’ve also shared here about how I complement my tarot readings by using other systems of divination such as the I-Ching. Now I’d like to explore how readers use multiple decks of cards in the same reading or in multiple readings on the same issue.

Most of the cartomancers I know own several, if not several dozen, different decks of cards. And most of them, if they aren’t outright card collectors, own different types of decks, not only tarot. Card readers often use various decks to suit their mood, question, or need, such as playing card decks or oracles like the Lenormand or the Vera Sibilla.

Sometimes, a reading will end by presenting additional issues that need further depth to fully clarify. Perhaps the initial question was something that was already generally understood, and the cards nudge the recipient of the reading to push a bit more to get to the real nitty gritty. That happened to me in a reading today, where I was left with an overabundance of swords (!) and not knowing how to proceed or handle that, given that the initial scope of the reading was already complete. You can see this reading at my post What To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Ask.

I’m going to explore this issue further by using a combination of card decks.

First, I want to spend some more time with my newest deck, Rebecca Schoenecker’s Creatures of the Moon oracle.

When you want to gain clarity into a murky issue, it can be helpful to start with a broad question to an oracle to gain a general overview of the scenario and its main theme or themes in your current life path.

Referring back to my previous reading, I ask:

“What are the cards Judgement, 10 of Swords and 8 of Swords trying to tell me about what’s coming into my life now?”

Rebecca’s deck is a unique double-sided one, with a moon side and a creature side. I got it because one of my aims this year is to connect more deeply with the moon cycles and learn about their different energies.

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On the moon side, I got Waning Moon Fourteen. Even though I don’t know much about the moon cycles yet and haven’t used this deck much yet, I can immediately see how the super narrow sliver of a waning moon could easily symbolize the closing of a chapter shown in the 10 of Swords and the step just before the deep transformation and rebirth of Judgement.

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As for the creature side, I got the snake of Courage, and this also comes as no surprise because all those swords look mighty challenging, especially the work that will be required to step out of the psychological limitations I’ve imposed on myself shown in the 8 of Swords. And it goes without saying that answering the clarion call of Judgement requires a huge dose of courage; how else might one have the audacity and strength to rise up from the proverbial dead?

Rebecca’s deck comes with a lush full-color, 296-page LWB (which is neither white nor little). Waning Moon Fourteen is in fact the last waning moon card in the deck. Rebecca says that Waning Moon Fourteen is the skin of Snake. The story of Snake perfectly reflects that of Judgement in my previous reading:

The uncomfortable process of shedding your skin shows that as Snake, you are filled with true grit. You need to trust that change may not be clear, but that the end results clothe a new you.

In fact, the people who rise up from their tombs on the Judgement card are of course unclothed. Rebecca also mentions the symbolism of the ouroboros and the cyclical nature of life and death. Metaphorically speaking, this oracle card reflects Judgement and further indicates a transformative process. She says the message of Snake is to embrace change with courage.

Already now I have more food for thought and reflection. I can move further in this process by bringing in the Lenormand. Even a simple three-card spread can give some information. I learned the following easy spread from Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Learning Lenormand, which I found to be a good beginner book for me.

For this reading, I decide to charge the Lady card to represent me. The process involves taking the card out of the deck and concentrating on it for a moment to “charge” it. Then, shuffling and cutting as normal, after which, you go through the cards face-up until you find the charged card, in this case, the Lady. You then lay the card before it and after it on each side and you have your three-card spread. (You can increase the cards as you wish, for a five, seven, or larger card spread).

I ask the cards:

“In what area of my life is this upcoming transformation going to manifest?”

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Fish + Lady + Garden

The fish represent money, generally speaking, and increased material abundance in terms of projects. The Garden is about being social and expanding networking and opportunities with others. It could be that change is coming in terms of increased money from work through more contacts.

I expanded it out two cards further and got:

Mountain + Fish + Lady + Garden + Tower

Perhaps this money/social transformation is couched within overcoming an obstacle or sticking point and then needing to become more strategic and long-range visionary in overseeing my career, without isolating myself. Tower can also indicate security from risks and thus could be the natural outgrowth of a transformation towards increased material abundance in work and widened social contacts.

All true things. And, all things I’m aware of but don’t feel the ambition or energy to pursue at the moment. (Maybe that’s why Judgement needs to trumpet his horn and get me to rise up from my “dead” position. But I’m tired!)

Further questions can abound, especially regarding how to best approach the transformation and work with it to bring it successfully about.

When you need additional clarity on a reading, don’t be hesitant about bringing out different decks and different oracles. It can be eye-opening to see how the same message and themes are expressed across different vehicles. You’ll also increase your symbolic vocabulary as well as your ability to translate the imagery of the cards into practical, everyday scenarios. Plus, you’ll be practicing through different mediums which increases your overall cartomantic fluency.

Your thoughts?

Do You Have To Believe in Tarot For It To Work?

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I have often heard people tell me, “Oh, but I don’t believe in the tarot.” I’ve heard that almost as much as I’ve had people ask me: “But how does tarot work?”

The idea that one has to believe in the tarot in order for it to work puts it on the same level as either 1) religion or 2) chicanery.

The idea that tarot either does or does not work implies that it sometimes can go right and sometimes can go wrong, much like a car or a computer, running smooth on some days and broken down on others.

In my opinion, there’s nothing inherent in the deck in which to necessarily believe. I think the declaration from people that they “don’t believe” in the cards comes from not understanding what the cards are about and how they can be used, and perhaps fearing them for that same reason. It’s a way to dismiss the cards as insignificant, unimportant, unworthy of faith, silly; and as such, reassuringly impotent, unintimidating, docile, unthreatening. We know that ignorance breeds fear. And doesn’t organized religion often require a firm belief in its tenets so as to keep the faithful in line (controlled, manageable, unempowered)?

Tarot doesn’t ask anyone to believe anything. It simply exists and is available as a tool, as a mirror, to those who wish to consult it.

There’s no need to associate belief with tarot. There’s nothing to believe in.

As far as how it “works,” that’s another story. When I asked that very question to my tarot teacher Enrique Enriquez, his immediate response was: “Who said it works?”

This one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because obviously those of us who have a tarot practice wouldn’t spend time with the cards like we do if we weren’t getting some benefit. So I’m not dismissing the cards here as saying they have no use or no purpose. But the idea of them either “working” or not working is a loaded question.

I appealed to some of my friends and colleagues for an answer; if you haven’t read “Five Tarot Experts Explain How Tarot Works,” I encourage you to have a look.

It’s important to take the multiple layers of mysterious, imposed potency off of the cards. It’s important for readers to stop insisting that other people agree with them that the cards are useful, special, magical. Tarot is not a religion, it’s a practice. Tarot cards are not imbued with super powers. They don’t either work or not work.

What makes them so special, then? Why are people afraid of them? Why do people sometimes dismiss them, fear them, belittle them, or impose otherworldly powers upon them? Why do those of us who use them keep coming back to them, despite all the misunderstanding?

Well, let’s ask the cards themselves.

  1. What’s the most misunderstood aspect of tarot?
  2. What’s at the core of a tarot reading?
  3. What’s the best way to sum up the cards?

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In the 8 of Cups we see someone actively walking away from a set-up that seemed nearly perfect, but something was missing. No matter how hard this person tried to make things work, to fit the square peg into the round hole, it simply wasn’t going to ever be the way the seeker, the person walking away in the image, wanted it or needed it to be. As such, he or she is walking away from something that he or she invested heart and soul in, but is now letting go of. This person understands, even if it’s hard to acknowledge, that it makes no sense to keep devoting energy, time, heart, and soul to something that is clearly never going to change.

In my interpretation the most misunderstood aspect of tarot, then, according to this card, is that it isn’t about having all the answers tied up with a pretty bow and presented to you in a perfect gift box. It’s about seeking the answers and being honest about what you receive, and knowing when to take action, even if it hurts to do so, because it furthers your personal growth. It’s about knowing when to walk away, knowing when to give up, knowing when to let go. (In fact, I’d say this flies right in the face of the pop-culture notion of tarot as providing neat and accurate “hits” or predictions that give querents the answers and outcomes they desire, or, on the other extreme, cards that foretell of terrifying and unavoidable doom. Both of these concepts remove agency from the seeker. Tarot doesn’t show you what you want, it shows you what you need.)

At the core of a tarot reading is speed, and news. The 8 of Wands is about getting a message fast, about events moving at lightning speed, and about not having enough time to fully digest and comprehend everything that’s swirling around you. At its core, tarot goes straight to the heart of the matter before you even realize what’s happening. You either learn how to dance with this, or you resist it, or you try to rationalize your way out of it, or you try to control it. But at its core, it’s like a speeding bullet. You either consciously ride the fast current of the river, or you get swept up in it and carried away.

The best way to sum up the cards is the 4 of Swords – total silence and stillness. I’ve often had people tell me, after their first-ever reading, that they think “everyone” should have a reading, because it “puts you in touch with your inner self.” Let’s get quiet, and still, and listen, and stop. That’s what the cards can do for us. They can give us respite, a place to be silent and reflect, a place to recuperate and to regenerate, a place to completely stop and focus.

Your thoughts?

Balancing Movement with Quietness

In the tarot, the Death card can have many meanings. The first one is death, obviously. Something or someone is going to die. Usually it’s something that dies, so you can lay that particular image down to rest. In fact, in my practice, I’ve foreseen actual physical deaths more often with other cards of the tarot (like the Hermit or the Chariot) than with the Death card. And well, when I say something, I mean everything that is something: a cycle in life that ends; a relationship; work, etc. And then, well… there’re all those meanings that usually come up in books about changes and transformations… But between you and me, since no one else is reading this, all of these meanings are just for those who can’t accept death at face value.

My relationship with Death is just like that. I have no problems accepting that someone dies and I usually deal with that very well, just when I start thinking about my own death, everything changes and what was rational becomes emotional. The whole idea that death is just part of life and that everything has an end I was brought under gets cut down and I find myself looking into the abyss, this long and dark abyss wondering what the hell is going to happen to me. Death frightens me, because I love having a life and the idea of loosing it is just enough to scare the shit out of me..

It’s also interesting how we keep using the word “loosing” when talking about death. There’s never any mention of loss in the tarot books. And yet, we loose. We loose our lives and the company of others. We loose things in us that we cared about. Even when we didn’t do that much to keep those things near to us, death still acts as a painful reminder of what was once there. There is loosing and there is protecting those whom we might think are incapable to deal with the issue of death. Like children, who are often told not that someone has died, but that that someone has left. ‘Gone to God’, ‘gone to heaven and became a star’, ‘left to be with some family member’. There is death and there is loosing. My death frightens me because I loose everything: family, friends, living, etc; but other people’s deaths don’t mess with me, because no matter how personal the loss, there’s still something left behind.

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One of the things that I like about the Death card of the Waite Smith deck is looking at the people who face their coming end. Everyone of them has a different reaction. I mean, here is Death all high and mighty entering stage left riding its horse and flying its banner. And all of a sudden, people start dying at its passage. There’s a priest there, a young girl and a young lady. On the left, the King has died, as it should, he being the symbol of temporal power. Of the power that always ends up dying. The pope, who raises his hands high, either as a sign of worship or to plead to death not to take him just yet. The young woman with the flower wreath, hands down, lying on her knees with her head leaning sideways, as if she has just surrendered to death. And the child who boldly walks up to death and kneels before it.

Death takes all, young and old, rich and poor. It takes both the ones who are tired with living and the ones who embrace it. For, as we were taught since we were little, death is one of the very few certainties about life. And really, were I to have a life without death, would I want it? I don’t know. There’s something about things having to end that gives them value. If there’s anything I cherish in this life it’s those moments the happen before everything is done and over. Like I said above, I take many things for granted. Not giving them the attention and care that they should have. It’s the idea that they might end someday that makes me move and want to enjoy this moments as often as possible. If this idea is over, what is left? People and moments that little by little become forgotten in the haste of daily routines. Connections who just sit there, gathering dust, not really going anywhere and not really ending, since there was no end in site. How bland everything would be…

On the other side, two things usually bother me in the Waite-Smith card: that death arrives fully armored and that it rides a living horse. I can understand that sometimes, death does come announced: in a prolonged illness, in a fall from a building or something like that. But other times, it comes softly, unnoticed. So this parade that is seen in the Waite-Smith card can be unsettling. Ok, it’s the idea of Death as the great conqueror. But look closely: Death is riding a living horse! Surely all living things already carry the seeds of death with them. And then I look at the Marseille card, with just a skeleton doing its dance, grooming its garden and I end up asking, “Why the hell does all of this mean?”

Thankfully, cards can answer all questions. Even those about them. There’s something you don’t understand in a card and can’t work it out by yourself, well then: ask the cards! Which is what I did.

Why does Death come fully armored?

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THE POPE / THE WORLD / THE MAGICIAN
I look at the Pope, and see him pointing upward. Death comes from above, he seems to say. As it enters this world, It needs something to manifest her in it. Hence the armor. The key is in the world card: the four figures in the corner, standing for the four elements indicate our world. And then there’s Death, separated from it by that green wreath. It is coming, bearing its gifts, but still needs to take a form, which is what she ends up doing in the Magician. For all of its power here, Death remains disconnected from this world. It remains its own unique thing. For Death is death and there is nothing remotely like it.

Why does she ride a living horse?

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THE EMPEROR / THE WHEEL / DEATH
Two cards caught my eye here: the first is the card of Death. I mean, really? I’m asking about Death and it decides to show up in the reading? Talk about being omnipresent! The second was the Emperor card. I see immobility here. I see a man wanting to do its stuff but being stuck in its place. And yet, as the Wheel card seems to point out, things continue to move in this world of finite beings; everything keeps going. We know that the Wheel card refers to this world, because once again, the four figures at the corner that represent the elements are present. And so, death comes. Riding a living horse, because again, all living beings carry the seeds of death.

But then, there’s something else. Something right there staring at me and demanding my attention. And I notice: there’s movement in the world of the living, but not in the realm of Death. There is no change in Death; only permanence. This means that to act upon this world, Death needs to be able to move. Which is the domain of the living. So it really has no choice but to use a living being.

This is an interesting idea: that which is comes after that which moves. That which moves can only hope to remain still. But living is all about moving: it is doing stuff, meeting people, seeing places. It is about creating events. And I look again at that little girl down on her knees, looking up to Death and I smile. For in her young age, she is the only one in this whole picture that actually understands what it means not needing to move.