The Scary Cards: Death

My in-laws never threw anything away. It was all in the basement, 50 years of their life preserved in an underground crypt, all covered with a fine layer of mouse droppings with an aura of mold. I spent several years, on and off, untangling their past to find the essentials. One summer I made a big push to finish the process, it was a monumental task and I started to say to myself “I’ve found everything but the body, I’ve found everything but the body.” As summer turned to fall I was helping my father-in-law clean up his home office when I looked in a drawer and had to stifled a scream. There it was, THE BODY. My father-in-law happily picked up a real skeleton of a human hand, squeezed it several times and told me he used it to teach Radiology residents. I calmly requested that it be put in a box and set in a corner where I wouldn’t accidentally come across it again. The first week I lived in the house I asked one of the movers to take the hand away.  I could just imagine it coming to life and scurrying around the house like “Thing” on the Addams Family. Totally creepy.

When I first look at the Death card in the Tarot, I have the same reaction, “take it away now, I want nothing to do with skeletons or death.” But the great wisdom of Tarot says that death is a necessary part of life and we must face this scary card. When Tarot is used as a tool for wisdom, Death is never about our physical death so lets look at why we need Death as part of our enlightenment journey.

Death is a skeleton, the physical part of our bodies that is buried deep in our skin. We can’t touch our bones. The skeleton is the part of the body that survives, our essential self. Death is wearing armor, he is invincible, no one has triumphed over death. He rides the white horse of purity. Death is the ultimate purifier, carrying the banner of the white rose which is the desire for Truth. If we want the Truth of the universe the we must die to our lower nature, our immature beliefs, old worn-out stories and insecurities.

Death takes no prisoners. All the good intentions, positive thoughts, bargaining and good luck charms won’t stop his march across the land when your life needs to change. The woman won’t look at Death. She is in denial. The Bishop is praying to be spared but death is the great equalizer and money, fame, power and prestige can’t keep us away from our appointment, Death has a job to do and a schedule to keep. Only the innocent child is unafraid and looks at death as a part of life.

The river Styx, the gateway to the Underworld, is flowing to the ocean, from our individual experience back to the great mysterious universe. Charon, the wounded healer, serves as our ferryman across the river to help us understand that our loses and wounds are part of our journey in life. The sun rises between the twin towers of knowledge of universal law, and reminds us of daily rebirth and the soul’s eternal life.

As scary as this card seems, it signifies a moment of transformation. The old has outlived its usefulness and must fall away and make room for new insights, experiences and people. Death is an instrument of progress. What part of your life is finished? We can’t keep progressing on the path to Enlightenment clinging to what no longer serves us. We are moving along our journey and we need to see the bigger picture of life and accept it as it unfolds. If we don’t do this willingly and consciously, Death will help us along for we won’t be able to ignore him as he sweeps through our life.

Sometimes Death takes us by surprise and we are shattered into pieces. Take your time and mourn the loss, gather the pieces and re-member what you experienced and learned. This is an initiation, a time of expansion and emotional growth. These experiences are never easy. Change never is, but resistance just brings more sorrow to the process. This is a new beginning, a new era, time to plant new seeds.

As I was in the crypt of the house discarding the old, I was cleansing the house and the family on many levels of life. I made room for air and light to fill the dark spaces of our lives. I let go of the sad memories and worn-out experiences and remembered the happy times and uncovered the meaningful objects. We now can find what is truly important, Alexandra is enjoying a wonderful old typewriter, Caroline loves the vintage cameras. Hamilton has his grandfather’s workbench and I have order. The mice and the skeletons have found new homes.


Shaker Village


For most people visions of heaven include pearly gates, streets of gold and jewel encrusted mansions but not in my world. All I have to do is go to Kentucky to find my version of nirvana and it is called Shaker Village. After our lovely time at the Serpent Mound, Val and I fortified ourselves with a latte and retraced our path back to Lexington for the night. I had one more essential pilgrimage stop to make the next day. I needed a Shaker Village fix.

These days I live in my in-law’s home which is decorated in a style I would call High Ostentation but in my heart I prefer a style more like Early Convent. My Taurus/Virgo soul longs for a tidy house with white walls and simple furniture. The Shakers perfected this style and brought it to a high art.


So who were the Shakers? They were a branch of the Quakers who came to America looking for religious freedom. Lead by Mother Ann Lee, the first communities were started in the late 1700’s and formed around 20 utopian centers with 6000 members at the peak of popularity. These communities were founded on principles of equality for the sexes and races, celibacy and pacifism. Men and women lived separately but worked together and the congregations grew by recruitment since procreation wasn’t allowed. In the early 1900’s the communities stopped taking members and were eventually closed

Spiritually they believe God was both male and female and the imminent second coming of Christ. They worshiped in stark meeting rooms with narrow benches and no pulpit. The service consisted of singing, dancing and ecstatic states of shaking and shouting thus they got the name “Shakers”. They wrote many songs for their worship and the most popular tune is Simple Gifts, immortalized in Aaron Copeland’s work Appalachian Spring.


The communities were self-sustaining farms and invented many new labor-saving devises. The Kentucky Shakers were know for their brooms and high-quality seeds as well as furniture and weaving. Hard work was important to them so all the communities thrived. They believed that beautifully made simple furniture was an act of prayer. Each building and room was perfectly planned for simplicity, practicality and order and ideal which has had a lasting influence on American design.

Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is like stepping back in time. On this perfect September day the buildings glowed in the sun with a back drop of purple/blue sky. Pumpkins and corn stocks decorate the stack stone fences and there is just a hint of color in the trees that line the lane; translation—-pure joy. I wandered the buildings looking at the magnificent worn furniture, craft demonstrations, amazing circular staircases and stark perfection. We wandered into the dinning room for corn pudding and buttermilk pie, headed down to the old barn to see the friendly ram and horses and felt the gentle grace of this place frozen in time. During a past visit I sang Simple Gifts in the meeting hall where that song has reverberated thousands of times and I’m thrilled to sing it for myself.

After having our joy quotient filled by two beautiful days in Kentucky. Val and I head back to Tennessee. We don’t have far to go and on the way home we have a long discussion about beauty. We have been bathed in beauty and sacred vibration for two days which has left our hearts singing and our spirits cheerful. Our quick pilgrimage had all the joys of any exotic journey with no jet lag or expensive tickets. So this Fall find a place to pilgrimage close to home and bring beauty and joy to your soul.