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.