Saturday, August 7, 2010

Essential Death and Dismemberment

The Death Card in the Major Arcana, does not mean physical death. Rather, the Death card portrays symbolic death-a change or transformation. Often, it heralds the end of a familiar or more comfortable mode. It conveys a release which is necessary for growth and expansion. Perhaps it even brings a whole new set of principles which will guide you spiritually, emotionally, psychologically or financially. Joseph Campbell, author of A Hero with A Thousand Faces, describes times of personal change as periods when "The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand." The sunrise depicted in the background of the Death card holds the promise of the transformation which is about to take place: the death of the old self, but also the dawning of a new day. The Death card is a cue that you are at a "threshold"-a crossing into a new phase, unbounded by the past.


Death - Symbol for Change and Transformation
In This Life
by Heather Blakey

Jewish Gnostics declared that "When Eve was still in Adam death did not exist. When she was separated from him death came into being."

My life has been changing since my separation from loved ones, important others who were like pillars. Comfortable habits and routines have been irrevocably altered. With each day has come a full appreciation of what their death means.

Pulling the Death Card reminds me that life, transformation and change are synonymous.  I see it as a reminder that I am confronting a period of transformation as I come to terms with changing circumstances. It is amazingly painful, hard to shed old ways and adjust.

My personal experience colors the drawing I have done. It is not a traditional 'Death Card', although the obligatory skeletons are present. Memories rose as I sat drawing myself felled, like a big tree, by the presence of actual death. I am in a period of mourning, coming to terms with what now is and, the loss of what was. The path of readjustment is a slow, winding one.

After spending so many years as the primary carer for my husband and then my mother I am at a loose end.  In both the case of my mother and husband death appeared, not as some fata morgana, nor macabre skeleton priest. Death was not some hostile or revenge seeking tyrant, but rather came, simply, as a servant of life with a job to do.

Jung said that "to accept death like birth, as a part of life, is to become truly alive".

I have witnessed death up close and personal and sense that with it comes rebirth. For now it feels like I am still within the womb, biding my time. "Not wanting to live" said Jung "is synonymous with not wanting to die. Becoming and passing away are the same curve."

It is the becoming which is still a work in progress. Rather than awaiting the Great Transformation it appears that each day offers another door.

The 'Death' card reminds me to go on opening doorways! May I find portals in unusual places. May I go on in the spirit of our school anthem, 'Life is Adventuring."



  1. I notice that the woman is lying in a pool of blood. Sometimes transformation leaves us feeling drained and bled-out. It is a messy business when change is thrust upon us. But I like the tag words that you used: renewal and resurrection. Things will come back round eventually.

  2. Changes. We none of us like changes, but they happen to each an every one of us. We cannot avoid them so we must learn from them and move on. Hold on to the memories, but accept and welcome the new dimensions of your life. This I think is what the Death Card is showing us though to the initiate, like me, The card is scary and represents something bad. Thank you, Heather, for your post. It allows me to look at this card in new light.


  3. The Death card almost never refers to physical death. It is the death of ways, and lifestyles. A new flower does not bloom on the freshly pruned branch. Yet the branch that is not pruned will not bloom as beautifully as it is capable of.

  4. a very thought-provoking and intense depiction - so personal yet with filled with meaning for us all. with death comes new life - not always welcomed ... a gestation period. Gwen has voiced it beautifully i think.

  5. Thought provoking, Heather, and a powerful image.

  6. I sense that the death figure in your drawing is almost hesitant and tremulous. It does not seem to be snatching life away.

  7. Hi Heather,
    What a powerful and insight understanding you show here. It fits with a book I'm reading called The 2nd Half of Life by Angeles Arrien. Arrien suggests asking yourself "What generates hope, meaning and curiosity for you?" Maybe the seeds of new beginnings lie in following your curiosity.
    All the best -Suzanne

  8. Isn't is wonderful to be in a place in life that allows one to go through these changes? Nighttime is the death of daytime and yet we know each morning is fresh and new; ripe with possibilities and epiphanies...How awesome that you recognize the opportunities presented by these cards!
    Love you~

  9. A very poignant drawing Heather. Losing those we love is truly a death of "self". Here is a meditation from Pema Chodran on how to deal with the fear of change that might be helpful.

    Close the eyes and picture your "perfect" room where you can feel safe, relaxed and in control and where everything is as it "should be," or as it was. After a few minutes of peaceful meditation when she says to open the door, most people feel a sense of fear or panic. But she says it's not necessary to open the door wide, perhaps only an inch or two at first. Let curiosity overcome the fear and see it begin to lessen. The next time picture the room again but open the door a bit wider and continue to nurture curiosity in place of fear (or sadness).