We die and are reborn every time we give up an old habit, find a new attitude, or end or begin a relationship. There are many different types of death, and the Death card (#13 in the Tarot's Major Arcana) can refer to any of them. Sometimes we must let go of things we cherish in order to make way for something new, or to experience new growth. This card is often about preparing for the transformations we must undergo as we travel along our spiritual path.
Just as pruning will encourage new growth, the losses we experience make way for and stimulate the growth we need in our own lives. A loss may be painful, and its potential for transformation may not be immediately apparent, but with every loss comes the promise of renewal if we are willing to see it and use it as such. To do so, however, we must mourn the loss, let go of it, and then foster the resulting evolution in our life.
With any loss, some amount of mourning is a necessary step in our healing process. A conscious effort to do so is valuable in that it helps us say goodbye to that which we have lost. Then we can accept the bittersweet realization that there is no going back to the way things used to be, and we can let go and move on with our lives.
It is within this transition period between letting go of one thing and finding something else that we experience the greatest potential for growth. Depending on the severity of the loss, though, this may require a great deal of faith in the Divine since this period can seem like a horrible abyss until we emerge from it. The most common version of the Death card (from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck) indicates our emergence from this period by its prominent display of a white rose, which symbolizes resurrection and eternal life––the yang to Death's yin.
Ironically, then, the Death cardï¿½s reminder of our mortality is very life affirming. Its message that everything material is transient may seem disheartening, but its corollary––that we should practice non-attachment to and appreciation for what we have in the here and now––can transform sorrow into joy. Consider how a brush with death or the death of a loved one can impress upon us what is truly important. We may stop worrying about the petty games people play and the trivial desires that beset us, focusing instead on healing our relationships, finding peace within ourselves, and fulfilling our soulful purpose in life.
Saul Bellow said, "Death is the dark backing a mirror needs if we are to see anything." But what if we could achieve an enlightened perspective without the anguish of a close encounter with death? What if we could gain even a small part of that exquisite appreciation of life whenever we experience any sort of loss? We can, if we remember the positive messages in the Death card. Then we can see the opportunities inherent in our losses, and thus transform them into blessings. And in so doing, we may transform ourselves as well.
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James Ricklef is a Tarot reader, lecturer, and writer. He has been a frequent workshop presenter at Tarot conferences and symposia from Los Angeles to New York. He is the author of several Tarot books, including Tarot Tells the Tale which was first runner up in the General Interest category for the 2004 Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) Awards. (A revised version of that book is now available as Tarot Reading Explained.) He is also the creator of the acclaimed Tarot of the Masters deck.