So Mary and I both pulled the Death card in August as our card of the month. That’s never happened—pulling the same exact card--in the three years we’ve been on this project. And wouldn’t you know, it’s the juggernaut of cards, the King of Kings, the Arcanum Alejandro Jodoroswky and Marianne Costa in The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards call the Nameless One and Lady Frieda Harris paints with vibrancy, such gleeful fervor emanating from her Thoth deck’s dancing skeleton with his black scythe and black bucket helmet tilted askew.
In the card’s background, I love the blues of the serpent and catfish with glum gold cat’s eyes behind our “blueeyed boy / Mr. Death” and the down-splayed bell of a flower stuck to pale earthen cave, Scorpion tail curved in warning. Jodorowksy says the “skeleton of Arcanum XIII could be the Fool on x-ray” and I agree, the Fool minus flesh but still dancing.
Rachel Pollack, in 78 Degrees of Wisdom, reminds us that Death card depicts not transformation, but the very moment, “we give up the old masks” and make room for transformation. As long-time Tarot readers, Mary and I often reassure querents, “Oh, but the Death card doesn’t have to signify one’s death or the death of others.” But when it falls for both of us, we don’t buy that line either…and endure a bit of stunned silence.
We select ameliorating cards. I get the 10 of wands and I stop there since it is an image of burnout, a reminder not to shoulder everything alone. Mary pulls a kinder card—the Prince of Cups, but she decides to forego writing about him since he’s her second choice. We slip into child’s play, addressing the Prince, placating him with apologies as if he’ll somehow punish us if she doesn’t write about him. We both know better and it is good to laugh. And it is a blessing to face Death with Mary. Years of sharing images and dreams has woven a hammock of kindness between us. I would visit her from the other side just as she would visit me; our work together would go on regardless of physical form but for today I’m grateful for the sound of her laughter on the other end of the line.
Honestly, in my life, the Death card does refer to the possibility of physical death given the illnesses of several members of my family. But so far everyone’s alive and well. I thought maybe it referred to the reversal of menopause, a death I thought final with six months of freedom behind me until I went on a desert writing retreat with 120 women and promptly began to bleed.
So I go down the path I tell querents to go down: what in my life is dying metaphorically?
I know what is blooming: a sweet sense of peace I found at the A Room of Her Own Foundation retreat. I’m noticing the stars in a way I haven’t for years what with raising kids and the habitual fear of the dark and fear of men spurred by a spate of sour lover stories and a date rape I was able to write down and begin to let go of in my first book.
My casita at Ghost Ranch sat at the far end of a dusty road nestled at the foot of the mesas. Some nights I walked accompanied by sisters, reveling in learning what burgeoned to the surface in the heart of their desert mirror. But three nights near midnight, I walked alone between the fire ring where women sat sharing chocolate to the rooms in Corral Block by the ranch’s entrance where women splayed across blankets to talk daughters, drink bourbon, wine, water, and watch the Perseid meteors fall.
The long unlit stretch of road was nearly unbearable, my fear eclipsed only for seconds at a time by the beauty of the blue tails left behind meteors streaking to extinction against the Milky Way. Passing the path that lead to the labyrinth, I took comfort in the knowledge of the spiral stone lined path—just its existence--quietly waiting for the next set of feet to enter.
The tiny sphere of my flashlight clipped to my sleeve lit my path one footfall at a time. No animal or man jumped out of the shadows to overtake me, only a classmate from my fairytale class emerging in a row of three halos of light advancing to laughter, a flash of shins. She reached out as we passed abreast to say, “Is that you? It’s me! How about some Sambuca?”
By day, once, a blue-eyed man did step abruptly off the path to face me. But he was in tears, fresh from visiting the burial shrines of several of his friends. He asked if it was my first time at Ghost Ranch, spoke of his love for the land and went on his way.
Also by day, the shadow pain of raising my teenage daughter followed me into fairytale class. I ask, “Which fairytale am I living in? Who am I and who is my daughter?” The answer comes in a draft of a a new poem, My Daughter, My Bluebeard in which I learn that my daughter’s body acts as a living key to the upstairs room where Bluebeard (men at large) has put all his dismembered wives (women at large, including my daughter and I). This is the old fear-based equation and the poem helps me see that this constant hyper vigilant anxiety on my daughter’s and my own behalf is neither sustainable nor desirable.
Perhaps the Death card refers to the death of this overpowered, terrified self. That moment in which the masks drop and I get some power back. I am grateful for the desert’s vast space and the women around me who held me psychically in our shared field of sleep. Then, bodily, physically during our inquiry with master teacher Diane Gilliam. She reminds us to go the distance in our work. If you take the easy way out, she says, her gentle voice filling the timeless dream space of our morning class, you’ll find waiting behind the door, the red shoes. Yes, those shoes, the ones in which you can dance yourself and your pretty little red feet to death.
Gilliam also reminds us that helpers for the devastated always appear. Even in the Handless Maiden’s tale, the homeless, betrayed daughter without hands is met by a a woman in white from the underworld. And in the garden, the pear tree lowers its branches so its fruit reaches the maiden’s mouth.
Helpers, such as my sisters in the desert, and pear trees surely exist in my now and in my future and my daughter’s. Surely Death reaps with his scythe my fears: of the dark, of men, of what might befall my daughter…
…and Death finds me dancing as we did barefoot long into our last night at the retreat after the thunderstorm came and went, rain roiling the creek a silt rich brown, mesa cliffs crowned in brilliant white and blue dendritic tines of lightning.
Tania's next Tarot and Writing course, Wheel of Archetypal Selves: Moon to Universe, begins online on September 21, 2015. For more information and to register, visit Wheel of Archetypal Selves: Moon to Universe.
August 28, 2015: The Death Card by Mary Allen
Last month we both pulled the same card and it was a funny card to both pull: Death. First Tania pulled it as her card of the month and we laughed because it came up in her reading too – she’s been getting Death a lot in the last year or so and whenever it shows up we laugh because we feel as if the cards are kind of taunting her in a friendly sort of way – and then when I pulled Death as my card of the month too we laughed even harder.
“But what if it means something scary?” I said, suddenly sober, thinking about the time I threw the cards with our mutual friend Tonya the day before 9/11 and we both got the Tower.
“Oh, I think the cards are just fooling with us a little,” Tania said this time, and that made me relax again and feel better about getting Death as my card of the month than I would have otherwise. Death always makes me a little nervous even though it says in all the readings, and Tania always says, “It’s not really about death, it’s about letting go of something old you don’t need any more!”
I figured that since the cards gave both Tania and me Death by way of playing a little joke on us, I probably wouldn’t have much that related to it all month. But I was wrong. I’ve never had a card of the month that talked to me as much as Death did this past month. The whole month was like one big ending/cleansing/cleaning up of the past and there was some real death in it too.
My friend Rudy’s father died, and the weekend before Rudy left for his parents’ house to spend time with his father before he died, Rudy and I went on a little vacation to a place we went last fall and loved, and this time the campground where the cabin was, was noisy and smoky from a neighboring campfire and not much fun at all. That felt like a little death on top of the big death of Rudy’s father.
The day after we got back I drove to a client’s house in Montezuma, Iowa, and sat in on a telephone conference between my client and a psychic medium. My client’s dead son was there, talking to my client through the medium – my client’s been talking to him regularly that way for a few years and I’m helping her write a book about it, which is why I was there; a few of my dead loved ones showed up for the reading too, my father and sister and my fiancé who committed suicide in the early 1990s, Jim Beaman. The thought of my father and sister made me cry but hearing from Jim Beaman, just a few little things passed on by the medium, which might or might not have come from him, rekindled my sense of him and I’ve felt him around me ever since. So there we have the dead coming back to us.
This month I also refinanced and paid off some old credit card debt I’ve had hanging around for years, ever since I didn’t sell my second book, which I’m now about to finish again, which is much better than it used to be and almost ready to go back out and take its chances again in the world. Getting rid of the credit card debt felt like a huge cleansing and so did the de-cluttering vacation I took the week before last, where I went through all my clothes and my bathroom medicine cabinet and hallway closet and a desk upstairs and threw away a bunch of stuff.
I encountered many versions of myself during that de-cluttering, in old clothes I used to like but don’t relate to any more or that don’t fit me any more; in the round self-conscious handwriting-of-the-past in old appointment books and on old checks, written to credit card companies I no longer owe money to, phone companies that don’t exist any more, et cetera. I found my partner-of-nine-years who’s married to someone else now, Viktor, too, in the form of a manuscript of beautiful stately poems written by him about his old losses, the wife and baby killed in a car accident in the 1980s, the unhappy fourth marriage, the children who have grown up, and I found some poems written by me during the time when I lived with Viktor, brimming with evidence of that life and that time and my old passionate love for him. I even found Jim Beaman in the form of a pair of dated wire-rimmed glasses and a deposit slip in his handwriting from July 1990.
I kept all of that stuff but I threw mounds of old checks away and I got rid of six fat garbage bags of clothes, a big cardboard boxful of board games Viktor brought to my house for his kids that nobody ever played with, and a bunch of other stuff -- I carted it all to Goodwill, and when the guy took it out of my trunk and hauled it into the back of the store in a big cart I said to him, “I feel like I just took a big crap.” He barely cracked a smile but I laughed at my own joke.
To top it all off, when I went over to my shed, somewhere in the middle of my de-cluttering week, to investigate something brown lying in the grass, I found a little pile of unidentifiable decomposing fur, a ribcage with a fat black fly buzzing next to it, and what might’ve been a rabbit’s foot attached to the end of a jutting bone. I didn’t know what to do about it and it’s still sitting out there, slowly disintegrating, falling further and further to pieces, disappearing into the ground.