Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Dark Trio of Tarot: Part 1 - Death

There are a few tarot cards that seem to have permeated pop culture, and of these the one that everyone seems to know about is Death, or La Mort. However as a reader I am aware that there are certain cards that cause concern whenever they come up in a spread; Death is understandably one of them, but also The Devil and The Tower.  I call these the Dark Trio.

The Death collective

Of course no card is ever completely "good" or completely "bad" as it were, yet there is this misconception outside the tarot community that these three cards are doom-laden and can only bring misfortune.  It is because of this that I started getting fascinated with the varying imagery of these cards, because to me the actual image says more about the intended meaning than any one size fits all "how-to" book could ever explain.

La Mort, from the Tarot de Marseille
©1993 Funtime Ltd
My first tarot deck was a Marseille deck, and it was everything I wanted the tarot to be: mysterious, classic and somewhat gothic.  The Death card in particular caught my eye, appealing to my macabre teenage tastes.  Here I had the classic figure of death: a skeleton, still with flesh clinging to his bones in some places, walking over the dismembered heads and limbs of the dead, scythe in hand.  Yep my inner Goth loved it, but unfortunately when I read for friends and they saw this card they often failed to appreciate his unique beauty and, quite frankly, freaked out.

Death, from Old English Tarot by Maggie Kneen
Published by U.S.Games Systems, Inc
I started searching around for a deck that had a more approachable Death, one who wouldn't scare your granny and therefore the image wouldn't distract from the message, and I decided upon the Old English Tarot by Maggie Kneen.  Appealing to both my Englishness and my inner history geek, here I found a deck that really resonated with me, and the best thing was when I laid down the Death card in a spread my clients were now faced with a robed skeleton wielding a scythe on a field.  Yes, he'd gone from Grim Reaper to Farmer Giles, but it meant I could explain the idea that the change that was coming wasn't necessarily something to be scared of but instead could be embraced as a clearing away of the old and making way for new growth.  Suddenly everyone got it and I no longer felt mean for scaring people.

Death, from the Deviant Moon Tarot by Patrick Valenza
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc
From there I branched out, choosing decks that were a bit unusual and studying the art to decipher new interpretations.  In Patrick Valenza's Deviant Moon Tarot Death is seen as a female pregnant with the new beginnings that are to come, but fighting off the previous child as it battles to climb back into the safety of the womb. Dark stuff again, but the difference in emphasis here is clear: we cannot go back to how things were no matter how we may want to.  In Neil Lovell's Tyldwick Tarot we see the wonderfully gothic image of a skeleton over a classic organ like you'd find in a chapel, and this reminds us that no matter how beautiful a piece of music is it must still come to an end; the interesting question is what will you play next?

Death, from the Tyldwick Tarot by Neil Lovell.
© Malpertuis Designs Ltd 2013
www.malpertuis.co.uk
Possibly the most interesting variation on the theme is from the Wildwood Tarot by Mark Ryan and John Matthews.  This deck has a mythology all of its own but the equivalent card is titled The Journey and shows a raven perched on a stag's skull and picking the flesh from the bones.  The raven is one of the most intelligent birds but is often associated with death and the occult.  Yet if we get away from the gore what we actually see is a reminder that not everything that has passed should be discarded.  There are things we can take from even the darkest of situations in order to grow and feed our soul, just as the raven feeds on the stag.

The Journey by Mark Ryan and John Matthews
Published by Connections
In part two I will be looking at The Tower and how if we ignore the message the Death card brings things may get taken out of our hands, while in part three I will discuss The Devil.

Blessed be )0(

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