(Originally appearing in Kaleidoscope.)
Samhain is the time of year when witches honor the spirits of those who have passed before us. The veil between the worlds of the living and dead are the thinnest. Images of death surround us. As a professional Tarot card reader, I find most people frightened by the concept of death. The Death card evokes strange images for us. Skeletons, scythes and the grim reaper come to mind. Most people do not want to see the Death card in their reading. But in the world of the Tarot, Death, usually the thirteenth card of the Major Arcana, is not what it seems.
The Death cards does not often indicate a physical death as one might think. Rather it refers to a more metaphysical death. The Death card can be a blessing. Although change and especially endings can be frightening to many people, the Tarot teaches us that with every death comes a rebirth. As Wiccans, we seek to understand the lessons of nature. Just as Mother Nature has her cycles of death and rebirth, so do we.
Samhain is associated with the Death card. Astrologically the Sun enters Scorpio at the end of October, right before this holiday. Scorpio is the sign of death and transformation. I think the Sun sign is the true reason why this time of year has always been associated with death, spirits and the otherworld. Through the darker totems of the scorpion and serpent, the sign goes through a rebirth, hopefully becoming the phoenix, the mythical bird of fire. This phoenix represents the power to change, break limitations and transmute your past hardships, obsessions and negative energies into purest light. This transformation represents Scorpio in its highest form, taking the dark and transmuting it. Scorpio is very powerful, often associated with will, psychic abilities and intuitive insight. On the darker side, Scorpio can indicate obsessions, secrets, hidden danger and a desire to control others. Power is a two edged sword, used to help and to harm. In the Tarot, the Death card is associated with Scorpio. Many decks have Scorpio’s astrological symbol on the card, because this card has all the associations of Scorpio, both good and bad.
When the Death card makes an appearance in a reading, it comes as a friend preparing you for unexpected change. It signifies the end of a cycle. All cycles end eventually, but the beautiful thing about their nature is another cycle will always begin again. It may be different, but different can be good. Don’t fear the changes in you life. Even the physical end so may of us fear is just another change leading to a new world.
The cycle ending may be an unhealthy relationship, situation or way of being. It marks possible illness, unhealthy attitudes needing change of danger from an unexpected quarter. If you head the warnings from the Death card, you can avoid these trials, or flow gently with them. Often it is the death of self, when applied to the “old you” and outdated ways of thinking. You release the old patterns of behavior and break new ground. You transform yourself into someone closer to who you want to be. I find these readings to be very empowering for my clients, confirming and affirming the new choices they are making. In these cases, Death is not the end of it all, but a new beginning.
The fall season is a great time to teach us about cycles. In the fall, the leaves wither and die. The land is fallow and the trees no longer bear fruit. It looks pretty bleak by all accounts, but we all know winter is followed by spring in a few months. The end of the warm weather may feel like a death, but the trees are resurrected every year without fail, like the phoenix. The phoenix is the Egyptian bird of fire, sacred to Osiris, the resurrected king. Every year the phoenix’s flames would consume itself. But the bird of flame would rise up from the ashes completely reborn. Like the vegetation and the phoenix we are all born again. Each choice we make is a chance a rebirth, to change our lives for the better.