Embrace darkness as a source of deep wisdom.
On a November new moon, I pulled a Tarot card from my deck, and was not at all surprised to find the Death card. In the classic Rider-Waite deck, the image shows a skeleton riding a horse bearing a black flag, with people either dead or kneeling in supplication all around him. The messenger has arrived to herald the season of death!
And it is a season of death. Every year, the trees appear to die, animals go into hibernation, and the sun sleeps longer every morning. Everything gets very quiet and cold. It is the Dark Season, a time to slow down, to contemplate loss, to grieve.
But Death is not always a harbinger of horror and loss. Other decks show the image a little differently. For example, in Liz Huston’s Dreamkeeper’s Tarot deck, the Death card depicts a skeleton woman shrouded in a thin veil that could be a coffin or an egg. She is growing out of a pond full of lily pads, embracing a skull close to her heart. This image reminds me that death is always a mother: that new birth cannot happen without appropriate death. The coffin is also an egg: endings always come with some kind of new beginning.
The Beauty of the Darkness
Quite often, darkness gets a bad rap. Historically, it’s been associated with bad things, negative emotions, things we want to bury or hide. (And yes, there are racist overtones in that general feeling!) But the darkness is beautiful. It is a source of rest and replenishment. It is a source of our deepest wisdom. It is a source of change. The new moon is the darkest part of the moon’s phases, and it always means a new cycle is about to begin.
Even as we turn into the darker season of the year, change is an undercurrent. Sometimes change needs to happen under the surface for a while, like a lotus flower that has to rise through a lot of murky pond water before it can break the surface and bloom.
The Death Light: Illumination of Endings
Sometimes endings can provide a certain kind of illumination. I like to think of as the Death Light. When we pause to consider that everything changes, that nothing ever stays the same, we are also contemplating our own deaths. This moment—this problem, this decision, this person, myself—none of these things will last forever. Thinking about that truth can change the way we think right now.
What do I want to be able to say about who I was at the end of my life? What do I want my loved ones to know if I were never to see them again? In ten years, will I still be worrying about today’s problems?
The Death Light can be intense, and it can be sad, for sure, when we think about endings. But it can also help us see things more clearly. Time is not infinite—at least, not for human beings. So, in the time that we do have, what’s really important? Where does meaning lie?
A Coffin or an Egg?
One of the things the Death Card can help us think about is the things that make us uncomfortable. Thinking about death does, for many of us. But so does the guilt that can come with asking for what we really need. So does the fear and awkwardness that comes up when we insist on being ourselves. So does the mortification of making a mistake when we’re trying not to be perfectionists all the time.
The truth is, change is uncomfortable, and that’s what the Death card is really about. So, when you think about how you are changing or how you want to change, what is the discomfort that’s standing in your way? What if you could hold that discomfort with a lot of tenderness and breathe?
What if you were not in a coffin but rather in an egg?