What in my life is coming to a natural ending, and what is growing out of it? That's the question asked by the Death cards. What follows is a comparison of the imagery and interpretation of the Rider-Waite, The Haindl, and the Collective Tarot decks' respective thirteenth in the Major Arcana trump cards.
Rider-Waite's interpretation features a skeleton wearing a black suit of armor riding a white horse, carrying a black flag with a white segmented rose, the symbol of natural cycles. Flags announce intention, and this is a flag of peace. Peace is what death brings- not just to the dead, but to the living, who experience the continuity of natural cycles. Under the horse is a dead king, whose crown has fallen off. A woman and a child kneel at the horse's hooves, and a priest begs with the rider. In the background, a watery landscape with distant twin towers framing a sunset (or is it a sunrise?). The rider neutrally marches onward, unheeding of the wails of the woman and child, of the pleading of the priest. Nothing can stop this all-ending force. There is an order to the march of Death, giving us instruction in how to release from attachment to that which must end- the fallen king indicates that the first thing to end is the illusion of control. The child under hoof is next- after we release control, we are able to accept our reality, and our innocence, our naivete, is trampled by Death. The swooning woman is next- our fantasy, our made-up victimhood, our weakness and frailty dies when we accept reality. Finally, Death reaches the priest- after we have given up the blame game, and have accepted our true power, we stop making deals and pleading with the universe to give us our desires. We simply march onwards in the direction of our purpose, and we become the figure of Death itself- calm, neutral, bearing the standard of natural cyclical existence.
Haindl shows a large bird's head with a skeletal arm holding the sickle, a dead leaf on a tree, and a boat in purple waters. The Hebrew letter is Nun, or "fish", which, as Rachel Pollack notes in The Haindl Tarot: The Major Arcana, may also be related to new life and growth- an aspect of death. As leaves decay, they fertilize the new growth. Death is necessary for any kind of change to occur. The rune pictured is Ba, meaning "Birch goddess", who was rumored, according to Pollack, to have required blood sacrifices. Though Pollack shows how patriarchal society perpetuated this myth to demonize the feminine goddess, I think there is validity to the ritualization (though i don't believe it needs to be literal) of the idea that for a crop to be prosperous, some sacrifices must be made. Some blood must be spilt. The dead leaves of the birch must fall so that the tree can be fertilized. The boat represents the process by which the transformation from death to life occurs- it is the boat that travels the river Styx, carrying souls across to the land of the eternal. Scorpio, the sign at the bottom of the card, is a sign of deep internal growth and perpetual churning transformative energy. The color purple, a spiritual color associated with third-eye activity, permeates the card. It colors the peacock feathers of the bird, who fills most of the image of the card. Its eyes shine with a deep knowledge, it seems. Some beautiful mystery, perhaps, this bird knows. Pollack points out several cultures that have referred to the human soul as being a bird- the deep place within ourselves that remains after all our outer trappings have worn away.
Collective Tarot simplifies the image of Death to a striped snake shedding its skin, reaching for an abundant grapevine loaded with shining, plump fruit. A skeleton of a small creature lies at its feet, possibly earlier prey? A living mouse can be seen among the fruit, hidden among the inedible riches that the shedding snake moves towards. What the snake consumed before is no longer useful- the skin the snake wore then has grown too small. What's ahead isn't all just for the snake, perhaps it can't see why it has moved towards this pile of fruit, but the snake doesn't know how plump that mouse has grown from all this abundance. The Collective Tarot's guidebook states, "The new skin, the fruit and the living mouse represent the joys that can accompany embracing change. With death there is a birth of transformation."
Thanks to @inthe78cards and @thetruthinstory for hosting this month's awesome challenge on Instagram!