I shouldn’t be afraid of Death.
I’ve read so much about how drawing Death, the thirteenth card of the Major Arcana, doesn’t mean a physical death. How it’s practically a truism in tarot circles — how only irresponsible readers will lay on the gloom and doom for a client when Death appears in all his (her?) finery.
But when I calculated my year card for 2016, looked through my deck for the Major Arcana card numbered XIII, and realized it was Death — well.
You don’t see a skeleton in armor, the bodies of dead men trampled beneath its horse’s feet, and think, “Yes, I was hoping to get this card!”
Let’s be clear: There was no dignity or poise in that moment. For a good few moments I felt cold and couldn’t speak. I held the card loosely in my hand… then, when I realized how shell-shocked I seemed, I started to spew forth a garbled stream of words that I eventually remembered to record using my iPhone’s Recordings app.
I could’ve waited to write about it, I guess. But I needed that stream-of-consciousness monologue to get to the bottom of how I felt. To keep myself from giving in to what I knew was irrational fear. To understand the card intuitively — minus standard interpretations and keywords, just me and my thoughts. And so I talked.
Later that afternoon, I played back the recording, winced in sympathy with the girl with the trembling voice, and transcribed it. And while I could probably come up with something short and streamlined for this blog post… I won’t.
I’m including parts of my transcript here because I want to remember what I was thinking at the time. How I worked through the fact that I’d drawn Death. How I felt about it. And how I realized what I’d have to do to make the most of it.
Earlier this morning, I started looking at blog posts and I saw that people were talking about calculating their year card.
Your year card usually corresponds to a certain card in the Major Arcana. Using numerology, you add the numbers of the day, month, and year you were born, and if you’re calculating a card for the current period [year] you do the same thing. If the number that comes up when you add everything together is between 1 and 22, keep it. If it’s larger, add those two digits together and you’ll get the number of your year card.
My birth card is The Chariot, which is number seven — and that’s a card about change, sometimes perhaps being indecisive, not always knowing where to go, what to do, always feeling like you’re in a state of moving, never feeling like you’re completely happy where you are. But it’s always a card of change, a card of constantly improving yourself, I believe. The Chariot, it’s about movement, it’s about, it’s about, I think about Phoebus, the sun god, [who] would carry the sun around on a chariot and it would rise and set with him. Change, not always good, not always bad, but I think it’s always for the better.
My year card, however, is Death. And I shouldn’t be afraid of death. I’m used to seeing, I’m used to seeing, I’ve read so much about how Death doesn’t always mean a physical death. But when I saw the card I was terrified…
I’m very nervous about seeing the Death card. I will be completely honest, I am very very nervous about it [so] I will talk through it because that’s the kind of person I am. [laughs] I wanna know why I feel so bad about it, why I’m so afraid, besides the fact that it’s Death, of course…
As I describe the card in detail — so grim! Ominous! Dramatic! — I relax somewhat, though my voice is still trembling. Then my voice picks up, more confident:
[O]n the other hand, knowing what I do about the tarot, [Death] isn’t about a physical death. It’s about the death of things you thought you knew. The things you’ve always been used to. The death of convention, of everything you’ve taken for granted.
And it’s a good card. Because what I want this year, really, is to go abroad! I wanna go abroad and change and meet new people. I wanna have the experiences that other people are having, that I’ve wanted for so long. I want to fall in love, after having a life practically devoid of romantic love — I’ve always had love from family, I guess, I’ve had love from friends, but never romantic love, never romantic love I wanted as much as the other person wanted.
So the fact that Death came up for this for me — as you can see my voice is kinda shaking! Because I actually, yes, I am super kaduper nervous. I guess that means things will change completely.
So what is Death, really?
Death is about endings, about transitions, about eliminations. It’s about closing one door to open another, concluding, completing a chapter… Moving from the known to the unknown, and cutting out what isn’t necessary. Going back to basics, basically — “and while often this comes with a lot of sadness and reluctance, there’s also relief and a sense of completion.”
I haven’t been able to write about it in this blog yet, but this year I plan on leaving my job to get a postgraduate degree abroad. It’s been a long time coming, if I’m being honest here; I wanted to study abroad for college, but my parents discouraged me because I was a girl and “too young” to live on my own… right before letting my younger brother fly to California and do exactly what I wanted to do! Thinking about their betrayal makes me see red, even years and years later; I feel the anger rise up within me and make me hate everyone, everything.
While I’ve been working in advertising and things seem to be all right on the surface… I’m not happy.
But I’ve still delayed applying for grad school time and time again.
It’s only now, with this card, that I realize that I’ve been so scared of failing — and of being failed again — that I’ve been subconsciously telling myself, No, you can’t do this, you don’t deserve this. I’ve been playing it safe for years, hoping things will change without my having to risk getting hurt again. Most importantly, I’ve been holding on so tightly to the frustration and resentment that have fueled me for years that I haven’t worked to get myself out of it.
And that stasis, that state of inaction, has harmed me more than I can say.
A time of change and renewal
Death tells me that I shouldn’t do that anymore. If I want change, I have to strip down to the bare bones of who I am and what I need and work for it, others be damned. I shouldn’t be distracted by pretty, petty things; I need to be myself, and see where that and what I’ve learned over the past years can help me get through further studies.
My year card fits in so nicely with my New Year’s reading for myself, where Strength and the Nine of Wands tell me to leave the past behind, and the Two of Cups urges me to deepen connections and and further one-on-one relationships.
And while I haven’t written my daily draw post yet, my year card works perfectly with it as well: Today I drew the Five of Cups in reverse.
So what should I do?
I shouldn’t let the world at work get me down when it isn’t my end goal.
I should let go of what is non-essential and focus on who I am and where I want to be.
And I should be open to change in all its forms.
And I know that all this is easier said than done.
But with such a prominent card watching over me and guiding me — I don’t think I’ll forget it anytime soon. 🙂
How about you?
If anyone’s reading this — have you calculated your year card? What’s yours?
Featured image by Jordan McQueen on Unsplash.