Section: Major Arcana
Esoteric Title: Lord of the Gates of Death, The Child of the Great Transformers
Card Name: Death
Astrological Attribution: Scorpio
Ruling Planet: Mars
Hebrew Letter: Nun
Tree of Life Path: Path 24 from Tipharet (6) to Netzach (7)
A black boned skeleton wearing a crown and wielding a scythe is making his way under water. A blue serpent whose tail forms a loop is situated on the left side of the card and the serpent’s tail in in the mouth of a dark blue fish (or at least it appears that way).
On the bottom right between a wilted lily and a wilted lotus stands a blue scorpion, its tail raised as though ready to strike. The light blue outline of an eagle flies above the skeleton’s head. Several dark black lines extend outwards and upwards from the skeleton’s groin area. Two blue human-like figures are framed within the legs of the skeleton, with the skeleton’s scythe crossing the next of the lowest figure .
Bubbles rise upwards, each containing bluish-green human-like figures of various sizes.
- Black skeleton – Associated with Saturn – the master of time. Binah is the mother of death & life and is associated with the God Saturn. The skeleton also symbolizes the alchemical process of putrefaction.
- Bubbles connected to skeleton’s phallus – rebirth. The bubbles also can represent the different forms we take. The barely-formed figures in bubbles represent the new emerging of the self.
- Crown – The crown of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead. Symbolizes death and resurrection. Osiris represents our true Will, the eternal self.
- *Eagle – Transformation, liberation and incarnation, and according to Crowley, the most exalted form of Scorpio – eagle represents death that is sublime.
- Fish – idea of general change, flux. Also a symbol of semen traveling through the body into the womb where is creates new life. Propagation. Crowley states that it’s “life traveling through the waters”. Fish is a symbol of rebirth (which makes sense as to why the fish is used as a symbol of Jesus Christ).
- Phallus of the skeleton – rebirth, sexual organ of creation. Energy being released.
- Scorpion – associated with Scorpio, the astrological association for this card. Scorpio – like the scorpion – is associated with death
- Snake – resurrection (shedding of the skin) and reincarnation. Releasing attachments.
- Scythe crossing the neck of one of the figures – a symbolic beheading – the soul is released from the physical. Cutting the ties that bind us, cutting down the old to make way for the new. Scythe is also a symbol of Saturn.
- Skeleton dancing – the active process of death and transformation, the dance of death. How life & death are in constant motion.
The Death card is certainly dramatic, with the black skeleton in motion, swinging his scythe and bringing down anyone within his reach. While dramatic, I also see this card as hopeful once we accept that change is inevitable. The symbolism of this card speaks of rebirth and transformation, even though it may be a “forced” transformation. But the idea here is that endings lead to new beginnings, that Death sweeps away all that which no longer serves us. It clears space and energy for the new. The ending of one thing is the beginning of another. As one door closes, another opens.
That is not to say that the change Death brings will be easy because it rarely is, especially if we fight the change. It’s usually shocking, disruptive, unexpected and unwelcome. It marks the end of the cycle, perhaps even the end of an illusion which ultimately, brings great freedom afterwards.
As the skeleton sweeps his scythe through the water, he creates new bubbles containing new forms. To me, I see this as the death and rebirth idea, Osiris slain and Osiris risen.
Crowley states that the sign of Scorpio is divided into 3 parts:
- Scorpion – the lowest form of death – between alpha and omega. Crowley explains that when the scorpion is in a situation where it thinks it can’t escape such as when it is ringed by fire, it stings itself – stabs itself to death. This is the gross & unenlightened side of death, the illusion side of death, the part of death that seems finite. So in this way, the scorpion represents lower beings who believe that once they die, that’s all there is. This is the illusion.
- Serpent which Crowley says is the main theme of the sign of Scorpio. It represents life and death, as well as the principal symbol of male energy. I see it as letting go of the false self, of those old identities.
- Eagle – the most exalted form of Scorpio – eagle represents death that is sublime. Crowley states it is “exaltation above solid matter”. The first time I saw this card, I thought the bird was a phoenix, also a powerful symbol of rebirth – of rising from the ashes, of the rebirth experience.
Over the years, I’ve heard people refer to the creature on the bottom of the card as a crayfish, the same symbol that appears in the Moon. But given that Crowley does talk about Scorpion as a part (the lowest aspect) of Scorpio, I continue to believe that the creature he depicted was a scorpion.
Given that our skin and organs surrounds a skeleton, the skeleton may represent our true self, not the self that is hidden. So in this way, it can represent the dissolving of the false self into the true self.
Endings, transformation, transition, death of the old self, ego death, cleansing, inevitable endings, profound change, liberation, spiritual regeneration, life passage, losing ground – then gaining ground, destruction followed by renewal, eliminating excess, new opportunities, rebirth, renewal, letting go, an important ending that brings great change, a sense of completion, death of old attitudes, the death of something in your life (job, relationship, etc.), saying farewell, loss of virginity, retirement
Stagnation, depression, resistance to change, inertia, fear of change, stuck in limbo, anxiety, lack of confidence in the future, stuck in old habits.