Well, friends: knowing that this particular archetypal energy was on its way might not have made it any easier, but at least the deep work of surrendering we did in Hanged Man prepared us to encounter the larger inexorable forces of...
This may be the most feared and misunderstood card in the deck--perhaps second only to the Tower--which is why most readers jump quickly to reassure querents that its appearance typically does not indicate literal, physical death. (And in fact, it is considered irresponsible for readers to cause undue stress by predicting such things, as the future is undetermined and we are creatures with some agency for choice.)
Rather, the emphasis is on Death as a symbol of endings, transformation, and change, as we recognize that something in our world is concluding. A chapter is coming to a close; this is the end of an era.
On a smaller or more personal scale, this may be the end of a significant relationship, career path, or life phase. There may indeed be a literal death of a loved one that we are still grappling with. Or, perhaps, we notice a subtler internal shift as we release old beliefs and ideas.
Sometimes rather than predicting a change, Death may also be encouraging us to prune back any excess in our lives, and to eliminate what no longer serves us in order to make room for new possibilities and growth. We are invited to clean out our psychic (or even literal!) closets, to concentrate on the essentials, and focus on what is most important to us.
On a larger, collective scale, this may be a great cultural migration, the toppling of a dictatorship, or even--yes--a pandemic, climate crisis, and economic collapse. (We are living through highly unusual times, and so here Death may actually represent our shared grieving of the lives that COVID-19 has claimed.)
As a result of these changes, we may be immersed in deep mourning and grief. Even the positive changes we choose to make can trigger feelings of loss and fear. (I work with these patterns a great deal in my harm reduction work and in supporting gender affirmation paths.)
Why are endings and changes so excruciating for human beings? The primal fear of death and the unknown is often what lies behind our clinging, as small changes can suggest the larger inescapable and inevitable forces at play in the universe. We may unconsciously feel as if something is being taken from us against our will; this can prompt intense resistance.
(This might also be why the transformations so sought after in therapy, weekend workshops, retreats, psychedelic medicine work, and other growth modalities get stuck,
as our deep contractions around change may not be fully addressed.)
How can we help both our individual nervous systems AND our larger collective begin to embrace and adapt to the sweeping changes in our path?
First: engaging with awareness and acknowledgment of our sense of loss, and really allowing ourselves to grieve what has passed or is ending. We make space to sit with our feelings and begin letting go.
(There is no skipping over this step, and jumping straight to “OMG, a *shiny* new rebirth!!!” does us a disservice that will often get us just as stuck. The only way out is through.)
Then, we may look to the natural world and the cycle of life for inspiration, noticing that whatever dies becomes sacred compost to fertilize new beginnings. Seeds sprout and grow, are harvested, and then die back into dormancy as the wheel of the seasons turns.
Buddhist teachings on the impermanence of all things, and in cultivating non-attachment to physical manifestations, are rooted in this deep honoring of universal transience. We can be supported by such ancient wisdom traditions to guide us through the most challenging parts of this process.
Once we are able to accept that we are standing in front of a door that is closing, to fully feel our emotional responses to loss, to release the past, to be with the transitory nature of all things: THIS is when we truly begin our transition and transformation stage.
We initiate the rebirth and regeneration process, as our next door begins to open.
Have faith, beloved ones. The next door always, inevitably, opens.
(Cards pictured here are from the Universal Waite, a recolored version of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and the Crow Tarot.)
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Jessica Katzman, Psy.D.
I'm a psychologist with a private practice in San Francisco's Castro District. I'm interested in harm reduction, LGBTQQIAAP issues, psychedelic integration, social justice conversations, size acceptance, and any intersections of the above. I welcome your comments!
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