- Pictorial Key to the Tarot
- The Tarot
S. L. MacGregor Mathers
- General Book of the Tarot
A. E. Thierens
End, mortality, destruction, corruption also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects.
Divinatory Meanings - Reversed
Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.
The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.
There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.
13. Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.
Death - Death, Change, Transformation, Alteration for the worse.
Divinatory Meanings - Reversed
Death just escaped, Partial change, Alteration for the better.
Symbolism of the Keys
Death - A skeleton armed with a Scythe (wherewith he mows down heads in a meadow like grass). He signifies Transformation, or Change.
Description and Meaning
The picture speaks for itself--as indeed most of them do--but still there is more in it than we might suppose at first sight. Beyond all doubt it is a sort of allegorical representation of Father Chronos, Time, who, while creating, consumes his own children, and was very often pictured as a warning of death or a remembrance of mortality. But on the other hand Time marks the beginning, and birth is not less under his government than death. The ancient edition of this card shows the figure harvesting heads and limbs of human bodies upon a field. This may be an expression of an old superstition, which said that those limbs with which man sinned would grow out of his grave. Probably a distorted teaching of the Law of Karma or cosmic reaction, which is also ruled by Saturn, at least in the execution. And in this function he is the old God of Israel, whose law was "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
But Saturn is more. He is the planet or cosmic function (let us say planet for convenience sake) of Formation, which means also determination in Place and Time, limitation, definition, etc.
Now let us see what Papus says. He identifies the card with the principle of the Hebrew letter Mem, who "is a woman, the companion of man," and therefore gives rise to ideas of fertility, formation. "It is pre-eminently the material and female, the local and plastic sign, an image of external and passive action." It is really a great pity, that this occultist never realised what he was saying, astrologically or cosmically. "Mem is one of the three mother-letters."
Saturn is the ruler of the Tenth house, Capricorn, which as such is called the house of the 'married woman' in Hindu astrology.
That Saturn, the Christian Satan, has close relations with woman and even that he used her as his favourite vehicle or agent, is one of the Christian 'teachings,' in which we recognise distorted or perverted occult knowledge.
Death certainly is only relative and the death of the form may mean the commencement of life on another plane. Birth down here may be seen as a sort of death of a higher existence. "The veil and mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher . . ." (Waite) Higher to lower as well. Waite shows the figure on horseback, which is not inadequate for the ruler of Capricorn, which succeeds to Sagittarius: action and definition in space and time are born from thought. ". . . perpetual rebirth of the Being in the domain of Time." (Papus)