A a full time professional reader, I admit, I can get mighty pedantic about things. Splitting tarot hairs with colleagues is a love of mine and I am no stranger to debating the finer points of tarot and tarot readings.
Like any reader, I also have my pet peeves and as my 2nd grade report card mentioned, "Jenna is opinionated." So here I share with you, dear reader, my opinions about white washing tarot specifically as it pertains to the Death card.
It is very common in tarot books, among tarot readers to say as soon as the Death card is cast, "Oh, yeah this is Death... but actually it really just means Transformation!" Quick to lessen the blow of the message of death, we gloss over the pain, heartache, hard reality that is the Death card and I think when we do this we are disrespecting the energy, intent and message that this card may have for us.
It is not uncommon to find tarot decks that have completely vanquished Death forever from our tarot shores, rewriting the card to mean Transformation or Phoenix Rising, "Don't worry about any of that Death business because you will rise from the ashes, girlfriend!!" Doreen Virtue's Fairy and Angel decks have done away from the messiness of Death altogether--she renamed them as Release.
The only way I actually knew she was indeed replacing the Death card with Release is because she kept the number placement that is traditional for Death: number 13. It is no coincidence that Death is in the 13th place for 13 has long been viewed as a bad luck number throughout Europe for centuries. If Death actually means Transformation or Release and was so very positive, why would it hold the 13th position?
I will say, however, that she does use Azreal who is the angel of Death, but this is done in the kindest most white washed way possible.
The emphasis here is again, on moving on. But I argue that this is not the intent of Death. The message of Death is endings, not new beginnings.
Tarot comes out of a time where 2 out of 3 children died, if someone lived to 50 that was considered a ripe elder age. There was disease, accidents, superstition and a lack of hygiene awareness or even what we would consider basic medical knowledge. Death was as close to the midaevil person as was life, and it was because of Death's intimate association with their lives that they felt the business of living more keenly. Death is a part of life, death hurts, death sucks, death is sad and death comes for everyone. This is the message of the Death card. It is a card of endings, not beginnings.
We modern humans with our technology and vaccines and seatbelts, we have done a great job distancing ourselves from Death as much as possible. Unlike our earlier ancestors however, we no longer dress the bodies of our dead, we rarely perform the service of burying our own.
Death has become sanitized, de-ritualized, and death only comes to the unlucky or aged. In our quickness to leave Death behind, we also wish to forget what he brings and the thought of Death makes us so uncomfortable we would just rather pretend he didn't exist at all.
In client sessions, I find Death to play the role of a hard stop. This relationship is ending. That job is done. That person is passing away. Death does not mince words, does not white wash its message but its message, being completely honest, is actually a kindness.
Often clients come see me when all the easy options are gone and all that is left are hard choices. Clients also see me when their higher self knows something is going to end, but their ego is still looking for some possible way to turn aside whatever it is they do not want to endure. Death is the loud and insistent voice, loud enough to be heard over the din of ego and self delusion, to prepare oneself for an ending. Perhaps that ending is not redeemed by transformation, perhaps it is just an ending...and that is sometimes all we get. Because that is life, and life is confoundingly both tragic and miraculous at the same time.
Now, I think there is a better card that speaks to Transformation, and that is Judgement. I never understood why Death was the card chosen to speak to the act of Transformation when in all honesty, Judgement does a much better job of holding that archetype. So let us allow the cards to speak and stop rewriting what they are. If tarot means to talk about transformation and moving onto new pastures then we must trust that tarot will reveal them (Judgement or 8 of Cups as an example). But when tarot shows us the Death card, it means death.
This... Ladies and Gentlemen...is what Transformation and Release look like.
Let us allow the hard work of seeing what is be what is. It is always the difficult message, the hard yet honest note from the Universe that circumvents our ego, allows us to see clearly without pride or defense, and accept gracefully what is.
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