The Artist's Concept
When this project was first proposed I knew immediately which card I wanted to design. The Death card has fascinated me since I first started my tarot studies. When I purchase a new tarot deck, the Death card is always one of the first that I examine. Furthermore, number thirteen has always been my favorite number. So much so that I specifically planned my wedding date on Friday the thirteenth. Since traditionally the number thirteen is assigned to the Death card, it seemed very natural and without question to request that I be assigned this card.
Another reason I wanted to create this card is because of my religious views about Death. My religion teaches that death is not something that is to be feared or faced with dread. Death is viewed as simply a change, an ending, and as the beginning of rebirth. This belief about death is very similar to most descriptions of this particular card.
When I draw the Death card in a reading my first reaction is always that some aspect associated with the question at hand will be coming to an end. In my interpretations of this card I often feel that this ending may not exactly be very pleasant. However at other times this card also gives off a very seductive feel. The Death card that comes to mind here is the Robin Wood deck version. * There is just something about that card that makes me want to reach out, leave those endings behind, take Death's hand and embrace the changes before me.
My Death card is set upon a totally black background. Staring directly at the reader is a human skull. The skull seemed like an obvious choice for the central focus of this card. No other symbol can convey that sense of ultimate mortality that we all will face. To me the skull also suggests that literally we are all the same underneath. All humans, no matter how rich or powerful, cruel or kind, black, red or white, underneath it all we share the same trials in life. All must face changes. All must adapt. All must face endings. All must one day take Death's hand.
A closer look at the skull's form will hint at a deeper meaning. Those prepared to look Death in the eyes will find a tiny growing fetus revealed. Just as birth is an ending to the protective environment of the womb, an ending in our life may lead us to unfamiliar territory leaving us to feel unprotected. The image of the fetus is Death's promise that a new life awaits. It is only by leaving those comfortable areas and our protective shells that we are able to grow, change and live. The skull is the most obvious similarity that my interpretation of this card shares with the traditional Rider Waite version of the tarot, which depicts a skeletal figure riding a horse. I wanted to include the representation of the skull because its meaning is unmistakable. However I really felt compelled to place the fetus image in the skull's eyes simply because I wanted to emphasize that only through Death can rebirth take place. Only through an ending can we be lead to new beginnings.
Below the staring skull I placed a bubbling cauldron resting on a bed of flames. The cauldron represents the womb of birth, death and rebirth. The fires of change burn below, constantly reshaping, changing, and reforming old ways into new.
Amid all these symbols, thirteen butterflies dart and play. The butterfly is a perfect example of how change and endings can lead us on to something beautiful, refreshing and utterly different. Much like the caterpillar that surrounds himself with a cocoon, sometimes we too must separate ourselves from the outside world to evaluate our present state. The message that the Death card gives is that soon we will be emerging as a butterfly ready for the new world that awaits. I also felt the butterflies brought a certain element of beauty to an otherwise ominous looking card. Also the whole concept of the lifecycle of the butterfly perfectly reflects the wondrous results of change.
The central theme of my card is that all endings lead to new beginnings. Also personally I interpret this card literally to mean actual death. Physical death is a reality that all must face. It seems that many are afraid of interpreting the Death card this way. To be certain it is an unsettling thought but not if you consider the representations of rebirth. (A belief in reincarnation is a part of my religious conviction - therefore I don't view death as the ultimate end.) Of course, ethically I would hesitate to use a literal interpretation especially if I were doing a reading for someone other than myself.
In my opinion, this card could be interpreted exactly the same if it were in a reversed position. Death, rebirth, endings and new beginnings are all suggested. However, in reversal I think it could be argued that this card might mean that perhaps something needs to come to an end but is being held onto.
It is a combination of computer-generated images and photos in a collage, created with Photo Plus Four, an ancient graphics program but still one of Moonklad's favorites. The original design was 380x605 pixels.
* Editor's note: The Death figure in the Robin Wood deck is a hooded figure in a crimson cloak that beckons you down a woodland path, a far cry from the Rider deck with a skeleton on horseback with people dying as he rides towards them.
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