In the summer of 2018, I trained as a death midwife/doula and home funeral guide. In July 2019, a few months after my cat Henry died and I accompanied him through the process, I began working at a crematory for pets.
I never would have thought of this profession for myself. But it has become clear, this is the career I am perhaps most suited for.
Death can be sad and devastating, but it has taught me many things. Death can involve pain, suffering, violence and sorrow so profound it seemingly swallows us whole. But it can also be beautiful, serene and peaceful, bringing a relief and release we didn’t even realize we lacked.
Remember the ‘90s pop anthem “Closing Time” by Semisonic? Its lyrics nail the sentiment I’m trying to evoke: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
This brings me to the inspiration for this month’s Tarotscope for the Collective. I’m motivated by a passage I recently read in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, a spiritual guidebook of rituals, resources, prayers and blessings by the acclaimed author and activist Starhawk.
“What is the gift of Death for you?” asks one contributor.
This question unexpectedly reframes death altogether, not as a malicious thief in the night but as a merciful and benevolent force of nature.
So I posed this question to the cards: what is the gift of Death for us? Here’s where my reading went.
I’m not one to sugarcoat things. I strive to speak plainly from a place of truth and respect, to say what I mean and mean what I say. This reading offered us some tough love.
As I shuffled the cards, the Five of Cups paired with the Queen of Swords. Individually, these cards have very different energies. When combined, they bring a powerful strength that only comes through losing something we loved.
The Five of Cups, aligned with the emotional element of Water, represents grief, sorrow, sadness and disappointment. When we feel devastated and bereaved, we are buoyed only by the fact that when we lose something, we don’t lose everything.
This year has taken so much from us. Some have lost more than others, and every single loss is valid and unique. As we move deeper into the season of death and letting go, we are invited to lay to rest our disappointments, sorrow and grief. We can mourn these losses and allow them to remain part of us without being haunted by them.
But if you’re not quite ready to let some things go, that’s ok too. The Queen of Swords is here to support you.
This is one of my very favorite cards. The Queen of Swords is aligned with the mental-elemental of Air. I associate her with possessing well-defined boundaries, and the grace to protect and maintain those boundaries respectfully and with ease.
The Queen of Swords often serves as a pillar of support, a force within or without that we can rely on when the going gets tough. She advises, however, that we brace ourselves. We’re going to need strong boundaries and a clear mind, as we move forward through this month of death and transformation.
Sharpen those swords, friends. You will likely need them.
The Seven of Wands — our new beginning — involves a bit of a fight. This card is equal parts “fighting for what’s right and pure” and “fighting simply because we’re in the mood.” It symbolizes everyone’s endless battle between spirit and ego.
In between swings, this battle asks us to recognize two things: who or what are we fighting against, and for?
Are we fighting something unseen? Or ourselves? What’s at stake here? Destruction is also a form of creation, a sentiment we will return to in a bit.
Sometimes, the path to creation means trying one thing and realizing it’s not the best thing. Sometimes, we simply fail — and with that comes questioning, uncertainty and doubt. This can be uncomfortable and make us defensive.
When this happens, we can either fight to protect our convictions, or we can betray them, plunging ourselves into spiritual turmoil. The Seven of Wands is a trial by fire, pressing us to figure out what we want by forcing us to fight for it.
Then comes the final card of this reading: our gift of Death, Major Arcanum 16, The Tower.
Typically, this is not a card one might hope to encounter. It is heavy and harsh, a hellscape of fire, lightning, and demolition. It feels almost foreboding — until we remember that destruction is a form of creation.
On the other side of every death lies rebirth. So let’s look more closely at what we’re creating.
Like Death, the energy of the Tower is swift and unforgiving. It is upheaval and reckoning, and we can do nothing to stop it. But the collapse represented by The Tower is also a liberation. In hindsight, maybe the old structure imprisoned us, limiting our potential and our ability to dream.
Sometimes, endings are necessary.
What’s ahead will not be easy or fun. But when the dust settles and the smoke clears, we will have a cleansed palette, a blank slate on which we may begin to build something new.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift." -- Mary Oliver, "The Uses of Sorrow"
Death brings a complex array of emotions, thoughts, and energetic shifts. This month’s Tarotscope invites us to acknowledge that on the other side of every end is a new beginning, even if it’s not the one we thought we wanted.
We’d do best to reckon with what we have, rather than to lament what we don’t.