Traditional depictions of ‘Death’, number 13 in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, show us a knight in armour on a white horse, a king dead underfoot, a religious figure in its path, sometimes children.
The image in the Sharman-Caselli tarot is a variation on that theme; here the horse is black (the colour associated with death in some cultures), its rider a skeleton. The skeleton’s headdress is a swaddling cloth, used at birth, reflecting the link between birth and death and the unending cycle of life. The skeleton carries an hourglass, reminding us that everything has its time. In the distance, we see a river – another reminder of the ongoing process of transformation, this time in the form of the hydrologic cycle (the river water evaporates and forms clouds, the clouds rain, the water falls back to earth). The boat is said to symbolize both the cradle and the coffin. In the foreground we see a raven, thought to be a harbinger of death in many traditions. The theme is Scorpionic – transformation and change; endings linked with beginnings.
The skeleton with his scythe are also seen in the Crowley Thoth tarot’s version of ‘Death’. He wears two faces here – one is that of the destroyer, the other that of the liberator – reminding us that in order to change, we may have to let go of things that hold us back, that no longer serve us. The headdress of this skeleton is a funereal head-covering, used in ancient Egypt – a reminder of the need to bury old, out-dated, invalid ideas and beliefs so that new life can begin. We see the scorpion at the bottom of the image, ready to sting, and the snake – perhaps THE symbol of transformation – ready to bite. A fish, representing the past, swims through the serpent’s coils: is it the next victim? Above it all, the phoenix, which can only rise from the ashes once the fire has consumed everything in its way. Intense? Oh yes!
The Shadowscapes Tarot also draws on the promise of renewal with its phoenix rising from the ashes of the devastation, the tearing down of what has been, ready for what’s to come.
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Sharman-Caselli Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by US Games Systems, Inc.
Universal Waite Tarot created by Mary Hanson-Roberts & Pamela Colman-Smith, published by US Games Systems, Inc.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections