I just finished and uploaded my Death card. The inspiration for it came one day last year when I was wandering around the island with my young nature studies mentor, Nikki. As we were noticing caterpillars practicing the art of camouflage and the yarrow just beginning to bloom, we came across a dead juvenile heron. Someone had laid it out in an old decaying wooden dinghy in a meadow across the road from the beach. The boat had elderberry, grasses and blackberry vines growing up through it. Someone had also laid out two deer bones next to the heron, one with the hoof attached. We added cedar and yarrow and spent quite a bit of time praying and musing on the Death goddess, on that bright spring morning. There were spiders and ants crawling on the body, and overhead an eagle circled.
We both knew we had entered sacred space and were in the presence of Lady Death. And I realized I had been given the image for my Death card. Heron, the guardian, so sacred to me, laid to rest in a boat on the west side of the island, facing the Otherworld and ready to sail away — the mythic resonances still give me the shivers.
One year later, the body of the heron is still there. I don’t know who left it there or why, although I do believe they were honoring the spirit of Great Blue Heron. The neighborhood kids know it’s there — lots of people do — and yet no one has disturbed it. I feel very grateful for that.
This is one of those cards that draws me, rather than the other way around. The imagery that I chose is pretty much just as I experienced it that day. I added the mast and torn sail, ropes, floats and nets because I worried that the boat didn’t “read” as a boat without them — since I cropped the image, it could have been an old shack or anything, not necessarily a boat. I changed the eagle to a turkey vulture, for added symbolism, and added the sparkles on the water.
As I was meditating on the image and writing about it, I realized that the mast and sail formed a cross, which was unintentional but may be significant to some who see the card. I also realized that the coiled ropes look like snakes, that ubiquitous symbol of transformation, death and rebirth. The nets and floats suggest fishermen and fish, with all the attendant symbolism of the wounded Fisher King, the death and rebirth cycle of salmon, and the practice of using fish as fertilizer. My friend DragonSong came by as I was finishing up the image and mentioned that the floats suggested large eggs or pregnant bellies to her — something I definitely did not think of! I love the way that different people find what they need in Tarot images.
What do you see in this Death card?