I decided to make the DEATH card another mandala for the following reasons:
1. I wanted people to be drawn to meditate on DEATH. Self included of course. To paint a concept is pure meditation.
2. It was a fitting metaphor for my perception of DEATH as a portal, a window, a tunnel into the light (the Ground Luminosity of the Tibetans, the rising sun of the traditional tarot).
3. I like painting mandalas, and the shape of the scorpions seemed very suggestive of one. I’ll probably continue to paint mandalas wherever I see the opportunity. They seem like a perfect device for the tarot.
The Ship of Death is a poem by DH Lawrence, who is my chief guiding spirit, a great 20th century priest in the guise of an author.
“Oh build your ship of death, oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you. ”
So this is my Ship of Death…powered by a Mandala wheel at the centre of which is my own personal vanishing point. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes this portal as “the luminous splendour of the colourless light of emptiness”, which it says is “your own true self”. The task of meditating on one’s death and thus coming to terms with it is crucial to facing this experience without fear, and so liberating oneself from the wheel of suffering. Of all the tragic ignorance in the world none is more destructive than the denial of death. That is what the crying eyes are expressing, not grief at our inevitable departure but sorrow at the hellish state of suffering the denial of death causes. This blind fear not only blights the moment of death but the whole life of a person. You have to learn how to die before you can learn how to live.
FEAR OF DEATH IS THE ROOT OF ALL SLAVERY.
This is why I refuse to sugar coat or avoid the issue. People need to be confronted with it. Drawing this card obviously doesn’t mean you are going to die straight away, but it will happen eventually, and maybe it’s a sign that you need to contemplate that fact. I think in many ways it is the most important card of the Tarot.
I very much love the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima and he writes very wisely and eloquently on death in On Hagakure (a discussion of the famous Samurai manual).
“Suppressed the Death Impulse Must Explode Eventually.”
Which always speaks to me of the pathological self destructive tendencies of modern man. What you deny always possesses you.
“There can be no escaping the inevitability of death on every level. Modern humanity is in deep denial about the psychological importance of acknowledging and accepting death. “Calculating Man” does not understand the value of anything which does not appear to directly benefit him on a material superficial level. ”
I typed this DH Lawrence quote up a while ago, while I was doing my researches…so I might as well add it here:
“When I want to move, I remember death, how it is ultimate and inevitable, and pure. Then I am free to move properly in life. It’s like a man who wants to think, going and standing in front of a window. The space purifies ones’ soul. And death is a window to me, with the darkness outside. And when I stand there, looking out, then the world and its active life seems only like a roomful of racket and light behind me, where I am taking part for a time, but not staying for long. It does not contain me and confine me. When I stand peacefully looking out on death, what is true in my soul disengages itself and is free and clear and untrammeled, I know what to do, I am sure, and free, and glad. Then I can turn into the world again”…
…”Remembering death, I know the life of the world as it is now is not living, it is a bad process of dying. And what we must live for is a new world of life. It doesn’t matter when we die, so long as we live fulfilling the deepest desire that is in us. And a life which is a denial of the deepest desire is much worse than any death, it is a sheer lie.”
“If one accepts death and knows that nothing can take us away from that, one has the freedom and strength to live in truth, putting down the lies that pretend they own our living. But one must have the pure knowledge of death behind one, before one has really faith to tackle life and falsity. Being sure in death I am strong in life. And so, in life, and in all the world of man, I have no master, save the deepest desire of my own soul, in which death and life are one.”
Women in Love
People who don’t know tarot seem to get confused by the name of this card (also known as Strength). Doesn’t seem very lusty they tell me. Typical of Aleister to muddy the waters like that. I suppose it needs to be explained that it’s not really about lust in the narrow, genital sense but more as a general universal concept. It’s not a “sin” either, but rather a state of divine grace. I think this distinction drives straight to the heart of the body/mind schism that is destroying us all. Disgust at the natural animal urges within, is translated into contempt for the living ecosystem.
The lion is the lower self, the instincts and urges, and the woman is the higher intuitive self. Not feeble logic, but the kind of soul intelligence accessed through meditation and chakra work, hence the seven snakes of the lions’ tail. The total image depicts a fully actuated person, whose functions are all operating in harmony and whose passion for existence is symbolized by the star fire she is collecting in her (holy) grail. In Jungian terms she has tamed and accepted her Shadow, her dark side, so that it empowers rather than undermines her .
Also she is the great Heirodulai, the “Scarlet Woman” riding the Beast, originally the all powerful Sumerian goddess Inanna whose sacred animal was the Lion. In fact she was often depicted as a Lioness. Inannas’ consort Dumuzi is one of the early versions of Christ, the sacrificed god king. And Christ was of course “The Lion of Judah” as a direct descendant of David. Inanna was demonized as “the whore of Babylon” further associating her with Magdalene, who was also branded as a prostitute. So I suppose Lust is an ironic title in a way, an owning of an age old insult.
It’s also very interesting to me that the original symbol for this card is a woman shutting the mouth of a lion. If you consider the lion as symbolizing the Energetic body then the woman closing the animals’ mouth is a direct reference to the essential action required to complete the Microcosmic Orbit of energy (chi) around the meridians of the body. The Taoist masters refer to the tongue as a switch, which needs to be in contact with the top palette so that this energy circulation can flow. This kind of knowledge would also have been a part of the Western esoteric traditions prior to the witch burnings and destruction of libraries in the Middle Ages. It seems like another piece of evidence in the case for the Tarot being an encoded remnant of this type of suppressed knowledge.
Some people believe Jesus was trained as a Yogi in India and was a master of Kundalini and that as an Essene adept he practised the ancient ritual of Heiros Gamos with his wife, the Magdalene. It is an incredible irony that the church which based itself around him has gone to such horrific genocidal lengths to exterminate such practises. I suppose I should spell out at this stage that I am very much NOT a Christian (or anything else really, other than what I am). His significance to me is as a Magus, not as a preacher. In fact, I tend to agree with DH Lawrence that he probably lived to regret this early phase of his life. Please refer to his short story “The Escaped Cock” if you wish to know what DHL imagined him doing after his crucifixion. And while I’m on the subject of DHL, I have to mention “Apocalypse” his final work, which directly inspired this card and the whole direction of my Tarot. DHL was by far the greatest Magus of the Twentieth Century, and a kind of modern Christ figure himself. Dion Fortune knew it, which is why she spent her time trying to write a Lawrentian novel. He was an extremely rare combination, a great scholarly mind with the ability to see behind the veil.