Atu XIII: Death
Letter: נ Nun (N), ן Nun Final
Number: 50, 700F
Proximity: Sephira #6 (Tiphareth) to Sephira #7 (Netzach)
Pent #24 “Imaginative”– Earth of 坤 (K’un) The Receptive, Earth (Above/Below)
Water of 艮(Kên) Keeping Still, Mountain (Without/Within)
Berashith: “Elohim made the beasts of the field”
(Upper right) Fire: Hex #35: 晉 (Chin) Progress
(Lower left) Air: Hex #36: 明夷 (Ming I) Darkening of the Light
(Upper left) Water: Hex #6: 訟 (Sung) Conflict
(Lower right) Earth: Hex #5: 需 (Hsü) Waiting
Keywords (Dignified): Transformation, Finality, Mortality, Exhaustion, Rebirth, Metamorphosis, Redirection, Chthonian, Underworld, Putrefaction, Decomposition, Dissolution, Dispersion, Termination, Suspension, Redistribution
Keywords (Ill-Dignified): Stagnation, Pointlessness, Stasis, Entropy, Chaos, Hoarding, Obsession, Clinging to the Past
Historical: The personification of Death is known in modern times as The Grim Reaper. This rustic and simple figure of an animated human skeleton carrying the ancient symbol of Saturn and the harvest, the scythe, is shown riding on a horse, as if he was one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, although this is the only such horseman ever to show up in the tarot, a telltale clue of its pagan origins.
Golden Dawn: Called Death, Child of the Great Transformers, the Death card corresponds to the zodiacal Scorpio and places between Sephira #6 (Tiphareth) and Sephira #7 (Netzach) in the Golden Dawn system.
The Golden Dawn uses the traditional imagery of the European Death, the Grim Reaper. A snake, phoenix and a scorpion are used as symbols. Scorpions represent pain, the snake, transformation, and the phoenix rebirth.
Thoth: Crowley kept much of the same imagery, but granted Death the appearance of Osiris’ crown. Lady Harris’ projective geometric netting adds a new dimension to the piece.
With Death is the letter Nun, meaning fish; so the scene is built on the bottom of the ocean floor curiously enough. The Thoth was and is one of the most innovative decks of all time while also being correct.
Crowley states the card represents the step of putrefaction. Unfortunately he doesn’t bother to apply the other alchemical steps to their respective cards so it’s difficult, or rather, impossible to track his reasoning.
The scorpion is explained as an element that tends towards suicide in popular legend, and the snake a sign of “masculine energy”. The serpent was quite female in Egyptian magick and mythology (the entire female half of the human race is represented as snakes, the male as frogs, in the creation myth) so it is only through their vague resemblance to a penis that Crowley seems to be getting this information. In India the serpent was almost always female when connected to a divinity, with two exceptions, Balarama and Ananta Deva Adi Sesa. He is correct in assessing its nature as Lord of Life and Death.
The Eagle is said to represent gas, and the skeleton Saturn. The skeletal figure is crowned like Osiris and is dredging up bubbles which represent new forms. The fish and serpent are compared to the cults of resurrection and reincarnation. Here he concretely states the fish represents the cult of Christianity, where Jesus is the fish god, and moreover is a fish, and then he vaguely glosses over any supposed Serpent cults, but perhaps we can infer it is Sanatana Dharma.
Mutational Alchemy Interpretation: Here in the fourfold Hexagrammal attributes of Progress, Darkening of the Light, Conflict and Waiting is the image of Alchemical process. The emphasis in the holistic sense is with the Fire Hex, Progress. The hexagram reminds us we are here to brighten ourselves. Death ends those who are not living according to their True Will or improving themselves in some way. If you refuse to advance you will fall, and continue to fall until you determine to be a productive human being. This is symbolized also by Fire in the above, Earth in the below. The still elements will be purified. So it is that the fire element in the scene is the punishing and delivering Chakkrath Azhwar, or circle of God.
In Hexagram #36 we have Darkening of the Light, a strong inference of what Death is to humans. “The light has sunk into the earth; the image of the darkening of the light.”
Man is advised to guard his light, and this includes hiding it within and persevering. Death is very mysterious, but the Tibetans have been studying Death closely for centuries and seem to know something Westerners do not: the act of Death is only the beginning of a long journey to failure or success. Like alchemy, it is most important that a Man be aware of such things, lest he fail to apprehend the most important aspect of Life – its Death.
Hexagram #5 and #6, of Earth and Water respectively are of interest. Death is classically associated with the bottom of the ocean as seen in the Thoth. So if we pay attention to the symbolism here, in #5 we see that it is the chamber of Ma’at herself. The I Ching reminds us that Death is fine and auspicious for the sincere, and those who persevere will be furthered to cross the Great Water. A feast for Death is advised. But in #6 the symbolism is more difficult to interpret. There is obstruction even if one is sincere, says the I Ching. The passage may indicate the phenomenon of being pushed back from Death into the world while in the same body, a near-death experience. It could also represent stumbling in the bardos and returning to the womb of the living. (which to a Tantricist is not all that bad.) In all of these functions, events and phenomena, Maya is the goddess we are examining, and so this is who is represented on our card, even though she is rarely ever anthropomorphized.
It is through the hexagramsd that this new phenomena of Pentagrammal structures must be analyzed, at least partly. “Imaginative” fits Maya very well. Earth of Earth signifies the essence of the Daughter, and she is a creative and imaginative child. Called “The Lord’s Maya in the East, she is both play companion and playground in the Lord’s lila. Thus she is ever intimately connected with any change which occurs, so it is natural she will be associated with the most dramatic change, that of Death and its inferred rebirth. In the line from Berashith we also have the creatrix who lends diversity and inspiration to the forms of life.
Lastly the number 50 is of Nuit, so it is she is connected to this card, a death goddess, actually.
The Scene: Maya, represented as the gatekeeper to the world above. She is black, representing the eternal night into which all existence must coalesce into. Life ends at her feet, colored red like the muladhara that leads to the bottomless pit where Ananta resides.
The mace represents the brutality of death’s influence on incarnated beings. She points up, indicating that she will slay all who stand before her on this floor. Raising consciousness was once the supreme goal of all kings and jivas (incarnated beings) and that reason is Maya herself who will reclaim all that belongs to her. The only refuge is to rise above the slaughter.
In life, there are many who will stand gawking at death, for fear or stupidity, not knowing that they grow closer to annihilation with their inability to act in the right way. The shamanic death, as it is called, is not like this. It is not a death at all but an active meditation akin to a serpent shedding its skin. People are not serpents, but they can master the art of the transmutative activity. Most perform this action at death anyways, but it is more useful to be able to achieve it on a regular healthy basis in life.