Death — Niki de Saint Phalle Tarot Cards

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

niki st phalle tarot deck cards




I have recently acquired, via moolah, the Nikki St. Phalle tarot cards. I first encountered this deck ages ago, when it was newly released. At that time I decided that I only wanted 78-card decks, which remains true, for the most part. With this purchase, I feel as if my unintentional collection is complete. At least for now. Now I want to buy a really expensive camera.

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 niki de saint phalle cards

One of the main ways cultures around the globe deal with death is through ritual and religion. In my family, discussion of religion generally progressed something like this:


Setting: Yellow 1977 VW bus, long road trip. External reference to apostles.


Me: “What’s an apostle?”


Mom (to me): “I think the four apostle were named Peter, Paul, Luke and John.” (to my father): “Is that right Paul?” (My mom was born of Jews.)


Dad: (noncommittal grunting sounds indicating probable ignorance.)


Me: “But what did they do?”




Mom: “Paul? You went to Catholic school.”


Dad: (emphatic grunting sounds indicating definite ignorance)


Me: “Nobody knows what they did?


Dad: “Exactly. Nobody knows what they did.”


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Eventually, I asked my mother why she brought us up without teaching us about religion. “I taught you about compost,” she replied. “Birth, death and regeneration all right there. Isn’t that religion?”


Eat food. Put scraps in the Temple of Compost. Visit the Temple, turn the pile. Wait. Add scraps. Visit. Turn. Add. Wait. Visit. Turn. (Winter. Spring.) Plant garden. Add compost. Repeat. Is it religion?


I sincerely believe in compost. I have never, in all my wanderings, put my foodstuffs into the trash. My younger sister and I speak in hushed tones about stealth composting systems we have developed for honoring the biodegradable potential of uneaten edibles while living in urban areas where there is seemingly no place where one can decay in peace. Hush, hush. Let it rot.


There is no dogma. There is no incontrovertible truth other than the truth of potential. The only absolute is the absolute potential for Death to bring forth new life. This is what we must honor; this is what we must facilitate.


Denying Death, denying waste, denying that which we see as unwanted or unusable or trash does not make it disappear. Putting trash someplace where we cannot see it does not make it disappear. Turning our heads away from Death does not make Death disappear. Turning our heads from Death causes Death to linger, haunting future generations with illness and waste.


Stockpiling Death does not make death go away. We stockpile Death in wastelands caused by pollution dumped through unseen “necessities” of modern life such as waste disposal, mining, demolition, concentrated animal feed operations, driving and roadbuilding (unseen, yes, because we ignore the waste), hospitalization, and so on. When waste is ignored, Death wins. When the potential energy of “waste” is honored and movement toward this potential is facilitated, we need not fear Death. This is the religion.


Death — Vertigo Tarot

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Godfather Death


Having come to a temporary halt on this blog, I’ve seriously been trying to work on the book for this deck. I’m taking all the entries and putting them in order to see what I have. What I have, it seems, is sort-of like a scrap-book. It’s interesting and eclectic. Sometimes, I spend a lot of time writing and I’m sure, in the end, what I have written won’t make it into the book. Research for a folk-tale for arcana #13 is one example. I wanted to find a folk-tale about a man who had tricked Death. The following story is such a tale. I like how the boy in the story is the 13th child and how the man turns down god as a godfather. I like how easy it was for him to trick Death— once. But of course, in the end, Death always has the upper hand. Anyhow. I don’t think I’ll put it into the book, so I hope someone here reads it and finds it amusing. It took a lot of time to pare down the story into something fun and brief. It is called—


Godfather Death*


Once upon a time there was a poor old man who had twelve children. When a thirteenth was born he did not know where to turn for help. He ran out into the highway to ask the first person whom he met to be the godfather.


First God came walking down the road. He said to the man, “I pity you. I will hold your child at his baptism, and care for him, and make him happy on earth.”

“I do not wish to have you for a godfather,” said the man. “You give to the rich, and let the poor starve.”

The man went on his way.


Next the devil came down the road. “If you will take me as your child’s godfather,” said the devil, “I will give him an abundance of gold and all the joys of the world.”

“I do not wish to have you for a godfather,” said the man. You deceive mankind and lead them astray.”

He went on his way.


At last came Death, walking on withered legs. “Take me as your child’s godfather,” he said, “for I make everyone equal, without distinction. He who has me for a friend cannot fail.”

The man said, “Next Sunday is the baptism. Be there on time.”

Death appeared as he had promised and held the child at baptism.


When the boy grew to a young man, Death took his godchild into the woods and said to him, “Now you are to become a doctor. Pay attention when you are called to a sick person. If I am standing at his head, let him smell from this flask, then anoint his feet with its contents, and he will regain his health. But if I am standing at his feet, I will soon take him. Do not attempt to begin a cure.” With that Death gave him the flask, and the young man became a renowned doctor.


Once, he was summoned to the king, who was suffering from a serious illness. When the doctor approached, he saw Death standing at the king’s feet. His flask would be of no use. But it occurred to him that he might deceive Death. He took hold of the king and turned him around, so that Death was now standing at his head. It succeeded, and the king regained his health.


After the doctor returned home, Death came to him with a grim face. “If you ever again attempt to deceive me, I shall wring your neck,” said Death


Soon, the king’s beautiful daughter took ill. No one on earth could help her. The king wept day and night, until finally he proclaimed that whoever could cure her could have her as a reward. The doctor came and saw Death standing at her feet. Astonished at her beauty, he forgot the warning, turned her around, let her smell from the healing flask, and anointed the soles of her feet with its contents.


He had scarcely returned home when Death seized him and carried him to an underground cavern. There, the physician saw thousands and thousands of candles burning in endless rows, some large, others medium-sized, others small. Every instant some died out and others were lit. Little flames jumped about in constant change.

“These are the life-lights of mankind,” said Death, then pointed to a little stump that was just threatening to go out. “There is yours!”

“Oh, dear godfather,” said the horrified physician, “light a new one for me that I may enjoy my life and become king and the husband of the beautiful princess.”

“I cannot,” answered Death, “for one must go out before a new one is lighted.”


The physician immediately fell into hands of Death.


*Re-told from Children’s and Household Tales— Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Berlin, 1812 & 1857, Tale no. 44. The Grimms’ source: Marie Elisabeth Wild (1794-1867). Variations of the tale are found dating back to 1553.


Death — Tarot of the Absurd

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

This was one of the earlier cards I illustrated.


I was trying to show how death is a part of life: how our death is born the moment we are born and it grows with us. We look at death each day and it grows so familiar, we often forget its power and take needless risks. But risk is exciting! Touching Death is thrilling!


The curve of the large snake’s head forms an infinite loop with the moon, signifying the endless cycling dance of Death and Birth. I liked it well enough, but it was not until I realized that Death is also a part of Death that I added the skull and the card felt complete.

Withdraw this corpse—
this footprint— this echo—
this last dissolving trace
of some self-ceased situation.
Back implies front.
Poles of the magnet
appear at different times.
Each birth necessitates
a new life’s end.
A pendulum swings—
at the apex of each turn
perpetual movement
hesitates to a stop.
This turning point challenges
patterns in time
and patterns in space
and patterns in patterns.
Patterns in patterns.


More words on the subject:

Death is an esoteric concept whose ultimate meaning is unveiled only to the dead. Death is part of a perpetual movement. Death is what one makes of it— disillusion, renunciation, termination, fermentation, decomposition, transformation, initiation, incarnation, new beginning, new illusion. Death will only cease with the cessation of all life. Death is seldom a hooded figure with a scythe going chop-choppity-chop, although a hooded figure with a scythe going chop-choppity-chop will most always be death to those who dare stand in challenge of its power. Be aware of hooded figures bearing scythes, ravenous man-eating pythons, and falling anvils.

Osho Transformation Tarot — 45. Living Totally

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Illustrations: Pujan

Commentary: Osho


I was rather bitter at being given The Tower yesterday. Today I am using the Osho Transformation Tarot— which is actually an oracle deck— because it always speaks to me in a kind voice. I said, “Give me some good advice.”


Osho replied with the tale of Alexander the Great meeting the sage Diogenes in India. It is a good story: Diogenes has nothing. Alexander admires him so completely that he wishes to be him in his next life. When asked what is preventing him from being Diogenes now, Alexander replies that he has to conquer the world, then he will rest. Diogenes replies that he himself is resting without having conquered the world; that something will always remain unconquered and Alexander will die in the middle of his journey. Which is exactly what happened. Then Osho said to me:


Those who say, “We are waiting for an opportunity,” are being deceptive, and they are not deceiving anybody but themselves. The opportunity is not going to come tomorrow. It has already arrived, it has always been here. It was here even when you were not here. Existence is an opportunity; to be is the opportunity.


Don’t say, “Tomorrow I will meditate, tomorrow I will love, tomorrow I will have a dancing relationship with existence.” Why tomorrow? Tomorrow never comes. Why not now? Why postpone? Postponement is a trick of the mind; it keeps you hoping, and meanwhile the opportunity is slipping by. And in the end you will come to the cul-de-sac— death— and there will be nothing left. And this has happened many times in the past. You are not new here, you have been born and you have died many, many times. And each time the mind has played the same trick, and you have not yet learned anything.


The saying “Never not put off until tomorrow what you can do today” may not mean “Go conquer the world— start now” but rather “Live the life you love.” The advice is not “do more, accomplish more, make more money,” but rather “be in love with your life; be happy.”


The hard part is taking the time to stop, stand back and ask, “What do I truly love? What is happiness?” The answer to this question will not come when the brain is full of thought and seeking. It will come as a revelation when the brain is relieved of the hindrance of thought.


Perhaps that is what The Tower was trying to tell me, yesterday. Perhaps I was too annoyed with it to listen.

Death — Little Czech Oracle Deck

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Illustrator: Ivy Hüttnerové


I don’t want to know anything about anything today. I shuffled the deck and said, “Tell me something funny.” I promptly drew the Death card and was relieved I hadn’t asked any of the questions that had flitted through my head. The little booklet that comes with this 32-card deck is all in Czech, so I get to practice my skills at oracle reading.


This card has many traditional symbols— skeleton, scythe, cross, barren tree, black ribbon— which, especially when taken together, have come to symbolize death in western culture. To me they symbolize the very hollow aspects of death: death as viewed by the bereaved. The image of death seems lonely, like a dog howling at the moon.  Dogs howl for communication. They howl at other dogs or lack of other dogs— and at sirens— which are sort-of like dogs. On nights without a moon, dogs are more likely to be sleeping; on nights with a moon, dogs are more likely to stay up all night talking on the phone: howling. Their voices travel better in the relative silence of night. They can hear a dog howling five blocks away instead of only two blocks away. More dogs on the dog phone means more howling. Of course, anyone with a dog yard knows dogs howl at any time, for no particular reason at all.


If dogs had their freedom, they’d all get together for midnight romps on moonlit nights, cruising for chicks, chickens, and general trouble. I think this death card is the newly dead, baying for her compatriot dead souls, ready to rush off and join the dead army— or perhaps the dead knitting group.


How is death funny? Death catches us unawares, like the punchline to a good joke. Death like shitting: everybody does it; few people like to talk about it in good company. The difference is, we only die once, and no one ever reports back to say, “Oh, that was such a good death. I feel so much better now.” Maybe we need more death jokes.


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I wanted to play with the deck more, so I said, “Tell me a story in five cards,” and drew the following sequence: Letter, Illness, Hope, Thief, Misery. The sixth card would have been death. A letter tells of illness. We hope for the best, but disease is a thief that steals dreams and happiness and leaves misery in its wake.



13. The Journey — The Wildwood Tarot

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Artist: Will Worthington
Authors: Mark Ryan & John Matthews
This card corresponds to the Death card in the Marseille Tarot.
“The first step is to ask the initial question,” write the authors. “This is the most overlooked part of any divinatory system… the act of asking focuses the mind. The desired answer or even the real question itself may be buried so deep in our own subconscious that we need the help of Tarot to reflect our own unknowable truth.”
The truth is, I have not been asking a question other than which card will it be? what will it show me? When I pull cards for this blog, I am not searching for insight. I merely seek the ability to understand the cards more thoroughly. But if I want to get a better answer, I have to ask a better question.
This deck has caught me unawares. The book is extremely well written. I do not just want to jump to the card and see what it means. I want to read the book, understand where the authors are coming from, and move from there. I am the sort who reads instruction books cover-to-cover. I hope my book will be so enticing to others.
From the book—
It is time to face the inevitable, to let the bones be laid bare and acknowledge the deepest aspects of your fears and desires. Do not fear change, because this is also a time of purification and realignment. This change may seem extreme and destructive, but old crops must be cleared for new growth to thrive and static or sterile modes and concepts must perish. A celebration of the past or an acknowledgement of the passing of  one part of life may be required. Let the threads of the old slip from your fingers with joyful remembrance and enter this time of withdrawal and renewal with patience and calm.
I had trouble calling my death card “finished” for a long time. I was trying to illustrate death as something that begins in childhood and grows with life. Death is there all along; it is nothing new. I drew people of three ages dancing with snakes that grew with them, both the snakes and the people enjoying life. Death enjoys life. Over and over, death enjoys life. Still, something was missing. That something was death itself, a fourth stage of life, like the four seasons of the year. When I added the skull, death became complete. I was not afraid that death was part of life; I was afraid that death was part of death.
Here is a celebration. Before the birth of my child, celebrate the death of my self: my selfish-self: my self who wanted to be only-self for so many years and had “too much to” do to be devoted to another self. I think it would be a good thing: to say good-bye thoroughly to what I no longer need, that I might greet with purity what I desire.
I am excited for this death and birth of life.