The Esotericon

Death - Mem

A lone skeletal figure gripping a scythe in its cold bony hands steps over a field littered with disembodied heads. From the death of one entity arises the life force of another. Also, the ideas from those who have perished will continue to live on throughout each subsequent generation and will never die. In this sense, ideas are immortal – within the limited scope of human existence.

The name of the 13th character of the ancient alphabet is linked to the 13th hieroglyphic symbol of the Tarot. The original design of this character (pre-1200 B.C.) looks like this...

The ancient letter of Mem

The name of this character is the word מים and has the basic meaning of “to flow.” The letter itself, which is the forerunner of the modern day letter M, stands for the numeric value of forty. The actual shape of the letter implies the shape of waves. Since the singular forms of this name are also used as interrogatives such as “who,” “which,” “what,” “whoever,” and “whatever,” the non-solidity and impermanence of liquidity as applied to the essence of mortality could be considered to be one of the primary overriding themes involved with the meanings attached to this letter and its accompanying hieroglyphic symbol of La Morte.

Mortality and the Cyclical Essence

Four images of the Death trump of the Marseilles Tarot

The primary symbolism that seems to be inherent in these combined symbols of thirteen is the continual cyclical nature of the circle of life that ends with death, which is the beginning of a new circular motion. This notion of the circular nature associated with twelve is seen in the mathematical measuring of the circle, which is based on units of twelve. Thus, thirteen is the number of a new circular dimension, making it not only the symbol of death, but the symbol of birth as well. When this Tarot key and its associated letter are considered in this type of aesthetic and philosophical sense, the central figure can be viewed as a gardener tending a field, where new life fertilized by the decaying remains of the old is soon to blossom anew.

Therefore, the essential nature of this energy is the elemental intersection of water and earth. The resulting clay and mud from this union is representative of the nature of the human body, and thus its mortality. However, the immortal ideas of the greatest thinkers can be considered to be fertile ground that is constantly maintained by new scholars, who will sow new seed and grow new improved crops that have been fertilized by the ideas of those who have gone on before. It is this progress and development that is essential as new levels of progression and evolution are achieved, because without improvement of the ideas of the old that lead to the new, entropic tendencies will begin to set in, and evolutionary progress will falter along with the species.

So the reaper should not merely be considered to be a harvester, but as a gardener as well. This type of dual association makes logical sense, especially when both professions are horticultural. The harvester uses the crops gleaned as fertilizer for the next generation of new students hungry for new wisdom and knowledge. The circle of life is allowed to complete, and all of humanity can be proclaimed the winner.

The Rider-Waite Version

The Rider-Waite version of the Death Tarot trump

In regards to this particular Tarot trump, A. E. Waite writes, “The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.

There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.”

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