Tarot: Symbolism of the Death

Hermit’s view on Nira as the Death

Trump 13 in the Revenant Tarot Deck
Trump 13 in the Revenant Tarot Deck

The Raven Queen is the goddess of Death, Fate, and Winter, and does exactly what she pleases, when it pleases her to do it. Many have tried and failed to stand in her way, and with domain over Death, it only made sense that she’d appear on this card. Death is an unstoppable force of nature, a gateway that, once passed through, we can’t go back. This card is all about endings, and Nira looks more than ready to end whatever it is she came here to end.

In the Rider-Waite card, the figure of a skeleton riding a white horse is pictured as the embodiment of death. It is frightening, and disturbing, which death sometimes is, but here, the embodiment of death is the Raven Queen, wings outstretched, scythe in hand, clad in armor. She represents the soul, whereas the skeleton on the classical card represents more what is left over physically when someone dies. Since this card, while it can indicate that someone will die, is more about the idea of ending, what is left physically is not as important. The wings and golden aura represent the soul of the dead, which will never die.

Both of the figures, Rider-Waite’s skeleton and the Raven Queen, are wearing black armor. The armor is a symbol of the unconquerable, invincible nature of Death. It comes to all people and all things, and cannot be overcome by anyone, despite how hard we try. People die, iron rusts, mountains crumble away to the wind, even stars eventually collapse or explode. Death overtakes everything, and with those wings, so can the Raven Queen. The scythe is also a symbol of this power, being a very large weapon as capable of reaping grain as it is of slicing a man off of his horse.

In the classical Death card, the horseman of death is carrying a flag which pictures a white rose on a black field. Here, the Raven Queen holds a white rose up to her chest, a symbol of rebirth, and life. She literally holds life in her hand. The color of the rose also makes it a symbol of beauty, immortality, and complete purification, the last one being something else that death does. Death is the great purifier, as water is the universal solvent. Nira holds this value – life and rebirth – close to her heart, even as her blade sweeps unmercifully before her. The red bit in her dress is also a symbol of life, but one more intimately related to the physical aspect, and not the spiritual. Red is the color of blood, that which keeps human beings alive.

Rebirth is one of the most prevalent messages of the Death card. In the Rider-Waite version, a sunrise is seen in the background of the picture. In this version, while the sun itself is not seen, the Raven Queen is back-lit by a pale pink, green, and blue sky, with a golden light surrounding her figure, indicating the sunrise behind her. The flame-like designs in gold on the black armor and scythe also reference rebirth, specifically the imagery of the phoenix, when combined with the wings. The firebird rises from the ashes of Death.

This card’s number is important to its meaning as well. Thirteen is usually seen as a sign of bad luck, at least in many western countries, Friday the 13th being the unluckiest day, superstitiously speaking. There are thirteen moons in a year, which makes the number sacred to the Goddess, which is why the Raven Queen graces this card, as opposed to her forerunner, Runel, who looks more like the original depiction of Death. The number 13 marks the end of one cycle, one of time, and the beginning of the next.

There is one vague hint at the astrological sign for this card, and that is the yellow spike that runs through and out of the scythe’s blade, meant to look something like the tail of a scorpion. This card’s sign is Scorpio, the sign of the universal things in life: death, sex, and taxes. Scorpios aren’t afraid of beginnings or endings, and are in control of their own destinies. They would rather kill themselves than be killed, and, like scorpions, they have tremendous regenerative powers. If they lose a tail, metaphorically speaking, they can grow another one.

The rune for this card is Ingwaz, which is also the rune that Nira’s familiar, the white raven on the Hierophant, is named after. It is the gateway rune, the doorway home, the completion. It marks a discovery of something hidden, and a way for the mystic to see into the world beyond. Ingwaz, being a rune of transitioning from one phase to another, mirrors the imagery of the Death card, and gives it another level of understanding that is needed to see the whole picture, or the whole doorway, as it were.

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