This year death is close to me in more places than my imagination. Death has visited this year, several times. I’ve lost friends and family to the stillness after the moment. I’ve lost other things too. I’ve lost hope and optimism. I’ve passed to a new time of my life. I’m an empty nester now and the silence of an empty house is shocking. And funereal.
I’ve spent my whole life wrestling with the idea of death. Our species is cursed with the knowledge of our own mortality. It is one of our defining characteristics. I’ve studied the issue from every angle because it is never far rom my mind even at the times death was not near as it’s been lately.
The best understanding I have of death comes from two, dare I call them - Occult sources. The first is from the thirteenth card of the major arcana of the Tarot. That card, is appropriately enough, DEATH.
I don’t expect the modern reader (or any reader come to think of it) to have spent time meditating on the symbols of the tarot, so I did it for you.
The biggest takeaway from my investigation into this card is that it is not a bad card. Though it looks terrible and scary, it means “change” more than the grave. There are worse cards. The TOWER for example. You’d be hard put to spin a happy ending into a spread with that as the central force. But DEATH means change. It’s more akin to the seasons than to ruin. It’s a natural thing. That’s how the magicians who built the deck saw it and I find a solid wisdom in that.
On a similar vein, I find a terrible but also necessary understanding of death in the goddess Kali. I know this Hindu God better than I know any other save the Judeo-Christian one. I spent a year with her, studying her, meditating about her. Writing about her. The product of this search is my upcoming book, WHAT IMMORTAL HAND.
I wrote this book years ago, but it’s fitting that it’s coming out now. At this time in my life, in the place. Now. As I re-read the pages I wrote back then, with these older eyes, I’m reminded of terrible beauty which is change and time. And death. It is easy to turn one’s back on the phenomenon, cursed that we are with the knowledge of it. Denial is strong in the species (and writers) so it’s a siren call we’re happy to follow. But if we do, when death does come, for it will, it must—it is, we are unprepared.
We find ourselves struggling to comprehend it. We grasp at childish ideas and think it’s all beyond our understanding and mourn our ignorance. But that’s not true. I don’t think death is supernatural. It’s the most natural thing there is. It’s just shocking because our culture has removed it from us and we live in a season-less society of hot-house tomatoes and air conditioning. Outside our houses, in the natural world, we see the cycles as they are. Every moment, month and millennium speak of the cycles. The lesson of death and change are on a perpetual loop right in front of us, but we block it out and see lines instead of circles. forevers instead of evolutions. It’s our own fault when death surprises us. She didn’t mean to.
I’m glad to be back in WHAT IMMORTAL HAND. It’s helpful to me. It’s a dark journey, one I took with my characters, but in the end it was one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I faced death on a spiritual and intellectual plane when I wrote it. Now, with deeper wounds, and empty rooms, it is the cooing song of adult wisdom against the crying pains of childhood.