Image: Death from Llewellyn’s Classic Tarot

One of the wonderful things about tarot is that, if one wishes, it can provide a lifetime of learning. Working with the cards in readings and in personal reflection, our understanding of the cards deepens. The tapestry of our belief system becomes more complex, more nuanced. Sometimes we learn or experience things that cause us to rip former threads of understanding from our tapestry (often this is connected with Tower experiences, which tend to change fundamentals of our belief systems).

For me, I’ve noticed changes in my own understanding and interpretation of the Death card. When I first began learning the cards, I talked about Death, as so many people were back then, in terms of change and transformation. I focused on the new beginning inherent in Death, bringing a positive spin to the card.

Later, I felt that that approach did not honor the process of mourning or the emotions of the one facing Death (in whatever form it took: loss of a loved one, divorce, layoff, firing, break ups, etc.). So I shifted my focus to talk about the experience of going through a Death situation, and I still used the words “change and transformation.”

Now, I realize that change and transformation are not the same thing. Change is when something is made different. Transformation is a more specific type of change. Transformation is a quality of change that we cannot change back from. It is irreversible. It is a metamorphosis. There is a sense of painfulness to it. Our quintessential symbol of metamorphosis is the change from caterpillar to butterfly. The metamorphosis itself is a terrible experience (it seems to me). The caterpillar almost (but not quite) completely liquefies. The remaining parts are reused while the soupy liquid is recreated into something different. For the caterpillar, there is no changing of the mind partway through and going back to being a caterpillar. This is an important difference.

One could argue that all change is transformation because “you can never step in the same river twice.” But I don’t think so. I think there is a line that once crossed moves one from change to transformation. I’ve not worked out what that line is yet, but I’m working on it.

What do you think?

Written by Barbara Moore
The tarot has been a part of Barbara Moore’s personal and professional lives for over a decade. In college, the tarot intrigued her with its marvelous blending of mythology, psychology, art, and history. Later, she served as the tarot specialist for Llewellyn Publications. Over the years, she has ...