In any movie or tv show where the main character receives a tarot reading, the final card is consistently and inevitably the Death card. Followed by a musical sting, the eyes of the offensive Romani/oracle stereotype widen as they warn our lead character to "turn back now! Flee this place! Only Death awaits you on this path." As one who reads tarot, this scene is maddening every. single. time.
The Death card is one of the most promising figures in any Tarot deck. Sure, there is usually a skeleton on this card, but we all have one in this body that we will eventually slough off. This card represents change, transformation, loss and new beginnings: all potentially painful but all make way for something new. Change is difficult, grief is wrenching but to suppress these cycles will keep you from the health and newness on the other side.
My favorite personification of Death is Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. She is a youthful, punky, plucky, and optimistic figure. She adores humanity and plays a maternal role in our lives, greeting each person with gentility and empathy. She is often sad that she is feared by the very humans she cares for. As her brother Dream puts it:
"I find myself wondering about humanity. Their attitude towards my sister's gift is so strange. Why do they fear the sunless lands? It is as natural to die as it is to be born. But they fear her, dread her. Feebly they attempt to placate her. They do not love her."
Next time you pull a Death card or experience loss, don't push Her away. Greet Her, love Her, for she is often lonelier than we are.
15 Books Concerning Death:
Luna Oscura by Heidi Moreno
A black cat and her toad best friend go on a journey to find their forever home!
Death: A Graveside Companion by Joanna Ebenstein
This book curates a wide breadth of art and objects all concerned with mortality, so make space on your coffee tables for this perfect spook season conversation starter.
All the Living and the Dead by Hayley Campbell
This is an exploration of the business of death, interviewing morticians, embalmers, crime scene cleaners, executioners, grave diggers and more. But as daunting as the subject matter may seem, the author shares with us the grace and courage she finds in the people determined to ensure that death be accompanied by dignity.
Maria, Maria & Other Stories by Maritza K. Rubio
I loved this collection. In the first story, you sit in on a community college class called Brujería for Beginners. In another, a widow buries her husband's head in the jungle. These stories laugh in the face of genre, but if you’re looking for something unsettling, you’ll find it here.
Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen
Ever wonder what would happen if the cast of the Bachelor met Bigfoot? Read this hilarious slasher and wonder no more.
The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay
As he’s writing his memoir about the club he created in high school to help with funerals, Art Barbara remembers the strange, unsettling behaviors of a friend in the club. I love a faux memoir, extra points if it’s scary!
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty is the coolest. She’s a mortician who’s made it her life’s work to educate us about death in a way that is thorough, empathetic, and often hilarious. This book is a memoir of sorts about taking a job in a crematorium, and with her signature wit and candor, challenges us to reconsider the industry of death.
Motherthing by Ainslie Hogan
I don’t want to tell you anything about this book because I want you to go on this wild ride blind, but I will tell you this: as good as the cover is, the book is better.
Savage Appetites by Rachel Moore
This book interrogates our collective obsession with True Crime, examining especially the strange relationship women in particular have with the genre. It’s a nuanced, sensitive exploration that anyone with strong feelings about True Crime should read.
The Manningtree Witches by A K Blakemore
Drawing influences from Silvia Federici and historical accounts from 17th century England, A.K. Blakemore's debut is as stunning in its language as it is terrifying in its subject matter. And while the persecution of strange women is by no means new territory, the internal battle between Rebecca and her youthful desires, as well as her relationship to the accused women around her, make this less a story about the Witchhunter General and more about the women who were sent to the gallows because they dared to live and survive beyond the edges of a patriarchal and puritanical society.
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Joe Hartlaub described this book as “Stephen Graham Jones’ big wet literary kiss to the splatter film.” So if you love a good slasher, this book will both satisfy and subvert your expectations.
The Queen of the Cicadas by V Castro
I love an urban legend, and this one skillfully layers an unflinching anti-colonial message, and Mictecacíhuatl, the Aztec goddess of death.
Stiff by Mary Roach
Ever wonder what happens when you die? This book will break it down for you in sometimes gruesome detail, but don’t worry. This demystification of death is incredibly comforting to read, and the tone is surprisingly warm, funny, and sweet.
Books of Blood by Clive Barker
Clive Barker's artistic range is on full display in this toothsome collection of shorts: from haunted shrouds bent on revenge to possessed pigs, each tale is an allegory wrapped in viscera. Along with Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber', 'Books of Blood' rests atop my list when it comes to short story collections. A truly bloody affair.
Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoet
Child logic and base ferality attempt to work together in this beautifully bleak fable. A group of fairies are forced to leave their previous 'home' and survive the wilderness. If you are looking for a sweet moral ribbon to tie around this tale, you wont find it. It is lost; buried in the woods amongst the maggots.