Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!
This post is part of the Tarot Blog Hop, in which tarot writers from around the world join together to discuss a particular topic. Jay Cassels of Sacred Healing proposed the theme, asking us, “What’s in a name?” He wondered how shifts in card names might produce different meanings. This reminded me of the interesting phenomenon in which Death is Love: La Mort est L’Amour.
La Mort is Love
Although the tarot was developed in Italy in the fifteenth century, France was the main place of publication of decks in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In what would come to be known as the Tarot de Marseille tradition, cards were mass-produced using wood block printing and stenciled colors.
Here, the character in the Death card swings a scythe in a field scattered with heads, hands, and feet. Perhaps these are the leftover parts remaining after the confrontation with the Reaper. Or perhaps they grow in the field and harvesting them suggests an achievement. Regardless, this doesn’t appear to be a warm, fuzzy card. How can Death equal Love?
In French, the word for Death, La Mort, sounds exactly like L’Amour, the word for love.
XIII is Love
That’s very cool, but really it’s just a coincidence. Isn’t it? And yet the connection doesn’t stop there. In early decks Death is the unnamed card. Usually, it bears only the number XIII. Thirteen might be considered bad luck by some, but the symbolism of numbers is extensive.
Some tarot readers use the philosophy of Jewish mysticism called qabalah. One qabalistic technique combines the meanings of letters and numbers. In Hebrew, every letter of the alphabet is assigned a numerical value. By converting letters to numbers and adding them together, you can assign a value to any word. It’s interesting to see which words have the same value!
The Death card is number thirteen. In Hebrew, the words whose letters add up to thirteen include “enemy” (oyeb), “fear” or “sorrow” (de’agah), and “emptiness” (bohu). These are all appropriate symbols for the Death card! However, it is fascinating to note that “love” or “beloved” (ahabah), “one” or “unity” (achad), and “to long for” or “desire” (ya’ab) also have letters that add up to thirteen! So using numerology, Death is also Love.
The Tudor Rose
The symbols of love work their way into the imagery of the card as well. The rose, a symbol of Venus, the planet whose name derives from the Goddess of Love, appears on most illustrations of Death.
In fact, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck uses the Tudor Rose emblazoned on a flag. The Tudor Rose shows a white, five-petaled rose within a larger, similar blossom. Sometimes, one rose is red and the other white. Henry VII took on the symbol of the red rose when he married Elizabeth of York, whose emblem was the white rose. Their marriage ended a decades-long series of civil wars called the Wars of the Roses. Death in the tarot can indicate the conclusion of conflicts and return of peace.
La Petite Mort
There’s one more way Death can equal love. In French, there is an expression that describes orgasm and the resulting languor. They call it “the little death,” or la petite mort. If the Death card comes up in your love tarot readings, and the other cards in the spread are positive, consider whether the conclusion of Death invites you to close the deal.
Death is Love: La Mort est L’Amour
When you’re doing love readings, it’s disheartening to see the Death card. Most of the time, Death indicates endings and loss. There’s a finality to the image that shuts the door on whatever you asked the cards about. But keep in mind the symbols of love in the card’s name, number, and symbols. Sometimes this card can represent transforming an enemy into a friend.