The second stage of Alchemy, after the initial Calcinatio – which is fiery and destructive and reduces the Prima Materia (actually the Alchemist, really) to ash – is Dissolutio: the submersion of the materia (the Alchemist, let’s keep up now) into Alchemical ‘Water’ (which is Mind, spirit, receptivity, intuition, art, aesthetics, context, ‘femininity’, introspection, meditation, philosophy, reflection, both rational and irrational).

The ash substance (the ‘burned out’ old materialistic consciousness – damn, we’ve all been there!) then begins to react, ferment and undergo Putrefactio – a major part of Nigredo – ‘Blackening’ which Crowley and Harris absolutely hammer home (Saturn reference, there!) in their exquisite traditionally ‘Nameless Arcana’, but now typically (and in the Thoth deck) titled Atu XIII –‘Death’.

Ooh, scary.

Tarot, the Occult, don’t mess with that!

The destruction of that which is no longer useful – to the Living processes that are about to consume and use it anyway.

The revelation of the Thoth deck.
Now-  that doesn’t sound so scary, does it?

Dying as service to Nature.

We are much more useful to Nature dead, than we are alive!

Nature knows EXACTLY what to do with what we call ‘Death’ – which of course is anything but.

‘Giving up the Ghost’, as we may say, more accurately.

Ole’ Bonesy…

Busy Bonin’! 😉

The old rogue!

You can read a few deeper thoughts about this Arcana in a former blog post, more generally about ‘Water’ in the tarot and in Alchemy. It’s over here.

Phallic cords of rebirth and ejaculation salute the appearance of the General in his ultimate role as …Creator?!?!?! In the fermentation implied by His presence in the otherwise stagnating mess, Death is revealed to be…a Birther?


The petit-mort (‘little death’) of orgasm, the final realization (realized or not) that the material and the spiritual are one, that masculine and feminine seek to inter-mingle, to recombine their ‘tension’ into the one Rebis, the child of the Coniunctio ­between the Red King and the White Queen after both have discovered that they are, in fact, a single snake, eating its own tail, lulling itself into the sleep of reason, and the birth of nightmares, is laid bare in the Danse Macabre of Harris’ extremely dynamic and supple dancing skeleton, black, leaden, and Saturn shaped, as befits this glyph of the Nigredo – “now we’re really fucked!” – and Ego meets its timely end in the fixed ‘waters’ (come on now, keep up…) of Scorpio, astrological home of the reproductive organs.

It’s no coincidence that Exu Caveira and Baron Samedi in the African spiritual matrices that spread around the World and became eclectic new historic religious movements in the Diaspora of Africans enslaved by European imperial powers into the so-called ‘New World’ – both of these spiritual manifestations of Death being rulers of the graveyard, the recently dead and the realm of Death in general, slightly altered for local and cultural differences – are highly sexual, depraved by human standards, foul-mouthed and sexually licentious entities…telling crude jokes, having a, er, giant penis (very on display), and generally being the Mack-Daddy of the limbo-dwelling whores who don’t have a clue what to do with their recently shredded Selves after the point of de-materialization – buying the farm, kicking the bucket, breathing their last, ‘popping their clogs’…

…Saying goodbye to their time as a collection of atoms referred to as ‘a human’ and embracing their new role in the Earth as nutrients for plants, or perhaps as heat and ash in a final calcination of their up-to-that-point material ‘form’, and, again, taken up by the plants and sea life, unavoidable Dissolutio, the not-so-final farewell.

Note – the ‘half-life’ of atoms (the time it takes for them to become half as ‘stable’ and subject to disruption and transformation under ordinary Reality – of which you are made – is somewhere in the trillions of years, seemingly…so it would appear that it is the body at least as much as, if not instead of, the soul that is actually eternal…)

Almost all of Culture (which is the same as Mind, which is the same as Self) is obsessed with Sex and Death.

Watch any advertisement, any movie, any ritual or ceremony, participate in any story.

Sex and Death.

These sassy entities await you, dicks swingin’ free in the astral plane, listening to gutter-beats and spittin’ bars as rude as they are funny, inviting you to re-join the dance with your groin rotating, after you finally let go of this Mortal Coil!

It’s a party, and you are not only invited – you are obliged to attend.

No choice.

Dress up, homie!

Twerk yerself back into existence – if the Ancient of Days sees that your boogie is fine (or, conversely that your boogie is not in time, if you are a Buddhist, World beliefs differ on this point about potential re-incarnation :shrug:)

What a lovely description of ‘final release’ 🙂

Death and Sex (Atu XIII and Atu III, Scorpio and Venus) are two faces of the spinning coin of your fortunes in the coin-toss of Life – as an anthropomorphic code optimized for sexual reproduction and preservation of just half your code per iteration, and not very much else, frankly…

Make copies, and the rest is Up To You! (massive apologies if you’re gay or gender-queer, but the science and especially the occult science is kinda Like That™, what to do?? Fit somewhere into this paradigm, dammit! :D)

You can fill your schedule with a Higher Purpose if you want, and I don’t knock you for it at all, in fact I applaud you, but let’s face it: The Game of your Genes is not a Mystery.

The society (or local community) that you happen to truly live in right now either gives a bit of lip-service to that, or it doesn’t…either way – you are basically On Your Own, and attempting to not die and hopefully out-survive your current advertisement for your genetic fitness (you and your body) by convincing another advertisement for their genetic fitness (whoever you fancy right now) to reproduce / mate with you…

You, of course, have other goals, and a very complex inner experience, but that is what you are genetically optimized for, way down deep in the Code, regardless of what your inner experience has lead you toward as a storyteller, whether you are gay, straight, or any orientation available in the modern alphabet-soup…

Genes just wanna gene.

You – as Dr. Sigmund Freud most notably noted, and as the Alchemical Adepts who filled the Tarot with occult codes about the rapidly emerging Science most discretely, er, discreted – and perhaps took a little teensy bit too literally are a Very Sexual Being™, indeed, and that really counts in trying to understand you and everyone else around you…particularly if they are different.

And, no doubt about it, this tendency for women (the Lunar, in tarot terms) to give birth and for men (the Solar, in tarot terms) to be ‘involved,’ was a genuinely Big Deal™ to those wise old folk who watched the Stars, the rise and fall of vainglorious men and women, and the comings and goings of Nature and Society, over the past 8,000 years or so, and drew a few conclusions – which, understandably, they decided to keep ‘a little bit on the QT’, for hopefully obvious reasons, perhaps painfully so in light of recent development where much of this is now either taboo, or at least controversial, once again…though for different reasons.

Inquisitions, pogroms, genocides and expulsions were par for the course in an era where Knowledge in general had to frequently (every few centuries) uproot itself, recover what it could from the recent apocalypse where the ideologically impure (and all their libraries and centers of learning, and many of their greatest) were ‘cleansed’, and seek new lands where, for example, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others from other cultures and religions, could live amongst each other and share knowledge and culture, and then (Every.Single.Time. whataretheodds?!?!) extend the range and depth of human understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos, and towards each other…it’s almost as if, wherever tolerance and intersection of diversity is made a topic of scientific endeavour between likeminded humans who care about Truth, new dsicoveries tend to be made, and rights and enfranchisements tend to extend to cover more and more of those previously excluded.

Leading to now – to Science™.

Mostly, this Knowledge extended from the Stars and Planets (When to plant? When to tend? When to harvest? Which plants? How to heal? With what plants? Planted when? What affects what, and how? THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT!) to the most critical marker of Knowledge in that age, and any age – the human body:

Can we save lives? Can we preserve dignity in sickness, and old age?

Does our knowledge of the mechanics of ourselves and the World we live in as One Thing enable us to repair the damage and danger of Our Basic Existence™ and the damage it can do, and does to us?

Can we repair and save each other?

Are we capable of extending or preserving or improving life and living conditions…for all?

This is what ‘Knowledge’ (Daath, the ‘hidden’ sefirot) as traditionally understood has always, ultimately, been – the search for Life, over Death, which is the default condition – Life’s ‘difficult’ sister, who never turns up when expected and always gate-crashes at the worst possible moment, dressed inappropriately, cursing and telling rude jokes, like Wednesday Addams at a children’s party.

The Search for renewal over stagnation, for beginnings after endings, and the search for meaning among and beyond the senseless and chaotic – healing collective wounds, the material, spiritual and existential, ever since ‘the Fall’…is a vital one in many modern lives, as much as in ancient seekers and priesthoods.

And so: Alchemy, the Nigredo, and the Fundamental Excellence of his High Rudeness and Great Awkwardness and Comedy of the Tragedy: Death, the Sexy Old Saturnian Familiar, come to humble and remind us of the stakes.


In Crowley’s Aeon of Horus (now), Death is revealed as not the scythe-wielding ‘Destroyer of Worlds’, but rather the – admittedly serious, and irrevocable ­– agent of transformation and resurrection, the impossible to disconnect aspect of endings that always, narratively, imply new beginnings, and the return of something vital and energetic that would otherwise be bound up in preservation of an old outdated norm or structure, in clear need of demolition for true renovation to take place, however painful the loss.

If you don’t, in any meaningful sense, actually ‘exist’ in the way that you thought, maybe you can actually relax a bit? Smell the coffee? Hear the birds? Notice Life, as it is, not as you fear it, or hope it might turn out for you? Maybe you can just be present, be tinglingly and particularly alive for just a moment? Even if that means…dying to yourself, first.

Kind of like a thorough, earned, and shuddering orgasm, right through your very Being.


Sex and Death, Death and Sex.

In the card, the skeleton is a symbol of putrefaction – the alchemical process of dissolution, decay and death, down to the Saturnian minimum – the bones.

A very good meditation is to spend 10 minutes trying to feel, to really feel – your bones.

Try it, it’s very grounding.

That part of you that changes the least, after maturation…still in process, still transforming, still a ‘verb’ of calcium and white blood cells and good exercise and proper posture, and so on. But absolutely the Saturnian scaffold on which the whole higher structure depends, like iambic pentameter to Shakespeare’s genius, like the even-tempered scale to Keith Jarret playing the Köln Concert.

The skeleton is black – Saturn, and his legs form the Hebrew letter Tav – again, Saturn.

He himself is the whole glyph of Saturn, including the hidden Tav, and so this implies time, in fact Time™, capital ‘T’…Aion, as the Greeks might say (the Infinity of each moment, infintely), as opposed to Cronos (what happened today, what happened yesterday).

Putrefaction is Eternal and Slow.


The tendency for organized things to become disorganized, over time, endless time.


Crowley and Harris’ Death wears Osiris’ crown, and Osiris was drowned by Set in the river Nile – here, Death is underwater, ruler of the underworld, the psyche, the murky foundation of Self-hood –the lizard brain.

Fear, the sense of endings, of time ‘running out’.

Not real!

There are three symbols of Scorpio in the card:

The Scorpion – believed by our ancestors to sting itself to death if cornered, it symbolizes a low response to the reality of Infinity, and the absolute need for Death as a substrate of Life, its complement.

The Serpent – Kundalini, dormant at the base of the spine until awakened by sexual Tantras, hence the tail of snake (phallic) ends in the mouth of the fish (yonic), and the sexual potency and arousal of Death is affirmed through art and symbol, right behind the groin, exploding with bubbles, driven by the indestructible essence that is freed from it’s prison in matter by the scythe of the dancing skeleton. Some connection, perhaps?

The Eagle  – orgasmic, flying above the putrefaction below, and threaded to the creative processes involved in the miracle of incarnation that require both Scorpion and Serpent in their praise of the Eagle, and the trinity. Death as release, as orgasm, as reunification with the Ultimate, as the great relief, as the Lord of all that needs no Ego to continue.

Not for nothing are Scorpios considered ‘masters of re-invention’ and likely to go through ‘significant personal changes’ in their construction of Self across their Life.

This trinity can be associated with the three states of matter –

Scorpion is matter – Ice, solid Water, the hard shell
Serpent is liquid – Flowing, wriggling, elusive and reflective.
Eagle is steam, air, gas – Flying, omnipresent, omniscient, a hunter.

And so we too can encounter Change these ways, and the need to shed skins that we no longer fit in, that our consumption and growth has rendered useless – and yet which we cling to, unless conscious of the unconscious need for a painful ‘dis-robing’.

We can be hard, fluid  or gaseous, we can be auto-destructive, Eros or Thanatos, we can be sub or we can be dom…

‘Death’ in these terms is rarely pleasant, but neither need it be ‘tragic’ or ‘maudlin’ or ‘heavy’ or any of the more ill-dignified Saturnian connotations of this card…it can equally be a ‘harvest’, a ‘limit’ that needed to be established, or a ‘gravity’ to a situation that required that acknowledgement, and so leads to genuine breakthrough in an encounter with the White Queen, which can easily lead to a marriage with the Red King…

And look!

Whoopsadaisy! – You are somebody you’ve never quite been before, somebody you never thought – for as long as you’ve lived ­– that you might even be.

It’s You.

The Old Queen is Dead!
Long live the New Queen!

The Old King is Dead!
Long Live the New King!

You died, and yet here you are.

Awake at last, and prepared to participate, finally in the Great Family into which you were born, among the Stars and Galaxies…

As always, let me know your thoughts and comments, and uses of the Death card in your own practice and thoughts about divination in general…it’s a real ‘trigger’ card, of course, and I’m keen to know more about your own process, especially with clients… 🙂

Death is the Apex of the curve of the Snake Life:
Behold all opposites as necessary complements and rejoice…

~ Aleister Crowley, ‘The Book of thoth’

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