Beginings, endings, changes, transformation and transition
Stagnation, resistance, inability to change
Description of Rider-Waite-Smith
An armoured skeleton rides towards a group of people on a white horse, bearing a flag with a white rose on a black field before him. Beneth the hooves of the horse is the body of a king dressed in ermin robes, before him one dressed in the regalia of a priest. Besides the priest is a weaping peasent whilst gambling amongst them all is a small child, filled with glee. The rider is calm, unmoving and implacable, riding towards a new dawn with his tidings of transformation and new beginnings.
Rider on a Pale Horse
The skeleton is an instantly recognisable symbol of death, and the colour of the horse, the rose and his bleach white bones echo the purity and calm sometimes associated with the state of death, but as a memento mori the skeleton is also a reminder of the life beyond life. Death is not an end but rather a new beginning, whether that be in relation to a life or a situation.
The king lies trampled, because for all his power and wealth he has no say over the King of Death. The priest attempt to interceed with death but this is futile and he will soon be carried under by the relentless gaite of the horse. The third figure weaps in terror at the sight of death for they have no abilible to influence or avoid him. The only figure that accepts the presence of death is the child, who in his innocense recognises the joy in transformation that is being heralded. The figures remind us that in this situation we should not try to oppose, reason with or bewail the change that is to come but accept it for the joy that it might bring us.
The scene in the background also gives insight into theme of new beginnings that lies behind the death card. Behind the figure of death is laid out a river, upon which two boats journey. Beyond the river are twin towers and rising between them is the brilliant sun at sunrise. The theme here of new beginnings and the journey that we must undertake to achieve them. The sunrise also indicates that despite the ending that Death brings there is a bright future at the end of the transformative journey.
The Death Card of the Arcana
The Death card of the Arcana predominantly depicts a skeletal horse carrying a scythe in their hand. Behind him is the sun rising into the darkness, illuminating his black and white visage. Rather than being the pale rider death is the horse itself, but all the same association remain. The figures may be gone but the scythe as the symbol of the reaper reminds us that Death implacably gathers the souls of men regardless of their station and influence. The sun in the background is all that remains to remind us of the transformative element of the card, with a new dawn backlighting the figure of Death.
In the game the Death card is represented by Valdemar, a medical doctor and member of the Court under Lucio. As a doctor dealing with a virulent magical plague Valdemar’s affinity with death might be understandable to a point but they seem to take a perverse delight in the tragedy occurring in Vesuvia. Valdemar represents the reversed qualities of death, interested in only the mechanics of bring about death, and if there is pan and horror involved so much the better. They have no interested in bringing about a true cure, and are complicit with the plans of Lucio and the Devil throughout. Within the game it is acknowledged that this is a perversion of the spirit of the Death card, who is shown to have been entirely overpowered by the will of Valdemar.