Heal & Harm | Getting permission to die

Heal & Harm is a new no-bullshit column released every two weeks to honour the full and new moons, affirming the old as hell phrase “a witch who can’t harm can’t heal” and oscillating between summoning good vibes and releasing pain.

content note: this post talks about death in a metaphorical way and may be triggering to anyone with self-harm tendencies or suicidal ideation

It’s here! We welcome the beauty and power of the full moon, and ready ourselves to finally kick off the first fully springtime month of April.

March is often a month full of muck, at least for me: the transition from Pisces to Aries can often be a disjointed one. We move from watery energy straight into the fire, and move from the end of one astrological year into the beginning of another. It can feel like confusion and hubbub, conflict, too much pent-up energy over everything and nothing. We may take on too much stress about things that don’t matter, too little about the things that do.

So with this transition from winter to spring – and in the Northern Hemisphere, where I live in Toronto, April is when things actually begin to feel like spring – grey slush and piles of snow melt, brown craggy trees start to blossom and bud, showing signs of new life. In the midst of winter it can be hard to believe that growth can come from what appears so desolate, but every year spring shows us that our perseverance pays off. Days get longer and warmer, we again wake up to birdsong, trees become leafy canopies to shield us from too much sun, and we are able to let go of images of death because we are surrounded by new life.

Death! Death.

Though the Five of Cups makes my stomach drop, I actually love the Death card and never tremble when it comes up. It shows what happens when you come out the other side – though this card can allude to pain, there is also hope, and perhaps more importantly: transformation. Shift. Embrace liminality and transition. A reminder that loss is really just a change of state, movement from one space to another, and while the shedding of skin can be uncomfortable while it’s happening, it actually results in so much more freedom, less constraint, deeper breath. Fuller lungs. Sometimes we can only feel the true depth of our beings if we allow ourselves the space to transcend the comfortable, to go deep, to heave and scream and cry until we can’t. Untangle the emotions, and emerge, scathed, but reinvigorated, vigorous. Tired.

The Death card is an invitation to be with transformation, to exist at this time with an awareness of selves and things moving from one state of being to the next, from one to another, alive to dead to alive again, inert to moving to moving to moving to sleeping to still. Still here.

One of my favourite iterations of Death is from the Celtic Dragon Tarot, illustrated by Lisa Hunt. This deck was my first, nearly twenty years ago, and still to this day I am the only one whose hands have touched it. The card shows a white dragon inside a dark cavern, crying out in pain, reaching up to a shower of light coming from above, a call to the heavens. This is the allegory of the cave. The dragon’s expression appears pained, desperate; they are alone, coming into the light from the darkness, grappling with the pain and violence both of life and of new knowledge. When we learn, some part of us cannot help but die.

Despite any support from community, family, or friends, we ultimately must face our own selves and demons internally on our own. We can share our stories and be witnessed, comforted, held – but ultimately the work is ours to do. The learning is ours. Our ontology does – necessarily – shift. This is a holistic process, difficult but necessary. Stagnation is not sustainable.

This card reversed hints at a true need to fight any resistance and reluctance to let go of the (even recent and trivial) past, from as varied sources as family trauma to just a wide array of random bullshit from your day. The Death card can be about heavy shit, but sometimes it is also just about the letting go of whatever the fuck you need to let go – however big or small – and getting back to the basics of who you are and what your vision is. It can be as simple as a bad day or as complicated as repetition of unhealthy and maladaptive cycles in relationships.

Past elements may interfere with shiny new beginnings. So much needs to be released and integrated, and new paths committed to, in good faith and with hope. Always. This can be a daily process of death, release and renewal, or it’s something we can connect to on a monthly basis, maybe during the full or new moons of every month. Maybe it’s every first Monday. Whatever scale of connecting to these cycles works for you, it is crucial to make the time and space to connect with death. Even for just a moment, a breath. As simple as an inhale and exhale; little exorcisms we do all the time. What needs to go, and what can stay?

Cultivate an attention to change. How do you approach it? Are you getting in your own way and being the impediment to your own growth and transformation? Despite fears, despite discomfort: sit, jump. Be. Breathe.

I invite you to spend a moment during this full moon cycle (usually about 3 days: the day before the full moon, the day of the full moon, and the day after) reconnecting to the bare bones of who you are, despite it all – despite connections to others, traumas, past histories, accomplishments. All of that is not ‘you.’ Some of that stuff my have got stuck on your bones and fucked with you at some point, or maybe they helped you, and those things indeed may be part of you, part of your story, but they are not ‘you’ at core, at essence.

For me, the deck that best encapsulates the ‘stripping down’ back-to-basics aspect of Death is its incarnation in The Wild Unknown. We see a birdlike creature with hollow eyes, its skeleton mostly intact, feathers barely hanging on. This Death shows us who we are, bare bones. This Death reveals what is left when we remove all the chaff, let it drift away from us. What is left? Stark white bone in darkness, alone, solitary and powerful, weathered and weathering. Still here, just bone but bone is scaffold, it is ancestral memory, it is what is important. It is what is left, what will always be left. Death can be renewal. A commitment to our own tenacity. A noticing of effect and affect.

Some people may try to tell you who you are. Laugh it off. Let them see what they want to see, and exist in defiance and active shift, movement, transforming, in flux. They cannot pin you down. You be. Unafraid unabashed. Release blocks, even if it is hard. We can do this and create the life we dream of and deserve, but first we have to make space by cleaning house. Some parts of Death others can see, and other parts of this process are just for us. We are the only one who knows the full story, how each little death connects to the next, how each loss connects to the welcoming of new life. We can witness ourselves, and this witnessing is powerful, potent.

When Death shows up it asks us not to wait to be witnessed, not to wait for the validation from another for each step on your journey.

You do not need permission to let parts of yourself and your life go.

You do not need permission to die.

You do not need permission to live.

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  1. Caitlin says:

    Perfect. I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately, both metaphorical and literal. I am coming out of a disaster, and the self I was has died, and I am grieving her while birthing something new.

    Which is to say, I needed this today.

  2. Malobee says:

    Love this post, thank you. I have been stripping myself down to bare bones with my therapist, a process that is very difficult for me, so I feel like the timing of this couldn’t be more spot on. I am looking forward to meditating on Death this full moon cycle. <3

  3. Wendy Melvin says:

    This is one of the beat things I have EVER read. As Death is a frequent card for me, this writing is of such great value. Many thanks

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