October - November 2001


One of the great mysteries of existence is where existence originated, and what happens when our own personal existence ceases to be. Both are attributes of life, or you could say that birth, life and death are all attributes of one another.

Cut off from nature as we so often are, and cut off from our own nature and from the cycles of the natural world, we forget this basic fact of existence. Though our scientists are pretty smart, we would appear to be losing the knowledge of existence faster than we're gaining it.

We all face death daily, both as a possibility and as a constant reality of letting go from one idea to the next, one experience to the next, one relationship to the next. As George Harrison and many other mystics have reminded us, all things must pass. To the extent that people are things, we're all on the same ride. Yet in order to be truly alive, one must be in a relationship to death, and willing to change, willing to release. Suppress that relationship and the willingness to grow, and we join the living dead. It is in this sleep of forgetfulness that most of our culture is now enveloped.

One place where knowledge is preserved even in dark times is the occult, a word which means hidden. The image above is of the Death trump from the Sacred Tarot, an ancient occult system of preserving knowledge, and of passing it along to initiates. This is the card associated with Scorpio, which is the sign representing the mysteries of birth and death, and the surrender to the process of release and creation.

The three symbols of Scorpio appear: the scorpion (lower right, according to Crowley, representing suicide where the strain of the environment is intolerable and the attacked element willingly subjects itself to change), the serpent (lower left, which represents the principle of male energy, the undulating lord of life and death, and change by the shedding of the skin) and the eagle (upper left, representing exaltation of life beyond solid matter).

The grim reaper appears, but he is, of course, you and me. We know this because he's the working end of the double helix of DNA that extends to the upper right, the chain of all life, extended by sexual reproduction and ending in death but really continuing eternally. This solves the mystery of how, associated with Scorpio, we have such mysteries as orgasm, conception, surrender, physical death and transformation. The money issues enter the picture because sex and reproduction are sold via marriage, which involves a dowry or a business deal, and because money changes hands via inheritance at the time of death. These issues were added on later.

But don't let the money aspect distract you from the deeper meanings of erotic surrender, surrender to the reproductive process, and the release of existence into what we call death.

We might think that these subjects fall together under the heading of Scorpio as a result of social science or philosophy, but there is a sex-death connection in biology as well. According to UCLA immunologist William R. Clark, in his 1996 book Sex and the Origins of Death, in order to have the many benefits of sexual reproduction (such as reproductive diversity), animals that reproduce sexually must eventually die. Each cell -- with the exception of sperm and egg cells -- is genetically programmed to end its life; in this way, the whole organism eventually dies. So in sexually reproducing animals, death is a necessity -- but it's also the form that immortality takes in this world, as we pass our genetic code down the generations.

Crowley's inclusion of the DNA helix is a little clue that this knowledge was known to the occult long before it was "discovered" by science.

But it gets more interesting. It was, says Clark, at the time in evolution when sexual reproduction entered the genetic coding that programmed cell death manifested as well. So if we seek mysticism or immortality in sex, this makes it fairly clear why.

Perhaps most interesting, Clark writes that it's when humans become sexually mature in their early teens that the process of programmed cell death begins on an individual level. So, in our genetic legacy, we carry a deep memory that sex and death have one cause and one effect. In our individual memory, we have the experience of programmed death beginning just as we are reaching sexual maturity, and thus contained in the reproductive experience.

In deep moments of surrender, what you might call Scorpionic sex, this blending of realities of sex and death is recalled instinctively. I believe this is why surrender in deep bonding so often throws us into crisis, and why death often becomes the subject matter of lovers who reach a real point of sexual intimacy.

We are now at the midpoint of Scorpio, known across the cultures and millennia as the days of the dead, or Samhain. This is the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, a time of surrender of the memories and experiences of the peak of the year, Spring and Summer through harvest; a time of darkening, change and inevitability. In many strange ways, this is a moment when the impossible is possible, and the often-unknowable mystery of being, and surrender to being, arise to meet us.