Skip to content

The Tarot’s No. 13

November 18, 2012

Initiation and the Tarot

The Tarot and the Change Called Death

What No. 13 really represents

by Madeline Montalban

Had you been an Initiate in an ancient Egyptian temple, and had come by degrees of learning to deeper understanding of occult laws, two further mysteries would need solving before you were allowed to take the next step to priesthood. These mysteries can be symbolized by the Tarot trumps that represent Death, No. 13, and the High Priest (or Pope), No. 5. Between these cards there is a web of even deeper mystery, which hints that to become No. 5 you must first understand the subject of this article, No. 13.

Certainly the priest-advocate had to endure a kind of symbolical death before he took his next step upwards. Of that we have no space to tell here, but must begin by making one thing clear. The ancient Egyptian attitude to death was unique. As a nation they built and planned not for life, but for death and the after-life. Death to them was no grim reaper, but a welcome visitor for which even the poorest Egyptian prepared. They actually had an arrangement somewhat similar to our insurance schemes, which ensured them of embalming and ritual burial!

Though most of the ancient Egyptian religion tended towards belief in reincarnation, the obsession with death and what lay beyond dominated the Egyptian mind above everything else. So when we come to consider what No. 13, or Death, really represents in Tarot divination, we must align our minds with ancient Egyptian thought, and regard death merely as a transition from one form of existence to another.

More often than not, when this card comes up in a Tarot reading, it does not imply the death of a person, but only a complete change of circumstance.

Matter in any form is indestructible; only its form can change. Things apparently completely consumed by fire combine in the atmosphere as chemicals, and so play their part in furthering new growth. They have not “died”, but have only been transmuted. It was this idea that lay at the root of the Egyptian belief that death was not the end of life, but the beginning of a new and better state; a mere laying aside of one fleshy envelope to await the donning of another, with a long-awaited rest on the “other side” (the Halls of Amenti) after judgement.

Where the ancient Egyptians differed from other schools of thought was in what went on in the after-life. They held that the mortal remains must be preserved until the soul was re-born, and that, until that re-birth, the soul (represented by the Ba bird) returned to the tomb from time to time to watch over the embalmed remains. (This belief accounts for many of the “Curses of the Tombs”; and who are we to say this is all nonsense?) Ancient Egyptian magic is powerful, as anybody who has studied it knows, and the mummies were held to be sacred and inviolate. Brave indeed must have been those ancient Egyptian tomb robbers – yet they existed!

Those who study Egyptology even a little soon discover that there is some subtle hieroglyphic connexion between death and “a house or dwelling place”. The Halls of Amenti were “The House of the Dead” wherein the gods dwelled with “resting” souls. In some early hieroglyphics the “state of death” and “a house” were represented by a similar symbol. In other words, death was a transition, but also a house.

It was not until I delved into certain obscure rituals that I discovered what I believe to be the connexion. In this I may be in error, but by describing what I discovered, and its methods, Tarot students may judge for themselves. While transcribing and puzzling over the hieroglyphs that represented death and the tomb or “house of the dead”, I found that if they were transposed, only a little, they read: “And there shall be a dwelling place.” I made a note of the symbols, hoping to get them checked by somebody who knew more about the subject, and then forgot it for a time.

Then, for no apparent reason, I became involved in all kinds of property deals. House agents rang me up (after months of waiting), offering me flats and houses at reasonable terms, and though I did not then need these offers, naturally I passed them on to home-hungry friends who did. The telephone calls became such a nuisance that I had to consider the occult law that says: “If a thing keeps happening – discover the cause.” Somehow, something I had done had stimulated this “rehousing situation”, and by process of elimination I arrived at the hieroglyphics.

Now, in studying Occultism, it does not do to accept a cause without proving it. To prove it involves effort, which is why no one who is pressed for time should study the deeper aspects of Occultism! Thinking it over, and naturally associating death with Saturn, whose gem is jet, and whose metal lead, I decided on a little experiment, bearing in mind that Saturn also ruled builders and buildings. In the hours when Saturn was in good aspect with certain planets, I fashioned molten lead into a ring, set with a square piece of jet; and again under Saturn’s good aspects I engraved the jet stone with the same hieroglyphics I had been puzzling over.

So far so good, but in this I dared not trust my own judgement. It is too easy to mislead oneself in “proving” an occult theory. So I rang up a friend who desperately wanted a flat, and asked him, would he wear the ring for eight days?

“It looks like a memorial ring,” he said. “What’s it supposed to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “That’s what I want to find out.”

Well, he was not the timid or superstitious type, so he put the ring on and promised to report anything extraordinary. By the end of the period I had not heard from him, so I went to him – and found him up to his neck in a removal!

“Sorry,” he grinned. “Nothing at all happened with the ring! I went to show it to a friend, though, and found he’d moved, and the landlord offered me the flat. I’m moving in today.”

Well, that little experiment might not have satisfied an Egyptologist, but it satisfied me that there was some occult connexion between Trump No. 13 (Death) and change of residence.

It was then that the whole thing became crystal-clear to me, as occult truths usually do when we have gone the long way round to find out what should have been obvious. Death is only a moving from one house (body or plane of existence) to another. Therefore, the symbols for one type of removal (death) can be used for another (rehousing).

It was this little experiment (and Occultism is full of them for the earnest inquirer) that led me to the untangling of one of the greatest puzzles provided by the Tarot in a spread. When Death shows up, and is not supported by other testimonies, what does the card portend? It is safe to say that it usually forecasts the passing of certain conditions; or even a removal from one place to another; or again, the ending of one thing to allow another series of events to begin.

Being a practical type of magical student, I made several other “house-getting rings” and lent them to desperate home seekers. By some strange coincidence, they soon obtained a house or flat! One thing leads to another, and it was not long before I found out the inner meaning of No. 5 in the Tarot, the High Priest who wears “the ring of power”, and what that ring was, but that must wait until next month.

At least my experiments had led me back full circle, to those words that were intoned over an Egyptian initiate before he faced the death-ritual, and before the priest’s ring was placed on his finger: “On the stone shall be graven the signs of given power, that they may serve as a key to open the doors of life and death.”

[Published in Prediction, July, 1957]

Miss Montalban ends by saying: –

I will answer readers’ queries, provided a stamped addressed envelope is enclosed. Readers should write to me c/o Prediction.

It is no longer possible to communicate with Miss Montalban as she passed on in 1982.

However, she left as her legacy the occult school she founded, the Order of the Morning Star. Details of her involvement with the school may be perused at

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: