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The Sign Scorpio: Death and the Scorpion

On October 23, the Sun began its month-long journey through Scorpio (the sign of the scorpion), which is assigned to the death card of the tarot. Scorpioís classical ruler, the planet Mars, is linked to the tarotís lightning-struck tower card, and its modern ruler, Pluto, is associated with the tarotís judgment card. The sign Scorpio belongs to the element water, one of the four elements described by the Greek philosopher Empedocles. The tarotís watery suit of cups depicts typical scenes from human emotional life.

The Scorpion: Death and Destruction

Western astrology has its origins in Babylonia, Chaldea and Egypt, where the scorpion was an arachnid to be feared. A brief review of the life of the scorpion quickly reveals why these stinging arachnids are associated with death, destruction, rebirth and transformation.

Scorpions can grow to be as large as seven inches long. They have six pairs of appendages. The second pair of appendages, which have large powerful claw-like pincers, are used to grasp and hold their prey while they use the first pair to rip apart their catch as they suck out its vital juices. The ancients eventually assigned the claws of the constellation Scorpio to the zodiac sign Libra, symbolizing the scales of justice and the bonds of matrimony. The remaining four pairs of the scorpionís appendages have pincers and are used for walking.

At the end of the scorpionís elongated body is a segmented tail with a poisonous stinger. Scorpions have two types of venom: a hemotoxin that causes swelling and pain, and a neurotoxin that can cause nerve paralysis and death. Mating consists of a courtship dance that culminates in the female accepting the maleís sperm, after which she often kills and eats her mate. Following a period of gestation, the female scorpion gives birth to her devoured husbandís offspring, completing the cycle of death and rebirth.

Mars and the Tower

The scorpion is a formidable foe, small yet powerful and potentially lethal. In astrology, the planet Mars is the warrior of the zodiac, so it is natural that Mars be associated with the sign Scorpio. In traditional astrology, Mars, the god of war, symbolized lightning, a favorite weapon of Zeus (Jupiter), king of the Olympian gods. Mars is also a phallic symbol, signifying penetration and male sexuality.

In the tower card of the tarot we see a phallic tower, presumably the tower of Babel, being destroyed by a bolt of lightning. The scorpionís sting is just as sudden and painful as being struck by lightning. In the tower card we see human arrogance being struck down by the venomous sting of an angry god, repeating the mythic theme of Zeus smiting his foes with the fire of heaven.

Pluto and Judgment

The Roman god Pluto (meaning ďthe rich oneĒ) is Hades, the lord of the underworld of Greek mythology. Hades figured prominently in the mystery religions of ancient Greece that celebrated the annual cycle of death and rebirth, recounted in the myth of the grain goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Using his chariot, Hades abducted Persephone to the Underworld. He returned her to life on Earth only after Demeter held Hades accountable for his actions by stopping the crops from growing and threatening the human race with extinction.

Most religious and mythological traditions speak of undergoing a judgment as one passes from this life to the next. Certainly the lives of Demeter, Persephone and the entire human race were radically altered by their contact with Hades and the descent into the underworld. In accord with the myth of Demeter, Pluto and the judgment card have come to signify radical transformation as one transitions from one phase of existence to another, whether literally or symbolically.

Questions Posed by the Death, Judgment and Tower Cards

The death, judgment and tower cards are all thematically linked. When any of them appears in a tarot spread, we must ask ourselves where in our lives do we need to ďdieĒ so that we may be transformed and reborn into a new level of existence. The death card tells us that we must give up what is outworn and useless in our lives. The judgment card instructs us to evaluate our deeds in light of our need for transformation. The tower card warns us that if we do not make necessary changes in our lives, then outside forces will make them for us.

Tarot Meditations while the Sun is in Scorpio

The period when the Sun transits through Scorpio and prepares for its sojourn in the underworld of winter is an excellent time to meditate on the tarotís death, judgment and tower cards, as well as the suit of cups of the minor arcana. Select a card and study its images. Imagine yourself as a character or element in the card. What are you thinking and feeling? What questions are you asking of the other characters in the card? What do they expect of you? What is the story that underlines the scene on the card? How does that story relate to your own life?

Further Reading

If you are interested in the connections between tarot and astrology, here are some books you may find useful.

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot by Rachel Pollack, Element Books.

Llewellynís 2000 and 2001 Tarot Calendars by Llewellyn Publications.

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Thoresons Publishing.

Tarot and the Journey of the Hero by Hajo Banzhaf, Weiser Publications.

Tarot Companion by Tracy Porter, Llewellyn Publications.

Tarot Plain and Simple by Tony Louis, Llewellyn Publications.


What is the Tarot?

The traditional tarot consists of 78 cards divided into 22 major arcana cards (greater secrets) and 56 minor arcana cards (lesser secrets). The major arcana cards depict 22 spiritual lessons in allegorical fashion. The 56 minor arcana cards are similar to a modern deck of 52 playing cards and consist of four suits containing ten pip or numbered cards plus four court cards in each suit. The most influential tarot deck of the past century, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, was conceived by Arthur Waite, illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith and published by Rider in 1910.



Anthony Louis is the author of Horary Astrology Plain and Simple and of Tarot Plain and Simple (Llewellyn Publications) and has also authored computer reports on secondary progressions and vocational astrology for Halloran Software. He has lectured internationally and has been published widely in astrological literature. He is a member of the Astrological Society of Connecticut and maintains the website of that organization at

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For more information about Anthony Louis, click here.

Other StarIQ articles by Anthony Louis:

  • Tarot and the Sign Sagittarius   11/28/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Libra   9/26/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Virgo   8/20/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Cancer   7/5/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Pisces   3/1/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Aquarius   1/13/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Aries   3/26/2001
  • Tarot and the Sign Capricorn   12/19/2000
  • Astrology Looks at a Skeptic   11/12/2000
  • Michael Shermer: Astrology Looks at a Skeptic   10/25/2000
  • Tarot and the Sign Leo   8/6/2000
  • The Mystery of the Student Deaths at the University of Georgia   5/17/2000

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