This is the sixth post in a series on the creation of Divination’s setting and magical universe as defined by the tarot. The first post in the series is Making a tarot-defined setting, and you can find the entire series linked at the bottom of each entry.
The Shivering Road (Death)
Direct Source: The Tower (Channeling)
Upright: Healthy Abandon
Artists who have touched the Void—died—and returned to the Solid Plane changed; with strange new gifts for eluding destruction and causing it, too.
The Way of total transformation, marked by the experience of dying, or coming as close to it as a soul possibly can. Artists on the Shivering Road have had a glimpse of the Void, and have been fundamentally changed for it. The Immortals of this Road sidestep death and aging entirely, taking on forms that obey entirely different rules than the ones that shaped them before they touched the Void. These Artists are the furthest removed from the burdens of living, and find themselves capable of harnessing the destructive power of entropy itself, a gift of this Road’s Source, the Tower.
One of the first things everyone learns about the Death card is that it doesn’t mean death, it means transformation. That doesn’t stop it from coming up in every movie about witchcraft.
While a lot of the Road of Death—The Shivering Road—is still being written, some of its elements are among the oldest of my creations in Divination.
While all the other Roads would show themselves in symbols and in urges, I always pictured one Road that forced things down the same Road we’re all walking all the time: the Road forward in time, the one that leads from birth to death.
That Road would lead to a place (or I suppose a non-place, really) that I think we all know in our hearts is very real: the Void. True death is obliteration, and the Void is that; the emptiness you and me and everything is eventually destined to enter into.
An Artist in our world might walk that Road and not be drawn fully into the Void—maybe that’s the nature of their Third Eye opening.
I envisioned a rope bridge suspended over the largest pit in all of creation. One thin reprieve for some lucky few souls whose destinies took them over it and allowed them to get caught, and walk back to the solid plane. I envisioned that bridge constantly in motion, constantly shivering under the pull of the Void beneath it.
Every type of Artist we’ve created for the game so far is truly defined by the liberties they learn to take with the Roads we all are forced to walk, and so even this, the Road of Death, would have to work that way. That made me think of “immortality” of course, but I also wanted to try and make the Artists of this Road more interesting than that.
Would all Artists on this be immortal, like vampires? Or, like Tuck Everlasting situations?
And what would immortality cost, if offered? How would you settle up with the Void when you delay paying back the life you’ve been given?
The card depicts the Grim Reaper, and it felt like maybe there was something there: that you might have to serve in that capacity if you were allowed to subvert death. That perhaps the depiction on the card was of an Artist, and not just a skeleton on a horse.
The idea that immortality would lead to the talent of Channeling was one I had to arrive at by considering lots of options. I like the occult vibes of Channeling, and I liked that I could find ways to contrast it with Mediumship—which I associated with the Judgement card and felt was forming up nicely in relationship with the Road of Scale and Blade, associated with Justice—more on them in a future post.
I imagined a world full of spirits—both of the dead, and those made of the forces of our imaginations. Tarot seems to be full of both. There are dreams as depicted on Seven of Cups, and nightmares such as on Nine of Swords. Sometimes like on Four of Cups, the spirit is evident as a hand, nothing more than a force unseen.
These aren’t explicitly depictions of ghosts or spirits, but they’re images so iconic, they hearken to the idea of spirits.
So for an Artist who came so close to the Void they nearly lost themselves—perhaps such an Artist had room inside themselves for the spirits of the dead and the spirits of imagination.
Maybe they could manifest the kind of changes that bring down Towers—lightning, entropy, fire, and death itself—by letting that energy pass through the empty space inside them left by the Void. I could see them: Artists with one foot in the spirit plane and one foot in the solid plane, not human at all anymore. These were vessels. They could act as conduits for other things, with the vacancy they now embodied.
All of it has a cost, like every Road imposes on its Artists. Channeling costs what destruction always costs: you can’t put together the things you break with it.
But for these Artists, there would come greater risks than that. The risks of emptiness. The risk of lives lived too-long. The risk of minds which feel a constant pull of the Void they once eluded.
But nothing lasts forever, even these Artists. I began to see how they would miss the spirits they let into their bodies; miss the life and vigor they’d feel with the added force of another soul inside them. I could see how they’d also lose little bits of themselves constantly acting as a hotel for outside entities.
But the idea was too gonzo not to pursue, and it matched too neatly with Death’s promise of transformation. If you’re an Artist of Death, you do transformation so well, it suffuses your being. You literally become a force of nature when you do what Death does.
>> Read the next post in this series: The Crooked Road
Find the rest of the series here:
- Entry 1: Making a tarot-defined setting
- Entry 2: The Roads and Sources
- Entry 3: This game will teach you tarot
- Entry 4: The Road of Two Lands
- Entry 5: The Unwritten Road
- Entry 6: The Shivering Road (this post)
- Entry 7: The Crooked Road
- Entry 8: The Garden Road
- Entry 9: The Road of Scale and Blade
- Entry 10: The Road of the Infinite Loop
- Entry 11: Itinerant Artists
- Entry 12: The Esoteric Renaissance