Death & the Color Pie
Within the multiverse of Magic the Gathering death means many things and takes on many forms, it's a branching web of perspectives that are shaped by the five colors and their many combinations. It effects cultures, religions, and philosophies and in that way we aren't all that dissimilar to the mortal inhabitants of those very worlds the colors effect. It is an inescapable fact of our own lives and seeps into how we frame our very existence. So in this article I want to take you down the five core paths, in the hopes that we will discover how death effects each of the members of the color pie. An exercise in facing our own mortality to enable us to better understand the philosophies of the multiverse and the characters who inhabit them. Who knows, maybe we will learn a bit about ourselves along the way.
“Death is tyranny. Like all tyranny, it must be opposed”
- Tethmos High Priest
If Black is the color most comfortable with death then it is of no surprise that it's White who opposes it the most. Not just because of its implications on society, but rather from a moral standpoint. It will go to great lengths to preserve life and stave off death wherever it can. It cherishes the existence, of not just itself but others as well. This all boils down to White's desire to uphold others and to foster peace; in that way it sees death as the ultimate suffering and the denial of its core beliefs. Because of this we often witness white putting itself in harms way just to save someone from certain death, or laying its hands on others to heal and bring them back from the brink of its cold grip.
It is a color that cares deeply for life, for the prosperity of all, and in that way it sees death as the greedy peddler of misery. As it will take and take and leave nothing in return for the living, except a whole which can never be filled. Perhaps it is because of this hole that is left behind that White is the color to memorialize its dead most of all. As if the living must remain, if not in mortal form then at least in their memories facilitated through works that represent them. Statues are erected of great people, so that they may inspire hope in the living, long after they are gone.
Truthfully it's not just heroes who are given such rites either, to White such respect must be paid to the common folk as well. Graves are lain, stones or crosses at their heads, in a practice of providing peaceful rest to those who have died, and a place to mourn for those that remain. Life is a practice of finding joy through the pain and hardships of the day to day and in some ways this act of laying their cared ones to rest, is an act of finally providing some quiet in the after. Death in the eyes of white, is indeed an inevitability, but it is something that need not come to if it can be stopped, and if death comes knocking on your door then at least rest can be found in your passing.
“I can't see all that the future holds, but I can keep us one step ahead of death”
Blue views death as the end of progress, a finality that puts a stop to ones own interests and goals. In this way it should be avoided at all costs. Because of this Blue will often try and solve death, indeed trying to lengthen its own life indefinitely if it can, for how can one find perfection in total stillness. Blue is no fool though, it does not believe that even it is above death, but if it can be staved off Blue will try everything it has at its disposal to fulfill this end. You see, in this colors eyes, death provides nothing but a missed opportunity. This extends into the communities and relationships that Blue holds as well. So much is lost when a person moves on, knowledge forgotten, skills no longer put to use. A person can aim to teach all they have learned in their life but there is no replacing those who give this world so much.
This is the tragedy of Death in the eyes of Blue, a void left that is irreplaceable. Now this is not to say that death is nothing but tragedy there is something else there, something that does indeed draw Blue to it, a dichotomy of sorts. You see death is yet another question left open, a gnawing uncertainty that must be solved. In many ways, even if it is sure of its finality, Blue is still interested in the idea of passing through this existence in order to peer into what happens after. In reality it is the ultimate question of our existence, one that must be experienced to truly understand, and in the end isn't that the catch. Our minds wander to what death can mean and what happens after, but the only true way to find answer to this great question is to go there ourselves.
“”What is death?” he asked the raven. “Your next birth,” it replied”
Death and Black are intrinsically linked in magic the gathering, almost to the point of being over represented when it comes to the concept, with over two hundred cards which mention death in their flavor text for this color alone. This number becomes exponentially bigger when you look into all the other cards in Black that mention the dead, cause death through their effects or bring back the dead from their rest. Much of Black can be gleaned from its attitude towards death. It is willing to inflict it, eager to utilize it, but resistant when it comes to its own. The reason why Black is all to willing to inflict the final sleep upon others comes down to its desire to take the straightest path to its goals, and if there is ever anyone standing in that path they will rarely think much of the swiftest removal of that obstacle.
It is a color who does not think about the moral implications of its actions once it has made up its mind, of course this does not mean that it will just kill indiscriminately, but rather if it wants something bad enough it will not stop until it gets it, and if this mean the act of murder then so be it. On the other side of it Black does not see death as an end, as it's all to willing to utilize the dead for its own means. What good to anyone is a corpse, motionless in its grave, when it can be brought back to serve a masters goals. In this way Black is the main color when it comes to resurrecting the dead, as the dead are yet another tool that others pass by due to the moral implications.
To Black when morality is stripped away there is no barrier between death and life. Things change when death is pointed inward though, as most things are when it comes to such a personal color. Black will resist its own death, going to great lengths to preserve their own existence. If a pact with a demon will grant them eternal life they will take it, or any other manner of shady deeds which would preserve their time among the living. So fearful are they of losing their life that they will return in undeath if that is the only option. As to die would result in no longer acting out its wishes, and it will resist the stillness of death and all that it means at any cost. I often think of this quote in regards to Black and death, a quote born from the writings of a real life character who was very much Black aligned, Anton Lavey, who said,"Life is the great indulgence - death the great abstinence. Therefore, make the most of life here and now!".
“If you must die today, make your death worthy of legend”
- Alesha, Who smiles at Death
Death is inevitable, but that does not mean it has to rule our thoughts and take away from the present, at least in the eyes of Red. For if we fear death we may stop ourselves from experiencing life itself, as we would refrain from doing what our impulses ask of use when we stop to question its ramifications. One might think of this as some philosophical idea but the truth is far more simple, as red is the color of the present and focusing on the future is not what this color does, especially if it is something that cannot be avoided. In that way Red will push any dark thoughts about its final end outside if its mind so that it may focus on the here and now, finding joy in what is rather than fear in what will be.
If death is eminent, and its grasp is unavoidable, it will still holds firm to its ideals. Because of this, it then is the color who will not go quietly into the good night, as they say, and will fight and thrash until its body no longer allows for motion. This is best visualized in the warrior's final stand, one who will go down in a blaze of glory, shedding any fear for anger. Red is the burning flame that shines bright in its life and goes out in the same combustion it came in through. Now things are a bit different when it comes to the death of someone Red loves, or cares for deeply. In many ways it would rather die itself than see those it holds dear suffer such a fate. Sure they are impulsive and rash but the love of Red is the envy of many colors in its passion. In this way Red will throw itself on the coals for another rather than see them burn, and if they do see them pass, they will morn with a great intensity.
“Krosan druids do not fear death, for they know that nature will only prosper from their passing.”
- Invigorating Falls
The dance between life and death is one of perfect balance, as it is no more than the two states of being. No one outweighs the other and both are as inevitable as the another. These are the simple facts that no living thing can deny, so in that way Green does not fear death, it accepts it as it accepts all things. The only aspect of death that displeases this color is a wasteful one. A death that comes for any living thing before its purpose or destiny has been fulfilled. Why cut down a tree if its oxygen fuels us, unless that tree can then provide in its passing, not consumption for its own sake, but the prosperity of another life, its limbs crafted into a cradle for an infant, fresh and wide eyed.
Green will always favor growth over decay and will do what it can to foster life, but if a death can grant or sustain another life it is acceptable. When it comes to the death of one that Green holds dear then the passing will be treated with ritual. They will prepare the soul and body for its transition. This can take many forms depending on the culture, but the result is the same. All will come together to enact the proper rites that have been passed down from generation's long gone themselves.
Through such actions those that pass are not completely gone, Green will hold on to the words of their ancestors and ask for their guidance, for through passing into the next plane there is a grander perspective granted to those who have experienced both states of being. Green sees all who pass on as remaining among us, surrounding the living, not fully here but never completely gone. It is not a memory but rather a pantheon of loved once watching overhead, imbuing the land with their spirit.
Whether death is on our mind, or we have experienced the passing of one we love, it is an aspect of our life we cannot escape. Everyone's outlook on the subject has subtle effects on who we are and are reflected in our own philosophies. It pays to discuss this topic framed by the color pie even if it can bread fear, for if we can peer into the eternal darkness, eyes steady, we will find answers, and understand, not just the characters of the multiverse, but ourselves as well. So I ask you which color or colors reflect your own views on death, and how has it shaped by your outlook on life?
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