Updated date:

The Death Card in Tarot and How to Read It

Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.

The Death card isn't meant to scare you. It's about sudden change. New chapters. Rebirth. Walking through to the other side. The card is just as much about beginnings as it is endings.

The Death card isn't meant to scare you. It's about sudden change. New chapters. Rebirth. Walking through to the other side. The card is just as much about beginnings as it is endings.

Understanding the Death Card in Tarot

This card gives people a minor heart attack when they see it. The most important thing to keep in mind: the card doesn't foretell an actual, physical death. The Grim Reaper isn't hiding in a corner, and he won't let you know the day that he'll take you to the resting place of souls.

Important Things to Keep in Mind:

  • The Death card is more about endings and beginnings.
  • The card is dramatic because it's trying to get your attention.
  • Don't leap to conclusions. The card could be telling you exactly what you need to hear.

Keep Calm—Serenity Now

The Death card is associated with goodbyes, parting of ways, graduations, projects ending. Rarely is it about a mortal ending.

The card may suggest an end to an old way of thinking. You may be shifting in your thoughts and becoming a new person. Maybe your hardcore Christian thoughts no longer serve you. Perhaps your agnostic ways put you in limbo, and you're tired of feeling stuck.

You may no longer agree with the way your industry works. You may question your education. You're having a reckoning with reality, and this could help you find enlightenment.

Death Appears in Sequence With the Hanged Man

Death is the 13th trump in the Major Arcana. The card usually depicts the Grim Reaper, and when used for divination it signifies a major change. Death comes after the Hanged Man, which represents limbo. The Temperance card comes after Death.

Some decks refer to the Death card as, "The Card with No Name." This helps people to see beyond the card and not think of literal death. Other decks call it "Rebirth" or "Death-Rebirth."

Description

The Grim Reaper rides a pale white horse. He wields a sickle or scythe. The people in the card are dead or dying. The people come from every class: peasants, kings, bishops, knights. No one can avoid Death.

In the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, the skeleton carries a black flag with a white rose emblazoned on it. In the background, there are two towers. There is a sunset.

  • The rose is used as a symbol for Christ and his suffering. The flower has five points, which represent the five wounds of Christ.
  • The card isn't as colorful as others. The light is fading. Death acts as a mute button.
You cannot resist or runaway from Death, at least not forever. If you resist Death, you may become Death to yourself: you'll be stuck, catatonic, forever sleeping, forever dreaming.

You cannot resist or runaway from Death, at least not forever. If you resist Death, you may become Death to yourself: you'll be stuck, catatonic, forever sleeping, forever dreaming.

Card Alignments

Upright

End, destruction, mortality, failure, breakup, loss of a benefactor, divorce, end to old thought patterns, major setbacks, change, major contrast, contrariety, corruption, division, transformation.

Reversed

Sleep, lethargy, petrified, somnambulism, hope destroyed, rigidly holding onto old thoughts, cynicism, avoidance, cowering, oppression, long wait, no healing, stuck.

Associations and Different Versions

  • The Death card is associated with the planet Pluto.
  • The Death card has associations with Scorpio. The sign rules over Halloween, All Saints' Day, and the Day of the Dead.
  • In the Mythic Tarot Deck, Hades appears on the Death card.
  • In the Star Spinner Tarot deck, Death is depicted as Nyx. She holds her child, Thanatos. He was the personification of death in Greek mythology.

Scorpio and Death

Scorpio is the first sign of the zodiac to come into contact with death. The signs Aries through Libra are too young to fully understand death. They resist it. Scorpio's encounter with death adds new awareness into the zodiac cycle.

Scorpio embraces death. The next four signs are a commentary on their relationship to death.

  • Sagittarius tries to live a life of fun, risk, and intrigue. Since death is right around the corner, then the party must go on!
  • Capricorn resists death. They are considered the survivalists. They're conservative and smart with their resources. Their goal: to live as long as possible.
  • Aquarius questions whether death is truly the end. Aquarius dreams of a utopian place where people can be themselves without pain. Aquarius spends her life searching for this.
  • Pisces has achieved the highest level of wisdom. She knows and understands that death is inevitable. She also knows there is more on the other side. She trusts there is a higher realm. She understands that sacrifice is necessary for new beginnings.
The Death card in Tarot indicates that you are about to enter a new chapter. You may have to say goodbye to friends as you travel the world. You may have to leave one job for something better. You have to keep moving forward.

The Death card in Tarot indicates that you are about to enter a new chapter. You may have to say goodbye to friends as you travel the world. You may have to leave one job for something better. You have to keep moving forward.

Symbols and Allusions

Skeleton

The skeleton represents the part of the body that survives long after the soul has left. Death is seen as the collector of souls. His work is chthonic.

Death doesn't necessarily rule the underworld, hell, or the like. He is like Mercury who helps souls travel to their end destination. Consider Death the original travel agent.

Armor

Death wears armor, indicating he is invincible. No one can bypass him. He is the greatest warrior of all. He is the master of fate. It is futile to try and trick him.

Death's rule is final. No king or queen can negotiate with him. Death's job is to keep the finite world in order. Death cannot enter the infinite realm.

Dark Colors

The dark colors in the card represent mourning. The dark colors add mystery. It's uncertain what will be on the other side. Sometimes we go through changes without really knowing the destination or end result.

We have to take leaps of faith. We have to trust the Universe because there is no other choice.

White Flora

The white rose on the black flag represents purification and beauty. It has five points: in Tarot, the number five indicates change.

As previously noted, the rose is a symbol in Christianity. It represents Christ's suffering on the cross. The number five represents his five wounds: the nail wounds on his hands and feet as well as the spear wound to his side.

Death isn't just about endings, but also beginnings. Death is part of a cycle of birth and rebirth. He is the master of transformation. With death comes resurrection.

Boat in the River

In the background, a boat floats down a river. This symbolizes the River Styx in Greek mythology. The river led to the underworld.

Sunset and Towers

The sun sets between two towers. Pillars and towers are in several Tarot cards. The towers represents change, transformation, the conscious and subconscious, and dualism.

Even though the sun is setting, it will rise again. You have to trust that life will find a way. Every important part of our lives goes through cycles.

The Death card comes for everyone. No one can avoid sudden change. The card doesn't necessarily indicate an actual, literal death. It more than likely is hinting at a transformation.

The Death card comes for everyone. No one can avoid sudden change. The card doesn't necessarily indicate an actual, literal death. It more than likely is hinting at a transformation.

Upright Death

This card scares people. Death in general scares people. However, this can actually be one of the more positive cards to show up in a reading.

The Death card symbolizes the end of a phase. You're realizing that something is no longer serving you. You're opening to the possibility of something new.

You must close one door before you open another. You need to put the past behind you if you want to step into the future. You can't stay in the same chapter forever.

When you let go of the past, you'll be able to embrace the present. You'll find it easier to come across new opportunities.

A Life Full of Farewells

Letting go of the past can be extremely difficult. It's hard to say goodbye to friends, it's hard to change careers, and it's hard to start having children.

Renewal and transformation are natural parts of life. Accept this and you will better handle change. Instead of resisting endings, try to visualize new possibilities. Allow yourself to build more constructive thought patterns.

  • If you're accepting of change, you'll be in a better position to address it.
  • Change can be cleansing.
  • Death clears a way for you to have more satisfying experiences.

The Death card is associated with sudden and unexpected changes. This card happens to everyone. All people will go through significant change.

  • The card may be acknowledging that you're dealing with sweeping change and cannot escape its effects.
  • The upheaval may be unwanted and painful, but it may allow for you to have new advantages.
  • If your life was built on unstable foundation then you must expect it will eventually crumble. All mortals will flirt with unstable foundations.

Life comes in chapters. Don't expect one chapter to last forever. Have gratitude for what comes to you. Develop temperance.

The Death card teaches you to let go of unhealthy attachments. It forces you to give up material possessions. The Universe is designed to bring you to deeper meaning and significance. The Death card is a representation of what the Universe must do for all people in order to help them get to their highest self.

The Count of Monte Cristo

One of my favorite books of all time looks at how a man has a beautiful future before him, but then it's taken from him in a conspiracy. He spends years in prison for crimes he didn't commit. He finds a way to escape and then makes his way to a secret treasure. He plots revenge on those who falsely accused him.

The Count has to deal with significant change in order to gain his position. He eventually lets go of his negative thoughts — the thoughts that inspired his rage for revenge.

The Death card was following him constantly, but he made the most of it.

The Death card isn't always a negative card. It sometimes is positive. It comes after the Hanged Man card. It is an answer to the conflict of the Hanged Man.

The Death card isn't always a negative card. It sometimes is positive. It comes after the Hanged Man card. It is an answer to the conflict of the Hanged Man.

Reversed Death

Reversed Death means you are resisting change. You might be reluctant to let go. You may be hiding from the truth. Maybe you're single and afraid to call that handsome person you just met.

  • You're carrying harmful viewpoints.
  • You're standing in the way of yourself.
  • You interfere with your chance to hold onto new opportunities.
  • Your life has turned stagnant.
  • You feel stuck in limbo.

In this way, the Reversed Death card is very similar to the Hanged Man. In fact, you're trying so hard to prevent change that you're actually hurting yourself. You've frozen your life. Because you're afraid of change you're refusing to live.

If the Reversed Death card appears, it's an indication that you need to let go of something. You need to free yourself up. If you don't allow the Death card to work its magic, you'll be fortifying yourself in other ways. You simply cannot resist Death, because when you try to — you'll end up playing the part yourself.

Mantras

Try the following mantras to help break your negative thought patterns:

  • "I embrace change in all forms."
  • "I am excited for my future."
  • "Hope fills my heart and guides me."
  • "Love grows with change."
  • "I am worthy to accept change."
  • "I am prepared to go with the flow."

The Reversed Death card indicates that you are going through massive changes on a personal level. You're transforming, but people don't necessarily see it with their own eyes.

You're releasing what no longer serves you so that you can make space for the new you. Draw another card and see if you can get an idea of what it is that you need to drop from your life.

  • Remove fears.
  • Let go of limiting beliefs.
  • Change your habits.
  • Consider what you eat.

Allow your personal transformation to take place. Allow yourself to go into the cocoon rather than resist it. The caterpillar can't stay the caterpillar forever. You eventually must take up your wings.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Andrea Lawrence

Related Articles