The Death Tarot card does represent death, but usually not literal, physical death. It generally means an inner transformation that will forcefully end old relationships. You have to cut cords and ties. You have to free the parts of you that are imprisoned from their bonds.
This process brings pain because such huge changes inevitably involve loss, and thus it often brings feelings of sadness, melancholy, and depression. By being open to these changes, you are already halfway towards victory. The harder you cling to the old, the harder it is to accept Death.
Like the Phoenix who flies out of the ashes, the energy from a breakup, a loss, or a separation will generate changes and transformations in your life.
This card’s spiritual message teaches us that destruction is necessary for transformation. Creation is constantly in motion. Every seed that grows will eventually die, and in its place, a new seed will grow.
Read on to discover symbolism of the Death Tarot card and its meaning in the upright and reversed positions in terms of love, health, work, and money.
The Death Tarot Card and Numerology
The Tarot cards are numbered, and their numbers form a part of their meaning. 13 is an irregular number, and it is often considered unlucky. Yet, it is only unlucky on the material plane. We learned in The Hanged Man that 12 represents the fullness of humanity. However, that is not completely accurate. There is actually always a 13th that is outside and apart from the rest. In Christianity, there were the twelve disciples, but there was also Jesus. In Judaism, there were twelve tribes, but actually, the tribe of Levi was set apart for the priesthood, and in practice, formed the 13th tribe. (The tribe of Joseph was split in two). So, 13 represents that which is outside of the ordinary realm.
The number 13 can also be seen as 1+3, or 4. As we saw with The Emperor, 4 is the number of full manifestation. So Death is both outside the world and fully manifested within it. This paradox is quite fitting for the Death Tarot card.
Death is also associated with the zodiac sign, Scorpio.
Keywords for the Death Tarot Card
- Deep changes
- End of a situation or friendship
- Loss of income or financial security
- Slow changes
- Danger of accidents
Imagery and Symbolism of the Death Tarot Card
The Death Tarot card has very dense symbolism. It shows a skeleton dressed in armor. This implacable knight rides on a white steed, the color of purity, wearing a black banner, which indicates the absence of light. There is a Mystic Rose on the flag that is a symbol of resurrection, beauty, purification, and immortality.
At the horses’ feet, a king’s corpse appears on the floor, defeated, dead. It indicates the inevitability of death and that we are all equal in the face of it. Your status, money, age or race do not matter. The king’s corpse also demonstrates the absurd struggle of the ego against the inevitable. In the end, the king dies just like everyone else.
A gray and clear sky announces uncertainty before future events. Death will visit us all, sooner or later. In the background, you can glimpse the Forbidden City, wrapped in the light of a shining sun full of hope because it is a sign of immortality. The sun seems to “die” every night, but it is reborn every morning.
The city is the final destination of the road that began with The Fool, Trump number 0, and is depicted more closely in The Moon. There are some who say that this could be the world of the dead; others say that it is Jerusalem.
The Bishop, damsel, and child
Returning to the main scene, the Bishop prays, but to no avail for him, the damsel, or the child. No matter how innocent, pure, or pious we may be, at some point, we will all suffer the same fate as the King. The Bishop represents faith in the divine plan, and he is facing death with the security of knowing that it is a preliminary step to on the road to spiritual awakening.
The maid is somewhat hesitant to face reality. She turns her pure face as if wanting to ignore the change that is coming. She is slightly afraid of facing death, but she won’t fight against it, as the monarch did. On the other hand, the child, with complete innocence, surrenders to death. He even greets it with flowers, for his curiosity is stronger than his fears.
The river is also of great importance. It represents the constant change and fluidity of life. Is this the Acheron River that leads to Hades that Dante wrote about in The Divine Comedy? Is Charon the ferryman of the ship? All we can do is to prepare to accept the changes that are coming. Once you’ve stepped through that door, there’s no turning back…
The Lessons of the Death Tarot Card
When we look at the Death Tarot card, we seem to have stumbled upon evil personified. With a skeleton on the back of a horse, and a dead man on the ground, there’s not much else to say, is there?
However, it is not as bad as it seems. The Death Tarot card is really about transformation, reminding us we must be willing to let go of the past to embrace new opportunities. The skeleton represents what will remain after death, and his armor teaches us about what is invincible and cannot be destroyed. This symbolism challenges us to see beyond death as we know it and to focus on our ability to reinvent ourselves.
The beauty of destruction: Death, the only path to resurrection
“Death is the only certainty in life.” No phrase can summarize it better. On the other hand, death does not have to be seen only as a loss of bodily functions. Death is the only path to resurrection.
Almost all religions and spiritual traditions teach that there is something beyond the material world, such as Heaven or Nirvana. As such, the goal of life is to transcend the physical. In order to do so, we must let go of our attachment to the worldly pleasures and pains of this life.
There are many ways to die, and growing up is one of them. The constant change towards maturity, which leads to death at the end of our days, also brings the excitement of recreating new versions of ourselves at each stage.
We must overcome the fear of death and change by accepting it as a part of life. In the Marseille Tarot, Death is often presented even without a name or with only a side reference. We don’t even want to mention it. Death is inevitable, though, whether we want it or not. We cannot, and should not, escape.
How to Interpret the Death Tarot Card in a Reading
The Death Tarot card has great significance in the Major Arcana Trumps set. When appearing in its upright position, it indicates imminent changes in your future. These can occur in almost any aspect of your life, but they will surely be permanent, significant, and absolute. Death suggests a complete separation between the past and the future and will most likely be sudden and painful.
Despite the sense of loss that may accompany it, Death fulfills a natural and essential role in life. It is necessary to keep moving forward, understanding that changes are more manageable if you accept them rather than fighting against them. When Death pays a visit, some of the possible interpretations are the end of a close friendship, a job, a marriage, or even a life in the literal or symbolic sense.
On the other hand, when the Death Tarot card appears reversed, it loses all the positive interpretations that it had when upright. Its central message, however, lies in the difficulties that occur when we fight change. A change will happen, though, whether we like it or not. As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This is one of the lessons of Death, and any time he comes, he marks a significant change in our lives.
The Upright Position of the Death Tarot Card:
The Death Tarot card indicates that the time has come to face a definitive break with the past. There is a new beginning ahead.
Yes, this change can be traumatic if we fight it. It can also be a desired or accepted transformation.
There are occasions that this card indicates the death of a person or a severe illness. Even when this is the case, however, it is not necessarily about the person asking the question, but it could be a person who is close and dear to them. On the other hand, unless there is a very good reason to think that this card does mean literal death, such as the presence of a known terminal illness, one should not interpret it in that manner.
The most usual interpretation of the Death Tarot card is that there is a coming change our circumstances, such as moving, leaving a job, or ending a toxic relationship. This change will be dramatic and may difficult for us to accept
In all cases, it means the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new one.
- Positive changes in romantic relationships
- For singles: a new love will appear
- Changes in lifestyle
- New beginnings
- Recovery from illness
- Positive health changes
- Positive changes
- Developing new ideas or projects
- Increase in salary or job
- Excellent support from coworkers
- Good time for investments
- Luck in the game
The Reversed Position of the Death Tarot Card:
The Death Tarot card reversed is usually not about “life,” but about something that hinders transformation or change. We may be postponing a situation we need to overcome. It could also be that a change that we believe to be imminent and necessary won’t happen just yet.
We will have to continue living with our ghosts and problems. There won’t be a new birth until we accept the change, and even then it will be preceded by pain. We must examine whether the cause of this situation is our passivity or pessimistic vision of the future.
In short, Death reversed may mean a painful situation of change that we do not want to face.
- Sudden changes in the couple’s relationship
- Changes in attitude towards marriage and living together
- Small crisis or health problems
- Slow recovery from illnesses
- Need to change jobs, to innovate
- Need to change your attitude, improve your skills, or work harder to be considered for a promotion.
- Significant losses of cash
- Bad investments
- Avoid lending money because it won’t be paid back
Rider-Waite images used with permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT c. 1971 by U.S. Games Systems.