The Death Tarot Card Meaning
Of all the cards in the Tarot, Death is commonly feared by those unfamiliar with its meaning. It’s an understandable fear. Death is scary, but the thirteenth card in the Major Arcana isn’t used in such a literal sense. Often, it’s used to reflect an end of a cycle and the beginning of something new.
Illustration Credit: Sarah Regis
- Element: Water
- Planet: Pluto
- Astrological sign: Scorpio
- Key Dates: October 23 to November 22
- Yes or No: No
- Upright Keywords: Endings, Change or Transition, Letting Go.
- Reversed Keywords: Resistance to Change, Stagnation
VISUAL ELEMENTS AND SYMBOLISM
In the original Rider Waite tarot deck, Death is depicted as a skeleton dressed in black armor atop a white horse. The skeleton represents that which lives on after Death. The armor he wears shows his invincibility. It tells that nothing can stop Death, that he is inevitable. This messenger of Death carries a black flag with a five-petaled white rose. This flower represents immortality, while the number of petals represents change. The white rose and the white horse reflect purity as with Death, with the end of a cycle, one is purified.
On the ground in front of Death lies a now passed royal figure, along with a king, woman, and child, pleading with Death. He spares none. Death is inevitable and comes for all, regardless of social class, age, or anything else. All are equal in Death.
In the background, a ship sailing along a river can be seen. This scene references mythological boats that carry the souls of the Death to the afterlife, such as in Greek mythology with Charon on the river Styx. On the horizon, the sun rises between two towers, the same ones seen on the Moon Tarot. This imagery represents the sense of the sun dying and being reborn with each passing day.
Other versions of the Death card will show Death as the Grim Reaper, often carrying with them a scythe. In these iterations, the scythe tells of a time to harvest, whether in a literal or metaphorical sense. It reminds us that if we do not reap the fruits of our labor, they will perish come winter. So now is the time to move forward, thanking the efforts made in the past and using them to propel us toward the future.
THE DEATH CARD AS A PERSON
When representing a person in a reading, Death may be a person that is constantly changing and growing and wishing the same for you. They may be a risk-taker, a daredevil, or someone with a very open mind. This person might encourage you to try new things or helps you get out of your comfort zone.
At the same time, Death can also represent someone whose gone through, or is going through, great sadness but has, or is working on, learning from it and leaving it in their past. They know the pain and sorrow life can bring but know the greatest joys can also be found in it.
When Death is upright, it signifies that a cycle is ending and a new one is just beginning. It comes after The Hanged Man, a card of reflection and pause. After this moment of thought, you can see that which is holding you back and is no longer helping you. You can’t move on without it, and the cycle can’t start anew. One door closes, and another one opens. Overall, this is a card of change or transformation.
LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS
It can be frightening when you draw the Death card in a reading about love or relationships. You may think that it symbolizes the end of a relationship; however, that’s not always the case. Instead, Death can be a warning, a call out, to harmful behaviors hurting the relationship and not allowing it to reach its highest potential. In other cases, it can mean that the relationship has reached the end of its course.
If you’re not in a relationship, this card might tell you that it’s time to look at what’s holding you back from the love you desire. Is it a fear of rejection? Do you find yourself reaching for others that aren’t compatible with you? Now is a time to work on what’s holding you back and let it go.
When it comes to a career reading, Death is a warning. It tells us not to get too complacent with our current position. Change is on the horizon, and things are uncertain. Hearing this can be eerie when drawn in such context, so use this time to find new avenues and new beginnings and have them on hand. You may find that something better for you awaits.
However, you don’t need to jump head-first into a new job or career path. Death could also signify that your fear is holding you back from advancing and that you must let go of that fear. So, as you analyze your career and the possibilities and opportunities that await you, do whatever lets you continue to move forward. If that’s starting a new job, launching a new business, or staying in your current position, do so! The change will be positive.
Now is the time to watch your accounts closely. The winds are changing, and with it, your flow of money is as well. It may be time to look closely at your wants versus your needs. You may have to make some sacrifices to handle the financial changes, but don’t worry too much. Know that everything is a cycle, and this cycle shall pass. Ultimately, you’ll find that you’ve profited from what this cycle teaches you.
Don’t fret- when Death shows up in a health reading, this doesn’t mean you will die! Instead, it’s telling you it’s time for a change, or you’ll suffer the consequences. In a general sense, it may reflect that what you thought may have been good could be hurting you instead. So it’s time to take a step back, look at your lifestyle, and change what is hurting you.
Death, in reverse, tells us that change is needed, but things are holding you back from doing so, and more than not, the thing holding you back is you. Change is inevitable, and resisting it wastes time and energy. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Work on what needs working on, and you’ll find things improving.
LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS
While Death upright is a warning that things need to change for the good of the relationship, Death reversed is an immediate call for help. There are deep-rooted issues that need to be addressed lest the relationship fails. Both parties require a willingness to change and grow. If one isn’t willing to compromise or adapt, this match may not be the best. If you wish to continue this relationship, hard work will be needed, and it won’t be easy.
If you’re not currently in a relationship, Death is letting you know you have everything you need to get what you desire. It’s just going to take some hard work. Don’t blame others for your problems. What you need lies inside of you. Now is the time to work on finding it.
Where Death upright tells us to work on moving forward, Death reversed tells us to get on it! The time for change was yesterday! Perhaps you’ve been burned out, or every day at work brings anxiety. Either way, it’s time for a change. Job hunting is never fun, but it’s time to buckle down and get through it because the longer you refuse to change, the more run down you will feel. Don’t let the fear of failure or a fear of change stop you from making progress and having a better life. Whether it’s a change of jobs for pay or for something that brings joy to your life, now is the time to make that change.
Death reversed is not a card you want to receive in a financial spread. It tells us that a financial crisis is coming and coming quickly. It’s time to look closely at your finances and consider how to survive this change. Now is a pivotal time to look at your relationship with money. It’s easy to spend in this day and age, and retail therapy is a term you often hear. Now would be the time to let go of any bad spending habits you’ve developed and work on becoming more responsible with your money.
You may find that you are moving from one thing to the next rather than healing and recovering from one issue. It’s time to stop ignoring what is wrong and take action to improve, even if it’s an unpleasant or scary thought. Nothing will change if you don’t start.
YOUR PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
When Death deals with the past, it means that you have moved to a new phase in your life. One cycle has ended, and another has begun. Everything changes over time, and this is no different.
Death in the present tells us that change is on the horizon. Something is coming, likely positive, but it will come with little to no warning. As with all change, you may lose important things, but it will be for the better.
When dealing with the future, Death is a sign that it’s time to rethink how we view the world. The past is the past; tomorrow holds unlimited possibilities. So embrace the change of perspective and continue on your journey.
IMPORTANT CARD COMBINATIONS
Death, when by itself, is a story of new beginnings, rebirth, and an end of cycles. It encourages us to embrace change and leave behind what doesn’t serve us anymore. When read in combination with other cards, this meaning can change shape.
DEATH AND EMPRESS
When Death is paired with the Empress, it tells us that a painful change is coming. Something will end or change and hurt, but it will propel us forward in our personal growth. This is more commonly found in readings regarding home or family.
DEATH AND WHEEL OF FORTUNE
When the Wheel of Fortune and Death meet in a reading, it can reflect that you’ve cheated Death at least once. With the Wheel of Fortune card and Death, the notion of cycles is strong and reminds us that this luck can change. So be mindful of any reckless activities you plan to participate in.
DEATH AND TOWER
The Tower card and Death combined can be a fearful combination. Things are changing and are changing drastically. Your life will be unrooted, your foundations crumbling. You may very well find yourself at your lowest of lows. But don’t fret. Once you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
DEATH AND TEN OF PENTACLES
With Death and the Ten of Pentacles in the same reading, it can reflect a loss of inheritance or accumulation. When Death is upright, this change can be positive in the end, despite the unfortunate circumstances. However, when paired with a reversed Death, this loss may result from your inaction or refusal to change.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT DOES THE DEATH CARD MEAN IN TERMS OF FEELINGS?
The Death card represents a feeling of helplessness. The only thing in life that’s certain is Death; with that, one can feel helpless against it. You may find yourself aggravated by this feeling and spend time and energy wishing you could change that which cannot be changed. Now is an excellent time to learn that if you can do nothing, then there is nothing for you to do.
WHAT DOES DEATH MEAN IN TERMS OF SOMEONE’S INTENTIONS?
If the Death card represents what someone wants, it often means they crave freedom, a change from their current life. Something is holding them back and draining their energy, and they desperately wish to be rid of it.
IS DEATH A YES OR NO?
Both in the upright or reversed position, the Death card is a no. When upright, the no is because change is coming and unpredictable. Even when the change is positive, things can shift, and something we hold dear can be lost in the process. Due to this, the answer will be no.
When reversed, the answer remains no, but for different reasons. Not because of the unpredictable nature of change, but rather it is ourselves that are preventing us from moving forward. Things block our paths ahead, and only we can remove them. Until this is fixed, the answer will be no.