The Tarot Death card meaning in a nutshell:
A costly loss
- sometimes, but not always,
the death of someone.
Death is, no doubt, the most terrifying of the Tarot cards to get at a reading. Therefore, guides to the Tarot usually point out that it's not necessarily about death, but some significant loss, change, or revelation. Well, it's about death, too. That's part of life.
I've had Death appear just a few times in my Tarot readings, but in those cases it has proven to be about real death, or at least something almost as sinister. Not my own death - yet - but one happening in my surroundings or the surroundings of the person I did the reading for.
We have to respect the simple fact that life has its horrors. Therefore, so do all methods of divination. If we want to peek into the the future, everything isn't going to be good news. We have to prepare for that, before trying any system of divination.
Just looking at the Tarot Death card gives a hint of its grimness. Death on a white horse, black flag in hand, people mourning beside a corpse. The bishop, too, indicates that something definite and shocking has happened. It could be the scene after a battle, or an accident, or a plague ravaging the country.
But the sun in the background of the Tarot Death card image reveals that life will go on, anyway. The child on the picture gives the same message.
Death is part of life. We're born, so we will die one day. Although it's the very first rule of existence, it's the most difficult one to come to terms with. That's why we tend to be shocked when death appears - in our lives, or as a card in a Tarot reading. It's as if we pretend it can be escaped by being ignored. But the only way of learning to live with it is to accept it.
That said, the Tarot Death card is not always about physical death, although that can be the case. It can also indicate a drastic change including a costly loss, a painful farewell, and things of that kind. It's sure to be difficult and the change is lasting. The situation after this event is quite different and will not be reversible. So, it's always a death of sorts.
Death catching a pedlar. Illustration from Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1526. Portraying Death as a skeleton started in the 15th century and soon became the norm. Artist around that time made many such pictures, with the basic message that nobody escapes death.
A. E. Waite's Texts
13. Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.
About the Tarot Death Card
The Inner Symbolism of the Tarot Death Card
The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.
There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.
Divinatory Meaning of the Tarot Death Card
End, mortality, destruction, corruption also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects. Reversed: Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.
The Tarot Major Arcana
- The Magician
- The High Priestess
- The Empress
- The Emperor
- The Hierophant
- The Lovers
- The Chariot
- The Hermit
- Wheel of Fortune
- The Hanged Man
- The Devil
- The Tower
- The Star
- The Moon
- The Sun
- The World
- The Fool
This book by Stefan Stenudd presents an imaginative reading of the divination cards, i.e. focusing on what impressions the images and their symbols give. Several spreads are introduced, as well as the meanings of all the 78 cards and their pictures. Also, it gives many examples of symbolic and allegorical imagery within and beyond the Tarot. This book will help you find your own intuitive way of making inspired Tarot card readings. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.