Tarot cards and, more recently, oracle cards are outstanding tools for psychological and spiritual work. Each year they become more and more a part of the common vernacular and readily available in mass-market venues, especially the online retailer, Amazon. The number of decks available in and out of print is mind-boggling, easily in the thousands, especially if you go do a search for decks on eBay.
Once shrouded in mystery and a “tool of people with questionable character, dark intentions, or acolytes of heathen beliefs”, tarot and oracle cards are enjoying widespread, if still hesitant acceptance. In this article, I will write about one of the most challenging cards to draw and face Death.
78 Archetypes to Awareness
When people seek me out for a reading, they will often ask me, “what are tarot cards and how does tarot work?” Over time I have developed a consistent response, which is, “each tarot card represents a common archetype of the human experience. All 78 cards are happening in your life right now, in one way or another. When you sit down and draw cards for a reading, you are ‘bringing to light or awareness’ specific archetypes for you to think about at the moment.”
Life is a constant ebb and flow of positive and negative experiences, in varying degrees of intensity. The Two of Coins or Two of Pentacles represents daily change, the normal flow of energy moving to make things happen in life. The Death card represents a dramatic transformation through a profound ending, which will create space for a significant new beginning.
The cards of the Minor Arcana represent the processes we experience with our emotions (Cups), our thoughts (Swords), material actions (Coins/Pentacles), and our creative or spiritual actions (Wands). The cards of the Major Arcana represent major life energies and events: The Fool is the experience of life itself, The Magician represents the most significant decisions we make in our life journey, The High Priestess represents the hard lessons we have to go through to grow spiritually, and so on.
The Death Card
One of the most powerful change cards is Death, which represents a significant ending; something that needs to be “put to rest”. In some decks, the card will also represent rebirth, which acknowledges the cycle of life as one where the old dies off to make way for the new.
Depending on our life circumstances we may be dealing with actual death, of someone, but most often we get this card when we have to face the death of a relationship or a job. Death can be a slow, lingering process or sudden, but it always brings a message of finality. In the majority of readings, most clients know what the card signifies in their lives but want to resist the letting go that eventually follows the death issue/moment.
While Death can represent an event outside you that you have to deal with, it can also represent you as the “harbinger” of Death; you may know you actually need to facilitate the end of a situation or relationship. In the many representations for this card, there is often an issue of judgment about the life lived, the death that predators bring, or the life that death gives to carrion birds.
Death is all the experiences in life since “death” is there from the beginning. When it finally arrives and completes the cycle, it can be over the course of a long period of time or “in short order” when something in our relationship or situation changes to accelerate an ending.
Receiving Death in Your Reading
No two ways around it, this card is not easy to face, which may be why it is situated in the middle of the Major Arcana. Its placement is important because it is not considered the card at the end of the journey, but rather an aspect of the journey that the Fool must address, over and over again, until he comes to peace and understanding about the card’s meaning and lesson.
If you receive this card in your reading, do your best to wait to hear and process the interpretation. It is okay to be fearful since you know that there are many relationships and situations we would like to persist. But the hard part of the card is knowing where in our life it does apply and how appropriate it is most likely to be.
Like the Tower, Lovers, and Fool cards, this card is one that immediately forces you to take notice and address whatever it represents or could represent in your life journey. The more Death moments you face and navigate, the better you can become at dealing with the future ones that will inevitably show up.
Reading the Death Card for A Client
If you happen to be a professional or practicing reader, who reads cards for others, then you definitely want to train yourself to be ready to address this card in a helpful way for the client. Most people who have just the vaguest of notions about Tarot cards will usually say, “I just don’t want to draw the Death card”. Often, when I am reading in public, I will select a deck that has the essence of the card without the obvious keyword, Death, as you can see in the Wildwood card above that is The Journey.
Death is the archetype for profound transformation that cannot go back. Often a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis is another representation. The caterpillar can become the butterfly, but the butterfly cannot become the caterpillar. Once death has happened, there is finality in the change.
If they tell you that life is currently smooth sailing (Temperance), then you need to ask them what could be dying if they look more closely at the situation. Is their job decaying? Has something in your spirit died to create space for new energy? Is there a significant illness? You cannot prevent death, but you can have strategies in place to help you through the loss and grieving process.
Death, like any Major Arcana card, calls our attention to the significant and serious moments of our lives, and the better and more willing we are to face this card, or the other Major cards, the better we will enjoy and appreciate our life journey.