The death tarot card represents a concept that many people dread and try to avoid. Few are those who deliberately seek to die. This is such a scary concept that in one of the earliest tarot decks to reach a wide audience, the Marseille deck, this major arcana was deliberately left without a name.
What does the death tarot card mean?
Wearing dark plate armor and riding on a pale horse, the traditional representation of death (a grim skeleton) is riding forward, banner in hand, in front of a field. Before him, several victims or potential victims can be found, coming from various social classes (a bishop, a king, a commoner, a child).
However, when paying attention to the details of this morbid tableau, you can find a rising sun on the horizon, and you see that the large banner held in the pale reaper’s hand (on the classic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot) is emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, an occult concept that is a symbol of life.
While in certain context, and in association with other minor or major arcana connected to loss or despair, the meaning of the death tarot card can be as literal as its name, usually it has a far more positive meaning and should be read accordingly.
Indeed, the death tarot card often represents a figurative death, the end of something that gives way to something else. The death tarot meaning is change, transition, a movement from one state to another. It represents leaving something behind to move on to something else, usually better. The lesson taught by death in tarot is one of positive entropy.
The death tarot card is far more negative when it appears reversed in a tarot reading. However, the reversed death tarot meaning is not literal death either, but rather the opposite of the positive forces of transition and change mentioned in the normal reading of the death major arcana. Reversed, it often means a state of inertia, stagnation, or lethargy. A situation in a virtual deadlock. It is a warning that upholding the status quo in a bad situation is often more detrimental in the long term than to suffer loss in the short term in order to move on to another, better situation.
The Fool’s Journey
Having learned how to let go and move in harmony with the world instead of ignoring it, the Fool encounters a form of self-renewal that can be found in the Death tarot card. This is not the literal death of the Fool, or any of their acquaintances, but rather the sign of some kind of ending, the last moments of a cycle.
Like in the Leonard Cohen song, the Fool learns that death is not the end, and that figurative deaths and endings often are nothing but signs heralding the birth of something new. This is where the Fool must learn that change is inevitable, but also that something coming to an end is not necessarily a bad thing. Everything that happens is nothing but a transition from one aspect to another.
The Death love tarot and meditation
Many people might be scared to see the death tarot card appear in a reading that focuses on love and relationships. And they should, in a way, but not for the obvious reasons. The life of the one they love is not at stake here, but the state of their relationship is. When drawn, the death love tarot means that the relationship in its current state is locked in a downward spiral and that something has to change in order to salvage the relationship.
Routine is often the beginning of the end for modern relationships, as effective as rust on metal. The only way to keep a healthy relationship alive is to keep it fresh at all times and to always challenge it in a positive way.
No matter how dark the representation on the death tarot card is, it is still a very useful tool to be used in a meditation session if you feel that you are currently stuck in a dead end in your life. When you see the pale horseman as an ally coming to help you see what you need to change in order to grow stronger, you can use this metaphor to be slightly more objective with your own life and current situation.
If you can be honest with yourself, you will see the elements of your life that seem to bring you down. Ask yourself how you might change it, and don’t be afraid to give up on some aspects of your life or personality if it means you will rise all the greater from their ashes like a phoenix.
Traditional meanings associated with the card
Dreaded and scary in a tarot reading, the frightening death tarot card is nonetheless usually quite a positive major arcana. This is a card that lets you take a step back on yourself and see more clearly the parts of you that need to “die” in order to let your inner self-grow. Most things in life can be incorporated into a cycle, and it is often necessary to recognize that transition and change are important to the overall balance of your life.
Change, renewal, the end of a cycle, transition, ending, and loss.
Reversed: Death, stagnation, lethargy, and loss of hope.