Today we’ll cover the meaning of the Death tarot card. This is a part of a deep dive series on the tarot.
There’s a lot going on with this card. It is probably one of the most complicated drawings of the Major Arcana.
The Death tarot card: A skeleton in armor atop a white horse, carrying a flag with a white five-petal rose. And that’s just the main figure.
A young woman, a kid, and a bishop beg the skeleton royal figure to spare them while a man lies on the ground dead.
A boat is floating along the river in the backdrop, evoking the mythical vessels that carried the deceased to the afterlife. There are two towers on the horizon as the sun sets, symbolizing how the sun dies at night and is born again in the morning.
The astrological symbol associated with The Death card is Scorpio.
Let’s explore the various meanings and interpretations of The Death tarot card.
Classical Death Card Tarot Interpretation
The classical meaning of The Death tarot card can be seen in the Rider-Waite deck.
There are multiple symbols on the card:
- white rose
- dead man
- white horse
- two towers
- royal robes and crown
- grieving family
T white rose symbolizes change. This means the Death tarot card is not just about death. It is about change. You can remember this because the concept of change involves the death of one thing and giving birth to a new thing.
Changing jobs is killing off the old job for a new one, metaphorically speaking.
The royalty symbols are meant to contrast with the pauper, showing that death and change come for all. There is no escaping it. No amount of money can get you out of these facts of the world. The Death tarot card is the great equalizer.
He rides a white horse to symbolize purity since Death purifies everyone.
The setting sun is the moment of transformation from day to night. This reminds us of the transitional and transformational meanings of the card.
While Death does not always symbolize a darkening, like the setting sun, it often does. Consider the contexts given later in the article to better interpret if this is the case for your reading.
Upright Death Card Meaning
The upright Death card has a straightforward meaning:
The upright Death tells you that a major life change is happening (or about to happen). It can sometimes mean literal death, but more often represents a symbolic death leading to a new phase of life: relationship change, job change, financial change, etc.
It is one of the most misunderstood cards in a Tarot deck. Due to its immense potency, many people refrain from addressing this card. Most of the time, people take the card’s name literally. The Death card can have one of the most uplifting true meanings in the entire deck, though.
This should be reassuring. Death often appears when there is uncertainty (promotion at work, getting laid off, a relationship conflict, etc). The appearance of the upright Death card means that you can trust whatever is to come as being fair and true.
Upright, the Death card tells us to accept, embrace, and move toward the endings that will bring new beginnings.
To open another door, the first one must be shut. You must leave the past behind and separate ways. Prepare to seize fresh chances and opportunities.
Although it could be tough at first, you will quickly realize how important it is and how it holds the potential for regeneration and change. You may feel pain physically and emotionally if you refuse to accept these essential ends, but if you use your imagination to picture a different scenario, you enable more positive patterns to form.
The Death tarot card love meaning can refer to being locked in inner patterns that are no longer effective when it comes to marriage and romance.
If you’re still in a relationship, you must have the ability to accept change if you want the partnership to endure. Sometimes, if things haven’t been going well, this card might also suggest that you might wish to call it quits.
Remember that the Death tarot card only ever predicts physical death in very rare circumstances and only in certain combinations, so don’t be alarmed if you see it in a health reading.
Death might foretell a transformation if you’ve been feeling that your health will never get better. However, the results will largely depend on how you respond to this adjustment.
In a spiritual Tarot reading, it denotes a period of opportunity to forge a strong connection with your higher self and unearth a level of spirituality you might not have been aware you possessed.
You may have gone through tragedy, loss, or heartbreak that has prompted this spiritual metamorphosis. It could stand for a challenging change from one circumstance to another. Even though it may be challenging, try to accept the shift since it is guiding you toward a greater path.
Reversed Death Card Meaning
Reversed, the Death card has the opposite meaning:
The Death tarot card reversed signals stagnation. You are in a rut. There are necessary changes that you must embrace to move forward with your life. Death reversed indicates stress and negative energy that must be resolved.
Death Reversed might indicate that you are going through significant personal development, frequently in secret and out of the sight of others. In order to create room for the new to appear, you are letting go of what no longer serves you.
You need to Marie Kondo. Find what sparks joy for you and let go of the rest.
Reversed Death tarot card in a love tarot reading indicates that you are unwilling to let your relationship alter if you are in a committed relationship.
Because you feel reliant on your spouse or are afraid of being alone, you may be hanging onto a relationship that has long ago reached its conclusion. Or you can be sticking around out of responsibility to stay with a relationship even though you no longer love them.
The Death card in reverse can also represent a failure to accept responsibility for your predicament if you’ve been having financial difficulties. Although it may sound harsh, accepting responsibility for a challenging circumstance may really be liberating.
You might not be able to prevent losing financial resources, but you could find it difficult to accept and adjust to this.
It may be necessary for you to adjust your spending in order to get through this brief period, but you could find it difficult to part with some necessities.
You might not be learning your lessons if you don’t give this period the chance to alter how you view your resources and what your values are. You could find it much simpler to cope if you can learn to quit fighting these changes.
I always like to examine other, modern decks to see what can be read into their symbolism.
The reason for this is that every person will have different decks, and so it’s good to learn how to go with your gut on what you see. This is the best way to have a good interpretation for the moment.
Too many people stick to a learned reading instead of going with the flow. Remember, each reading, deck, person, position, and question is different. Reading the cards is an art, not a science.
We’ll use a different deck for every one of these. Today’s is the Gilded Tarot.
This skeleton is no longer riding the white horse. Instead, it has been placed on a shield.
I like this. It’s a reminder that the horse is symbolic and that death may not be literally charging toward you. The shield shows that there is protection and purification in the changes to come.
Sometimes death is not fighting you, but it is fighting for you.
This card has the skeleton amidst smoke and ethereal purple mist. The reaper that comes to claim something is not physical. It cannot be fought against. It cannot be run from. It is everywhere and nowhere. It could be inside you.
This is a reminder to accept and embrace the loss. It is okay to mourn, but the purpose is to be transformed by the experience and become a better person.
The Death Tarot in Context
Context matters a lot when reading the cards. Here are some particularly strong things to look out for when the Death tarot card appears in these contexts.
- Past: The loss has occurred, but you haven’t moved on and allowed yourself to be changed by it.
- Present: You are undergoing a transformation.
- Future: A major life change is coming. Read the other cards to find out what and when.
For other types of readings:
- Hobbies: You’ve stagnated. It may be time to revamp the hobby or find a new one that brings you more meaning.
- Love: A relationship is ending. Alone time could be good for you.
- Work: A new position is worth considering.
- Finance: The loss coming is unavoidable. Cut it early to not lose more and take advantage of the coming opportunity.
Back to the Major Arcana list.
- Wen, B. (2015). Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth (Illustrated ed.). North Atlantic Books.