Ah, the Death card! Just hearing its name can cause some people to panic. But before you jump to doom-and-gloom conclusions, let’s set the record straight. Contrary to its ominous reputation, the Death card in tarot is a fascinating symbol of transformation, signaling the end of one chapter and the exciting beginning of another. So, take off that cloak of dread, and let’s dive into the captivating world of the Death card, where we’ll explore its imagery, interpretations, associations, and why it might just be the card you’re hoping to see in your next reading.
Understanding the Mysteries of the Death Tarot Card
Disclaimer: This article may contain commission or affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Scorpio season is here, bringing us the energies of passion, power, and transformation. Is it any surprise that Samhain, the season of honouring our ancestors and the dead, occurs during Scorpio season? For more on Samhain, check out our article here!
Transformation can be seen through the tarot in a number of ways, including Scorpio’s tarot card, Death. Read on to learn more about the Death tarot card, its imagery, its meaning, and how to work with these energies for transformation.
Generally, the Death card means an ending. Something has to “die” in order for the new to be born. Death is seen as a transformation. This is the part of the transformation when we must let go of something, where we must embrace some kind of ending and surrender.
For more information about the tarot in general, check out What is Tarot?
Death Card Keywords
- Letting go
- Fresh start
- Being stuck in a rut
- Resisting change
- Refusal to let go
Death Card Numerology
Death is the 13th card in the major arcana in the tarot.
13 is associated with lunar cycles and energies since there are 13 lunar cycles in a year. The moon is often symbolic of cycles, growing, and shedding. It can represent our own cycles of life, death, and rebirth.
Just as the moon waxes and wanes, so do we go through our own cycles of growth and release, of death and rebirth, many times in our lives. The number 13 reminds us of our cyclical nature, and brings this information into the death card.
Imagery and Artwork
The Death card is rarely a card of literal death. Death is an ending that makes way for a new beginning. This card really refers to the death of the tyrannical control of the ego, which we see in the imagery of the Rider-Waite Smith tarot deck.
In this imagery, we see a skeletal knight on a white horse. Underneath the horse lies the king, their crown knocked off their heads. There is also a religious figure looking up at death, a young woman on her knees turned away from death (who may possibly be the figure from the Strength card), and a young child holding up flowers to death.
Death Card Meanings and Interpretations
The King represents the part of ourselves most ruled by our egos. This is that tyrannical overlord we must overthrow in the Death card. The part of us that thinks we have ultimate power over our lives, that wants to control everything, that wants to be on top.
We see the crown symbol in another card, The Tower, symbolizing the illusion of control being blasted away, but that’s another article for another time. For the Death card, know that the crown represents our egos and all the fears and desires associated with it.
The King, the part of us that wants to be in ultimate control, has the hardest time with death. Death is surrender to the unknown. This is the part of us that has the hardest time with surrender and change. Yet this is the part of us that must “die” in order for our transformation to occur.
The King can be our more arrogant selves, the part of ourselves that refuses to let go of where we feel things must go our way. There is a message of humility in Death, to remember that though we do have control over many parts of our lives, there is much we do not, and cannot, control.
Children in the tarot represent the more authentic, pure parts of ourselves. This image returns again in the Sun card, which carries the messages of enlightenment and authenticity. Our inner child, the true part of ourselves, greets Death with flowers because our true self knows that this death brings growth. Flowers in the tarot often indicate growth, and are seen in various other cards in the deck.
Our true self is the spiritual part of ourselves that never dies. This is the part of us that that holds our inner wisdom, our purpose, and our authentic light. In the Death card, what is dying is what is holding us back from being and connecting with our true selves.
The figure on her knees may represent the Strength card, which is the part of ourselves that knows how to be compassionate, brave, and vulnerable. Though she turns away, she is on her knees and has surrendered to death. This change in our lives will likely require the traits of the Strength card, which are patience, compassion, perseverance, gentleness.
Finally, the spiritual figure has their arms raised to death, possibly beseeching Death or praising Death. Spiritual figures are who we often turn to for guidance when it comes to death, fear, or change. This figure looks right at Death and stands to face it, whether beseeching or accepting it.
The white rose on the flag may be an alchemical symbol. In alchemy, the white rose is said to be associated with innocence and purity. Again, what is dying is the rulership of an old way of thinking or being (the King) so we may return to our spiritual natures, or our true selves.
The black flag may be another alchemical symbol. In alchemy, the goal is to transmute lead into gold. While this has, and can, be applied to literal metal, in spiritual alchemy it is the process in which we cast off what is not true to ourselves, the lead, and transform into our truest selves, the gold.
There is a phase in alchemy called the blackening, which is the beginning of the great work (another name for the alchemical process). In this phase, we see explore our shadow side. This is the part of ourselves that we are not conscious of, so it’s not good or bad. Our shadow holds both our shame and our dreams. That which is too terrible or too great for our minds to deal with, we push into the shadows. We must plumb the depths of our shadow in the blackening in order to discover any impurities, aka traits or beliefs that are not in alignment with our highest good, so that we can transform them into gold.
In the Death card, the white rose on the black flag may be a symbol of our need to dive deep into our shadows, to learn what must be released, so that the essence of our true selves (seen in the white rose) may be freed. Read on to learn about a Shadow Work Ritual I created to go with the Death card.
Death Card Artwork in other Tarot Decks
Let’s take a quick look at the artwork in a variety of other Tarot decks. This is a wonderful way to gain a greater understanding of the Death Card.
As mentioned, the sign associated with Death is Scorpio, who is ruled by the planet Pluto in modern astrology. Pluto is the planet of transformation, again bringing these energies into the Death card. Pluto is the Roman god of the dead who rules the underworld. This shows us that, like Scorpio, in the Death card, we are going deep to realize where we must let go and surrender.
There is a power aspect to Pluto as well, showing us where we seek power. This invites us in the Death card to explore what power really means. Being the King and trying to control everything has not worked, hence the King being the most dead in this photo. Death gives us an opportunity to truly feel empowered by releasing the illusion of ultimate control that the ego seeks, which is usually driven by fear.
The bones of the skeleton suggest that with the energy of Scorpio & Pluto, we are diving deep to the bones of the matter. What truly lies beneath the issue at hand. We are guided to let go of the extraneous and get to the heart of the issue. Scorpio leaves no leaf unturned, making them excellent sleuths. We too in the Death card have to go right to the heart of whatever is going on.
Scorpio is a water sign, bringing with it the energies of intuition and emotion. In the west, we are so in our heads that we sometimes analyze our feelings instead of actually feeling them. Feelings, like water, are meant to flow. When we don’t allow them, they become stagnant within us, again like water. In the Death card, we may have strong feelings emerge. Though we are not meant to stay drowning in them, we must feel them so the waters can clear and we can therefore see more clearly. Life, water, and our feelings are meant to flow, not to stagnate. Death calls for these flowing feelings so that our lives and our energies do not become stagnant.
The traditional ruler of Scorpio is Mars, the planet of war, conflict, and drive. There is a fiery energy present in Scorpio through this, and in the Death card as well. Fire is the great transformer, as nothing that goes into fire comes out the same. Here we are burning away the old to transform us into the new.
Crystals you may wish to work with when the Death card appears would be any crystals that help with shadow work, letting go, surrender, feeling your emotions, and connecting to your true self. Here are a few suggestions, but always trust which crystal calls you when you work with them.
Smoky quartz can be a protective stone that helps us to have a warrior spirit. A warrior spirit isn’t about attacking, rather about discipline and inner peace so that we can be of service to ourselves and our communities. These energies may help you to explore your shadow with strength and patience so you can bravely let go of what is no longer serving you.
This crystal can help us with our throat chakra, which is the center of speaking our and living our truth. Working with this stone can also calm anxieties, helping you to see what is not in alignment with your truth and what is.
Working with this crystal can help you become aware of where you are stuck or what needs to be released. It’s also very protective, helping you feel grounded and safe.
This crystal brings spiritual information into our awareness and helps us to see clearly and to understand what we are processing when working with the Death card.
Death Card Yes or No
While tarot generally isn’t the most helpful with yes or no questions, the Death card may either be a no, or it might mean that something has to end before a yes is possible. Remember, the future is not set in stone. Tarot helps us to channel information from our higher selves and our guides so that we can forge our path in the best way possible.
Death Card Reversed
Reversed, the death card has a few different meanings. As with all the cards, it depends on where the reversed Death card is in your tarot spread.
Reversed, it may suggest there is resistance to the change that needs to occur. We may be refusing to let go or see the truth.
It may also suggest that the ending is internal and has less to do with the outer world or with others.
There may be something blocking you or inhibiting the ending that has to happen.
It could mean your ego is too much in control of your life and you must surrender for healthy change to occur.
As with all readings, read what the cards mean, but ultimately trust what your intuition is telling you about the Death card reversed in your reading.
Lovers and Death Card
Pulling these two major arcana cards together can cause some anxiety, but it can actually be a very powerful pair in a reading. It was too much to cover in this article, so I wrote a special piece just on Lovers and Death Tarot Card Meanings.
Death Card Shadow Work Ritual
If you’d like to work with the Death card for shadow work, here is a tarot activity that help you shine your light into the crooks and crannies the Death card wants you to explore.
Separate your court cards (pages, knights, queens, kings) from the rest of your deck.
Go through your court cards. Pick out your favourite figure. There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason. Just pick out who you really like.
Next, pick the court card you do not like. Again, no rhyme or reason. Whichever one you like the least or even actively dislike.
Do the same with the rest of the deck. Pick a card you love and a card you either fear or dislike.
Take the cards that represent what you dislike. Write out everything you fear or don’t like about these cards.
Take the cards that you really like. Write out everything you like about these cards.
These lists represent your shadow. What you don’t like represents fears or traits of yourself you have disconnected and stuffed in your shadow. What you do like represents your true self, that alchemical gold, the essence of who you really are.
Place the Death card somewhere you can see it. Write out everything you feel you need to let go of in order to shine your true light. Fears, grudges, unhelpful beliefs, etc.
If possible, burn the list in a fire-safe dish or an actual fire. Never leave flames unattended! Fire safety is magical. If fire is not possible, rip the list up and flush it down the toilet.
Visualize yourself embodying all of those wonderful traits you just discovered. Do this until you feel yourself shining your true light. Then endeavor to actively make choices that align with your true self.
Final Thoughts on the Death Tarot Card
Don’t panic when you see the Death card. Endings are a part of life and have much to teach us. When the tyrannical King of our egos is toppled, it is a liberation of our true selves. We can be brave and compassionate here so that the old may die and the new may be reborn.
We may wish to take a page from Anaïs Nin, who said, “I must be a mermaid, I have no fear of depth and a great fear of shallow living.” The Death card encourages us to be brave mermaids, to dive deep into the oceans of ourselves to let go of what keeps us shallow. Dive deep, be brave, let go. This is the magic and the medicine of the Death card.
The Mystic Mermaid
Jenny is a professional shamanic practitioner and tarot reader. Her academic background is in French and Spanish translation studies. Through her academic and spiritual studies, she realized we are all spiritual translators, translating our feelings, experiences, and messages from spirit. Jenny endeavours to help people see the light within themselves, each other, and nature, to dream a healed dream into being for ourselves and the world.