Death sits at lucky number thirteen in the Major Arcana. It is preceded by the fickle nature of The Hanged Man and followed by gentle but volatile Temperance.
In the Rider-Waite deck, the messenger of Death takes a familiar form; a skeleton draped in black armor sitting atop the rather biblical image of a pale horse. Bones are a physical manifestation of what remains after death and decomposition.
Spiritually, however, they pertain to the idea of legacy. The armor speaks to the invincibility of both death and the dying— we all must face death in our lives, but there are ways for our spirit to survive it.
The horse’s white color makes us think of purity, while the darkness that cloaks the messenger is a symbol of mystery and mourning. The skeleton carries proudly with him a flag bearing the image of a rose with five white petals— a symbol of beauty.
These images work together to evade the idea that death is merely just about life ending, but also rebirth.
In the background, a boat floats in a river, reminiscent of Charon carrying souls across the Styx. The sun sheets between two towers, a symbol we will see again in The Moon, calling to mind the idea of dying each night to be reborn in the morning.
Before the horse, a noblewoman lies dying, a bishop and child begging for her life at her side. These pleas cannot halt death, though.
It is easy to panic when a card with Death’s dark imagery appears in a reading, but this fear is not necessary. In this comprehensive guide to The Death Tarot card, we journey forward to learn why.
Table of Contents
- 1 What does the Death Tarot card mean?
- 2 Death card Keywords:
- 3 What does the Death card Mean when Reversed?
- 4 The Death card Reversed Keywords:
- 5 What does Death mean in Others’ Perception of You?
- 6 What does Death mean in Love?
- 7 What does Death mean in Friendship?
- 8 What does Death mean in Career?
- 9 What does Death mean in Conflict?
- 10 Death as a Desire.
- 11 Is Death a Yes or a No?
- 12 Death as Advice and Action.
- 13 Death as Emotions.
- 14 Death as a Situation.
- 15 Death as an Obstacle.
- 16 Death in the Future.
- 17 Death as a Person.
- 18 Death as a Place.
- 19 What Zodiac Sign is Death?
- 20 Free Online Tarot Reading
- 21 Related Articles
- 22 Major Arcana Cards Complete Guides
- 23 Shop For My Favorite Items on Amazon…
What does the Death Tarot card mean?
Death does not mean you or anyone close to you is going to die.
Death is one of the most positive cards in the deck! It is a common misconception that death is equal to finality. Think of how things decompose and return to the earth, helping trees and flowers to grow.
Death signifies the end of an era. It ushers in freedom and asks us to cast off the things that no longer serve us. The Universe is telling us it is time to let go and promises a prosperous future to those who embrace change and leave their chains in the past.
There comes a time when our spirits no longer need our bodies. This is what we commonly refer to as death, but depending on your system of belief, you may believe that there is something great waiting for you after your life has ended.
Some may think that what lies ahead is merely returning to the earth and becoming a piece of The Universe! Regardless of your beliefs, our worth as spiritual beings does not dull after our hearts cease to beat. We have left the world changed and made our mark. It is this idea that fuels the Death card.
Whatever situations we may find ourselves in, Death assures that they will not last forever. Life moves in inevitable cycles. When we allow change to move us, then The Universe pushes us towards the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
Death calls us to evaluate the people, places, and things that surround us. Could they be holding us back from this profound transformation? What keeps us from moving forward?
This card stirs up some bittersweet emotions. Endings and goodbyes are painful, but we cannot carry everything we come into contact with in our lives on our backs.
Nobody has that kind of strength! When we accept transition and learn to celebrate it, our effort and hurt will be rewarded with rebirth and the renewal of our spirits.
Not so bad, right?
Death card Keywords:
- New Beginnings
- Letting go
- Sudden Upheaval
- Forward Movement
- Powerful Actions
- Profund Work
What does the Death card Mean when Reversed?
When reversed, Death notes that it is necessary for us to move forward from our current position and alerts us that the opportunity is there. However, there is a resistance present that leads to the persistence of bad habits and stunts progress.
Think of the woman that lies dead before the messenger in the Reader-Waite imagery. Though the bishop and the child beg for her to be spared, the skeleton is merely the bearer of bad news and has no choice in the matter. You’ve probably heard of the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger!”
Change in life is inevitable. We waste our time and energy when we go to war against the flow of the universe. It is this discord that Death Reversed brings to our attention.
There is great progress, growth and transformation waiting just beyond the horizon, but there is something that holds you back. Your struggling is being prolonged by your unwillingness or inability to let go.
This may leave you to feel excluded or left behind when those around you are progressing, and you are locked in a state of stagnancy.
The reverse of this card may also point to large amounts of important personal work being done in private. Change begins from within and you are in training for a period of metamorphosis that waits on the horizon.
Think of it as spring cleaning for the mind. What serves a purpose, and what can be sent to the yard sale?
The Death card Reversed Keywords:
- Resistance To Change
- Inner Purging
- Harmful Patterns
- Private Work
- Prolonging Struggle
What does Death mean in Others’ Perception of You?
When the Death card guides someone’s perspective of you, they see you as immortal in some way shape, or form. You could be a risk-taker in various aspects of your life or a person who lives their life to the fullest, savoring each moment, unafraid of their endings. Either way, you are admired for it.
Sometimes we look at someone else’s actions and say to ourselves “I would never do that!” When Death comes to describe how others view us, this is exactly the sentiment that you inspire.
Your bold risks don’t go unnoticed. They could be in the realm of money, connections, creativity, or physicality. No matter how substantial or minute you see your actions to be, there is someone who sees you as brave.
You serve as an inspiration for others to seek the unfamiliar and embrace change. The growth that the risks you take have brought you is very inspiring to those who may feel stuck in their ways.
When reversed, people may still say “I would never do that” when they hear of your risks, but as opposed to feeling moved to action by you, they may see what you do as repetitive and foolish. On the other hand they may see you as too timid
You may find yourself surrounded by people whom you feel have left you behind and now view you as childish. You may be seen as a dead-end. This is no need to despair, though, as Death Reversed serves as a bit of encouragement. You can show them! Step outside of your comfort zones and put in the work to prepare yourself for change— even if it’s a small change.
If the people that surround you cannot appreciate this work, then they might just be the thing that’s holding you back.
What does Death mean in Love?
Death doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship.
While Death can signify a relationship that is holding its participants back in their lives, it can also note the presence of harmful patterns that are keeping the relationship from growing to its full potential.
Death can sometimes mean the unfortunate need for the end of a relationship. Though this is an upsetting and difficult choice, sometimes it is the only way for partners to grow. Every relationship leaves us changed.
The things we are taught by our partners are valuable gifts that will help us as we move forward. Endings are difficult, but there is restriction at play between you. There is something better waiting for you.
You don’t need to immediately jump to this card being the kiss of death, however. Sometimes relationships can fall victim to vicious and repetitive patterns.
Perhaps someone is stringing you along or you keep finding yourselves interlaced in the same arguments time and time again. Death says that a conversation is in order to break these patterns. Only then can your relationship move to the next level.
For one seeking a partner, there is something holding you back from the companionship you desire. Perhaps it’s a fear of rejection or a tendency to gravitate towards people you aren’t compatible with. Whatever it is, Death asserts that it’s time to try something new and embrace a method that might be healthier for you.
When reversed, Death points to obvious problems that have deep roots in a relationship. Your love is doomed to fail if not reflected upon by all involved parties. You must be willing to change for your partner to a certain degree— now this doesn’t mean being untrue to yourself or forfeiting your core values, rather making compromises.
If they are unwilling to do the same for you, then perhaps it isn’t a good match.
For someone seeking a partner, Death says you have all the tools to get out of any rut you may find yourself in. There is no use in blaming everyone or everything else when the answers lie inside of you. They simply may take a bit of personal work to reveal.
What does Death mean in Friendship?
As we grow, we may find ourselves with a smaller group of friends than when we were younger.
Death champions keeping your true friends close and reminds us that it’s alright to grow apart from others. The friends that stick by our side are the ones that will help us to be the best we can be.
It seems that when we are children everyone is our best friend. As we continue down our paths, though, it becomes clear that not all friendships have what it takes to be lifelong.
Friendships that last a lifetime are hard to come by and may wind up taking the form of a singular person. The Death card says that this is okay. The Universe has given you what you need.
This card could point to an upcoming falling out or growing apart between friends. It can be scary to release someone from our lives, but this card marks it as necessary.
This is not a person who will bring you growth. Your future will be filled with valuable time with true friends, perhaps ones you haven’t even met yet. The transition from this friend or group of friends shouldn’t be one that you shy away from.
Death Reversed echoes the advice it gives on romantic relationships. There is something lurking below the surface of your friendships that needs to be addressed. This is a salvageable and important relationship in need of a heavy tune-up.
This will take great reflection and communication but will pull you from a rut and lead the friendship to be much more satisfying.
What does Death mean in Career?
Death warns us not to become dependent on our current positions. There is change coming and your current standing is not secure. Use the discomfort that this may cause to seek new beginnings and have them on hand. This may lead you to something much better for you.
We live in a volatile world filled with volatile markets. What may have seemed reliable one day might completely change its tune overnight.
The presence of Death in a career reading doesn’t confirm an upcoming change with certainty but alludes to the possibility of it. It is always a good idea to have backup plans and prepare yourself to start anew— just in case.
As you reevaluate career decisions and look into the possibilities that the world has to offer you, you may come face to face with something that will prove to be much more lucrative for you or your business. Always keep moving forward. If that means weathering uncertain times in your current job, so be it.
Death does not discourage this and if your fear is what you need to let go, then that’s the path for you! However, this card can also point to the need to let go of an old job and dive headfirst into something new!
Change is long overdue if Death appears reversed. It is time to brace for the frustrating world of job hunting as well as the anxiety that comes with it and move on.
If this warning is not heeded, this serves as a foreboding omen that you could wind up stuck right where you are.
What does Death mean in Conflict?
Whatever conflict you find yourself entrenched in, it is time to bring it to an end. You must move forward and away from situations that plague your growth. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, it is simply time to be done.
Some arguments would go on forever if we let them. Death says that there’s no point in prolonging a fight— it has to end at some point. Now’s as good a time as any.
This is a call to reflect on what you’ve learned from the disagreement and leave it be. This could be in the form of walking away, ceasing communication, or simply declaring that you don’t wish to fight anymore. All this is doing is hindering you as well as your adversaries. You are wasting your time.
This could leave you feeling a lack of closure, but Death asks you to make peace with this feeling. A lack of closure is much less harmful than finding yourself stuck in the endless loop of a battle.
When reversed, Death asks you to evaluate who you’re actually fighting against. Is it your opponent or is it yourself? Sometimes we project things that we feel onto others and wind up putting words in their mouths that only deepen the wounds of the situation.
It is important to recognize when we do this so that we can move forward from an external conflict and turn instead to internal work and development.
Death as a Desire.
When the Death card appears as someone’s desire, they are longing for freedom. They are seeking change and variety in their life and are currently feeling held back by Something that is draining their energy. This is a person wishing to purge their life of bad energy.
Sometimes life gets a little stale. When Death rears its head in the form of a desire, it signifies a person feeling stuck or restrained. Perhaps they are in an unhealthy relationship, a dead-end job, or a creative funk. Whatever it is, they want out!
This person is in a stormy period of their life and is ready to wash their hands of their troubles and move forward. They are seeking a clean slate. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done and a person whose desires align with Death may need a little guidance in the right direction, or perhaps just an escape for a day or two!
They are not happy in their current position. There is something lacking, an empty space that they are looking to fill through change and transformation. This person is ready for the next level, whatever that may be for them.
When a desire is informed by Death Reversed, we are given an image of a person who is resistant to change. They do not feel themselves ready and may be more comfortable in states of regression.
This card can point to dominating feelings of nostalgia. We must remember that while it’s fun to look back fondly on the past when things may have seemed simpler, but it must be done in moderation and we must embrace our futures and their struggles.
We will never know the gifts that the future holds for us if we only move backward.
Is Death a Yes or a No?
Despite its heavy themes of change and rebirth, in a yes or no reading, Death is a no.
Death is only certain of one thing: change is coming. There is no knowing what form said change will take. Even positive things such as rebirth can come at the cost of failures and pain. Because of this, Death cannot promise good outcomes to your actions and therefore serves as a no.
Death is a fickle and sometimes difficult card to understand. While it isn’t all gloom and doom, it isn’t sunshine and rainbows either. The reason it is considered such a positive card lies in the fact that it guarantees growth.
The things that happen in the face of Death may be good or bad, but in the long run, they will help you and your struggles will be worth it.
When asking the cards yes or no questions, Death is a reminder that The Universe will always give us what we need, though it may not be what we want. While a no answer can often be disappointing, Death asks that we trust that good things are coming and in the long term, you will be happy.
Death Reversed is also a no, but cites different reasoning for its answer.
This is a symbol that you are resisting change and blocking your own energies. There are gifts headed your way but you are denying them by avoiding the work that needs to be done to get to them. This is a call to face your fears and embrace change before you move forward.
Death as Advice and Action.
When looking to the cards for advice, Death is a call to be brave.
The things that scare us are not sent to torment us but rather to teach us. Death asks you to embrace these things and the changes they inspire within you. When you exist only within your comfort zone, you close yourself off to an abundance of opportunities that The Universe has to offer you.
It can be easy to walk away from things that make us uncomfortable or anxious. Death itself is something many of us grow up fearing. The Death, card, however, comes to tell us that overcoming these fears is our key to unlocking the best version of ourselves.
Running from challenges will only hinder us in the end, leaving us trapped in a stage of development.
Despite the Reader-Waite’s grim imagery on the Death card, when in an advice position, it is a symbol of comfort. It calls us to think of our supports and The Universe that watches over us. No matter how much we may struggle to charge head-on into our fears, we will be transformed into better and stronger people for it.
There is always a new opportunity on the other side of a challenge. Death calls you to focus in on the reward as opposed to the hardship that stands in its way. Instead of defending yourself from fear and hurt, go on the offense towards a brighter future.
Reversed Death cites that inner work needs to be done in order to progress. There are demons that you carry with you, leaving you unprepared to take on the next step in your journey.
If you carry too much weight on your back, you will become too exhausted to travel forward. You will not have enough energy to devote to your own transformation.
It is time to reevaluate what you need and don’t need. Remember that not everything can travel with you and that is okay. This is your journey after all and no one else’s.
Death as Emotions.
Death describes a feeling of powerlessness. In life, death is only one of many inevitable events. A person whose feelings align with Death is feeling a lack of control in their life and may be struggling to come to terms with it. Whether they rise to this feeling of powerlessness or resist it is up to them.
Powerlessness seems to have a bleak connotation, but it must be remembered that it is not interchangeable with hopelessness.
There are somethings that we simply cannot control, things like the weather, the progression of time, and the lifespans of ourselves and others. The rest of our lives is spent wrapped up in trying to control every single detail in our days. We often become frustrated when we can’t change the way others think.
Death as an emotion though is the feeling we are presented with when we come face to face with forces we truly cannot change. We may feel small in the universe as we come to terms with the fact that some things are truly out of our hands— for better or for worse.
There are two ways that this feeling of powerlessness can manifest.
This could present as frustration at one’s circumstance. Knowing we are not all-powerful can often breed a victim mentality, accompanied by thoughts like “this isn’t fair!” or “why me?” This response to powerlessness is draining and serves as a short road to despair.
Powerlessness can also be approached as a sort of vacation. If there’s nothing you can do, then there’s nothing to do! We cannot change the phase of the moon of the position of the stars, and yet every night we look up at them with wonder. Powerlessness can be a feeling of calm as we release responsibility into the universe.
In the reversed position, Death is desperation.
Think of the Reader-Waite imagery and how the child and the bishop beg and plead for the life of the woman on the ground. This is the desperation that Death speaks to.
Sometimes we fear change so much that we begin to bargain with ourselves or perhaps a higher power. There are some things we would give anything to protect or have. When paired with the inevitability that Death carries with it, these strong emotions become a quick way to drain energy.
We must move forward and accept that we cannot push off everything, not even our sadness. Even that must be embraced.
Death as a Situation.
Death denotes a situation in which you are out of your element. The things around you are new and may not make sense. This is no time to shy away from unfamiliarity, though. Death suggests that these are formative and important times in your life.
Death is all about new beginnings and our experiences are heavily advised by our environments. New beginnings may put us in odd settings with people we don’t know and ask us to do tasks that we’ve never performed before. Everything around you is new, even if the change is subtle.
Now is the time to view the world with wonder. As much as Death prioritizes growth, it asks you to reflect on childhood— back when the whole world was new to you.
What do you wish you could have known then? What do you wish you had carried with you? The situation you are in right now is offering youtube the perfect opportunity to manifest these wishes.
These are formative times for you, rendering you essentially a child in these new and unfamiliar situations. Do not take this lightly. Every move you make will be an opportunity to learn and everyone you meet is a teacher.
It is important to be wary of how volatile these unknown situations can be. Be prepared for change. It could take the form of loss or gain. Be confident even when things seem unstable and do not shy away from what may scare you. This is nothing you haven’t done before.
When Death describes a situation from the reversed position, it cites passive energy as the enemy.
You are currently plagued by a lack of assertiveness. Life is passing you by and will continue to unless you stand up and take what you want. It is never too late or too early in life to define your goals and begin working towards them at all costs. Your limitations are imposed by no one but you.
It is time to assert your power in the universe and use it to pull yourself up from the ground!
Death as an Obstacle.
When Death appears as an obstacle, there is an imbalance at play that is blocking the cycles that propel you towards growth. Progress has halted as a result of too much weight being carried on your back. It is time to pause and release what you cannot carry.
When we find ourselves caught up in the cycles of life, we may feel as if there’s no opportunity to slow down.
When all of our work is devoted to outward progress, our inner being suffers. It is important to be honest with ourselves and admit when the ever-motion forward has become too much. Otherwise, we will be overcome by the stress and exhaustion that has built up on our shoulders.
When we become obsessed with always moving forward, we are left without time to consider what we may be dragging along with us that no longer serves us. There must pause and evaluate the things that sit upon our shoulders.
It is time to trim the fat. The progress that you pride yourself upon will only become slower and slower until you find yourself out of commission for an extended period of time.
In the reversed position, Death calls our attention to stagnancy. There could be a number of things holding us in place, be it anxiety, trauma, or a lack of motivation. Sometimes we fall into the mindset of “it’s too late for me.” Death believes in quite the opposite.
Death reminds us that we are worthy and deserving of self-care and love. When we heal ourselves, we will be able to continue forward down the path of our lives towards our best selves.
Death in the Future.
Once again, when Death appears in the future position, an actual, physical death is extremely rare.
When we see Death in the future position, it is time to give your whole self to your journey. All of your energies are going to be needed in order to take on new perspectives and breed progress. When you withhold parts of yourself, you are unable to move forward.
When big changes and opportunities present themselves to us, it’s tempting to want to only dip our toes into the water. Death sees these changes and opportunities coming but cites that only wading in this upheaval will not be to your benefit— in fact it might not even be a choice.
So much of the symbolism behind Death surrounds the inevitability of certain things in life. In this position, it serves as an invitation to look inward. What are you trying to protect and why?
Dramatic changes in life may bring us joy, sadness, anger or fear, all of which Death calls us to embrace. It is impossible to live your life without feeling one of these things, and so when they strike, we must honor them and give themselves to them. This is the only way we can experience emotional triggers in a healthy way.
Death in the future position means that it’s time to get ready. Change is coming and as scary as it may seem, it is here to help you.
In the reversed position, Death comes to offer more advice rather than a prediction. This card points to an unclear future due to the fact that you are currently in aa state of stagnancy or repetition. The future may look exactly like the present if you use the things that do not serve you as a shield.
This is a sign to let go. The unfamiliar future may hold hardship, but it also holds the best times of your life.
Death as a Person.
Death is a person who is continually transforming and encourages and inspires you to transform with them. They are a person who takes risks and pushes you out of your comfort zone in order to experience new things. This person may be a bit of a daredevil or adrenaline junkie, or perhaps they are extremely open-minded.
There’s always one “crazy” friend in every group that pushes you to try things that you never would have dreamed of if you hadn’t met them. Perhaps they’re the one who introduces you to new activities, friends or music. This is a person who could be described by Death.
All of this isn’t just for the thrill, though. This is a person seeking growth wherever they can find it.
At the same time, this may describe a person who has overcome great sadness or hardship but has left it in their past. They often say that the saddest souls smile the brightest and a person who aligns with Death has certainly felt the full spectrum of inevitable human emotions.
Overall, they are a person who looks at danger as an old friend and knows that safety could not exist without it.
Death’s reverse describes a person that restricts you. When you are with this person, you may find yourself reverting back to old habits and patterns of thought. You might feel trapped or stuck with them and may find that they are someone you need to leave in your past in order to move forward.
Death as a Place.
Because of the broad and volatile themes that Death encompasses, it is hard to pin down a single location that does it justice. The simple answer, though, one that you may have predicted, is a graveyard.
Graveyards are a place of great sadness, but also great beauty. It reminds us of the inevitability of death while immortalizing the legacy of those with their names carved into its stones. It is a place that inspires fear at some times, sadness at others, and often solemn celebration of lives that have progressed to their next form.
Graveyards can often be anxiety-inducing places. Not only are we faced with the images of ghosts and ghouls dancing among headstones around Halloween, but when we visit, we are confronted with the reality of death. A chill may run up your spine when you think of caskets buried under the earth. At the same time, though, graveyards are oddly beautiful.
Often graves are adorned with flowers, a symbol of new life, as an offering to one that has ended. Lush green grass grows up from the ground as a reminder of the cycles of life.
Families come to visit their loves ones and the legacy of one who has passed can be seen in children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on and so forth. Even though we die, we are eternal for having existed at all.
There is no one that leaves this world behind without leaving some remnant of themselves behind.
What Zodiac Sign is Death?
Death is assigned to the zodiac sign of Scorpio.
Scorpios are particularly known for their intensity, much like the Death card. They are natural leaders, always seeking progress and chasing after their ambitions.
Scorpios are notorious for being a bit volatile, much like the Death card. There’s no knowing what you’re gonna get!
This does not negate Scorpio’s ferocity when it comes to progress. They are honest and refuse to let anything slow them down. They know that everything and everyone they carry with them is essential and aren’t afraid to put their foot down when something doesn’t serve them anymore.
Death and Scorpio have one integral thing in common: The ability to find light in darkness.
Free Online Tarot Reading
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- What’s the difference between the Major and Minor Arcana?
- How to use the Major Arcana tarot cards
- How to read the Minor Arcana Tarot Cards
Major Arcana Cards Complete Guides
- The Fool
- The Magician
- The High Priestess
- The Empress
- The Emperor
- The Hierophant
- The Lovers
- The Chariot
- The Hermit
- Wheel of Fortune
- The Hanged Man
- Death (this article)
- The Devil
- The Tower
- The Star
- The Moon
- The Sun
- The World
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