XIII - Death
No matter how you might try, there’s no getting around Death. This is a card that immediately jumps out in any reading. Unfortunately, it has a negative connotation because of its stark imagery. We’re trained to run from death, to look at it as something frightening we must avoid at all costs. And, of course, those unfamiliar with tarot tend to look at this card literally.
But tarot is a system that asks us to look beyond the obvious, and nowhere is this more evident than with card thirteen, Death. On closer inspection, what we see is a rather beautiful illustration. A skeletal figure sitting calmly on a horse that stands with one leg raised. Before them are an array of figures either standing or collapsed – a pope, a woman, a child. They represent both the inevitability of Death and its indiscriminate nature. We all die. Death waits for no man.
If we look beyond the figures, however, we see something far less morbid: a path that winds up between two towers with a glorious sun glowing between them. What happens when we move beyond the moment of dying depicted in this card and walk towards the light? It looks like the beginning of a new day, full of potential.
In readings, Death refers to unmistakable moments of change not literal Death. Just as this card immediately dominates a reading it’s appearance in our lives quickly takes center stage. There’s no getting around it and it’s not subtle. These changes are often precipitated by our actions; however, once they get started they quickly move beyond our control. We’re powerless against the transitions Death brings. This can be frightening or liberating, depending on our mindset.
Like the Hanged Man before, Death asks us to surrender to its powerful forces. We can’t proceed at this point without letting something go, letting it die, and this process is extremely natural and necessary. It’s not easy, however, and it’s important to take time to commemorate what we lose through fate or choose to discard. In this way, Death can represent rituals and grieving, the importance of taking the time to acknowledge the cost of our growth.
Once we’ve done this there is a clear path forward. A complex card, Death also represents the next steps through grief towards a richer understanding of life and an increased awareness of how precious it is.
Our immediate reactions to Death also make it a useful tool to examine our fear. When we have that visceral reaction to Death it’s important to ask ourselves what we’re afraid of losing. Is there something we’re not ready to let go of? Why? Why do we need to do in order to ease ourselves into this new phase of our life? Death is a card that nudges us towards accepting and easing into transitions as they present themselves to us.
Change, inevitability, transition, contrast, turning point, commemoration
Moving from one phase to the next, letting go of a situation, person, or place, facing the inevitable, remembering what has come before, big changes, unburdening past issues to better proceed in life, contending with mortality and the unknown, becoming aware of how precious life is, ego death, learning to be humble
Unavoidable, deep growth, profound experience, opportunity for change, recognition of life’s value
Stark “before and after,” loss of control, frightening, desire to keep things as they are, feeling powerless