Tarot Introduction To The Major Arcana Part 3 - Death

The Death card is perhaps the most widely misunderstood card in all of Tarot. It's also one of the ones that appears most frequently on Tarot t-shirts. Many people fear this card, thinking that it portends physical death. But if Death crops up in your Tarot spread, don’t be afraid. It almost never means that you’re ready to slough off this mortal coil. Rather than auguring annihilation, the Death card entails transformation. One phase of your life, or of some aspect of your life, such as a relationship, is ending. Another will soon begin.

The Upright Death card signifies an ending that is helpful or necessary. In romance, it can mean that you’re ending a bad relationship. It can also mean that a phase in your relationship will end soon; perhaps you’re ready to marry and leave the dating phase, or perhaps you’re ready to divorce. Or maybe you just need to shake things up radically. In terms of education and professional life, it can mean graduation or dropping out. It can also mean leaving a job, or, strangely enough, a promotion. Any significant phase of one’s life that can be terminated can be indicated by the Death card.

The Reversed Death card means resistance to change. You’re digging your heels in when you shouldn’t. Alternately, it can mean that you’re trying to change something that you should just leave alone. This is one of the more difficult cards to interpret. Romantically, reversed Death can tell you to hold on and have second thoughts about terminating a relationship, or it can say that you should cut free and just go. The context is important here, and it is determined by the rest of the spread. Educationally and professionally, it can indicate that you’re miserable at your job or study and should call it quits. Or, it can indicate that you should think twice before you throw it all away. Again, pay attention to the rest of the spread!

In a past-present-future spread, the Death card can mean the following:

  1. As past, the Death card represents, paradoxically, a beginning. Every beginning is the end of some other beginning. So the Death card in your past represents whatever change led to your present situation. For example, if you graduated from school a few years ago, then the Death card is probably your graduation in this position. It can also have the deeper meaning of something from your past that you need to let go of and remake in your mind. Remember that, unlike our temporal past, our psychological past is malleable. The events in your past really happened, but it’s up to you what those events mean and what story they tell. This second meaning of the Death card is very probably when it is reversed here.
  2. As present, the Death card signifies change that is or should be happening in your life right now. It may be just over the horizon. Think of all of the different aspects of your life, and of which one should end or terminate. Reversed in this position, the Death card implores you to search yourself. Do some soul-seeking and find a place where you are experiencing pain, and ask yourself what it is that you should let go of to end that pain.
  3. As future, the Death card means a lead-up to change. This does not mean change that is impending in the very near future. Rather, it means that your current life-story, of which you are the author, has a story arc that is beginning to bend toward its end. Your job is to begin laying the groundwork for a new beginning. Reversed in this position, the Death card is one of the most troubling things one can see in a Tarot spread. It means that disaster (though not physical death) is coming if you do not change the way you are doing things now. It can also mean that your present “story” is one of hanging onto the wrong thing, and that you have a lot of work to do to let go of it.

That’s all for the Death card. Up next we will take something a bit lighter: the Fool.

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