Tarot: Death

Tarot: Death

Tarot: Death

The Death card is a symbol of endings, rebirth, and transition. The thirteenth card of the major arcana comes at the end of one life phase and marks the beginning of another. This is a time of meaningful transformation. It’s natural to feel a swell of emotion as certain aspects of your life come to an end. Before turning the page, take time to pay respect to the passing of an era. Then, welcome the emerging change and look forward with hope and trust as you walk into the next phase of your life.

Major Arcana Symbolism

Tarot Card NameDeath
Traditional Card ImageryA skeleton
Traditional SymbolismTransformation, Mortality, Profound Change, Ending, Destruction, and Renewal
Card NumberXIII,13
Classical ElementWater
Influencing ElementFire
Traditional Upright MeaningEndings, change, rebirth, letting go, release, transformation, and transition
Traditional Reversed MeaningResistance to change, stagnancy, decay, fear of change, avoidance, repeating negative patterns
Archetype In NatureThe return of the body to its elemental milieu
ChakraSacral, Solar Plexus
Astrological CorrespondenceScorpio, Pluto, Mars
Yes or NoNo
Crystals and StonesYellow Tiger’s Eye, Olivine, Lemon Quartz, Heliodor, Yellow Jade, Peridot, Golden Pearl, Sphene, Jargoon, Sulfur, Rhodolite, Honey Calcite, Pyrite, Chrysolite, Citrine, Brown Tourmaline, Orange Calcite, Amber, Boulder Opal, Orange Tiger’s Eye, Tangerine Quartz, Cognac Diamond, Orange Tourmaline, Chocolate Opal, Coral, Hyacinth, Petrified Wood, Orange Selenite, Smoky Quartz, Peach Moonstone, Axinite, Carnelian, Sunstone, Dunilite
Allegory of Death

Allegory of Death

Fatigued by the flashing of the Wheel of Life, I sank to earth and shut my eyes. But it seemed to me that the Wheel kept turning before me and that the four creatures continued sitting in the clouds and reading their books. Suddenly, on opening my eyes, I saw a gigantic rider on a white horse, dressed in black
armour, with a black helmet and black plume.

A skeleton’s face looked out from under the helmet. One bony hand held a large, black, slowly-waving banner, and the other held a black bridle ornamented with skulls and bones. And, wherever the white horse passed, night and death followed; flowers withered, leaves drooped, the earth covered itself with a white shroud; graveyards appeared; towers, castles and cities were destroyed.

Kings in the full splendour of their fame and their power; beautiful women loved and loving; high priests invested by power from God; innocent children — when they saw the white horse all fell on their knees before him, stretched out their hands in terror and despair, and fell down to rise no more.

Afar, behind two towers, the sun sank. A deadly cold enveloped me. The heavy hoofs of the horse seemed to step on my breast, and I felt the world sink into an abyss. But all at once something familiar, but faintly seen and heard, seemed to come from the measured step of the horse. A moment more and I heard in his steps the movement of the Wheel of Life!

An illumination entered me, and, looking at the receding rider and the descending sun, I understood that the Path of Life consists of the steps of the horse of Death. The sun sinks at one point and rises at another. Each moment of its motion is a descent at one point and an ascent at another. I understood that it rises while sinking and sinks while rising, and that life, in coming to birth, dies, and in dying, comes to birth.

“Yes,” said the voice. The sun does not think of its going down and coming up. What does it know of earth, of the going and coming observed by men? It goes its own way, over its own orbit, round an unknown Centre. Life, death, rising and falling— do you not know that all these things are thoughts and dreams and fears of the Fool?

-The Symbolism of the Tarot by P.D. Ouspensky (1913)

Death (XIII)

Death (XIII)

The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in modern Tarot imagery, rather than by the crude historical depiction of a reaping skeleton. The meaning of the Death card involves ascension of the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars, on the verge of the horizon, shines the sun of immortality.

The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king, child and maiden fall before him. A bishop, with clasped hands, awaits his end. The state of mystical, or metaphorical death, is a change in the form of consciousness. Ordinary death is not the gateway to such a transformation. Existing occult explanations of the 13th card are rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest. The appearance of this card signifies that this transition is either immanent or ripe in possibility.

-Modern Translation of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by A.E. Waite (1910)

Death Card Imagery

Traditional Death card imagery represents the field of life. Amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are also living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The blunt meaning of this image is death, but the alternative interpretations of the symbols are ones of change and transformation.

On the Death card, other heads have been swept from their place, but this card is especially representative of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense, Death signifies the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres of creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.1

-Modern Translation of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by A.E. Waite (1910)

Death Card Meaning

Death Card Meaning

Creation requires any equal amount of destruction. The ideas expressed by the Death card are those of destruction preceding or following regeneration. The ceaseless cycle of creation and destruction. A skeleton mows down bodies in a field, from which hands and feet spring up on all sides, as the scythe pursues its work. The works of the head (conception) become immortal as soon as they are realized (heads and feet).

-Modern Translation of The Tarot of The Bohemians by Papus (1892)

Significations Death

  • God the Transformer = The Universal Transforming Principle, Destroyer and Creator
  • The Negative of Realization = Death
  • The Astral Light Accomplishing the Function of the Creator = The Universal Plastic Force (Balancing Death and the Transforming Force)

-Tarot of The Bohemians by Papus (1892)

Death Card

Death Card

The Meaning of the Death Card Throughout History

The Tarot deck is a beautiful synthesis of esoteric thought and archetypal imagery. The journey of the deck, shaped by the events and values of each era, has continued to evolve and take on new significance as it adapts to a larger cultural story. Often a tarot card will have a variety of names and meanings. Exploring the historical interpretations of each card will create a deeper understanding of this powerful method for divination and self-discovery.

Various Names for the Death Card

Tarot de Marseille (1650)Death
Court de Gébelin (1781)Death
Etteilla (1783)Mortality / Nothingness
Paul Christian (1870)The Reaping Skeleton
Golden Dawn (1888)The Child of the Great Transformers: the Lord of the Gates of Death
Papus (1892)Death / The Skeleton Mower
Rider-Waite (1910)Death
Thoth (1943)Death
The Child of the Great Transformers: the Lord of the Gates of Death

Card XIII: Death

A skeleton armed with a Scythe (wherewith he mows down heads in a meadow like grass). He signifies Transformation, or Change.

Upright: Death, Change, Transformation, Alteration for the worse
Reversed: Death just escaped, Partial change, Alteration for the better

-The Tarot by S.L. MacGregor Mathers (1888)

Support Independent Bookstores With These Tarot Selections

Support Independent Bookstores With These Tarot Selections

Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. Their mission aims to strengthen the fragile ecosystem and keep local bookstores an integral part of our culture and communities. We have put together a collection of some of our favorite Tarot items. The deep symbolism of the Tarot can be used to access a wellspring of inner wisdom and guidance. This method of divination is also an incredible tool for accessing your own powerful intuition.

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The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Death (XIII) - The Illustrated Key to the Tarot published 1918, public domain
Death (XIII) – The Illustrated Key to the Tarot published 1918, public domain

This guide by Arthur Edward Waite, the designer of the most widely known Tarot deck and distinguished scholar of the Kabbalah, is the essential Tarot reference. The pictorial key contains a detailed description of each card in the celebrated 78-card Rider-Waite Tarot deck, along with regular and reversed meanings. Contents describe symbols and secret tradition, ancient Celtic methods of divination, and wonderful illustrations of each Tarot card. This book is the perfect complement to old-style fortune telling and also serves to make the Tarot entirely accessible to modern-day readers. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot is the classic guide to the Rider-Waite deck and to Tarot symbolism in general.

Crystal Tarot

Death (XIII) - Crystal Tarot by Elisabetta Tervisan © 2001 Lo Scarabeo srl. All rights reserved, used by permission.
Death (XIII) – Crystal Tarot by Elisabetta Tervisan © 2001 Lo Scarabeo srl. All rights reserved, used by permission.

As rich and complex as life itself, the Crystal Tarot blends the look of stained glass with art nouveau style to gracious effect. The use of patterns within patterns gives depth to the traditional pictures of the Tarot. Influenced by both the Rider-Waite and Thoth Tarot decks, this modern Tarot is an exquisite blend of the old and the new. The familiar images are all there, while the details–executed in brilliant and unusual colors–invite viewers to linger, to search, to make sure they miss nothing–an effective trait in a tool of self-examination.

Ancient Italian Tarot

Death (XIII) - Ancient Italian Tarot by Lo Scarabeo © 2000 Lo Scarabeo srl. All rights reserved, used by permission.
Death (XIII) – Ancient Italian Tarot by Lo Scarabeo © 2000 Lo Scarabeo srl. All rights reserved, used by permission.

This Ancient Italian Tarot deck marks the coming of age of Tarot in Italy. The classic design of the Marseilles decks, reinvented by an anonymous artist, exemplifies 19th-century Italian art: detailed, symbolic, and richly colored in vibrant greens, muted reds, and vivid golds. The whole, decadently costumed array of Tarot archetypes are presented here, along with delicately ornamented Marseilles style pips.

How will you Harness The Transformative Power of The Tarot?

We invite you to walk into a cosmic narrative in which we are all a unique element in each other’s story. Humanity has long used sacred tools for awakening the soul and illuminating our path toward enlightenment. The Tarot is simply an instrument. These cards amplify your inner wisdom and empower your highest truth.

What aspects of The Tarot can serve you as you walk through your own Mystic Doorway?

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What you have read is only the beginning…

Mystic Doorway is always gaining new insight into the rich symbolism of Tarot. We are looking forward to sharing with you as we continue to expand our knowledge of this divinatory tool. Check back with us soon to see what we’ve added to our Library.