The Death card is a major tarot card and sits at number 13
Last night I was trying to decide which tarot card to write about next when I received the sad news that someone I know had passed away. I knew him from motorcycle events that I photographed, so he wasn’t an intimate, but he did live locally and often I’d bump into him in the supermarket and he’d always greet me with smiles and stop for a chat. I liked him. He was funny and jolly, an excellent business man and over the years treated the lad he was training up like a son, mentoring and guiding him. In a complex world where we often rush past people and never speak, I classed this man as my friend.
I received the news from a Facebook group announcement and was immediately struck by a tightening in my solar plexus. A friend of mine was round watching the Moto GP I’d recorded for him and I waved my hand and said, “Pause that for a minute.”
Once the background hum of motorcycles was silenced I said, “You know Ian, with the turquoise bike? He’s died.”
Stunned my friend said, “What? You’re kidding.”
I shook my head and for a full minute we sat in silence. It was a silence filled with both shock and respect, an unrehearsed pause in life to mourn our friend.
Immediately our thoughts sprung to his apprentice and simultaneously we said, “His mate will be gutted, lost without him.”
How strange that we both said the same words at the same time, that our thoughts quickly travelled away from the dead and towards the living; the one left behind.
This is how death affects us all. We mourn our loved one, tuck them away in our heart and know that we will miss their company, their smile and their laughter. Then we consider how everyone else will cope with that loss, how those closest to them will manage, and whether they need our support. A gaping hole is left where that person used to stand which in time is filled with memories and acceptance.
For a few minutes my friend and I discussed Ian’s life and what a nice guy he was; then we both needed time for our own thoughts and feelings, to assimilate the loss. Eventually I turned back to Facebook and posted my comment and sentiments of sadness under the photo of Ian doing what he loved best, riding his motorbike.
In a tarot reading it is extremely rare for the Death card to actually mean a physical death, in fact hardly ever for the person asking the questions. However, it can mean that the questioner has recently suffered bereavement, as I have with my friend, and that it’s a time of loss and coming to terms with the hole left in one’s life. In all the years I’ve been reading tarot I have mainly seen the passing of life depicted in riddles and cryptic messages, which have only been fully understood after the event. If the Death card is symbolising death, then it will nearly always be what I term ‘an appropriate death,’ in that the individual referred to is already very old or seriously ill, and that the questioner is aware of this.
If I had done a reading in connection for my friend I may well have seen this as he died from an illness not an accident.
Everything which is born is destined to die; although the logical understanding of this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to come to terms with emotionally. Our very first death is our birth, as before birth we are at one with the mother, safe and nurtured. Our passage into the physical world is an initiation into the human condition of duality and fear. We find ourselves alone, separate from all that had sustained us, and likely to die without care and attention.
Note that the Empress who symbolises Mother Nature sits at number 3 showing the interrelation between birth and Death at 13.
When many people come for their first Tarot reading they have extreme anxiety about seeing the Death card in their reading. Suspicion and modern day hype have created a myth around the card which instils fear, fear and more fear. In truth the card depicts transformation and life itself. Everything which is born is destined to die, whether that be a human being, a pet, a business, a relationship, or a daisy in the field.
In tarot the Death card is equivalent to Old Father Time, and in medieval cards death was sometimes depicted holding an hour glass. Each man’s life is as long as his life, no more no less. We are born, learn to walk, transform from child to adult, give up our ego consciousness to find unity through sexual expression, marry, have children, move house and retire. All of these and many, many more are symbolised in tarot through the Death card. The Ages of Man is a classic symbol, depicting a youngster through to old age, and right at the end is death himself, waiting to greet us all.
For one man the Death card symbolised his impending retirement, and the end of an era. Surrounding cards showed his trepidation and extreme fear of loss of identity once his long term business title was removed. “I’ll be a nobody,” he said fearfully. “I feel dead inside already.”
The tarot card sequence representing this was the King of Coins – a man who has a strong business identity and gains self-worth and recognition from the position holds at work. The Death card – the ending of this position. The Moon card – His fear at going forwards into the unknown.
For one single mother the death card represented that her children were growing up, preparing to take exams, leaving school and going on to university. She saw this growth stage as highly positive for everyone and welcomed the change. “I’ve already initiated an Open University course,” she said. “The children are disorientated by the change in me, the idea of their mother studying and not always being available to prepare meals at odd times and fill the washing machine up all of the time.”
The tarot card sequence representing this change was the Ten of Batons – overburdened by responsibility to others. The Death card – showing that those responsibilities were coming to an end. The Three of Coins – Studying under a master.
This particular client continued to consult me for both tarot and astrology during the entire three year period of her transformation process. Astrologically she was experiencing Uranus transiting conjunct her natal Sun, which also represents an extreme death and rebirth of the ego identity.
During a tarot reading the surrounding cards will always describe what type of death is taking place.
Here are some examples:-
Two of Cups reversed followed by the Death cards symbolises falling out of love with someone or something and knowing that the emotional connection is dead.
Seven of Coins reversed followed by death symbolises work that was tedious and unrewarding coming to an end.
Ace of Coins followed by Death symbolises a contract coming to an end.
The Devil followed by Death symbolises an end to guilt or bad habits.
The card that follows Death in a reading will show what happens after the ending brought about by the Death card.
So let’s follow through with our earlier examples.
With the Two of Cups reversed and Death we might see The Fool depicting the sense of freedom we feel once we have let go of someone we no longer love.
After the Seven of Coins reversed and Death we might see the Three of Coins symbolising study and learning, so that once we have learnt our new skill we can go out and find more rewarding work.
After the Ace of Coins and Death we might see the Two of Batons showing that for a while doors of opportunity are closed to us.
After the Devil and Death we might see the Page of Swords representing the person who drew us into bad habits tempting us back.
When the death card is reversed it symbolises that either, the questioner is stuck and holding on to something which is over, or needs to end, or that something is being ended against their wishes. In such situations the questioner often recognises their own dilemma yet cannot see a way around the situation. One of the most common scenarios is when someone has a well- paid job which no longer satisfies their needs. To end the job would near enough mean financial ruin, yet all the time they hang on to it even though they feel they are dying inside.
Ending a long term relationship is another common example in which the death card reversed comes up. Moving on in such a situation is often complex due to the fact that children and joint resources are often involved. Some individuals are extremely courageous and walk away with nothing in order to find a more wholesome life, while others hang on bitterly until the children leave school. Neither solution has an ideal outcome because whichever choice is made the person for whom the relationship has died will inevitably go through a grieving process.
One woman had the Death card the right way up symbolising that her divorce had just been finalised. Throughout the reading she intermittently sobbed. “I can’t understand why I’m crying,” she explained. “I don’t love him anymore.” Her tears were a natural part of the grieving process for something that had died, and of letting go.
In a reading do not be afraid of fully exploring how to interpret the Death card. All endings are a transition to the next phase of life, and without finishing one thing we can never start anything new.
For beginners and more experienced tarot readers I have two books available in many popular formats.
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