The Death card is one of those cards that tend to scare people whenever they see it in a Tarot card reading. Naturally, most everyone is scared of death – either for themselves or for their loved ones. And every single time this card pops up in a reading, I end up telling my clients that this card doesn’t really talk about actual physical dying.
So what does the imagery of the Death card really talk about? Lets find out.
The Death card has often been portrayed as an ominous, doom and gloom card in movies and other media where death has to be foreshadowed. And every time I see such a misrepresentation, I scream out loud in irritation. The Death card doesn’t talk about actual, physical death. I feel that no matter how many times I say it, it just isn’t enough!
The Death Card: Image Description
If we look at the image of the Death card, one can understand why the image can evoke thoughts of actual death.
The very first thing one notices in the image is the skeleton atop a white horse, which is a very typical depiction of Death. But this armored skeleton isn’t holding a scythe, like most reaper images. He holds a flag with a white flower.
Under the feet of the horse, you can see a dead king (his crown is right there next to his body). In front of him stands a priest with his hands folded in prayer. A lady kneels right next to him, looking as if she’s given up completely.
But then, we see a young child with flowers in his hand. And this child doesn’t look scared or worried.
Now, its time to look closely into the image. Right under the belly of the horse, we see a river with a boat. And right behind the head of the horse, we see a pair of towers with a bright yellow sun rising behind them.
All of these images can look scary, granted. And it is but natural that they tend to evoke fear within the persons who see these images. But Tarot is all about symbolism. So let’s look a the symbolism of the Death card.
The Death Card: Symbolism
Lets analyze the different elements within the Death card for their symbolic meanings.
The Skeleton: The image of the grim reaper bursts forth in our minds every time we see this skeleton. But doesn’t the skeleton also tell us that in the end, we are nothing but dust? Doesn’t it remind us that holding on to the physical illusion of reality is but a folly? Doesn’t it remind us that we all come into this world with no possessions and leave in the same manner? As the old saying goes, “Nothing is certain, but Death and Taxes”. And yes, it is the only truth of life – that all that begins must end. The cycle always gets completed. And endings are heralds of beginnings. Death always puts things into perspective.
The Flag: The flag that the skeleton figure holds tells us exactly what Death is all about – peace and continuity. White is the color of peace, and the flower is white in color. Flowers are also representations of realization and understanding, of blooming and flowering and coming to a place of deeper realization. Flowers grow, and die. And then new flowers bloom once again when Spring comes. Just as the seasons turn, life and death are a vital part of Nature’s cycle.
The King: The King is actually the Emperor from the Emperor card. A representation of authority and power, he lies dead. A very important symbolism – even authority and power are nothing when confronted with endings.
The Priest: The Priest is the Hierophant from the Hierophant card. When he stands there with his hands folded in prayer, he is telling us to revere the changes that this event is bringing. He understands the deeper significance of the process of life and death and the change that it truly represents. However, if you are the type that sees the Hierophant as someone who represents morality and stringent rules of society, then to you it might also seem that the priest is begging and pleading to the skeletal figure. And yes, such rigid morality fears the end of its rule, and begs and pleads to be left alive. Of course, that ain’t gonna happen here.
The Lady: The lady we see here is the lady from the Strength card. She gives up. Even will power and inner strength that she represents gives up in the face of such life altering changes.
The Child: The only one who doesn’t have any pre-concieved notions – he stands there, unafraid and welcoming the skeletal figure, holding a bouquet of flowers for him. A very important lesson for us all – be like a child, innocent and free of pre-concieved notions, welcome the change that comes, even if it includes endings. Because all endings carry within them the seeds of new beginnings.
The Boat and River: This is the symbolic allusion to the old myths that talk of the Underworld – where all souls go to once they die. Usually these myths talk of a river that takes one into this Underworld, and one travels in that river using a boat. You can find such references in Roman and Egyptian mythologies.
The Sunrise: This is the new beginning – the dawn of a new day, that occurs once the old is gone and done away with.
The Death Card: In a Nutshell
So, if we put all these thoughts together, the Death card talks about:
- A gradual change, where the old stuff dies / goes away / is removed, and way is created for the new stuff to come in.
- Change is in the air – such a change where all old concepts, ideas, systems are thrown off.
- Accepting change with innocence and without any pre-concieved notions is the best way to deal with this oncoming upheaval.
- Change is constant – it is the one truth that holds fast in the universe.
- Unless something ends, nothing new begins.
The Death Card: Your Turn
So what do you feel when you see the image of the Death card? Does it scare you? What about the image scares you? Do you think it does represent actual death? Please do share your thoughts in the comments section below.