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Upright: Endings, change, transformation, transition

Reversed: Resistance to change, personal transformation, inner purging


The Death card shows the Messenger of Death – a skeleton dressed in black armour, riding a white horse. The skeleton represents the part of the body which survives death; the armour symbolises invincibility and that death will come, no matter what, and its dark color is a symbol of mourning and the mysterious; and the horse is the colour of purity and a symbol of strength and power. He carries a black flag, indicating the absence of light, decorated with a white, five-petal rose, reflecting beauty, purification and immortality and the number five representing change. Together, these symbols reflect that death isn’t simply about life coming to an end. Death is about endings and beginnings, birth and rebirth, change and transformation. There is beauty in death and it is an inherent part of being alive.

A royal figure appears to be dead on the ground, while a young woman, child and bishop plead with the skeletal figure to spare them. But, as we all know, death does not spare anyone and it is indeed inevitable, no matter who you are.

In the background, there is a boat floating down the river, similar to the Egyptian boats that would carry the dead. On the horizon, the sun sets between two towers (which also appear on the Moon Tarot card). The sun appears to die each night but is reborn fresh and new every morning.

NOTE: The Tarot card meaning description is based on the Rider Waite cards.

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The Death card is probably the most feared and misunderstood of all the cards in the Tarot deck. Just mention the card’s name and most people freak out, worried they will suddenly keel over and die as soon as this card appears. Relax! The Death card can be one of the most positive cards in the deck.

Death is symbolic of the ending of a major phase or aspect of your life that may bring about the beginning of something far more valuable and important. You must close one door in order to open another. You need to put the past behind you and part ways, ready to embrace new opportunities and possibilities. It may be difficult to let go of the past at times, but you will soon see how important it is so that you can bring renewal and transformation into your life. If you resist these necessary endings, you may experience pain, both emotionally and physically, but if you exercise your creative imagination and visualise a new possibility, you allow more constructive patterns to emerge.

Similarly, Death indicates a time of significant transformation, change and transition. You need to profoundly transform yourself and clear away the old to bring in the new. Any change at this time should be welcomed as a positive, cleansing, transformative force in your life. The death and clearing away of limiting factors can open the door to a wider, more satisfying experience of life.

The Death card contains elements of a sudden and unexpected change. Death happens to everyone, no matter who you are, how much money you have, where you live, or what colour your skin is. It is the same with significant change. Sometimes it can happen unexpectedly and affect multitudes of people, regardless of who they are. It’s like if an earthquake hits, and suddenly your day-to-day circumstances change significantly. Or, if someone is involved in an accident. So, the Death card can be a sign of these moments when you may feel as though you are caught in the path of sweeping change and cannot escape its effects (especially if it is accompanied by the Tower or the Hanged Man). Although the upheaval may initially feel unwanted and negative, this massive change could bring with it a series of unexpected surprises that create new opportunities and advantages for you.

Finally, Death is an indication that you need to learn to let go of unhealthy attachments in your life to pave the way to a fuller, more fulfilled life of deeper meaning and significance. Death teaches you to let go of outworn and outgrown ways of life and move forward. This is a perfect card to use to break a bad habit or pattern of behaviour. This is a time of eliminating excess and cutting out what is not necessary in your life. This may be a good time to purge old belongings, memories and baggage that are getting in your way.


Upright, Death is a card of transformation and typically refers to needing to start completely over by letting go of the past. In the reversed position, Death can indicate that you are on the verge of major change but, for some reason, you are resisting making that change. You may be reluctant to let go of the past, or you may not know how to make the change you need. You are still carrying harmful aspects from the past that may interfere with the opportunity you have for a new beginning. You are refusing to accept change, and you are resisting any element of change that may arise in your life. As a result, life has stagnated, and you are feeling stuck in limbo.

Death reversed offers you the opportunity to embrace change, rather than resist it. See what wonderful possibilities become available to you as you say ‘yes’ to change. As you learn to release the past and surrender to the present, the future becomes even brighter. To support the process, repeat the affirmation, "I embrace change in all forms." You'll be surprised at how this subtle shift in energy allows new doors to be opened in ways that you may never have expected.

On a deeper level, the reversed Death card can indicate that you are going through a massive personal transformation, oftentimes in private and out of view from others. You are releasing what no longer serves you so that you can make space for the new to emerge. Draw a follow-up card to better understand what you need to release and purge, or look to other cards in the reading. You may be removing fear and limiting beliefs; you may be changing your habits; or, you may be undergoing a physical purging and transformation process with plant medicine or other spiritual healing. You may not necessarily want to share this with others just yet – wait until your personal transformation has occurred, then share your story more widely as a source of inspiration.