Death Tarot Card Meanings

Posted by John Taylor on

Death Tarot Card Meanings

(The above image is a copy of The Death card in a standard Rider-Waite Tarot deck. The 8 symbols pointed out above are explained below.)

Card Description

The Death card is widely misunderstood as representing physical death only. For most readings however, The Death card can represent endings in general and new beginnings in particular. It is the card of transformation and of change. Death encourages us to embrace the twists and turns of life and to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

If you are looking for a deck of Tarot cards, check out our standard Rider-Waite deck here or check out one of our recent arrivals here.

For more information about The Death card, check out A. E. Waite’s description here.


A skeleton armored in darkness rides a top a white horse. This is the grim reaper, a classical embodiment of death. While to a western audience, death is an evil force to be avoided at all cost, in tarot, death is a neutral force experienced by all. The horse rider may be armored, but he is not armed with a sword; he is not malignant or violent. All the horse rider has is a banner declaring who he is. In this way, the horse rider illustrates the neutrality of death.


Point 2 – THE HORSE

The rider sits atop a white horse. Together, with the black armor, the horse and rider illustrate the yin and yang symbol. They are the balance that every enlightened person should embrace. The whiteness of the horse can also symbolize the blank page and the new beginnings that can come with the death of old things; it is an illustration of optimism in the face of death.


Point 3 – THE FLAG

The only thing that the rider carries is a flag that symbolizes the harvest. Death is not a destroyer, but a collector. While western ideas about death can be pessimistic or even nihilistic, tarot sees death as a celebration of what we have cultivated with our time.  



On the ground, there is a fallen king without his crown. This illustrates the equality of death. Death is inescapable, no matter the amount of power you have attained in life. The fallen king is a reminder to be humble regardless of your social position.


Point 5 – THE BISHOP

While the king represents the experience of death despite material gains, the bishop represents the experience of death despite spiritual gains. Death still comes to those who are enlightened. Unlike the king, the bishop faces death willingly; his enlightenment has taught him that death is not something to be feared.



The two girls in the corner of the card illustrate the two reactions normal people can have in the face of death. They can either embrace it, like the bishop, or they can ignore it, like the king. The choice is not made solely by kings and bishops; it is made by everyone, big and small.


Point 7 – THE SHIP

The ship in the bottom left corner can illustrate the mythological idea of souls traveling across the sea of death to enter a new life. The ship reiterates the idea that death is not an executioner; he is a ferryman, guiding souls to the great hereafter.



The shining gate in the top right can represent the gates of Heaven. It is the entrance to the great beyond, the next life. To enter it, to experience its wonders, however, one must past through the necessity of death.


Tarot Reading


The death card is one of the most feared cards in a Tarot deck. An Upright Death however reveals that there is nothing to be afraid of. An Upright Death reminds us that endings are just the beginning of something new. It illustrates a great resolution coming to your life. Reap the benefits of your previous actions and use your harvest to set up something better. Do not be afraid of change, for winter must come before the springtime.



A Reverse Death reveals a resistance to change. Are you holding onto something? Is your stubbornness blinding you to something important? Let go and embrace any changes that may come. Do not be afraid of the unknown. Trust in your previous experience and enjoy the fruits of your labor while also looking ahead to next year’s harvest.


For more Tarot Card Meanings, check out our blog here.




About the author: John Taylor is a content writer and freelancer through the company You may view his freelancing profile here. He has a B. A. in English, with a specialty in technical writing, from Texas A&M University and a M. A. in English from the University of Glasgow. You may view his previous articles about Tarot here and his LinkedIn profile here.

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Last update date: 11/20/20

1 comment

  • The death card is my favorite. Because I am such a history buff I look at this card and see the death of Richard III in the fallen king, the Tudor rose on the flag speaking to the rise of the Tudor dynasty. The end of one era and the start of something new :-)

    Eva Sawyer on

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