(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.)
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.
For more information about The Death card, check out A. E. Waite’s description here.
Point 1 – THE HORSE RIDER
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.
Point 4 – THE FALLEN KING
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.
Point 6 – THE TWO GIRLS
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.
Point 8 – THE SHINING GATE
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.
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 Upwork.com. 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.