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The Meaning of
the "Death" Tarot Card

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What is the inverted meaning of
the "Death" card?

The Meaning of the "Death"
Tarot Card

The Symbolism of the Death Tarot Card:

On the Death tarot card, a skeletal figure in black armor carries a black flag across a tragic scene.

The horse steps over the body of a stricken king, but doesn't seem to notice him. The king, still wearing his regal robes, lies on his back, face-up to the sky.

The king's crown has toppled symbolically from his head, and lies upside down next to the horse's hoof. The message here is that death comes for us all, regardless of our status in life.

A bishop stands directly in front of skeletal rider, pleading with him to stop — but the horse continues forward unabated.

A bishop stands directly in front of skeletal rider, pleading with him to stop — but the horse continues forward unabated.

A young woman kneels with her child next to the king's body. She swoons in grief, while her child stares innocently at Death on his horse. The child seems to be unfrightened by the imposing skeletal figure.

In the background we see a river, with a boat crossing it. The far side of the river looks lifeless and devoid of the natural colors on the near side. The boat symbolizes the boat of Charon from Greek mythology, who would ferry souls across the river Styx to the land of the dead.

Further in the background, we see two great towers, with the sun representing immortality or rebirth, rising between them.

But what about the white rose on the Death tarot card? The meaning behind the white rose is the subject of never ending debate among tarot readers. Traditionally, white roses symbolize purification and innocence. However, the stylized "Mystic Rose" pictured here was said to signify life by the tarot deck's co-creator A.E. Waite, over a century ago. Waite's intended meaning is supported by the rose's 5 petals and 5 leaves — which are significant in numerological terms because the number '5' signifies renewal. There are also theories that the rose symbolizes the historic House of York but that's a rabbit-hole that's too deep for this page.

NOTE: Observant tarot readers will note that the two towers which appear in the background of the Death tarot card are identical to the two towers which appear on The Moon card. The towers on The Moon card represent the two gateways to the unknown. The symbolic mirroring between these two Major Arcana cards is intentional; The towers make a fitting background for the Death card — where they represent the greatest unknown of all.

How to Interpret the Death Card

Despite the scary look of the Death tarot card, it's generally a much more positive card than it appears to be. In many cases, the card carries a very positive message.

The meaning of the Death tarot card is the end of a cycle followed by renewal or regrowth.

The meaning of the Death tarot card is the end of a cycle followed by renewal or regrowth. In numerology, the number five — seen in the five petals and five leaves of the white rose — signifies renewal.

The rising sun seen in the distance also echoes the conceptual cycle of continuous rebirth. The river seen in the card reminds us that life is a journey. The end pictured in the foreground is metaphorical for a stop along the way; which is just one part of a greater voyage.

Life is full of cycles which are constantly ending and renewing. The endings are sometimes painful, but also mark important closures on the different chapters of our existence.

When the Death tarot card makes an appearance in a tarot reading, it's not typically a message about an actual death, but a metaphor for some trend or long-term situation which is now drawing to a close.

If the card references a past event, it may point to a period between such cycles — where one phase of life ended and another began.

The most important thing to remember about the Death tarot card is that endings are necessary for growth. Without the cycles of rebirth — day and night; seasonal changes; the moon's phases — there can be no renewal or rejuvination. Death — in its metaphorical sense — is an essential ingredient in change and positive transformation.

Additional meanings include any kind of a loss, such as a loss of personal property or a sum of money. Particularly a loss which forces a change of direction or the abandonment of a project.

The Death Tarot Card Inverted

While the upright position of the Death tarot card represents the end of a cycle, the reversed Death card typically represents a failure to accept an ending.

Often times, when a cycle draws to a close in some way, we regard it as a sign of tenacity and determination to push through and refuse to lose. In other cases however, a refusal to accept endings is really a sign of our own inability to move on and venture forwards.

... the more time we invest in hanging-on, the more emotionally connected to the past we become ...

Clinging to the past can be an increasingly painful proposition — the more time we invest in hanging-on, the more emotionally connected to the past we become. This inflexibility ultimately just makes the pain of conceding that time has past by, even greater.

When the inverted Death card appears in a reading, it's often a sign that someone is too emotionally invested in something that is no more. Someone is stuck in the past and cannot accept that the world around them has changed.

The inverted Death card reminds us that change is constant and ultimately irresistable. Riding the winds of change and allowing oneself to experience renewal and regrowth is an essential part of life.

Generally speaking, the inverted Death card is a negative card. While it doesn't represent an actual death of any kind, it does indicate that something is blocking the normal cycles of ending and restarting, which preventing renewal and ultimately spiritual growth.

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