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magine that you’re getting a psychic reading done, and this card surfaces in your spread. It’s enough to make your neck hair stand on end.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.09.27 PMBehold the 13th Tarot card, Death. It depicts an armored skeleton on horseback towering over three victims and leaving a corpse in his wake*.

Ironically, this card does not mean that you or someone you know will die. It represents the natural end of a situation and promises a new beginning. In fact, if you take a closer look, you can see symbols of rebirth: the white rose on the flag, the ship in the background sailing toward two distant towers. The scene is at dawn rather than dusk, conveying that the card’s tone is one of starting something fresh and new, not one of finality and loss.

The card, like the necessary change it signifies, may be frightening when first faced, but it carries the possibility of positive transformation. In the concrete sense, it can mean any kind of change, from loss of virginity to leaving a job to moving to a new city.  So if you ever see this card, it is most accurately interpreted as a sign that a major life transformation is imminent and a new stage is dawning.

It’s also worth noting that in many early decks (including the original Tarot), this card was actually unnamed. Though this would have increased its mysteriousness, it might have also made the card’s positive qualities easier to see. A label like “DEATH” tends to make an impression!

For those of us afraid of real-life death, there are far worse cards (e.g., the three of swords and the ten of swords). More on those later.

*This description is of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck’s version, shown above. Artwork varies among different Tarot collections. The Marseilles deck, for example, depicts a skeleton reaping a crop of human body parts with a scythe. But even this Grim Reaper scene was meant in the New Testament sense: “Unless the grain of wheat falls onto the ground and dies, it cannot grow.”


One thought on “Tarot: The Death Card

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