Understanding the Death Card in Tarot

Few cards in the tarot stir a sense of primal fear like the Death card.  Many people refuse to touch a deck out of terror they might draw it.

But for the experienced reader, this deceptively morbid card signifies the relief that a less literal ending is near—–and almost certainly, for the better.

Let’s take an in depth look at why the Death Card may very well be the most welcome draw in the deck.

explain death card tarot

First, we need to define clearly what the death card is not. 

Drawing the death card indicates absolutely nothing about your state of health or the health of those around you.  You need not live anxiously in fear of the grim reaper.

The death card in the tarot symbolizes not an actual physical death, but the death of a situation, relationship or state of being.

“Wait!  That still sounds scary,” you say.

Well, yes.  Change, by its very nature, unsettles us.  Human beings like consistency, predictability, and routine.

But paradoxically, monotony makes us miserable.  We get bored.  We lose ourselves in our ruts.

No matter how spontaneously or adventurously we like to think of ourselves, we all set into our ways on some level.

You need not run a 9-to-5 rat race to slip into habit.

For example, I work a variety of jobs as a yoga/belly dance instructor, an online retailer, a freelance photographer, a full time mom and a semi-professional blogger.   On the outside, my life seemingly defies order and routine.

Certainly, my sock drawer does.

Perhaps least predictably, I travel at least 2-3 times a month, sometimes on very short notice.

But I like my suitcase packed a certain way.  If given a choice, I always take the window seat on the plane.  I never fail to ask the hotel front desk for exactly 3 extra pillows.  I still write in a paper travel journal decades after most people switched to laptops.

In short, I have my ways, and I’m set in them just like everyone else.

But just as the numbness of routine, stability and monotony lulls us into a sense of perpetuity, the death card appears to remind us: life speeds by.

And while we grapple inevitably with endings and change, mourning the loss of a marriage, a job or set of circumstances we felt comfortable in, the freshness that follows an ending ironically ushers in a renewed sense of life.

When the Death card appears in a spread, a few introspective questions tend to tease out the meaning.  For example:

What, in my life, appears to be nearing its end?

Is there anything I am struggling to hold onto that might be best let go?  Relationship?   Job?  Sentimental attachments to material things?  Even the way my furniture is arranged?

When I slip into mindless activity, what am I doing?  What habits put me on “autopilot” and should any of them be eliminated?

When was the last time I felt freshly excited about life?  What do I need to change or “let die” in the metaphorical sense that will make room for something new?

Yes, endings and transition try our sense of security.  In the midst of change, we often mourn the loss of what we knew well, even if it lulled us into monotony, boredom or depression.

But in between endings and beginnings, the limbo offers lessons that literally change your life.

So when the Death card appears, take a step back, breathe a sigh of relief, and remember:

It’s not the letting go that hurts.  It’s the holding on.


    1. The ways in which people misunderstand tarot never fail to surprise me. I think the demonization of the tarot by other traditions contributes to irrational fears like this, even for people who don’t believe in them.

  1. Good very early morning hours or late thirty evening…☺…
    Just this fall, I had an occasion to turn up this card for the first time in a seekers ‘ layout… Now I have used Tarot since the early 70’s, and have never had to explain the meaning behind this card and that it was in the conclusion space, well, as you can imagine, she was struck with its arrival…
    As you explained above, it is the settling of a matter, a situation… As foretold, her relationship at that time, came to a sudden halt… The cards can only advise what our current course will dictate… If we wish other results, we must change our course, mindset, actions…
    Thank you for bringing this card to everyone’s awareness…???…???

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