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Death Tarot Card Meanings (Upright & Reversed) | Major Arcana XIII

Last Updated: December 3, 2022

Death is card number 13 (XIII) in modern cartomantic tarot decks and the 14th major arcana trump card (The Fool, number 0, is the first card). The Death card is one of the most feared cards in the tarot deck, but it doesn’t have to be. It is a rather misunderstood card, mostly because of its name.

It’s not uncommon for people to be worried when they see the Death card during a tarot reading, as they immediately think that it means physical death. This is not the case at all. The Death card can represent other types of “deaths”, or conclusions so to speak, such as the end of a relationship, the end of a job, or even the end of a way of life.

Divination practices such as cartomancy can help us make decisions, offer guidance, and help us tune into our intuition when we are at a crossroads in our lives. Understanding the meanings of each tarot card can help you sharpen your interpretative skills so you can get the most out of your readings.

The Death card is a powerful reminder that everything is temporary, and that change is an inevitable part of life. While its appearance in a tarot spread can be alarming, it is not necessarily a negative card; it simply signals change and often indicates that something in your life is coming to an end. It indicates that something needs to come to a conclusion in order for new growth to occur. It can also be a warning about making major changes in your life without carefully considering the consequences.

In this article, we will explore the different meanings of the Death card in various reading contexts when pulled in the upright or upside-down position.

Death tarot card

4 Quick takeaways about this tarot card

  1. Death represents change, new beginnings, and endings.
  2. Death can also be a sign that it’s time to let go of the past.
  3. Death suggests that it’s time to move on from a situation or relationship.
  4. Finally, death can also be a reminder that the end of something is just as natural as its beginning. It’s part of life.
Table of Contents

Pictorial Symbolism in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck

The artwork from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck contains deeper esoteric meanings that tarotists love to decipher.

In the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, the Death card depicts the messenger of Death, aka the grim reaper, riding a pale horse through a barren field, with the sun setting in the background. The Rider is a skeleton wearing black armor, which is often seen as a way to make death an invincible opponent. It can not be stopped nor destroyed… change will happen whether you are ready for it or not.

Death Rider Waite Smith

The skeleton is often seen as a metaphor for death, and the pale horse may represent the unstoppable force of change or the end of something that almost purifies things to come. 

The skeleton is holding a black flag with a five-petal white rose in the centre. In the foreground, we can see a dead man, as well as a bishop and a woman pleading, whilst a child looks on. In the background, we can see the two towers from the Moon card, in between which the sun is rising.

The symbolism from this card’s illustration is thought to represent the end of an old way of life, as well as new beginnings. The white horse may represent the purity of death or the peace that comes with it. The five-petal white rose is thought to represent hope, new beginnings, or even the five stages of grief.

Fives are very common as a number in tarot as they relate to changes, erratic motions, and discomfort. Finally, the dead man in the foreground may represent someone who has been affected by death, while the bishop and woman could represent those who are trying to evade the inevitable.

The Death tarot card key correspondences

Upright keywords

transition, embrace change, transformation, new beginning, letting go

Reversed keywords

fear of change, stagnancy, delayed endings, repeating negative patterns

Yes or NoNo
Numerology

13 (XIII)

ElementWater

Ruling Planet

Pluto
Astrological SignScorpio

Jungian archetypes

Light aspect: The Liberator / Shadow aspect: The Destroyer

Tarot timing

October 22nd to November 21st

Associated deities

Hekate, Persephone

Other name(s)

The Skeleton Reaper (Egyptian Tarot), and La Mort (Tarot de Marseille).

Upright Death tarot card meaning

In Latin, major arcana translates to “big secrets” and each of the 22 cards in this section of the tarot deck represents an important life lesson we must all face at some point. Death, arcanum 13, is no different.

Change and Death are the two things most feared in life. In terms of tarot, this card does not necessarily indicate actual death, but the death of the old, stagnant energy and in with the new. Death is card number thirteen (XIII) in the major arcana – a number with heavy superstitious connotations, lucky for some, and unlucky for others. In numerology, 13 is the number of independence and self-expression, and when broken down to 1 +3 = 4 this number represents solid foundations, endurance and patience.  

Death signals a time of transformation, change, and new beginnings. Things must come to an end in order to achieve the new. Death is the card of personal metamorphosis – The lesson here is that we need to change through our lives or else we will be stagnant and never learn through personal growth.

Sometimes this card can represent a very sudden change, which is also one of the elements that cause people to fear this card. Change can be scary, especially when we have grown accustomed to our own comfort zone. Some of us also really hate endings of any kind, it can be hard to let go. But change can also be exciting, positive and beneficial. The deadwood needs to be cleared to allow opportunities to grow and flourish.

The card prior to this, The Hanged Man taught us how to look inwards and take time to pause, the Death card teaches us now is time for movement and change, it is time to say goodbye to this phase in life.

the death upright tarot card

If pulled in the upright position, Death is associated with transition, change, transformation, new beginnings, and letting go.

What does the upright Death card mean in a love reading?

Drawing the Death card in the upright position during a love tarot spread indicates a change in relationships – either the ending of a relationship or a change in the relationship dynamic. If a relationship has become stagnant then this card advises you that more needs to be done in order to help it to thrive, and if not, then it may be time to accept that it has come to an end.

If single, this card can mean you need to make some changes to beliefs and behaviours, and you may need to be more open to change and transformation for the right type of love to enter your life.

What does the upright Death card mean in a health reading?

In a health spread, again this card very, very rarely means actual physical death. This card can relate to health matters and ways to approach healing. If your health has been poor, this card can indicate there will be a change in your treatment, or advise you to be open to other treatments. It can also mean a radical change is needed for your overall day to day wellbeing.

The Death Tarot card as a person

As a personality archetype, the Death card represents someone who is tongue in cheek, doesn’t mind deeper darker conversations and they have a bit of magnetic power about them. How I describe this tarot card as a person is someone who likes to dress a little boldly, seductively, or likely to wear a feminist “Hex the patriarchy” t-shirt. Death as a person would be someone who is the bringer of change, like a hobby activist or therapist or even that fierce AF seasoned bartender.

Death is often seen as a negative force, but in reality, death is only negative if we see it as the end of something; by the time you’ve finished your beer & a shot, the bartender shares truths with you that make you want to leave the bar and take on the world. In truth, death is simply a transition from one state to another. Death is also often seen as being cold and emotionless, but in reality, Death is very compassionate. When you lose somebody, Death is there to comfort you and help you through the grieving process.

This may be describing a person who is just in your life for a short period of time, especially whilst you grow through certain circumstances.

Whether it’s someone you meet on holiday who has views that change your worldly perspective in a positive way, or it’s a new work client who through a deeper discussion helps you find a new trajectory for your business.

The Death Tarot card as feelings/emotions

If you are asking the tarot how someone feels about you, pulling the Death card is often a sign that they are going through a lot of changes in their life and they may not be able to fully process their feelings for you yet. The lack of closure may be a difficult process for you or the person you are reading for. Take this as a sign to give them some space and time.

The Death tarot card can also indicate that someone is feeling very transformational about their life, which can be both good and bad. It’s perfectly normal to dismantle things to rebuild with a stronger foundation. I have had the Death card come up in my own pregnancy self-care reading whilst 7 months pregnant – I did not read it to mean stillbirth, infant death, or anything quite so difficult, but I did read it for that even though this change is inevitable and definitely on its way, I still may not feel prepared for it and to give myself some grace.

When it comes to your personal feelings, it may indicate that you feel the finality of a current chapter in your life. This may bring with it more feelings of loss, retrospection, or sadness, but overall it can also brings feelings of hope. 

The Death tarot card as advice

If you are asking the tarot for advice regarding a specific situation in your life, drawing the Death card means that it is time for you to let go of something, that this situation or cycle is finished. It is time to take on a new direction. This could be a relationship, a job, or even a way of thinking. It is time for you to move on to something new or to look forward to the next adventure. 

The Death tarot card can also indicate that change is coming whether you like it or not, so it is best to be prepared for it. Use this time to work with your shadow self, and take it as an opportunity for growth, turning the situation to be one that leaves you empowered.

What zodiac sign is associated with the Death tarot card?

The Death tarot card is associated with the zodiac sign Scorpio. Scorpio is a water sign, with this card ruled by Pluto adopting a lot of the same traits. Scorpios are known for being intense, passionate, and secretive. This zodiacal sign is often associated with death, transformation, and rebirth. This makes sense when you consider that the Death tarot card is all about change. 

Fixed Scorpio is also ruled by the planet Mars, so think of Phoenix energy here; Modifications, metamorphosis, and evolution. So if you are born between the dates of October 23 and November 21, then your astrological sign is Scorpio and your tarot card is Death, and you may notice a lot of these themes that you conquer in your life more than others!

Is Death a yes or no card?

Death is absolutely a no card. This card has elements of change and endings, so it is not a good sign if you are hoping for something to stay the same. I’d try not to focus on the negative aspect of this, however. Imagine it’s the cards’ way of saying, “No, I have a better idea!”. 

Feel free to pull additional cards to support its reading for you, to show you more ways that this Death scenario is going to be beneficial for you. If you are reading for a client, don’t forget to share with them that this card very rarely ever means that someone will literally die.

Below are some of my interpretations based on different types of questions:

Question: “Will I get the job?”

Card interpretation: This card would suggest not, and that you are overdue a change in your current situation but the one you applied for wasn’t going to be the one for you.

Question: “Is this new person in my life good for me?”

Card interpretation: Keeping this person in your life will lead you to have transformations in yourself, whether that is good or bad is purely speculative. Remember when they took Wolves out of Yellowstone? It seemed like a good idea, initially. The Death card is showing you that even though it seems like a great idea, maybe even a pure one, it’s not going to be what you expected and you may get pushed out of your comfort zone a little.

Question: “Will I achieve my current goals?”

Card interpretation: If the Death card came up for me in reading for this question, I would say you need to readjust your goals and finish where you are at. Debrief, see what is working, and build a new action plan off of this, as I wouldn’t be seeing the current path working for you moving forward.

Question: “Should I make that investment?”

Card interpretation: No. Firmly, investments made with this tarot card coming up to me say you need to look at your finances overall before you look at further investments. There may be an unexpected situation coming, so ensure you have the right financial protection where you can.

Question: “Should I start my own business?”

Card interpretation: Yes. I would say the Death tarot card would support this new chapter for you and would encourage you to use your intuition to guide you through this “danger zone”. The reason being is that something obviously hasn’t been working for you to this point for you to be thinking of starting a business and working for yourself, so ensure you look into support for yourself during this transformational period.

Death Reversed Meanings

In a tarot reading, pulling the death card in the upside down position can mean you are being too resistant to change. This card reminds you to let go of things you no longer need to hold on to. The main message is embracing change. It can also turn up to indicate a period of deep and intense personal transformation.

Most tarot readers may tell you that when one door closes, another one opens. Welcoming change can be scary, but it is also necessary for personal and spiritual growth. If you are currently facing some unexpected changes in your life, the upside-down Death card showing up may be a sign that you need to let go of the past and stop resisting change.

death tarot card reversed

If pulled in the reversed position, Death is connected with fear of change, stagnancy, delayed endings, and repeating negative patterns.

What does the reverse Death card mean during love tarot readings?

In a love tarot spread, the reversal meaning of the death card indicates that you are holding onto a relationship that has already run its course and you need to let go. It can also indicate a past love coming back into your life and rekindling a new romance.

If single, this card can mean there is no new relationship on the horizon at this time. Your love life is not likely to see any significant change in the immediate future.

This card can turn up to remind you of self-sabotaging behaviours, and that you need to work on self-love and building your self-esteem instead of looking for new love at this time.

What does the upside-down death card mean in health tarot readings?

In a health tarot spread reading, the inverted death card can indicate that you are burying your head in the sand in matters of health. Are you being too resistant to change? Are you letting fear of the unknown prevent you from getting checkups or treatments? 

The death card can also indicate exhaustion, so if you have overdone things, the card’s advice is that now the time to listen to your body and let it get some rest.

How to use the Death card in your Spellwork

We know when we need to embrace changes in our lives instead of fighting against the current, this spell can help you to be more open to the changes going on, and help you flow along with them.

Light a black candle and name this candle for all the things you wish to let go of, all your fears, failed relationships, all the stagnant energy holding you back.  Light a white candle and name this for all the opportunities you desire, the things you are thankful for already, the areas in your life you would like to change. Place the Death tarot card between the two candles, this represents the transition between the two phases of your life: the stagnant bubble you’re afraid to leave and what’s outside of this. 

Take a few moments to think of times in the past where your life changed and how it scared you but you ended up in a better place because of it. This could be a new job, moving home, meeting a new love or making new friends etc. If you had stayed exactly where you were, you would never have all the blessings you have now. 

Yes, there will be challenges in making these changes, the transition may not be easy or smooth, but you know that by seeing it through you will get to where you want to be. 

You can allow the candles to burn now fully, or snuff them out and repeat this spell on a daily basis.

Using the Death card in Dreamwork

Ten minutes before sleeping, sit in bed holding the Death card. Look over all the symbolism and detail, the colours, the way the card makes you feel, your overall impressions.

Hold it up to your third eye and close your eyes, and affirm to yourself that you are open to learning what the card can teach you. Alternatively, you can ask the card a specific question at this point I.e. “What do I need to let go of?” 

Place the card under your pillow and allow yourself to drift off naturally to sleep. As soon as you wake up write down everything you can remember from your dreams and examine any patterns and symbols that may have shown up and what they mean to you.

A Poem to remember the upright meanings

Poems can be a good way to remember information because they often use rhyme and rhythm, which can make them easier to memorize.

Additionally, poems often use vivid imagery and figurative language, which can help to make the information more interesting and engaging.

Death, the card that many dread,

It’s a symbol of change instead,

It marks the ending of old ways,

That simply have no more days.

 

The light of a new dawn will break,

But the darkness of night must take,

The transformation of what we know,

Will bring something that’s meant to grow.

 

The fear of the unknown may loom,

But all will pass, like a plume,

The lessons of life that we learn,

Will be a bridge to life’s concerns.

 

The death card brings a new start,

For the things that have fallen apart,

The pain and loss that we once felt,

Will soon be replaced by something else.

 

The death card holds power and might,

A signal of change, day and night,

It’s a sign of new life to come,

A lesson of life that must be done.

A Poem to remember the reversal meanings

The Death reversed card holds a new view

It speaks of changes, growth, and renewal

Transformation and progress come into view

A time to let go of the old and start anew

 

Life’s cycles can now be seen in a different hue

The time to turn a page and start fresh

A new chapter begins and the story will ensue

A reminder that life is a gift and not a test

 

No need to fear, no need to dread

For change brings new hope and joy instead

It’s a sign of growth and a sign of strength

It’s a moment you mustn’t let pass by in length

 

This card advises us to embrace the change

And to look for new opportunities that will arrange

It’s an invitation to step out of the dark

And open our eyes to the beauty and spark.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Death tarot card is a powerful symbol of transition, transformation, and new beginnings. When this card appears in your reading, it is often a sign that it is time to let go and start anew.

Despite its association with mysticism and occultism, the tarot has grown to become much more than a simple “fortune-telling” tool. It is a complex system made of symbolic imagery and psychological considerations (Jungian archetypes for example) that can be used for self-exploration, meditation, and personal transformation.

The 22 major arcana cards each correspond to different aspects of the human experience that are universal. They represent the different stages of the “hero’s journey”: our biggest challenges and life lessons, as well as our highest aspirations and greatest potential.

Have you ever had a reading where the Death card appeared? What was the outcome? What does Death mean to you personally? How do you interpret this card in your own tarot practice? Share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments below.

If you want to know more about the different tarot cards, feel free to check out our complete list of all 78 tarot cards and their meanings.

Pamela Norrie

Written by Pamela Norrie

Pamela Norrie is a writer, blogger and tarot practitioner based in Scotland. She enjoys writing about folklore, witchcraft and short fiction. Some of her work can be found on her blog hagothehills.wordpress.com and through Instagram @hearthandhame

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