Does Death really mean Death in the Tarot?


Of all the cards in the Tarot, the Death card is one that people fear the most. With its pictorial representation of the Grim Reaper, its association with physical death is too strong to deny. However, is this card one we should be wary of or does it signify something less ominous?

Death and the Fool

Each card in a Tarot deck has a story associated with it. The Death card tells the story of the Fool who, having been hung from a tree, encounters the figure of Death. The Fool asks Death if he has died, to which the skeleton replies: “Yes, in a way. You sacrificed your old self, your old world. Both are dead.” The Fool weeps but, embarrassed at his tears, apologises. Death replies that mourning is natural, adding “Old leaves must wither and fly away from a tree’s branches, leaving them bare, before new, green leaves can appear.” As Death departs, the Fool is struck by the truth in Death’s words, finally understanding that, in order for a transformation to start, everything else must be shed.

Don’t Fear the Reaper

This story is very helpful in understanding the Death card. Rather than signifying physical death, drawing this card hints at a transformation to come; the end of one thing and the beginning of another. It may be that questioner is reaching the end of a phase in their life, a friendship, a relationship or a job. Or it may be that they are changing the way they live, such as giving up smoking or alcohol. It can also signify the end of a way of thinking, and making a decision to change.

As with the story, each change in our lives can merit a period of mourning, such as in the ending of a relationship. However, once that period is over, new opportunities come our way. As much as this card can tell you that something is about to happen, it is also concerned with how we deal with change of this sort. Mourning that goes on too long will encourage stagnation, while if someone grieves too little, it points at bottled feelings that will emerge another time.

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