The Meaning of Death [Card 13]

The Meaning of Death Tarot

At a Glance

Death Card #13 represents a coming together of disparate elements in your life, giving life meaning through your humanity, and feeling your essential, urgent being.

If You Drew This Card…

Tarot cards offer a range of meanings to draw insight from. Both negative and positive aspects of each card can resonate with various aspects of your life.

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  • Are you anticipating the end of something in your life, perhaps a phase, journey, job or habit? What will you mourn and what do you look forward to?
  • What great experience in your personal or family history have you overcome?
  • How can you use the power of the negative to fuel your activities in life? Who can you connect with on this level - consider those who are somehow different from our normal peers.


  • When people look at you, do you look right through them? Consider softening and practicing empathy.
  • Death exists naturally and does not need to be quickened through acts of human violence. How can you balance the reality of your mortality while remaining optimistic about the future?
  • Do you use your mortality as an excuse to act irresponsibly? How can you make the most of life without neglecting this reality but without overemphasizing it, either?

Interpreting the Symbols

  • Figure : Our essential, ruthless human qualities which cannot be reasoned with.
  • Horse : Tension of dark and light forces which propel history forward.
  • Fallen King : The end of an era, crushed ego, defeat or submitting to life’s whims.
  • Bishop : Being uplifted by the interplay of dark and light forces that cannot be controlled; submitting to absurdity of existence.
  • Girl and Woman : Fear of death (turning away from it) and courage (facing death).
  • Ship : Souls being carried from life to death or reincarnation representing transformation of self or soul.
  • Gate : Nirvana or paradise reached by moving through a state of selflessness or metaphorical death; letting go and making space for a new existence.

Charmaine’s Take

Death! Drawing this card, a person might feel a jolt of fear go through their body. However, there is no reason to be alarmed. This is a powerful card, and drawing it does not foretell of death in the near future. The Death card is busy with illustrations compared to others in the Rider-Waite deck, and there are images both violent and mournful as well as optimistic and mystically uplifting. The most prominent image is that of Death himself sitting atop his white steed and smiling cavalierly. Death is a skeleton dressed in knight’s armor and holding a flag with a bold, white flower of death. The horse’s one eye has no pupil or iris, making it eerie, and it has a skull and cross bone collar.

On the ground, an old king lies dead and is covered by a blanket; perhaps she was trampled by the horse. Beside the deceased woman a child and her mother, both wearing flower garlands, kneel down. The mother seems to look away, perhaps to process her emotions. A priest stands below the horse with his hands in prayer; he looks into the horse’s demonic eyes. The priest is all yellow with a tall yellow crown and majestic yellow robe that is decorated with powerful jewels or shapes. In the background is a plain with a few trees, a pond, and farther, a wide river where a ship sails. Beyond that is a waterfall, and beyond that: two, tall towers and a grand sun setting behind silhouetted mountains.

To interpret this card, first consider the interplay of forces. There is so much life in death: all manners of people are connecting. There is a priest, a child, an old king, and a young woman. As frightening as death is, it has brought people together. Also, the world continues: so much can be seen through the horse’s legs, under its belly, and past its snout. Though death goes recklessly trotting across earth, it is the humans who gather and give meaning to experience. Though they are mourning, they are alive in their mourning: they gathered the flowers for their garlands and the priest focuses his blessings toward all that continues to exists or is soon to be reborn. Death is armored and frightening, but the people below are all flesh and blood. They feel, see, here and are blessed.

As Death waves his flag, by contrast he reaffirms each human’s experience of life.

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