What Does the Death Card Mean in Tarot Readings?

What Does the Death Card Mean in Tarot Readings?

Having mentioned on Facebook earlier this month that turning up the Death Card during a Tarot reading is not as terrible as you may think, I believe it is only fair for me to answer that fearful question “What does the Death card mean in Tarot readings?” in a little more detail – so here are the not-quite-so-scary meanings of the Major Arcana Death Card.

A Brief Recap…

I have talked about the Tarot, its origins and its importance as a divinatory tool in my post “Understanding the Secrets of the Tarot” some time ago, so I will refrain from boring you with too many specifics here. For our purposes here, it suffices to know that:

  • A Tarot deck consists of 78 cards separated into in two parts, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana
  • The Major Arcana consists of 22 named cards, and the
  • The Minor Arcana is made up of four suits of 14 cards each

Each card has a set of meanings the interpretation of which depends on:

  • Its position within a spread (the layout of the cards during a reading)
  • Whether it is facing the right way up (upright) or upside-down (reversed) when turned over
  • Its neighbouring cards, and, of course,
  • The context within which the cards are read (i.e. your situation/question)

Finally, it is crucial to understand that the imagery on Tarot cards is SYMBOLIC and therefore neither can nor should be taken literally. This point will become more than clear as we look at the 13th card of the Major Arcana – the Death card.

Death Card Description

Before we explore the meaning of this card, let’s look at its imagery and the symbolism behind it:

Here is Death, portrayed as a “living skeleton” holding a black flag with a (rather fetching or is that just me?) white pattern while riding a handsome white horse.

The beautiful white horse he is riding symbolises purity, because Death purifies us all, and the armour he is wearing endows him with invincibility – a signal that Death cannot be destroyed by anyone.

In the dirt beneath the horse’s feet lie a pauper, a page and a king, and a priest seemingly ready to receive death stands before him. Symbolising all classes of mankind, they are here as a reminder that class, gender or race make no difference to death.

The sun setting in the background further stresses the inevitability of death – just as the sun sets each day, so death comes to us all.

I must admit, it is hardly surprising that anyone looking at this card without comprehending its real, deeper meanings would be terrified to even ask what it may mean…

So -What Does the Death Card Mean in a Tarot Reading?

The Death card is not the signal of impending “death & destruction” but one of change, transformation and new beginnings.

Drawn facing the right way up, it may indicate the end of a major phase or chapter in your life – and that a new phase/chapter is about to begin. It tells you that as one door closes and another one opens, you must focus your energy on that which lies ahead and to do that, you must let go and put the past behind you.

In the context of a reading, this may, for example, tell you that accepting the job you were offered is the right thing to do despite your misgivings about having to leave your family and friends behind.

It may also suggest that you are about to undergo a major transformation, transition or change. Here, the “old you” must “die” to allow the creation of this “new version” of you.

While this can be frightening, especially if you are not entirely sure what will happen next, you should welcome this transformation/change, because it is opening the door to new opportunities for you.

Such a change could be anything from taking up a new hobby that could lead to an entirely new career or perhaps even finding the “love of your life” to giving up “bad habits”, retraining or making major lifestyle changes.

This card may also tell you that there are “unhealthy attachments” you need to let go of in your life. This may be a bad habit, you may be “hanging out” with a group of people likely to get you into trouble or maybe you are in a relationship that has run its course or is downright bad for you – either way, you must let go and move on.

Letting go and moving on is an incredibly important part of our lives, so learning to do so is one of the lessons this card teaches us.

But – What Does the Death Card Mean in Tarot Readings when It Is Reversed?

Drawn reversed (upside down) the Death card still speaks of change, but this time it is about your fear of change or your resistance to it.

You may be afraid because you are not quite sure what changes you have to make, or you may resist transformation because you find it difficult to let the past go. Not letting go and resisting change can, however, limit your future and make you feel as though you are stuck in limbo.

Here, the Death card tells you that you should reassess your ways of approaching change in your life. You may well find that your resistance to move forward is down to fear of the unknown.

While there is nothing wrong with being a little afraid, you should believe in yourself, trust that you are heading in the right direction and move forward.

Life invariably moves on and fighting passing time by refusing to let go and resisting change will leave you with nothing but regrets – but if you heed the warnings the Death card gives you, there is no need for it to be a card of regret.


As you can see, the Death card is indeed a good card that gives you a deeper understanding of yourself & the way you approach/deal with changes in your life and helps you prepare for and welcome these changes.

Indicating wonderful changes and teaching you to let go and move on, it is a truly transformational card you have no need to fear – so if you feel you are at a crossroad in your life, get a Tarot reading with a member of my team today. You never know – Death may have some exciting surprises for you…

For UK callers, the number to call a member of my team is 0800 999 8831. Australia 1800 018 367, Canada 1866 766 9422, Ireland 0150 60693, USA 1855 864 9383, ROW +44 207 111 6115.

Tony Hyland