The thirteenth card of the major arcana Tarot is usually unnamed. This is the Death major arcana. This card indicates a transformation of some kind or a revolutionary change, It is also a recognition of a change within ourselves, for instance: an immature adult moving out of their parent's home and finally becoming responsible for themselves. It can be a recognition that a way of life no longer works for us. The Death card can be indicating a spiritual transformation is occurring in that we no longer need to hold on to material riches and feel fulfilled by serving others or a cause. The Death card may also indicate an acknowledgment of the Divine and the need to make more room for spiritual growth.
The number 13 corresponds to the vibration of three in the Tarot where we are facing opposing or conflicting forces. We are forced to confront these forces (thoughts, lifestyle choices, relationships, habits, etc.), and we realise we can not continue on the same path. A transformation is about to take place. This sounds wonderful when we explain the card to our clients during a reading, but why do the images conjure up fear? Perhaps it's because change itself is scary, but maybe these images meant something different a long time ago. In the middle ages, the skeleton was a symbol of rebirth and that our life here on earth was to prepare for our eternal life in the afterworld. Perhaps there are warnings or things to look out for when life is taking us on a different path. Perhaps that change involves a career that requires more development of skills. Or that relationship will not survive a newfound love for the divine.
Does the death card mean the actual death of an individual? I like how Yoav ben Doav mentions in his book The Marseille Tarot Revealed, that there is a "traditional rule" that should be respected and that we "observe" and not predict the death of someone who is alive. However, this card can note that the seeker may be in mourning or experiencing a loss.
Many Tarot readers see this card as the end of a cycle. Some examples:
End of a relationship
A phase or cycle (school, youth)
End of a career by way of layoff, quitting, resignation, or firing
A move to another place
A lifestyle (end of a partying carefree lifestyle)
Whatever this "end" is, the ending comes abruptly with a decision or action by the seeker or someone else. We can note that the card indicates motion. Things are not going to stand still for you until you are ready to act or change your thinking.
Skeleton: a representation of death and perhaps in ancient or medieval times death could not be mentioned so the card is unnamed. The Image of the skeleton speaks for itself. The skeleton represents the bare bones or the remaining thing we have after everything that is needless has been shed. we start over - a resurrection/rebirth.
Limbs on the ground: the change that occurs is like cutting off something like a habit or a bond with someone. This can be painful emotionally and physically. Sometimes we "carry" people that we feel need to be "fixed" with our help, however, there comes a time when we have to let these people go.
Scythe: The scythe moves over the ground, and it looks like it was used to cut the body parts and heads. This represents that the seeker has "cut" ties or bonds with authority figures such as a boss or parent. Perhaps there is an emotional upheaval. Also, the seeker may have decided to cut a habit that is bad for their health (smoking or drinking alcohol), this comes with some pain (withdrawal pain). Some believe the scythe represents the necessary cutting off of what no longer serves us as necessary to grow. A reader may indicate that the scythe is wielding over things that are already been cut off and this can represent the seeker realising that unhealthy bonds were already cut off from their life, i.e.end of a relationship.
The Black ground: this looks gloomy but there are plants growing and this indicates rebirth. Renewal and growth occur after the necessary change. In some Marseille decks, the Death card has a green ground cover (Spanish Tarot) to represent growth happening through change.
The crowned human head on the ground: indicates an authority figure whom the seeker has cut bonds with; perhaps a parent who the seeker has let go of and moved onto independence.
The spine: The light blue colour of the spine that is connected with the garment takes the shape of a fishtail. In Tarot, the light blue colour is the indicator of spiritual awakening. The fishtail is a reference to intuition.
The red colour at the base of the spine: Reminds us to be grounded when change occurs. Sometimes change happens so quickly it shakes us to the core. Practice grounding, and meditation and take care of your health needs.
Foot on the head of the female head- In some tarot cards this head looks more childlike which indicates a move in the direction of adulthood. The need to look after oneself.
Direction: The direction of the skeleton figure is towards the right - right is forward indicating an action to be (or currently being) carried out. Direction to the left is more reflective or in some instances indicates a "shock" and forces us to change our perspective on life.
Symbols in the Rider Waite Death Card:
Armour: Strength required for the next phase; also symbolising protection when entering the next phase of life. Self-care required
Knight's Armour: Action required
White Rose: Rebirth; new beginnings. The message of hope so please do not despair. With roses come thorns so take care when confronting obstacles along your new path. A rose is a symbol of beauty. See the beauty in change -change is an opportunity
Horse: Symbol of Strength, action, and initiative
Flag: Message of change that is loud and clear. Call to action.
Sun: Symbol of growth and hope. Life's new direction is clear. In the card, the sun is rising to indicate a new beginning. Or is the Sun sitting at midday? The sun also represents transition.
Boat: Our thoughts and how they influence our actions. Indicates travel or a move to another place
Tower: Symbolises a connection to the divine; a spiritual influence is taking place
Crown: our connection to the divine
When the Death card appears in a reading about relationships:
It is time, to be honest about a relationship in your life. Let's face it, you are at a tarot reading for a reason. A relationship is not going so well and you know it. You are still clinging to something that ended a while ago because it feels comfortable for you. No matter how much you hang on, you won't change the fact that it has ended and it's better to put that energy into facing this reality. Perhaps the other party has changed and moved on without you realising it or perhaps you are waiting for a reason to call it finished. Seems harsh? Sorry, but the sooner you accept the end of this relationship, the sooner you will move forward. When this acceptance happens it will be a breath of fresh air for you. A reversed Death card has a similar meaning, but perhaps you have this knowledge already of the relationship ending. You are in mourning for this finished relationship and it may have caused you to have some anxiety. Self-care is called for and it's okay to reflect on what went wrong just make sure to allow yourself to move on and renew.
When the question is about money:
This indicates a loss, but it will be a huge lesson for you. Don't waste your energy worrying. Perhaps talking to the bank about how you can consolidate a debt or low-interest rates on a loan. whatever the loss, action is required. Don't feel you shouldn't ask for help because there will be someone who can give good advice, a job opportunity, or a loan. You can get through this difficult time and you will learn from it. If the Death card is reversed, you are probably having money problems and you know it. review your budget. Look at what you are spending your money on because there are things you need to cut out of the budget. It is also an indication of relying on a source of money that will not always be there for you i.e. parent providing money to a grown child. You have been warned that this source will be cut off if it hasn't happened already.
When the question is about the career:
There comes a time when you know you can't go further in a company or a career path and as painful as it is to acknowledge this, it can be liberating. You have done all that you could and now it is time to make a change. You have choices and you can make the decision to leave a job. You can do this! When the Death card is reversed, a change has been gradual and now it is time to face the reality that a job or career isn't working out and it is time for you to make some decisions. The reversed card indicates the fear you have with change, but you can do this. There may also be a shock in the workplace such as layoff or duction of hours and wages. Turn the energy you are currently putting towards fear of the future into action. Make this a time for opportunities.
When the question is about health:
Self-care is caring for yourself as well as others. It is not selfish. Be careful not to self-medicate with alcohol or other harmful substances. You may be suffering the loss of someone and in mourning, but keep moving forward. Life is for living and honouring someone you love by living your life with purpose and love. You may also find spirituality makes your life richer than material goods. You have learned to "love people, use things and worship the divine" (Arthur Brooks in his book From Strength to Strength). You are entering a new phase of life and you have changed. When this card is reversed, it is time to take care of your health because you can not continue with habits that are toxic. You may be experiencing negative emotions and thoughts so it is important to take of yourself. Perhaps a physical check-up is in order. Remember there are people who care about you and want you healthy.
Keywords: change, radical change, transformation, a new path, spiritual path, shock, loss, cut off bonds, motion, loss
Note: I referenced the book From Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks. This book is worth reading for anyone and especially for those who are dealing with change in their life.