This Is the Most Misunderstood Tarot Card

October 17, 2019

In this series, Jamie Richardson of Ember + Aura Tarot explains how to embrace the message of each major arcana card. 

For those unfamiliar with Tarot, no card is more feared and less understood than Death. This major arcana, with its skull and bones, seems to be a harbinger of our very own demise. However, all Tarot readers know this isn’t a card to dread—rather, it is a guide that leads us to the natural end of a significant phase of life. Quite simply, Death signals the conclusion of one thing and the beginning of another. When we learn to welcome its arrival, we acknowledge the part of our lives that has run its course. This act of recognition creates space for new life to take root and begins the process of rebirth.

Why do we avoid the thought of our own life ending? Aside from the loss of connection to all we love and possess, it is the unknown that scares us the most. There is no greater mystery than death and what it holds for us. So tightly is the veil held in place, nobody has ever been able to provide proof of what is on the other side. We all have our theories, and many claim to have the ability to see through this barrier, but, from a scientific standpoint, no concrete evidence of the continuation of life after death exists. How we hate the invisible path! So, we put death on a shelf, or bury it in the furthest recesses of our minds.

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The truth is that death is not all that different from birth. Rather than the soul’s entrance, it is its exit, although they both use the same door. If we could all begin to view our lifespan as a cycle, rather than a timeline that abruptly ends at a cliff’s edge, maybe we could learn to see the beauty in death. That she welcomes us into the unknown and prepares us for whatever is next for our spirit.

In order to apply this interpretation in Tarot, we have to give our lives an honest assessment and take note of what has run its course. This might be a marriage, a career, or a religious belief. It could represent the end of summer, a teenager who leaves home for college, or the onset of menopause. One thing is for certain: every living thing dies. When we draw the Death card, we are being asked to let go of that which has come to an end. If we are not ready to admit we’ve arrived at this inevitable conclusion, Death will give us the nudge we need to open our eyes and accept this universal truth. In this case, the Death card will often arrive reversed, essentially a breach version of that which must happen, but we refuse to acknowledge.

There are several ways we can harness the energy of the Death card and bring about powerful change in our lives. The first may seem counterintuitive, because we are actually being called to do nothing. The existential shift that Death brings is actually supported by our own surrender. We allow this mystery to enfold us and we await rebirth. The practiced art of non-resistance will aid us in this process. By simply recognizing that we’ve reached an expiration, we awaken and honor the seeds of renewal.

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Conversely, we can assist our own growth by creating a ceremony for Death. Just as a snake sheds its skin, we are called to do the necessary work in order to let go of what is old and no longer serves us. A beautiful way to shed our skin is to offer gratitude for what once contained us. When our grip has loosened on our old life, we can view it objectively and take note of all the ways it brought us joy. Much like a memorial service we can bury a love letter to this former way of life or burn and scatter its ashes. Small rituals such as these are powerful catalysts for change and rebirth.

In conclusion, there is no actual conclusion. The Death card in Tarot is always about transformation and how the end of one aspect gives way to a new one. When we learn to embrace the unknown and let go of our need to understand the process, we can transition gracefully into a stronger, wiser version of ourselves. By doing this we invite new opportunities for growth and follow the natural rhythms of the spiral path that all of creation walks.