Of all the tarot cards, it is the Death card that often gives people the most anxiety when it comes up for them in a reading. This is due to a combination of factors—1) Death, conceptually, is terrifying for most people, 2) The Death card often employs skeletal and otherwise “dark” imagery to communicate its meaning and 3) Horror movies have been known to use the Death card as a plot device to “predict” and foreshadow character deaths.
However, all of that being said and despite its name, the Death card doesn’t signify physical, bodily death so much as it does massive changes and self-transformation. You know, the kind of changes that, once they happen, push you to grow so much that it’s almost like you’re not the same person afterwards.
More than anything, the Death card is a symbol of metamorphosis and rebirth—and pushing through any anxiety one may associate with it to get to the deeper growth oriented meaning of the card is not unlike a caterpillar getting over any fear it may have of going into its dark cocoon knowing that it will emerge ready to soar with its beautiful butterfly wings.
Change is an inevitable part of life and the Death card can perhaps best be viewed not as a harbinger of change, but as a comforting companion figure there to help us navigate it.
Some important symbols to note include:
Unnamed card: the lack of Death card name on this card harkens back to the Marseille tarot decks of the 1600s, when it was considered superstitious or unlucky to say Death’s name (and therefore the card was simply called “Card 13”)
The mother figure’s skull is facing forward towards the future: life will continue on despite the less than desirable present conditions she and her child (born and unborn) are facing on their polluted shore
The young child is facing backwards towards the past: he’s looking to escape their current conditions, but he, like his mother, must accept the circumstances before him and move on in search of better days—one could compare this child, looking to his mother for comfort, to a butterfly afraid to leave its cocoon because it’s afraid of its own metamorphosis. In the card, the mother keeps the child slightly at bay, knowing only through experiencing and engaging with the world will he learn and grow
The mother’s pregnancy: she is the incarnation of death itself, but also bears a seed of new life as a symbol of hope and regeneration
Planet: Pluto, which rules over Scorpio
Stone: Tiger’s Eye