Death (XIII) is the most maligned and misunderstood card of the Tarot. It doesn’t literally mean that the querent – or anyone – will die, as in leave this mortal coil. It does mean the end of something, which can scare those who don’t want to let go.
Death rides a pale horse, like Death of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, bringing the end of the human empire. As can be seen in the card, the skeletal death rides a dead-looking white horse and carries a black banner with a white rose. Black symbolizes oblivion and the abyss, and white is purity. Men and woman of all ages succumb to death, including a king (the ruler of an empire), a hierophant, a child, and a young woman.
The king is dead. The hierophant bargains with death. The woman in white accepts death by kneeling but still looks away, clinging to life as shown by the rose in her hair. Only the child doesn’t look away or try to bargain with death, even though it’s in harm’s way of being crushed by the horse. The horse continues to walk forward.
However, life goes on. The sun continues to rise. Water still flows, and a ship in the distance still sails. Mountains still stand. It may be the end for some, but it isn’t for others. When one king or hierophant dies, another takes his place. Death isn’t absolute finality, but the end of one thing and the birth of another.
When a client or querent draws the Death card, something in their lives is about to come to an absolute end and be transformed into something else. They can’t go back in time, nor should they want to go back. This is a profound transition from one thing to another.
This card is feared because it’s often confused with being torn away from something desired. This card tells the querent that what they cling to is wrong for the clinging, but isn’t going to be there for the clinging. Accepting change and looking at it head on will not only spare them from disaster, but let them stick around to see the new day dawn.
When the Death card is Reversed:
The Death card reversed doesn’t mean that there is no change, or that change has been averted. The fact that the card is in the spread means that change is going to happen whether the querent likes it or not. The querent is resisting the change or trying to bargain, or holding onto a fallacy that they’re above change.
Death reversed can mean that the querent is scared of the unknown and that they would rather stay in a rut or bad situation than face the unknown, even though they know that change is going to happen. Here, the reversed card is telling them that either they have to change, or that change will happen to them, and they’ll be stuck with the results.
Unlike the Hanged Man reversed, decisions represented by this card are permanent.
In a three-card reading, this card means…
Past: In the past, the querent experienced profound, life-altering changes that put them on the course they’re on now. Their past was likely very different from the life they have now, and they may be very different from the person they once were.
Present: The querent must now make a leap of faith and accept change as inevitable. They must let go of the past and embrace an uncertain future. They may also be embracing change and winning because of it.
Future: The querent will come to a point where they have to make a major change and stick with it. They can’t stay where they are, and they can’t do it halfway. They have no choice in the matter, so they should embrace it and look toward the possibilities.