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That Scary Death Card - What You Need to Know About This Terror of the Tarot

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A spiritual counselor and psychic for over 30 years, I share my knowledge of the psychic readings, tarot and the magickal arts.

What Death Means

If there's anything that terrifies folks about having a Tarot reading, it's the possibility of the Death Card coming up.

Spread by movies trying to sensationalize drama and abused by the occasional unscrupulous reader, the Death Card strikes fear into the heart of anyone who doesn't understand it.

It sure doesn't help that this poor card happens to be number 13 in the order. The triskaidekaphobia just adds to it's Bad Boy reputation!

Death Card from the Robin Wood Tarot

Death Card from the Robin Wood Tarot

But this tarot card rarely -- if ever -- predicts physical death.

In fact, when its energy is used in powerful and effective ways in your life, this is an extremely useful and positive card.

Instead, the Death Card is all about those little deaths that we experience every day. Every time you:

  • Quit a job
  • End a relationship
  • Finish an artistic project and send it out into the world
  • Send your kid off to college
  • Finish a book or see the end of a movie

...You're experiencing some form of death. That's exactly the sort of thing this card predicts. It's about the inevitable changes that we live every single day of our lives, and the power of letting go.

So let's talk about the real meaning of this feared and reviled card, how it's abused and how it should be used.

If You Don't Allow Death

Take a rose and put it in a plastic zip bag. What happens? The moisture in the rose eventually creates mold and rot, and you end up with a bag of something stinky and foul where beauty once lived.

If you don't quit that job you can't open yourself to another. If you don't get out of a relationship that's unhealthy for you, you won't be open to a new and more fulfilling one when it comes. Holding that manuscript in your drawer won't get it published. And if you don't allow your children to separate themselves from you, not only will they never have the experience of being fully adults, but they'll probably resent you for it.

Death leads to Rebirth

The Death Card is the power of the chrysalis. A caterpillar doesn't know what's going to happen to it when it's time to go into that state. It merely trusts that it's time to do so, spins it's chrysalis or coccoon and allows itself to be transformed. When it emerges, it is as a butterfly (or moth) transformed in beauty and given the chance to fly.

Many Death Cards actually show a butterfly, a caterpillar or both right on the picture.

Letting go of things that hold us back is healthy step that we should take in our lives. If we don't give into the Death Card, then we don't give ourselves the opportunity to fly.

Death Card Poll

Does the Death Card EVER predict physical death?

Very rarely. But no psychic with any sense of morality will tell you that's what's going to happen. In a bit I'll explain that in depth.

So if you get the Death Card in a reading, depending on where it falls -- past, present or future, it means that you have recently experienced, are right in the middle of, or will soon experience a situation where you need to, "let go and let God." Instead of fearing this transformation, embrace it and allow it to bring beauty, power and strength into your life.

Why Death is Good

The symbolism of the card and its deeper meanings

Roses bloom and fade and turn to rosehips (high in vitamin C!) and then return to bloom again next year. This is just part of the natural order of things, and is why the symbolism on this card often depicts a rose.

If you prune your rose bush (and otherwise nurture it, of course) you will be rewarded with a healthy plant that produces buds and blooms every year. In your own life, if you allow the little deaths to end naturally and take their course, your life will be happier and healthier in both the long and short run.

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Fear of Death

And Fear Itself

While we're talking about symbolism, let's not forget about the fact that in almost every deck, right in the middle and biggest of all, is either a picture of a skeleton, or that most hated boogeyman of all, the Grim Reaper.

Incidentally, the fear of death is called Thanatophobia.

Most of our fear of death is a fear of the unknown.

We can listen to clairvoyants and mediums from Edgar Cayce to John Edwards. We can read umpteen books with various theories about reincarnation or ghosts or life after death. We can even take meditative journeys to experience what we believe are our past lives.

.But the only way we'll every really, truly and unequivocally know about what happens after we die is by experiencing it.

Fun Fact: We tend to fear what we don't know and understand.

But we already know about death.

Every spring grows and ripens into summer. Every summer burgeons with life. Then after the harvest it fades into autumn. As autumn wanes, the snows fall and cover the land with stillness and quiet. Yet every year, the first crocus pushes through the snow. The snow begins to melt and the seeds stir, the sap runs and the trees begin to bud and flower until green covers the Earth once again.

Why should we expect life and death to be any different?

Okay, I know - we live in a global world now. You might be reading this article from a place where the seasons are Rainy and Dry or where you don't get a true winter (like here in Florida) or (like Colorado) where the seasons are Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Construction. Let's just focus on the metaphor. Whatever your seasons are, they're still cyclical. There is no begin and end point, just different places on the Wheel.

Some Fears Make Sense, Others Don't

As a kid, I was never afraid of spiders. In fact, I was fascinated by them. If one came into my house, I'd gently scoop it onto a piece of paper and move it outside. Or maybe just move it to a corner of the room where it wouldn't be bothered. Twenty years ago I moved to Florida. Here they not only have venomous Black Widows (Not everyone bitten dies, but some do. Either way I hear it's painful!) they have Brown Recluses. These spiders have a necrotic venom that can require skin grafts to fix and can even end up requiring amputation of body parts. Okay THAT scares me!

So (and no disrespect meant to you arachophobics) being afraid of spiders makes sense IF you're in a place where the spider can do something nasty.

Another example: I am terrified of sharks. Since I was a little kid, I had recurring nightmares about them. BEFORE Jaws ever came out. (Yep. Dating myself there.) It's possible that I was a pirate and walked the plank in another life, but I can't prove that. I can be pretty calm walking through the aquarium and checking out the pretty fish. Even so, I'm just waiting for the moment when the glass shatters and those toothy buggers dive straight at me personally. Being afraid of sharks, somewhat sensible, right? After all, they ARE dangerous under the right conditions. Being afraid of sharks swimming up my drainpipe and attacking me in the bath? That's me. Let's forget that it's completely impossible. Imagine my horror when the Ghost Shark movie came out!

Some things are just statistically ridiculous. What's the probability of being stabbed by a spear while you stand with one foot on a bathtub and the other on the back of a goat, on the noon of Summer Solstice? (No, I didn't make this one up, it's based on an ancient Welsh Celtic legend. Once I've written an article for it I'll explain it in depth. But that's not the point.) This one gets major point's for improbability.

Death on the other hand is very probable.

Completely probable in fact.

Let's ask this very important question: How useful is it to be afraid of death?

My answer: Not very. It won't stop death from happening someday.

When I'm Asked About Death in a Reading

As a psychic who works in a busy venue where I'm dealing with new clients almost every day, it's a rare night when I don't get at least one question about our buddy the Death Card. Some clients even ask, "Can you tell me when I'm going to die?"

My response to this question is: There are only a few questions that I won't ask the cards, and that's one of them. Because we all die. I will die. You will die. You and I could both die tomorrow or we could die 50 or 100 years from now. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you LIVE. Fully. Every single day of your life, whether it's the last one or not.

Every single day is precious whether it's part of a large chain or a short one. And the choices we make, the actions we take every single day will determine what could or might happen tomorrow. It's a question that I as a reader can't ask because I truly don't care about it. What I can ask is how you can improve the quality of your life now. Today. What do you need to know to be a happier, healthier, more fulfilled person?

The Deck I Use Most For Reading Professionally

The photo of the Death Card at the top of this page was taken from the Robin Wood Deck, my favorite Tarot for doing readings for the public. I've used this deck for just shy of 20 years. I get oohs and ahs, from the folks passing my table when they look over it.

I love the illustrations. Not only are they GORGEOUS they're also bright and cheery, in contrast to the usual drear Waite deck.

Symbolism is similar to the Waite deck, making it easy for the beginner. And of course there's a bit of pagan flavor, as you can see from the horned-priest Magician card on the cover, however it's not so overtly pagan that it scares folks away.

Although the Death Card above contains most of the "usual" symbolism, it (like many in this deck) also adds some new symbols that bring additional depth and meaning. The birch trees in the picture represents the month of Beithe (or Beth) from the Ogham Calendar (the tree-alphabet of the Celtic druids). and which starts in our modern calendar's month of November.

(It's actually a lunar calendar, but I'll go into that in another article, sometime.)

As this month is the beginning of that calendar the birch trees point out that the end of something is once again the beginning.

Robin Wood Deck

And Finally! A book to go with the above deck...

Most authors of Tarot decks include a full length book geared specifically to theirs. Until recently, the Wood deck didn't have one.

Lucky for us, this has now changed. This book features the history of the Tarot, common symbolism and the special aspects of symbolism in Robin's cards. (Such as what I've said about the birch trees.)

And of course there is an in depth explanation of each card and details of some of her favorite spreads as well.

Robin Wood Tarot Book

There are Bigger Baddies in the Deck

There are several cards that are far more challenging than Death. Even if you're not totally on friendly terms with our skeletal buddy, these guys make him look about as frightening as Grumpy Cat.

The Fives Fives get a bad rap in the Tarot. None of the five cards are terrifically happy.

Five of Swords or Wands Both of these cards can signify a fight. With Swords it's more often about verbal or mental/emotional fights. With Wands they are fights about power and can sometimes be physical.

Five of Pentacles This card is about mental, emotional or spiritual poverty and feeling left out in the cold.

Five of Cups This card suggests depression and focus on what you've lost.

Seven of Swords Often depicted by a thief either running away, or climbing over a wall, the Seven of Swords can predict either physical theft, or someone who is lying to you.

Ten of Swords In most decks it's illustrated with someone who's been stabbed in the back and lies bleeding on the ground. This is not a fun card to deal with at all. It suggests possible betrayal, and a situation you don't have a lot of power to change. Your choice here is to let go, or to wear yourself out fighting something you can't change.

The Devil This card is about the ways we lie to ourselves. It is the card of fear, addiction and servitude to something unhealthy for us. It might represent drugs, alcohol or physical or emotional abuse. It could be getting stuck in a dead end job, an addictive relationship, or getting drawn into negative emotional or mental patterns.

The Tower Once you've stuck yourself in negative patterns, you reduce your choices. If you don't wise up and make different and better choices (and use the Death Card to let go of them) you might get to meet the Tower. This is when all your bad decisions come crashing in on themselves. This card could represent "hitting bottom" due to an addiction, losing a job, divorce and other negative endings.

Okay Here's the Good News About These Not So Nice Cards

Once again you always have the power to make changes. If one of these cards are looming in your future, you can take steps to change what happens.

Be Aware of Reversals

Some psychics read reversals, some don't. If one of the above cards comes up reversed, it might be good news rather than bad. For example, the Devil reversed can signify letting go of addictions and other situations where you feel trapped.

Everything in Context

Few cards in the Tarot are automatically "good" or "bad." For example The Lovers and the Two of Cups, both of which are cards of love and relationship USUALLY point towards finding love or enhancing the love that's there. But if they're coupled with the Devil they might signify codependency. If reversed they might speak of partnerships that go wrong.

No Ethical Reader Will Predict Death

And Why Unethical Ones Sometimes Do

We all die. That's just a fact of life. But no ethical and educated psychic reader will ever predict your death or that of someone else.

There is no such thing as the future being "Set in Stone." A reading can tell you what MAY happen if you don't make changes, but we all have Free Will. So if there's an opportunity for something bad to happen, there's also the opportunity to make a different choice. A good psychic reader will help you to find those choices and act on them.

Telling someone, "you will die," sets up a post-hypnotic suggestion that can change the future. It can actually CAUSE death.

Because the client already feels death is inevitable they might:

  • Refuse to deal with a pressing medical issue out of fear.
  • Lose the Will to Live that is so important to overcoming any critical illness.
  • Be distracted while driving or doing some other dangerous task.
  • Even commit Suicide. After all, they're going to die anyway. Why not just get it over with?

Why Readers Predict Death

It comes down to one of two issues. Either they're uneducated or they're trying to scare you and scam you.

Some readers just don't know better.

You might be dealing with a new reader who's learned from the "dinky book" that comes with most decks. Or they could have studied for years, but have never been trained in counseling or in what to say if a "bad" card comes up. (In my opinion, having some study of counseling, whether as part of religious training, or as a field of academic study is cruical for any professional psychic.) They may not even KNOW -- as you do now -- that the Death card doesn't mean physical death.

Then there are the scam artists.

Sad to say, but there are so-called psychics that will predict horrible things. On Purpose.

What are they trying to do? Usually one of three things:

  1. If you're not a client, of theirs yet, they may be trying to entice you to become one in the first place.
  2. If you're already a client, they may be trying to con you into having more readings...and more readings, so that you can find out how to fix the problem. And having done as they suggested, another reading to see if you're still in danger.
  3. Similar to #2, they may offer to do a Special Super Dooper Powerful Spell to Save Your Life. "That'll be $50 extra for that candle, please." (Or $500, even!)

It's a shame that they give those of us who devote our lives to helping people a bad name.

Example of a Real Live Psychic Scam

Not the Death Card, but Close

My dad got a mailing from a so-called psychic once. She told him she was a fabulous, famous astrologer and that someone had brought his chart to her attention. And she had been horrified, because of the terrible, evil, very bad things that were going to happen to him.

But ONLY she (because she was such a wonderful psychic and astrologer, all-around nifty person and so much better than the poor minion who had shown her the chart) realized that beyond that disaster that could not be averted without her personal help, was a wonderful future of happy fluffy bunnies and sparkly rainbows. She encouraged him to RUN to the post office to send her a money order for $75.

Oh yeah, and along with the $75, so that she could help him "even more" (than she already was by being nice enough to inform him about the cataclysmic black cloud lurking over his head) he should include his date, time and place of birth.

Fortunately, rather than sending the money to this scam artist, he called me, saying, "you know about this sort of stuff, right?"

After the pain from laughing had subsided enough for me to speak again, I pointed out a simple and very pertinent fact about astrology:

If you don't already have someone's date, time (though this can be worked around if you don't know your exact birth time) and place of birth, you CANNOT run and examine someone's chart.

It's just not possible. That information is fundamentally necessary for a chart.

Which meant that her whole story about looking over his chart and finding doom and gloom written all over it was pure Male Bovine Excrement.

What a Real (and Ethical) Psychic Reader Will Say

Should an ethical psychic see the potential (and remember, it's only a POTENTIAL) for something bad to happen, they'll will NOT come out and say something like "you're going to be in a car accident" or "you're going to die of cancer" or "you're getting divorced."

In the case of a car accident, they might warn you that your temper is a challenge, and you need to deal with issues of road rage. Or that you've got to make sure you get more sleep, and don't drive or operate heavy machinery when you're tired. Or that you need to deal with issues of alcoholism. Or that you have tendencies towards carelessness that might lead you to be unobservant or distracted. Or "When's the last time you did basic maintenance on your car?" Exactly what they say will depend on what else they see in the cards that suggests the problem involved.

In cases of physical health, a reader might ask how long it's been since your last check up and suggest you have one. They will never diagnose your symptoms unless in addition to being a psychic, they're also medical professionals.

If you're having relationship issues, a reader might ask about the state of your relationship in a general way, such as "how's your relationship going, right now?" and then make suggestions based on whether you seem want out of the relationship or to make it stronger and healthier. And they'll often give you both options. It's rare that they'll suggest you get a divorce unless you clearly want one.

Ethical reading is all about giving readers options, not "telling them what to do."

Looking for Help Across the Threshold

There have been occasions when the client comes to me already knowing that they or a loved one are terminal. This is different than my predicting death. They're not asking, "am I going to die?" or about the fate of a loved one.

What they want is to know how to deal with and get through the process of getting ready and letting go and grieving. In this case, I will gently acknowledge that yes, death may be coming, and then counsel them on the things they can do to make the ending easiest and most loving for all involved, and how to release their own fears.

At the same time, I will remind them that giving in to death is still a choice, and offer suggestions on other avenues they may wish to try if they still want to fight. And that it's okay (especially if they're in pain) not to fight anymore.

A True Death Card Scare Story

One day a woman approached me at the cafe where I work and said she was concerned about her daughter. Now, as a rule, I won't read about someone who isn't sitting in the chair in front of me. Just like you wouldn't want me to gossip about you, you might not want me to tell your Mom (or anybody else) about your personal life based on what I see in the cards. What I will do: If you have a concern with someone you're close to or dealing with, and your relationship with them has challenges, I'll tell you what YOU can do to help that relationship, or what advice YOU can best give your loved one from your own personal understanding of life and the Universe. With the caveat that you can offer them the advice but you can't force them to make changes in their life. It is their life after all.

The one place I don't go by this policy is when it regards children under 18. First off, I won't read minors as many years back there was a giant blow-up at the Cafe about -- guess what? the Death Card -- and either the kid or the parent lied about what got said. The reader got fired. On occasions I'll read kids over 16, if I feel there's a pressing need but, when possible I'll ask that they bring a parent to the table. Second, with minors, I feel that it's the parent's duty to protect their child, and therefore my ethics say I can read directly about them.

Anyway, I asked, and found out that the daughter was in her 20s, and therefore off limits to talk about other than in the context of their relationship as mother daughter. My intuition was screaming that there was something very wrong happening (and something that WAS or had been made the mother's business). Sometimes you have to go with your gut.

I laid out the cards and everything about them looked peachy keen. The young woman was doing well in school, her physical health was fine, her emotional health was excellent, she was creating healthy relationships in her life, and was looking forward to a terrific job when she got out of school.

But the Mom looked at me with fear in her eyes and said, "I'm afraid she's going to commit suicide."

Wow! Okay, that's certainly something to be concerned about. So I added to the reading. And couldn't find a single indication that the woman was depressed, or that she'd ever contemplate suicide or have any reason to.

Finally I turned to the mother and said, "What specific reason do you have to think she might commit suicide?"

Can you guess the punchline?

A few years before the young woman had a reading. And the Death Card came up. And for whatever reason, the so-called "psychic" told this girl that she was going to commit suicide.

For three or four years, this young woman (and her mother, whom she had confided in) had walked around in mortal fear that she would one day, out of the blue and for no apparent reason, kill herself.


That's what happens when your reader either doesn't understand the cards or is out to scam you, if you don't know enough about it yourself. And anyone who poses as a professional and tells a person something like this? In my mind they're outright criminals!


13 Tips for Getting a Great Psychic Reading

If you're interested in seeing a psychic, this article will help you get the most out of your reading.

© 2014 Lionrhod

What's your opinion on the Death Card?

Bev G from Wales, UK on October 24, 2017:

Such a good article. Really reassuring, entertaining and informative.

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on November 20, 2015:

Great point, and thanks! I agree that we are all part of that energy.

Karen Kay from Jackson, MS on October 19, 2015:

so-called “negative” cards help us to know how to cope with obstacles in our path. Maybe we had a “nagging feeling” about something, and the tarot clarifies it for us with a card. Now we know what we are facing and how to approach the issue. I believe the universe always works in tandem with the tarot, and that we are all part of the energy of the universe. We may still be figuring out how to tap into that energy, but the tarot is a great tool to help us get there. If we do not face our fears, we can never get past them to the truth, and light, of who we are within. Thanks for a great hub on this touchy subject for many!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on September 15, 2015:

So very true.

Jim on September 14, 2015:

If you are terrified of this card then there must be some misunderstanding because the card merely speaks of transition in ones life. Moving from an old state of things to a new one. It has nothing to do with literal death.

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on June 21, 2015:

:) Thanks!

Lettie on February 20, 2015:

What a great rescruoe this text is.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 23, 2014:

Thank you for sharing this informative hub about Tarot cards. I find the interpretation of the cards a very interesting topic. I've wanted to get a Tarot deck for some time. The Robin Wood version looks like a good choice!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on October 21, 2014:

Ty much! Few of the Major Arcana are ever easy, but yes, it's exactly about learning from our lessons.

Mel92114 on October 20, 2014:

Great read! The Death Card is one of my favorites. For me, it's about transition and leaving behind that which no longer serves. I welcome it. Even though it's not always easy, I appreciate the eventual result and the lessons learned.

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on September 19, 2014:

:) Happy to Billy.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 17, 2014:

I know nothing about Tarot...looks like I now have a teacher. :)

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on September 13, 2014:

Thanks much! Yep! At the Cafe where I read I find I have to explain the Death Card over and over, pretty much every night.

We actually pull the Death Card out when we read there now. *Sigh.* One of our readers got fired over it because some kid lied and said the reader told her she'd die. (I know it's not true because he was one of my Tarot teachers.) It's also why we no longer read anyone under 18.

Mackenzie Sage Wright on September 12, 2014:

Great hub, so true. A lot of people fear the death card so when it turns up in a reading (especially for someone new to tarot readings) the first thing you have to explain is that it's nothing to worry about, that it symbolizes transitions rather than physical death. I would much prefer see the death card than the Tower or the 10 of swords.

I use the Robin Wood deck mainly as my go-to, and I love the death card in it. It's one of the reasons I was drawn to the deck in the first place.

tonyleather on March 25, 2014:

I think of it more as the transition card, moving from one state of being to the next!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 24, 2014:

@Nightcat: :) Yes! I feel that the Tarot is a method that just helps me filter what I'm getting on an intuitive level. LOL also a lot easier than palmistry in a dark restaurant!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 24, 2014:

@nonya222: I haven't used I Ching much, but I find it fascinating. I'm going to have to get another copy of that book!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 24, 2014:

@takkhisa: Thanks, and exactly!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 15, 2014:

@Arachnea: Yes exactly. You are spot on!

Tanya Jones from Texas USA on March 15, 2014:

For me, the death card means the cessation of one state of being, situation or condition and a definite change, rebirth or embarking on a new one. The cards though, must be read with respect to the other cards around it.

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 10, 2014:

@Donna Cook: I love Friday the 13ths!

Donna Cook on March 10, 2014:

Almost stopped my heart! At least the first time it came up. Luckily I don't suffer from triskaidekaphobia because I was born on the 13th of the month, which happened to be a Tuesday that year. Friday the 13th birthdays are the best!

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 10, 2014:

@LynxLee: Ouchies. That can happen. It's important that folks remember that the card doesn't MAKE anything happen, It just points to what is already going on. It's probable that the relationship was already rocky, and that her reading allowed her to see that and make changes. Congratulations on having met your new wife!

LynxLee on March 09, 2014:

I know when I was with my ex, we asked a simple question of how our relationship is going... she got the "Death" card.. the relationship ended in a few weeks. Like you stated above, there's always rebirth. She's with someone right after that. I had to go through "Therapy" (a few other exs) before meeting my wife now.

Takkhis on March 05, 2014:

What an interesting lens! No way, we all have to die someday, no one knows when it comes though.

Lionrhod (author) from Orlando, FL on March 05, 2014:

@JRLSolutions: Thanks! Hehe I might just do that eventually!

Joy Lynskey from Vinton, Va on March 05, 2014:

Great death card story! Great lens too. You should do all the major arcana!

Joy Lynskey from Vinton, Va on March 05, 2014:

Great death card story! Great lens too. You should do all the major arcana!

nonya222 on March 04, 2014:

Great lens! I use Tarot less than I Ching but find both fascinating.

Nightcat on March 03, 2014:

I love getting the Death card myself since to me it signifies change or several other positive meanings. I love how two people can read the Tarot on a regular basis, have such different metods and yet get errific results. Great lens, well done! :)

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