13. Death

Death (XIII) is the thirteenth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks.

Iconography

The Death card commonly depicts a skeleton riding a horse, sometimes with a scythe or a flag featuring a white rose on a desolate black field. Surrounding it are dead and dying people from all classes, including kings, bishops and commoners. The most common, reoccurring figure on Death cards is a child. Some decks depict the Crashing Towers from The Moon with The Sun rising behind them in the background. Some decks, such as the Tarot of Marseilles, omit the name from the card.

Interpretation

The Death card is unjustly one of the most feared. In contrast to the 10 of Swords, which indicates the random and thereby premature ending, this card always stands for the natural end. More tha physical death, it represents transformation and rebirth of the consciousness into higher planes. The death skeleton comes to all as shown in the picture, child father, mother, king and priest. Death has no care for station in this material plane and all suffer the same fate in the end. Numerologically, this card is a 13/4. There were 12 disciples and Christ was the 13th. The white horse that is well tamed, symbolic of pure desires and the submissiveness to the cycles of life.

Symbolism

The fall of the king may represent the importance and magnitude of the critical event of this card, or that death takes us all equally. The reaper carries a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which according to Waite symbolises life or rebirth. The sun that reborn every morning is the symbol of immortality. The two pillars are guarding the gateway to the sun, symbolizing the knowledge needed to gain immortality. The bishop may represent faith in the face of death, faith in the divine plan, and faith that “God works in mysterious ways”. The maiden seeming distraught by the fall of the king represents the sorrow and great pain that often accompanies death. The child, seemingly entranced by the occurrence, may represent bewilderment or curiosity. In the darkness behind, according to Waite’s PKT, lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. Although some believe the New Jerusalem appears as a silhouette across the Sun, it does not appear clearly enough to be certain and may instead be the tops of The Moon’s mountains.

in the Tarot of Marseilles
Opposing cards

Fool – beginning
Empress – birth
Judgement – rebirth, fresh start

Reinforcing cards

Tower – sweeping impact, powerful forces
Eight of Wands – conclusion, ending
Five of Cups – loss, good-byes
Eight of Cups – moving on, finishing up

Reading

The Death card is a card of change, a card of transition. It signals the end of an era; a moment when a door is closing. At such times, there may be sadness and reluctance, but also relief and a sense of completion. This card reminds you to cut out the unnecessary. If we encounter this card in a reading it may be an indication that we need to learn to let go of unhealthy attachments in our lives to pave the way to a fuller, more fulfilled life of deeper meaning and significance. Death is not the end. It is only the precursor to resurrection.
Reversed, Death indicates that we may in fact be refusing to change or creating large obstacles against any element of change that may arise. There is a sense of stagnation, of being stuck in a rut, of being unwilling to adapt to a new situation.

Alternative decks

In X/1999, a manga made by CLAMP, the tarot set Death is Seishirou Sakurazuka.
In the Mythic Tarot deck, Death is depicted by Hades.

Quote

Fatigued by the flashing of the Wheel of Life, I sank to earth and shut my eyes. But it seemed to me that the Wheel kept turning before me and that the four creatures continued sitting in the clouds and reading their books.
Suddenly, on opening my eyes, I saw a gigantic rider on a white horse, dressed in black armour, with a black helmet and black plume. A skeleton’s face looked out from under the helmet. One bony hand held a large, black, slowly-waving banner, and the other held a black bridle ornamented with skulls and bones.
And, wherever the white horse passed, night and death followed; flowers withered, leaves drooped, the earth covered itself with a white shroud; graveyards appeared; towers, castles and cities were destroyed.
Kings in the full splendour of their fame and their power; beautiful women loved and loving; high priests invested by power from God; innocent children–when they saw the white horse all fell on their knees before him, stretched out their hands in terror and despair, and fell down to rise no more.
p. 60
Afar, behind two towers, the sun sank.
A deadly cold enveloped me. The heavy hoofs of the horse seemed to step on my breast, and I felt the world sink into an abyss.
But all at once something familiar, but faintly seen and heard, seemed to come from the measured step of the horse. A moment more and I heard in his steps the movement of the Wheel of Life!
An illumination entered me, and, looking at the receding rider and the descending sun, I understood that the Path of Life consists of the steps of the horse of Death.
The sun sinks at one point and rises at another. Each moment of its motion is a descent at one point and an ascent at another. I understood that it rises while sinking and sinks while rising, and that life, in coming to birth, dies, and in dying, comes to birth.
“Yes,” said the voice. The sun does not think of its going down and coming up. What does it know of earth, of the going and coming observed by men? It goes its own way, over its own orbit, round an unknown Centre. Life, death, rising and falling–do you not know that all these things are thoughts and dreams and fears of the Fool”? – The Symbolism of the Tarot by P D. Ouspensky (1913)

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