Death (Tarot card)

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Death (XIII) is the 13th trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks. It is used in Tarot card games as well as in divination. The card typically depicts the Grim Reaper, and when used for divination is often interpreted as signifying major changes in a person's life.


Some decks, such as the Tarot of Marseilles and Visconti Sforza Tarot omit the name from the card, calling it "The Card with No Name", thus giving the card a broader and less frightening meaning. There are other decks that title Death as "Rebirth" or "Death-Rebirth."

The Death card usually depicts the Grim Reaper, the personification of Death. In some decks, the Grim Reaper is riding a pale horse, but more often he is wielding a sickle or scythe. Surrounding the Grim Reaper are dead and dying people from all classes, including kings, bishops and commoners. The Rider-Waite tarot deck depicts the skeleton carrying a black standard emblazoned with a white rose. In the background are the towers from the Moon card with the Sun setting behind them.



According to Eden Gray and other authors on the subject, it is unlikely that this card actually represents a physical death, rather it typically implies an end, possibly of a relationship or interest, and therefore an increased sense of self-awareness—not to be confused with self-consciousness or any kind of self-diminishment.[1][2]

In fact, Eden Gray interprets this card as a change of thinking from an old way into a new way. The horse Death is riding is stepping over a prone king, which symbolizes that not even royalty can stop change.[3]

The card, drawn in reverse, can be interpreted as stagnation and the inability to move or change according to Eden Gray. [4]

According to A. E. Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot, the Death card carries several divinatory associations:[5]

13. DEATH.—End, mortality, destruction, corruption; also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor; for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects. Reversed: Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.

Other versions[edit]

  • In the Mythic Tarot deck, Death is depicted by Hades.
  • In the Sun and Moon Tarot deck, Death is depicted as a woman bathed in fire with wings. It is titled "Death-Rebirth"
  • In the Star Spinner tarot deck, Death is depicted as a Nyx hold her child, Thanatos


  1. ^ Gray, Eden. The Complete Guide to the Tarot.
  2. ^ Bunning, Joan. Learning the Tarot.
  3. ^ Gray, Eden. Complete Guide to the Tarot (1970). New York: Crown Publishers.
  4. ^ Gray, Eden. The Tarot Revealed (1960). New York: Bell Publishing Company.
  5. ^ Waite, Arthur Edward (1979). The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. New York: Samuel Weiser. p. 285. ISBN 0-87728-218-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • A. E. Waite's 1910 Pictorial Key to the Tarot
  • Sir James Frazer The Golden Bough
  • Hajo Banzhaf, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero (2000)
  • Most works by Joseph Campbell
  • The Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley
  • G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., The Owl, The Raven, and The Dove: Religious Meaning of the Grimm's Magic Fairy Tales (2000)
  • Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (1987)
  • Mary Greer, The Women of the Golden Dawn (1994)
  • Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman (1976)
  • Robert Graves, Greek Mythology (1955)
  • Joan Bunning, Learning the Tarot
  • Juliette Wood, Folklore 109 (1998):15–24, "The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making" (1998)