Death is the 13th of the Major Arcana tarot cards and represents profound transformations, in which an outworn aspect of self or stage of life is surrendered in order to make space for the new. It speaks to the inevitability of change that is woven into the fabric of life and hints at the growth that can come from moving with, rather than against, life’s ebbs and flows.

Death Tarot Card Upright and Reversed Keywords
Death tarot card upright and reversed keywords.

Death is associated with the element of water, the planet Pluto, and the zodiacal sign of Scorpio, which is named after the scorpion, a creature capable of withdrawing into itself to survive the most extreme conditions. In this way, Scorpio is associated with intense resilience and a radical capacity for regeneration.

Death Keywords

Upright keywords

Reversed keywords

release, transformation, change, major transition

resistance to change, feeling stuck, inability to let go, blocked transitions

Description of the Death Tarot Card

If The Hanged Man represents the leaf falling from the tree, then the Death card represents the active process of its decay and the promise of its regeneration as it becomes incorporated into the soil below. When we consider that Death appears not at the end of the Major Arcana but towards the middle, we can glean part of its message; death is neither the end nor a literal death, but instead a necessary stage of transformation in The Fool’s Journey. When a tarot card combination includes an upright Death and an upright Fool, it can signify the end of innocence or a new beginning.

In the classic Rider Waite Smith tarot deck, we’re greeted by a skeleton in black armor who resembles the Grim Reaper. The skeleton is riding a white horse and waving a black flag with a Rosicrucian rose, referencing the alchemical transmutation of base metals into gold. Symbolically, this speaks to the experience of using one’s pain for personal transformation and growth, and for turning grief into strength.

The skeleton’s horse tramples the dying souls from all walks of life (a bishop, a king, and a group of peasants). In the end, the Great Leveler spares no one. For all this grim suffering, there’s also a glimmer of hope: the Sun rising in the East, between two pillars which we’ll soon see again in the Moon card.

Death Upright Meaning

This card can appear when one is in the middle of a major transition, an ending, or a life change. It is a reminder that while these changes can feel painful or uncomfortable, they represent a positive development that brings you to a new life or new phase of life. If you can endure this time of flux, there is a profound rebirth on the other side.

Death reminds us that life is precious and asks us if we are living each day with gratitude, presence, and awareness of its finitude. It reminds us that none of us can avoid suffering, physical death, loss, and grief. The more we can identify with our interior skeletons (or our inner self) as our true nature, the more we can increase our capacity to live meaningfully.

If this card appears in the middle of a difficult time or transition, it suggests that these experiences are necessary in order to move you toward a better phase of life. When you accept your fear and act courageously in spite of it, you become more connected to your inner source of power and more connected to the preciousness of life.

Love and Relationships (Upright Meaning)

An upright Death card can represent a major transition within a relationship, and that you are releasing an old way of relating to embrace a new, healthier relationship. You or your partner could be experiencing intense changes which upend the foundations of your life, and this could be testing the strength of your bond. This card suggests that if you can endure the changes with perseverance, your partnership will be stronger as a result.

It can also reflect the ending of a relationship or a connection. You may be walking away from someone who does not meet your needs or who you feel out of alignment with. While this may be painful, this card suggests that it is in your best interest to leave an unsatisfying relationship in the past.

Career and Finance (Upright Meaning)

In the upright position of a tarot reading, Death can suggest that you are releasing a mindset about your career that is stunting your growth. Perhaps you are letting go of limiting beliefs, ways of working that don’t satisfy you, or unconscious attitudes that inform the way you relate to your work. Some aspect of your work (or attitude about your work) is ready to die off. Embrace the power of renewal that this process offers.

If you have been chasing external markers of success that don’t truly satisfy your soul, the Death card indicates that you could be leaving a position, job, career path, or your own business to search for something that resonates with your true talents and desires. If this feels scary, the card is a reminder that these changes are happening to benefit your growth and evolution. Like the phoenix, you will rise from the ashes and experience a rebirth.

Love/relationship upright keywords

Career/finance upright keywords

major transitions, relationship tests, strength through perseverance, releasing a connection

releasing limiting beliefs, career transition, overcoming fear of change, renewal

Death Reversed Meaning

In the reverse position of a tarot spread, Death suggests that you’re resisting a big change out of fear of the unknown.  As a result, you could be feeling stuck and blocked in a time of important transition. The energy has become stalled, and this resistance is the true source of pain.

When this card appears reversed, it could feel exceedingly difficult to let go of the past or to move on from old hurts. You could be ruminating on the past, unable to find peace with what’s happened or an old wound that still stings. Or you might prefer to stay in a situation that’s uncomfortable but familiar rather than risk the discomfort of being in the unknown.

If you accept the impermanence of life—all of its joys and its sorrows—you can approach it with more reverence, gratitude, and consciousness. You can grow more tolerant of suffering, loss, and change because you’ll be deeply in touch with its inherent flux and closer to the present moment, the beating heartbeat of your life.

Love and Relationships (Reversed Meaning)

In a love tarot reading, Death reversed asks if you are resisting the major changes that are taking place in your relationship by trying to control the course of events. It asks you if you’re avoiding a deep emotion and reminds you that you are capable of withstanding these feelings, however scary they may seem.

If there are changes you feel you must make in your relationship but find yourself resisting them, this card is an encouragement to fearlessly explore what is keeping you stuck. When you summon the courage to examine what has shifted in your relationship, you can rise to the challenge of moving through them.

Career and Finance (Reversed Meaning)

In the reverse, Death indicates that you are in the midst of a major career transition and that you may be resisting it or blocking it due to anxiety about the unknown. You may have outgrown a position or a role, and it is time to move on to the next chapter, but fear or low self-esteem is keeping you stuck. This card asks you to confront and release your fears because a new beginning awaits you.

You can experience a rebirth in your career if you courageously confront your fears and leave the old behind. You can embrace change, new business, and new opportunities when you cut your ties to any illusory desires around your work and connect to what is truly worthy of your energy.

Love/relationship reversed keywords

Money/career reversed keywords

resisting change, avoiding feelings, emotional exploration

blocked career transition, fear of leaving the old, embracing new opportunities