The Death Card in Tarot: What it Really Means…

Death is one of the most elusive and mysterious cards in the Tarot deck.

There are various misconceptions about what it means and doesn’t mean. Some suggest that the Death card is an ill omen.

This is not true. While the Death card may look fearsome, it is actually a positive card.



In Tarot, Death does not symbolize what many people think it does. Receiving the Death card doesn’t automatically mean you need to panic—quite the opposite, actually. In this article, we will discuss how Death, in Tarot, can actually mean rebirth.

Symbology Of The Death Card: The Rose, the Sun, & the Styx

The main image of the Death card is Death riding a white horse. He wears a black cloak and is a skeleton. His skeleton symbolizes the only things that remain after death. Many find this captivating and neglect to view the rest of the card, missing crucial details. The most significant items on the card are the rose, the sun, and the River Styx:

  • Death’s armor signifies his invincibility. The bishop, king, and children lying at his feet show that no one is immune to Death. We all die one day.
  • The banner contains a white rose. White symbolizes purity and immortality. It also stands for illumination, rebirth, and rejuvenation.
  • The sun symbolizes something similar. The sun “dies” nightly and disappears below the horizon. Darkness encompasses everything during the night. But, when morning comes, the sun is “reborn.” This cycle occurs daily, and the sun in the death card is actually rising, not setting, over the River Styx.
  • The two pillars guarding the gateway to the sun are white. They symbolize the knowledge you need to cross over from Earth to the Underworld.
  • The River Styx itself is a sign of immortality. It is named the_river_styx_by_malrowafter the goddess Styx. Styx was a Titaness favored by Zeus and granted the river as a sign of his gratitude towards her. The Styx was also known as the “River of Hate.” Angry souls not granted access to the underworld were sentenced by the gods to drown in the dark waters. Their penance lasted all eternity.  Despite this gloomy portrait of the Styx, legends suggest that the river had powers. These powers verged on the miraculous. For example, the Styx granted Achilles invulnerability. His mother dipped him in the river, holding him by his heel. The heel was not dipped in the water and became Achilles’ one vulnerability. This is where the term “Achilles heel” originates.

This imagery and history are present in this one vastly-misunderstood card. The sun, the Styx, and the rose are the key elements. They are why the Death card means something different from the superstitions.

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With “Death,” We are Reborn

Taking the meaning of the Death card too literally will cause you nothing but heartache. Instead, view the meaning in a figurative sense. Death symbolizes an ending, but this ending does not have to be that of your life. It can mean a phase in your life, or a relationship, career, partnership, or another stage that is coming to an end. This ending will allow you to grow further.

The idea of immortality doesn’t need to be taken in a literal sense. Immortality is present in the Death card. It can also mean “new life,” which can be achieved if you end unhealthy life events and stages.

If you are in a harmful situation, receiving the Death card can be a sign that changes are about to happen. This phase will come to a close, making way for something different.

Because what greater change is there than Death? Death astride a horse conquers everything in his path. Death changes and molds the landscape into something new. Even kings cannot resist Death; that is the radical nature of the card. (The image of a crownless king at the feet of Death was one that was controversial in medieval times).

Death signifies great changes, and from those changes, rebirth. These changes can take place in anyone’s life. Perhaps you have been going along with the status quo. Or, you may be feeling a sense of boredom bordering on despair. Death brings change. This change will shatter this dissatisfaction and start you on a new journey.

Death as Purification 

The concept of death as purification is one that has roots in places other than Tarot.

It is found in many mythologies, religions, and philosophies as well.

This concept of Death as “purifying” can refer to the removal of barriers to change and growth. For example, if you are stuck in your job and don’t see the potential to succeed where you are, a new job offer may come up.

Or, there might be a personnel switch about to happen. This drastic rejuvenation will change your outlook and capability for success.

It may be difficult to let go of the past or to deviate from your routine…

Humans are creatures of habit. We like to know that we are going to have security and stability, even if that comes at a cost to our spirit.

But, as the Death card signifies, Death is not to be dissuaded or bargained with. Change is coming, and whether we accept that change or not is immaterial to Death.

This change will help us grow and become new people. It will assist us in leading a more fruitful and exciting life free of previous constraints.

The Death card is misunderstood in Tarot. People tend to take its meaning literally.

They are stricken with fear at the thought that they may lose their actual physical lives.

Yet, this fear is unwarranted…

The Death card is actually far more positive than many realize. Death purifies us. It removes barriers and obstacles to our growth and allows us to be “reborn” into a new circumstance.

The Death card symbolizes change and the shedding of old, constrictive circumstances. It means the end of one situation and the new beginning of another. D

Do not fear if you receive the Death card in a tarot reading—instead, see it as an opportunity.

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