The image of Death charging across a field on his spectral steed would strike fear into the heart of almost any man. The appearance of the Death card has a similar effect on most people, though it really should not. Whether you like it or not, Death is one of the most powerful cards in the Tarot. Humans naturally fear the unknown, and so Death is our greatest fear since it is the greatest unknown. The majority of us are unaware that our mind and spirit die all the time, constantly shedding old beliefs and acquiring new ones. It has been said many times by many readers: the Death card is not a card of death – it is a card of transformation.
In the Tarot, as in reality, Death is nothing more than a transition to the next level of life. Whether you believe that a soul goes to heaven or back to Earth to be reincarnated, the fact remains that the soul lives on. The candle is extinguished, but only because the day has come. The river shown on many versions of the Death card is a symbol, showing that life will go on, no matter what disastrous things happen. The river water will reach the sea, rise into the clouds, then rain onto the land to flow into the river again. Nothing is destroyed, because nothing can be destroyed – there can be only transformation.
The only real reason the transformation shown by Death is so catastrophic is because it is being held back, fought against by those too afraid to realize that change is beneficial. Every change happens for a reason, and Death is a force like Justice in that it is absolutely fair. It does not discriminate against one group and spare another – everyone is equal in the eyes of Death. So if big changes are happening in your life it is certainly plausible that you are the reason for them. There’s no point fighting death, it only makes things worse. Like the Hanged Man, accept that change happens and let it do what it must.
Take a look at the Rider-Waite version of the Death card, and note the bishop on the right side of the image. He is actually welcoming Death, because he knows of the great spiritual transformation it brings. Almost all versions of the Death card show a symbol of resurrection or re-birth. This could be the rising sun, an egg, or a sapling sprouting from the body of a dead man. All these symbols show that to progress in life, our old form must die, just as a snake sheds its old skin to reveal a shiny new one. This is the message of the card: Death must be conquered by the regeneration of the soul, and he who knows this shall live forever.
When the Death card appears, big changes are heading your way. Usually this change refers to something in your lifestyle; an old attitude or perspective is no longer useful and you have to let go of it. While the Hanged Man was a card of voluntary sacrifice, the Death card is a forced sacrifice – but that does not mean that it is not for your own good. Sometimes you cannot see how your attitudes are hurting you, and when that is true, the Death card is your wake-up call. Death is not simply destruction; it is destruction followed by renewal. Even though one door may have closed, another is opening. Will you have the courage to step through?
If so, before you go forward, take a moment to look back. Is there anything that you are carrying with you that is no longer necessary? Let it go now, before you proceed. Are your old attitudes holding you back, or are high expectations constantly disappointing you? Cast them off, or let Death’s watery energy wash them away from you. Open yourself and let it strip away all that you no longer need – fear, revenge, intolerance. Flowers cannot bloom if the land is full of weeds which choke the ground, and likewise, your spiritual enlightenment will be held back by doubt and fear. Let them go now or risk having them painfully ripped away when Death inevitably returns.