Reading tarot doesn’t have to come from a stockpile of tarot books. It doesn’t come from rote learning. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading tarot books, but I think one of the most important parts in building a strong foundation for your tarot journey is by connecting to the tarot without the input from others. The cards themselves have loads of information and language- all given through the narrative of symbolism.
By taking some time to work with a card, or multiple as we will do here, you can start to create a framework of understanding that will build an intimate connection between you, your tarot cards, and your intuition.
In this blog post, I am going to break down the symbolism from all of my Death cards- showing the similarities and differences between the cards. If you are ever struggling to connect to your interpretations and understandings of the cards, this is one of the best ways to springboard back in to the reading. One of the best things that you will find is that how you interpret the symbols may be very different than me, or any other reader. That is how it is done. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t.
Below will be a picture of each card, along with a brief discussion of the symbolism, and what it means. As you go along your tarot journey, make this a habit as you purchase or acquire new decks. It will help you see how the symbols change or remain as your tarot deck collection grows.
Starting with the Wild Unknown deck, we see a gristly image of a dead bird decaying on the ground. The colors are black and white only. This image highlights the bare truth of death- from life to death. From white to black. This is the cycle of all things.
It is important to note that the Death card is NEVER speaking to a physical death. It speaks to the death-cycles of life. There are things that we need to release and relinquish in life. Not everything can grow and bloom forever.
One key point with this card is that the image is a shock. Just like if we were walking down a path, and saw this dead bird on the ground, it would stop us in our path. That is one of the key points with the Death card. It often is a shock. The things that we need to relinquish and let go of can come willingly or unwillingly, but it is there regardless.
With this card, I see the life- the feathers of the bird are still there, and while it is only the skull, it looks as if the bird still has eyes and can see. However, we know this bird has lost its physical sense of sight, but the sight of the spirit may still endure.
Another key point here is to look at what we don’t see, but know is happening. When something dies, like this bird, and as the physical matter starts to decompose and break down, the soil becomes more fertile. The death of the bird will contribute to new life in the soil. This is the biggest teaching of the Death card. Something must fall away to make room for something else to come in and grow.
The next image is from the Dragon Tarot. In this image we see the figure of Death riding his dragon through this hillside while a castle stands in the distance, and the Sun is either setting or rising. Personally, I think it is rising because if you look in the bottom left, there is a boat that is sailing away.
We see the skeletal face of Death smiling, and his dragon is smiling as well. This could present a very foreboding image for those who dwell it, but it could also be something of a helper as well.
In the bottom right hand, you see the last few leaves being blown off the barren tree by the force of the dragon’s breath. The wind is blowing the same way the boat is sailing. This could indicate that the breath of death (in alignment with the threshold between fall and winter) could help this ship sail to new places. Again, a theme of death making room and movement for new things to take root.
Unlike the card above, this one is full of color. However, like the card above, both picture death in both active and passive places. It is active in the force of the dragon’s breath, yet also passive in that Death himself in resting his hand on his scythe. It is passive in the decay of the bird. Active in the ship sailing away, passive in the seasons changing and the sun rising
The Death card presents both active and passive death-cycles. Some are going to happen naturally. Some we must actively choose to release or let go, no matter how hard it is.
From the Ostara Tarot, we see a vulture with detached hands in very stages of movement. There are now three images with either a bird or an animal with wings. This is going to be a common theme. Wings represent freedom, transcendence, an ability to see from above.
One thing that sticks out here is the hands. The hands in their various stages of movement represent manipulation, action, or force. The hand can represent generosity and protection, or an overpowering force of strength. The hand can give and take away- Death takes away something, but gives something in return.
The plants growing out of the vulture’s eyes speak to that ability of sight- a sight of growth and new bloom taking root from the bare bones of something else.
One key thing that I want to go back to is the vulture. The vulture may kill at various times, but mostly vultures will scavage from other kills. This presents an opportunity of nourishment, to take something that has already happened and find sustenance in it. The Death card asks us to find the find opportunities of nourishment amidst the loss.
Vultures are also helpful to the ecosystem around them. Without vultures diseases and sicknesses could spread that would harm other animals and forms of life. There is an invitation to see the Death card as a needed remover of what is not meant to go forward with us.
From the Herbcrafter’s Tarot, we have the Death card accompanied by Marigold. This Death card pays homage to the sacred day of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
Bright and vibrant colors in the flowers, candles, skull, flags (papel picado), and butterflies all represent a time of celebration and honor. The guidebook for this deck says that the bright marigolds are used to help the souls of the beloved dead find their way home.
Again, we have a skeletal reference with the sugar skull. However, unlike some of the skeletal references which reference a barrenness of life, the sugar skull is used to honor and celebrate the lives lived of those who have passed on.
Unlike some of the other cards, this one brings in a sacred cultural holiday, one that isn’t scary or dark, but beautiful in reverence and honor. This is a beautiful invitation with the Death card. There can be room for brightness, celebration, and joy amidst loss. There can be a way to cherish what was lost, the hardship and opening it leaves, and still find the beautiful vibrancy of life amidst all of that.
The butterfly is symbolic of transformation in the Life, Death, Rebirth cycle. Butterflies represent renewal through patient darkness. You cannot force the butterfly to transform more quickly than it naturally will. It is the same with Death. There is a timeline here that asks for patience, trust, and faith. I encourage you to read the migration of the Monarch butterfly here, for a more in-depth understanding of deeper symbolism of the Monarch in relation to this card.
From the Hush tarot, we seen a bunch of recurring themes and symbols. The first is the obvious huge bird that takes up the majority of the image. The guidebook says that this is a Bateleur eagle- a bird known for it’s flight abilities. Bateleur is French for “street performer”, which makes sense given this bird’s ability. You can read more here.
With this bird’s flight ability, and with the recurring theme of wings, birds, or other animals that can fly, it makes sense that one of the main invitations of the Death card is finding a new way to fly. There is also an invitation of honoring when flight is no longer possible.
We have again a skull- referencing the life-death- rebirth cycles are only possible through the relinquishment of the body, attachments, or things that are not serving your forward momentum.
The skull also references that space of nourishment for the hatchlings that will emerge from the eggs (symbol of life and creation). This is reminiscent with the vulture from above.
In this card, we see life, death, and rebirth all together. The Death card (and the array of birds and winged creatures) invite you to take time to see the bigger picture by leaning on what has been released. The details of what has past can help you gain a deeper understanding of how to move ahead now that you are free of certain burdens.
With the Mystical Dream Tarot, we have some of the same recurring themes, but also some new symbols as well.
Some the same things: the skeleton, seen here dancing with the beautiful image of life. Another similarity is the wings on the cherub. The main difference is the that the cherub is seen here perched on the nose and whiskers of the Fox.
This is an invitation to use perception and intuitive knowing to see that loss and life work together to allow us to transcend into an eternal truth. The cherub has the wings which ask you to see past the limited or short-term perception of the situation, but the cherub also symbolizes that death leads to new beginnings.
One of the main differences with this card is that the invitations speak mostly about the Fox. Most of the invitations have been through a winged animal. Here, we have the symbol of the Fox, speaking to using wisdom and perception to see beyond the sorrow, to see beyond the ends or beginnings. Fox invites you to see that death and life dance together, and while death is hard, and brings sorrow, it also brings space for connection to what has past and what is to come.
Fox also brings an intimate, dream-like mysticism that speaks to one of the more beautiful aspects of death-cycles, and death itself. It is the greatest of unknowns. All four of these beings speak to communication in a part of life. The Fox is able to bring all their messages from the depths into a space of movement, dance, balance, and understanding. This is something the Death card often asks in a reading.
From the Shadowscapes Tarot, we have woman and phoenix- more wings or winged creature. The Phoenix is life the butterfly. Through the ashes of death, the Phoenix rises, reborn again.
Here the woman and the phoenix are one, symbolic of the higher and lower energies that are present in life, death, and rebirth.
This card is similar to the Herbcrafter’s Tarot deck. Here, there are numerous signs of life. Flowers are blooming. Berries are ripening on their branches. The sun, which also looks like a conch shell, rises high. Both the sun and the conch shell are seen symbolically across different cultures as a representation of the Divine.
This might be the most “positive” depiction of the Death card. The image from the Wild Unknown may be the most “dark.” I hesitate to use these words, because there is positivity in the image of the decaying bird. There is darkness in a card as bright as this one. Both cards ask you to see and use that spectrum for guidance.
We even see a baby phoenix held in the orb that is in the roots of this tree- indicating that growth is happening even when in the dark. This card speaks to the key theme of Death- that rebirth is not only possible, but already happening.
With the Spirit Animal Tarot, we have Death depicted as the Death’s-head Hawk-moth. Are you seeing that wings and flight are one of the main themes with Death now?
The choice of this animal to be the embodiment of this card is spot on. Many see this animal as evil and as a bringer of death, but this animal is quite harmless- an invitation to look at something anew and not be clouded in judgement from fear.
The guidebook says, while some see Moth as the bringer of death, others see Moth as a messenger from Spirit. The Death card invites you to take time to really see and understand. The Moth is guided by the moonlight, and able to perceive and move through the darkness. This is what the Death card asks of us.
The Moth also speaks to not letting something just grab all of your focus. Let the death-cycle you are going through open and trust. The timeline may be slow. It may require patience, but it will show the way through.
This simple image shows that the Moth rises above the bramble and into the clear light of the Moon. This is ultimately what is hoped to happen when working with the Death card.
From the Crow Tarot, wings should no longer be an anomaly. This image like the others, specifically the phoenix, shows the spirit of the crow being reborn from the death of the body.
All of the wings speak to letting go of fear, which is a motif we have seen now throughout my own collection, and certainly beyond in other decks as well.
Fear is the main thing that hold back the beauty and the gifts of the Death card. Love and acceptance, reverence and honor, these are the ways to move with the Death.
The skies are clear, the flower are offered- like all the other cards, the Death card says that it is time, and you are ready. Trust and let go of fear. Have hope and faith that the hardships you faced here will fall like the feathers, but will not keep you from flying again.
Working with the symbolism
My goal with this blog post was to show you that you don’t need a ton of tarot books, or to memorize the guidebook down to the punctuation. By looking at and comparing the symbolism, you will gain a deep and grounded understanding of each tarot card. Looking at just these 9 cards, we see some clear invitations in working with the Death card.
Wings: symbolic of freedom, an ability to see the bigger picture, rising up and above, and letting go of fear
Color: black and white cards bring starkness and shock, bright colors show the vibrancy between life and death
Skulls and bones: life stripped bare and gone, what is left after the life and breath has gone
Hands and humans: manipulation, power, strength, generosity, protection
Sun: the Divine, new day / beginning, illumination
Fox: wisdom, cleverness, mysticism
Angel: guardian, divine messenger
Flowers, fruit, and plants: growth into death, death-cycle
So, with just some of the main symbols from these cards, you have A LOT to work with in understanding the Death card, and using it in readings for yourself, or others.
The Death card is our third monthly card for the January forecast. It is available for patrons. For $5 dollars a month, you can get the full monthly forecast, plus other magickal and tarot-based goodies. Become a patron by clicking the link below. I am also hosting a Tarot Majors class in Denver where we will be discussing how to use methods like this and beyond to read the tarot from an intuitive perspective. Let me know your thoughts! XOXO