13- Death

This article is part of a series of posts that will compare each card in the Tarot across different decks in order to study and explore each archetype and concept more deeply. This is not necessarily meant to be a teaching tool for others, but if you like to study the Tarot as much as I do, I hope you find it interesting. Enjoy!

For more on the decks referenced here please see this page in my blog: Tools of the Locksmith https://wordpress.com/page/theramblinglocksmith.com/163

A major reference for this study was “Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom” by Rachel Pollack.


Death is also one of the most triggering and misunderstood cards in the tarot. We fear death in any form, even in the form of our losing all or some of our ego. This card refers to a confrontation with our own mask, and if we can give up this mask then a transformation that we were able to envision in the Hanged Man card can occur, if not then we continue to fear looking at who we can be without the mask of the ego.

What also scares us is change. Transformation is deep and often scary and painful change. Often we see that idea of transformation with very rose colored glasses: indigenous flute music playing in Sedona as we meditate calmly and become enlightened writing poetry and moonbeams and all of that. But actual transformation and ending cycles of any kind, particularly cycles of trauma can be very painful. Walking away from a mask that we used to protect ourselves our whole lives is painful and hard, and for that reason especially important and worth doing.

Lets explore all of the different ways to consider these major life changes and how to step away from our own mask.

Standard images from Rider-Waite in the card include:

  • Four people responding to the skeleton on the horse (Death)
    • The King shows the rigid ego being struck down, potentially the ego collapsing when life comes at us with alot of power
    • The priest faces death with the support of his robes and hat – value of a code of belief
    • The maiden in partial innocence has a malleable but unaware ego and turns away, unwilling to surrender
    • The child in complete innocence faces death and offers flowers
    • Also the idea that Death strikes everyone – kings and commoners alike
  • The black armour of death absorbs all light and color
  • The white horse repels all colors – both symbolize every thingness and nothingness
  • Sun rising between two pillars – the ego belongs to the duality of the pillars, but the power of Life symbolized by the sun only knows itself
  • A skeleton – representing death – the eternity of our own bones overcoming the transitory nature of the flesh

In the Ancestral Path Tarot we have an image that is as close as I could find to the Rider-Waite-Smith images in any of my decks. What is similar is we are seeing different stages of life all in one card but not necessarily different reactions as mentioned above.

In this case the old being cleared away to make room for the new – both with the old life sailing away behind the new life of the child exploring all they see with innocence, and the white trees in the back moving away to make room for new trees and plants. We also see some mushrooms that are helping to clear away what is decaying in a step of renewal. And above all of this is a wise owl witnessing the transformation for itself.

The question from this card is if you can see this change in you or around you? Can you take the owl’s perspective and see how it all fits into the same picture? Or are you only seeing or resisting parts of the picture?

The Light Seers Tarot puts the mask of the ego front and center. Is this mask reflecting what you could be a part of if you removed it, or is it showing what is truly inside of you if you can let the light and life penetrate the mask?

If you are getting this card its a sign that you are ready to lift the veil. You don’t need this mask anymore, remove it and be ready for the new you that emerges.

The Tarot of the Divine uses a part of the White Bear King of Valemon, a Norwegian fairy tale, to illustrate another version of lifting the veil to see what truly lies behind it. In this case the youngest daughter is illuminating what’s behind the curtain to see if this King is really a bear or a man. By doing this she changes the entire focus of the story. No more castles in the sky, and no more childhood fairy tale, but a chance to start a new story and grow up.

Starting a new story is difficult, as is leaving behind the story of our childhood. Not just difficult, scary, like death. But its necessary and part of living life. What is the new story that may be starting for you and which story needs to end so you can live in the present?

The Brady Tarot shows a long transformation through many different lives and species to remind us how eternal change and transformation truly is. A the skull of a Smilodon (sabretooth tiger) is being eaten by a the remains of a dinosaur. The human skull is being devoured by a new plant staring new roots that will eventually reach far enough to touch the dinosaur skull below. The only thing left alive other than the plant is the cockroach on the right.

In this card we are not just seeing transformation, we are seeing centuries long evolution. What resonates in your live when you focus on the concept of evolution? What are you evolving either within or outside of yourself? How can you connect this to a bigger picture so that it makes more sense?

In the Osho Zen Tarot would like us to understand a different kind of transformation entirely. Its not moving from one storyline to another, or removing one mask, or seeing beyond our own evolution. Its understanding how to drop the act of the teacher and to begin living the lesson. That’s all.

The teacher is talking all about the path and sharing the knowledge of the path but is not walking the path. They are technically still asleep even though they are talking and sharing wisdom in their sleep.

What lesson have you been teaching yourself and not living? Go live it, be a participant in your own story. Take that safe base metal and turn it to gold. You’ve got this.

The Sufi Tarot might be my favorite of all the Death cards. It’s so simple yet hard to do. Turn your back on the shadow and change the vibration of your own energy to move forward. Face the direction you know you need to face to start a new path. You know the way, you just need to change your direction and start walking away from something in the past that has never been healthy for you.

Turning your back on the version of yourself that you no longer are, or a relationship that you know is toxic is hard. It hurts in a very deep way. And we have to feel that fear and that pain in order to grow and move in the direction we know is right. And the way that we know that its the right direction is that it doesn’t feel the way the toxic one did.

Its real deep grown up stuff, but dive in, you are ready.