The Death card reminds us that it’s time to say goodbye to the identity / situation / attitude / behavior / thing that will hinder us if it continues to be a part of our lives. Time’s up. We probably don’t want to let go, and we don’t know what will take its place, but the more calmly we come to terms with this fact, the better it will be. We may also feel called to work with our ancestors or The Mighty Dead, or identify with this type of work (e.g., psychopomp).
Some interpretations of this card pussy-foot around the subject with butterflies and framing it as transformation; but death is a major archetype of the human condition, and there is no card better suited to its theme than the one labeled “Death.” While it’s true that all matter and energy is transformed by the death process, and that our own transformation can begin when we shed that which doesn’t serve us, we must also avoid the tendency toward sticky-sweet positivity so prevalent in much of the tarot community. Endings are hard. Saying goodbye can be very difficult. But the true gold in tarot can be found in the growth we experience by confronting these challenges rather than painting them in glittery rainbows and slapping a positive label on them so that we don’t actually have to look at them. That’s what we call emotional (or spiritual, in some cases) bypassing.
(-) In resistance, we hold ever more tightly to what we should be leaving behind, which just prolongs the pain. What results is stagnation — or, worse, mental deadlock, fatigue, apathy, and depression. Physical symptoms such as an illness may compel us to rest for a while.
(+) In excess, an attitude of non-attachment causes us to end things prematurely as a defense mechanism against the fear of loss.
Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include
- What are you afraid to let go of? Why is it so difficult to do so? How can you ease the transition?
- What past loss are you still grieving?
- What is your relationship with mortality?
- What belief is no longer in your highest and best? Is there something you can replace it with?
What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?