13. Death

Life’s cycles of change

Where to begin with this most ominous of cards?

As an archetype, Death is the great transformer. Death is the Wheel turning. Death is the march of time. Death is inevitable.

But this isn’t about literal death. It represents part of a cycle that we move through over and over in our lives. Our lives are made up of eras, identities, chapters, each one a cycle with a start and a finish. Death is about the finishing, the ending of a cycle…and the start of something new. Death carries rebirth inherent within it, its necessary conclusion.

Death is a necessary letting go, so that we can move forwards and grow into the next era of our lives. We must allow our ego, our identities, to ‘die’, we must accept that life changes, that we change, so as to grow into what comes next. A snake shedding its skin does not try to hold on to the old skin, pretending to still be yesterdays version of itself. It lets it all go, wearing its new skin, being its new self.

This card represents the inevitability of transformation and growth. You will not, can not, be the person you were yesterday, last month, last year, last decade. The transition from one era, one version of self into another can be welcome, or it can be painful. You don’t have a choice, it is a natural process. But you can choose whether to embrace death, to move with it, or to resist and fight it.

Advice from Death

Death appears in tarot readings for all sorts of reasons. Most simply, like the Wheel of Fortune, it is a herald of change. It’s telling you that cycles are turning, coming to an end.

And that it’s time to let go of something.

This can be done respectfully. Death marks the passage of time with ritual, honours life’s changes by noticing them, moving through them consciously. If you feel that you are going through a transformation, you may choose to honour this process with a ritual of your own. You have permission to mourn what you are losing or have lost. If it feels right, show respect to what is no longer needed, the person you once were, the things that once were.

Creating an altar, journalling, or taking some time out do do a tarot reading are all simple ways you might do this. You might want to perform magic, or hold a small ritual. Maybe you’ll take a week off. A party is a different and equally valid approach. Saying goodbye doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy or mournful – it could also be a celebration. New year parties, birthday celebrations, transition parties, graduate balls – these are all common ritual celebrations that honour change by saying goodbye to the old and welcoming in the new.

Death often comes up for folks who are resisting change. Perhaps you are holding on to an old relationship that has ended, or an element of your personality that is no longer true for you. It’s encouraging you to let go, and to look forwards. Honour this letting go, and say goodbye with love, so that you can be free to embrace what is coming next.

We must also allow other people to change (because they will anyway – it’s not up to you). Accept that you are growing and changing every day, and accept that the people you love will also do the same. It is a universal experience, an omnipresent process. If this card represents a loved-one in your reading, think about how you can support them through their change, help them to honour it if appropriate, and always be ready to celebrate who they are becoming (or be ready let them go if that’s what this change means.)

Get ready to start over. You are ready for a new start, a fresh page. Mind map, vision board, think ahead with excitement and joy. Change is a beautiful thing, welcome this fresh energy into your life.

Key words and concepts

  • Personal transformation
  • Starting over, moving on
  • The ending of a cycle
  • Letting go, saying goodbye
  • Preparing to begin a new cycle
  • Ritual to honour change
  • Being in the flow of change, not resisting
  • Letting go of an old identity, accepting that you have changed
  • Honouring the seasons of life

Some common symbols

  • Skeletons (death)
  • Shedding skin (change)
  • The grim reaper (change is inevitable, and is coming)
  • Sunrise (rebirth, a new day)
  • Flowers (renewal)