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Death. Sadness. Release. What do you associate with that word? The Death card is number thirteen in the Major Arcana. Boy, the poor card can’t catch a break.

  • Symbolism: Change and/or transition.
  • Element: Water (see Tarot Elements)

What I See:

This card is very apropos for me at the moment. I see the sun glinting on the water, in Celtic traditions it’s often seen as a goddess manifestation called the White Lady. The Lady of the Lake anyone? I even get a sense of the Otherworld (Celtic) with the islands in the background. I think of Vikings placing their dead in a boat and sending them off. Does that broken boat mean the traveler made it? Or not? (Probably a story somewhere in the answer.) There is certainly a feeling of death with the decaying bird and the circling vulture. Yet, there is rebirth with the butterflies.

Light (upright) Reading:

Release what no longer serves and clear the space for new beginnings.

  • Keywords: Transformation, Renewal, Cleansing, and Liberation.

Shadow (upside down or reverse) Reading:

Profound, permanent change may trigger intense fears of the unknown.

  • Keywords: Obstinacy, Decay, Obsession, and Paranoia.


How about the Phoenix, the bird that burns and is reborn of its ashes? A forest fire, which can destroy while purifying. Life after death. Or even a ghost. According to Kenner, the rising and setting of the sun symbolizes death and resurrection.

Water is the emotional element, perhaps your story focus is on “la petite mort” (the little death) of orgasm.

You can explore the number thirteen. The thirteen lunar months (full moons) of the year. The negative side, thirteen diners at the Last Supper. The positive side, thirteen in a baker’s dozen.

  • Themes: Transformation, Physical Death, Conclusion, Rebirth, Ending, Transition, or Renewal.


Standing at the gateway of life and death.

  • Archetype: Death, Rebirth, Transformation, or Metamorphosis.

[Trickster archetypes] bring about healthy change and transformation, often by drawing attention to the imbalance or absurdity of a stagnant psychological situation. They are the natural enemies of the status quo. ~The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler

  • Mythical Figures: Hades, Pluto, Kali, and Hecate.

The personality enneagram, a nine-pointed array of personality types, might also be a useful reference for character building.

Death is E4: Tragic Romantic, Individualist, and/or Connoisseur

  • Self Image — I am different
  • Passion — Envy
  • Virtue — Equanimity
  • Narcissistic Trap — Authenticity
  • Avoids — Ordinariness
  • Speaking Style — Lyrical or Lamenting

E4 people are relationship oriented. They are concerned with what others think of them, image and prestige. They see themselves as being for others and often believe they know what’s best. They dislike being alone and may feel sad or inadequate.

Additionally, look up one of the Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) for personality traits.

…the Death card can also remind you to eliminate words, phrases, scenes, and chapters that don’t move your story along. ~Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner

Image: Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert from Llewellyn Worldwide