Death Tarot Card Meaning and Art Vivid Waite Smith Tarot Deck
About the Deck
These cards are featured in my book, "A Concise Guide to the Tarot" by Loren Lundgren. I took the information for the meanings on these tarot cards from "The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition Under the Veil of Divination", by A. E. Waite, 1911, now in the public domain. I edited the tarot card descriptions and meanings for clarity and brevity, modernizing the text. I scanned in the original black and white illustrations of the cards drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, from the 1911 book. I digitally retouched and painted those illustrations in detailed color.
Loren Lundgren, © 2021
DescriptionDeath appears here as one of the apocalyptic visions rather than a grim reaper—to show change, transformation, and a passage from lower to higher. In the background lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. In the foreground, the mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the horizon shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a bishop with clasped hands awaits his end. The natural transition of man to the next stage of his being is one form of his progress. While still in this life, the exotic and almost unknown entrance into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness. It is the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor the gate.
Meaning of Death from the Vivid Waite Smith Tarot Deck
End, mortality, destruction, corruption; also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor; for a woman, many inconsistencies; for a maiden, failure of marriage prospects.
Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrification, sleepwalking; hope destroyed.
According to Many Schools of Thought
Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.
Death, Change, Transformation, Alteration for the worse
Death just escaped, Partial change, Alteration for the better.