When You Pull The Death Card

Tarot Contributor Jessica Jernigan talks daily rituals…and why Death can be our friend.

Drawing a single card each day can be an enormously helpful morning ritual. This practice invites you to slow down for a few minutes and check in with yourself before you embark on the day ahead. 

That, all by itself, is powerful. 

You might discover that the card you pull in the morning provides a set of metaphors that give symbolic shape to your day. And if you’re interested in developing a deep relationship with Tarot, this is a wonderful way to get acquainted with the cards. 

While you’re getting to know a card a day, I’ll be introducing you to a card each month – but it’s important to keep in mind that the interpretations I offer aren’t intended to be definitive. I’m sharing what I know about Tarot in the hope that you will want to get to know Tarot yourself. And, in any case, my own relationship with Tarot is ever-evolving; if I didn’t keep learning about the cards each time I draw them I would have gotten bored with Tarot by now. The analyses I’ll be offering are simply distillations of what I know about each card right now, along with some questions you might ask yourself when faced with that card yourself. 

Let’s take, for example, the card most likely to strike fear into the heart of Tarot novices: The Death card. 

different interpretations of tarot deck death card

First of all, don’t panic. 

When Death shows up, it does not mean that you or someone you love is about to get hit by a bus. This card can speak to us about literal death, but there’s so much more to see when we look at Death more closely.

If you remember anything at all from Physics 101, you may recall the Law of the Conservation of Mass. If you don’t, here’s a refresher: Matter can neither be created nor destroyed. This is both a fact of our universe and a useful metaphor for…like, everything. Nothing new comes into being unless something old is destroyed. Every beginning is also an ending. Death, in Tarot, is change. 

This does not, of course, mean that Death – or change – isn’t still a bit scary. Transitions can be terrifying, and, as a member of the Major Arcana, Death asks us to look at the big stuff. This card isn’t here to remind you to replace the filter in your Brita pitcher. This card wants you to take a hard look at a toxic relationship, maybe, or a destructive habit. Or it might be asking you to finally acknowledge and process a loss or a trauma you’ve tried to ignore or repress.

I have, over the many years of our acquaintance, come to see Death as a good friend. I have never drawn this card and not had some idea of why it’s come for me. Often, it’s a relief to see it—it’s the final push I need to confront a truth I’ve been denying or make a change that I know I need to make. I think of Death as an invitation to begin important work. Sometimes, I see it as permission to finally do what I already knew was needed. 

When you draw Death, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself: 

What am I afraid of? 

What do I need to grieve?

What should I let go of? 

Are there aspects of my ego that are preventing growth? 

If you’re thinking about starting a card-a-day practice, you might wish to take another, closer look at what I said at the beginning of this post. Learning Tarot isn’t like memorizing French vocabulary or multiplication tables, and each card holds an infinite number of meanings. When we’re trying to decipher what a card means for us in this moment, there is no right answer. More than anything, the card is asking us to find the answers within ourselves. 

What will you find? 


P.S. Next month, we’ll take a look at The High Priestess and I’ll share some thoughts about Tarot decks (Spoiler alert: There are a lot of decks. And I have a lot of thoughts.) Enjoy sweater weather, and have a magical Halloween!

About Jessica Jernigan: After majoring in Religion at Bryn Mawr College, Jessica sold books and tended bar until she found a career in corporate marketing (this was not a perfect fit). These days, Jessica makes her way reading books and Tarot cards and writing about both.

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