The Death card is one of the most widely misunderstood Tarot cards there is. Many times it is depicted as a “bad omen” or a curse, particularly in low budget Hollywood shows and movies - however the true meaning of the Death card is rarely as ominous as it is made out to be. Yes, it often portends a major challenge and major changes, but it is also a card of new beginnings and transformations.
Death is itself a transition, leaving one realm and embarking on a new journey. In Tarot, the death card can be viewed much the same way. The end of one phase of life as a new one is just beginning. I liken the death card to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. In order to make this transition the caterpillar must “die” in order to be reborn again. After its time in the cocoon is over, the newly formed butterfly struggles violently at times to free itself. It is a great challenge, but one with a purpose. The struggle to break free is what actually strengthens the wings of the butterfly so that it can fly. Without the struggle, the wings would shrivel up and the butterfly would die, never having taken flight.
When the death card appears it challenges the questioner to look at areas of their life where they may need to accept the need for “death” in order to find new purpose in life. It is a reminder to use your struggles to strengthen yourself and to find the courage to spread your wings and fly. Without risk and without challenge there is no growth – only stasis. It is the stasis, or unwillingness to grow and change that brings the death we truly fear. When things have gone as far as they can, we can either change and transform or perish.
When we focus on death in Tarot it is about focusing on life and rebirth. Often the death card will come up around very challenging events like divorce, illness, job loss and other situations that can appear very dire initially. There is a feeling of loss or deprivation that can cause the questioner to lose sight of the bigger picture. It's often difficult when our lives are changing radically to understand the ultimate purpose to which we are being led. At these times Death may be surrounded by a sense of loss or sadness, but it's important to remember that everything has a purpose. Something to learn and grow from can be gleaned from even the most challenging experiences in life.
Think of the Phoenix bird that rose out of its own ashes to begin again. When the death card appears to you, it is time to reinvent yourself and move forward with a new spirit of awareness.