The Death card in Tarot is often depicted with the image of a skeletal figure riding in on a pale horse. The Rider-Waite Tarot shows this figure holding a banner with a white flower. The floral symbol is explicitly interpreted by its conceptual creator, Arthur Waite, to mean “Life.”
The artistic inclination and symbolism we get when we see this Death card in Tarot decks, is that the skeletal figure and his banner would mean something similar to, “life after death.”
However, the more basic and core interpretations of the Death card in Tarot card readings are somewhat different. The card is interpreted as having associations with major life changes, transformation, rebirth, or even closure, to name a few of its many meanings. It is rarely interpreted in a Tarot reading to mean literal death (crossing over), demise or misfortune.
The artwork on the Death card in Tarot decks is also often shown with an apparition of the Grim Reaper holding a sickle or scythe. The macabre symbolism of the Grim Reaper apart from the aforementioned Tarot interpretation, can potentially carry meaning that “death is an inevitable reality that we all must face.”
I want to take an opportunity using the theme of the Death card in Tarot decks, to write about a teaching called the Five Remembrances. This is a Buddhist contemplation also known as the Upajjhatthana Sutta.
It is a commentary about resolving impermanence in a harmonious and heartfelt way. Suttas or Sutras, as they are also called, are teachings that offer insight to life’s mysteries so their realities can be understood and practiced in a more deep and meaningful sense.
The Five Remembrances / Upajjhatthana Sutta
- I am of the nature in my existence to grow old. I cannot change my nature to escape growing old.
- I am of the nature in my existence to have ill health. I cannot change my nature to escape illness.
- I am of the nature in my existence to die. I cannot change my nature to escape death.
- All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature in this existence, to change. I cannot change my nature to escape being separated from them.
- My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, said of this teaching, “When you deny the reality of life, you appreciate it less. Meditate on the Buddha’s Five Remembrances and rediscover the magic of life just as it is.”
The essence of the Five Remembrances is to embrace the nature of impermanence. Through this teaching we learn acceptance and can proceed to live with kind and generous purpose, valuing each moment as precious.
I mentioned earlier that a few meanings for the Death card in Tarot interpretations can be: major life changes, transformation, rebirth, or even closure. In relation to the Five Remembrances, it can similarly be interpreted as a card that represents cutting away or detaching from the things that are robbing you of your happiness in life. It can mean your intuition is telling you that a current way of thinking about something specific is blocking significant opportunities for you.
If the card is interpreted in a reading to mean closure or starting over, we can draw from the fifth remembrance; that our actions going forward are deeply valuable, and are especially meaningful to be mindful of, in order to ensure a harmonious new start.
When this card falls in a reading for me or for a client, I believe it is a gift. Concepts from the Five Remembrances Sutta can be useful to include with an interpretation of the Death card in a Tarot reading. “The coming of change or transformation is inevitable.”
If impermanence is approached in a way to allow it to be embraced, we can then work to be open, accepting and gentle, and less apprehensive. We can prepare to enjoy the processes of whatever wonderful things life wants to introduce.
Has the Death card shown up in a reading for you recently? How was it interpreted? Do you feel this Sutta might be valuable to remember or use in a reading or for interpretation? Feel free to share in a comment below.
Gratitude and wishing you many blessings on your path,