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Poll: Would you ever tell someone that the Death card predicts a literal death?

August 15, 2011

Death -- Tarot of the MastersWhile re-editing my book, Tarot Tells the Tale, which I plan to reissue soon (see my recent article on this topic), I got to a section where I talk about the Death card.

I mention there the fact that although I have, on rare occasion, seen the Death card signify a physical death, in my readings it has always indicated either a death that has already transpired (for example, in a reading for a recent widow) or one that is expected, such as for a querent with a terminally ill loved one. In such cases, it addresses questions about how this person is dealing with death, or perhaps about what he or she believes about the afterlife.

So … does the Death card ever indicate an actual, physical death? Is it ethical to predict physical death in a Tarot reading? Or is it ethical to avoid making such a prediction? There is a lot of difference of opinion about these issues within the Tarot community, so I have created a poll to gauge our thoughts about this issue. The available answers here (from no to maybe to yes) are fleshed out based comments from an online discussion on this topic on the Yahoo group Comparative Tarot that I initiated a few years ago in order to get other viewpoints about it.

I am attaching the poll here, and I’ll be interested to see the results!


From → Card meanings, Ethics

  1. Very good question, James. This is something that I go back and forth with myself when doing the actual reading. Honestly, there have to be so many other cards to take into consideration as well. It’s interesting that that particular card has such a stigma about it in that regards.

    • Yes, I’ve found that the use of this card is about the most controversial within the Tarot community.

  2. I begin my readings by reminding/informing people that this is a means of stimulating our personal unconscious along with the collective unconscious we all share. That nothing in a reading is a prediction of what must happen. Rather this is a view through a window upon our situation, exposing us to a different perspective. And we always retain the responsibility of choosing our own actions. Nothing is set in stone, and certainly not a tarot reading.

    When Death does show up I make a point to observe that this “Death” is symbolic in that it usually signifies significant transitions of some kind, and that it very rarely is related to a literal physical death. Occasionally, however, the person will volunteer a recent death and ask if that may be related, to which I will reply that it may; moreso if they feel a connection with that interpretation. And of course, looking for additional suggestions from the other cards amplifying its meaning in the reading.

    And even if I truly thought a reading was suggesting a physical death I would not state that was the certain conclusion, even if the person I was reading for thought so. There is always room for us to take action which may alter the underlying circumstances of this reading. A tarot reading is, among other things, a specific perspective generated from a specific point in time. Any number of things may change, which may have a cascading effect upon the circumstances.

    • Thank you, Erik. Very well put. What you said here basically echoes my sentiments, but I have found a wide variety of approaches to using this card, and that discover has been interesting.
      And by the way, so far the poll results are showing that about 2/3 of the respondents take an approach similar to yours and mine.

  3. Once several years ago I did a special reading for a friend whose father had just died. The significator card was King a Swords a close match for this fellow’s father. The card that crossed it was Death. I said simply sometimes Death means death, and in this case this reading is about what changes you can expect now that dad died. The rest of the reading brought in his family and how the changes might evolve.
    Generally I do not perdict death in a reading, but will say something like something major is coming up and may not be too easy to deal with (here it was swords combination, and within hours the people read for had a call that an elderly parent had had a hip-breaking fall.)
    I stay away for suggesting events, go mor for psychological states, sometimes conditions worthy of consulting a physican about if the cards suggest that though like most, I avoid direct health questions.

    • Yes, as I mentioned in this post, I sometimes get the Death card referring to a death that has happened and the querent is struggling to deal with that issue. So I can’t say that this card never refers to an actual death, but still, personally I’ve never had it predict one.

      • James,

        I have to admit that I was speaking to a client that was worried about the health of her Mother. I pulled the deck card, and predicted it would be within a few days. I was leary about telling the daughter, but asked instead… ‘ has your mother been sick, as I get the death card and I’m very concerned over it’. She was ill, but at home ill. I got an email the next day from the daughter.. her Mother had passed peacefully and quickly in the early morning hours. The cards had, indeed, predicted Death.

  4. Ruth Burton permalink

    i would have instinctively said ‘Never’ and much of what i feel about it has been said here. However i then recalled that i once did predict death. I was reading for a fit and healthy 80 year old. She wished to see that she would leave her family with all loose does tied up . She also wanted to be able to gain insight into how the family would behave over her passing. Her death showed clearly Although i would not commit to a time scale and beyond it family squabbles could be seen over property. She knew exactly what it would be and decided to clarify her wishes in her will.

    • But was that truly a prediction of death or a comment on it, a discussion about it and what will happen afterward with those left behind?

  5. I’m going to share a little story with you that happened very early on in my professional career. I was doing only emailed readings at the time, and a girl emailed me to have an emailed paper tarot reading. Her question was simply.. ‘ Tell me about my dad’. I am one of those readers that like very little information when I start the reading.

    I shuffled and laid out the reading, and death came up for him. As I went through the reading, I got a VERY strong feeling that he WAS in fact dead, and sending a message to his daughter, my client, through the reading. I went through the reading and typed out several pages of information based on the fact that he had already passed. There was descriptive information about how he passed, why he passed, and it spoke on mystery around his passing. I included all the personal messages from spirit that he was trying to tell her about how he thought of her, and advice for living her life.

    I sent the reading to her with the nagging weight of the tarot world breathing down the back of my neck telling me that I shouldn’t have been so bold, blunt or full of myself to suggest that her father was deceased and in the spirit world.

    The next day, she returned an email thanking me for the reading and saying.. ‘ I never believed in tarot or psychics until today. Something told me to get a reading from you, so I did, the whole time thinking that all psychics are frauds. So, I thought I’d ask you the question the way I did to stump you. But, you were right, my dad is deceased and it was over suspicious circumstances. You have made me a believer. ‘

    From that moment on, I know that it is important that I call the cards how I ‘see’ and ‘feel’ them. I was called, first and foremost, to be a liaison between the physical and spiritual worlds. This was a defining moment, and I’m glad that I stayed true to my abilities and the guidance that I receive through the reading in order to hand over a reading to my clients that support them through life.

  6. As many folks know, I don’t use Tarot to “predict” outcomes, but do look at the pathway or unfolding of a client’s life. Death as part of life is spoken about on whatever level is appropriate to the session and client. I use ethics and counseling skills to address this topic.

    The Death card appearing in associated with an impending death has occurred, which signaled to me that it was best to talk with my client, as a compassionate counselor would do, about how the client feels about this prospect and what she can do to better prepare. She had cancer and was hoping for a different outcome. The cards were there to lend support in her life process, not to give her a “sentence of doom” or control her life. But please keep in mind, when talking about death, even to a dying person, I find it best to also talk about the transcendent message, not just a one-dimensional outcome. In other words…what needs to die in this person’s life, to surrender now? Why wait until physical death to work on surrender?

    James – Although I find it to be a comprehensive poll with many options, I didn’t participate in the poll due to words such as “dire” and “tragic” and “grim” for they do not describe my relationship with Death nor the way Tarot speaks to me about this subject. My answer would be more like “Never – I don’t make predictions…but…Yes – I always talk about various aspects of Death when it appears.”

    This is such an important topic and I sincerely thank you for including us in this exploration.

    Love & Light,

  7. Katrina and Chanel,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and stories!
    I’m continually fascinated by the breadth of experience people have had with this card (and with the Tarot in general). It adds to the complex and lovely tapestry of our communal Tarot experience.

  8. Leda permalink

    It means something is over, done with, caput, but not a physical dying.

  9. Never. But not for those precise reasons… More for the fact that I don’t think it is helpful. Also, I have asked Spirit to not be shown actual physical deaths in readings.

    • Setting intentions is a powerful tool in preps for doing readings! I was just talking with a friend about that this weekend.

  10. The Death card is not there for nothing. In the middle of our lives we experience death all the time. Systems of belief die, relationships die, love dies, hope dies, truth dies, a man dies. Everything can die. So why call death by any other name? If one must go softly about it, then why not serve the whole catalogue of deaths to a client, and let him or her make the pick? People come to a Tarot reader also to hear about the anger and the rage that a confrontation with death might entail. As far as I’m concerned, I keep it simple. I say: death is in the picture, if that is the case, and that’s all.

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