Death and the Tarot

Mary Ashley

As none of us can avoid the death of the physical body, let us look at that aspect of the Tarot now. Predicting death is often the one thing about the Tarot which frightens people most, so it is important to know how to recognize it, what to do, what to say and more importantly what not to say.

Firstly, a reader should never predict a death, unless it is backed up by at least two or three other cards, and the whole spread seems somehow to point towards it. You, the reader, then has to decide whether the person needs to know that news and of course, whether they can take it. If in doubt SHUT UP!!

Having said that, you as a reader obviously want to know what to look for. I am going to tell you what I use as indications of a possible death. Other consultants may use other systems. So can you if you want to. I do it my way, I have never been wrong so far.

This can of course lead to problems in itself. Be ready for this kind of conversation. A client says "Hello, I thought I would let you know, you WERE right." You say "Oh good, that's great, I am pleased." "Yes," continues your client, "he did die!!"

The  major arcana cards usually associated with death are Death, The Sun and Judgment. I use all the former, never the latter. Instead I use the Tower. As a basic clue, The Five of Swords is the funeral and burial card. Look for Sun, Tower, Death exactly beside it. The Sun represents sudden death and cremations.
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It is still vitally important to remember, that this can simply be the attendance of a funeral as a mark of respect, or it could be the loss of the only person you could really talk to.
Death and major illness is most often associated with Swords. Again, I must stress you do not go by one card on its own. Look for the King of Swords, representing the surgeon. The Two of Swords or the Nine of Swords occasionally represents a stroke. The Eight of Swords would signify a debilitating disease gradually defeating the physical body, multiple sclerosis for example.

For a coronary, you should expect to see The Sun with the Three of Swords, signifying a traumatic upset, enough to break your heart, the Eight of Cups bringing many and frequent changes of heart, i.e. palpitations, or the Knight of Cups a major change of heart.

The Devil and The Tower could point to cancer. However, The Tower and The Sun, usually indicate not death, but successful treatment! You see to me, the Tower represents the planet Pluto. I relate that to chemotherapy, the Sun to radiation treatment. So be really careful here!! I must strongly warn you against making any kind of diagnosis, unless every fibre of your body says it's the right thing to do. If so, then you may save someone's life.
I have found the Nine of Swords generally suggests a tragic happening leading to the death of a loved one, over which you have no control. This could be through accident or disease for example. The Nine of Swords with the Empress and Death, frequently warns you of the death of a mother, or child, or of a potential miscarriage. (However it is important to remember that the Nine of Swords can also be the compulsive worrier about her family).

Don't just blurt any of that out and never put it down on tape. You never know who may listen to it, OK!!! Use your common sense. Look for other clues. A spread containing the Chariot, the Fool and the Eight of Rods could suggest an idiot driving a car at high speed. You tell Mum to keep her seat belt on, and not to let her kiddies play in the street. Suggest that any pregnant person around the client, would be well advised to take extra care and rest.

Where death is not to be immediate, or may actually be expected, look for the Tower representing hospitalization, and possibly hospices. The Four or Eight of Swords, suggests confinement to bed.

The Heirophant, otherwise known as the Pope, can represent forces of enforced institutionalization, by the social services or welfare. It can also indicate a client's sense of guilt, related to the death. Ask people to make their peace with loved ones and never leave anyone on an argument.
The Queen of Swords represents the death of a close relative, a spouse, brother, sister or close friend, such as a dear neighbour, or even the loss of a pet, especially if the animal is a greatly lost companion. Again, she must appear with sufficient other cards.

Not all deaths are bad. Some can indeed be said to be beneficial.

This can be a blessed release for the person going, or the person left behind! Here you will have to use your intuition and look for other clues. If the death is obviously there, and other cards such as The Tower, the end of a nightmare, with the Nine of Cups, one of the best cards for personal happiness appears, you can see the person sitting opposite you, isn't exactly going to go into deep mourning!! Even so, you must be absolutely sure. Then suggest the slightest possibility of a loss, and let the client take it from there.


What usually happens is they start grinning like a cheshire cat and then cover their embarrassment by saying "It must sound terrible to you." Even if it does, don't say so. Who are you to judge. Instead, make it OK for you and them. The idea is to relieve them of their guilt and negative emotions, not add to them. Besides, the person going may be an absolute pig!!.

Another card associated with death is the Six of Swords, which very occasionally represents the questioner's own possible demise.

I can usually tell as soon as I meet someone, if they only have a short time left, and I can assure you, it doesn't feel very nice. Only once have I refused to go through with a reading, for such a person. Never again. It was ten times worse struggling to get out of the consultation, than it would have been to go through with the blessed thing.

This has happened to me about thirty times now. On one occasion I was doing a 12 month, month by month for my client, all my alarm bells were ringing, and I could not figure out why. Then as I turned over the cards for April, I knew what the trouble was. I still had May through to December to do.

So, there I was, panicking like crazy inside, desperately attempting not to show it, and at the same time, just as desperately wondering what to do. Tell my client she was going to kick it? No... of course not. Lie through my teeth? I cannot. Stop the consultation? If I said I couldn't carry on, it would look terrible, and worry the poor soul to death, if you pardon the pun.

All I could do in the end, was take a deep breath, centre my being and carry on as best I could. As I did so, an amazing thing happened. It was as if the cards that followed, showed exactly what followed during the transition, from this life to the next. The surprising reunion between old friends and family, the period of rest and recuperation, and healing leading to a total acceptance of the situation, and state of mind I could only describe as absolute inner peace and tranquility. I then began to see the possible path of existence that my client could follow either in spirit or through reincarnation. I found it fascinating, and I knew it was the truth.

Going back to my client, I waited until the end of the consultation, and then as if an after thought, suggested that the month before the critical month would be a good month to tidy up any loose ends, mend a few personal fences with old friends and loved ones, etc., but obviously, I put it in a very round about way.

Not only can you sense a client's death, and read it in the cards, you can also check the hands for confirmation. To check against the hand for possible death, look at the life line on each hand. It is the one which divides the palm from the hand. The finger end is where you are born. The wrist end, where you die. The closer to the wrist the line goes, the longer you live. Life expectancy for a woman is about eighty, for a man, seventy. So, a life line which stops half way down the palm, suggests a life expectancy of forty for a lady and thirty five for a man. So, ask the client their age, then look to see where the line stops. It nearly always confirms what the cards have told you already. But, the lifeline can change, it can extend, so try asking the client if they smoke. If they do, suggest they stop. You might save their life.

Another aspect of death which must be considered is suicide. The give away is The Hanged Man.

Occasionally you will be confronted by a spread that has so much pain in it, it is almost beyond endurance. Firstly, deal with the things as best you can, and then reassure your client, that they can contact you, if the going gets tough. And MEAN it.

Secondly, confront them with the fact they may consider suicide, but it won't do any good. Nine times out of ten, they are surprised by that, but confess to having felt like that already. You then explain about personal karma, lessons they are here to learn, and the fact that if they opt out, they have to come back and go through the whole damned thing again. In fact, they may have opted out, committed suicide, many times before. Only if they die by accident when they shouldn't, will they get the choice whether to come back.

Next, play your ace card and say they chose it anyway, which of course they did. Explain that the soul comes into the material plain, to learn lessons and evolve, to balance karma, and to fulfill part of the divine plan. Whilst still in spirit, each soul is given a choice, of who they are going to be, what they are going to do, who their parents will be, the number of children they will have, if any, whether they or their family will be healthy, whether they will have a happy marriage, and even how and when they are supposed to die.

So, there is a soul, symbolically speaking, with the contract of life to come in their hands, and the Universal mind asks the soul to sign it. Once done, the only thing usually remembered is waking up, having a little bottom smacked into life.

I once had a client who told me he only wanted a reading for the next eight months, not the full year. I agreed, the consultation was fine. At the end, I asked why he had specified just that amount of time. He informed me, quite matter of factly, that he intended to commit suicide after that. So there was no point in taking the reading any further. I turned over the cards, from the top of the pack, which I had not dealt, and there was no sign of it. He was adamant however that he was going to do it. I asked to see his hands, so I could check his life line. That looked OK too, I could only presume he was going to botch it.

Maybe the person sitting opposite you feels a total failure, to themselves and everybody else. Every life has a purpose, so suggest to them that their purpose here, may just be to stop a child running under a bus. That child could be the one to find the cure for cancer. No life is meaningless, and no life should be wasted.

©1998 Mary Ashley