American Tarot Association statement on 'Death'

The American Tarot Association shares the nation's concern over the senseless killings in Washington DC. As a service to the media and the public at large, we are providing the following "Fast Facts" about Tarot in general and the Death card in particular. This information may be used and distributed freely.


Police are said to have found a “Death” card near the site of one of the attacks. What does this card mean?

No definitive “key” to the meaning of any Tarot card exists, because meanings assigned to Tarot cards vary from book to book and user to user. The Death card is no exception to this rule.
Generally, however, the Death card is not associated with physical death. Instead, the card is associated with:
· The ending of one cycle and the beginning of the next 
· Conclusions 
· Completions 
· Change or transition 
· Transformation and renewal 

Are you saying that this card indicates the person who left it is undergoing some kind of change or transition, or that it indicates the killings are over?

No. Our statement relates traditional or popular meanings assigned to this card, and they in no way are intended to provide insight into the mind of the person who left this card at the scene.

What does the fact that the Death card may have been found at the scene of one of the attacks indicate about the person who left it?

Because that person appears to share the popular misconception that the card is associated with physical death, that person likely knows very little about the Tarot, and is most likely not a Tarot reader.


What is the Tarot?

Generally, "the Tarot" refers to a wide variety of card decks. Many, but not all, of these contain 78 cards: 
· one, unnumbered card called "The Fool" 
· twenty-one numbered cards, called Trumps or the "Major Arcana." 
· fifty-six “minor” cards, divided into four suits. These cards are very much like those found in a modern deck of playing cards. 
The trump cards are usually decorated with archetypal images -- concepts that resonate strongly with the viewer. These illustrations include themes every human, regardless of culture, can associate with in some way: motherhood, fatherhood, religion, disaster, justice, love ... and, of course, Death.

What can you tell me about the Death card?

Death is one of twenty-two trump cards, collectively referred to as the “Major Arcana.” In the most popular deck on the market – the Rider-Waite-Smith deck from U.S. Games—Death is depicted as an armor-suited skeleton astride a white horse.

Rider-Waite Tarot
Copyright U.S. Games

Still other decks, reflecting the more modern meaning of the card, call this card “Transition” or “Change.”

Where does the Tarot deck come from?

The Tarot deck was created in the fifteenth century by craftspeople working for Italian nobility. The cards were manufactured for use in a trick-taking game very much like modern Bridge. Even today, the game remains popular in parts of Europe.
Hundreds of years after their invention by the Italians, the French were the first to use the cards to answer questions and generate fortunes ... and to circulate many of the fanciful stories about Tarot's origins that most Americans take for granted today.

Are Tarot cards Satanic or Demonic?

Actually, most scholars agree the earliest known decks reflect a Renaissance Christian mindset (though the illustrations also draw upon other sources, including mythology). Many authoritative sources believe the earliest Tarot trump cards depict an allegory, or symbolic story, which appears to illustrate the triumph of God's will over all.
While cards like Death and the Devil do appear in the deck, these concepts likely do so because they appear in the Bible. Given that the earliest Trump series incorporate images of the Christian resurrection (Judgment) and the appearance of the transfigured Christ (or the dawning of the "New Jerusalem"), no well-informed person would ever associate the cards with demonism or Satanism.
Modern decks associate the cards with all kinds of philosophies and trends, but the cards themselves are neither Satanic nor Demonic in origin.

Don’t most people use these cards to tell fortunes?

The cards are put to many uses -- and some people do tell fortunes with them.
Increasingly, however, the cards are used to gain insight into personal growth opportunities, to aid in meditation or concentration practice, to explore options or alternative answers to questions, or to enhance creativity through brainstorming. Within the last few years, the cards are even beginning to appear in therapeutic settings. 
Death cards from various decks: 

Connolly Tarot
Copyright U.S. Games. 

Ancient Tarot of Marseilles
Reproduction of a 1760 deck attributed to Nicolas Conver. 

Another version of the Death card, from the Vision Quest Tarot

Trump 13 from the Spiral Tarot 

Death as depicted in the Halloween Tarot 

Death, as depicted in the Wheel of Change Tarot