Death is the card of endings and new beginnings. It is ᛞ (Dagaz), the Rune of the dawn and new beginnings. It is ᛃ (Jera), the Rune of the cycles of life.
It is not about ᚦ, ᛇ, or ᛉ (Thurisaz, Eiwaz, or Algiz) because those are Runes of various stages in a conflict and that isn’t what Death is about. There is no conflict; death is inevitable. It comes for all of us. Whether we find ourselves feasting at Hel’s table in Niflheim or at Odin’s table in Valhalla, we will all die one day.
The Fool’s Journey
Death is the card of the moment right after Ragnarok. Not Ragnarok itself: Death is not a violent card. Death is the card of that moment when the waves are lapping at Thor’s red beard in the sands nine steps away from the dead Midgard serpent. It is the card of that moment when Vidar is pulling Fenris’ teeth out of his magic boot. It is the card of Magni and Modi arguing over who will inherit their father’s hammer.
This is the moment that Baldur returns from Hel to lead Asgard. It is the moment when the two remaining humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, begin to rebuild Midgard. Death represents the rebirth of The Nine Worlds.
Some decks choose to show The Grim Reaper, that classic image of death with a scythe. These decks focus on the ᛃ (Jera) nature of death: after all your hard work, death is the time of the harvest. This card represents the dead who go to Helheim, not the dead who go to Valhalla.
In the Darkwood Tarot, (above right), we see a little girl looking up at death, who appears to have claimed the girl’s mother. But, you will notice, the mother is not shown lying on the ground. She has been transformed into an angel. That transformation is what the Major Arcana card of Death is all about.
Many decks show death riding on a pale horse (a reference to Christian mythology) and carrying a flag with a flower on a dark background. “And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and the rider’s name was Death, and Hel followed with him.” That little girl, Hel, has grown into a powerful woman who rides with the hosts of the dead.
But Death the Major Arcana card is about the moment after the death. Look at the Modern Witch Tarot card (left). It shows the family grieving the deceased. The Everyday Tarot (center) shows a woman pleading with death, the second phase of grief. She cannot accept that her loved one has passed on.
This is the card which says that everything will be different now. The world will never be the same.