Many of those who are unfamiliar with tarot are surprisingly familiar with the Death card. It is used in popular media with some frequency, and it commonly heralds some untimely doom for a brave adventurer or a young, petite girl. Those who are familiar with the concept of death, however, know that it is rarely so cinematic. We get a phone call telling us of a loved one's passing. We watch our aged family members slowly prepare themselves for that next stage of life. We see the death of a beloved pet. Even our hopes, dreams, and passions can die. The Death card is rarely the herald of a sudden, unexpected doom... but it can hit, and it can leave it's mark. What many don't note about the Death card is that it's meaning does not only mark an ending, but a brand new beginning as well.
On the face of Death we see a dark, armored rider on a white horse – a pale yellow skeleton. He holds in his hand a large black flag with a white rose on it. At the feet of the horse lies a king, trampled and dead. Around him are mourners – a member of the church (most likely praying for the dead/dying man), and two small children, a boy and a girl. The little boy looks up at Death, a intrigued by frightened. The little girl, however, is looking away over her shoulder. The sun is setting behind them, blasting out it's final rays... or is it the sunrise? Who can say for sure?
The death card, most commonly, marks an incoming transition. We get accustomed to how we live our lives, going through a certain set of motions over and over. When those motions are thrown for a whirl by an unexpected parting of ways, any number of reactions is likely to hit. This card signals that something within your life is going to change, but it will be replaced by something new... and unexpected. This can mean the death of someone close, of course... but more commonly it refers to a job, a house, a relationship, or feeling, an idea, and so on.
Yes, Death marks an ending. This card is telling you about an end to stage of your life. As we all know, however, life doesn't only have one stage. The child turns into the maiden, the maiden into the mother, and the mother into the crone. It's simply the way of things. While you're keeping watch for this ending, be sure to embrace the new that will come along with it.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when pulling this card. Can I be flexible enough to let that which is dying go? Can I be brave enough to accept the new without reservation? What steps will I need to go through in order to properly mourn that which is lost?
The Eight of Cups has a mournful feeling to it – a feeling of moving on and passing through something difficult, like the Death card. While the Eight generally signifies moving on completely from something in your life, Death signals both endings and beginnings that inhabit the same space... meaning that you might not have to travel anywhere to experience a new start. The Five of Cups also speaks of loss, though it speaks more of sorrow and regret than the Death card.