One of the most common comments I hear from people who request a reading is that they are nervous. Or afraid. I’m rather puzzled by this, but I have never gone into the full details of asking them why since often time is very limited and it’s not what they came to elaborate on.
I do wonder though, if the classic impression of a tarot reader pulling the Death card out is beneath this fear (along with other “unsavoury” cards like the Devil – which is actually a favourite of mine but that’s another story). In thinking about this, one comes to the realization that it’s our poor understanding of death, in fact our collective abysmal misunderstanding of the process, that’s the root cause – at least in certain parts of the world. I’d like to think eastern and buddhist cultures have a deeper and more refined outlook on the process, though since I have not travelled to Asia (yet!) I cannot say with certainty. In my experience, it’s one thing to read philosophic principles and another to experience the tangible visceral daily reality of a culture.
If “tarot helps you meet whatever comes in the best possible way” as Mary Greer writes, then I can only see the Death card in a reading as helping to prepare the client or their loved ones for the process or transition related to death. Of course it is exceptionally rare for the Death card to actually mean physical death in tarot. Nonetheless, the rarity of this happening should not mean one dismisses this completely. If anything, extra preparation wouldn’t go amiss in responding to the Death card appearing in such readings, since we have such an embedded collective fear of it.
I learned the hard way about this, though it only happened once. I say the hard way because in the first instance it was not a proper reading (more of a casual laying of the cards), and secondly I quickly brushed it aside and mentioned the more acceptable terms of “transformation” or endings or beginnings. It just so happened that in this particular instance, Death meant the death of a close relative which happened very soon after. So I learned tarot is not something to treat casually, and neither is the Death card.
I seem to have these really difficult lessons with tarot, sometimes almost like a slap in the face. For the most part I do not mind, and I actually take it to mean that tarot, for me, is the path and I am to treat it with reverence.