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Tarot Readings & The Death Card

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on December 29, 2009 | Comments (4)

In Modern Magick I stress the importance of working with the Tarot. There are a variety of reasons for this, ranging from the way it helps develop visualization and intuition to how it can be used to determine the value of working any particular magickal ritual.

In this post I’d like to talk about a different aspect of the Tarot: giving Tarot readings. For many years I worked as a professional Tarot reader. Sometimes, at “psychic fairs,” I’d give twenty or more readings in a day. I’ve studied the Tarot for years with various teachers, through many dozens of books, and by taking courses. I’ve been honored with the title of “Certified Tarot Grandmaster” from the American Tarot Association and I’ve written a book on the subject, Tarot & Magic.

Most Tarot readings include information about the way things are and generalized directions for changing the future so a person can counter unwanted things that might happen, or encourage desired things to occur. Unfortunately, they are rarely specific directions of what to do to accomplish this. The main purpose of Tarot & Magic is to give people precise ways to achieve the desired future.

While intended for Tarot workers of any level of experience, as well as people with no Tarot experience, there is also information for the professional Tarot reader. Specifically, by giving clients something to do (such as the rituals or techniques in the book), it empowers the client and makes your reading more memorable.

Whether you are a professional Tarot reader or just read for friends and for fun, there are a couple of things that are vital. They are based around a simple fact: with experience, your readings can be incredibly accurate. This can surprise and shock the people who are getting your readings. So how do you present a reading so that it is acceptable to the person you’re reading for to a level where they will act on the information given in the reading, and yet not be so overpowered with the intensity of the information that it shocks them into inaction and feelings of an undesirable but inevitable fate?

The answer to the first part is through what is known as rapport building. Put in simpler language, it’s getting the person you’re reading for to like you and think you are like them in the way you think, act, and feel. This can begin with just smiling when you greet them. It continues with your paying intense attention to them—as if they’re the only person in the world—when they explain why they are seeking the reading. From the moment you meet, it’s making them feel that you’ll be able to help them. If you want more information on rapport building, I suggest the book Instant Rapport by Michael Brooks.

I believe that when giving a reading, it’s important to be scrupulously honest. By that I mean I believe a reader should do the best he or she can to honestly interpret the cards without hiding anything the cards (and your intuition) reveal. This does not mean you have to be brutal. In fact, being “brutally honest” can result in feelings of inability to change the future, leading the person you’re reading for into a state of inaction. That’s the exact opposite of what I, as a reader, am trying to accomplish. My goal is to give clients the information in a way that gives them the power to change.


An example of what I like to do comes when the Death card appears. So many times, especially when reading for people unfamiliar with the Tarot, I get the same type of response when the card is revealed. They sit back in their seats. They take a quiet gasp of air. Their eyes widen. Shock. Fear. The rapport I’ve built is broken and unless I act, everything other than their misinterpretation of this card is going to be ignored. I respond to this situation immediately.

“Oh good! The Death card,” I say happily.

The person I’m reading for is probably thinking, “Good? Are you crazy?”

I continue, “I like to say the following in one breath. Let’s see if I can do it.” Now they’re totally confused as I take an obvious, loud and deep breath. I say quickly,

“Whenever the Death card comes up I have to explain it because if you’ve ever seen a movie or TV show where it comes up immediately someone gets shot in the heart or a knife in the back. Nothing could be further from the truth. The card actually means positive evolutionary change. It’s death only in the sense of a caterpillar having to ‘die’ so a beautiful butterfly can live.”

Whether I make it all the way through on one breath (if I do, I say, “There, I did it!”) or not is irrelevant. The important thing is that I immediately break the hold of the word, “death” and what some people may think of as the card’s negative imagery.  I say everything very quickly except the words “positive evolutionary change.” I slow down and really stress those words. It may be that’s the only thing they remember about my little speech, and that’s okay. That’s what I want them to remember.

I’ll describe what I do with the Tower card in my next post. In the meantime, how do you deal with the Death card when it appears in your readings?

I’ve found that this breaks the hold of any negativity a person I’m reading for may have for the card and gets the message of the card to them. It eliminates the shock that can lead to inaction, lightens the mood, and leaves them open to suggestions about how to achieve that positive evolutionary change.

Reader Comments

Written By Ty
on December 29th, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

That was a great way to phrase it. I always try to caution that it isn’t physical death, but the death of old habits, old ways, old patterns. And I defintely try to build rapport with my querents.

I’ve found that the 8 of Swords tends to cause unpleasant reactions as well.

Written By Leigh
on December 30th, 2009 @ 5:09 am

What a great way to express the energy of the Death card! Being a tarot ‘novice’, it still causes that moment of *gasp* even for me, now knowing better.

I don’t read for others(yet), but I’m in the middle of a 12 day spread for Yule, and pulled the Death card(Rx) for position 6(connecting with Spirit).

And am looking forward to the Tower coming up as it came up in #5(how to connect with our ancestors seeking guidance and wisdom)and I’ve got to revise my interpretation for it.

Written By lada
on December 30th, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

as I only address Tarot from a personal aspect;
I keep track of what cards tend to show up;
occasionally the tower.
rarely death.
never the lovers.

Written By Joy
on January 5th, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

I think my husband married me because he wanted me to read cards for him, although I’d never done it before. He bought me a deck and i proceeded to attempt readings for him. I didn’t know at the time that he knew he had cancer. As his illness progressed and reared it’s ugly head, his requests for readings came more often.

In every reading, that death card would come up, and I’d tell him that it meant he had to give up his fear of dying in order to live. But he would get sooo mad.

Finally, I hid the cards away. Meanwhile he went downhill fast. I didn’t touch the cards for years after that. But I use them for myself now, and I’m thinking maybe I should take a class.

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