Some keywords and phrases for the Death card include: transformation, transition, rebirth, renewal, revitalization, profound change, leaving the past behind, end of era, end of one cycle and beginning of another, new way of life, death of one's old self, change of one's status.
Okay, so perhaps it is a bit of an intimidating card in the Rider-Waite deck. This death card shows that Death stops for no one, be it King, clergy or peasant. The conspicuous amount of water indicates that this transition may be fraught with emotion. And yet the sun is rising on a new day... there is hope in this death and rebirth.
Robin Wood's Death card is less forbidding. Yes, the main figure is a Grim Reaper, but it is dressed in red, the color of blood and birth. Or rebirth? The birch trees in the background are trees associated with rebirth; butterflies represent transformation. This could mean the ultimate transformation-- death; or it could be the end of one cycle in life and the beginning of a new one. Not so scary.
The Death card in the Druid Craft deck has a much different approach than many decks. This card shows a wise crone (with a serpent of transformation and wisdom in the background) standing in front of her cauldron. Whether or not this is the Crone Goddess Cerridwen with her cauldron Awen, the symbolism is the same; the cauldron represents the womb and is associated with rebirth and wisdom. Through the window behind the crone the sun is just rising-- or setting; either way a new day (cycle) is beginning or an old one is ending.
This final Death card is from the Pearls of Wisdom tarot, the deck I use when I read for others; it is chock-full of symbolism. The figure is stepping from a dying world into a new world, leaving old masks, old selves, behind. Note the serpents again, those wise creatures who periodically shed their old, unneeded skins and continue life. Butterflies, creatures who emerge completely transformed after a period of dormancy, are represented as well. The rune Othala represents the Land of Birth and the rune Kenaz (beacon or torch) is associated with the fire of transformation. This tarot deck has one of the most intricate, explicit, beautiful and uplifting Death cards I've seen.
So remember when seeing the Death card in a reading that death comes in all manner of varieties and is an opportunity for transformation and renewal of your life, not necessarily then end of it.
(This post is part of the alphabetical topic series for the Pagan Blog Project)