What Tarot Cards Mean Ancestors and the Dead?

For many tarot readers, tarot is used as a tool to predict the future and can even be used in mediumship to communicate with spirits and the deceased.

While some tarot readers may not use tarot as a tool for predictions, it can still be used as a way to connect and get messages from spirits and even ancestors.

In the pagan Wheel of the Year and in many cultures, ancestral veneration is an important practice.

Samhain (Northern Hemisphere: October 31 / Southern Hemisphere: May 1) is one of the most celebrated pagan holidays and other cultural practices such as ATRs (African Traditional Religions) and Eastern European / Eastern Orthodoxy have celebrations that honour ancestors.

In Tarot, there are some cards that point to ancestors, past lives, mediumship, the dead and spirits.

When these cards appear in a reading, this may indicate that a message may be coming through from a spirit or ancestor, or that time may need to be spent developing or working with mediumship, spirits, the dead or spirit communication.

The meanings below are simply a reference to take into consideration and cover a variety of cultural meanings as a background for the cards for a multi-cultural aspect for informational purposes.

Here are some tarot cards that are in connection with ancestors and the dead.

What Tarot Cards Mean Ancestors and the Dead?

Let’s start with the Major Arcana.

The Empress

The Empress represents mothers and the mother-ancestors.

When this card appears in a reading about spirits or ancestral work, this may suggest that the maternal ancestral line is coming through or that healing needs to be done with the maternal line.

This may include your own mother, grandmother or other ancestors on the maternal line. This may also represent that mothers on the paternal line as well (grandmothers, great-grandmothers, etc.)

The Empress may indicate any healing work with the women of your ancestral lineage and/or connecting with the women in your ancestry so that you can learn from them and get messages from them.


Many people try to strongly announce that the Death card does not mean actual death; however, when working with ancestral tarot readings or ancestral work, the Death card does indicate death.

When working with the Death card and the meaning that it means a “physical death”, this is often for a situation in which you know that death is imminent (e.g. a terminal illness or that someone is near death) or when working with spirits that you know have crossed over to the other side.

While the Death card won’t exactly predict when you’ll die or by what means, it often will show the death that you are already dealing with or are aware of.

This card brings Death to the consciousness and helps you to work through the process of death and dying, especially if you’re working with ancestors, someone who is in palliative care, making funeral arrangements, or dealing with a death in your life.

If the Death appears in a reading about spirits or ancestors, then this may be a suggestion to go deeper into your spiritual or journaling work and understand the spiritual meanings behind death and dying from the perspective of the ancestors or spirits.

This may also suggest understanding and accepting your own mortality and the mortality of everything.

If you work with dark goddesses, then this may sometimes suggest delving into your practice more.

Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune may indicate reincarnation, past deeds, actions in past lives, karma and samsara.

African Traditional Religions (ATR) e.g. Igbo believe that the spirit of deceased ancestors are born into the children of those ancestors.

In Buddhism, there’s the belief that any living thing could have been one’s mother in a former life so it would be bad karma to kill an insect or animal (even for food.)

In Hinduism, there’s the belief of reincarnation that even the gods and goddesses are subject to and is all based on the actions (karma) done in one’s lifetimes.

In the Poetic Eddas and Icelandic Sagas, the names of ancestors are listed through the Eddas and Sagas as a record of the family lines which some scholars may point as a theory of a folk belief of reincarnation prior to Christianity.

Julius Caesar is noted for his comments De Bello Gallico (VI) about the druids of Gaul and their beliefs about reincarnation.

When the Wheel of Fortune appears in a reading about the dead, spirits and ancestors, this may suggest about past lives of the deceased and their past deeds / karma, etc.

Now for the Minor Arcana.

10 of Wands

When the 10 of Wands appears in a reading about ancestors or ancestral work, this may suggest if you’re carrying too many ancestral burdens that aren’t yours.

For example, this can be pressures or obligations that you may have felt from ancestors whether it be to have children, to marry, to go into a certain profession, to move somewhere.

This can also be certain pressures or expectations that ancestors have that have been passed down through the generations, particularly if the ancestors felt burden or unsatisfied with their pressures or expectations that they put upon themselves or that other people put on them.

This may sometimes manifest in a reading as burdens that are the ancestors and not yours to carry or continue.

This may also indicate about genetics, traits or behaviours that have been passed down which may be positive or negative – depending on how these may affect your life.

10 of Pentacles

The 10 of Pentacles is often the indicator of ancestors and upholding traditions of family and ancestors.

When this card appears in a reading (ancestral work or any kind of reading), this may indicate if you want to go deeper into your ancestry, do ancestral work, do ancestry DNA testing, do a family tree or look into the wills and estates of family members or ancestors.

When the 10 of Pentacles appears, this may suggest getting in touch with your ancestral culture, customs and traditions whether it be language, clothing, food, holidays, going to the ancestral home or land, etc.

This may sometimes indicate connecting with your ancestors and understanding their legacy, what they have left for you.

This may also prompt you to consider what you want to leave behind or gift to future generations as one day you may become an ancestor too.

While the 10 of Pentacles may often indicate blood ancestors, this may also pertain to other ancestors that aren’t blood related, but may be adopted family/ancestors, in-law ancestors or ancestors as a part of your community, culture or spiritual tradition.

4 of Swords

The 4 of Swords reminds us to take time out and tune out the noise so we can give our mind a rest.

When we give our mind a rest, calm the noise and “monkey mind chatter”, we can hear the words and wisdom from the spirits and ancestors.

If we calm the mind and find inner peace, we become more attuned to the higher realms and the voices that come through to give us advice when we need it the most.

When the 4 of Swords appear in a reading, this may indicate working with spirits and mediumship, channeling messages or doing automatic writing.

5 of Cups

Traditionally, the 5 of Cups represents mourning, sadness, grief and loss.

This may suggest coming to terms with a loss, death or needing time to process grief.

The 5 of Cups may be appear in a reading about ancestors, ancestral work or tarot readings in which a spirit on the other side wants to come through and deliver a message.

If you’re a medium or learning mediumship, this card may indicate that there’s more work to be done with the spirit world and to connect more closely with the spirit that’s trying to come through.

The 5 of Cups may suggest an ancestor or spirit that wants to help you work through or process any grief, mourning, sadness or loss that you may be dealing with or that you may have experience but never fully healed from.

These are the seven tarot cards that may signify ancestors or the dead in a tarot reading.

For more about tarot and mediumship, have a read here:

How to Communicate with Spirits using Tarot.

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What tarot cards mean ancestors and the dead? Find out with these seven tarot cards to add depth to your ancestral, mediumship or Samhain tarot reading.
Find out what seven tarot cards mean ancestors and the dead for your ancestral, mediumship or Samhain tarot readings.
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