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The Tarot Suit of Swords by Anne Shotter

The suit of Swords in the Tarot is most commonly seen metaphysically to symbolise the power of the mind. The sword is seen as a symbol of the action of the mind to think, to discriminate, to make choices and to perceive the truth. The process of the mind is then expressed through thought and action.

The sword in action is a symbol that can be used to wound as in battle, or to heal when used in the hands of a surgeon. To be able to perceive the truth clearly we need to be unencumbered by ego and our feelings. In Carl Jung’s work with the four function types he saw the functions of Thinking and Feeling as being opposites and therefore difficult to integrate and access simultaneously.

I would like to invite you to come on a journey with me through the suit of Swords from the Rider Waite Smith deck, using its imagery to explore the complexities of the power of the mind with the complications that arise when this function is combined with feeling.

I am using the template of the Kabbala Tree of Life as a map.

First of all, let us look at the suit as a whole and see how many of the ten cards depict the symbols of water as part of the picture.

As you will have noticed, there are only three cards out of ten that don’t have a symbol of water as part of their illustration. These are the Ace, the Four and the Seven of Swords. So these cards are the only cards that symbolise the mind being able to operate without the opposing function of feeling. It could be argued that the Ace has a grey cloud, but it is not yet bursting.

The Tarot Cards in the Suit of Swords

The Two of Swords is the first example of this dilemma. The background of the card shows an ocean of water, representing feelings, lying behind the figure as symbolising past experience, this is influencing the ability of the figure to see the current situation clearly, as symbolised by the blindfold and to be able to discriminate between choices or paths as symbolised by the two crossed swords over the heart.

The Three of Swords shows an image of grey clouds bursting and is usually associated with tears that have occurred through a piercing by three swords to the heart – the heart has been wounded through the pain of separation. It is a very emotional image appearing in the Suit of Swords. Even those who do not understand Tarot will see it as a painful image. It illustrates how the mind, through words and actions can wound the heart. This wounding to the heart can then be held onto by the mind; activated anew when another wounding occurs. Carrying the number three, there can often be a triangular situation to the pain being felt, which can be connected to the primal wounding of being separated from the womb and the cutting of the umbilical cord.

The Five of Swords is a card that shows the force of the mind executed through the will. It shows threatening thunder clouds, a body of water and images of a person crying down near the water and another person walking away. It could be interpreted as if the actions of the figure, holding all the swords, at the front of the card is causing the emotion being felt by the person depicted down near the water. It is an image of the power of the mind being used to create change through conflict – and the force of will. It is interesting to look at the figures and ask yourself how comfortable you would be in the place of each of the three figures in the card. It shows a method of change that is swift and effective for the figure at the front of the card. The mind is in a position to execute its power over the emotions.

The Six of Swords shows three people in a boat moving across a body of choppy water, towards calmer waters. Six swords are still stuck in the boat. The boatman, being a masculine figure could represent the mind which is moving forward, carrying the woman, symbolising the feminine self, and the child, symbolising the future, towards a more peaceful life. It is a card of the mind being used as a strength to support the emotions whilst processing through a difficult period of life. It is often seen as a symbol of dealing with grief and loss. Therefore this card can be seen as a positive use of the power of the mind.

The Eight of Swords shows an image of the mind creating a prison like state of powerlessness, symbolised by the grey binding of confusion, preventing progress through life due to the thinking process of over-analysis. Thoughts are blocking the way forward, as symbolised by the blindfolded figure. In the background, the castle may have been a place of refuge or a personal prison. The basis of the card shows the figure standing on wet and muddy ground. If we look at the placement of the swords we can see that there are five on the left hand side (sub-conscious) and three on the right hand side (conscious). This placement could be seen as the figure’s sub-conscious memory of the conflict of the five of swords experience and the fear of another separation experience as in the three of swords. These fears and confusion are preventing movement forward in life. However, we can also see that the figure is capable of loosening the binding, picking up a sword – the Ace of Swords in front and using the power of the mind to clear a path to the future. The card is a reminder that we are not powerless.

The Nine of Swords shows a weeping figure, most likely woken from sleep due to worrying thoughts, symbolised by the nine swords moving across the card. There are images of emotion displayed in the pink of the mattress, the tears being shed and the red roses on the quilt. Many people experience this at the bewitching hour around 3am. The carving on the base of the bed shows two people in conflict, which could be the cause. The mind is definitely not working positively in this card, but rather causing distress through the process of worrying, rather than communicating or acting to resolve the issue. It can be seen as the mind injuring the self, often through guilt or anxiety. When in such a state a question to ask may be “Is there anything that I can do to resolve this situation?” and if the answer is “No” then we are damaging ourselves if we continue the process. It is time to look at the next and final card.

The Ten of Swords shows an image of the mind finally at complete rest. The swords are placed along the spine of the body and there is blood spilling. Most people would see the person as being dead. But in a symbolic sense it is the mind that has given up its relentless pursuit of a particular path. The card is sometimes seen as a card of defeat. Personal and anecdotal experience with clients has led me to believe that the mind has accepted defeat, due to the hurt and pain that has been experienced by the emotional body. “This is nearly killing me” is a comment I often hear. The matter causing the anxiety of the Nine of Swords can now be put to rest. There is a large body of water in this card which is calm and peaceful, indicating that all is now done and it is time for peace to be restored. The mind is ceasing to wound the self.

First of all, let us look at the suit as a whole and see how many of the ten cards depict the symbols of water as part of the picture.

As you will have noticed, there are only three cards out of ten that don’t have a symbol of water as part of their illustration. These are the Ace, the Four and the Seven of Swords. So these cards are the only cards that symbolise the mind being able to operate without the opposing function of feeling. It could be argued that the Ace has a grey cloud, but it is not yet bursting.