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ace of swords tart card marseilles deck
marseilles deck

Swords are held to represent the things in life that occupy your mind. Challenges, ideas, problems, ambitions, goals. The cutting through image is reflected in the personality type 'driven' which ranges from the ambitious, performance orientated, through persuasive communicators to the intellectually motivated & perfectionist minded. Essentially optimistic and determined, and usually exactly that, when swords are down, the pessimism is extreme and fatalistic.

Swords represent the element Air. This associates them with
Libra, Aquarius & Gemini. See the minor arcana page for details of all the main associations.

Arthur Waite, you have a lot to answer for... I refer especially to the 9 of Swords.
9 of Swords Waite Deck
from waite deck

This 9 of Swords can only be bad news or migraines - sleeplessness anyway.  It really doesn't suit the 9. The Waite deck illustrates ALL the cards, minor as well as major and the result is the over dramatisation of the minor, not to mention the wholly out of step meanings of some. It's become so common place that many people dread drawing any Swords cards and instantly see them as obstacles... and that includes readers.  All professional readers should develop their own frames of reference - after researching those of others, researching the tarot and philosophy generally, and meditating on their own cards. These 'meanings' can vary widely. The problem is that when you so figuratively design a deckand produce it, you are forcing your interpretation on others - giving no option. There are classical symbols and allusions built into the major arcana cards but not in the minor - which were not designed with cartomancy in mind.  If you are happy with Waite's arbitrary set of meanings for the minor arcana - and they are not meanings set out in some ancient text but meanings devised by Waite - there is no problem, but if you have a different take then you will find this deck very difficult to work with. It isn't just the Waite deck - many others take a similar course or one that draws from the theme it is designed around. If you prefer to etch in your own light and shade when reading, use one of the classic decks.

ace swords waite
Waites Ace of Sword's is exactly that of the classic Marseilles deck - its a pity about the others! A quick look at the Swords illustrations and you'll feel like a great cloud of doom and gloom is descending, whilst the cups are mostly happy-clappy, the wands are chipper and combative and the coins positively venal.

Don't misunderstand - I am not dismissing Waite out of hand, his book to accompany the cards is a goldmine of well researched information, but he does have a particular agenda which the classic decks do not - not least because they were not specifically designed for 'mystical', or 'ritual'  use. The Waite minor arcana is way over the top, but if you study Waite, his card spreads are too - it can take hours to work through a Waite reading, which uses almost the whole deck. Waite was a Rosicrucian, a Golden Dawn member and leader - and later founder of his own RC order. Crowley, another former Golden Dawn member also designed a deck which reflects his preoccupations (The Lovers becomes Lust) and whilst it is a deck which can produce powerful readings, again they are unavoidably tied to their designer's agenda. Waite with Pamela Colman-Smith, Crowley with Lady Frieda Harris.  Popular with artitsts and poets, including Yeats, the Golden Dawn, at a time when romanticism was the in-thing, and when the symbolist painters and writers had taken the popular minds in the arts world, pushed tarot to the fore.Theosophy was a serious study and mediums became popular in parlours along with planchettes and ouija boards.  At the seaside, gypsy fortune tellers read palms, crystal balls and cards... it was exotic, mystical and new. Today, new tarot decks appear daily, most of them simply art projects and generally major decks only, but still there are around 300 full tarot decks, 90% of which are of the Waite era or more recent.

My own interpretation of the minor deck links the pip cards to a major arcana 'parent'. The court cards are linked to specific types of events or modes of behaviour and alternatively to representations of people in some cases. It is also influenced by where, in the spread, the card lies. Over the many years I have read, it is the way that produces fluent and coherent readings best for me.

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minor arcana page
king of swords queen swords knight swords page of swords ace of swords
author's Spanish deck
ace of swords 2 swords 3 swords 4 swords
5 swords 6 swords 7 swords 8 swords 9 swords 10 swords
  minor arcana associations (people, dates,astrological)

Ace of Swords
Aces are Potential – New Beginnings. Knowledge is gained. Obstacles revealed. Ideas are formed. This is a new issue or set of issues that represent something you wish to accomplish, or something which must be dealt with. Where the card appears in the reading and the other cards linked with it will indicate the nature of these.
2 of Swords
2s are antithesis – something becomes possible or requires attention and before you act on it you think of an alternative – in this case,
you are caught between choice of actions, though very often the result is ultimately the same. There are two routes - its not a case of A to B or A to C, both routes run from A to B but one is direct and one less so.

3 Swords

3s have a strong positive feeling. They are the potential, symbolised by the fertility which the Empress confers, they are the synthesis, the outcome, the forward spread of progress promised by Marxist theory, they are symbolized by the triangle as a stable, supportive structure - think of the tripod that supports a camera or, on a larger scale, a vital survival shelter.
The Marxist theory of history gives us 1 - Thesis, followed by 2 - Antithesis resulting in 3 - Synthesis. Bear with me, it has nothing specifically to do with Communism! Lets see it as this - you have a King, one ruler, which over time becomes a tyranny and results in the rise of anti-monarchism and rebellion. Synthesis: a new ruling order. It works the other way too - a Liberal democracy can move towards anarchy and result in a call for a move back to ‘the right’ - result a coup and a tougher regime. History is littered with a continuous kaleidoscopic shifting of power structures along these lines. You can apply it a simpler level to single lives, even to issues: from two elements comes a third. Perhaps a compromise but an outcome supportive of progress.
Apply this to Swords and the 3 is at it most potent, showing you that ideas and possibilities in ‘conflict’ - or through discussion - can result in a new outlook which incorporates both and allows for progress. It can be tentative and rudimentary but it is more than just a beginning, its a way forward.

4 Swords
Tarot readings are too often full of cliches about balance and being at a crossroads. The latter is tempting when this card appears but incorrect: Essentially, what is happening here - and this influence is current - is that you are so fixed on a very clear idea of what you think you want that you are in danger of missing less obvious alternatives. And more: its like being so set on getting from A to B that you head down the motorway and ignore the meandering side roads and other places that you could stop off on the way.

As a helpful influence this is a gentle reminder that the support acts are sometimes better than the headliners. Don’t ignore the opportunities for happy diversions that although you don’t take seriously to begin with can prove to be much more than you first thought. You could be attaching expectations and preconceptions to the idea of what you want that are actually superfluous - are you looking for something genuinely new or to recreate something?
There are possibilities right now which could be missed because they don’t immediately match the sub conscious criteria you have set yourself - thinkabout what that might be and take a good look around .

5 Swords
5s represent conflict but in the broadest sense. They are directly related to the major card the Hierophant which represents the status quo, doing the right thing, and they reflect the conflict, the negotiation, the argument that goes into achieving the sort of consensus that is the ‘right thing’, as well as reflecting the confrontational position which arises when you go against the status quo. With swords, the issues are mostly intellectual in nature - duties, responsibilities, decision making. There is a strong chance that what you think of as secret is less secret than you imagine, although no-one has actively betrayed you, and that in the long run this can work in your favour.

6 Swords
Sometimes the only way to solve life's problems is to leave them and start over. Maybe even move somewhere new and start over. Though such a retreat can seem cowardly and even illogical it is often the only approach left when all others have failed. After times of confusion and strife the surest way to escape our emotions may be to leave them behind. All 6s are ruled by The Lovers and the 6 of Swords bears a variation on their theme of choice and sacrifice. The sacrifice is very often a done deal in as much as it will be an idea that has just not worked out, or a relationship similarly, or in some other way you find yourself dealing with the fall out from a situation that just needs to be abandoned. Bailed out from. The element of choice lies in making the decision to pull the plug but also in making a firm decision to get some distance, preferably physical, between you and any problems. What is really needed is to remove the pressure and have time to think over the next move.

7 Swords
Surprises that test your self control are provided by the 7 of Swords but on a deeper level, when you really think about, they shouldn’t have been surprises at all. Often the events that separate the successful from the also-rans, some people have an ability to read life the way a good driver reads the road - its ‘second nature’ to them and most of the time they aren’t even aware of it. If anyone’s going to avoid the classic error of repeating patterns that lead to disaster it should be these folk - but for reasons unfathomable they appear no better at this than anyone else. Is everything in your life secure ? The worst of surprises is that which sees something disappear and with swords it would be the sort of loss that strikes at your intellect - being diddled, having your ID swiped, cons, scams... Its a card that reminds you to watch the small print and also to keep your eye on the whole picture - be a peripheral visionary!

8 Swords

8s link with their major arcana ‘boss’ Justice, but in some decks with Strength. There are elements of both. With Swords relating to the intellect, and to problems which need to be solved, issues that require dealing with, the 8 usually refers to a matter which has almost reached the point of conclusion - indeed it could be left as things are and conclusion would soon enough follow. This may be tempting but there is something in this matter that you know needs to be seen through correctly and fully if things important to you are not to be overlooked. The danger of this is that pushing on could stall the process of reaching the closure which you are longing for.

9 Swords

There’s a sort of convention amongst a lot of Tarot readers these days which paints Swords, as a suit, as negative and the 9 as just about the worst card in the suit. It flies in the face of two things - One: Swords represent the intellect, the mind, and events and influences which require you to conceptualize, to think, to be logical and rational - Now this isn’t as buzzy as the energy of Wands, lacks the sensuous and material promise of Coins or the emotional highs of the Cups, and demonizing the Swords as a suit overlooks the negative aspects of the others; What is wrong or negative about something that asks you to use your mind? Two: all the other 9s are usually painted in glowingly positive terms. 9s are traditionally strong and positive. The fault lies with the Waite deck which not only confuses traditional interpretations with its wayward and idiosyncratic meanings for the minor cards - all tarot readers have their own interpretations for these - but gives them very specific imagery often at odds with the broader themes from which traditional Tarot interpretation draws. I have never understood the degree of authority which this highly idiosyncratic deck is given, but its popularity is the most likely factor and this is because of all those pictures which are so, so easy to make stories from. And with Waite, the 9 of Swords is the stuff of nightmares - and migraines. Along with many others in modern times Waite sees the ‘dark’ 9 of Swords as opposed to the ‘light’ 9 of Cups, the gypsy’s “wish card” - another misnomer - and sets Swords as the antithesis to Cups in the minds of many. In my opinion its just plain wrong. 9s represent imminence, the ability to achieve and to complete - with Swords it is the very positive ability to bring something to a conclusion, to clear a final hurdle, and it refers to something that occupies, and likely dominates, your thoughts.

10 Swords
10's represent completion and the 10 of swords marks closure. Its become one of those trendy buzz words amongst new-agers and psycho-therapy fans, much used but little understood - or perhaps more often ‘overstood’. Swords represent our intellect, the workings of the mind, challenges and obstacles which we have to think our way through, around or over. Closure, quite simply, is being able to put something away. It may not be finished - chances are it never could be. I have half read books on my bedside table that are going to end up being given closure - returned to the bookcase or passed on to the charity shop because it reaches the point where I find myself thinking - I still have that to get through. And when I realise that I really don’t want to or need to - there is probably something I could learn in there, but I can’t justify the cost of finding it - thats when it is time to close the book. Bits of our lives are just the same - we keep them open, look at them now and again and think, I have to face that sometime... But as often as not - we don’t have to. The electrifying thrill of freedom, of a shadow passing, a weight lifting - creates a heady vacuum in which we need to be careful not to simply fill the space up with more half-finished clutter.

Page of Swords
Pages announce things. The announcements brought by The Page of Swords often challenge you, presenting obstacles, barriers and problems to be solved. It often represents a problem that requires you to ‘think outside the box’ - which is jargon for thinking laterally, approaching the problem from a different angle and perspective. It is rare for the Page’s announcements to close the door completely - indeed, it is more often the case that the Page offers an alternative, frequently better, way ahead. Sadly, it isn’t always as obvious as it could be. The way ahead could involve first making a small detour - like a promotion sideways in order to more easily get a promotion forwards.
The Page of Swords shows like the other pages an opportunity or experience that is offered to us, an external impulse that effects us. In the case of the Page of Swords, it could be that in some instances there is a clarifying impulse, a fresh breeze that suddenly brings us clarity, helping us to analyze and understand difficult correlations. Usually, however, it is a conflict, dispute, and perhaps an altercation resulting in separation that is proclaimed by the Page of Swords. In this respect, he should be considered a warning to recognize the gathering hallstorms in time, or to not expand the approaching conflict unnecessarily. Instead, let it become as clear a conflict as possible.

Knight of Swords
Lots of stuff coming at you. There you go, barely articulate but pithy and to the point. The Knight of Swords is opening the glove-box of life and being hit by a landslide of old Abba cds, letters you forgot to post and bags of mints that have gone all sticky. And one of those Vittel water bottles. You’ve been meaning to sort out, catch out, clean out and organise for ages but sometimes its easier to just keep shoving things in and wanging the door shut before it all spills out.

   Is there any degree of help here? Well, its easy to see the hindrance - 101 little things that really need sorting but you just can’t find the motivation or the time. The help is hidden in what might be achieved by tackling it - first of all, the total satisfaction of an empty glovebox, secondly the challenge of filling it again, but thirdly, when you sift through the junk you’re about to consign to the recycling bins something that just might be significant pops out at you. Now how could you have forgotten that? Or overlooked it? Not seen the potential usefulness, importance... Is it too late to make use of it?
   The Knight of Swords represents the clarity you can achieve when you tackle the things you’ve been avoiding.

Queen of SwordsSwords represent the element Air and its association with mind and the intellect. The court cards stand apart from the association with events and directions that the rest of the minor cards have and are more indicative of mood and identity. The Queens represent the life skills more associated with the feminine side. The Queen of Swords gets a bad press from poor, lazy readers who don’t think any further than the associations with card games in which its the worst card to have. Forget that. This represents a woman’s thoughts - typically using both sides of the brain - and able to cut right to the heart of a situation. Its why men have an immediate ‘fear’ reaction to this Queen, she is going to see right through them. Most women operate well below this level on a day to day basis and the reaction is often wary from them too - seeing a false friend set to stab them in the back, but its simply an instinctive fear of someone operating at their sharpest and when it represents you, the fear is of what you may uncover. If you have issues with anger, this is a time to be prepared to keep it in check, just allow the logic and rationality to flow. This Queen always gets answers to her questions.

King of Swords
He is more like a general than a governor. He does not inspire people, he commands them, and they obey him because they trust him. His decisions are almost always the right ones, because he sees the big picture and never lets his heart sway his judgment. Though they might not benefit the King directly, his decisions are always in everyone's best interests. He is not a passive leader who sits back and gives orders while never doing anything himself. All generals were soldiers once, and the King is no exception. He is very active, and when he thinks it is necessary, his will be the blade that draws first blood. This is especially true when someone commits an act that goes against the King of Swords' ethics. He is totally intolerant of those who break the law (those who break
law) and his retribution is swift and severe. He has no real empathy for others, and he does not care for their well-being. He leads them not because he wants to, but simply because he can. When this part of you starts to manifest you'll know it right away. The King of Swords' arrival in your life is an event that almost never goes unnoticed simply because he commands attention from everyone around him. He does not linger waiting for something to do; he appears only when he is needed to drive raging emotions from you, or when his impartiality and cold judgement will help you solve a problem. Judge fairly, speak truth, and never waver from your standards.

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© Jeremy Rogers 2007 Document made with Nvu