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The Tarot Suite of Swords

To best understand the workings of the Tarot in general, and the Suites in particular, one should have a comfort level with the underlying aspects of the divination technique. While it is workable to memorize meanings of the cards, one does not have a full appreciation of their workings if the archetypes and metaphysical symbologies are not understood. There are symbologies of numerology and elements present in the minor arcana. This set of notes will focus on the specific suite/element of Air/Swords.

There are four traditional elements in the Western metaphysical world. These are: earth, fire, air and water. These elements are the basis of most every magical/metaphysical working and belief. So, it is not surprising that the elements are also present in the Tarot. The elements are directly embrace the Minor Arcana, with each suite representing an element.

All creation starts from a single source, a seed. This is true in the use of the elements. The entirety of the universe represents the oneness of the elements. All the metaphysical expressions of the universe are presented by one, or a combination, of the elements. As thinking creatures, the idea of an infinite oneness is not palpable to us. It is said that to name a thing is to both know it and change it. At the risk of changing the oneness, mankind does name it, divide it into parts to create a thing that seems finite and understandable.

The oneness of the Universe is then divided by two. A duality is created. The female division provides the creative potential of live and the male division provides spark that moves the creation forward. Below is a chat of symbolic roles:

 

Female

Male

Lasting

Short-lived

In Charge

For Show

Covering and Hiding

Revealing and Exposing

Eternal

Cyclical

Passive

Active

Inner

Outer

Dark

Light

Roles of the Genders

While it may seem that the genders contradict each other, they are actually complimentary. If a system is completely female, it becomes stagnant fuel/potential with no movement. If a system is completely male, it burns itself out with no fuel available to maintain the spark. A mixture of the two is needed to provide the fuel (female) and the spark (male) to the light of life. 

To properly read the both the minor arcana, and their associated Court Cards, one must have a grasp of these mystic associations of "male" and "female" energy. Male energies are fast and sudden. The price for the bursts of energy are paid through short duration and non-lasting effects. Given their shorter life cycles, male energy is associated with completion and readiness to let go or move on. We shall see later that the elements of air-swords attest to this. The forces of require much energy to maintain. When the energy is removed, the air no longer exists as a force.

The genders are next split in two, creating four states of being in the elements. The split represents a duality of Inner and Outer. A male and female pair embraces an energy that is expressed inwardly, in ways associated with the single system or individual. The other male and female pair embraces an energy that servers or focuses on those things outside of a single system or individual. So, there is defined a "female-male" element, a "female-female" element, and so one. This is a very important differentiation, and should be understood.

As the "male-male" element, Air is always in motion and is always being spent and then reborn to continue on. Never resting, never settled, it is no surprise that the suite associated with this element is seen to be martial and decisive in the majority of its faces.


Divisions of Universal Oneness

Traditionally the elements interact with each other using rigid rules: Fire and Water are enemies, therefore weaken each other. Air and Earth are enemies, and therefore weaken each other. The interesting point with this rule is that elements of the same "gender" don’t work together. Water and Fire are both female in orientation, and their combination leads to a passiveness that does not prosper. Likewise, Air and Earth are both male in orientation, and their combination burns out and does not prosper.

Below is a chart focusing on the suite/element of Air/Swords:

Element

Gender

Focus/Direction

Duality

Expression

Traditional Meaning

Air

Male

Outer/Others

Male/Male

the mind and intellect, communicating, and conflict

indication of trouble and problems

Now that we have an understanding of the origins of Swords, the element can now be correlated to its Tarot suite, and the suite will be examined in detail. After much discussion, now the Swords of the air element is presented:

Suite
Element
Gender (Main)
Gender (Secondary)
Swords
Air
Male
Male
Table of Suite Correspondences

EXAMINATION OF SWORDS IN LIGHT OF "GOOD" AND "BAD" CARDS

The association of a card as being good or bad is a distinction that I find to be based on a pessimistic approach to the cards. The dualistic tags of "good" and "bad" are relative sides of the same coin. It said that all good things must come to an end. When this end occurs, the "bad" side of the coin appears. The seeds of the "bad" are present in the "good", just as the full potential for "good" is present in "bad". When one operates on the basis of "good" and "bad" concepts, there exists no balance. There is always striving for what is not possessed, and sorrow for what is lost.

I instead encourage a holistic approach to the cards that allows one to accept the "good" cards as a respite, and the "bad" cards as opportunities for growth and movement. The nature of the cards is not judged by relative labels of dualism. Instead, the cards are appreciated individually – moments of being where only opportunity is present. The idea of non-dualistic identification of the cards is challenging. To fully examine the philosophy behind the minor arcana, I will continue to use the tags of "good" and "bad". When you see these words, instead think "opportunity" and "opportunity".

I feel that there are two kinds of "bad" cards: challenge and warning. The first category, those of challenge, contains those cards that indicate change and spiritual examination. The second category, those of warning, contains cards illustrating human short comings. Ironically, these short-comings are promoted when change or spiritual insight is not embraced

 

Card #

Pentacles

Wands

Cups

Swords

# of Good

# of Bad

1

G

G

G

G

4

0

2

G

G

G

G

4

0

3

G

G

G

B

3

1

4

B

G

B

G

2

2

5

B

B

B

B

0

4

6

G

G

G

G

4

0

7

B

B

B

B

0

4

8

G

G

B

B

2

2

9

G

G

G

B

1

3

10

G

G

G

B

2

2

# of Good

7

7

6

4

 

 

# of Bad

3

3

4

6

   


The suite of Swords has traditionally had the darkest of reputations. There are more bad cards than good cards. It is my belief that this is a reflection of the turmoil people experience from the stresses of the mind. Thoughts are egocentric, and cannot join with others. When a person is operating in the realm of Air, they are furthest from the soothing womb of the Earth.

THOUGHTS ON MAGICAL WORK:

In the area of magic, it would seem that Earth based workings are preferable. The suite of Pentacles – Earth – is only seen in a bad light when there is too much of it (4), and when there is change of a mundane (5) or spiritual type (7). These are expected, and should be avoided in the case of the number four, or welcome in the cases of five and seven.

The other suites begin to exhibit issues when they are worked with in a magical way. Wands – Fire - have unfocused, non-regenerating qualities when pushed to an extreme. Cups – Water – suffer from the unstable nature of the medium. Swords – Air – provide an egocentric method that gives potential pain for its results.

An interesting note is that general Ceremonial and Enochian magic focus on the area of Swords. Based on this, I would discourage only a hearty few from this path. At the other extreme, the neopagan religions – including Wicca – follow the path of the Pentacle. It is of no coincidence that the preferred medallion of Wiccans is the pentacle.

 

Swords

Symbolism/Interpretation: generally represent courage and boldness, strife and aggression, even hatred and enemies.

Swords correspond to the element of male air. They represent the mind and intellect, communicating, and conflict.

The element of Air adds intellect and conscious thinking to the minor arcana. The mind is sword that cuts through ignorance, and it also slays a person and others.

The element of air is the most removed from the element of Earth. Fire is dependent on Earth for fuel. Water is dependent on Earth for a place to rest. Air can exist without Earth. This nature analogy can be extended to the realm of our being. One can make decisions, and have thoughts, that are not based on reality, or grounded in practicality. Thoughts are like air: invisible, swift limitless. The thought that begins as a breeze quickly becomes a tornado, or escapes into the emptiness of space. Air is the most difficult element to contain, control, and quantity. The more we try to control our thoughts, the wilder they become. Meditation brings our thoughts back to a stable form. The purest forms of meditation seek not to contain, control, or quantify thoughts. Zen meditation instead acknowledges a thought, and allows for its natural departure. There is no counting of thoughts, no tally sheet of grievances and hurts.

The suite of Swords has traditionally had the darkest of reputations. There are more bad cards than good cards. It is my belief that this is a reflection of the turmoil people experience from the stresses of the mind. Thoughts are egocentric, and cannot join with others. When a person is operating in the realm of Air, they are furthest from the soothing womb of the Earth.

We refer to the air element as the force of the Mind. People who are strongly influenced by the airy signs can be calm and refreshing as a cool breeze. But if their temper is raised, they react with gale-like force, shattering the tranquility of the world around them. Air is necessary to convey the words which one person uses to speak to another. It is in its aspect as a communicating and collectivizing agent that air has its most important function in astrology. Through air, Man can reach for ideas in the intuitive mind, and apply them in the realm of human experience. Mind is man’s most important tool and the greatest danger at the same time.



Meanings of the Numbers

 

Number

Meaning

Ones (Aces)

New beginnings

Twos

Relationships, duality, balancing of two

Swords two opposing forces, stalemate, forces balanced

Threes

Synthesis, collaboration, self-expression, expansion, fulfillment – except Swords where this is missing.

Swords: separation and heart break, crisis in relationship, deep suffering, lack of harmony, triangle growth through pain.

Fours

Foundations, stability, status quo

Swords: rest, respite, period of recuperation, need for inactivity

Fives

Change, instability, volatile, necessary to adapt to unpleasant changes

Swords: instability caused by betrayal, arguments, battles, trickery, manipulation

Sixes

Assistance, idealism, perfection, and a change for the better

Swords: assistance, turning point, struggle and strife subsiding, solving problems, passage to a higher state, finding understanding

Sevens

Unexpected change, perception, insight, new awareness and perspective, change brought about by insight

Swords: mistrust, may mean a need to move onwards and leave part of past behind, head-on-attack disastrous, care and cunning needed or mistrust and betrayal

Eights

Control, power and mastery over a situation through self-reliance and autonomy, organization

Swords: restriction, blockage, fear, trapped from exercising control

Nines

Completion and fulfillment of each suit, maximum intensity of each suit in the cycle, completion, fulfillment

Swords: high anxiety, worry over the outcome, worry, depression, sleepless nights

Tens

Renewal through a new cycle. Many lessons have been learned regarding the suit in question – mastery.

Swords: disaster, failure, loss of perspective, overacting to problems, losing one’s mind… insanity

 

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