Weilding Swords

This article is some of the thoughts and lessons that I have come across in readings, and experiences that have to do (somewhat) with what the suit of swords in Tarot can represent.

The suit of swords relates to our mental, analytical consciousness, how we problem solve and on a circumstantial level, our issues of conflict. Our first reaction to that is often negative, but all of the elements are tools that we have the opportunity to use constructively. Working with conflict is challenging but if we are willing to grow, we can see it as an area of rich resource, protection, articulation and ultimately healthy exchange.

There are times in life when we have to take a stand, maybe in protecting ourselves, others, an ideal or principle. If we didnt have differences we would never learn. Sometimes in the great school of life it’s like going out for the debating team. We can learn to have differences, debates and even conflicts in a healthy way. A relationship with no degree of conflict isn’t much of a relationship. Sometimes even when we may be in agreement we have to mututally deal with conflict situations. although we may be on the same side of an issue, our approaches might be different.

How we deal with conflict is often learned behavior. Some of us grew up in households where there was a lot of direct conflict, maybe yelling or fighting was an everyday occurance. Others may have had a background where conflict was submerged or repressed. Either of those extremes would be unhealthy. Learning to deal with conflict, whether it’s standing up to a bully or seeing where our own energy has been intimidating to to others is an important part of inner work.

In my own journey I have had to overcome some old bad defensive habits. Like most people I can have my own rationalizations of things. Believing I’m a nice person, wanting others to like me and avoiding confrontation has sometimes got me into some fine messes. I have come to learn (and am still learning) that sometimes you have to take a stand, set a boundary, state a conviction, be willing to take a reaction and to not shy away from some forms of conflict. Along with all of this is the old axiom “choose your battles”.

When swords are predominant in a reading there are often issues of conflict that need to be addressed and dealt with. One of the things that Tarot also illustrates, particularly in the Rider Waite deck, is the inter relation of the elements within each other. There is often an emotional tone to the sword cards, how can there not be? Our feelings are aroused in situations of conflict. But inner work is also about knowing the right tool for the job. The three of swords particularly is a card of tough emotional decisions. Often when I am describing this in a reading I say “tough emotional ( I put my hand on my heart) decisions (I put my hand on my head). So it’s rather like the head has to say to the heart “I know you’re upset, so you’d better let me drive”.

There are some beautiful, peaceful and constructive elements in the suit of swords. The two, the four and the six have no direct conflict going on. I could point out too that there are as many signs of upset or turmoil in the other suits (i.e. ALL of the fives, the seven of wands) also we could see some situations where an absence of swords has created a stagnation. When there are NO swords in a reading it can sometimes be quite telling. If there seems to be a brooding, morose quality (i.e. King of cups reversed, the 4 of cups ill aspected) it may be that there is more of a negative situation in the absence of boundaries than there would be if a good healthy argument were to take place. If we just hold conflict in it can affect our physical health, our emotional well being and our overall security. The four of swords can relate to meditation or sometimes I refer to it as “rest amidst battle”.

When we don’t work with what the swords suit represents we can sometimes attract conflict energy. This isnt really all that unusual. If a person seems to have a pattern of attracting or being attracted to difficult, intimidating or abusive conditions -whether directly to the person or indirectly to others, one has to wonder what kind of  logic is at work. Often getting professional counselling can be a vital step when these patterns have become particularly life affecting. The use of such resource is POSITIVE sword energy at work. When we make a coscious choice to be safe. To learn to set healthy boundaries our lives go through a profound transformation. With that change comes a responsibility to own our strength, rather than seeking it in unhealthy situations or relationships.

At the same time, a refusal to own up to our own conflict energy, to continue to allow abusive or negative behavior on the part of others is a big failing. Something I see quite often is that we are sometimes not just attracted to a person, but also who we feel we are in relation to the situation. Some people can get used to getting their needs met in a victim role. Dont get me wrong, Im not talking so much about anyone deserving to be a victim but we sometimes have to look at how we can negatively re-inforce that sense of self, not just in the particular relationship but also how we take that into other ties. A saying that I feel is quite often overused in this and only addresses a surface aspect is; “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different result”. This buzz phrase sometimes annoys me. It’s like saying just dont date mean guys…well duh. I think we have to sometimes look at what’s behind the attraction. the bigger question is what is the payoff that deep down we keep needing to go back to? What are we re-inforcing and then what can we give or work with that more truly addresses our need for growth? There is often a good instinct or need, like being loved, feeling safe or protected that is behind our choices. Sometimes that good instinct has been simply going to the wrong address.

When we start owning our own strength and instincts we can stop giving our power up to the wrong people and patterns. This doesnt mean we dont need people, it means we can better meet those needs. We can share, give and recieve more freely, with less baggage, less negative attachment.

Breaking through that attachment can be difficult.I sometimes run into people that can really use their victimhood or martyrdom as a weapon.I sometimes have to challenge that, but people so caught up in self rationalization are not very open. If the person is not open to seeing their part in things, or refuses to work with resources that can help, choosing instead to suffer and inflict that suffering on others, then this is sometimes one of the rare occaisons where I have to say I cannot be a resource. It is significant that these are the types that are also more inclined to be invested in the idea of curses or some sort of external”force”. Saddly they are a pretty easy mark for unscrupulous people (and systems) that mutually re-inforce those beliefs.

A tough lesson I’ve had to see is that forgiveness cannot be true if it just means allowing the same situation to happen again. Letting abusive energy back into an area where it demonstrates an inability to be co-operative or reasonable is like lettting a rabid Rottweiller loose in a dog park. I cannot be responsible FOR another person but I do have to be responsible TO them, to myself and the other things affected. The nines in all of the suits are where we see underlying patterns, the things we can allow to go on bringing those same results or break the pattern and free our potential.

Some situations need resolution, and a kind of finality. We can learn from experience and say “no more”. The ten of swords is a card of dramatic finality. The issues have been analyzed and analyzed, one could almost say “done to death”. In the background though a new day is dawning, a new chapter beginning. In accepting an ending we can move forward.

Again these are only some random thoughts. I have included the cards as illustrations but these comments are not all specific to each and this is by no means the sole interpretations of the cards. More to come!

Eight Of Swords Continued

In the comments on the previous article about the Eight Of Swords, I mentioned the business of detachment and how that doesn’t necessarily mean physical detachment or leaving a situation but rather not being defined by it – being “in it but not of it”. This is a tricky business for some.

I’ve started this post with Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I was looking for images that could depict a person’s attempt to break through isolation and convey a unique and at the same time relatable feeling. This image speaks to millions of people both in it’s beauty and in it’s poignancy. Although Van Gogh’s life held a lot of suffering, his work ultimately has been a legacy of the vision he needed to share. Some experiences of suffering, like Vincent’s, seem inescapable and sadly not all have happy outcomes.

The key thing to (hopefully) overcome in what the Eight Of Swords describes is isolation. Whether it is our own difficulty or that of someone we care about, the tools we can work with are compassion, detachment and acceptance. We can hear, we can try to listen and out of that to understand. At the same time we can never know entirely what another person’s experience is and we have to be rooted in some degree of well being if we are to be of any good.

Many of us grow up believing that to be compassionate we must feel what the other person is feeling. How often in a caring situation do we feel compelled to say “oh I feel badly for you”. We are often taught that this is compassion, but what good does it do? True we need understanding and the ability to relate and empathize to a degree, but this needs to be balanced with our own healthy well being.

A lesson I have often seen with the Eight Of Swords is that sacrifice for others must be balanced with our own demonstration of responsible self care. The alternative is suffering for others, a kind of martyrdom. When we do this we actually are making others responsible for our state and we are not living our own potential. The other side of the coin is not selfishness but rather a sense of sharing what we can, and what others can receive. Being responsive to, not responsible for others while being whole and responsible and accountable for ourselves. This is a life lesson that I’m not great at. It’s a learning we move through many times. I can say it get’s easier and along the way there is a lot of beauty, even in the hard stuff.

I will only give brief mention here of those (happily few) that often want to make others feel responsible for the state they are in, or in some way apologetic for not being in their suffering with them. But these people are rarely and only momentarily satisfied. All I can say in regards to them is a big thank you to whoever invented call display. I usually don’t avoid the call altogether but that brief pause gives me fair warning where my boundaries can be in place. That’s a swords lesson in itself!

Detachment is not being aloof or uncaring, far from it. It is about being responsible for one’s self so that you are in good shape to be of service to others and to be a healthy demonstration. A healthy nurse can better look after people. A good teacher doesn’t necessarily have all the answers but rather the tools that they are willing to share to find answers. If a good friend has the flu we don’t say “here, sneeze on me, we’ll both be miserable”, but rather we avoid the sneeze, bring them soup and wash our hands and take our vitamins while doing so.

This is a challenging lesson, especially with those nearest and dearest when trauma is going on. Being caring means that of course we are affected, but it’s also the recognition that we can’t be in the same place as those directly suffering, nor would it be constructive to try. I learned this in some of the deepest grief situations my friends have gone through, both in loss and in facing their own passages. I learned that it is sometimes better to say “I have no idea what this must be like for you”, because it was the truth. At the same time it is important to try to relate and understand.

Compassion is about knowing that others move through these situations and we can learn from those experiences. The circumstances are often not that unique (if they were there’d be no such thing as country western music, or Shakespeare or any form of art) but our individual experiences are.

There is comfort in knowing others move through similar situations. That’s a big part of creativity. Music is a great example of people relating over heartache, joy and hope and most forms of art are about people expressing their individual experience and perceptions in a way that others can identify with, each in their own unique way. It is one of the things that makes the symbolism of Tarot useful. It is a way of relating these common themes with a degree of intuitive understanding from the reader and in what the person being read can relate to.

Being in the Eight of Swords state also means having compassion with one’s self. This is not narcissistic victim-hood or self pity, rather it is being a friend to ourselves, being able to drop the ego’s expectations, the false armor of pride that isolates us. Being open to the experience of others is often an important start. It means giving up the familiar identification with pain, though what have we really got to lose?

This also has another word running through it all, acceptance. Acceptance is not a resigned giving up or (as I said in the comments section before) playing “possum” to a tyrannical force. It is also not about trying to run from or deny the circumstances.It’s about seeing it as part of the journey, useful in our understanding and compassion to others and yet not the entire definition of ourselves.

All of the Eights are our relationships with circumstances. They are not the totality of ourselves, simply where we are momentarily on our journey. We might get stuck in them for a while (or choose to stay stuck). Swords are about conflict but they are also about our responsibilities in working with boundaries, making decisions, articulating ourselves, dropping the unnecessary baggage and protecting what is important.

Eight Of Swords

There’s trends I sometimes notice, where certain cards are more prevalent. It sometimes seems that there’s lessons we all are moving through and symbols become more evident during these times. Lately I have noticed a stronger than usual emphasis on the Eight of Swords.

The suit of swords itself is where we often are having to work with issues around conflict, stress and the part of consciousness that makes decisions, sometimes a more dualistic (good or bad, right or wrong) decisive focus.

None of the suits are good or bad in themselves but swords do seem to indicate more trouble on the surface than the others, yet they are necessary and when we work with what they represent we grow.

Not many people can say they like conflict, but conflict resolution is a very good thing. Any relationship that doesn’t have a degree of conflict (internally or externally) isn’t much of a relationship. How we work through these issues and identify problems is an essential part of our life experience.

Eights as a number are often about how we are identifying with our experiences. They are a sort of “you are here” indicator. We have to remember that our circumstances don’t define us entirely, we have to be in them but not of them. When we define ourselves by conflict, when our main subject matter is our battles and conflicts there is a self victimization that the eight of swords can illustrate.

Sometimes that victimization is from an external source, an abusive relationship whether it is with a partner or one’s environment can be shown by this card. Feeling powerless in our circumstances is also a big part of what this represents.

Looking at the illustration in the Rider deck there are some useful clues and insights. The figure is bound and blindfolded, surrounded by swords and abandoned on a beach, a castle is seen high on a cliff. Small puddles surround the figure, it is also significant that she is wearing red. What this seems to be is an execution by drowning. The tide will come in and this figure will be washed away. It’s almost as if the executioners didnt have the guts to do the job themselves but rather have left it up to a force of nature to do the dirty work for them.

In some cultures a woman in red represents a dangerous figure, a “fallen woman”. In the Tarot deck however she represents a resourceful woman of experience, the crone aspect of the female trinity (Mother, Maiden and Crone). In a happier aspect she is present in that trinity in the three of cups and also the Queen of Pentacles herself wears red (again symbolic of resourcefulness and the ability to see many sides of a situation).
So our figure in the eight of swords has fallen into a bad situation. The manner and style of execution suggests she is a powerful woman, again so much so that no one wants to directly do her in, nor do they wish to be identified hence the blindfold. In some cases so much as a look from this person would be enough for her to either do damage or to influence her escape.

The water is significant too. In many instances in the Rider deck, the ocean represents the vast unknown of our life experience, to venture out, to risk going beyond our comfort zones. This is different symbolically than just water as an element (cups). I always have felt though that the very thing meant to do our lady in red in, will be the very thing that sets her free. We have to sometimes “surrender to win”, let go of the defining circumstances and sink or swim but in doing so we reclaim the freedom we have lost.

In practical application this card comes up a lot for caring people who have lost their way in taking on the worries of others. I sometimes call it the “Achilles’s Heel of Empaths”. When our feeling for others has taken over our lives, we are in this state. Sometimes to take on our own feelings can be overwhelming at first (like the great ocean tide) but when we surrender to these things rather than run from them, we find our way out.

The term “Empath” has come up more in the last few years to refer to a person who has the ability to pick up on the feelings of others. I didnt hear the term so much until one of the Star Trek Shows ( I think it was Next generation) had a character who identified herself as one. Sometimes this seems to be an involuntary condition, a person who is an involuntary empath has not yet learned to set boundaries and is strongly affected by the vibes in their environment. Also there is the danger of projection, or ascribing to others the very dark emotions we do not want to own up to in ourselves. When we lack these boundaries or the accountability to see that the dark emotions we are “picking up” are sometimes our own, we have fallen into this trap. For some who are addicted to feeding off the emotional turmoil of crisis situations, boundaries can be frightening. To feel seperated from or cut off from others is harsh, but this is where the illustration of the card takes on new meaning. Sometimes we need the boundaries that the swords represent and the blindfold makes us look inward, we can begin to rescue ourselves (we often need help though in opening these things up) rather than using crisis as a way of avoiding.

I also sometimes call this “the flannel nightie card”. In relationships this can be an indication of a lack of safety or security, a need to withdraw from intimacy. We cannot truly share ourselves with another if we are feeling hurt or threatened. So like putting on a red flannel nightie that would look good on grandma and getting a good night’s sleep, we have to stand back, take back our space and be whole before we can share.

Sometimes this card can indicate physical problems. I don’t diagnose health, but the physical aspects of stress come up here. Some people don’t know they are on fire til they smell the smoke. This is not a good card around issues of pregnancy or fertility issues. It usually suggests a strong need for self care before any new undertaking can be accomplished.

Three Of Swords

The three of swords always elicits a reaction in a reading. The Rider Waite image, echoed in so many other interpretations is quite dramatic, a heart pierced by swords against a stormy background. Funny that it is such an emotional looking card, being that it is of the suit of swords, cups are generally the suit that refers to our emotional and compassionate functions. Swords have more to do with our mental or analytical approach to things. How we deal with conflict, protect and articulate.

I have found, the more I have worked with the cards that it IS a card of mental function, amidst emotional circumstances. Many resources refer to this as a card of separation and vulnerability. I think of it as a time where we have to look at the interaction of head and heart, both having validity. Sometimes I liken it to a little cartoon, picture an animated heart and an animated brain standing outside a car, figuring out who gets to drive. The heart is very distraught and the head has to intercede. It is at times of emotional distress that the head has to step in, sometimes over-ruling the heart and we have to take sensitive, even painful action that is for the best, like leaving a relationship or acknowledging a hurt. So it makes sense that these times, although emotional, are more of the head, rather than the heart function.

I have found though that the card will also come up at times where we have to let the heart back into the driver’s seat. We cannot always take a rational approach to relationships. Sometimes after a period of healing, we have to allow ourselves to take risks again and that means being vulnerable. So sometimes the card (depending on other influences) can mean coming out of a time of separation, feeling the sensitivity of healing. Just like the pain of a numbed limb coming back to life again, the three of swords says “if you can feel it, you can heal it”.