King of Swords: The Judge / Bigot

speak what must be spoken

Kings exercise maturity and leadership in their element + Swords represent the mental realm with its words and our sense of justice

from Leonardo Da Vinci Tarot (Lo Scarabeo)

King of the suit of logic and reason, they are concerned mostly with truth and knowledge, and the rules of society. Knowledgeable, philosophical, impartial, strategic, responsible, direct, and judicious, they use their position to speak truth, including truth to power. They offer good, clear advice more fairly than the Queen; although Swords lack the compassion seen in other suits, they are able to see the complexities of situations more abstractly and is more apt to compromise. (Note that in Smith-Waite the Queen sits confined by her throne on a block of immovable stone, whereas the King’s throne is more open, and rests on the softer earth.)

As the master of the Thinking court, they are the quintessential ESTJ, which are the honest rule-followers who value competence and efficiency with a clear sense of how things should be and enjoy creating order according to these standards and beliefs. Impersonal and straightforward, they view the world through reason rather than emotion with little tolerance for the dreamers and rebels of the world, and have no problem disciplining those who do not abide by the standards they uphold.

(-) In resistance, they lack the principle of fairness, becoming the bigot intolerant of differing beliefs and opinions, and inflexible in their reasoning. The truth they speak is skewed to suit their own bias.

(+) In excess, they are judgemental and unforgiving in their standards.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • Where are you inflexible in your beliefs? Where are your prejudices? Can you ever consider the other perspective, or do you remain rigid?
  • Do you judge others based on some criteria that you hold?
  • When do you feel judged?
  • Who establishes the rules in your life?
  • What is your relationship with authority and its rules?
  • Do you have rules of order that you expect others to follow?
  • What prevents you from speaking your truth?

What else? Court cards are complex and multifaceted, including more than these labels, and you may have other insights. What historic or fictional characters does this king remind you of? What part of yourself is represented, here?

Queen of Swords: The TaskMaster / Critic

establish boundaries and communicate them clearly

Queens nurture the magic of their element within, reflecting it outward + Swords deal with the mental realm of the rational mind and its belief systems

from Touchstone Tarot (trimmed)

Cool, capable, and efficient, the Queen of Swords seeks clarity and gives straight answers. They communicate their beliefs and principles so strongly through their being that they are not threatened by others. They establish boundaries naturally and are clear in expressing them. Precise and uncompromising, they expect things to be done “by the book” and have a reverence for discipline which will keep us on task, teach us to do a thorough job, and keep our promises. More Thinking than Feeling (this is the ISTJ in personality typing), when they make a decision, it comes from the head, not the heart.  They take criticism and conflict well… and can dole it out. Their honest tongue may be sharp but will be direct. This is the friend you turn to for cutting through the bullshit, including your own. The sharpness of their mind allows them to be witty and insightful. They would rather live alone than give up their autonomy, and this independence is an ally of wisdom.

In resistance, the fairness of their sense of justice can be blocked, giving them an air of intolerance and even a vindictive streak. Perhaps they use their tongue unfairly by gossiping in their hushed little circles.

In excess, their sword cuts away at all that doesn’t mesh with their belief systems, and they become scornful, criticizing without compassion — or even basis. Turned inward, their self-critical eye can be ruthless.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • Are your boundaries permeable (or nonexistent)? How might you strengthen them?
  • Are you your own worst critic? Where does that come from?
  • What part is critical of others? Is this really just projection of the above?
  • Do you demand perfection? Why?

What else? This is a common archetypal character in fiction. Can you think of one? They are more complex than a simple label or character, of course, and you may have other descriptions or insights. Who is this queen in your life, or in your self?

Knight of Swords: The Defender / Warrior

defend your beliefs

Knights take action + Swords deal in the mental realm of our beliefs and communicating them

from Paracelsus Dreams Tarot

Where the Page was more stationary and curious, the Knight charges in defiantly. They appear the most valiant of the courts, if not the most self-righteous and even contentious, unafraid to be the aggressor when that is what’s called for. Internally, they may be the firefighters defending our wounded parts, acting out in ways that may surprise us in an effort to protect our hurt parts. They are courageous, competitive, impersonal, and fierce when needed, as they may utilize their element with arguments, harsh words, and disparaging remarks when provoked. In contrast to the Cups, they can be insensitive, more apt to consider how others can affect their pursuits than how their pursuits affect others. Fluent conversationalists, their quick wit enjoys verbal sparring. This is the person you want representing you in a court of law — think legal arguments (in fact, the ENTP most closely fits this court and is often referred to as the “lawyer type”). This can also be the activist speaking out for what is just. Though often seen as a card of conflict, we rely on these qualities when we need to confront someone or a system in great need of reform. Sometimes, we need to become a force to be reckoned with.

In resistance, there can be a sense of haste with this card, impatiently acting without engaging the brain; they act without thinking or checking the facts, perhaps not choosing their battles wisely and later regretting their actions.

In excess, they are arrogant and combative. Do not question their valor, and do not challenge their opinions. This is the quintessential bully cop, acting rashly and defending corruption. Studies conducted by Dr. Arthur Rosengarten have shown spousal abuse most frequently among ENTPs.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • Are you rushing into action without thinking?
  • Can you back up your beliefs with a well-considered argument?
  • Where have you felt violated? Do you feel a sense of injustice that must be acted on?
  • Do you always have to be right?
  • Are you considering how your words and actions affect others?
  • Is there a cause you want to stand up for? Why haven’t you?

What else? Courts are complex, with many facets. Who is this Knight in your life? What internal parts protect your wounded parts?

Page of Swords: The Thinker / Follower

explore new info to find your own truths

Pages strive to understand + Swords relate to the conscious rational mind and the expression of its belief systems

from Touchstone Tarot

The precocious student content to live inside their own heads contemplating new theories, beliefs, questions, concepts, they’re inquisitive and articulate with a restless mind and a bit to say; but before we can speak our truth, we must know our truth. They differ from the Pages of Wands and Cups in that they’re more serious. The fiery Page of Wands explores his inner spark with an energetic joie de vivre and the watery/dreamy Page of Cups is off frolicking with faeries while the Page of Swords is reading and ruminating. Their airy energy is quick-witted but often unconcerned with social cues or popularity contests, and may appear socially detached.

In resistance, they’re closed-minded. Lacking interest in exploring new ideas and discerning truths, they’re content to believe what they’re told.

Too lazy to compose their own words, they plagiarize those of others.

In excess, they’re absent-minded, so focused in their own thoughts that they’re oblivious to their environment, and real-world responsibilities go unheeded.

Questions we may be prompted to consider when this Page appears include

  • Do you find yourself doing more talking or more listening?
  • Are you often so focused in your own head that the outside world goes unnoticed?
  • Do you adhere tightly to your beliefs without actually thinking about them objectively?
  • When others question you, can you back it up with facts or do you get defensive and dig in your heels?

10 of Swords

develop new thought patterns

Ten finds us in the fullest expression of the suit + Swords represents the mental realm of thoughts and belief systems

from Herbcrafter’s Tarot

And so, in its centered aspect, the Ten of Swords indicates that we can go no further engaging with our thoughts or beliefs the way we have been. We may learn the hard way, but something must change. Have we been so cold, rational, or suspicious in our approach that we’ve excluded other functions (intuition, feeling, sensing)? Have we been so fixed in our beliefs that we’ve excluded other possibilities? We must transform old thought patterns if we want to get back on our feet, because we cannot continue in the direction we’re headed without doing something different.

In resistance, we refuse to adapt our thinking, and fail to evolve.

In excess, we adopt a defeatist attitude.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • Where have you found yourself at a dead end, historically?
  • What belief or attitude is preventing your evolution to the next phase?
  • Can you adapt your approach?

What else? This can be a challenging card, but offers various angles and you may have other insights. How has it come up for you?

9 of Swords

question your demons

Nine finds us in a solitary moment to gather ourselves before completion + Swords represents the airy realm of thoughts and beliefs

from Art History Tarot for Past Lives

And so, in the centered aspect of the Nine of Swords, our thoughts persist in a sort of torment of the mind. We found ourselves trapped by our beliefs in the Eight, and without direct action, our anxiety may persist in insomnia and nightmares. We often ascribe fear and worry to the Swords because the mind can get lost in over-thinking — especially as the numbers ascend through the cycle and build; but the lesson here is that our dragons may be slayed by questioning them. Truly think about it. Defy your demons. This is an invitation to evolve in understanding our thoughts and how we deal with the mind’s creation of fear and worry; to turn on the light, look under the bed, and open the closet door to see that there are no demons residing there, after all.

In resistance, we deny its presence or refuse to face our fears. Seeing the card literally, we may have a hard time getting up.

In excess, we obsess over our anxiety, perhaps so much that we descend into self-pity as a security blanket.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • How do you torment yourself? What part does shame play?
  • What does it serve to be in this fear? What part is activated and what is it protecting? How can we tend those parts?
  • Is this fear actually true? How do you know?
  • How are you managing your anxiety?

What else? This card brings up a lot in people; how has it come up in your readings? What insights have you found in exploring its meanings?

8 of Swords

step free of limiting beliefs

Eight brings new direction or realignment + Swords represents the mental realm of our belief systems and communication

from Tarot of the Holy Light

And so, in the centered or balanced aspect of the Eight of Swords, it’s time to step out of the mental constructs and limiting beliefs which hold us back. The blindfold in the Smith-Waite card indicates denial; if we choose to remain confined by fears, doubts, and judgements, it’s self-imposed, and we’re invited to liberate ourselves from thinking that we’re trapped or bound in some way. There is a way forward. Breathe and step into it

(This is not to make light of the fact that some are truly imprisoned and/or oppressed in some way, and this card can certainly come up in those situations; but in keeping with the focused inner lens of shadow work here in this series, we’ll save that for another post.)

In resistance, we remain in denial of our own autonomy, our inner development paralyzed.

In excess, we play the damsel in distress. How does that serve us?

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • What beliefs limit your momentum?
  • Are you allowing others’ judgements to impact you?
  • What fears hold you back from speaking your truth?
  • Is your ability to communicate stifled? How or why?
  • Where do you need to step up?
  • How has playing the victim served you in the past?
  • Is there an exiled part ready to integrate and take on a new role?

What else? You may have other insights into the complexities of this card. How has it come up for you?

7 of Swords

focus on our strategy

Seven shows internal work in the midst of an external situation or activity; assessing, planning + Swords represent our mental acuity and belief systems

Antique Anatomy (1st ed. by Black and the Moon)

And so, in the centered aspect of the Seven of Swords, we see mental preparedness, focus, strategy. In being proactive, have we dotted all of our is and crossed all of our ts? Are we at risk of being compromised in some way, or are we using cunning and strategy to protect our interests, to steal the enemy’s Swords (as in Smith-Waite)? If the latter, can that act be rationalized? I would steal a nazi’s weapons, and consider it a valiant deed. Taking advantage is a neutral term until it’s done unethically. We envisioned our dreams in the 7 of Cups, but without focused research and planning, mastery eludes us.

This card seems always presented as one of deceit or trickery, but that misses the point of the seven’s meaning in an upright position. The Antique Anatomy card pictured at left appears as an anchor and, with its lack of a mandible and twisted spine, seems to suggest that we be silent and steady but look both ways, be aware of our surroundings. This is not our time to shine but to maneuver, perhaps behind the scenes. Isn’t that really what’s going on in the S-W card?

In resistance, do we avoid confrontation, preferring to sneak around behind the scenes? The imagery in S-W suggests an element of possession. What do we covet? Are we so focused on getting what others have that we fail to see what we already have?

In excess, we rationalize behaviors — especially those involving deceitful trickery or taking advantage of others, even predatory behavior. Have we considered the consequences of our actions?

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • What are the ways you use strategy in attaining what you want?
  • What do you take for granted? Are you always looking to others for ideas instead of recognizing your own?
  • Are you appropriating the ideas or words of others?
  • Do you avoid risk? What protector part(s) are at play?
  • Are there issues around trust to be explored with your parts?
  • Do you perceive a threat? Is it real or a pattern of anxiety?

What else? This card is loaded and open to many interpretations, and you may have other insights. How has it come up, for you?

6 of Swords

communicate your needs

Six offers expansion in a new cycle out of the contraction of 5 + Swords deal with the mind

from the Proletariat Tarot

And so the centered aspect of the Six of Swords shows clarity steering us to a turning point; recovery. It’s a hopeful card; though it indicates difficulty that we must transition away from, its theme is solving problems. Note that in this six’s dynamic of give & take, the figures seated in the Smith-Waite card are being aided by the boatman doing the paddling. The lesson in this card is that our move out of the challenge of five may be made easier by asking for help. (It differs from the Five of Pentacles in that this is a mental card, dealing with beliefs. The Swords in the boat convey the idea that they are carrying old thought patterns with them.) Allow others to be compassionate toward us when we can’t do that for ourselves. Conversely, offer your own wisdom to those who can’t do that for themselves. With which side of this card do you identify?

In resistance, we’re not willing to seek help or to make that journey. What beliefs hold you back? What thought patterns are you perpetuating?

In excess, we may be facing a long journey if our method of solving problems is to run away from them, or to always try to go it alone. It’s amazing what help may become available if you communicate your needs.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears can include

  • What problem are you currently trying to navigate away from and could use some clarity or direction?
  • Do you resist help, even when offered? Why?
  • What support systems may be available to you?
  • Do you have a pattern of turning away from your problems?

What else? How has this card come up for you? You may have more insight on it — feel feee to share.

5 of Swords

take responsibility for your actions

Five brings confrontation + Swords relate it to the mental realm.

from Touchstone Tarot by Kat Black

And so the Five of Swords asks us what we must confront. The Smith-Waite card shows victory at the expense of others — or a hostile defeat; and reminds us that ethics and conscience fall under airy Swords’ umbrella. Has there been an outwitting? Like a few other cards, it offers the querent the choice of which side they see themselves in (are they the victor or the victim?). The victor here appears selfish and unfair; the others sabotaged and degraded. Gore Vidal said it best with “It’s not enough to succeed; others must fail.” A sense of one-upmanship prevails throughout various interpretations.

I often like to see swords in the imagery as literally representing beliefs, and if we consider this card strictly in this context, it may indicate divisiveness, intolerance of those with different beliefs (or outsiders), arrogance, having the last word, or isolation due to an uncompromising attitude.

This card illustrates a clear power struggle (dominance vs submission). Where do you see yourself in this scenario?

in resistance, we avoid confrontation (which can sometimes lead to passive-aggressive acts). We may have a pattern of conceding to defeat, perhaps with self-pity. Are there times when you could be more assertive? There is integrity in taking personal responsibility and, as Lindsay Mack says, we can either drop into shame, guilt, and excuses or we can recenter and move on.  Sometimes we just need to get ourselves another sword.

Similar to the Five of Wands, we may also refuse to participate in or engage the behavior. In Swords, this may serve as a reminder to choose your battles wisely.

In excess, we should ask if we’re acting with the arrogant traits of the bully. Must we always get the better of others? Take responsibility and make amends if we have hurt others.

Questions to consider when this card comes up may include

  • What must you confront?
  • Is something so important to you that you must prove others wrong?
  • Is there a situation that you could have handled better? Is there some guilt around this? Is there someone to whom you could make amends?
  • What is the ethical thing to do in this situation?
  • Are you conflict-averse? Where did this originate? What parts enable this?
  • Have you adopted a defeatist attitude?
  • Are you always the victim?

There’s lot going on in this card, and more to uncover. How do you see it? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share your own insights.