Tarot Talk

August 1st, 2017

Ten of Swords

(The Ten of Swords Card is from the artist Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/)**

After all this time talking about the Tarot together, we have not yet explored the Tens of the Minor Arcana! Let’s remedy that right now, and talk about the Ten of Swords, a card which could be in the running for “the most frightening card in the deck.” This will be the first time we talk about the Tens, so first a review of some basic information.

A Tarot deck has 78 cards. There are 22 Major Arcana cards, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. There are 56 Minor Arcana cards that are customarily grouped into four categories or suits that represent the four elements (sometimes called “Pips” or “Pip Cards”), with numbers from Ace to 10; the Minors usually deal with day-to-day issues.

The Ten of Swords is a part of the Minor Arcana. We already know that the easiest way to get a decent understanding of a Minor Arcana card is to examine its number, or in the case of Court Cards, its rank, and to examine its suit. In this case, we are dealing with the number 10, and the suit of Swords, and to me the necessity of understanding the effects of the number and the suit on the interpretation of a card is personified in the Ten of Swords.

First, let’s look at the traditional image of the Ten of Swords. The traditional image on this one is of a limp and sometimes bloody person lying on his stomach with his head turned away from us, with ten Swords sticking up out of his back. The person in this image seems to have completely surrendered, pinned down by not one or two swords, but ten of them. Often the sky overhead is dark, without stars or moon, but many times the morning sun is just beginning to light the faraway horizon. In most card images, there is no one else in the image, just the limp form splayed out and alone.

The number 10 represents the end of one cycle and beginning of another or a transition point from one cycle to another, closure, a plateau or rest before moving on, culmination, and attaining the level of perfect combination of the 1 and 0 energies (as the number 10 reduces to the number 1, 1 + 0 = 1). Within the Minor Arcana, the Ten cards are usually seen as offering the concept of the end result of the application of the element, the sum total of everything accomplished and learned from the Ace of the suit (which for the Ace of Swords represents the possibility to experience intellectual potential, to experience the power to analyze that is necessary in order to make good choices, to determine personal truth, and to react correctly to events in our day), or the physical vehicle of the previous nine numbers. In many ways, the Ten cards can be seen as the opposite extreme of the Aces of their suits. The effects of the number 10 are different from the number 9, which represents the completeness of the experience of the effects, rather than the completion of the process.

The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air. The element of Air corresponds with truth, clarity, and our capacity to analyze or apply logic. Air is considered as hot and wet, and it both separates or expands, and adapts to the energies around it. The Swords cards indicate our mental state, the beliefs we have, and actions we take in response to effects around us. A Sword has two edges, a perfect metaphor for this suit, which can represent attacking or defending, logic or aggression.

The element of Air also represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of ignorance and allows us to understand what we are dealing with. Air is the medium of our voices, and it supports communications and sounds of all kinds, not without danger for words and communications are double-edged swords that can heal or hurt. Air allows both expression (out from within us) and hearing (in from outside of us) to happen.

Like the other cards of the Tarot, the Ten of Swords has an astrological correspondence. The Ten of Swords represents the Sun when it is in the constellation of Gemini.

The Sun is the star at the center of our solar system around which the planets revolve; it provides our Earth with the heat and light necessary for life as we know it. The arc that the Sun travels in every year, rising and setting in a slightly different place each day, is a reflection of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; hence its connection with reflection and fertility. The Sun travels through the twelve signs of the zodiac in one year, spending about a month in each sign. The Sun, corresponds with our life force, the inner core of a person or situation, and the deepest self and influential power. In Chinese astrology, the Sun represents Yang, the active, assertive masculine life principle. In Indian astrology, the Sun is called Surya and represents the soul, ego, vitality kingship, highly placed persons, government and the archetype of The Father.

Gemini is about communication of all kinds, the intellect, the mind and the thinking process, and the collection of information. Geminis are a mix of yin and yang that personify duality, and they can easily see both sides of an issue. They are adaptable, practical and flexible but they are not always good at following through to the end of a project. They think clearly and make use of logic, and they can be real good at seeing the big picture.

When the Sun is in Gemini, the focus on the exchange of information and ideas becomes somewhat tainted with a focus on the self and personal authority. The Sun in Gemini empowers our minds, sometimes pushing us to think and analyze so much that we reach a point of anxiety. Adaptability, flexibility, and change are necessary in order to thrive but the danger here is of over-analysis and the application of logic without including feelings and emotions and common sense.

Minor Arcana cards also correspond with a sephira on the Tree of Life. The Ten cards correspond with the sephira of Malkuth, along with the Pages of the Court Cards and the element of Earth. Malkuth is the bottom sephira on the Tree, corresponding with our physical world, and opposite of Kether at the top of the Tree, corresponding with the purest form of Deity, mostly unknowable by physical world beings. Malkuth is located at the bottom of the Pillar of Balance and is receptive in nature; it receives emanations from all the other sephiroth on the Tree. This sephira and the Tree itself show us that the physical world is created by traveling downward through the sephiroth of the Tree, and these two sephiroth can be seen as one representation of “as above, so below; as below, so above.”

The Shadowscapes Tarot Ten of Swords shows a woman falling toward bare-branched trees, her fall being slowed by a large cloth. She is circled by ten large birds, circling ever-closer to her and smashing through the cloth supporting her. The birds are not helping her, they are not even waiting passively for her doom; instead they seem to be actively encouraging it. This version of the Ten of Swords tells of misfortune, desolation, and burdens to bear. It reminds us that sometimes circumstances are beyond our control, but the solution is to ride the effects to the end and prepare to pick up the pieces once the storm has passed.

The Llewellyn Welsh Ten of Swords adds an interesting variation to the traditional image for this card: the person impaled by the ten swords is laying on rocks that are being pounded by storm waves covered with spray and foam. This card tells of conflict and destruction, as well as the emotional traumas of hurt, slander and grief. Loss and failure, yes, but the LWB specifically states “does not represent violent death.”

The Ten of Swords from the Gateway to the Divine Tarot is one of the few that shows the face of the person in the image, and this face is not reassuring. While there is no blood or puncture wounds, the man in this card is grimacing in agony. However, after examining the image further, we notice that the man is surrounded by fog (associated with Air and the mind) and a purple cloth (purple is associated with spiritual fulfillment, peace of mind, meditation, magic and royalty), rather than blood and wounds. Perhaps the failure and loss are not as real as we think, and if we grab that purple cloth, we will find inner peace at last.

It is safe to say that the Ten of Swords is the ultimate manifestation of the result of focusing on the intellect in a pure manner, without tempering our thoughts with compassion, creativity, or fertility. This is the poster child for the idea that we manifest what we think about and focus on. It is about the result of overthinking, and about the result of an abuse of the powers of the mind. Look at it this way: the traditional image of the Ten of Swords is a person, collapsed on his or her stomach, with ten swords sticking up out of his or her back. One sword would certainly have been enough, even two or three would be rational. But ten?? A bit of overkill.

Perhaps if we had allowed some common sense to have an effect on our thought processes, or maybe some compassion, or even the creativity to find a new way to prevent the final collapse, this situation would not have happened. Instead, this card focuses solely on Swords, and it is through pure Swords energy that we end up reacting to a “final blow.” We sag and fall on our faces, and don’t even try to get back up because we believe we can’t.

Crowley reminds us in the Thoth Tarot interpretation of this card that there is another lesson to be found: if we persist in arguing and taking actions that are only beneficial to what we think we alone need, eventually all will end in destruction. If we focus solely on what will go wrong, it will happen.

But all hope is not lost. The traditional image of the Ten of Swords usually shows the beginnings of dawn lighting the sky on the distant horizon. This tells us that while the calamity of the Ten of Swords can be strong enough to knock us on our faces, it is the last calamity. The ending before a new beginning. The peace that comes when the storm has passed.

There’s got to be a morning after. We’re moving closer to the shore. I know we’ll be there by tomorrow And we’ll escape the darkness. We won’t be searching anymore.” Maureen McGovern.

*** This year we will be featuring the art of Ciro Marchetti as part of Tarot Talk.  You can view his work and Decks at http://www.ciromarchetti.com/ .


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