ace of swords

Tarot Talk

March, 2016

Today we are going to talk about the Ace of Swords, the last of the four Aces to be considered. Aces are different from the other Minors, as they are seen as being the seeds of their suit and element, rather than the manifestation of their suit and element. Aces are not material, and there is no evidence that they exist or affect us, because they don’t. Aces are tendencies that are the foundation of the manifestations of their suit; the Ace of Swords, our card for this month, is not Air, but a tendency to become Air! How do we “become Air”? Let’s begin our process of breaking down this Ace.

The Ace of Swords is a Minor Arcana card, so we know right away that the message offered by this card will most likely be more immediate in nature, or will most likely be connected to more day-to-day issues. Notice right away that I am qualifying many of my statements with “most likely” or “usually”; as readers and interpreters and students of the Tarot we do need to remember that every message, no matter how insignificant or mundane on the surface, can also possibly be a symptom of a deeper or wider issue. Nothing in the Minor Arcana is in any way minor in nature.

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 1, and the suit of Swords. These two ingredients could actually give you enough information about this one card to offer a useful interpretation.

Let’s look at the number 1 first. I see the number 1 as representing two concepts: position and potential. Position is most commonly represented by the point or period. The point is a one-dimensional shape; all we know about it is its position. We don’t know what it can do or how it can affect us, we only know where it is. Potential is neither good nor bad because it has not yet moved or manifested or acted. Potential is fertility without the catalyst that begins growth.

So, just by looking at the number of our card, we already know that the Ace of Swords is going to present a concept rather than an experience. This makes real sense here because we are talking about an element (Air) that we know exists, but that we can’t see with the naked eye. This means as we examine all the Aces, we should remember they present energy just as it is preparing to manifest, kind of like the moment just before the Big Bang happened in our Universe, or the time in your lungs between an exhale and an inhale.

The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air. Yes, there are some decks that see Swords as representing Fire, but for our purposes we are going to use Air as the elemental correspondence for the suit of Swords. Many Tarot decks use images of sky, clouds, planets and stars in images on many cards, particularly the Swords cards. This makes it easier to connect with the symbolism of the suit, and with the correspondences to the element. A nice place to begin is with the element of Air itself, and those correspondences.

The element of Air corresponds with truth, clarity, and our capacity to analyze or apply logic. Thus, the Swords cards can help us to understand 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 element and 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 the effects we are dealing with. Air is the medium of our voices, and it supports communications and sounds of all kinds; Air allows both expression (out from within us) and hearing (in from outside of us) to happen. Of course, words and communications are double-edges swords, too, and they can heal or hurt. The Swords cards also represent an opportunity to feel more empowered. That’s what happens when we successfully deal with a challenge!

You can see just by examining the paragraph above just how easy it is to connect the element of Air to the mind and its many workings. Like the element of Air, the mind is also an elusive, non-physical concept, for the mind is not a physical thing, it is one of the things that the brain does or creates. Look at it this way: the brain is a physical instrument or engine that drives the processes of the body and processes or makes use of intelligence and information. The mind is the brain in action. You could say that the brain is the car, the mind is the motion created by the car. Of course, we are missing one final part here, the driver. Within the brain, the driver is known as “consciousness,” and it is consciousness that manipulates the brain in order to produce the mind. Think about that for a moment, let it sink in, and you will begin to understand the importance of the suit of Swords, and the Ace of Swords in particular. Is it any wonder that some spiritual traditions see the brain as the seat of the soul?

We know now that the Ace of Swords tells of a potential for experiencing the workings of the mind, the intellect, and the ability to analyze in an objective way. We are off to a good start, and we have lots more information to consider.

The traditional image of the Ace of Swords shows a Sword being held by a hand that is reaching out of a cloud, showing us that this Ace (and in fact, all four of the Aces) is the first and purest manifestation of its suit, so pure that we can’t affect it yet. Most cards have that Sword pointing upward, some with a crown or rays of sunlight emanating or surrounding the point of the Sword. Often there is a landscape along the bottom of the card, with mountains or buildings in the distance, showing us those physical-world things are not close enough to affect us yet. The sky is sometimes clear, representing the clarity and purity of the potential being offered, not yet muddied by manifestations or expectations or actions. Often there are fluffy white “fair weather” clouds, or stars or the sun or sunlight, further connecting us to the sky and the element of Air.

As we know, the Ace of Swords has an astrological connection, which can help us to add even more depth and texture to our readings. The Ace of Swords represents three sun signs: Capricorn (“I build,” ambition, caution authority, cunning), Aquarius (“I know,” friendships, cause-oriented, the group, aloofness), and Pisces (“I believe,” feeling, duality, soul growth, artistic), or the season of Winter.

Capricorn, the tenth sign of the zodiac, is a Cardinal earth sign, ruled by Saturn. Capricorn people are stable, hard-working, practical, methodical, and ambitious, never losing sight of goals regardless of how many obstacles or distractions are in the way. Capricorn people are a bit stoic and rigid, and they will stick to their beliefs despite convincing evidence to the contrary. More than anything else they enjoy power, respect, and authority, and they are willing to toe the line for as long as it takes to achieve those goals. The Capricorn personality is one that is firmly grounded in reality, a voice of reason in a chaotic world. A Capricorn person may seem unfriendly, arrogant, or without humor to outsiders, but remember the image of this astrological sign has a fish’s tail; the emotions are there, just hidden within

Aquarius, the 11th sign of the zodiac, is a Fixed Air sign, ruled by Uranus and Saturn. Its symbol, a universal image which dates back into prehistory, represents water. The association in Aquarius is that of the servant of humanity pouring out the water of knowledge to quench the thirst of the world.  These symbolic waves of water can also be seen as a representation of vibrational waves of electricity or parallel lines of force. Those born under the sign of Aquarius are unconventional, idealistic, and eccentric free thinkers; they are progressive people who actively seek changes that benefit themselves and humanity as a whole. They care about the environment, politics, and humanitarian endeavors, and they advocate for others. Aquarians can be a bit stubborn (reminder: “Fixed Air sign” here), but the nice thing is that if compelling evidence is presented, an Aquarian will let go of outdated ideas. Aquarians are also into technology of all kinds, and they use modern communication apparatus and social networking with ease. Aquarius is a sign of connections of all kinds from friendships to love, and it focuses on the group rather than the individual, and on the higher good of that group.

Pisces is the last sign of the Zodiac and associated with the twelfth house. It is a Mutable Water sign that is considered feminine in nature and is ruled by Neptune. The symbol for Pisces is two fish (or sea horses or sea lions) connected together or swimming in a circle, dwellers of the depths of the sea that are symbolic of cycles such as life and death or death and regeneration. As a water sign, Pisces is connected to planting and transplanting, to anything related to psychic awareness or psychic powers, and anything related to creative pursuits, especially music and dance. The symbol for Pisces also represents a duality, the struggle of the spiritual soul within the physical body.  In Pisces, these two natures are joined, yet very much separate. This conflict is sometimes an inhibition to natural expression.

This means the Ace of Swords is about the potential for being grounded in reality yet open to new and unconventional ideas and creative endeavors. We can throw a bit of stubbornness in there, as well as a bit of a 6th sense.

Each of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck also has a home on the Tree of Life of the Qabalah; all of the Aces correspond to the sephira (or sphere) of Kether. Kether (or Crown) is the first sephira at the top of the Tree of Life. It is the top sephira of the Pillar of Balance, the center or trunk of the Tree, and is considered to be the cause of manifestation; not manifestation itself, mind you, but the catalyst that begins the process of manifestation. Nothing actually exists yet within Kether, but the Source of All awakens within Kether. However, it does not know itself yet because there is no other form from which it can view itself. Once again, we are speaking about the “point” or “position” without any dimension or manifestation.

That is quite a bit of information, all attained by breaking our card down to its basic ingredients. Not so complicated after all!

In a way, we could say that like The Fool, which journeys through the Major Arcana cards and thus, contains them all, our Ace of Swords contains each of the Minor Arcana and Court Swords cards, and all the possibilities each of those cards contains. Within the Ace, these other Swords cards are potential only, without joy or sorrow, light or shadow. Several Major Arcana cards use the symbolism of the Sword in their images. Justice makes use of the intellect within the process of adjustment in order to bring balance. The Emperor uses his intellect to bring order and predictability to his world so he can create an environment that allows his subjects to prosper. The Magician often has a Sword or a blade of some kind in his possession; he is the conduit between Divine energies and earthly energies and he deliberately and consciously makes use of those energies through knowledge and skill.

So the Ace of Swords tells of 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. Our Ace tells of the birth of ideas and concepts, and that feeling that occurs when lightning strikes and a new idea is formed. There is no guarantee the ideas will manifest in a good way, or manifest at all, but with a bit of luck, good things could happen.