Let’s continue the theme of uncomfortable Swords cards. Last month, we talked about the Five of Swords, the card of victory achieved without mercy or consideration of others. If you haven’t read it yet, take a few moments now to do so.
If you remember, I stated that in my opinion the Five of Swords and Seven of Swords are sometimes not easy to tell apart. You know by now my method for dealing with this issue: break the cards down to their most basic ingredients. Once we understand a bit more about the Seven of Swords, we can compare these two cards, see what is similar about them, and see what is different about their energies and effects.
The traditional image of the Five of Swords shows a man holding three Swords, standing next to two other Swords laying on the ground, with people walking away from him. The traditional image on the Seven of Swords has some similarities; there are Swords being held by a man (five this time, rather than three) and there are two Swords not being held by the man, this time stuck into the ground, point down and hilt up. Both the Five and Seven of Swords represent self-interest to the point of letting the ends justify the means and they represent dishonor and isolation; they just come to these things from opposite directions.
Let’s break the Seven of Swords down, and then compare it with the Five of Swords.
The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air, the Spades of playing cards, the direction of East and the color of yellow; Swords cards usually tell of some focused intent to bring forth a manifestation, or a struggle and then an outcome. Swords cards are about purposeful and deliberate actions and the thoughts, intentions or beliefs behind them. Swords cards and the effects they describe are sourced from within us; we create our own reality from our expectations. The Swords cards give hints as to 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 Swords cards also represent an opportunity to feel more empowered; self-empowerment happens when we successfully deal with challenges, but self-empowerment can be dangerous if it is not balanced with a bit of humility.
The element of Air corresponds with truth, clarity, and our capacity to analyze or apply logic. Air also represents the intelligence that clears away the fog of ignorance so we can clearly see 8and understand, 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. This information applies to all the Swords cards, so we will need other ingredients in order to tell the Five of Swords and Seven of Swords apart.
Astrology is a tool that can offer subtle differences for us to consider. The Seven of Swords corresponds to the Moon (feelings and emotions, illusion, imagination) when it is in the sign of Aquarius (“I know,” friendships, cause-oriented, the group, aloofness). The Five of Swords corresponds to the planet Venus (beauty, allure, relationships, pleasure) when it is in the sign of Aquarius (“I know,” friendships, cause-oriented, the group, aloof). Aha! Our first difference!
The Moon (our Seven of Swords) is the brightest object besides the sun in our sky, and besides feelings and emotions and illusion and imagination, it is also associated with a need for security. It is feminine and passive in nature, even melancholy. Venus (the Five of Swords) is also about feelings, but these feelings are not passive, rather they are passionate and expansive. Venus also represents the desire for pleasure, comfort and ease, and an appreciation for beauty (and a need to be surrounded by that beauty). Already we know that the Seven of Swords is more about maintaining security, while the Five of Swords is more passionate and expansive in nature.
The Tree of Life offers further insight. All of the Sevens of the Tarot Minor Arcana correspond with the Sephira of Netzach (which means “Victory”). Netzach is the seventh Sephira, at the bottom of the Pillar of Force (the masculine side of the Tree). The Fives of the Tarot Minor Arcana correspond with the Sephira of Geburah (which means “Might”), the fifth Sephira on the Tree, the second on the Pillar of Form/Restriction (the feminine side of the Tree). Here is another difference between the two cards! The Sevens are about pausing or about that time between as we seem to have achieved our goal (Victory), and the Fives are about responding to a test with pure courage, without mercy (imposition of Might in order to achieve Victory). When you think about the concept of Victory, you will realize that it tends to bring a bit of inertia into the picture. Often, when we succeed (or think that we have succeeded), we cease focusing on the reason for the conflict and focus instead on maintaining the status quo. However, power and courage and invincibility, all related to Might and the Fives, are active and expansive emotions. So the Seven of Swords is about maintaining something already obtained, rather than using our Might in order to respond to a test and strive to win, as represented by the Five of Swords.
When dealing with the Minor Arcana, perhaps the most important ingredient besides the suit of the card is the number of the card. In the Tarot, the number 7 tells of that period of time when effort and growth are running out of gas, and degeneration or a period of ebbing is approaching. Think of the way it looks when we toss a ball in a high arc; at first, the ball soars upward with power. Soon enough, the upward motion slows, then ceases, and the ball travels parallel to the ground for a bit. Then, inertia begins to affect the trajectory of the ball, and it begins its descent to the ground. The Tarot Seven cards describe possible effects during that period when the ball is traveling parallel to the ground; not enough power to continue growth, but enough to keep degeneration on the sidelines. Often, the Seven cards tell of some pause or assessment that happens as growth (created by the Motion of the Fives and the Harmony of the Sixes) begins to approach the end of its lifespan. This is the opposite of the Five cards, which impose Motion (Five cards) onto Stability (Four cards), rather than inertia (the pause of the Sevens) onto Harmony (Six cards) of the Seven cards.
All of the Tarot Sevens offer this pause or slowing of activity. We have the pause to asses the readiness for harvest of the fruits of our labors (Pentacles), we have the pause that comes with a choice between many seemingly beautiful and desirable offerings, each fraught with hidden peril (Cups), and we have the pause that comes with the drawing of a line in the sand and taking a stand to protect that line (Wands).
To me, the Seven of Swords shows us what happens when our minds and our intellects perceive the approach of a change that we believe is not beneficial. If we react to that change without balance, we strive to keep things as they are right now, at all costs, and by using any methods at our disposal, even devious ones. The Five of Swords presents one version of an empty victory, a more active version when we successfully impose our rules onto a situation in order to make it the way we want it to be, even if this harms others. The Seven of Swords, our current focus, presents empty victory from another perspective, a more passive version when we strive to keep our rules in place, even though they have become outdated and maybe even dangerous to ourselves or to others.
Remember the images of the cards, described at the beginning of this essay? The Swords on the Seven are placed with points stuck into the ground, already owned, while the Swords on the Five are just acquired. Also, notice the progression from the Three of Swords, the origin of pain, isolation and betrayal, the Five of Swords (where the man is holding three Swords), and the Seven of Swords (where the man is holding five Swords), no coincidence! On the surface, these differences may appear subtle, but when applied to a specific situation, they each bring different results. This kind of subtle awareness can add depth and texture to a reading, and offer a Seeker a more clear message.
Next month, we will tackle our first Major Arcana card!