The Nine of Swords
(The Nine of Swords card is from the artist Ciro Marchetti http://www.ciromarchetti.com/)**
We haven’t talked about the Minor Arcana Nines for quite some time. This month, we will examine the Nine of Swords. Comparing cards and their individual meanings is valuable throughout the study of the Tarot, but this process is particularly useful when looking at the Swords cards. If you remember, I stated in past columns that in my opinion the Five of Swords and Seven of Swords are sometimes not easy to tell apart. Understanding these two cards and their differences helps us in part to understand the Nine of Swords and all of its potential effects within a reading. You know by now my method for dealing with this issue: break the cards down to their most basic ingredients. Let’s get started.
The traditional image of the Nine of Swords shows a person sitting up in bed, appearing to have been woken from sleep, with hands over face, ears, or across the chest; sometimes the person appears to be in agony. Above and behind the person are nine Swords, sometimes arranged like a wall or blind, sometimes all pointing toward the person or away from the person, sometimes crossing each other. I saw one card image that showed the points alternating, one to the right, then to the left, then to the right, and so on, cancelling each other out. No matter where those Swords are arranged, they at least appear threatening to the person in the image. The traditional images on the Five and Seven of Swords show Swords being held in the hand, or grounded (point in the ground); while there is still a bit of an appearance of threat, the figure in each of those images has at least partial control over the Swords, unlike the images from our Nine 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; they teach us that 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 and 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 in the Minor Arcana, including our Nine of Swords.
Astrology is a tool that can offer subtle differences for us to consider. The Nine of Swords brings us to consider Mars (action, spontaneity, aggression, drive) when it is in the astrological sign of Gemini (“I think,” curious, talkative, social, dual).
Gemini is about communication of all kinds, and about collecting information and stimulating the mind. Geminis are a mix of yin and yang, and they can easily see both sides of an issue. They are very practical; they are adaptable and flexible but they can also tend toward being wishy-washy, and they are not always good at following through to the end of a project. Gemini is all about the intellect, the mind, and the thinking process. They think clearly and make use of logic, and they can be real good at seeing the big picture. Gemini rules the nervous system, and calmness is a quality they need to cultivate. They love to play, love to share their fun and their ideas with others, and they love adventures that stimulate the mind.
Mars is known as the “Red Planet,” and is about energy, passion, drive and determination, all fiery personality traits. Mars is associated with confidence and self-assertion, aggression, sexuality, energy, strength, ambition and impulsiveness. Mars governs sports, competitions and physical activities in general. Mars is commanding, confident, and powerful, asking us to stand up and be noticed without fear. Ambition and competition are also associated with this planet; Mars encourages us to face challenges and to be our best with honor. Mars rules our sexuality and sexual energy, and governs weapons, accidents and surgery. It’s important to note that Mars’s energy can be constructive or destructive; the key is to use the energy of Mars in a proper manner.
When Mars is located in the sign of Gemini, the drive and passion of Mars can get a bit scattered due to the influence of mutable Gemini and its duality. When there is a long To-Do list of things to be done, this combination can be effective and enthusiastic, but with not enough to keep busy, the energies of Mars in Gemini create lethargy, restlessness, and boredom. Words, the power of words and the effects of words, are a focus, tool, and sometimes a weapon. This combination creates enthusiastic communication, and perhaps angry and hurtful statements. These energies are good at multi-tasking, dealing with change, and manifesting new and exciting ideas into reality, but you may need to depend on others to help bring projects to completion.
The Tree of Life offers further insight. All of the Nines of the Tarot Minor Arcana correspond to the sephira (or sphere) of Yesod (which is known as “Foundation”). Yesod is the first sphere out of (and the last sphere into) the sephira that represents the physical world, Malkuth. Yesod is about things such as emotions and feelings, which are directly connected to our physical existence but are not actually physical themselves. Yesod is the home of our life force, our personality, and the Self; it is also the home of the Dark Night of the Soul and all of its doubts and challenges. It is only above Yesod that the Tree begins to branch out. This reminds us that emotions and feelings and an awareness of our life force and our personality are natural effects and experiences, and that exploring them and understanding them is an important part of our own evolutionary process.
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 9 tells of completeNESS (not compleTION or the winding up of a cycle). The number 9 represents our perceptions as we reach the limit of our understanding of or experience of a situation, just before we wind up the process and take another step up the ladder, in order to begin the whole process again. In our spoken language, we say that we are going to “go the whole nine yards” when we intend to experience something to the fullest, and that is what the number 9 can tell us in the Tarot. This will not necessarily indicate to us that we are done with the experience, but rather that we are at the “peak of the wave” just before the wave tips over and disseminates its energy onto the shore.
All of the Tarot Nine cards offer this concept of completeness of manifestation or full and material impact of all the previous cards. We have the necessary focus and discipline over the long term that is needed for success (Pentacles), we have the satisfaction that comes when we obtain what we think we want (Cups), and we have the knowledge that our learning and our ability to survive life’s challenges will be enough to bring us across the finish line (Wands). In the Nine of Swords, we have the illusion that all is lost and it is all our fault.
The Hermetic Tarot Nine of Swords is a nightmare; every part of this image is distorted or decayed. Eight of the Swords in the image are rusted, distorted, bent or broken each in its own way, and the flower has become 12-tentacled monster. The ninth Sword rises up from the bottom of the card, wickedly curving and coming to a sharp and deadly point. Called the Lord of Despair and Cruelty, the name of this card describes perfectly its meaning. It tells of loss, misery, and suffering, burdens and oppression, and lying, slander and dishonesty. There is an obedience laced through this card, as if we can’t help but continue the despair and cruelty that is manifesting.
The Shadowscapes Tarot Nine of Swords shows a young winged man, a black crow on his shoulder, looking anxiously upward into a swirling vortex of storms above him while clutching a sheathed sword to his breast. He is filled with unnecessary anguish. He is a being of Air and should feel free to take to the skies and escape. He is carrying a Sword that could light the way to freedom, yet he lacks the courage or the skill to wield it. This card tells of inner turmoil, guilt, and vulnerability, and of our soul being laid bare to our own demons.
The Thoth Tarot has a name for the Nine of Swords: Cruelty. This card represents the “agony of the mind,” and the poison created by this agony can kill the day. Here is the hangover and all of its discomfort: dizziness, nausea, and an ugly taste in the mouth, all created by our own actions. Within this degeneration of the suit of Swords, we need to remember that we do have the ability to control what our mind focuses on. This control might be difficult to achieve under the circumstances, but we must not succumb to despair.
The Llewellyn Welsh Tarot Nine of Swords shows a traditional image, and tells of nightmares, suspicion and insecurity. Here we have the weight of depression upon us as we are eaten up by worry and delays, longing and misery. This card tells of distress, injustice, loneliness, and the haunting of past hurts, all of which indicate a debilitating and unhealthy situation of our own creation.
The Legacy of the Divine Tarot Nine of Swords shows a woman in bed but not asleep. Her head is resting on her pillow, but her eyes are turned upward toward the nine Swords hanging overhead and the phantom ghostly hands she imagines are reaching for her. The image shows us what happens when stress and worry push our imagination into overdrive. This card represents the loss, suffering, doubt, and pain that we inflict upon ourselves as we second-guess our choices during the dark wee hours of the night.
The Nine of Swords represents brooding and worrying, usually self-caused, and usually unproductive. Often the worrying attached to this card is connected to insecurity or suspicion, or it is connected to things that are over and done with, and thus unchangeable no matter what we discover during our late-night ponderings. We may seem to need seclusion in order to be safe and survive until dawn, but in the end we are allowing ourselves to become a slave to our own anxiety. Until we realize that our preoccupation is becoming dangerously unhealthy, we will not find the peace and clarity we need in order to thrive.
To me, the Nine of Swords shows us what happens when we allow the element of Air and its use of only logic and information to exist without such concepts as feelings, intentions and emotions (Cups/Water), safety, security and comfort (Pentacles/Earth), and courage, personal power, and the influence of Spirit (Wands/Fire). The complete manifestation of the effects of the suit of Swords can create a sense of paranoia, helplessness, guilt, and despair. Perhaps bringing in influences of outside recommendations or counseling will balance things out in the end.
About the Author:
Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher. Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.