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Comparing the Ten of Wands & the Ten of Swords

Many Tarot cards can seem similar enough to each other that interpreting them when they both show up in a spread can be challenging. One way to achieve a deeper understanding of a card is to compare it to another card. This month we will compare two Minor Arcana cards, the 10 of Wands and the 10 of Swords. We will explore similarities between these two cards and the differences. I will be using card images from the Rider Tarot Deck for this analysis.

Both of our cards have the number 10. 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 Wands represents the potential for experiencing spontaneous change, passion, and complete transformation, and for the Ace of Swords represents the possibility to experience intellectual potential, analysis that brings good choices, and the determination of personal truth), 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 Tree of Life of the Qabalah offers us further insight into the number 10 and the 10 cards of the Minor Arcana. The 10 cards have a place on the Tree; they are found in 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 the two sephiroth of Makluth and Kether can be seen as one representation of “as above, so below; as below, so above.”

Let’s do more comparisons.

The traditional image of the Ten of Wands card usually shows a man with blond hair and a red tunic, viewed from the rear. His back is bent and his head is bowed as he struggles to carry a group of ten wands with leaves sprouting at their tops. He is heading across a flat surface toward a village far in the distance, all under a clear blue sky. Some cards show the Wands as torches, and some cards show the Wands being held on the shoulder of the figure, or held on the bent back of the figure, rather than awkwardly in his arms. Often, the wands are being held in front of the man’s face, so he can’t see where he is going.

The traditional image of the Ten of Swords is of a limp and sometimes bloody person lying on his stomach in the sand with his head turned away from us, with ten Swords stabbed into his back. The person is sprawled next to a large, calm body of water with mountains in the distance beyond. 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.

There are many key words and phrases for each of these cards. Some keywords for the 10 of Wands are: overloaded, burned out, mounting pressure, stressed, overextended, excess weight, being left holding the bag, and biting off more than you can chew. This card can represent oppression followed by a gain, or suppressing your own needs in order to accomplish a demanding task.

Keywords for the 10 of Swords include: overkill, hitting bottom, humiliation, conflict, loss, brainwashing, martyrdom, sacrifice, and the worst is over. This card can represent withdrawing from the world due to trauma, but it does not represent a violent death. Both cards are about going beyond our limits or about too much of something.

Now that we know what our two cards look like, let’s dig deeper. The suit of Wands corresponds with the element of Fire. All of the cards of the suit of Wands teach us about Fiery attributes like creativity, ambition, growth, passion and actions, and how their presence or absence can affect our lives. The suit of Wands represents our ability to experience joy and passion (including sexual passion), and the Wands cards can represent our creativity, our ability to be artistic or to be drawn to beautiful things. Fire often represents Spirit or the Divine Will, and Wands cards also can present the possibility of some interaction with Spirit or the Divine, or actions or passions manifesting in line with Divine Will.

In its natural state, the element of Fire is hot and dry. It tends to bring spontaneous change or impulsive, energetic effects. Fire transforms everything in our world. Fire can sanitize or cleanse, and it can destroy everything in its path; Fire can warm us and keep us safe, or it can kill us. The element of Fire can be seen as kinetic, or even electric. It has the power to create greatness (when we are inspired to be better than we think we can be), or destruction (when we believe we are greater than we actually are). Fire fuels innovation, but an imbalance or lack of Fire can bring austerity.

The suit of Swords corresponds with the element of Air; 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. They 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 is hot and wet. It tends to adapt to its surroundings in order to fit into the existing structures, and 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.

Elementally, these two cards both correspond to the quality of heat, but are opposed as far as moisture; Fire is dry and Air is wet. Wand cards bring us intensity and Sword cards allow us to reshape our surroundings. Ciro Marchetti describes this as the difference between strength training (dry) and flexibility training (wet); I love this!

Astrology is a tool that can offer subtle differences for us to consider.

The Ten of Wands represents the planet Saturn when it is in the astrological sign Sagittarius. In astrology, Saturn is associated with focus, ethics, lofty goals, purpose, career, great achievements, dedication, productiveness, valuable hard lessons learned, balance, and karma (reaping what you have sowed or divine cosmic justice). Saturn can also represent limitations, restrictions, boundaries, and a dose of reality; it is easy to understand this association when we look at the planet and its famous rings. Saturn also represents time, and thus, long-term planning and foresight. The Return of Saturn in the astrological chart is said to mark significant events in a person’s life.

Sagittarius is often seen as the wanderer, but remember, not all those who wander are lost. Sagittarius is the truth-seeker, the enthusiastic consumer of information who loves knowledge achieved by traveling the world and talking to everyone. The life quest of a Sagittarian is to understand the meaning of life, using both spiritual and philosophical disciplines to digest what they learn. Sagittarius corresponds with Jupiter, and is expansive in all things, is an effective healer, and can be a bridge between humans and animals.

Saturn in Sagittarius is about exploration and study with focus and dedication, without distractions. Both Saturn and Sagittarius are able to get good results by accepting the rules and sticking to core values no matter what others think. Sometimes when opposites get together, we are gifted with a pause as the energies balance out. This pause allows us to consider deeper areas, beliefs and situations, giving us a reality check and perhaps a glimpse of what is holding us back.

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 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.

The man in the 10 of Wands seems to have moved past his injuries presented in the 9 of Wands, but he brought those injuries with him and they are blinding him to his next step forward. He is hopefully walking toward that town in the distance in order to get help, because he needs help badly. Perhaps the man in the 10 of Wands does not need to see with his eyes; he already knows where he is going and can visualize where he is going clearly in his mind. We all know the power of visualization, and perhaps the man carrying his heavy burden already can see his destination, when he will be able to set his burden down and move on.

Both cards represent the ending of a cycle, and both cards represent manifestations or possible manifestations of their specific energies into the physical world. Both images show a person who is overwhelmed, who is not able to perceive the next step because they are dealing with the current process.

The suit of Wands is active, kinetic and even electric. The suit of Swords tells of our mental state, with a more inward focus than the outwardly expanding suit of Wands. Saturn/Sagittarius is focused and dedicated to the process of objective understanding, while the Sun/Gemini pairing is more focused on personal authority.

The 10 of Wands could illustrate being weighed down by spiritual gifts or social responsibilities. Teachers, therapists and many leaders who offer their gifts in service to the community are often overburdened, and need to remember the importance of self-care. We must share our burdens with the community because that gives everyone ownership of those gifts. Share your gifts, but give them to yourself as well.

The 10 of Swords is the world of the intellect brought to its inevitable end when the intellect allows wrong thinking or following blindly to rule our thoughts and actions. Sabotaging ourself again and again by rationalizing bad behavior will eventually cut off the flow of energy to us. This card can also be about sacrificing to the extent that martyrdom becomes a reality; we fall on our faces and don’t even try to get up.

However, perhaps there is another way of viewing this card. The man has been pinned to the ground by ten Swords, and he is not reacting at all. We are told that this card does not represent death, which means the man is alive but not reacting to what seems like a horrible attack. He is not feeding his attackers by reacting, he is not fighting back and thus increasing conflict. Instead he is deeply aware without reacting; he has freed himself from the need to react.


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.

The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding on Amazon