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My personal approach to Swords

Thread originally posted on the Aeclectic Tarot Forum on 14 Sep 2002, and now archived in the Forum Library.



ihcoyc  14 Sep 2002 
In my own readings, my most divergent readings from the tradition have to do with the pip cards of the Swords suit. Swords are Air, and have to do with the "matter" of Air, and the subject of Justice. Traditional readings that focus on pain, anguish, and conflict strike me as not somehow belonging, and as throwing the system into a sort of imbalance. Heartbreak and sorrow are Cups business. Conflict of the more physical sort is Wands, or sometimes Pentacles.

I thought I'd share my personal keywords that I use in reading Swords, so that you can tell me I'm all wrong and make fun of them.

:TAS "The birth of an Idea." All of the Aces are gifts, something that strikes you as a bolt from the blue. The Ace of Swords is one of the happiest such Aces: it means that the solution to a problem will suddenly occur to you.

:T2S "Thesis and Antithesis" Ideas that oppose one another, or complement or balance one another, for good or for ill. Could mean an argument. A dialectic process.

:T3S "Synthesis." The two conflicting ideas are held in balance, or harmonized. If badly supported, a lawsuit or similar process of conflict. A decision will be made.

:T4S "RTFM." This card is a miniature Pope, for me. It represents established problem-solving procedures, reference books, doctrine, algorithms, lawbooks. There is an answer out there. It's your job to find it.

:T5S "Syntax Error" This is the Microsoft card. It crashes at random and wipes out what you were doing. A faulty system of ideas or fixed method of thinking that isn't doing what it was supposed to do.

:T6S "Message" Almost traditional. It can mean a journey. But more often, I see it as communication.

:T7S "Stratagem" Almost traditional again. But there's no implied dishonesty or necessary failure here. The chess card.

:T8S "Engineering" Relates to the practical implementation of plans and ideas. Blueprints. Organizational charts. Political institutions.

:T9S "Encyclopædia" One of the best cards in the deck, contrary to popular opinion. A methodical and planned working system of knowledge functioning at peak efficiency.

:T10S "Boggle" What happens when the mind can't get around something, it's too big, too complex, or just not appropriate to be dealt with that way. Time to try a different approach.

You may begin throwing your tomatoes now. 


Melvis  14 Sep 2002 
I like your keywords, ihcoyc!

I've always thought of Swords as being more 'mental' than the RWS cards would suggest. That's one reason I've always liked the Osho Zen tarot...all of its 'Clouds' or Air cards refer to characteristics of the mind.

I'm copying this thread for my Tarot notebook!

Thanks!

Peace,

Melvis
:TSTRE 


truthsayer  14 Sep 2002 
i've copied this one, too! it's a keeper. thanks for sharing. :) i've never like swords being sorrow, pain and tragefy. air is mental functions. it's ruled by the astrological signs of aquarius, gemini, and libra. these signs tend to be very cerebral--not tragic or sorrowful. 


Laurel  15 Sep 2002 
I'm also noting all this down in my journal. I'd actually be interested in seeing these ideas worked into the pictographs of a modern-era tarot.... they certainly relate well to "corporate thinking" which isn't commented on in a negative way.

I don't personally directly relate any suit to any single Major Arcana or the archetypes therein or visualize swords as 'justice' as much as 'adjustment': the fine tinkering of one's thoughts and beliefs and what happens when they become negative. However, the Thoth tarot is my deck of choice and they tend to portray the Swords in a way is often bleak and even at times sinister- in the sense of warning of danger.

Laurel 


Strega  15 Sep 2002 
I (too) have always seen the Swords as a suit that deals with the human mind. :)

I don't see it in a negative way (pain, sorrow, or conflict).

The Swords are (like the human mind) double-edged. It has the capacity to create good or evil fate according to use or misuse. :) 


Sulis  15 Sep 2002 
Thanks for the insights, it`s good to see the Swords portrayed positively, I`m copying your notes too.

Crystalmynx xx 


fairyhedgehog  15 Sep 2002 
I like these meanings better than the conventional ones. I have never understood why the suit that means 'mind' is also supposed to mean 'strife'. We end up with wars and disputes when people's feelings take over their thinking, not the other way about, in my view.

I'd like to see this added as a short article to the permanent section of this site. 


Marion  15 Sep 2002 
That is a keeper! I like your thoughts on swords very much. I have also wondered why the suit of intellect had to be so grim. Your ideas resonate, and I think will add depth to any throws for me where swords predominate. Thank you! 


Marion  15 Sep 2002 
So often the way things work. I read your post, and printed it and read it again. Then I did my Body Mind Spirit spread and got
3 of Swords
10 of Swords
King of Swords.
Things really happen together. 


ihcoyc  15 Sep 2002 
Quote:
Originally posted by Marion
Then I did my Body Mind Spirit spread and got
3 of Swords
10 of Swords
King of Swords.
Things really happen together.

;) Under the traditional approach, that would be about as bad a reading as you could get. Especially if it's Body-Mind-Spirit.

I suspect that some of the negative cachet that Swords have stems from the fact that the Tarot revival grew out of French Romanticism. "Occultists" (for lack of a better word) seem traditionally hostile to the analytic and critical faculties.

I wonder, though, if there is any pre-Etteilla cartomantic tradition in these readings; and if there might be, how would we know. Spades have always had the worst reputation in most traditional schemes of cartomancy; the ace of spades is a bad card in just about all of them. I've yet to find a traditional cartomancy interpretation that seems directly ancestral to the tarot sequence.

Both épées and bâtons are weapons, of course. As an air-sign and air-head myself, I prefer to take it more positively. 


Thirteen  15 Sep 2002 
Quote:
Originally posted by ihcoyc

I suspect that some of the negative cachet that Swords have stems from the fact that the Tarot revival grew out of French Romanticism. "Occultists" (for lack of a better word) seem traditionally hostile to the analytic and critical faculties.


Not true--or rather, not true unless you view them fighting against hard, scientific evidence that would disprove their magic. Remember that alchemists and occultists use to BE the analytic folk. Science and magic were one in the same, not divergent systems, and the occultists, those that weren't charlatans, were among the most well read geeks on the planet. They were the computer folk of their day, coming up with all kinds of mathematical systems.

I think, more likely, that as so many cards in the deck seemed positive, there was a feeling that there needed to be a suit to balance them out, or just take the heat of a bad reading. Western civilization didn't use to have the yin-yang philosophy of our more modern world. Things were very dualistic (still are if you look at the most popular western movies): Good or "EVIL". And, lets face it, up till the mid-19th century, life was usually looking pretty "Evil." Most folk didn't live past 40, and in their short lifetimes saw half their children die, suffered from famine, illness, injury, flood, fire, abuse without recourse, etc. A nasty world with a grim outlook.

And let's just look at the suit itself: a sword. Swords are an instrument of war. They have one purpose, to cut and kill. That's their job. It's not even like a gun which might be used to kill an animal for food. A sword is meant to kill your enemy in war. Period. And war is no good for anyone...save maybe the winning side.

Now, in line with romanticism, swords DO go with Arthurian legend (and let us recall that it is the French who really elaborated on those Arthurian legends)--romantic in that swords are the "super-hero" symbol, the symbol of those protecting the innocent--namely honorable knights. But then, those legends are also filled with betrayal, lies and deceit as well, right? They don't end happily.

So why assume this suit is going to bring any good?

It's only if we go into more ancient (or Golden Dawn or Post-modern, take your pick), pagan interpetation of the symbols that they become more positive. In this case, the sword is an Atheme, a knife, used to cut and that can be positive or negative. It symbolizes, as the Atheme does (in most cases) air and the mind--the mind cutting through problems and difficulties, using words to work things out. In sword terms, the cutting through of the gordian knot.

I do like your interpetations, by the way. And I'm in FULL agreement that swords have gotten a bad rap, primarily thanks to Waite who was a dour old stick in the mud (Rider-Waite it not the happiest deck). I think Crowley does a much better job with both them and cups, making the swords more mental, and the cups more emotional (as compared to just "love").

That said, however--and not to rain on anyone's parade but rather, sword-like, to offer the other side of the blade--I'll toss in the first critical comment here--I think your bias in favor of the mind has made you go in the opposite direction. Mental might not be emotional or passionate, but mental can be used BY emotions and/or passion to it's own purpose. Swords aren't JUST the mind, they're also words and writing. And words can cut, lie, decieve, abuse, manipulate--like a shark of a lawyer grilling a defendant in a particularly nasty lawsuit. Or a politician trying to undercut his opponent. Or gossips who decide to smear someone's reptuation. The mind can and does dream up nightmares ("A Beautiful Mind" is not just about a man's genius, but also his schitzophernia). And scientists HAVE preformed horrible experiments on people as well as animals for the sake of their curious, un-emotional minds. The mind, alone, can be cold, hard, cruel.

And brilliant scientists with encylopedic knowlege who create computers also use those pure, analytic minds to create atom bombs. As we all well know.

A modern deck could have no more modern sword than that.

Swords DO need to be reinterpeted and given their day in the sun. Absolutely your interpetations should be incorporated. But transforming them wholly into symbols of Mr. Spock, all benevolent logic and knowledge, would be, IMHO, equally propagandic. 


ihcoyc  15 Sep 2002 
Quote:
Originally posted by Thirteen


Not true--or rather, not true unless you view them fighting against hard, scientific evidence that would disprove their magic. Remember that alchemists and occultists use to BE the analytic folk. Science and magic were one in the same, not divergent systems, and the occultists, those that weren't charlatans, were among the most well read geeks on the planet. They were the computer folk of their day, coming up with all kinds of mathematical systems.

For certain periods, and specifically in Renaissance Italy, I don't disagree at all. In nineteenth century France, reacting against the perceived excesses of an Enlightenment that didn't quite work out as planned, I think that as a generalisation what I said originally is more true than not.
Quote:

And let's just look at the suit itself: a sword. Swords are an instrument of war. They have one purpose, to cut and kill. That's their job. It's not even like a gun which might be used to kill an animal for food. A sword is meant to kill your enemy in war. Period. And war is no good for anyone...save maybe the winning side.

Technically, both the clubs and the swords are weapons. In some pip-card decks, the clubs are crude cudgels or logs; elsewhere they have been turned into quarterstaffs. In the Marseilles tradition, about the only graphical difference between clubs and swords is that the swords are curved while the clubs are straight.
Quote:

That said, however--and not to rain on anyone's parade but rather, sword-like, to offer the other side of the blade--I'll toss in the first critical comment here--I think your bias in favor of the mind has made you go in the opposite direction. Mental might not be emotional or passionate, but mental can be used BY emotions and/or passion to it's own purpose. Swords aren't JUST the mind, they're also words and writing. And words can cut, lie, decieve, abuse, manipulate--like a shark of a lawyer grilling a defendant in a particularly nasty lawsuit. Or a politician trying to undercut his opponent. Or gossips who decide to smear someone's reptuation.
The mind can and does dream up nightmares ("A Beautiful Mind" is not just about a man's genius, but also his schitzophernia). And scientists HAVE preformed horrible experiments on people as well as animals for the sake of their curious, un-emotional minds. The mind, alone, can be cold, hard, cruel.


No real disagreement here. My main concern is the imbalance introduced when Swords are chosen as an elemental symbol; and then assigned meanings that associate them with heartbreak, sorrow, loss, and violence.

From my perspective, this introduces an imbalance among the four elements. It means also that the Swords have taken on the negative aspects of some Cups business (heartbreak and sorrow) and some Wands business (loss and violence). Adopting them means that adjustments would indeed have to be made elsewhere. (My first suggestion would be to take the 5 of Wands much more seriously).

I did not offer my attempts at suggesting new Swords keywords as some kind of revelation from the mountaintop. Nightmares, stalemates, useless repeated calculations, mechanical thinking, and mental fatigue remain Swords topics and ought to be available as well. I'm not proposing to look at Swords through rose coloured glasses. Still, I am drawn to the suit, and think it may have gotten a raw deal. 


juice  17 Sep 2002 
Part of the bum rap handed out to swords stems from tthe swap of air to fire interpretation book for RWS made swords/burning/fire/violance one suit and wands/living/air/cleansing another. It's kinda like taking 2 attribute systems and mushing about half together. That sorta left 2 better suits, cups and wands with cups being even happier. The other side was sorta pentacles and swords with swords at the bottom. 4, 9, and 10 of pentacles weren't too bad but the rest of the suit was solid/boring/mundane/money with a placement a little under wands wich had 5, 9, and 10 as "bad".

This is not the end all be all of course but it was slightly more balanced than earlier in the thread left it. I personally like each suit having a little balance to itself.

When I went through the mythic book recently it struck me that it had 3 "mental" suits... inspiration, emotion, logic and the fourth was phsical. In a wayu that is not too unlike my first book wich had material world, love, strife, and the higher goals as primary "themes".

My first view of tarot makes more sense now that I wrote this than it had coalesced into earlier. More to think about I guess............ 


maiden  17 Sep 2002 
Thanks ihcoyce and (thirteen also)
for different perspectives.

As a beginner who has chosen the 3 of swords quite often, it's refreshing to look at that card and the rest of the swords in a different light.

Maiden 


MeeWah  16 Oct 2002 
ihcoyc: Bless ye for posting this! I appreciate your insight as I, too, disagree with the predominantly negative context oft assigned to a suit I see as Air, pertaining to intellect or the intellectual process; the mind; communications. Whilst some of the traditional qualities may be true depending on how Swords are aspected in a particular throw, such a blanket approach denies its unique & innate sense of balance (I also associate the suit with Justice). I am also copying your correspondences. 


Keslynn  16 Oct 2002 
Thanks for sharing that with us! Although I am a Leo, I think of myself as a Swords person. I never liked seeing "my" card being constantly referred to as a woman of sorrow (though most modern books use a different angle - thank goodness!). I will definitely be adding your keywords to my tarot journal.

One good book to check out would be Janina Renee's Tarot for a New Generation. She does something very similar where she explains numerologically and by other methods how certain cards got a bad rep. The one example I can think of now is the 4 of Cups though I'm sure she does it with others. She also gives the more positive meaning among the potentials.

:) Kes 


MeeWah  16 Oct 2002 
Thirteen: As usual, your "other side of the blade" offers much to think about in comparison. I especially like the view of the Sword as an Athame. 


Lee  16 Oct 2002 
Ihcoyc, I really like your keywords. If you have any interest in posting your keywords for the other three suits, I for one would be very happy to see them.

One little dumb question... what does RTFM stand for?

Thanks --
Lee 


ihcoyc  16 Oct 2002 
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee
One little dumb question... what does RTFM stand for?
RTFM = Read the manual. . .

A somewhat old acronym now, but it generally means that the answer is out there in some obvious, published source, like a manual, a dictionary, a FAQ, that the person asking the question should have looked at first. 


Mystica  16 Oct 2002 
I too have added your thoughts to my journal. Your approach to the suite of Swords will help me out when I have a reading with many Swords, in those situations where it just doesn't seem to fit. I have been frustrated with this in the past, and you've really given me some clarity on this! Thanks!

Vianne 


Francesca  16 Oct 2002 
I still hate to see a bunch of swords in a spread, but every suit has its dark and light points.

Also, Ichoyic, some of your keywords are as "negative" as the commonly understood meanings.

Is and argument for the 2 of Swords better than a statis interpretation? Statis won't last forever, although an argument just might.

A syntax error for the 5--my computer crashed in August and that was a pretty negative thing!

Boggle for the 10 doesn't sound particularly joyful to me. Life is not all sweetness and light and neither is the tarot deck.

As an experiment, I divided up the pip cards (using the Universal Waite) into 3 categories: Troubling, Joyful, and In Between.

Most of the cards ended up in the Troubling pile, about as many in the In Between and only seven in the Joyful pile. (No swords)

Here are my findings:

Troubling: 6 from the Swords; 2 from the Pentacles; 4 from the Cups; 5 from the Wands.

Joyful: 0 from the Swords; 2 from the Pentacles; 4 from the Cups; 1 from the wands.

In Between: 4 from the Swords; 6 from the Pentacles; 2 from the Cups; 4 from the Wands.

I would rather see a 4 of Swords than a 5 of Pentacles or 8 of Cups, that's for sure.

Also, some cards like the 8 of Swords, while troubling, indicate hope. The way out is right there and she's not as bound as she thinks she is.

Francesca 


Zhritza  16 Oct 2002 
what an interesting thread -- swords is actually my favorite suit. I think for me it's essentially the Reaper Suit. It tells me what is unnecessary baggage, or what needs to be examined and surgically diced more closely. ihcoyc (BTW, is that an acronym, or what? :) ), your keywords are really refreshing, I especially love the Syntax Error one. That's negative at first glance, but also, it's saying that you can begin anew, which is so freeing. Incidentally, 4 and 6 of Swords have always been primarily positive cards for me... 


ihcoyc  16 Oct 2002 
I have a similar approach for all of the 10s; they aren't really positive cards for me in any of the suits. All of them have a "so that's taken care of, what's next?" quality to them at best. At worst, a "this isn't working: try something else" quality.

In the 10 of Coins, we learn that "money doesn't buy happiness." Though it is nice. . . .

In the 10 of Clubs, we learn that while hard work often pays off in the future, slacking always pays off now.

In the 10 of Cups, the Kinks are singing, "It is time for you to stop all of your sobbing. . ."

And in the 10 of Swords, you are confronted with something so big or so cosmic that your mind just can't get around it.

Of course, some of these meanings are farther from the traditional ones than others are. I think they're basically consistent from one suit to the other, which is what I was aiming at with my Swords set. With these 10's, all the pip cards can be seen as a cycle as well: you try one approach until it can do no more, then you pick up the next tool and work with it. 


Francesca  17 Oct 2002 
I'm not so crazy about the tens either. Even the 10 of Pentacles and 10 of Cups. They all seem completely overwhelming!

Ihcoyc, I love your interpretation of the 10 of Wands.

Francesca 


The My personal approach to Swords thread was originally posted on 14 Sep 2002 in the Using Tarot Cards board, and is now archived in the Forum Library. Read the active threads in Using Tarot Cards, or read more archived threads.

 


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