78 Weeks: Four Swords


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Some amongst us may be working through the deck in a different order, and using different decks.

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Four of Swords

continuing on from thoughts from the 3 of Swords.

The 4 of Swords to me represents a period of quiet time, thought, contemplation, rest, recovery possibly after a period of stress, illness, hurt or even grief of loss. You can't always go on as if nothing has happened or phases you - there has to be some down time to just be alone, think, assess, or even just relax and forget about everything for a while, so that you can rebuild you energy levels, strength and confidence. Another thing I noticed about the image in this card (Universal Waite), was that the 3 swords from the previous care are still there - but are no longer crossing each other and seem to have been put to one side in a sort of box, like they are contained. Then the 4th sword is laying down under / next to the reclining figure - like he has laid down his sword for a while - not wanting to battle, or that the battle is now over for a period and he needs to contemplate lessons learned, feelings and future direction to prepare to return to lifes foray ;)


Four of Swords - Revelations Tarot

First impressions
From the artist’s website

He finds time for rest and recuperation.

Rest is forced upon him now as he did not heed to do so in the first instance.

Images and Symbolism
The card plays on the notion of rest - of the mental kind. Here stress from life, situation or the environment may require one to take some time out and rest. In the case of the reversed side, rest was not taken when required which has led to enforced rest.

Colour: electric blues, turquoise - associated with Aquarius

Traditional meanings

Welcome retreat form the stresses of life, opportunity to recuperate from the ravages of battle.
Enforced seclusion exile imprisonment, depression.
My impressions:
This is a weird card. Upright, a figure almost looks like he is in bed, pulling the sheet up to his shoulder. Behind his head the crossed hilts of two swords. His eyes look closed; he is calm. It is all very blue.
This figure seems to be losing the bedclothes, to follow the analogy through – and for some reason, both forearms appear bandaged, as does his head. He rests on a sword blade, with another to his left.
My take
Well – reading the book to clarify whether I am mad, seeing bedclothes – I’m not that far off; the card apparently suggests a need for rest and recuperation – and the reverse even implies a possible hospital stay ! The upright image certainly looks to be having a nice nap; the reverse looks more like a sick person in bed – hence the bandages. Maybe even cut by the swords he leans on. In both cases life must be too much, I think; the upright figure recognises this and takes time out; perhaps a holiday is called for, or leave of absence on the grounds of stress; perhaps even a change of job. The figure in the reverse image has left it too late and made himself ill over it all. It implies quite specifically that it is things around him that have done the damage. Maybe it is a relationship, or the children; whatever, time out is needed before it is forced upon you. This is all too common in the fast pace of the world today – a timely card,. I think.

All the cards from this deck can be viewed here.



Card name: Four of Swords

First impressions

Four swords set like a St Andrew’s cross, points to the centre and meeting in a rose. Each has a different hilt. They are set on a geometrical green background. The background is blue, with a muddle of geometrical figures, which look random, in yellow. There are the sigils for Libra and Jupiter.

From the Book of Thoth

These cards are attributed to Chesed. The connection between the number Four and the number Three is extremely complex. The important characteristic is that Four is “below the Abyss”; therefore, in practice, it means solidification, materialization. Things have become manifest. The essential point is that it expresses the Rule of Law.

The Four of Swords is called Truce. This seems rather on the lines of “the strong man armed, keeping his house in peace”. The masculine nature of air makes it dominant. The card is almost a picture of the formation of the military clan system of society.

The number Four, Chesed, is here manifested in the realm of the Intellect. Chesed refers to Jupiter who rules in Libra in this decanate. The sum of these symbols is therefore without opposition; hence the card proclaims the idea of authority in the intellectual world. It is the establishment of dogma, and law concerning it. It represents a refuge from mental chaos, chosen in an arbitrary manner. It argues for convention.

The hilts of the four Swords are at the corner of a St. Andrew’s cross. Their shape suggests fixation and rigidity. Their points are sheathed---in a rather large rose of forty-nine petals representing social harmony. Here, too, is compromise.

Minds too indolent or too cowardly to think out their own problems hail joyfully this policy of appeasement. As always, the Four is the term; as in this case there is no true justification for repose, its disturbance by the Five holds no promise of advance; its static shams go pell-mell into the melting-pot; the issue is mere mess, usually signalized by foetid stench. But it has to be done!

Images and Symbolism

Frieda Harris says in her essays:

Four of Swords =Truce. Chesed in the suit of Air. Jupiter in Libra. The four swords in this card are at the corner of a St. Andrew's Cross. Their points are sheathed in a rose of forty-nine petals. This represents the establishment of dogma and convention in the realm of intellect.
Four of Swords = Truth. (the Card title is actually "Truce.") Jupiter in Libra. Chesed.
The formality of the design of the swords, the cross, and the rose denote intellect bound by rigid convention.
The surrounding crystals, as in all these sword cards, contain the hidden names of their guardian angels worked out in numbers on squared paper. It was thought that air was formed of crystals according to Pythagoras.
Snuffin points out that the St Andrew’s cross was named for the Apostle who asked not to be crucified on an upright cross as he was unworthy to be crucified on the same cross as Christ. The designs on the four guards on the swords identify them with one of the four elements – waves, flames, discs and “a chaotic design that suggests the activity of Air”. The rose has 49 petals (7 x 7) which symbolises social harmony. It is also the mystic number of Venus. The rose also represents spirit, unifying the four elements as shown on the swords.
He says the green cross resembles the Rosy Cross. Except that it has a rose in the centre, I don’t entirely buy this, but still. The green is that of Libra. The background blue is Jupiter and Chesed. He says the yellow rays spike out in roughly symmetrical patterns – I can’t honestly see the symmetry – but they represent the Air attribute of Swords. Frieda says that they are crystals containing the hidden names of their guardian angels.
The sigils are purple – the colour of Chesed in Yetzirah.
The St Andrew’s cross symbolises suffering and martyrdom, says Banzhaf. This produces a “magical, dominating spatial form, a protected space within which the energies can be regenerated.” After the three, that makes sense. He also refers to the swords as supporting the rose; they look more to me to be simply resting in it.
DuQuette points out the keyword: Truce – that swords are weapons, but that here they are not doing that; however he says that this peace is a short-lived one. The original Golden Dawn title for this card was Lord of Rest from Strife, which would back that up.
The swords themselves seem to emit some kind of light that illuminates the green background.

Meaning (cribbed from Wasserman)
Four of Swords: Truce. Rest from sorrow. Peace after war. Relaxation of anxiety. Refuge from mental chaos. Recovery from sickness. Change for the better after struggle. Authority in the intellectual world. Convention. Establishment of dogma.

DuQuette Convalescence, recovery from sickness; change for the better
Rest from sorrow; yet after and through it. Peace from and after war. Relaxation of anxiety. Quietness, rest, ease and plenty, yet after struggle. Goods of this life; abundance; modified by dignity as is usual.

Traditional meanings – From Thirteen’s book of meanings:
Fours are ruled by the Emperor and, like both the Emperor and his throne, they signify stability. The first stage is complete: the invested passion, emotion, brainpower and work gotten past being young and fragile and is now rooted and strong. Established. This can be positive, a solid foundation on which to build more, or negative, something that has come to a halt and doesn't know how to evolve any further.
Four of Swords
A young man rests on a pallet, three swords above, one under him. Though this card (in the Rider-Waite deck) makes the young man look dead, he is really resting. This is the "meditation" card and it advises the querent that they need to rest, reflect, recuperate and find their way back to themselves. Being that Swords are emblems of fighting, of anxieties and arguments, the stillness of the number four is usually a welcome respite. This is a time for everyone to "put up their swords" and allow wounds inflicted in these mental or verbal battles to heal.
There is a fascinating story behind this image of the young man on the coffin (credit to Mojo for this history lesson): Before knights went off to battle or on crusade they would commissioned a sarcophagus for themselves in case they died. Those that returned safe and sound, if truly chivalrous, would literally lie down in their coffin in a show of humility and contrition. They would meditate on whether they'd been true to their mission, their king and god. Also on how easily they could have ended up in this coffin as a corpse rather than alive and offering up prayers of thanks for being spared.
Thus, this card usually indicates that the querent has survived a time of arguments, misunderstandings, mental or verbal abuse, even a nervous breakdown. They could be recuperating from a physical illness or injury as well. The Four of Swords is that time they need to heal, clear their head, just think about what they did and what they need to do differently from now on.
The suit of Swords takes a much-needed mental breather in this card. It can signal that the querent has retreated, or should be advised to literally or figuratively retreat from what they've been thinking far too much about in order to rest their brain and re-evaluate their position.
(I include Thirteen’s meanings here, but the way, as while someone else was adding them to her Thoth posts, I found them enlightening in context, even though the descriptions are way different !)

My impressions (appearance of the card):
It actually looks to me like more of a muddle than anything ! Especially the background. The swords also don’t look as swordsy as most – maybe because they are not being used as weapons just now. But the background does look like strife to me, which would fit the idea of a temporary cessation of hostilities. The line work is much heavier than on some of the cards.
It is also extremely NEAT – an odd thing to say when I just said it was a muddle – but it is the sort of compulsive neatness that suggests an underlying muddle, in a way. One of the more symmetrical cards in this deck. and with its total focus on the very centre of the card.

My take (what I make of it/what I might see in a reading where I drew it)
You are at the eye of the storm. This isn’t even a truce; it is just the lull before the worst of it. Don’t let your guard down and think it’s all OK now – it isn’t. It could also suggest an OCD disorder, a kind of obsession with one small thing, with a resulting falling apart of everything else..


Four of Swords (Rider Waite Tarot)

First Impressions
A little haven, a little cocoon of tranquility of the often-fraught suit of Swords. A youthful and golden man - a knight? - sleeps with a peaceful smile on his face and his fingertips touching together lightly over his chest. Okay, so he’s likely more resting on a coffin or a bier than he is “sleeping”, so he might very well be dead. But it’s still very tranquil.

This is an indoor scene and the background is mostly white or pale gray stone. The spots of colour come from the stained glass window in the upper left-hand corner of the card’s frame and the gold of the figure and the coffin on which he lies. The stained glass is a mix of primary colours in the backdrop of a red-robed supplicant kneeling before a standing figure in a pale robe. It’s presumably Jesus, or perhaps another saint given that the standing saint is haloed but clean-shaven. The word “PAX” is clumsily written in the halo. The window is deeply set in the wall, and has some sort of decorative embellishment that ends in what looks at the bottom in high-rez scans like a fox’s head, or maybe a ram‘s. Three stone-coloured swords are hanging vertically, points down, on the wall in a row beside the window. They’re framed by a rectangular patch in the wall, and appear to be carved.

A fourth sword, this one gold, is mounted or embossed horizontally along the side of the coffin. Above it, the effigy of the knight is unhelmeted to allow his hair to flow back onto the pillow beneath is head, and show his calm demeanour.

What does it mean? Yes, it means rest and quiet and peace. But at what price? He’s dead, isn’t he?

Creator’s Notes
Waite says:
Waite said:
The effigy of a knight in the attitude of prayer, at full length upon his tomb.
Makes me wonder what it is Waite thinks of this card, really. Makes no bones about it, that the figure is an effigy, a likeness of a person over their grave. Or tomb, in this case.

Others’ Interpretations
Waite again:
Waite said:
Divinatory Meanings: Vigilance, retreat, solitude, hermit's repose, exile, tomb and coffin. It is these last that have suggested the design.
Well, yes, I get that. Honestly. Where they come from, though, is a little beyond me at present.
Waite said:
Reversed: Wise administration, circumspection, economy, avarice, precaution, testament.

Looking at the General Book of the Tarot, written in 1930 by A. E. Thierens:
Thierens said:
The element of Earth on the Fourth house, house of the home and the sign Cancer. This immediately explains why this card has been said to stand for economy, savings, even avarice and household affairs as well as for many things in connection with the end of life, since the fourth house in the horoscope relates to the end of life, and to the inner side of life as long as this lasts. Tradition is once more very correct in this case. When it enumerates "concord, harmony, etc.," amongst the synonyms of this card, however, there is some discrepancy, because the only thing that can be meant here is 'repose' or the condition of rest, as that of the grave, in which external differences are lost. So taken in the strictly etymological sense of the words, 'concord,' etc., have nothing to do with it. If in any case this card should relate to business, it certainly does not mean that anything like accord has been or will be reached, but that one of the parties retires or takes his proposals back. It may also relate to the condition of the soul, in which one harvests the results of material life in the world, whether spiritually, by meditation, or materially, by economy. In any case it points to a stillness and heavy condition of the mind. Further, to the tendency of collecting, gathering.

[…]Solitude, repose, retreat, retiring from the world, "hermit's repose" (W.); gathering, collecting, taking home one's savings or impressions, meditation, economy, avarice, precaution, testament, and the place occupied at the end of life, hermitage, grave, coffin. The place of the card in the horoscopic scheme indeed suggests the idea of being buried under the earth.
Well, I don’t know enough about astrology to apply the houses to the cards, I can barely manage to wiggle them into the planets in various zodiac influences. So I have to take their word for it.

Symbols and Attributes
Astrologically the Four of Swords is ruled by Jupiter in Libra. Jupiter, the planet that is also connected to the Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot, is ruled by the element of Fire. Its influence is expansive, which I see as what results from this time of introspection. Taking time off to think things through and regroup, opening the mind wide open. Now Libra, on the other hand, is much more structured than that. The sign of the Scales that dictates the astrological influences of Justice in the Major Arcana, Libra is a sign of balance and harmony and striving for completion. The perfectionist tendencies, I would say, of the Emperor and the numerological commonality between that card and this: Four. Fours are stable cards that emphasize solidity and wholeness. And that is what this card is seeking. As it is a Swords card, it is about the Airy power of reason and the mental processes. So you might consider that the figure in this card is taking this time of rest to regroup and expand the mental processes to achieve completion and perfection.

It’s important to note that despite the still silence of this image, the ruling element of Air is not a passive element at all. Nor, for that matter, is that of the planetary influence. Air and Fire are both masculine and active elements, unstable and carrying great potential. So why is the effigy lying there so quiet and seemingly passive? Well, it’s necessary to consider what the element actually embodies. The intellect, thought and mental process. The seeming immovability of the Fours, when combined with the intellect of the Swords, shows outward solidity but active thinking below the surface. Planting oneself there to stay still and let the mind do its own thing. Yes, the effigy is a little extreme an illustration of a body at rest, I might think, but it does get the point across. It’s an effigy of a knight, which in the Tarot is also linked to the element of Air. His hands are held together as in prayer; this could be simply be to further illustrate the idea of an effigy, or it could be to indicate meditation or prayer as a further example of inward focus. Knight and coffin are both gold-coloured. In alchemy gold is the symbol of the Sun and also of perfection. As a colour it represents illumination and the intellect.

In the abstract the coffin, an enclosed capsule, represents the womb. It is the capsule for death and rebirth. It makes me think of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamen, and also the glass coffin of Snow White that the dwarfs built for her in the forest. The fact that the lid shown here seems to be slightly ajar, indicates that the situation is only temporary. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. So it indicates that this stage right now, of resting and regrouping, is a temporary state. Preparing for the next big thing.

The swords present here are not actual weapons at the ready. Rather they seem to be more ornamental. Three stone ones carved on the wall, a fourth gold one embossed on the side of the coffin. After all, if we consider the religious tone of the stained glass window (more on that in a bit), this scene is in a church or a monastery. A place of refuge, in which it was a point of honour that battle could never be engaged within the hallowed walls.

There are three stone swords on the wall, framed neatly within a rectangular frame. They represent the lesson that had been carried forward from the Three of Swords. The pain of that lesson, the heartache, will always be with you, you just have to learn to put it to one side in order to move on. Close by, however, within ready grasp, is the single golden sword. The Ace of Swords that offers a new beginning and big new ideas. Grasping that sword helps one find the way forward.

The stained glass window is an interesting accent here as well. First, as mentioned above, it indicates that this is holy or sacred space. A place of refuge or sanctuary in which to rest and recuperate, it also represents spiritual wisdom. But that’s just in general. Let’s look at what it actually depicts. The standing haloed figure is clearly some sort of a saint or angel. I don’t think it’s Jesus, for all that Rachel Pollack says it is, because He is almost never depicted without a beard. But whoever he (or she?) is, there is a supplicant kneeling before him (or her), so clearly it is someone in a position to heal or aid or administer alms or wisdom. It’s also been suggested that it indicates seeking spiritual guidance; this would be assumed to bring inner balance and harmony (that’s Libra talking there), or peace - hence the “PAX” in the halo.

Running parallel to the window’s edge, a decorative edge ends in what is likely a ram’s head. The ram is the symbol of Aries, which is the Fire-based astrological sign that governs the Emperor, the fourth of the Major Arcana and so underlines the numerological aspect of the Four.

My Interpretations
Not much covered here that I didn’t already have a general idea of already. The Four of Swords is still the card of rest and regrouping, of taking time out to gather your thoughts and prepare for the next stage. The suit of Swords in general is a stressful suit, a lot happens. So this card is a restful one of a necessary respite. A temporary break. It’s a peaceful card and a good one to see.

Although seemingly an inactive card, there’s a lot going on under the surface. A lot of thought, new ideas and epiphanies stewing and bubbling underneath. But this card speaks of a time when it’s necessary to just take it easy and let the thought process take over.