Swords are the suit of the air, of the mind, of communication and the mental realm. They are about matters of logic, knowledge and ambition. Strategy and planning, truth and justice are all sword qualities. Swords are about learning and thinking but as they are about the inner mind, they also deal with worries and nightmares, the shadow side of all that thinking energy. This suit, like the swords that represent them, have two edges; light and shadow. Creation and destruction. Imagination and anxiety. Decisiveness and indecision.
“You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (quoted on Little Red Tarot)
The nature of swords is to fight but instead, as Lamott makes reference to, you can use the sword in other ways. You can use the related intellect and instead out manoeuvre your opponent or your nemesis using your mind instead. The suit of swords is also about communication, possibly making the saying the pen is mightier than the sword appropriate at times.
Whilst we normally think of cups as the emotional suit, swords and air bring with them mental conflict. Michelle Tea notes that “the swords suit has a tense relationship with the realm of emotions. In some readings of the Two of Swords, it represents a problem whose solving requires strict logic; you must not rule with your heart in this moment, but with what you know to be intellectually true”.
In tarot, twos can go two ways. They can be about union and partnerships or they can be about choices and opposition. With this in mind though, we can also see them as being able balance or finding the middle ground.
Twos are also linked with the high priestess, the two from the major arcana. I’ve not done a post about her yet but she is often about intuition and looking inwards for answers. She is a card that sings with sacred, feminine wisdom. She is balance and harmony and peaceful stillness. Yet she is also about awakening what lies inside you, revealing that which is hidden. This dichotomy gives us a hint of what we will find across the twos.
We will start to see, as we move through the different depictions of the two of swords, that this tuning into oneself is one way of answering the call of the card.
Rider Waite Smith
The two of swords from the RWS tarot depicts a blindfolded woman with a sword in each hand and her arms crossed. Behind her is the ocean, craggy islands and a vast sky, empty except for a crescent moon. I feel like we can take this scene by looking at three stages in the scene; the woman, the sea and the sky.
The woman appears to have chosen her blindfold, she has deliberately closed her eyes. What might this represent to the reader? Perhaps you have consciously withdrawn in order to make a decision without distraction. Or are you subconsciously closing your eyes to your choices or in denial? Sometimes we shut ourselves off physically or emotionally as a way of handling decisions – we put our head in the sand, or blindfold ourselves so we don’t have to engage. We can also push problems or choices we don’t want to make away from ourselves and if we look at the woman we find a position which could be considered defensive, crossing her heart in a protective way so that nothing can get near. Conversely the crossed arms could be a deliberate, temporary, carving out of space and time so that she can think things through – there is something in her position that I find somewhat intentional and zenlike.
We saw that twos can be about choices and balance and here we find the two swords facing away from each other, is there a tension here? Are they symbolic of the two paths ahead of the woman?
Behind her we find the sea, choppy and filled with rocks and islands that could become hazardous for ships. In tarot, we often find that the state of water is reflective of the emotional state of the querant. Here we see a lot of emotional turmoil and perhaps this is why the choice or decision is so difficult? Or are we being swayed by those emotions? Another way to view this is to note how still and calm the woman is in the face of such emotions. If the woman is in denial, we could view the choppy seas as a sign that the problem she is hiding from is growing and growing and the chance of hitting the rocks is increasing… It is time to made a decision, to choose a path and to move on from this place of inaction. Toss a coin if you have to but don’t stay here.
Above the sea spans a sky, empty except for a crescent moon. Interestingly the sky is a light blue, the sky of day, whilst the moon is obviously normally found at night. Perhaps this hints that logic won’t always work here. The moon is about illusions and dreams and things not being as they seem and a moon in the day feels like it exaggerates that message.
Tarot of Pagan Cats
The Tarot of Pagan Cats normally follows the RWS deck in it’s imagery but here it has departed quite significantly. There is no blindfolded character and the cat is not holding two swords. Despite that, the little white book gives this card the same meaning. Again, it’s about conflict, this time its specified that it’s between heart and mind. The cat is walking a tightrope between the two swords, the two choices but his head (and tail) are held high.
These swords are parallel suggesting equally valid paths and it may be worth noting that the cat is both black and white here. We find the crescent moon depicted but this time in a night sky and whilst there are islands in the ocean, they are smoother, less dangerous and the waves aren’t as choppy as the RWS card. This all confirms the cat’s confidence about this decision, he knows he’s got this. I feel like this deviation from the RWS card shows the importance of listening to your intuition when it comes to which deck to use for a reading as the conversation can take on a rather different tone.
Another different depiction here. In the RWS we had two swords facing away from each other and in the pagan cats the swords are parallel, here we find the swords are facing towards and crossing each other. They form a dark X against a sky with an eclipsed sun. The moon on the previous cards is now full and is obscuring light, the clarity.
When I first saw this card I read the sun as straining behind the moon to be seen and that if I uncrossed the swords, or made a decision, I would be able enjoy the light and see things clearly again. I’ve also had readings which have shown the card as a situation where we want to understand things but we don’t necessarily want to understand things as they actually are and we find ourselves straining to impose our mentally constructed version of reality onto the world around us.
Wow, this portrayal is so different to the rest of them. Here we have parallel swords, as in the pagan cats, but instead of being vertical they are horizontal and instead of being held by the same person they are each wielded by a bird and they appear to be in a stalemate situation. Alternatively, we could see a mirror image deal going on here. Appropriately, the image is a bit confusing.
Talking about the two of swords reversed, the little white book says that “mental confusion and information overload is rife!” This is something I wanted to touch on as it’s not really come through with the other representations. We life in a world where we are surrounded by messages and information and opinions and words and words and words. It can be hard to hear our own voice in amongst all the others and most of us don’t tend to make space for listening either. Another way to feel into this is that being surrounded by information can mean we know too much and can see all sides or we can have so much information that we don’t realise we have the right information.
I don’t know what the birds on the cards are but given the meaning of the hawk and eagle, I like to view them as one or the other. Both are messengers who bring perception and foresight to the game.
The two of swords in norse tarot is very different again. It has two men sitting opposite each other at a table and it looks like they’re playing chess or something similar which requires the mind to come up with paths forwards and work through them to see what obstacles could arise. There is also something here about taking your time but not taking too long.
Whilst we’ve seen some very different depictions, there are some common themes here. We are looking at decisions and how we face them. As well as figuring out the decision or choice you are facing, you may need to spend some time unpicking the how and whys of your coping mechanism. In my little white book I’ve made a note that whys -> wise. By learning why we engage with a particular way of dealing with things we can start to learn how to approach things differently.
Other questions to explore include:
- What are you denying, repressing or avoiding?
- Head or heart? Logic or intuition?
- What info do you need to make the decision?
- Why are you struggling to decide?
- Is anxiety clouding things?
- Do you already known your decision but are afraid to make the leap?
blocked, stuck, avoiding, at a standstill, intentional blindness as an emotional barrier, following blindly, conforming, stalemate, opposing forces, a situation you’ve been putting off dealing with, ambivalence, take off the blindfold and start fighting, indecision, contemplation, deliberation, considering both sides, boundaries, the calm before the storm, closing off from distractions to make a choice, comfort zone, clouded logic, overthinking
Whilst I mostly know about mint as an association because of the wonderful Little Red Tarot website, I have come across it elsewhere as I’ve noted it in my little white book I just didn’t note where it came from… I have found a few more references in my googling to the suit of swords being associated with mint which reassured me that I haven’t just dragged this out of thin air!
Mint is a stimulating herb which is associated with quickening the mind and as we’ll see, the sign of libra is also about rapid fire of ideas and this could be related to the information gathering or information overwhelm of the two of swords. The peppermint could stimulate the mind to filter through or seek out the information needed to make the decision. It is said to clear the mind and this would set the scene for making the choice ahead. Perhaps a peppermint tea would give you the space and the clarity you need. Or a peppermint scent could help you cut through the fog.
It is a stimulating, invigorating plant that energises but also soothes; it is complicated, much like decision making!
Moon in libra
On a basic level, the moon is about emotions and libra is about balance and harmony. Libra is an air sign, like swords, and the moon in an air sign brings us quick fire thinking, rapid fire ideas as well as the desire to build bridges, connect seemingly opposing ideas and find compromises.
The moon also brings us intuition and the sub-and un- conscious and then libra can bring in an air of indecision. Because libra can see and understand multiple perspectives, they can find themselves unable to make a decision because they know there are pros and cons of all sides and as there may not be a clear cut good or right choice, their intuition can become muddled and blinded by information.
Moon in libra can be focused on trying to keep everyone happy, compromises which keep the peace and generally trying to find the middle ground. This can lead to the person themselves getting lost and their own needs and thoughts being lost as they try to please everyone else. This can be seen in the depictions above but does put a slightly different spin on things. Instead of just being indecisive or stuck under an information avalanche, we find a person who has lost touch with themselves because they are focused on the happiness of others and compromises.
I feel like the energy at play here makes it hard to lean into mind or heart fully, perhaps being able to feel into both instincts and not being able to privilege one over the other.
On a more negative side, the moon in libra can lead to a person becoming argumentative as a protective mechanism. They can provoke an argument if they feel emotionally unsafe and then instead of dealing with the emotional unsafe feeling, they can go into their quick fire, rapid idea, seeing all sides of things part of themselves and this can feel more comfortable. In a way, this is hiding behind indecisiveness and/or the decision making process itself. It is almost as if an issue has been summoned up so that moon in libra can busy themselves with seeing all the many sides and arguing about it. An excellent example of paradoxically avoiding an issue by diving into the issue.