Today’s blog post is inspired by a question from my friend Linda Moore. Linda has been working with Shadowscape Tarot. Her cards have literally been around the world with her, as she lives and travels on a sailboat. Recently, she has been studying a card a day, working her way through the suits. Each day she looks at a card and figures out some key words/phrases that work for her. Right now she is on the suit of Swords, which she rightly identifies as somewhat difficult.
Here is the question she posed to me. “Can you help me distinguish between the 5 of Swords and the 7 of Swords – in some ways they seem to overlap. I’m really struggling with them. I have identified the 5 as “Self Interests or Conflicts of Interest” and the 7 as “Escaping Responsibility or Being Two Faced”… What else can you add to help me with these two cards?”
Here’s my answer.
Finding key words/phrases for each card is a great way to learn tarot. The process is a bit different from memorization, because you are learning about what other people see in the card, but then deciding what makes sense about the card for you. Over time, the cards themselves will tell you what they mean, and your understanding of each card will grow, and become deeper.
Looking at the suit as a whole, and finding the personality of each suit, is important as well. Of course, the suit personality is determined by its element.
Comparing and contrasting cards, as you are doing here, is also a very important method of learning tarot.
Though it pains me to say so in this case, when we find ourselves struggling to understand a card, often it is because there is a specific message for us with that card. Perhaps we are struggling with a card because it represents a particular issue or problem that is currently pertinent to us. How we react to a particular card at any given time is a measure of how we are handling the energy the card represents.
As Linda pointed out, the suit of Swords in inherently difficult. Commonly, it is associated with the element of Air, although in a few decks and traditions it is associated with Fire. The fact that these two suits sometime switch elements causes us to consider the similarities and differences of these two elements. Some of the commonalities of Fire and Air include their masculinity, and the fact they can both suggest inspiration, creative thought, and expression. The differences, as I see it, would be that Air is more cerebral and logical, and fire is more passionate and spiritual.
Linda’s Shadowscapes Tarot uses the more popular association of Air for the suit of Swords. In virtually every tarot deck, the suit of Swords offers the most challenging images and interpretations. I don’t mean that the cards are hard to interpret, I mean the interpretations are often hard to hear.
That’s because the airy suit of Swords corresponds with powers of the mind. Our intellect, logic, rational thought, integrity, discernment, communication, words and thoughts are depicted here. The truth hurts. Decisions hurt. Words hurt. Often, we hurt ourselves with our own thoughts.
The cards that Linda is struggling with are the Five and the Seven. Traditionally, both Fives and Sevens are cards of struggle. All Fives represent expansion, and the pain that comes from growth. When we push past our comfort zone, there is always struggle and discomfort. Sevens also denote struggle, generally an internal struggle to be solved independently, without the help of others.
For me, the Five of Swords is about a battle. It could be an internal battle, or a battle between you and someone else. A clear winner and loser are predicted, although the card does not predict who the winner will be. The card asks you to take a definitive stand, and defend it with all your might. Do not back away from battle; be in it to win it.
Linda sees this card as “self interest,” or a “conflict of interests.” That makes sense. I would add that the energy of this card demands personal, internal conflicts be solved to turn one’s attention to larger matters. There is no room for internal division when larger problems may loom.T
Traditionally, the Seven of Swords is the “thieves’ card.” It can indicate dishonesty, treachery, or a lack of integrity. You may be keeping a secret, or feeling some internal guilt. Someone may have treated you with dishonesty. The Seven of Swords can indicate a hidden enemy. It can also advise being crafty. There are times we have to be a little bit sneaky to get the results we want.
As we compare and contrast these cards, we see that both may indicate a showdown with an enemy, even if the enemy is oneself, or one’s way of thinking. Both may indicate the process of figuring out what is true, and what is an illusion.
By contrast, the battle in the Five of Swords may be more public, or more open, while the Seven of Swords may operate in secrecy. If we are looking to confront an enemy, the Five of Swords may suggest engaging the enemy in a frontal attack, while the Seven of Swords may suggest a surprise ambush.
The imagery I have used for both these cards is warlike, although the war may be one of thoughts or words. As in all Swords cards, the ultimate question is about what is true, what is right, and what is smart.
Thanks Linda, for asking a great question.
I am happy to answer anyone’s tarot questions on this blog, and invite other readers to ring in with their opinions.
No one person has the “right” answer when it comes to tarot. Tarot is intensely personal; we all have our own take on how the cards speak to us. By thinking, meditating, writing and discussing the cards, we each deepen our personal relationship with these powerful images.