The Swords are not our kindest suit, but they represent something even darker that a lot of us have trouble facing: our own shadow selves. This is apparent throughout the whole suit. Yes the Five and Seven represent oppressive forces, but they also show our own inability to cope or the idea that we do often feel trapped and small because of those situations. However, our shadow selves are never more present than they are in the Eight, Nine, and Ten of Swords.
The Eight of Swords is a card that often features someone seemingly bound, surrounded by swords and maybe water. Upon a closer look, we see that they’re not actually bound very tightly or closely at all. So the card is really about feeling stuck more than being stuck. It’s about an inability or unwillingness to see things as they are more than it is about something external clouding your vision.
The Nine of Swords most often features someone trapped and constrained by their own fears, and in many cases anxiety and depression are indicated here even by readers who otherwise wouldn’t look for that. The Ten shows the worst case scenario as started in the Eight coming to fruition; we are bottoming out, or we have been stabbed in the back. The Tens often represent transformation, and the Swords, our suit of mental illness and other traumatic factors, transforming looks like real pain, this time from where you least expect it. OR…this Ten represents the way we manifest our darkest desires for self-destruction and chaos. We start feeling trapped in the Eight, and even though we know we should break away, we don’t. We let the anxiety of the Nine consume us until eventually we bring that Ten into being. Our shadow selves have been formed and shaped by the pain and struggle we have overcome, and they warn us of the danger in repeating the cycles that have led us astray before.
So what does that mean for us as queer people? These three cards already deal pretty heavily and significantly with mental illness and loss, but as the Swords keep reminding us, those things are often doubly true for seekers who are LGBTQ+. What are the anxieties we are currently facing, and how does that correspond to our gender and sexual anxiety? I am personally spending way too much time feeling immobilized like the Eight by our current political situation, and it has often led me to that fearful, panic-inducing Nine of Swords. The Ten in this case affirms our fears as real, and that is a hard, harsh lesson that all marginalized people do have to learn at some point: sometimes this isn’t anxiety. Sometimes it is our intuition and things really are as bad as they seem. Still, the lessons of the Eight and Nine stand. If the Ten is coming no matter what, perhaps there is a better way to deal with our collective trauma than shutting down.
I want to be crystal clear that in instances of mental illness and trauma it is very often beyond our control when our mind or body starts reacting in unhealthy ways. If these cards are coming up though, there is likely another way to process or handle everything going on around you. The Swords are our cards of logic and left brain thinking, and with that comes the idea of medicine, treatment, and meditation. The Eight through Ten often warn us that we need something different or more to get through the next phase, either because our illness is too strong or the attacks coming are too big.
In our microcosms, queer querents see these bigger patterns play out in our relationships, careers, or roles as activists too. LGBTQ+ relationships often come with much higher stakes, in part because there are less of us and we become determined to hold on even when we shouldn’t, and in part because we are often making the active choice to shun societal ideals that push feelings down until we barely feel them anymore. Because the stakes are higher our heartbreaks and endings of friendships often feel much more like Swords to the gut than the incredibly sad but often manageable heartbreak cards from other suits. In the case of romantic or close platonic relationships, the Eight and Nine are warning you that you’re reaching a breaking or tipping point. You’re either not asking for help when you should be, not pulling out when all signs point to the need to do so, or collapsing in yourself instead of facing the problems in a relationship head on.
This starts with that Eight which so very often indicates that self-doubt that is trademark in so many queer people. You’re not just feeling stuck in this Eight as a queer person, you’re doubting your gut instinct and refusing to see your third eye’s visions. When you spend half your life doubting that you even are who you know you are or being told that you’re wrong about yourself, you can’t just “get over” the self-doubt that plagues you afterwards. You can spend time and energy building yourself back up slowly over time, but it starts with taking off this blindfold in the Eight and allowing yourself to become aware of what’s really going on. Otherwise this same pattern plays on—the Nine brings in so much stress and overwhelm that we can barely function, let alone address the problems in our relationships. This will ultimately lead to the Ten where either we are right and our friend or partner has left us or we were wrong that it was ending, but because we withdrew, it did. This same short story can be applied to jobs we are not out of the closet in and communities and activist roles we devote ourselves too. If we allow the Eight to keep us stuck, the Nine keeps us pinned and terrified, then the Ten sees the fallout out of that and leaves us scrambling to deal with cleaning up the mess.
In a lot of tarot decks though, that background behind the anguish of the Ten of Swords doesn’t look so bad. Sometimes a sun is rising slowly. Sometimes an ocean calmly laps at the shore, begging you to come closer to the healing water. In one of my most beloved decks, there is a phoenix pictured. As marginalized people we need to be warned and aware of when things are about to hit the fan. That’s what much of the Swords are and serve as. We also need empowerment and reminders of how strong we are. This is likely not our first defeat, and it will probably not be our last. Still as queer people we rise and start over, again, and again, and again. This is where the numbered Swords leave us as LGBTQ+ seekers—looking to that rising sun, knowing we will love, and fight, and win again.
Be sure to check out the full Queering the Tarot series.