Nine of Swords
The Nine of Swords (Also 9 of Swords, IX of Swords)
Title: Lord of Despair and Cruelty
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Decan: Mars in Gemini; June 1 - 10
Thumbnail Meaning: Despair, cruelty, pitilessness, malice, suffering, loss, a sense of doom.
The Nine of Swords––one of the gloomiest cards in the whole tarot deck––is also one of its most important cards. it represents two of the most awful things a living being can experience: cruelty and despair.
The suit of Swords is traditionally associated with the intellect. Like a sword, intelligence is enormously useful when wielded wisely. This card shows intellect unbalanced and turned against itself.
Heavy? Definitely. Let's step back for a moment. This card can also represent nightmares––see the picture at right. In it, a woman is sitting up in bed, her face in her hands. Perhaps she's woken from a bad dream, is grieving or remembering something terrible.
Was it just a dream? Let's hope! The Tarot of the New Vision has a new, somewhat disturbing, interpretation of this card:
Despite the negativity of this image, it suggests an opportunity to face one's demons. Perhaps you have an uneasy truce with them, or feel defeated by their intrusions. But how can you win if you don't face them? Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of Le Tigre, describes how healing from trauma has worked for her:
The thing is dealing with rape and sexual abuse is an ongoing process that sadly is never complete (unless you are magic and can turn back the hands of time!!!!) BUT it does get better. It really does. I am actually enjoying life more wholeheartedly than ever before, and I attribute it to facing the scary stuff and the effects it has had on me honestly and not turning away from it.
Sometimes I thought the pain was too great to bear but reminded myself that if I could live through the abuse I had the power to live thru anything. Also denial, pretending and self-destruction takes way more time and energy than going through the pain, the sadness and the mourning process does. Seriously. (letigreworld.com)
Are you using "denial, pretending and self-destruction" to avoid facing something? This card can remind you to stop wasting energy and face it as best you can.
Despair expresses itself in different ways. The Secret tarot shows a woman, dressed in dark blue, half-lying on a fainting couch. Her weariness suggests that she knows this, too, will pass:
The Thoth tarot's Nine of Swords is much more nauseating than this. Lon Milo Duquette describes it well:
As if to underscore the degeneration of the suit, the pinwheel wings are being washed down the wall of the background by what looks like little drops of poison. I can almost taste the drops of rusty blood dripping from the swords. (Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, 251)
In The Book of Thoth, Crowley both describes the outlook of this card, and suggests a way to deal with it:
The general idea of the suit has been constantly degenerating. The Swords no longer represent pure intellect so much as the automatic stirring of heartless passions. Consciousness has fallen into a realm unenlightened by reason. This is the world of the unconscious primitive instincts, of the psychopath, of the fanatic...
There is, however, a way of dealing with this card: the way of passive resistance, resignation, the acceptance of martyrdom.
Nor is an alien formula that of implacable revenge.(208)
Robert M. Place suggests a more measured approach. In A Gnostic Book of Saints, the companion book to his Tarot of the Saints, Place describes the Nine of Swords as a card representing fear and foreboding. "To instill courage," he writes, "the mind must be calmed." (182)
It's not despair that makes this card so awful, but the "automatic stirring of passions" and the maimed intelligence that make despair seem eternal. It is not.
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