tarot of the week--nine of swords

"The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.” ― Poppy Z. Brite

The beauty of the Tarot's rich symbolism is the universality in its messages. There are cards for love, grief, loss, jobs, patronage, success, happy homes, and wills. And of course, the universal experience of insomnia and staying up late in turmoil and grief. None among us is immune to these dark nights of the soul. The Nine of Swords captures this experience perfectly, if not alarmingly.


Swords, associated with the element of Air, represents communication, the mind, rationale, logic and perhaps most importantly, perception. The way we perceive someone's words, their gestures, and often the stories we tell ourselves about the world around us ends up being the trap we have set for ourselves. Swords often have the most alarming challenge cards for people to see, from Three and Five, and Seven to Ten jump to mind, and yet the most important. Those are the ones that remind us that it is ourselves we must battle--from whom we trust to how we hold on to our storylines that have ceased their usefulness long ago, as well as reminding us of our own levels of denial and untruths. Isn't this the ultimate battle? To be absolutely honest about who we are--our deficits and attributes. Can we be objective? Can we analyze ourselves honestly? Can we let go of our illusions and face the music?  The Virtues of Swords are truth and justice. Nothing is more important than being absolutely honest to yourself about yourself. And so Swords challenge you to face the ocean of emotion behind you as we saw in the Two, to cut to the heart of the matter in Three, to ask yourself where your empty victories are in Five, to see what you are getting away with in Seven, to pull off your blindfolds in the Eight, and get real. Though swords are often double-sided and sharp, they also help us "cut" through the bullshit. To begin the quest to self-knowledge and honest self-appraisal.

So, if all this sounds like a little too much challenge for a little ol' Tarot reading, buckle up. The Nine captures this feeling of overwhelming guilt, fear, worry, anxiety, loneliness, and grief. It is a card often associated with insomnia and nightmares. When I pull the Nine for my clients, I often ask if they are having trouble sleeping, worrying about an issue in particular.  Or what their last thought of the day has been? This is what dictates your next morning, dominates your dream work, helps you process your day. And in this way, what are you trying to control that is not your business to control? So, perhaps the greatest lesson of this card is to Let Go and Let God. We have to turn this situation that is keeping us up to God, in whatever manifestation God appears to you.

The card lacks a ton of symbolic information, though there are a few significant markers for you to notice. The carving on the side of the bed is a sword fight, a battle of one man defeating another. Who is the sleeping figure? The defeated or the defeat-or? It does not matter, this card says, because they both end up in the same place. It is the battle that is the issue here, the fighting itself, rather than the outcome. The quilt around the figure contains the symbols of the zodiac and planets, signifying that often we are going through astrological and universal changes that need to be talked about. What is going on astrologically? What moon cycle are we in? Is that contributing to these issues coming up?

Numerologically, the nine is an important number--three threes. But it is a sign of completion. Completion? What? This card seems absolutely unsettled. It is true, but the Nine of Swords asks you to grasp the vulnerability of this card. This is your greatest asset. "The peaceful warrior's way is not about invulnerability, but absolute vulnerability, " as the quote goes in the Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and so it is with this card. What is keeping you up at night? This is your greatest asset, your teacher, your master. Remember, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. When taken in this way, our suffering becomes the gift, rather than a burden. What keeps us up at night is our hookable place, as Pema Chodron calls it, the thing we still need to work on. The beauty of the Tarot is that it asks you to shed yourself of these anxieties, to release from the fetters of your own self-limiting thoughts. Where thought goes, energy flows, as my teacher often says, and this card is remind you of where your energy is flowing (toward fear and worry, number one.)

The interesting element of this card is that it often is interpreted to mean that the worst is now behind you. You are in the darkest days. Often the experience of searching out a Tarot reader, or looking for answers in Tarot, is the first step of retaking control of your worries and fears and getting some answers. When we search the energies around your situation, we break it wide open, expose it to the sunlight, release the secret fear/anger/hurt/resentment/worry, and allow it to dry up and blow away. You are ready to dispel of the illusions around your suffering.

If you are working with the Nine of Sword's challenging energy right now, bring a rose quartz into the mix. Use it as a touchstone for true self-compassion. An affirmation for this card might be:

I embrace the lessons of this situation and release all worry to God.