On Thoughts, Air & Swords

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Drawing the Nine of Swords for a daily Instagram post recently, I actually laughed. This isn't a card to normally illicit such a response, but it's been a tough few weeks around here. Beyond some immediate worries for the family, it hasn't been a great time for the UK either. On several occasions prior to drawing the card, I'd caught myself imagining worst case scenarios and outcomes, and feeling sick and breathless and trapped inside my head

It's uncommon for me to experience this. In fact I can't recall the last time it happened. Subject to the normal hormonal cycles, I try my hardest to notice and be objective when reactions are triggered in me (it's not always easy, but day-to-day life offers plenty of opportunities to practice). It felt so alien and extreme to experience physical sensations of worry, as if my legs and body were weightless and I was literally floating up into my head - very bizarre. I dealt with it in the best way I know - by focussing on my breath. In The Power of Now*, Eckhart Tolle writes (on p 52): 
When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation. Use your senses fully... Observe the rhythm of your breathing; feel the air flowing in and out, feel the life energy inside your body. Allow everything to be, within and without.
So when the Nine of Swords came up, I already knew what to write on my Instagram feed: "There's no point worrying about things that happened or that might happen. There is only Now. So get out of your head and stay grounded. How? Just breathe. Breath is what connects your soul to the physical realm. In moments of panic or distress, simply ask yourself "am I still breathing?" Then focus on the expansion and contraction of your body. "

After posting, I kept thinking about the link between thoughts and breath and the Tarot Suit of Swords - which is both related to the element of Air and also representative of thoughts. There are various partially-read Tarot books on my shelf, and flicking through them I found this interesting explanation:
Swords belong to the element of Air or wind, often seen as closest to Ether, or Spirit. The word 'spirit' relates directly to the word 'breath', and in Hebrew the word for 'spirit' and the word for 'wind' are the same. Just as air constantly moved, so the mind never rests... - Rachel Pollack, p208 Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom.
Did you know that the words 'spirit' and 'breath' are directly linked? I had no idea until now, but it does make sense. We are spiritual beings having a human experience which revolves around breath - a baby takes its first breath when born, and our last breath is at the point of death. Buddhist traditions have over 2,000 years of Breath Meditation teaching, and it is strongly linked with spiritual enlightenment. Meditation and 'mindful breathing' have become so mainstream a Google search for "mindfulness apps" brings back 548,000 results.

So how does all of this link with Tarot, and more specifically the fourteen cards in the Swords suit?

The Swords from the Smith-Waite Centennial Tarot Deck, published by US Games, click to enlarge  
This is a suit with a bit of a reputation! Its keywords¹ include: stalemate (II),  heartbreak (III), defeat (V), sneakiness (VII), entrapment (VIII), nightmares (IX), and betrayal (X).  Even the court cards are often treated with suspicion - from the 'talkative' Page to the 'hasty' Knight and the 'independent' Queen. Personally, I can relate to wider aspects of all of these court cards, so I try not to think of them too harshly!

Swords deal with the conscious level of intellect, attitudes and beliefs and just like their symbolic weapons, these can all be double-edged and used for good, evil, and everything in between. Expert swordsmanship is largely about balance and correct handling. So it is with our thoughts - we must first appreciate their power and then learn to work with them effectively. In the book which accompanies The Good Tarot, Colette Baron-Reid says:
We're asked to remember that our thoughts are like powerful seeds. What seeds will we plant? What thoughts will we rehearse? What perspective do we take for the highest good of all? If we are intelligent creatures, how best can we use our minds to align with the highest good and the best outcome? How can we find value in our suffering as we shift from reactive and victimised to response-able? Can we find freedom through radical self-acceptance and the right use of reason and intellect? The answer is yes if you're willing to allow the Suit of Air [Swords] to reveal the deep truths of your mind. 
The key to doing this seems to have been there all along - I believe it lays in the link between Air, Spirit and Breath. What do you think?

* Amazon affiliate links are included for the books listed in this post. 
¹ Keywords quoted are from The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings by Brigit Esselmont.


  1. I drew the Queen of Swords yesterday (from the Thoth Tarot) and I had to take a moment to breath. I didn't feel like it was at all a 'negitive'indicator, but it contained a great deal of Power. The suit of Swords can seem a bit precarious or even treacherous, and the imagery in most decks can cause us to tense up and constrict our breathing and turn our thoughts to become worried or defensive. So I very much agree that taking a few deep cleansing breaths can definitely help provide some clarity. Alright Hotep.

    1. Powerful - YES! I am starting to really appreciate the Queen of Swords - I didn't like her at first, but I can see that she has two sides and the strong, independent, kick-a** side is one I really relate to.



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