Face Up Tarot: How to wield the 9 of Swords

Last week I swallowed lava.

I had just told my food coach how I’d been. Insomnia. Panic attacks. Anger. Somehow I felt launched backward into 2004. I was struggling with the same symptoms, eating the same food, even listening to the same music. She asked about my experiences like she wanted to grasp the shape of my despair.

As I wandered through the maze of her particularly probing questions, I was surprised by my answers. I was placid and emotionally detached but I talked about helplessness, despair, grief, anger. I was unaware of the magnitude of the feelings until I voiced them. As I spoke, I felt magma rising in my chest.

She recommended EFT or tapping, a therapeutic technique that I had done before. We did some. The magma rose again. I spared a second to consider what her reaction might be if I were actually to emote. We’d been meeting for a year, and I never had.

I decided it was safe to erupt.

Even though I wasn’t sure if I could trust her to be OK. Usually, I don’t share or allow help. It doesn’t feel safe. People have their own dregs. No space for mine. I let go and experienced release. It felt like lighting the throat on fire, like a levy in the chest breaking, like swords dislodged from flesh and hanging heavy in the hands.

The experience brought back the truth of the 9 of Swords: the excavation of systems, poisonous, restless, or obsessive thoughts, or – if we’re lucky – release.

Sometimes things just suck. Sometimes life’s really hard, and there’s no getting around it. Like when we’re dealing with addictions we’ve been struggling with for years. Or when we’re living out codependency patterns that we’ve been raised with. And who isn’t, on some level, dealing with things just like this?

I’ve been sick for five years. And rather than the familiar story where I take actions and get better, for me, healing looks like accepting that this is what life is like now. Am I even ok with that? Maybe not. But it’s the truth, for now.  

We need to honor that.

We need to speak the poison – anger, grief, etc. When we do, we need to be heard. Poison and all. And as we’re feeling it fully, we absolutely MUST remember:

we are still worthy of love and forgiveness
our feelings will pass as long we allow them

No matter how permanent it feels.
No matter how f*cked it is.

Here’s a three-step inquiry practice for the 9 of Swords.

One: Tell three truths

Write down three truths. If you’ve got hard truths to work on and the space for it, write those down. Space means time, privacy, and a plan for feeling better after you’re done. If you’d rather work tactically, pull three cards face up that represent these truths.

If you have a trusted sounding board in your life, someone willing to hear what you say, tell them. Ask them to listen and to say nothing in response other than two very specific things “I heard you say…” and then they repeat what they heard verbatim, or “thank you.”

This can quickly turn into venting.

And maybe for some, there’s relief in venting, complaining, or commiserating with someone trusted. As long as I’m being honest with myself, this does not benefit me. Do what works for you. It can feel weird to have someone repeat your words and silently receive what you tell them.

If you’ve never tried it before, please do and more than once. You don’t notice right away the profound effect it has to be heard. With practice, you realize that it’s ok to be heard, that you deserve it, and that it is enough. Remember, it takes practice.

Two: Tell three lies

These are the meaning you make about the truths. More often than not, these are false. You may absolutely believe these things. I say “lies” to bring in a practice of constructive doubt, which I wrote about last time I tackled the 9 of Swords. Try the word on like a hat:  “lies.” No judgment. Just a thought experiment.

Three: Pull three cards face up for release

Draw three cards consciously, not at random, that when you see them, give you hope. You aren’t figuring anything out. There’s nothing to solve. Just notice if when you see the art, you feel an opening, lifting, space, or anything pleasant.

It may help to absolutely forget everything you know about tarot symbolism while you pick these cards. It’s always interesting to bring all that expertise back at the end. This can be tricky. Use a deck you are less familiar with to short circuit the “helpful” brain.

This is what it looks like when I did this face up pull:

Fear not. I share these as detailed examples, and I’ve already processed them elsewhere.

Three hard truths

Starting from the right:

  1. II High Priestess – My belly/food/digestion swells with differentness. My life is unrecognizable.
  2. 4 of Wands – It’s impossible to imagine success or improvement. It is too far away.
  3. 2 of Disks – The wait for healing would take the patience of the dead.

I pulled based on the art without anything in mind. Afterward, I considered numbers, suits, and interpretations. I use the word “truth” loosely. I thought these things in the moment. I may call them lies tomorrow.

The meaning I make

  1.  5 of Wands – Because I’m so different, I’ll always have to be brave. It’s always going to be this hard.
  2. 5 of Swords – Because it’s impossible to imagine success, I must stay busy finding ways to adapt and defend. Rather than have hope, I need to cling to it.
  3. 5 of Cups – Because I am impatient, progress is like a fantasy – the stuff of dreams.

And a  release

Ace of Wands, X Wheel of Fortune, XX Judgment

For no apparent reason, I read this row in reverse. It starts with the same fire in the belly that I describe in this piece where I first talk about seeing this health coach. Obviously, I’m craving transmutation. The kind that starts as the number one in the belly of the Ace and evolves into the ten of the Wheel, is expanded by Jupiter and finally, in Judgment, the number ten is doubled to make twenty, and we can no longer see where the Phoenix ends, and the flame begins.

I am transformed by the pain I feel, and it has meaning.

What is the benefit of practices like this?

Certainty is a sword:

A sword of truth or a sword of lies. We have an opportunity to wield this sword, the sword of our thoughts and assumptions. But if we do, we must be vigilant, especially those of us with the sharpest intellects and most creative minds.

The more thoughts we have, the more of them we must wield. Do not fear your overactive, genius, busy, little mind. Embrace it. Doubt it. Speak it. The way out is through. Find a safe place to erupt. Small eruptions count. Tell even the destructive truths. Tell the most constructive lies. Own your story. Release. Forgive. Here are nine inspired actions to welcome Spring from someone whose work I trust.

You will survive even this.

Keep in touch.

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Featured deck:The Mary-El Tarot Schiffer 2012

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  1. Oh this resonates SO much. The advice to tell even the destructive truths is something I need to hear again and again. Months ago I went on an inner journey to confront my writer’s block, and met a version of myself, chained up and screaming with all the truths I had swallowed. It was so hard to show her love and accept what she had to say.

    Definitely going to try these exercises.

    • Siobhan Rene says:

      I’m glad it resonated, angharadlois! I catch myself, in an attempt to focus on the positive, denying the harder truths sometimes. It’s what all the spiritual folks say to do, right? I also often assume that the dark things I have to say will be too much for me or too much for others to hear. I think, when it comes down to it, we’re all sturdier than we think. It can be SO affirming to realize this and just speak whatever needs to be said. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

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