Queering the Tarot: Six of Swords

In Queering the Tarot, Cassandra Snow takes the most common interpretations and manifestations of the cards and discuss ways you might read them for a LGBTQQIA* client – or for yourself. Read the whole series here!

Queering the Tarot: Six of Swords

Last month’s inquiry into the Five and Seven of Swords got a little (necessarily) heavy. We touched on mental health, medically transitioning as a transgender person, fighting intense battles in our activism with cunning words and fighting within an oppressive system.

Today we’ve got a little change of pace from the Six of Swords. This card offers hope and promise in the middle of those rougher waters. The Six of Swords most often depicts someone on a boat, traveling over water to a better time. The travel is bittersweet. It is a rite of passage, something we are meant to do to move on and move forward in our lives. It is also something that is hard or even tragic to walk away from.

Many modern tarot decks do take a more positive approach to this card. Though the travel itself is difficult, what lies ahead are clear waters, healing, and happier times. In time then, our sadness and pain will fade and we will be rejuvenated. A lot of decks take some artistic liberty with the card and the original imagery has been changed. The metaphor of the journey and the break between the Five and Seven still stand.

I have always loved the Six of Swords. I love seeing this card of logically making the best decision for ourselves and our lives being tempered with the emotional and healing water. I love seeing that though this journey is the seeker’s, they are not alone. I love the ambiguity of who’s story this is. Is it the person steering the ship or the person calmly seated, contemplating their past and future? I love that it allows us to live in murkier times without trying to cut away our emotions – it just wants us to stay on track and know this heaviness is fading.

This is a card of journeys and of change, and even when those do weigh heavier on our hearts, they are almost always for the best.

When I came out of the closet I was stuck in limbo (by which I mean the notorious Bible Belt, the Southeast of the USA) for a while. I was in love and it didn’t work out. I had new queer friends and other chosen family, but I will still stuck in a place that was damaging to me, that liked me better when I was in the closet, and that wanted me gone as badly as I wanted to be gone. I suffered for probably three years, stuck in that Five of Swords oppression. Until one day someone said to me “Why don’t you just leave?”

They weren’t being kind, but it was the best thing anyone has ever said to me to this day. When you are fighting your mental health, outside oppressors, and your past, cutting through to something simple and pure is impossible.

That’s what the Swords cards do for us though – they become that person that says “Why don’t you just leave?”

In my case this card came to represent the journey I took to the Midwest itself. Leaving to finish school in a then-blue state meant leaving my closest friends, an ex-partner that I was determined to make it work with still, the mountains I had found myself in, and so many other things. Yet it was right for me, and it was necessary. The road to the Midwest was littered in hiccups and regret – until I got here, and for the first time I felt like I could breathe.

That then is our first hard but true queering of the Six of Swords. Many of us feel trapped in small towns. It feels like that Five of Swords environment might actually get the best of us. (In truth, some of us are trapped, and I don’t mean to sound insensitive to that reality. Other cards and Queering the Tarot columns have and do address that head-on.) In many cases though, we can just…leave. We can find somewhere queerer, weirder, more liberal, more radical, or more like what a home is supposed to be.

If the Six of Swords is showing up and you hate where you live, think through that for a while. What’s keeping you there? What are you losing? And is it that trade-off worth it?

Another queering of the Six of Swords comes after a move, after a change, or after that bittersweet transition.

I mentioned earlier that this card is swirling with the healing and emotions promised by the symbolism of water. As LGBTQ+ seekers we often find ourselves at a place in our lives that is actually pretty good, yet we still don’t feel “right” or like we think we should. The Six of Swords then calls us to go on a metaphorical healing journey so that we can appreciate where we are. I don’t know any LGBTQ+ people who don’t deal with pain from our past or struggle with the trauma of living in a queerphobic society or both. There are years on end we deny our reality, and even if everyone and everything else in our life is perfect, there is likely some long-term damage we ended up with.

This Six then comes to push (or row) us to something warmer, calmer, and better – but we have to be willing to take the journey first. Are we willing to cut out the things that still hurt us, be they internal or external? Are we able to dive into our own depths and revisit the pain we try to suppress so that we can truly overcome it? Those choices are ours to make, but the Six of Swords promise we will reach a better place if we take that on.

The Six of Swords does have more straightforward, practical applications as we queer it, but the message is still the same. If your employer doesn’t offer health care that covers your transition needs, it might be time to move on. If your chosen family has done nothing but quarrel for two years, it might be time to assess your need for them. If your relationship hurts you more than it supports you…well, you know. These are never easy answers, and the Six of Swords doesn’t promise any anyway. What it does do is encourage you to go on that journey anyway and promise that over time, you’ll be content with the result.

As a final note, a queer Six of Swords does show up when you are already on the journey sometimes, as in, when you are already in that boat in the middle of a body of water and not sure where you’re going. Look ahead, not behind in these cases. Remember why you are moving, or healing, or venturing out on your own. Allow the sudden spike in your emotions to exist so that your queer identity and your choices as a human can be affirmed and nurtured by your healing. This card affirms that you’re not wrong to feel sad or uncertain. Your feelings and experience are valid. Yet this journey you are on can take you so much further than you ever thought. Trust that more and better is coming – because it is.

Eventually that Swords logic will cut through the confusion and the hurt will fall away as you walk towards brighter shores.

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  1. Dee says:

    When my elderly Mum passed away I did a reading (just a mini reading), and got the The Six of Swords as the last card….I couldn’t believe how appropriate the card was to her…

  2. What an incredible article! I absolutely devoured this, and find your insights into the six of swords so thoughtful and accessible. Your series here is wonderful. I too have struggled with the heteronormativity and gender binary aspects of more traditional decks, to see incredible readers such as yourself recognizing this problem and reading solutions is incredibly empowering. Thank you again!

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