Finding lessons among the swords

Swords: ‘the suit of sorrow’

That’s how it’s described in The Secret Tarot, and it’s easy to see why.

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Cards from the Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans

Not a pretty sight, and often when swords appear in our tarot readings they carry messages of heartache, worry and strife.

If you’re feeling really gutted about all those sad swords you got in your last reading, the thing to remember is that, although a swords card might be bringing you a difficult message, the minor arcana cards are moments in time. Everyday events in human lives, which can be incorporated and/or overcome.

The reason the swords can be so sorrowful is that they reflect the human mind. In The Collective Tarot, swords are feathers. In the Wildwood, they’re represented by arrows. All airy emblems, reinforcing the suit’s mental connotations. (More about suits and the four elements here.)

These are the cards of truth and intellect, of thoughts that go round in our heads. Of our principles and beliefs, insecurities, worries, doubts. There’s anger here, and cunning, and disappointment – emotions we often ‘feel’ with our minds.

Going deeper, they represent honesty and justice. An adherence to the truth. For example, the King of Swords prizes truth above all else – believing that justice is black and white and can be applied to everything. The Queen of Swords meanwhile derives strength from accepting both good and bad in their life, learning from their mistakes, facing up to their own personal truth.


From the Mary-el Tarot by Marie White

Besides, the swords cards are not all doom and gloom!

The Ace of Swords is a bolt of truth from the blue – a chance to see your situation from a completely new perspective, or a feeling that justice is being done.

The Page of Swords could be you starting a new course or going back to college. Or getting in touch with a childhood friend.

Even the gruesome Ten of Swords has a funny side – it’s so melodramatic that it does sometimes kinda say ‘come on, is it really that bad?’

ten of swords tarot card
ten of swords tarot card

The Two of Swords can mean wilful blindness – or it can mean an introspective period. So, too can the Four of Swords.

The Six of Swords can represent letting yourself be helped. Maybe you’ve got a lot on your mind – talk to a friend, let someone else take the wheel for a bit while you process your thoughts.


From the Shadowscapes Tarot, by Stephanie Piu-Mun Law

And even when they are just definitely gloomy, Swords can bring you helpful messages for moving forwards.

The Nine of Swords shows anxiety, for sure, but usually reminds me that things often seem worse in the middle of the night because I can’t take any action then. Worries grow in the small hours when it feels like there’s no way of overcoming them. Then, in the daylight, everything seems much easier. And I love Paige Zaferiou’s interpretation here.


The Nine of Swords, by Lyekka on DeviantArt

On the other hand of course, it could just be your own personal hell 🙁

The Eight of Swords says that you are your own worst enemy. A figure, blindfolded, surrounded by heavy swords feels she can’t move…but if the swords are all in her mind, she is free to walk away whenever she chooses. Her ties are not so tight.

The Five of Swords describes a situation where there are no winners. This could be the encouragement you need to reach out and make peace…or instead, walk away for good.

And then there’s everybody’s favourite:


The Three of Swords. OMGF. Heartbreak and woe. THE WORST. But wait! That heart is not bleeding! It continues to beat. How very strong it must be, then. You’re such a brave soldier.

More thoughts on the Three of Swords here.

Don’t let your mind be your own worst enemy. Laugh at it when you can – the swords and all the insecurity and strife they represent can be helpful, even when you think you don’t want to know.

And the bigger message? Seek the truth. Face the truth. Accept the truth…or change it.

Wow, those swords, eh.


PS – If you liked this post, here’s one about the pentacles cards: Magic stars: In praise of Pentacles.


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  1. Ellen says:

    Great post Beth! I love your perception of this suit. Swords cards are cards for the brave of heart; for the ones who want to move on
    And their queen is one hell of woman 🙂

  2. Celia says:

    I had never thought about swords overall as a suit of sorrow because my deck (unfortunately) uses a hella pastel/cheery colors palette– with the exception of 3 and 9, of course.
    10 of swords always struck me as bittersweet, I normally read it as things coming to an end that have needed to come to an end. Things ending is hard, but when they end you can move on to new things; also knowing that something is coming to an end shouldn’t stop you from doing it, just encourage you to enjoy it while it’s in your life (esp true for relationships, because it’s been coming up in a number of my friends’ readings recently!)

    • Beth says:

      Wow, I like this interpretation of the Ten, Celia. I kinda see the Eight of Cups like this, though it really fits with the Ten of Swords too – especially for relationships! I would worry that the breakup might be super dramatic though… 😉

      Which deck do you use?

      • Celia says:

        One of my best friends got this card in a reading recently and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were super dramatic! She’s one of those people that is super calm and chill but seems to attract drama-filled relationships like flies to honey hah

        Currently I’m using lo Scarabeo; I found it years ago and loved it, then hated it, then was ambivalent about it… I’m reacquainting myself with the deck (with the help of your tarot course!!), and definitely feeling that it’s time to move on. I do like the illustrations for the ten of swords in the deck, though 🙂

  3. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for posting this today! My question for the cards this morning was “How can I invite more joy into my life?” Three of Swords. I mean…really? The approach I took to that card, based on its imagery in my deck, was that the sorrow of Three of Swords was all in my mind. In the Sun and Moon deck, the RWS symbol is a heart made of cloud pierced by the swords, connected by thought bubbles to a pensive, disappointed woman. So the pain is more ephemeral in that image.

    • Beth says:

      Oooh, I like this interpretation Rebecca… it’s really helpful to look at where the ‘heart’ of the Three and the ‘mind’ of the swords intersect, and what that means. Taking your idea further, it’s kinda like the heart is stronger than the mind, you know? It keeps beating and carrying on, even when in your head it feels so broken.

  4. Caitlin says:

    I am loving your Alternative Tarot Course! And have been doing a daily card draw to center myself for the day ahead, and learn more about the tarot. This was a very timely post for me as I drew the Two of Swords this morning.

    As a new reader, I find it easy to say, “Oh no, the meaning of this card is too bleak and severe. I don’t think this relates to my life.” And to not take away anything meaningful, when there can be some positivity to, in this case, turn inward and reflect without external pressure before making a decision or acting.

    Thank you for sharing your interpretation!

    • Beth says:

      Oh my gosh Caitlin, I totally used to turn away from ‘bad’ cards when I started with tarot, as if I could pick and choose! I think a really big part of learning tarot is embracing how it prods you to understand your life (sometimes) more objectively, and to understand and celebrate the good and easy AND the difficult energies together.

      The Two of Swords is an interesting one. I used to feel that it was a flat-out denial card, but after spending some time with Dolores Fitchie’s version, I can see a much kinder side to it now:

  5. As someone prone to anxiety and overthinking, the Swords are the suit I “get” (in the sense of understanding) most easily of all. In fact, the first time a card clicked for me was when I examined the Two of Swords in light of the basic elements as you explained on Autostraddle–a woman turning her back on her emotions in favor of trying to solve things with intellectualizing alone? Hey, where’d you get this picture of me?! That shock of recognition actually catapulted them into the position of my favorite suit.

    That said, I just got my first physical deck, the Chrysalis Tarot, and it renames the Swords to Scrolls. And… I don’t like that. It keeps the idea of making thoughts discrete and definable–by implying that they can be written down–but neuters the imagery of pain that comes along with it. On the whole, in fact, I’m finding the deck to be softer (and, I admit it, more New Age-y) than I’m prepared to deal with, and I’m struggling with it a bit. But I only got it two days ago, so hopefully I’ll get the hang of it…

  6. Shan says:

    Hi Beth,
    Thank you for your take on the various Swords in the deck. I’m just coming back to renew my connection with tarot, having spent a lot of time away from it in the past few years. I’ve returned to my favourite deck ever – the Mythic Tarot, which I know there are a gazillion copies of everywhere but I just love. I’ve always had a strong connection with the Greco-Roman pantheons and I guess this is why it calls to me so strongly.

    I’ve always felt a physical intake of air and a slight shock when swords have shown up in my readings and then had to purposefully breathe deeply and sit with the feelings before being able to interpret them at all. I’m hoping now with (even more) maturity under the bridge I’ll be able to look at them without that initial GASP! I’m still getting reacquainted with my cards so am loathe to comment on any particular card at present, but wanted to say thank you for the message about swords being helpful for finding a way to move forward.

  7. Michael says:

    Clarity and consciousness, I LOVE this article and you’re interpretations.

    My natal astrological chart is weak in the air element, strong with water, earth and fire.

    Until today I’ve had a deeper-darker connection with this suit. So, thank you… you’ve brought light into my world!

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