Due to Mr Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, Ten of Swords is one of the most feared Tarot cards coming up right behind Death and The Devil.
This is a perfect opportunity to showcase and explain how art sometimes is very misleading and why knowledge it is essential to use intuition adequately.
Long story short. The so-called Sola-Busca Tarot is one of the very few extant and complete 15th-century Tarot decks in which all the fifty-six “Minor” cards are illustrated with characters and not only with geometrical symbols.
In 1907 the Busca-Serbelloni family sent from Milano to London, to the British Museum the black and white photographs of the complete Sola-Busca Tarot deck. Shortly after that, these photographs were placed on exhibit at the British Museum in London, displayed next to the 23 original engravings acquired by the Museum in 1845. Waite had seen this exhibition and invited artist Pamela Colman Smith to see and make several sketches of the Sola-Busca cards. Afterward, they created the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. Several cards are absolutely look-alike: the Three of Swords, the Queen of Cups, the Seven of Swords and the Eight of Pentacles.
In the case of several other cards, Waite made some odd – and never explained – changes. Most notably, he switched the design of some Swords (Air) cards with the design of Wands (Fire) cards.
The Ten of Swords from the Sola-Busca deck became the Ten of Wands of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, just like the Five of Wands of the Sola-Busca became the Seven of Swords of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
Waite was erudite; he knew precisely the structure of the Tarot deck, the symbolism and meaning of the cards, respectively the fundamental difference between what each suite represents. I only can assume he had something specific on his mind when he operated this changes. Unfortunately, Waite never spoke or write about it. It is also possible that Pamela Colman Smith has operated these changes on purely artistical grounds, but I inclined to reject this alternative knowing that Waite was scrupulous and he has supervised the entire creative process.
What we should bear in mind is the fact that art is subjective, emotionally grounded. We may like or dislike a work of art, but Tarot is not about our subjective preferences and emotional choices, but it is an Astrology and Numerology based esoteric system.
According to the Golden Dawn method which is the foundation both for Waite and Aleister Crowley’s Tarot decks, but also of those who subsequently copied those decks, Ten of Swords represents the third decan of Gemini which traditionally is considered to be Sun in Gemini. The general interpretation of this astrological aspect is self-expression. Now, I would be very interested to know how this was transposed in that picture of a man lying on the ground and stabbed in the back by ten heavy swords.
The Ten of Swords is a fundamentally positive card, but judging based on the art we get the wrong impression. The wrong impressions lead to wrong conclusions. That may raise further questions. Are we card readers or psychics? Are we card readers or art collectors?
We may also talk about the symbols here. Swords represent thoughts. A mind is sharp as the blade. However, due to that gloomy image created by Waite and Colman Smith, Ten of Swords was interpreted as a brutal end, respectively violent, physical death. Art can be, and it is deceiving. When someone does not know and do not understand the context, respectively what lays beneath the surface, behind a picture or a symbol, can, and will be easily deceived.
Knowledge and intuition are not alternatives, but complementary aspects. Not knowing something is never an excuse when someone mistaken or has been misled. Sure, someone may argue that interpretation of the cards is a matter of individual perception and momentarily intuition. Right! However, only when we are speaking about psychics and oracles, respectively Tarot like, Tarot based or inspired cards. Tarot, by tradition and by definition, it is not that permissive, and it is less flexible. Genuine card reading is not that permissive. “Reading” means knowing and understanding the language, not guessing and not interpreting arbitrarily images, symbols, signals and subjective emotions. Psychics do that, but not card readers. Psychics use “magic crystal balls”, and they may also use cards, inclusively Tarot cards. Subjective, momentarily impressions and intuition guide the psychics, and the outcome may vary. On the other hand, knowledge is objective: one plus one always equals two. Someone may fix a leaking pipe, but that does not make that person a qualified plumber. Not everybody who can handle a plier is a plumber. However, cannot fix a leaking pipe by reading the cards. Tarot requires understanding, knowledge and a certain discipline. It is not a game, although, in Italy, there are also several card games played with Tarot, respectively Tarocchi cards. Of course, someone may use a genuine Tarot deck as an oracle and read it intuitively, may ignore any kind of rules, but then we do not speak about Tarot and a Tarot reader anymore. And it is absolutely all right as long someone respect and understands the difference. We are not the same and that what makes us all wonderful.
(Excerpt from the book “The Unified Esoteric Tarot – General introduction and Guidebook” by Attila Blága. Full or partial use of this text for commercial or non-commercial distribution by any means whatsoever is strictly prohibited unless expressly authorised by the author.)
The number 7 – Uranus, Active/Mental (Air)
– Skilled at analysis and research, revolutionary, witty, visionary, scientific and inventive, humanitarian, idiosyncratic and experimental, original, unpredictable, resourceful.
– Radical, unrealistic, stubborn, unemotional, inflexible positions, overly upset by distractions, making changes just for the sake of change, sarcastic.
Crowley: Ruin. The number Ten, Malkuth, as always, represents the culmination of the unmitigated energy of the idea. It shows reason run mad, ramshackle riot of soulless mechanism; it represents the logic of lunatics and (for the most part) of philosophers. It is reason divorced from reality.
The card is also ruled by the Sun in Gemini, but the mercurial airy quality of the Sign serves to disperse his rays; this card shows the disruption and disorder of harmonious and stable energy. The hilts of the Swords occupy the positions of the Sephiroth, but the points One to Five and Seven to Nine touch and shatter the central Sword (six) which represents the Sun, the Heart, the child of Chokmah and Binah. The tenth Sword is also in splinters. It is the ruin of the Intellect, and even of all mental and moral qualities.
In the Yi King, Sol in Gemini is the virtue of the 43rd Hexa gram, Kwai, the Watery modification of the Phallus; also, by the interlacing interpretation, the harmony of these two same Trigrams.
The signification is perfectly harmonious with that of the Ten of sworas. It represents the damping down of the Creative impulse, weakness, corruption, or mirage affecting that principle itself. But, viewing the Hexagram as a weapon or method of procedure, it counsels the ruler to purge the state of unworthy officers. Curiously, the invention of written characters to replace knotted strings is ascribed among Chinese scholars to the use of this hexagram by the sages. Gemini is ruled by Thoth; 10 is the key of the Naples Arrangement; and Apollo (Sol) is the patron of literature and the arts: so his suggestion might appear at least no less suitable to the Qabalistic orrespondences than to their double emphasis on Water and the Sun.
Apart from this, however, the parallelism is complete.
Waite: A prostrate figure, pierced by all the swords belonging to the card.
Whatsoever is intimated by the design; also pain, affliction, tears, sadness, desolation. It is not especially a card of violent death.
Reversed: Advantage, profit, success, favour, but none of these are permanent; also power and authority.
Fortune Telling with Playing Cards: 7 of Spades – Advice that is best not taken; loss. There is some obstacle to success, and this indicates that obstacles may be coming from within the querent.