The vast majority of the Tarot readers consider the Nine of Swords card to carry a ‘negative’ connotation, while the unaware audience feels uneasy looking at such Tarot cards as The Devil, Death, The Tower, Judgement, Four, Nine and Ten of Swords and so on.
My first observation would be that there are no ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ Tarot cards – planets, numbers, etc. In nature, there are three types of circulating energies: active – which sometimes is called ‘positive’; reactive – which sometimes is labelled passive or ‘negative’ and neuter – which sometimes is also called reconciling. Although we’ve been educated for thousand years to choose between two sides, to love or hate, to like or dislike things; there is always also a third option: to be indifferent – or objective.
We should understand therefore that the universe does not work for us, nor against us, but simply just works and follows its own path. The same goes for the planets too. Venus is not sometimes against us, nor Jupiter doesn’t do us favours. Each planet in the universe in what concern us, in our solar system, follows its path with complete disregard of what we are wanting, feeling, thinking or doing. A human being is lesser and more insignificant than a microscopic speck of dust compared to the smallest planet. Although, generally we take everything extremely personal and there are no bigger problems in the universe than ours!
Most of the scholars and authors of Tarot books analyse the cards one by one out of context and out of the system. 25 years of study, research and practice have convinced me that there is a system and there is a very solid connection between all branches of the esoteric sciences.
The Tarot deck is a picture of the universe, respectively of our solar system. I’m not going to discuss the philosophical and structural aspects of the system now, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is a system and all the 78 Tarot cards are connected, each one of them is a cog in a big, complex machinery.
The Numerals, the small numbered cards, represent the journey of the man down on Earth, respectively through life. It’s widely accepted that the 22 cards of the Major Arcane represent the individual’s life journey allegorically, beginning with The Fool and ending with The World (The Universe).
I think this belief is erroneous. The 22 cards of the Major Arcane represents the ‘heavens’, the higher forces of the universe. Their reflection down on Earth, “as above, so below” is the 36 decans of the Zodiac, respectively the 36 Numerals.
The journey begins at the Spring Equinox (Ace of Wands) with the Two of Wands representing the first decan of Aries and ends with the Ten of Cups, the third decan of Pisces.
The three cards of the Gemini are Eight, Nine and Ten of Swords.
Gemini and Third House are associated with secondary education, learning, curiosity and communication. They embody the duality of human nature perfectly. In one moment they can be the light, the next one they turn dark. However much they enjoy socialising and communicating, sometimes even gossiping, they have their skeletons and secrets buried deep inside.
Swords represent the element Air, respectively the Spirit, our intellect.
The Nine of Swords has been associated with sleepless nights and worries. It’s the card of the gathering clouds, of problems without obvious solutions.
But is this perception right?
The Tarot deck being the picture of our solar system, each Tarot card represents a particular astrological aspect. That one and no other. There is no room for personal interpretation and momentary intuition.
The Nine of Swords is associated with different scholars to different astrological aspects. Most frequently, in conformity with the Crowley’s system adopted by the Golden Dawn (a rectified version of the system previously outlined by Papus), the Nine of Swords represents Mars in Gemini. His interpretation of the card is pretty gloomy and violent.
Crowley named the card ‘Cruelty’ and associated with Yesod, respectively with number nine. He says: “Consciousness has fallen into a realm unenlightened by reason.” (The Book of Thoth, 1943). The way of dealing with this situation, according to Crowley, is the way of passive resistance and resignation, acceptance of martyrdom.
Although Waite didn’t mention any astrological references in his “Pictorial Key to the Tarot” (1911), his perception of the card is similarly dark and disturbing: death, failure, miscarriage, delay, deception, disappointment, despair. Obviously, the reversed interpretation couldn’t be much lighter: imprisonment, suspicion, doubt, reasonable fear, shame.
Earlier authors, such as Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918), in his work “The Tarot” (1888), had a more balanced interpretation of the card. Straight the card represents an Ecclesiastic, a Priest, respectively conscience; while reversed has a darker interpretation: a shady character, respectively it can signify fear, suspicion and reasonable distrust.
Before MacGregor Mathers, scholars such as Eliphas Lévi (1810-1875) only focused their interest in the 22 cards of the Major Arcane and their connection to the Kabbalah, respectively to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
Dividing the Zodiac into decans instead of 12 signs, we obtain 36 decans. The exact number of the Numerals, the cards from 2-10 in the Tarot deck – Aces excluded.
Using the method called ‘Triplicity’ and assigning a different ruling planet to each decan, the planet associated to the second decan of the Gemini is Venus. Gemini is associated with the 3rd House, the House of communication, learning and of the relationship with family, friends and neighbours.
Venus, on the other hand, is the planet of equilibrium, the planet of moderation and temperance, of finding the middle of the road, the perfect harmony and balance. Thus, Venus in Gemini signifies efficient communication, the circulation of the ideas and fair exchange of information between different partners.
Reversed, the card may signify gossip, contradicting ideas, miscommunication.
So, where from our misconception originated?
From Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) and his worldwide famous Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck published for the first time in 1910.
Waite had drawn inspiration from the Sola-Busca Tarot deck. The Sola-Busca Tarocchi was created about 1490 in Northern Italy and is named for the family who owned the deck until 2009.
The Sola-Busca Tarot is the only extant and complete 15th-century Tarot deck.
It is also the only ancient deck in which all the 56 “Minor” cards are illustrated with characters, instead of the more conventional geometrical representation.
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. Presumably Wait 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 Reader-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. It’s also a very interesting conversion of the Ten of Swords from the Sola-Busca deck into the Ten of Wands of the Reader-Waite-Smith deck.
Why Waite has changed the pattern and implicitly the meaning of some of the cards, probably it will remain a mystery.
While the Nine of Wands of the Sola-Busca deck has clearly positive vibe, the Rider-Waite-Smith card is quite the opposite. A possible explanation might be the interpretation of the card according to MacGregor Mathers, but also, the traditional interpretation of the Nine of Spades – protraction and difficulties in business – according to Waite in his book “Fortune Telling by Card”.
As we can conclude, Waite has chosen to generalize the reversed interpretation of the card and gave it a darker interpretation.
This path was followed subsequently by the majority of the authors, including Crowley.
But was Waite, right?
I seriously doubt it. And, beyond the astrological interpretation of the cards, we have the symbolical clues left behind by the different artisans of the earlier known Tarot decks.
Let’s begin with the Sola-Busca deck.
Only in a very few exceptional cases, there are more than one characters in the picture of the cards. The Nine of Swords is one of them. There is an ‘Angel’ helping our figure putting the swords in the furnace.
The Sola-Busca deck is considered to be depicting Alchemical allegories. The Alchemical process associated with Venus is Cibation (Obsolete). According to the dictionary definition “cibation is the process of feeding the alchemical crucible with fresh material during the course of operation”.
‘Cibation’ means ‘feeding’. The Angel gives ‘food for thoughts’ to our character, feeds her or his process of thinking, adds new materials – ideas – to the process. It is a necessary contribution to the process of individual evolution on the path of enlightenment.
Our next item to analyse is the Nine of Swords of the Visconti deck.
The Visconti-Sforza Tarot is used collectively to refer to incomplete sets of approximately 15 decks from the middle of the 15th-century.
It’s probably the deck(s) which inspired and influenced the French authors of the Tarot de Marseille, mainly regarding the depicting of the Numerals.
We have eight swords crossing from above, four on each side and the 9th ‘rising’ from the bottom and crosses them upward. There are consistent resemblances with the pattern of the Sola-Busca deck. Both decks show eight swords as separate from the 9th. The 9th is the man with her or his own thoughts; the other eight represents the different ideas she or he receive and confronts from the outside.
On the one hand, we have an intense circulation of sometimes contradictory ideas; on the other, at a more deeper analysis, we can detect our ‘instinctive’, respectively ‘cultivated’ resistance to anything new, anything ‘different’, ‘odd’, any suggestion coming from outside.
Traditionally Venus is associated with number six (according to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s “Second Book of Occult Philosophy” published in 1533; John Dee published his “Monas Hieroglyphica” in 1564; Éliphas Lévi’s “The Key of the Mysteries” published in 1861; William Wynn Westcott’s “Numbers – Their Occult Power and Mystic Virtues” published in 1890, and more recent authors such as Sepherial’s “The Kabala of Numbers”, 1913 and Cheiro’s “Book of Numbers”, 1926).
I have identified Venus with number eight – a number which embodies balance, symbolise equilibrium and also represents temperance, moderation.
Eight is a round, well-balanced number, the multiple of four. Four is the reconciliation between the antagonistic confrontation of two, respectively its components, two distinctive individuals.
Many readers, erroneously, consider that the numbering of the Numerals is Numerology related and, Nine of Wands, for instance, represent number nine.
Actually, the numbering of the Numerals is Astrology related and has nothing to do with Numerology. The number of the card designates the cards position of the Zodiac Wheel and do not represents its Numerological value or attribution. The cards of each quarter of the Zodiac Wheel are numbered from two to ten.
Two of Wands represents the first decan of Aries; Three of Wands represents the second decan of Aries; Four of Wands represents the third decan of Aries. The numbering continues with the Five of Disks which represents the first decan of Taurus. Six of Disks represents the second decan of Taurus and Seven of Disks represents the third decan of Taurus. Finally, the Eight of Swords represents the first decan of Gemini, Nine of Swords represents the second decan of Gemini, and Ten of Swords represents the third decan of Gemini.
There is a story on each quarter of the Zodiac Wheel which starts with the 2s and ends with the 10s. From this perspective, the 2s, the 3s, the 4s and so on are related to each other because they represent the same level – or stage – of progression. However, from a Numerological perspective, they are not related. Each planet is attributed to one specific number. For example, Sun is attributed to number one. If someone is interested in a Numerological analysis, should know and understand these specific attributions respectively the astrological aspect each Tarot card represents. Without this knowledge, a genuine Numerological analyse it is not possible.
The number nine from the numbering of the cards, on the other hand, represents the stage of progression on each quarter of the Zodiac Wheel from two to ten. Nine is the penultimate step before the final stage of development. Sometimes nine is a crucial moment where someone has to decide to make the final step or get scared and turn back running. It is a moment of reflection and decision. Evolution is optional, going forward is always harder than standing still.
Venus retrograde in Gemini is my recommended interpretation of the card in reversed position.
This position cause difficulties to communicate and connect with others, it makes it harder to get together with others to be on the same page. Hidden problems may surface and cause arguments. If you kept some things for yourself for a long period of time only to avoid any confrontation and causing a scene, these problems may erupt now instantly. Those who thought you were clear and silent water, now may consider your behaviour unexpectedly ‘bizarre’. It’s the time to let out and express all of your hidden feelings and thoughts. But also it is about thoughts and calculated analysis based on facts. The truth will be told, no matter how harsh, how disturbing it is or who’s feelings will be hurt.
Modern depictions of the card vary around Waite’s or Crowley’s interpretation, sometimes combining both directions into something completely new.
Unfortunately, artists rarely have the esoteric background to understand and express the meaning of the card, and they are generally driven by subjective inspiration or followed the demands of their work commissioners. Although their work sometimes is interesting, it’s not necessarily representative from the perspective of esoteric interpretation. A Tarot deck doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘beautiful’, but it’s preferred to be accurate and functional.
(Excerpt from the book “The Unified Esoteric Tarot Handbook – Volume One, A general introduction to Tarot, The Fourth Way, Astrology, Numerology, Kabbalah and Alchemy” 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.)