The Ten of Swords is one of the most dismal looking cards in the Tarot. We see a woman lying face down with swords stuck in her back. It would seem someone came up behind her to stab her not once but ten times. A bit of overkill for sure. Looking more closely we notice there is no blood. Why is that? The Swords of the Tarot are about the mind and truth, not the body, so we recognize this is not a physical attack but rather one of the mind. No one thinks inside our heads but us – or do they?
Each of the swords in our lovely lady’s back represent thought patterns she has accepted and incorporated as truth. Where did these swords originate? The mind is a field to imprint; it accepts what it is told. We are so influenced by outside voices – parents, teachers, media, friends and lovers it is sometimes hard to tell if we are thinking our own thoughts or those of someone else. When we are young we are totally vulnerable to “programming” and as we age we use that programming, and how we learned to make decisions based on that programming, to go forward into our present thinking. Continual reinforcement of thoughts and patterns habituates them. The negative ones continue to sabotage us until we are like the woman in the card – finally felled by the many painful and killer swords.
Powerful clues are revealed in the card. First, the woman is face down. This indicates that she is not looking at or perhaps even aware of the swords; they are behind her; she “didn’t see it coming” and has not “faced up to them.” Second, she has fallen on a moonlit path that meanders upward and on to the full moon. The moon is very much about our subconscious. Its Hebrew letter means “the back of the head” referring to the brain stem and lower brain functions, including instinct. The kind of thinking we are talking about here is not based on conscious awareness, and is not being cultivated in the higher brain at the front of the head. The moonlight is a reflection of the sun or life giving force. How we have lived our lives – in our heads in this case – is a reflection of what we have been told to think or chosen to think. The moon calls us to crawl out of the depths of that lower mind and follow the path to our higher consciousness, suggested by the structure at the top of the path that is only partially visible. At any rate, our girl in the card is flat on her face with a long, long ways to go.
Another clue is that the swords are in her back, along her spine. We are reminded that our mental programming becomes very integrated by the nervous system. It takes effort and will to teach our nervous system not only to not pay attention to those swords and their consequences, but to learn to avoid them and accept new, positive thoughts. This is why we cannot say an affirmation for a week and expect things to change. To reprogram the brain and nervous system is like that path; we have to stay on it and keep a goal in sight, even when it is hard to see and only dimly perceived.
While this card can easily invoke despair and hopelessness, it really is a card of encouragement. The Tens in the Tarot are the end of a cycle. The Ten of Swords tells us this is as bad as it gets; the only way now is forward (up that moonlit path to higher awareness!) It is time to get a new ending to the story. To stop telling ourselves the same old programmed misery. We are the champions of our own mind. We can follow that moonlit path, step by step, higher and higher, until we have left those swords behind us.
The woman in the card is beautifully dressed. Obviously she had been living a rich life when the 10 of Swords finally got her. She is not reduced to rags or poverty but she is being called to get up and step up if she wants to go farther ahead on her path. She can take all the good thoughts with her – all the positive and wonderful aspects of her mind and self-truth are forever. It is possible that because she has come this far on the path that she is able to learn to face the need to do this work.
If you are feeling stabbed in the back by old, worn out and destructive tapes in your mind, and want to reprogram your thinking, take heart. The road is long and goes step by step but, even in the dark, the moon lights our way to guide us through. As Tom Petty said, “the future is wide open.”
**Editor’s Note: Kathryn is offering a Private Intensive Tarot Study Program. Please inquire through her website: KathrynRavenwood.com