Wednesday, January 8, 2014

8 of Swords

While it's certainly recognized as negative, the 8 of Swords is generally not considered one of the Tarot's worst cards.  Rather, it's seen as minor obstacles keeping the querent from achieving a desired or necessary goal.  It is is not a symbol of life-changing upheaval like The Tower: neither is it an omen of ruin like the 10 of Swords or irrevocable loss like Death.  As a result, it's often swept aside while other, more spectacular cards become the reading's focus.  This can be a dangerous mistake. Those who neglect this card's message often learn that the devil can be in the details.

The 8 of Swords is a conglomeration of little problems which add up to an ever-growing hassle.  It generally signifies multiple distractions: there is no single enemy to engage and no clear pathway through the briars. Think of ducks happily nibbling the querent to death. Individually each issue appears trivial, even comical. The hungry flock's victim may have difficulty finding the humor.

Where the 8 of Cups signifies emotional indecisiveness and lethargy, the 8 of Swords represents intellectual confusion and difficulty in concentrating.  The querent is constantly dealing with small time-wasting crises and has little chance to look at the big picture or form a strategy. Amidst such an environment deadlines are inevitably missed and important tasks neglected.  In time a state of shell-shocked battle-weariness sets in -- and when dealing with this card, time is not on the querent's side.

Instead of bright swaths of color the 8s generally function as hues which tinge the reading.  This especially true of the 8 of Swords, which is frighteningly insidious.  Imagine an annoying but barely audible background whine.  In time you grow accustomed to it, even as its volume slowly but constantly increases.  Soon you're shouting just to make yourself heard. Stick around a while longer and you're dealing with permanent hearing loss. That's the 8 of Swords: it is perilous because it is so easily ignored.

There are different ways of dealing with this difficult card. One answer lies in its contrasting card, the 8 of Disks. In the Earth suit 8 manifests as "prudence," like a gardner prunes an unruly hedge to control growth. The 8 of Swords can best be met with ruthless trimming. The querent must cut off those people and things that take much and give back nothing in return. A graceful retreat from unproductive projects and relationships may be in order: so too may be some quiet time and meditation to ponder what is and is not important in the querent's life.

Ultimately, no matter how difficult and inextricable the situation may seem there is a way out.  As Arthur Edward Waite noted in his description of the 8 of Swords, it is "rather a card of temporary durance than of irretrievable bondage." Consider also Pamela Coleman Smith's illustration for the Rider/Waite deck.  The woman is "caged" by eight swords -- but only her blindfold prevents her from seeing that no blades guard the path before of her. She has been convinced, by herself or by others, that she is held in captivity.  But to free herself, all she need to is move forward.