Puzzling out the Tarot

Although I see myself as a bit of a mystic, I’ve never been into tarot, or any sort of divination for that matter. I always figured if we can change the future, then it doesn’t matter what the predicted future is, and if we can’t change it, then the prediction especially doesn’t matter.

If ever a thought of the tarot crossed my mind, it would have been in the same mental classification as astrology, Ouija boards, and fortune cookies. I used a Ouija board once when I was kid, know my astrology sign and will read my horoscope when it’s in front of me (though the horoscope never seemed to have any relation to anything going on in my life), and enjoy fortune cookies, but that was the extent of my interest. Oh, I did read up on the occult since I have always been one to try to get a peek into the secrets of the universe, but charlatans so often dominated the field, that I stuck with more scientific gateways, like particle physics and quantum mechanics. (Yep, I was one of those who read such books for fun.)

I’m still not sure there is anything for me in the tarot, but considering that it is supposed to be a way to get insights into one’s inner being, it’s worth studying for now. And besides, it seems a message from my brother. Admittedly, this collection of tarot cards hadn’t been specifically earmarked for me, but that mass of decks sure struck a chord with me, so it felt as if he meant me to have them.

So here I am, trying to make sense of a massive amount of contradictory information. For example, the card I picked this morning to answer my question of what I needed to know today, was the nine of swords. Swords are supposed to be a bad luck sort of card, without a lot of happiness attached, and the nine of swords especially so. One interpretation talks about fears, vulnerability and inner turmoil and suggests that I learn what the source of those fears are. Another interpretation talks of depression and suffering, scandal and loss.

But swords relate to consciousness at a mental level, and reflect an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and overall attitude. They also point to fears and worries, but don’t necessarily put a whole lot of weight on those fears, because the sword is two-edged, which connotes a balancing act to stay positive.

And nines are about nearing completion, maybe about reaching a plateau, because what looked like the end hasn’t quite arrived.

All that seems positive to me, so instead of the nine of swords telling me I’m depressed and fearful and need to figure out what my trouble is so I can get into a more benign state, my own take on the matter is I’m already there. Or almost. That I’m doing well balancing my fears and staying positive, even though I can do better.

See what I mean about contradictory information?

And this isn’t even taking into consideration the whole ancient elements matter — water, fire, air, earth. According to the most common tarot tradition, swords mean air, but some decks and some scholars indicate that swords are fire. (As you can see, in my own interpretation, I left off any mention of air or fire because the element question muddles an already muddled situation.)

On a different note completely, as I was reading about the elements, I happened to open the book to another page that was defining the “fool” card, and I had to laugh. Apparently, in Italy and Austria, The Fool goes by the name “Mat,” which is an Arabic word meaning “a dead person.” In The Wheel of Time, one of the major characters is a fellow everyone thinks is a fool. I thought he was simply an archetype, but he is definitely one of the major arcana characters from the tarot. Not only is his name “Mat,” but as he says, “I’m usually pretty good at staying alive. I only failed one time that I remember.”

Now I’m going to have to re-reread The Wheel of Time again to look for additional tarot references. As well as to continue puzzling out the tarot itself.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.


7 Responses to “Puzzling out the Tarot”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I got the nine of swords yesterday, if I remember right. I still have no idea what to make of that reading. It seemed to contradict everything from the reading that came before.
    But I think that’s kind of the point. I’m not sure I mentioned it to you, but last year I read this book called Mrs. Westaway’s House, a mystery-thriller by Ruth Ware where Tarot figured heavily. The protagonist was even a professional Tarot reader, though her own belief in it was iffy at best. She would tell clients who wondered why she couldn’t read their minds or see into the future that “Tarot only offers insight. It shows you what you already know and a possible path to go. Tomorrow, the exact same question might produce an entirely different reading, an entirely different path.”
    That might explain your nine of swords. That was just one path or reading. Tomorrow, who knows? You may get a whole new reading with a whole new meaning.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      For sure! Today’s card is the sun. Enlightenment! And harmony. Though, come to think of it, it actually seems to follow from the nine of swords and lets me know that my interpretation was correct.

      That sounds like an interesting book. I’m looking forward to seeing how the tarot figures in my next book.

  2. oor Imdad Says:

    Hmmm it’s good to khnow about tarot .But I think tarot card is not about any person as we can read it .It’s all about those who really join this session and make efforts by connecting with spirituality and also make connection with Lord Almighty. So stay happy

  3. Joe Says:

    In my deck, the 9 of Swords features a woman sitting up in bed, covering her face with her hands as if just waking from a nightmare. There are nine swords in the air above her, identical. The deck’s creator notes that sometimes our fears and worries appear multiplied, but at base, they arise from a single source. The card you don’t like to see is the 10 of Swords, but even that one can be interpreted as “the worst has happened. Now you can move on.” Again in my deck, there is a hint of something else going on, this time being yellow light, as breaking dawn, peeking though the dark clouds. So yeah it’s all about interpretation. 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      In one deck, a boy with wings is holding a sword, with eight other swords tattooed around his neck. He’s looking up at the sky where ravens are flying. Apparently, his fear is holding him back from being with them.

      In another deck, a screaming guy is crouched down, arms over head while nine swords are raining down on him.

      In another deck, a man is hiding his face in shame, while nine swords are arrayed around him. And in still another deck, it’s the woman hiding her face in shame.

      In another deck, a man is sitting in a cave, looking up at swords that seem to be hanging from the ceiling like stalactites.

      One of the most interesting depictions is of two people standing on a flat-topped tor. They are facing each other, each holding a sword straight up. The other swords are arranged around the tor, pointed toward the people. This one seems most like my interpretation, showing, perhaps, a duality of thought in balance.

      In most decks, though, there’s an arrangement of nine swords, generally arranged in sets of three like three triangles, one on top the other, but some of the arrangements look more like pick-up sticks.

      Not a whole lot of consensus going on. I have a hunch, to really make use of the tarot in a personal growth sort of way, you have to stick to one deck. But where’s the fun in that if a person has four dozen?

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