Something is reaching a zenith, and something is about to be revealed.
In these lie the potential for a courageous and creative act – one that’s simple to describe, and somewhat more challenging to perform. So challenging that we tend to do as much as we can to avoid it.
But perhaps not this time. It could be that you’re ready this time.
This week, due to what feels like a happy accident, I’m using the Haindl Tarot instead of The Röhrig Tarot. My go-to Röhrig is being tasked with a personal project, and it felt right to revisit a deck I’ve used on the Tarotcast before. I love the Haindl’s illustrations; there is an air of ancient mystery to it (which sits in contrast to the Röhrig’s air of cosmic mystery); and I consider it a hard-hitter in the tarot world.
It is uncompromising in its vision, and that is something we can learn to appreciate – particularly now, when events are urging us to grow, and to grow up. I think of it as having a mature compassion: the kind of compassion that commands instead of asks, and gives us what we need if not always what we want.
This is its story today:
Not only is there a reference to eclipses in this reading, but there is also the potency of the presence of two major arcana cards – along with a particularly sharp minor, and one that, as a nine, is a culmination of its suit.
Sitting as it does on the left, the Nine of Swords speaks of a situation that is both acute – currently active – and familiar – with its foundation in the past. In the card, nine swords pierce the image of a peacock. In a more recent version of the Haindl deck, the card has been renamed as “Agonized Thought,” and this additional piece of information helps to build an overall picture.
A culminating card in its suit (each suit has ten numbered cards), the Nine of Swords reflects the point where the mind becomes master over matter. If the Eight of Swords suggests being trapped by the mind, the Nine of Swords depicts being skewered by it.
The Nine describes that state where the mind, not able to release its hold on a thought or a belief, starts to turn on the holder of that thought or belief.
Think of it this way: if a sword is a thought, and the Ace is the purest expression of thought, then being able to take and use the Ace as a finely honed blade can be an act of freedom. Now, imagine that single sword as clear insight being overlaid with sword upon sword, until the single true blade is obscured. There comes a point where that Ace can feel like it’s lost (though it is not; it can’t be). There comes a point where so many blades are a liability to negotiate, and end up nicking and cutting no matter where you try to move.
This is the depiction of being caught in a punitive personal narrative – one essentially tyrannical in nature, and where clarity (that Ace) – represented by the peacock, who, when in his element is transcendent – is set upon by the very mind that can access that clarity.
In other words, you turn on yourself.
It can be as obvious as catching yourself saying or thinking to yourself that you are in some way no good, or not up to the task. Or it can be more concealed: the kind of belief that holds you accountable immediately – so quickly that you have never once considered that the belief might be misguided, and that the inner voice that holds you accountable is not your own.
For example, one way I’ve caught myself doing this is in two words that I hiss under my breath when I make a mistake: “Oh Sarah!” The way I say it feels sharp – blade-like. It was only relatively recently that I saw this for what it was: it was exactly what my mother used to say to me when I exasperated her – and when I confounded her. My mother died a few years ago, and yet still the voice persists, though I can stop it now as soon as it comes out and I know where it comes from.
What this means is that at some point I internalised my mother’s disapproval until it became mine.
This internalisation is usually at the heart of the Nine of Swords – but in this case the disapproval can feel punishing to the point of shame, and to the point where all colour is washed out of your world.
In some key respect, you cease to be yourself, and your own truth is eclipsed by an idea.
The current circumstances, unlike the Nine of Swords, are working with your truth, though. They’re not having any of the Nine of Swords. To the other two cards in this reading, the Nine is a cruel game that doesn’t need to continue if you are willing to be open to what is there to be revealed, and if you are willing to step up to that courageous task.
Where the Nine of Swords is the penultimate card in the numbered Swords, Aeon is the penultimate card in the major arcana – that part of the deck that is focussed on the larger themes of soul.
Called Judgement in other tarot decks, the name Aeon suggests the birth of a new era.
In the centre of the card is a child in utero, in the downward position, waiting to be born. A disembodied eye in a clearing in the clouds watches over what is going on, as both blood and rain fall on to the land below, gathering into two separate rivers, which flow side-by-side.
Just as there is fluid at a birth, so there is blood. Neither can be absented from that rite of passage. Aeon suggests revelation – the revealing of something hidden that marks a substantial and permanent shift: once something comes to light, there is no going back – just as a child cannot retreat back up the birth canal.
A part of you, too, is not able to hold back the full force of what is coming through; your mind and its contortions and controlling tactics are not able to defend against the revelation that comes with the evolution of something at a soul level.
To the mind, this can feel like death. However, what it really is, is emergence.
The Nine of Swords tells you it’s all fucked up, or you’ve fucked up, or you’re a fuck up. Aeon suggests that – as compelling a story that the Nine of Swords spins, and as real as it might feel or it might be – there is something else going on at a far deeper level.
There is the potential for the kind of change that could shift that particular incarnation of the Nine of Swords forever, but, paradoxically, that might feel more threatening than anything the Nine of Swords can throw at you. After all, you know this Nine well; it’s been with you a long time. It’s been talking to you a long time. Sure, it might be hurting now – it might feel like those blades are drawing the very lifeblood from you. But it is what you know – and it wants to keep it that way: with what you know.
That way, things won’t change, and you won’t change.
Because if you were to change – if the Aeon were to shift the landscape during its birth contractions to the point that you didn’t recognise it anymore – then where, and who, would you be?
This last question is not a flippant question. It is the reason why we resist change. Consciously, we tend to feel comfortable staying with what we know. That unconscious part of our ego that acts as our gatekeeper is no different: it wants to protect us at all costs, even if that protection comes in the form of a portcullis of nine swords.
The courageous and creative act that you can perform in the face of the Nine of Swords? That act lies in the third card.
Alchemy: The ability to hold the tension of opposites.
These opposites are forces operating in the psyche, whether in the form of thoughts, or feelings, or states – and our inner gatekeeper will endeavour to ignore or to solve them in order to keep us safe. It does this several ways, including bypassing the tension in some way (“Look! A cake/beer/coat/car/new place to live/new lover!”) or by making one state/thought ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’ – even burying the bad one so deeply that it becomes unconscious.
What Alchemy is suggesting in this reading is that there are two opposing forces underlying the Nine of Swords – two states or two thoughts, one of which is being denied or ignored, which then creates a rigidity in the mind (in order to hold the denied state/thought at bay), which in turn becomes punishing in nature.
For example, we all hold the opposites of dark and light, or feminine and masculine, or peacemaker and warlord. But when we deny we are one in favour of the other, then we fall out of balance – we resist becoming a whole person; we resist acknowledging, “I am that.” The denied opposite then acts out in the shadow, both personally and collectively, both in you and in the world.
Entertaining the possibility that we are “both/and” can be deeply uncomfortable, and it can be confronting. It can also put us into new territory (Aeon) because we are at the very least leaving space for, “I don’t know.”
So, tell me: what is at the heart of the inner conflict in the Nine of Swords? What ideas about yourself are you now ready to review? You might not feel ready to look at them directly – and why should you if you don’t want to? – but you might be ready to be open to enquiry (a subtle, but significant, distinction).
Who are you when you are both/and? How does it feel? And what stories are challenged? Where is it that eight swords can fall away, revealing the truth of the Ace of Swords, clear and clean and conflict-free?
Where are you becoming an Alchemist?
Astrology Correspondences: Nine of Swords (Mars in Gemini), Aeon (Pluto), Alchemy (Sagittarius)