The underlying story of the Nine of Swords is life-and-death health issues, specifically those affecting women. I must say, I myself have found this exercise with the Zodiac Wheel very useful. It has opened my eyes to the “understories” in the minor arcana cards. In many ways, this “one-pager” project is my attempt to recreate the atmosphere at Waite’s desk and Colman Smith’s drawing table at the times they created these card designs. It is about seeing the set of building blocks they had to select from. You’ll have to be the judge of whether I’ve been successful that recreation or not.
This is the third of these guides. They attempt to visually map the Astrological/Qabalistic/Elemental influences upon Waite’s divinatory meanings and Colman Smith’s layouts. The little memo pad callouts represent the end result in divinatory meanings and/or layout. As a Venn diagram, it displays how each of the influences interact with the other influences, resulting in the divinatory meanings, and often, the components of the layout. You’ll find a little more detail on the structure and purpose of these guides here.
You’ll also find a download link for an Adobe Acrobat PDF below. It’s been formatted for standard letter size, with an extra space at the left margin, for those who wish to print and save them in a looseleaf binder. You can click the bitmap at right if you prefer to view (and “save as” if you prefer, though the PDF should print at a better resolution).
As usual, these introductory convey additional notes regarding the card that don’t necessarily fit or belong in the one-pager.
Notes on the Nine of Swords
First, let’s dispose of the Qabalistic influence, Yesod. It’s important but brief. The treasure house of images, the sphere of Maya… they’re all about illusion. So both Yesod and the Magician as influences for this card both tie into the illustration’s scenario of the woman waking from the nightmare, for what is a nightmare but an illusion? From there we can link the divinatory meanings involving “deception” of various kinds.
Regarding Mercury: Mercury’s other name is Quicksilver. Quickening relates Quicksilver to the element of Air. It is a process of plunging a metal into a solution containing mercury before plating. The process involves bubbles. (Fortunately, we use electroplating today, because breathing Mercury as a vapor is extremely unhealthy). Quickening is also a term for an important feminine health event. It describes the moment when the pregnant woman starts to feel or perceive fetal movements in the uterus. The prominence of Mercury and Air, the element described as associated with the blood (see Wikipedia) as influences upon the Nine of Swords indicates that this is about health issues for women. Particularly for pregnant women. Hence, the divinatory meaning of “miscarriage.” It may possibly pertain to the health of older women, too, insofar as “Death” is given as another divinatory meaning. Due to advances in health care, however, female death, pregnancy and miscarriage probably had a stronger linkage in Victorian times than it does today.
Bearing this in mind, we next look at The Lovers card. The lamenting, sorrowful woman of the Nine of Swords, utterly desolate, may represent Eve and all the female sex, after the expulsion from Eden. The Lovers card almost certainly depicts the moment at which God, through Metatron, the voice of God, having just cursed the serpent, then tells Adam and Eve of the consequence of their having eaten the fruit. You can read more about why we’ve identified the angel of the Lovers card as Metatron, who has his own very interesting story, here. We should note the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (which took place immediately afterwards) had a prominent sword involved. (Side note: I was very glad to see the Good Omens series make such excellent use of that sword! The book was far better, but the series wasn’t bad!).
In his discussion of the Lovers in the Pictorial Key, Waite says:
The suggestion in respect of the woman is that she signifies that attraction towards the sensitive life which carries within it the idea of the Fall of Man, but she is rather the working of a Secret Law of Providence than a willing and conscious temptress. It is through her imputed lapse that man shall arise ultimately, and only by her can he complete himself. The card is therefore in its way another intimation concerning the great mystery of womanhood.
In his rather Victorian manner, Waite defines a “lapse” on the part of Eve, and I believe the “failure” on the part of the woman of the Nine of Swords is meant to be a depiction of Eve’s remorse. And I think that for Waite, it is a case in which man raises himself up upon the Fall of woman.
There is one final note. Fortunately, it is a note of hope in what otherwise is one of the most depressing cards in Tarot. The elemental sword of Air is described in various Hermetic writings as “THE SWORDS used for defense against evil forces.” It leads me to believe that the swords above the woman in the illustration aren’t a threat, say, like the sword of Damocles. They’re there to protect her. Just as her quilt, full of roses, zodiac and planetary signs covers and protects her. The red rose in particular, according to legend, was red because Aphrodite pricked her finger and stained it with her blood. It is a flower with a goddess-like essence. Rose oil was used to protect the body of Hector in the Iliad. And later, the rose was the symbol of the Virgin Mary. Waite’s Christian mysticism strikes again!
I began the process of creating the Venn diagram for the Nine of Swords yesterday. At first, I wasn’t sure that I wished to tackle such an unremittingly negative image as only the third card in this series. I’m so glad I did now.
The download link for the PDF is below. As mentioned in the introduction to this series of one-page-guides, if anyone finds anything in the pages that they feel needs correction, be sure to let me know… you can comment here or send an email. Same goes for suggestions. The pages themselves have a note saying that they’re Creative Commons Attribution licensed, which means you can share them or reprint them as much as you like; you also have to link to the original source for any web based re-publication.
Revision history: updated bitmap and pdf 2019-08-07. Change of font color in the post-its for improved legibility and sharpened text of one post-it which might otherwise have been misleading.