The Suit of Swords as Laws

Inspiration often arrives at the oddest times. This time, it was two hours into a four-hour shift of speed reading for a high school grad night event. There I was, doing three-card readings as fast as the kids came up to my table, and this new idea pops out of my head and mouth at the same time.

(I could probably (and probably should) write about the synergy of inspiration and opportunity. But that’s a different post.)

The spread in particular has a four of swords in play, and given the rest of the cards involved, what I said was: “It’s time to let old ideas, old rules you used to live by, get retired. They don’t serve you any longer, so it’s time to let them go.” The young adult nodded in understanding and left.

But the extra definition stuck with me; swords as laws? Rules, regulations, strictures, procedures. Why not? Lets run with it and see where it takes us.

Swords, like rules, divide things in two. Or as Shakespeare might put it: “Do I, or Do I Not?” Thus every sword is a binary division of possibility space. Each Sword added is an added fractal layer of decision making.

Although some might point out that laws really aren’t about decision. They’re clearly marking the DO from the DO NOT. However, life is also about choice. Choose to follow the rules, or choose to break them. There are pros and cons to each decision. 

Ace of Swords: The Golden Rule. The Prime Directive. The foundational principle. This is the tip of the decision tree, so sometimes this is the most critical decision. When the Ace appears consider what the most fundamental limit, restriction or requirement applies.

Two of Swords: The Minimum and Maximum. The Micro and Macro limits. The Alpha and Omega. If the Ace defines the first decision point, then the second sword of the Two of Swords is the logical limiting decision point at the far end of the process. All else falls in between. Do no harm. Take no shit.

Three of Swords: A misinterpreted rule or law. Being cornered or obstructed by a limiting requirement or potential violation of statute. Being vetoed by another party. 

Four of Swords: Sometimes a rule, restriction or law has reached the limit of its relevance or usefulness. Time to let old rules die, especially if it no longer serves its purpose.

Five of Swords: Rules must be obeyed, but they must also be tested. Before you put in place a new law or requirement, test its limits. How does it actually work when implemented?

Six of Swords: Take what works with you. When transitioning to a new workplace, a new life, remember what worked before, and take those rulesets and structures with you. They may not survive in the new environment, but they may work out after all.

Seven of Swords: Take what works from others. Learn by their examples, both in success and how they failed. Adjust your rulesets accordingly.

Eight of Swords: Warning! You may have too many rules in place! Your feelings of limitation and restriction come from your acceptance of too many restrictions and rules.

Nine of Swords: The sum of all data, and overwhelming in its totality. The big picture. We may not know all the rules from where we are, but there are rules and systems in place. Even when you can’t see them.

Ten of Swords: the dead end. The exhaustion of all choices and options. Time to reset and start over with a new idea.

Page of Swords: New world, new role. Time to start learning new ropes. The Page is about following leaders and learning by others examples. In this case: the rules and regulations of a new job, or situation. It’s a prime opportunity to ask questions and push boundaries.

Knight of Swords: In gaming circles, a “rules lawyer”. The person who can quote obscure and complete regulations from memory on demand. While the rules lawyer can be useful when arbitrating disputes, they can also be really annoying when they interject unprompted for advice.

Queen of Swords: While the Knight lives the rules and embodies them, the Queen understands them at a fundamental level. Their history and intent. She sees the forest for the trees.

King of Swords: The chief executor, choosing how rules are followed, and possibly rejecting those laws that no longer work. Also sets high-level policies towards executing those laws, and appoints others to act in his charge (i.e. Knights).

The entire court can be interpreted as roles in a government: The Knight as executors of rules, Queens as makers and keepers of the rules (legislators), Kings as jurists who judge the validity and hierarchy of rules, and the Page as an advocate: those who seek new rules, or seek adjudication of how rules are enforced.

The Null of Mind

This is the fourth in my series of posts about zero and the minor arcana. The first article can be found here.

The suit of Swords is about air and thought, so the Zero of Swords is about the Null of Mind. It’s a very Zen thing; the attainment of no mind. Also known as ‘Mushin no shin’ (“mind of no mind” or ‘no-mindedness’). Attaining the no-mind represents reaching a true conduit to your intuition. Like the perfect golf swing, a perfectly performed aria, or an effortless act of creation, the active mind plays no role in the act. It just happens thanks to training, experience and focus.

There’s a very real basis in the concept of unconscious or passive thinking; of not overthinking the problem. Modern neuroscience shows us that the subconscious parts of our brains operate at higher speeds than our conscious minds. How much does our conscious thinking interfere with our subconscious, savant mind?

The Zero of Swords and the Fool

All the zero minor arcana have association with the Fool card. For the Zero of Swords, it has to do with what the Fool is thinking as he begins his journey – or more importantly, the fact that he isn’t thinking! The Fool’s begins his journey with a blank slate of mind: ready to learn and assimilate and grow. It’s not clouded by questions such as “did I leave the gas on?” or “what will become of me?

His focus is on the journey.

Interpreting the Zero of Swords:

Go with your initial instinct, your gut-feeling. Thinking about it will only complicate things and obstruct your progress.

Ignore the process: focus not on the how. Choose the result and do it.

Let go of preconceived thoughts and/or actions. Intuit your way to your goal.

Avoid paralysis through analysis; make the right choice, but don’t think it to death.

I don’t personally read reversals, but if I did, I would say the inverted zero of swords would represent not thinking enough about the situation.

The no-mind reading:

There is irony in asking the tarot about how to attain a zen-like no-mind state; the very act of drawing cards and then holding that information in your mind while attempting to perform said action breaks the concept of the no-mind state. Instead, let’s try a ritual reading; one that identifies the distractions and obstacles to success and helps focus the mind on the goal.

Separate swords cards and place the Zero of swords (or a substitute, face-down card) at the bottom of the spread, closest to you.

Shuffle the rest of the deck (again, without the Swords cards) and draw three cards.

Coin cards represent physical distractions – your ‘stance’ as it were.

Cup cards represent emotional distractions – what might be limiting your movement.

Wand cards represent spiritual challenges – what might be holding you back.

Major Arcana represent major players – they could hinder or aid you.

After viewing each card and intuiting their meaning in this situation, turn them over. This represents you shutting out their influence and letting go of your dependencies upon others.

Return your gaze to the Zero of Swords (or its proxy card) and remember that none of this matters. There is no you, there is nothing in your way. There is just the goal.

When all you can see and think about is attaining that goal, look up and do what must be done.