In Alumni in Action, Essays & Poems, Voices

Dark Times – A Response Using Tarot Cards

By Chris Miller

I read the essay “Dark Times” (posted in these pages on September 10, 2021) and immediately saw in it my own experience of “powerlessness and despair” during these times that undeniably are so very dark for many of us. I saw the anguish of a kindred soul which came as no surprise to me as the writer of the essay, Beth Anne Boardman, is a dear friend and classmate of mine from Pacifica. With her permission, I also note that in phone calls Beth and I have shared with each other just how much the events of the past four to five years, particularly those events leading up to and culminating in the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6th, opened a still deep, still painful wound in us. 

For me, one source of momentary relief from these feelings of powerlessness and despair has come in the form of tarot card reading meditations. Recently, I have begun a two-card daily ritual in an attempt to draw my attention to how I might best manage and focus my emotions and energies that particular day. In this essay I would like to offer the reading I did on September 23rd upon reading Beth’s piece on these “Dark Times.”

After shuffling and cutting my Rider-Waite tarot deck I turned over two cards. The first card drawn was the Seven of Swords. It was upside down, or as more commonly stated, in reverse. To the right of it I placed the second card, the Ten of Swords, also in reverse. The first thing I noticed was that both cards were from the suit of Swords. According to Benebell Wen in Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth, from which much of what follows is taken, the suit of Swords has the following possible symbolic meanings: air, mentation or intellectualism, worries, aggression, disappointments, heroism, and the ideas of justice and injustice.

Looking more closely at the two cards in question, the Seven of Swords when upright shows a figure seemingly sneaking away from a location where he has just stolen the swords now in his possession. Impulsiveness, deception, fleeing from misdeeds and other forms of evasion, then, are some of the characteristics or qualities often associated with this card. In reverse, Wen writes that a person, or Seeker, who draws the card in this fashion may get caught if contemplating something unethical. Additionally, the card could also indicate that the Seeker “is trying to deceive [him or her-] self or others into believing all is well.” Wen adds: “But the cards reveal that [the] truth is all is not well.” Finally, the Seven of Swords in reverse is also “a card about sabotage, whether to oneself or others.”

The Ten of Swords in its upright position shows a supine figure run through by ten oversized swords. Meanings associated with the card in this position include feelings of defeat on the part of the Seeker and/or that they are being retaliated against, the victim of others’ hatred and aggression. In reverse, the card suggests endurance and “the courage to rise again.” In The New Tarot Handbook, Rachel Pollak writes that the Ten of Swords in reverse also may symbolize “relief from suffering, as if the swords literally fall away.” However, she is quick to note A.E. Waite’s assertion that this card in reverse describes any advantage gained as “not permanent.” In short: “the person needs to make real changes.”

What, then, might this two-card combination of the Seven and Ten of Swords in reverse suggest to us about our current predicament of powerlessness and despair as described by Beth in her post? As I contemplate these cards, I find myself confronted with questions I would like to suggest we might ask ourselves. In terms of the Seven of Swords in reverse, we might ask: “How might I be deceiving myself as concerns these dark times? Further, what deceptions and untruths am I engaging in so as to avoid, or evade, a truly ethical response to the situation at hand?” Pollack writes that the Seven of Swords in reverse might indicate a need to consult with others and think twice before doing something. So, another question worth asking may be, “How has my impulsive or habitual way of reacting to situations like the one I find myself in at present in some way been a form of sabotage that undermines my own and/or others’ physical, psychological, and emotional well-being?”

For me, there is something of a paradoxical message at the heart of this two-card combination. While the Seven of Swords in reverse indicates a need for reality-based reflection and responsibility, the Ten of Swords in reverse points to an equally strong need in the psyche to allow our extreme mental states of worry, frustration, confusion, righteous anger at injustices, and disappointment fall away. Indeed, I personally find some of the “relief from suffering” promised in the card when I close my eyes and imagine my own “swords” of worry, frustration, confusion, anger, and disappointment fall away from my body one at a time into oblivion. It is momentary to be sure but what a relief! With this relief I feel that I am better prepared to make the real changes I need to make in my own life and to try once again to help others do the same.

If you would, dear reader, I ask that you look at the Ten of Swords card for a moment and imagine your own swords falling from you. Your own fear, worry, frustration, confusion, anger, disappointment, or any other strong emotion that may be keeping you stuck, perhaps even down and out. May your black feelings of powerlessness and despair drop away in this moment and leave you with yellow and blue hues of empowerment and hope. 

May you—and may the rest of us—find the courage to rise once again.

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