Last week I did a series of Tarot readings, looking for clarity on several issues of some importance to me. The Two of Swords came up in every reading except one, and in that one the Seven of Cups was the first card I drew.
Clearly, I need to make a decision.
And when the same card comes up over and over again, that’s usually a sign that I need to write about it.
Do Tarot cards have fixed meanings? Last Fall some people were arguing that if you deviate from the standard meaning of the cards, you’re “just making stuff up.” Another group argued that insisting on standard meanings “creates Tarot dogma.” I wrote Tarot: Standard Meanings or Intuitive Interpretations? where I said we should learn the consensus meaning of the cards first, but then learn to read more intuitively. That post stands on its own and I’m not going to repeat it here.
In this post, I want to examine the consensus meaning of the Two of Swords at a deeper level than your typical “little white book.” And while I’m not going to discuss the specific questions I was exploring, I want to explore the Two of Swords in the context of living in interesting times.
The Two of Swords
My collection of Tarot decks is starting to grow, but I mainly read from three decks: the classic Waite-Smith (1909), the Robin Wood Tarot (1991 – it was my first deck, and for many years, my only deck), and the Celtic Tarot (2017). All three of them depict the Two of Swords in very similar ways.
A blindfolded woman sits on a rocky sea shore. She holds two swords crossed in front of her. Her bare feet rest on the Earth. Waite-Smith and Robin Wood show a waxing crescent moon in the sky; Robin Wood depicts the sky as “ragged.”
My notes from the Tarot class I took years ago say the Two of Swords indicates balance, or a need for balance. It’s about making a decision. Perhaps the blindfold means you need to make the decision based on your own values and intuition and not based on what other people are telling you. Or perhaps it means you need to take the blindfold off, open your eyes, and see what’s really there – and what isn’t. The Tarot Guide website says it means “stalemate, sitting on the fence, difficult decisions, painful choices, inability to see the truth, avoidance” and a lot more.
Lots of different variations on a theme. Which one or ones apply to your particular situation depends on the question you asked, the other cards in the spread, and of course, on what your intuition and/or Gods and spirits tell you. Reading Tarot is as much an art as a science.
Make decisions on purpose
I’m a firm believer in not making decisions until you have to. The longer you wait, the more events will play out, the more information you can gather, and the more you can contemplate your thoughts and feelings on the matter. Most times, later decisions are better decisions.
The problem is that the longer you wait, the more inertia builds for not doing anything. Failing to choose is itself a decision, and it’s usually a suboptimal decision. Miss a deadline and an opportunity will pass, perhaps forever. Wait long enough and someone will decide for you, and their values and priorities are unlikely to be aligned with yours.
If you know what you’re going to do, just do it – the sooner the better. Then it’s done and that’s one less thing to worry about. If it’s important enough you need all the time you can get to gather all the information you can, then be absolutely clear on your timeline. Leave yourself enough time to weigh the facts and make a choice without being hurried.
More information is good, but “analysis paralysis” is real. If the woman in the Two of Swords sits there for too long, the tide will come in and sweep her away. Know your timeline and make your decision on purpose.
Sometimes there are good decisions and bad decisions
Growing up, our parents and teachers tell us “make good decisions.” Sometimes that’s a passive aggressive way of saying “do what I want you to do.” Other times it’s less about some authority figure’s preferences and more about actual risks and consequences. Driving drunk is a bad decision. Calling an Uber is a good decision, or at least, a better one.
The kind of decisions that need Tarot to help figure out are rarely so high contrast. Good divination can show us where each decision will take us, so we can decide if it’s good for us or not.
If you don’t like where you’re headed, make a decision to take a different path.
Different decisions can all be good but they are not all the same
One of the things that became clear in this series of readings was that I have several options. All of them are good, or at least, they can be good if I work to make them turn out well. But they are not all the same.
If you’re looking for a place to live, Chicago and Dallas are both big cities. Both offer plenty of things to do, plenty of places to eat, and a wide variety of housing options. You can build a nice, happy life in either city. But they have very different weather and very different politics. Your experience can be good in either city, but it will not be the same.
Likewise, Dallas (population 1.3 million) and Fredericksburg (population 11,000) are both cities in Texas. You can build a nice, happy life in either. But they are not remotely the same, and your experience will be very different depending on your choice.
What do you want? What do you want most? Put those two swords to good use and choose for yourself.
Sometimes there are only bad choices – choose anyway
Your beloved dog or cat is old and sick. Do you have the vet do surgery, to give them another year or two – hopefully? Or do you put them to sleep and spare them the suffering? There is no good choice here, only the question of which one is less worse.
Our mainstream society often treats pets with more dignity and compassion than parents and grandparents.
Some people refuse to make these bad-or-worse choices, either because they can’t bring themselves face reality, or because they think that keeping their hands clean is somehow morally superior. But here as in other situations, not choosing is itself a choice.
We see this in politics, where some refuse to vote for the “lesser evil” and in so doing, facilitate the election of a greater evil. We’re about to see another unfortunate but totally foreseeable result of such refusals in the 2016 elections – I pray it’s not as bad as I fear it will be.
Some choices are unjust. Some are flat-out cruel. They’re thrust on people who don’t understand the stakes and may not understand that they even have a choice. Work to eliminate these injustices from our society. But if you’re faced with one, make the best decision you can.
Owning a sword is a responsibility – the responsibility to choose wisely, even when you don’t like any of the choices.
Good decisions consult both the head and the heart
Tarot can’t tell you what to do. And even if it could, why would you delegate your agency to a deck of cards or to the spirits who may or may not be behind them? You have to choose.
You can choose best when you’ve got as much information as you can get. But good human decision making isn’t just a question of weighing the data. It’s also a question of examining your heart.
What’s important, and why? What do you value? Too many decisions in our wider society come down to a question of money, but value is much more than dollars.
At the same time, we all have to eat and we all need a place to live. Sometimes making a decision for financial reasons is the right thing to do.
Swords are generally considered a tool of the intellect. But a good, well-balanced intellect understands that “objective” criteria are only part of the story. Consult the heart as well as the head.
Decision making is hard. It’s work to do it right. It’s difficult to consider all the things that might flow from a decision, especially when some of those things are unpleasant. Tarot and other divination systems can help by showing us where a decision will lead before we make it – it gives us more data on which to make an informed decision.
But then you have to make a choice.
And then you’re responsible for it.
So here you sit, under troublesome skies and in front of troublesome seas, blindfolded, holding two swords.
Does the blindfold help you focus on your thoughts and priorities? Leave it on. Does it keep you from seeing everything you need to see? Take it off.
Take your time. Rushed decisions are rarely good decisions. But the tide is coming in – you can’t wait forever.
Oh, you can – but you won’t like the way that works out.
Swords draw sharp lines. Swords cut the false away from the true. You have not one but two swords. You have the ability to do this.