There’s no way around it: this Ace is the first in a suit symbolising all that is violent, aggressive and filled with strife.
Although on the surface, it’s easy to confuse wands with swords, since they each depict scenes of action and aggression, in fact, as you can see from most Tarot decks, the suit of Swords does not simply depict the scenes of honest and open competition and challenge against a competitor we associate with wands (or batons).
Instead, scenes depicted in many decks show the underlying truth of the suit of Swords, which is that the types of challenges involved have turned dark, vengeful, and intensely painful.
Most cards in this suit depict an individual coping alone with their problem against a darkened or cloud-filled sky. The implication is that one is very much alone with one’s troubles, appropriate for a suit that has become associated esoterically with the element of Air.
Unlike Wands or Batons, then, this suit is not about the emotionally healthy competition to be found in games and sports, or the down-and-dirty psychological games encountered on the playing field of life. These are competitions that can be won or lost, and are about relationships with others, rather than our relationship to ourself.
The suit of Wands promises that though there is a struggle to be endured against an enemy—through a challenge to one’s ego, or competition for a job or romantic interest—that the underlying issue is always about conquest and attainment as enacted between self and others.
The implication with Wands is that the world is a large, complicated place, and that fire energy gets us through these personal, mundane battles—no matter how challenging and difficult they might seem in the moment.
If we are up in the turrets fighting off the castle’s opponent in the Suit of Wands, however, in the Suit of Swords we’ve been locked in the dungeon, left to our own devices, fighting our inner demons. The esoteric distinction between the suit of Wands and the Suit of Swords, therefore, depends on the scene of battle. For Wands, it is on the field, against one’s opponent. In the suit of Swords, the battle is internalised; you are at war with yourself, in other words.
The history of the suit of swords derives from playing card suits we inherited from the Mamluks, an ancient Islamic warrior caste who transmitted their cultural values to us via something as ordinary as a playing card.
Original suits in the 15th and 16th c. decks were swords, cups, coins, and polo sticks (a game we also inherited from them, and one that should give the best indication of the competitive sportsmanlike quality of the suit of Wands).
In a reading, there is no card in this suit that has an inherently positive meaning, except perhaps the upright Ace, two, and possibly the four. Upright, this card indicates a Eureka! moment of clarity, when everything becomes clear and obvious. I use it in a simple yes/no reading to indicate ‘yes,’ in distinction with the Five of Swords, which is ‘no.’ The Ace upright represents the moment the sun comes out from behind the clouds of doubt, confusion and inner darkness.
In a reading with the Moon, a card that can indicate not seeing one’s path clearly, the upright Ace can indicate that you’ve found your way at last. You get it. You’re awake, your mind is functioning clearly. You see the truth, and can no longer be duped, lied to, or mislead by your own fantasies, incorrect beliefs, or denial.
In Marcia Masino’s Easy Tarot Guide, she says that the Aces, as the most powerful card in a suit, carry the ‘root force’ of the suit’s astrological element. When upright, mental and aggressive power emanates from this card. When inverted, however, the mental power, force, and aggression is used against the self. You become your own worst enemy, imagining worst-case scenarios, but more importantly, putting yourself under stress. Where the upright Ace indicates that the force you’re applying is appropriate, the inverted Ace tells you you’re causing the problems you’re now facing. Cut yourself some slack.
The force, aggression, and most of all, intellectual energy of the suit of Swords is difficult to contain, and, turned inwards, against ourselves, represents self-destruction and anguish. If you see the inverted Ace of Swords in your reading, consider that you are being too hard on yourself, that you’re torturing yourself needlessly.
- The 2012 Tarot Tool Kit (usgs.typepad.com)
- Cat’s Eye Tarot (bonniecehovet.wordpress.com)
- The Fire of A New Beginning: Invention, Inspiration, and the Ace of Wands (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)
- Tarot Is A Verb (moderndayruth.wordpress.com)
- Life’s secrets unravelled with playing cards (healthy-spirit.org)
- The Essence of the Ace of Cups: Inception of Creativity and Spirituality (beyondthestarsastrology.wordpress.com)
- A Snapshot of Tarot History (corrinekenner.wordpress.com)