Why the Suit of Swords is My Favorite

English Magic Tarot by Ryn, Doodley, and Letcher

In a social justice law course I took back in my law school days, the professor went around the room on the first day of class and asked each one of us to offer what we think brings about social change in this world. A classroom populated by, um, well, white folks, offered thought bubbles like grassroots mobilization, advocacy, charismatic leadership, lobbying, equal access to justice, public policy, etc. Funny, I was thinking about it from a different perspective.

When it was my turn, I said, “Pain.”

Pain is not only the impetus for social change, but it is the impetus to greatness. Profound feelings of marginalization lead to zealous advocacy on behalf of others. Even when your pain looks different from my pain, the common emotional denominator between our pains is the same, and through that common emotional denominator, you and I can connect, create an incredible, powerful fusion, and together, through collectivism, become the impetus for social change and for mutual greatness.

Azathoth Tarot by Nemo

The suit of Swords in tarot has come to represent both pain and glory. How is it both? It’s because profound feelings of inadequacy lead to over-achievement, to glory. Pain builds strength and character. We are so afraid of failure and inadequacy that we overcompensate, overdo, and reach higher. Because we reach higher than most, we achieve more than most. We feel we need to be better than everybody else so nobody notices our failings, our ugliness, and the shameful secret weight of pain we carry.

The suit of Swords is also an aggressive suit. When we have endured great pain, scars harden and we become hyper-defensive, developing an unhealthy attitude of hurt others before they hurt us. That aggression is therefore necessarily expressed in the suit of Swords. Generally we don’t like that aggression, don’t or don’t want to resonate with it. It’s why the Swords are often readers’ least favorite suit. It’s our least favorite because the suit expresses all of those least favorite qualities about ourselves, the adjectives we kind of hope no one ever uses to describe us with.

That being said, only by experiencing pain can we truly embrace fearlessness. When I was nine years old I was trying to teach myself how to do a back walkover and for the life of me I couldn’t get past the back-bend part. That’s because I was afraid of falling and hitting my head. Then one day I actually fell, hit my head (hard), but realized hitting my head wasn’t so bad. After falling and hitting my head, I lost my fear of falling and hitting my head. I became fearless. And then I was able to do the full back walkover.

When you’ve been through hell, suddenly all your mundane anxieties, no matter how severe, pale in comparison. When you’ve hit rock bottom, you’ve got nothing else to lose, so you find the courage to charge full speed forward, armaments raised, and challenge anyone who defies you to duel you. And if one is on the receiving end of such a challenge, know this: someone who has been through hell, hit rock bottom, and has nothing else to lose will be a formidable foe.

Dark Tarot (darktarot.com)

There may be a “takes one to know one” facet of this suit. Those who have experienced profound pain in their lives are more likely to resonate with the Swords and find solace even validation in its imagery. Ultimately, pain builds strength, character, and abilities, which is why the suit of Swords is a great suit to start with when using tarot for shadow work. Compel yourself to identify with each card in the suit and specifically, what facet of your inner self that you fear, reject, or are ashamed of is represented by that card? What facet of the Ten of Swords is the embodiment of your fears? What facet of the Five of Swords and Seven of Swords represent the inner self you are ashamed of? What facet of the Three of Swords do you seek to reject?

Four Aces from The Wonderland Tarot by Chris and Morgana Abbey

If the four suits of the Minor Arcana in tarot represent the four seasons of any life cycle, then we as a global society and our ruling politics seem to be in a state corresponding with the suit of Swords. The U.S. in particular, after the recent presidential election, has in effect transitioned from Cups to Swords. We’ve entered a state of rot, inside out. Yet it is a necessary period of pain that I hope will incite the motivation for progressive change. The autumn period of the seasonal cycle is when character is tested and greatness is forged. Following the phase of the Swords, what is to come is not a new beginning for growth, not quite yet; it’s more darkness. Winter is coming, the suit of Pentacles, and only after enduring the winter and darkness to come as a result of what has transpired during the suit of Swords can we once again see the spring of the suit of Wands.

The suit of Swords is my favorite suit not just because I identify with the Queen of Swords as my significator card, but because the suit marks the early milestones of my life that have ultimately become my sources of power and inner magic. This narrative of the suit of Swords is the story of the idealistic philosopher turned warrior.

35 thoughts on “Why the Suit of Swords is My Favorite

  1. Linda Thompson-Mills

    Thank you! Swords is my favorite suit as well. Your brief and exquisitely explained essay expresses my feelings exactly — but in a way I was unable to pinpoint so accurately. 💖


    1. Egads! I am so sorry! Somehow I forgot about this post entirely and it was schedule for publication before I completed writing the post! Oops! Sorry for the mishap! Thanks for liking the post anyway. ❤


  2. Suzanne

    OMG Benebelle, thank you! “It’s because profound feelings of inadequacy lead to over-achievement, to glory. Pain builds strength and character.” So very true. This post is bang on the mark!’ As usual, well done.


    1. lol the post went public before I finished writing it! Ack! I need to stop scheduling incomplete posts “with the intent of finishing it soon,” because I never “finish it soon” and then the incomplete draft inadvertently goes live, ACK! Anyway, thank you for your kind words nonetheless.


      1. Suzanne

        I did notice that it wasn’t finished, but it was an amazing post and as I mentioned above, bang on the mark. Swords has always been the suit I have resonated with the most. I knew you would finish it so I came back to read the rest:) Thank you again.


  3. Love the post.. finished or not.. if not, please do continue.. 🙂 I would be interested in knowing how you placed the suits into the seasonal correspondences.. I generally consider Swords – Air – Spring; Wands as Fire and Fire as Summer, (extreme yang).. Cups-Water- Autumn; Pentacles-Earth-Winter (extreme Yin). Blessings


    1. lol serves me right for the audacity of scheduling a post before completing it with this arrogant presumption that I’ll get around to finishing it before it goes live. argh. I really need to stop doing that– scheduling incomplete posts and telling myself “Oh, I’ll finish it later.”


  4. Pingback: February 26, 2017 Dark Moon Solar Eclipse Tarot Forecast : Let our Failures Ground and Guide Us | Ocean Blue Psyche

  5. Thank you so much for this post I really resonate with all you have written and needed to read it! (especially the pain, suffering and resultant fearlessness). Plus this post aligns with and also helps explain my reading for the Dark Moon Solar Eclipse. Btw I quoted you in my forecast and also linked back here.
    For me … I’m so used to eating bitterness and swallowing poison (figuratively, i’m vegetarian almost vegan) that it’s hard for me to stop … but I am trying real hard to break the cycle. This is my Death Card year so I am really looking forward to Severe changes.


  6. Hi Benbell! What an interesting take on Swords! I’m new to tarot and felt something similar to what you express. Except instead of coming up with your strength and growth through pain, I complained that tarot was picking on swords! It’s amazing to compare some of the Cups with some of the Swords and look at the contrasts. It doesn’t get any clearer than the 10’s, where Cups offers heteronormative splendor, and Swords a sort of death for the sin of thinking too much! (haha, perhaps I’m complaining too much!)

    Here’s my vlog on Swords:


  7. Tony

    Hello, I enjoy your articles, but why would it be necessary to mention the colour of someone connected to their views (‘A classroom populated by, um, well, white folks’). There is an easy way to know if it’s a good idea to mention colour or race, you just need to exchange the word for another race or colour e.g. ‘a classroom populated by, um well, black folks’, if it doesn’t sound right then you will know it’s not right for all colours. There is a tendency in society to group people together and to forget that as much diversity exists between people of the same race as between different cultures and races. You will find that peoples views and opinions can be similar according to their social background regardless of which part of the world they come from.


    1. Because, Tony, in this instance the race of the participants is important. We understand from that line (and especially form the “um, well”) that the point is that folks with white privilege (I’m in that category myself) would have a different answer from someone without white privilege. You point out that it would not sound right if the sentence read “Well, um black folks” correct it would not make sense because, once again, those folks don’t have the same privilege and would not have come to the same answer, one imagines.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tony

        Thank you for replying, there are certain stock statements like ‘white privilege’ that are often used but are meaningless and untrue People do not have privilege just because of their colour. The disparity between rich and poor white people in countries like the USA or the UK are very great and most white people are not in a position of privilege or power in comparison to those at the top. I put the original question to benebell, (who as a lawyer and author and therefore is in a position of privilege) who describes herself as American Asian, why she felt it necessary to mention colour. I put to you a similar question that I put in my first post, that you would know if it is right to use the statement ‘white privilege’ if you could just as easily state Asian privilege or black privilege. If you felt uncomfortable making the statement ‘Asian privilege’ then you should feel the same about ‘white privilege’. The issue is that when we group people together by their colour then it becomes a situation of us and them, the truth is that it doesn’t matter what colour you are if you are for example, unemployed or in debt or are homeless.


        1. I don’t accept your false premise that because a person is poor that they do not have privileges that others do not. A very simple example: we know that even very poor white people in the United States (where I live) are treated better by the police. Saying a white person, even a very poor one, never has any advantages is to live in a fantasy world of your own creation. Does Asian privilege exist? Yes, but only in places where being Asian is considered to be valued more than being another race. In most of the United States that is not a condition you will find yourself in. The context given in the blog is a classroom in an American law school – that is not a setting that privileges Asian people.

          The fact that the notion that white people have unearned privileges that they should be aware of makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean all the rest of us have to shelter you from that discomfort.

          The term white privilege comes from the essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Here are examples of white privilege that even poor white people have

          “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”

          “When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”

          “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”

          “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Tony

            You are seeing things from such a terrible narrow prospective that you can’t even picture the true reality. You can only see things form your own prospective. Put your self in the place of someone else just for a short while. The world is larger than just the USA or Europe. There is privilege in every continent. I live in the UK and if I put on the TV of course I see mostly white people, it’s a mostly white country, if i lived in India of course I would see mostly Asian people. The people I see on TV maybe mostly white but they don’t represent me just because I’m white, they represent themselves and no one else. If I lived in China then I would be in the company of Chinese and not my own people, you need to open up to the wider view. None of what you have stated answers why a person of Asian privilege (benebell) would feel they have a right to judge people because of their colour and not recognize that most white people are not in a position of any privilege and to make the statement ‘A classroom populated by, um, well, white folks’,is disappointing to say the least.


        2. Shonna

          “White privilege” means the privilege of being the “default” race. Most white people are not even aware of this privilege because they don’t have the experience of their skin colour interfering in the opportunities that are available to them. Even the poorest white person probably hasn’t been turned away from renting an apartment or getting a job because of their skin colour. There are thousands of articles on the internet explaining this term.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Tony

            Of course white are turned away from renting a home and for jobs and loans and social housing, I don’t know what world you live in. The excuse may not be their colour but there will be many other excuses. If you are homeless and have been turned away when seeking help from a local government authority, then you have still been rejected for whatever reason it is, it’s still being turned away, when your at the bottom no reason is more important than any other.


            1. Charlie

              But they generally aren’t turned away BECAUSE they are white. Tony I think the problem you are having is that you assume that white privilege would only exist if white people were all powerful and had no struggles. You mention that on television you see mostly white people because you live in a mostly white country.

              I think it is deeply ironic that you say “You can only see things form your own prospective. Put your self in the place of someone else just for a short while.”

              There are people of color telling you that they experience this and your response is “No that’s not true.” If I only saw things from MY perspective I wouldn’t see white privilege because I am white. In high school when I went to the mall with a black friend I could not understand why in every store we went to we were being followed around by the shopkeepers, that NEVER happened to me. Why? Because I have white privilege and can shop in my local mall without being IMMEDIATELY suspected of shoplifting.


  8. Tony

    No, I’m not saying black people don’t people don’t experience racism, of course they do, but racism is just one of many prejudices. There is no hierarchy which states one is worse than another. What I’m saying is that most white people are also at the bottom, just like everyone else and do have struggles just the same. I will give you an example, in the UK we have the situation where White boys from poor backgrounds have the lowest attainment levels in our schools, than any other social or ethnic group. The reason for this is that the education system has ignored them and their needs in favour of other social or ethnic groups solely for politically correct reasons. Therefore lets agree that no one should make derogatory remarks about another race like the one I initially highlighted. I am from a minority group (not colour), I’m fully aware of the effects of prejudice in it’s many forms.


    1. In order to agree to that we would need to agree that Benebell made a derogatory remark about white people. The white students in her law school classroom had different experiences than her and arrived at a different answer, that is all that she is saying.


      1. Tony

        I’m sure that benebell did think about what she was saying, but if she was with a group of black law students, that had different experiences compared to her own, would she have said ‘a bunch of black folks’? No she wouldn’t. I’m just asking people to think about what they are saying and not to use false precepts to justify derogatory terms. You can’t assume you know the background to anyone and then make remarks.


  9. Rebeca

    I’m REAL sorry this devolved into a discussion of whether white people have privilege (we do, duh, this should not be a real question). Thank you for such a thoughtful post that makes even the most painful experiences part of a larger picture


    1. Tony

      The point is of course some do, but most white people do not have privilege, it’s people who have privilege no matter what their colour if they are well off, but if your poor and white or black or any race you don’t have privilege.


    1. Acknowledging white privilege does not mean we ignore the problems of poverty or sexism. We are capable of being aware of all sorts of problems.

      When women say “We want equal pay for equal work” an appropriate response is NOT “You want equal pay? Don’y you realize there are people in this country who don’t even have basic medical care – why should we work on equal pay?”

      Turning a conversation about racism into one about poverty is a distraction.


  10. I really enjoyed your discussion on the suit of swords. I’m new to tarot and the suits of swords scares the crap out of me – as I’m sure it does many people. I never thought of it in this way. I’ll look at the suit in a different perspective from now on… Thanks 🙂


  11. That was a very compelling post. I too find the suit of swords as a sign of pain. It’s interesting how you have used this as a metaphor for the U.S politics right now. Never would have done so myself. Learn so much from you! I really love your book Holistic Tarot. So well written. Thanks for sharing!


  12. Thank you, I needed to read this 🙂 Swords are a suit that invariably finds its way into the fold of my day and although I think of it as the suit of intellect, I can’t deny the shiver of unease when I turn a spread with the 3 or the 5, hell, with the 7, 8 or 9, but especially the 10, and wouldn’t you know, the 10’s been stalking me the last couple of weeks. I’ve opened it up on each occasion, in hopes of learning more, but it didn’t click for me until after reading this. A whole forest and I couldn’t see the trees. Thank you 🙂 xoxo – K


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