My Queen of Swords for the Cult of Tarot Community Tarot Deck

Thank you, Cerulean, for telling me about the Cult of Tarot Community Tarot deck. I’ve participated in a collaboration deck before, the Tarot Pink, where I contributed the Two of Wands. For the CoT Community Tarot deck, I chose the Queen of Swords.

I ended up drawing two versions and hope you’ll help me out by voting on which one you prefer. I’m torn between the two because they go in pretty different directions, not just in the art, but especially in terms of interpreting the Queen of Swords. You’ll see what I mean.

Version #1

I took inspiration from the Portrait of Olimpia Luna as Judith and Melchiorre Zoppio as Holofernes (1557 – 1602) by Agostino Carracci, pictured to the left above, and Judith (1892) by Jules LeFebure, to the right.

I started with a rough pencil sketch. Then went in with ink at a couple of different points. This helps me to visualize the final illustration. I don’t know why the multiple simultaneous entry points works for me, but it does. If I just start from one point and flesh out from there, something proportion wise always goes wrong.

Since drawing SKT, I’ve been honing my illustration techniques and trying to improve my line work. The human form has always been a challenge for me, and you saw that in the SKT deck art. But since then I’ve learned so much, which I’m applying now. =)

For reference, let’s take a look at the Queen of Swords from (left to right above) the Sola Busca Tarot, the Rider-Waite-Smith, and the Thoth. I knew I wanted the Judith vibe, side profile facing right, like in the RWS, the sword for me had to be raised with blade pointed up, I wanted the crown, and I wanted to include a butterfly.

She’s most certainly a familiar Queen of Swords in the sense that no caption is needed for any tarot reader to immediately identify this card as the Queen of Swords. Or at least that’s my impression. In contrast, you’ll see later that Version #2 isn’t that way at all. Your first impression for Version #2 might not be “Queen of Swords.”

I tinkered with the details, like should I color in just the monarch butterfly on the sword’s hilt? How about the cross-hatching in the background? Should I go darker or lighter? By the way, the cross-hatching was added digitally after-the-fact. You’ll see later because I’m also providing the original sketch for download.

The Queen of Swords (2019) by Benebell Wen. Click to download image.

The above is my completed Version #1 for the tarot deck project. I decided to go with black and white as this little way of nodding to my own SKT deck, First Edition.

Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, First Edition 2018

EDITED: I added a touch of color to the butterfly. Do you think the touch of color makes a difference?

Click to download image.

And here is the little write-up for the Queen of Swords I submitted:

Take no prisoners! There is no way out but straight through. Endure and overcome the adversity. Act like you know what you’re doing and the motions will create the reality.

Victory is not decided on the battlefield. It is decided before the battle. You must know what your strategy will be. Your preparation and mindset will determine the outcome.

Under no circumstances will you ever let anything or anyone break that spirit of yours. Your spirit has always been and will always be your secret weapon.

We were also to submit an artist statement, so here’s mine:

The form of this Queen of Swords was inspired by a combination of Agostino Carracci’s “Portrait of Olimpia Luna as Judith and Melchiorre Zoppio as Holofernes” (1557 – 1602) and Jules LeFebure’s “Judith” (1892). Medium used is pen and ink. Benebell Wen is the author of Holistic Tarot (North Atlantic Books, 2015) and the creator of the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot deck.

Oh, and for those who might want to create their own prints or other fun things with my Queen of Swords drawing, here’s the high-res image file:

Click image file to download. US Letter, 8.5″ x 11″

This work is dedicated to the public domain. That means you can copy it, make copies, use copies, create your own version or derivatives of the work (e.g., print it out and color it), and pretty much do anything you please with my illustration, commercial or non-commercial. Although you have no legal obligation to credit me, I do love getting credited, so when you remember, please give me a shout-out. =)

I also love seeing your creativity, so if you do something with this Queen of Swords illustration, or even if you simply decide to create an art print of it and hang it up in your personal space, please share it on your social media and tag me on Instagram @bellwen or on Twitter @tarotanalysis.

Version #2

While in Sendai, Japan, the Hubby J passed by a small shrine for Kuan Yin (Kannon). It was late and I had already called it a night, retiring back to the hotel. J continued his walking adventures, saw that, snapped a pic, and sent it to me. He said according to the inscription below the statue, it was Kannon, or Kuan Yin.

A manifestation of Kuan Yin wielding a giant sword (I’m guessing here, but it’s most likely supposed to represent the Sword of Knowledge)! Now that’s something!

It reminded me of a Queen of Swords, so it’s that statue pictured above that inspired by second version.

Those familiar with the classical textbook meaning assigned to the tarot Queen of Swords and those familiar with the attributes of Kuan Yin are going to scratch their heads and wonder how I could possibly think the two go together. (I mean, Her usual manifestation is certainly more Cups-y.) Well.

I see this manifestation of Kuan Yin in the tarot Queen of Swords as almost a way to reinvent the Queen of Swords and evolve her beyond those textbook meanings. Not to mention, over the decades, tarot books have been softening the Queen of Swords card meaning anyway. =) What I’m doing is certainly nothing new.

I opted for an androgynous Kuan Yin. In terms of where we are today as a collective society of tarot readers, how we read court cards don’t really fit into a gender binary anymore. I think we should recognize that historic aspect of interpreting the courts, but likewise we should acknowledge how interpreting the courts has evolved. So to me, depicting the Queen here through androgny is part of the artistic commentary.

Then a mythic-size sparrow with wings outstretched hovers protectively behind Her left shoulder. While I personally cannot fathom it, sparrows are often regarded as vermin or pests. In fact, there was a period of China’s history in the 50s when the government literally implemented a movement to kill off all sparrows in the country because sparrows were considered that much of a vermin. Kuan Yin is perhaps best known for Her compassion, love, and mercy toward the lowest ranking members of any society, the rejected, the derelicts and untouchables, the castaways, and the pariahs. She protects the sparrow, and the sparrow in turn protects Her.

To Her right is a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Back in August, Hubs and I raised a few caterpillars, watched them form their cocoons, and emerge as butterflies. You can see some snapshots and videos here (of their transformation), and here (emerging from the chrysalis and becoming butterflies), and here (when they were ready to be released out into the world– can you believe how high these little guys can fly?).

The butterfly here is both a nod to the butterfly crown of the RWS Queen of Swords and to where I wanted to take the meaning and interpretation for the Queen of Swords, which I’ll give below.

Sendai Kannon as the Queen of Swords (2019) by Benebell Wen. Click to download image..

The above is my completed Queen of Swords, Version #2. While Version #1 was black and white in tribute to SKT First Edition, this Version #2 is in sepia tones in tribute to SKT Vitruvian.

Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, Vitruvian Edition 2019

I do feel like this artistic interpretation of the Queen of Swords requires quite a different card description from Version #1, so here it is:

You have had to know suffering and you have felt isolated because of that suffering. You have been lonely and the pain has been intense, but do you not know about the extraordinary power you wield?

Your spirit has been forged from fire, pressure, and the worst of the grind. It is only through your suffering that you might anneal into the full potential of your strength. Do you not know what you hold in your right hand?

It is the Sword of Knowledge that cuts away false beliefs and illusions. It is with the Sword that you will recreate the world you live in. The change you seek will happen once you take control of your mindset. Cut the chords of attachment that have been holding you back and rise up to stand independent, fearless, dignified.

So where do you go from here? There is no right or wrong path. There is only the path you choose.

Working off the decan rulerships assigned to the Queen of Swords under the Golden Dawn (i.e., Mercury in Virgo to the Ten of Pentacles; Moon in Libra to the Two of Swords; and Saturn in Libra to the Three of Swords), I integrated the meanings of those three pip cards into my Queen of Swords.

Here’s the Artist Statement to go with Version #2:

The form of this Queen of Swords was inspired by a statue of Kannon (Kuan Yin) at a local shrine in Sendai, Japan. Original art done in pen and ink, then digitally remastered to sepia tones. Benebell Wen is the author of Holistic Tarot (North Atlantic Books, 2015) and the creator of the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot deck.

Oh, and for those who might want to create their own prints or other fun things with my Queen of Swords drawing, here’s the high-res image file:

Click image file to download.

This work is dedicated to the public domain so please feel free to do as you will with it. You can create a derivative of it or upload it as-is onto a print-on-demand site to produce your own art prints, stationary, stickers, or anything at all.

I also designed the image and the corresponding message into a two-sided business card thing to keep in your wallet. You can order a bunch of these cards and gift them out! It’s a great little thing to keep as a personal reminder when you most need to hear the message.


Which one do I go with?

Help. Which one should I submit for the CoT Community Tarot deck?

Version #1 or Version #2?

You see what I meant, right? They’re so different! Argh! I can’t choose!

EDIT: I added a touch of color to the butterfly on Version #1. Does that change how you feel about it at all?

9/30/2019 Update:

Tallying up all votes from Instagram, Twitter, and below in the comments, it looks like majority rule is for Version #1.

However, you can download the high-res image files for both above and both are in the public domain for you to do as you will. =) I love seeing your creativity, so a free way to give back is to share that creativity on social media and tag me so I see it. =)

Final card submitted:

Click on image file to download.

39 thoughts on “My Queen of Swords for the Cult of Tarot Community Tarot Deck

  1. kagan

    I would pick and send the first one without even thinking twice to those who like to see a queen of swords.

    …and then on the second one, I’d place the ‘sacred word’ in calligraphy in her right hand along with the sword protecting it in the left hand under an altar, gates being in the back and would make it my priestess in my next project.


  2. Cerulean

    Version 2 is more a major arcana figure to me and there is more detail to study to get the image…some
    readers love more detail for their storytelling. Kuan Yin takes the shape that the believer needs to see.
    . I like the bolder and crisper line work of version 1 for a court card but does she tell the story you want to tell? I like version one for its clear and clean style.
    But no matter what others say its the context and dream you want others to feel…the lady or the tiger?


  3. Cerulean

    Version 2 is more a major arcana figure to me and there is more detail to study to get the image…some
    readers love more detail for their storytelling. Kuan Yin takes the shape that the believer needs to see.
    . I like the bolder and crisper line work of version 1 for a court card but does she tell the story you want to tell? I like version one for its clear and clean style.
    But no matter what others say its the context and dream you want others to feel…the lady or the tiger?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. anna smith

    I love Version 2 for a whole host of reasons. Notably it’s as real if an unexpected reading of this Queen than the standard one.
    If the vote is heavily for Version 1 then the orange monarch? Would work beautifully as a ‘point of rebellion’ in the b&w scheme.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Starlight

    They are both exquisite, and I agree with those who see Version 1 as a court card, and Version 2 as a major arcana card. 🙂

    Perhaps it’s something about Kuan Yin’s eyes being closed, the pose more meditative… it feels more gentle and calm and accepting than I imagine a QoS to be.


    1. I think either. They both capture the energy of the QoS to me. Just different parts of hir power. I don’t know anything about the deck so don’t know if they gave any guidelines about the energy or idea they were aiming for, either would give anyone food for thought. 1 brings in more inspiration to pull from. 2 brings more questions for you to delve into. So for inspiration pick 1. For deep questions pick 2. Good luck 😉


  6. Oh my heart, my divine. This weirdly awakens and immediately quells an angry beast within me. I am reminded of the myth of Medusa, and how her head was not allowed to rest, a weapon used by heroes and whatever… The face of the aegis they bore on their breasts, to inspire terror in one’s enemies like the Ægishjalmr. But at least the Norse bound runes, and not body parts (for now. They did have the necro-pants, I guess). But that consent was needed Iif that was ever to work.
    Yikes I’ve trailed a tangent. Hmm.
    I just love your work. Your symbolism and subtle (style, sublime) in your crafting is on point. 🦄 more impressive and captivating than I could ever dream. 👏

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had not seen that but heck yeah, that’s awesome!! As much as I love the myths of the gods and goddesses, they’re just a bunch of a-holes. Or rather in their stories their characters are represented as such. To remind us of their flawed humanity, once upon a time before their tales inflated in our own minds. 🤷

        Liked by 1 person

  7. hehe this would work perfectly as 2 side vice versa tarot card?:D luv all tiny details & how you included reference & artist statement & meaning is perfect advice!^^ btw i would go with blue butterfly to make it even more stand up!:D & I prefer meaning of 1st version so guess that’s my preference? but don’t mind whatever you end up with ver 2 may work as well with bit of close up? so happy i’m part of this project as well can’t wait to see it completed!;D All Best! MyLuckyCard reall/Irena


  8. Version 1 rocks! She is truly a Queen. Perfect with that black & white line drawing & that bit of color bringing the eye to the butterfly. Made me wish I could draw, wow, you’ve got a great talent. She’s my new favorite Queen of Swords.

    Version 2 is more of a Major Arcana card, maybe Justice. Great image but not the Queen of Swords. She’s just too serene for a swords card IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow I like them both. I am drawn to the first image especially with the red pop of the monarch and it’s straightforwardness. The second I love the words that go with, it not euro-centric. But I have trouble with it visually because of the bird, my eye is drawn to that first instead of her.


    1. Michael Spencer

      Though I appreciate the alternative viewpoint of the path of the second Queen, the first is rhe Queen as I know her.
      Like many the Court was a bit of a challenge when learning the cards. My parents tried in vein to raise me Mormon, but I worshipped at the temple of Hollywood and Movies and when I read of a trick of assigning a celebriry or movie role to each Tarot it worked splendidly. Tom Hanks was the King of Pentacles, Miley Cyrus the Page of Wands but the Queen of Swords…

      Well she was this strange and beautiful mix of Allison Janney, Sigourney Weaver in any role that she plays but in particular Ripley from Aliens, Bette Davis, Parker Posey, Stockard Channing as Rizzo, Carrie Fisher and a generous twist of Lucille Bluth from the series Arrested Development.

      This is that Queen. Knowing and confident just borderihg on cocky and defiant. She will give you the truth regardless of how ugly it is and she is not afraid to get blood on her hands. And will freely own up to it if she is responsible. Do not ask her if that dress makes you look fat if you spent all summer at the gelato stand because she will without question state, “Yes, because you are.”

      The severed head plays homage to the aunts and grandmother cards that proceeded her and its a respectful tribute. And I love that sole splash of color in the butterfly. It is like the little girl in the red dress in Schindler’s List (or for more postmodern audiences Sin City). Haunting and attention siezing and imparts so much with just that solitary parcel of color.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m going with #2. We’re at a point in humanity’s development where we’re beginning to not just see possibilities but are each in our own way taking steps to bring a better vision of us into reality. At least that’s a general idea. With that in mind, Kuan Yin as the Queen of Swords brings a more intellectual, thought-filled queen to the mix whose strength and honor makes for sound judgments and fair decisions.
    I do love #1 just because it’s beautiful as well. Do color the butterfly. Lose the crosshatching. It’s distracting IMHO.
    Your skills are expanding and I welcome you as a True Artist in the most profound sense.
    Now I have to get my lazy self to work to make money to buy cat food.


  11. Joy E Lowell

    How did version 1 find and develop the character that was strong enough to slay her enemy? By sitting on a lotus, with a sword and a sparrow and an emerging butterfly, deepening her connection with the universe.
    My mind sees them as the same being, at different parts of her existence.
    That doesn’t help you chose the one to put in the deck, but I wanted to share my thought about the figures you’ve given us. They are both profound.

    I am so grateful that you take time to explain your thought process and creative process. I benefit very much from knowing how and why you do what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Shirley

    Definitely version 1 with the colored butterfly , on the hilt of the sword . Very evocative , this rendition of the queen speaks volumes . You’re very modest Benebell , so I’ll say it ,this is excellent work !


  13. nytsky1

    I wrote a full comment, but WordPress glitched and lost it…. 🤷‍♀️ Basically, I love them both, and personally, I think both should be submitted. Give them a choice. I am more in love with version 1, simply due to the camaraderie I feel with her. She and I have much in common (when pushed). As a pattern reader I also love…. LOVE… how she is walking out of the frame (on our right). The future awaits, and she is moving into it. The swift action that was necessary, is done. Thank you Bell 💞


  14. Doog Dog! They are both amazing – I’m finding it impossible to choose. Any way you could use both? I suppose not…
    In any case, once I read many of the comments, I found that the concept of Version #2 as more “Major-Arcana-ish” to be pretty accurate. But it would also be a shame to not bring that one out into the world as well. We do indeed need a lot more ‘Kuan Yin’ (or as my Vietnamese wife calls her, ‘Quan Am’) these days. As for Version #1 (which seems to have the lion’s share of votes), if you do end up choosing that, I say go with the colored butterfly – I honestly did not even catch that element at first until I saw the colored version. You can’t go wrong with the Version #1 imagery either.


  15. Linds

    Both are great but I am partial to Version #2 myself. Personally, the card reads as a Queen of Swords but one who is a bit subtler, requesting I think and consider a bit more deeply. If you decide to go with #1 I definitely think you should include the colored butterfly. It’s a great visual pop and intuitive cue to not necessarily focus on the stereotypical harshness of the QoS (or the decapitated head). Both are wonderful!


  16. Tanya

    I know you’ve already submitted version #1, and it is amazing, but I like to think of the Queen as having something in common with Kuan Yin. BTW, is there anything you are not unbelievably talented at?


    1. You can download the high-resolution digital files for both images through the links provided above. 🙂 I have put the images in the public domain so you can actually use either image and art in any way you like commercial or personal. These two images are public domain. So go ahead and produce your own prints of them. 🙂


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