While some people fear the Devil in Tarot, or the Tower, it used to be that most of the Swords were my fear, especially cards like the 2 of Swords.
There isn’t anything ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ about any of the cards, mind you, but there was something about the 2 of Swords that just set me on edge. But with any card, once you find your understanding of it then you see how it will only support you through you journey.
Description of the 2 of Swords
The standard Rider-Waite deck shows a woman in a grey gown on a stone block on a grey, man-made ledge. Behind her is a rippling water with jagged rocks protruding from the water, while green hills are in the distance. The sky is blue, though a dull blue, as if just at dusk. A crescent moon hangs in the sky. The woman is blindfolded, facing the reader, and holds two massive swords across her chest, which reach out and touch either side of the card.
The Spiral Tarot similarly depicts a woman in a light-colored dress, though hers is white, and she wears white gloves. Instead of being forward facing, she walks forward and to the right side of the card, feeling with her feet, her way along a tight rope over the crashing waves on a shore. Beyond her the sea is calm. It is night, and the stars are out, surrounding a crescent moon. She too holds two swords across her chest while she navigating the rope blindfolded.
The Vampire Tarot shows a statue of a vampire with hair curling back into a spiral. It hugs itself tight, holding the swords close to its face with its eyes closed. The Faerie Tarot shows a faerie holding two swords across her chest with a thin veil across her closed eyes. She wears a purple gown, and has long curling blond hair. There are two tapestries behind her: a red-orange one to the right of the card and an indigo tapestry to the left. On either side a winter scene can be seen in the background.
The Thoth Tarot is somewhat simplistic, and shows two long swords crossing each other against a background of geometric patterns. The backdrop is yellow which fades downward into green. Where the swords cross, a rose opens. Below the rose is a dagger with the glyph for Libra at its tip, while above the rose is another dagger with a crescent moon at it’s tip. Both daggers face upward. The hilts of the swords each have an angel upright and kneeled in prayer, and upside down, kneeling and in prayer. The Keyword of the card is ‘Peace’.
The Prisma Vision Tarot shows an individual in a snowy land, barefoot, and sitting on a tree stump. The figure faces to the top left corner of the card, and wears a mask over their eyes. The figure appears to be facing an orange butterfly that hovers between the tips of the swords. They hold the two swords out from their body, but the swords still cross. A crescent moon angles downward at the figure.
The Impressionist Tarot adapted Vincent van Gough’s The Night Cafe (1888), focussing only on the pool table and altering the cue sticks to two swords. The pool talbe is the main focus, and n people are around, only the two lights overhead, a table with a vase in the background, and a bottle on the floor.
Taking Apart the Symbolism
Libra is typically depicted as scales, and thus correspond to cards such as Justice and the 2 and Queen of Swords. The sign itself represents balance, and a need for making important decisions. Justice typically indicates making a judgement call, weighing the good and the bad, though in the 2 of swords, the sign of Libra calls for making a balanced and weighty decision that will be difficult. Libra is generally seen as the peace-keeper, as in order for the peace to be kept, fair and just decisions must be made.
The blindfold in the 2 of Swords indicates that she can’t see the consequences, can’t see the environment she’s in. Because of this, she just simply must make a decision, and that is the hard part. What she doesn’t see is that each sword is equal in weight, and once she can make the decision and put one down, she can put the other down too.
Butterflies are often associated with the suit of Swords because of their representation of air. You see the butterflies in the King and Queen of Swords. What’s more, a butterfly represents transformation. In the Hudes Tarot, for example, in the depiction of Death, you see a skeleton with a butterfly for a pelvis (corresponding to the 1st and 2nd chakras, showing a foundational change).
Furthermore, butterflies can represent adaptability, and in combination of the element of air can represent an intellectual adaptability.
In the Prisma Vision 2 of Swords, the person blindfolded seems to be looking for the butterfly, or looking directly at it but can’t see it due to the blindfold. The subject in this card seeks change.
The color grey is prominent in the 2 of Swords in the Rider-Waite Tarot, and can represent neutrality. When considering the color of the sky, benebell wen writes in Holistic Tarot:
Light grey indicates internalized thought and reflection. In some of the cards, a light gray sky indicates neutrality, neither foreboding of good nor foreboding of bad. Generally, light gray symbolizes rational thought, intellectualism, and clear logic… (p. 453)
The moon itself is a representation of cycles, a reminder that everything comes around again, and that we are never done learning. It is also a representation of intuition and the subconscious, a reminder that the figure in the card needs to rely on this.
The element of Air corresponds with the Swords, but also with communication and intelligence. It has to do with how we think, and how we speak. It corresponds to Mercury, because of his winged feet. He was the messenger, and carried the words of gods. Thus, the element of Air isn’t just verbal communication or education (though can be), but is also a reminder to listen to the higher levels of communication and messages coming to you.
The number 2 represents duality, or can be a union. There is always a message of balance with the number 2.
In a means of playing on words, the sea can represent the currents in our current situation (very punny). It is often used to depict the flow of the situation for the querant. In the 2 of coins, which represents balancing work, the sea behind the juggler is both wavy and calm, because of the ability to balance them. In the 6 of swords, the sea is tumultuous but calm in the direction that the boat is heading, indicating leaving a rough situation for a calmer one.
The rough sea in the immediate background of the 2 of Swords shows the difficulty of the situation at present, but the calmness in the distance shows that things will reflect that calmness once the decision is made.
As mentioned earlier in the Element of Air, the suit of Swords represents the intellect and communication. These are important things to help us navigate through life, as is the Sword in mediaeval times regarding survival. The Swords themselves could be used on the defence or on the offence, but either way were used as a means of protection. The wielding of it could be used to protect the self, or others, but might always result in someone getting hurt. Knowledge and words can be just as damaging, and with them comes the responsibility of how to use them. The Swords have two sharp edges as a constant reminder of the duality that they hold.
Putting it All Together
The Two of Swords is a blind balance. A figure is in need of putting down the massive swords, but can’t see which one to put down first. Because of the blindfold, she doesn’t know the entirety of her situation, but knows that she must make a decision. The moon calls upon her to use her intuition and to trust herself in knowing what to do. But the pressure of making the wrong decision is causing her turmoil. The grey of the ground and her dress show that it actually doesn’t matter, that no matter what decision she makes, life will move on, it is merely the pressure of having to make the decision that is causing her stress.
The Swords indicate this is an intellectual decision, something that she can only mentally weigh. It is within her to make this decision, no one else, or anything else externally can sway her. The number 2 indicates the balance that is needed.
The Two of Swords is a woman seated and blindfolded, wearing a grey dress, on a grey ground. She crosses her arms, and in those arms are two swords. Behind her is rocky water, but beyond that are green hills. A crescent moon hangs in the sky.
On the one hand, she could bring about the sword in her right hand. Alternatively, she could bring down the sword in her left hand. But she is unable to see which is the best one to bring down. She’s faced with a decision that cannot be made, yet is challenged to do so.
The Two of Swords indicates being held motionless at the hand of indecision. It isn’t an easy choice, but it must be made, and no movement can happen until it is. Be aware of deceptions that might lead you astray.
Keywords: stalemate, difficult decision, stagnation, false information.
Read more on the Minor Arcana
The Decks Used
Faerie Tarot by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc, 2008. Hertz is a French artist, and the creator of several other beautiful tarot decks. The Faerie Tarot was ‘inspired by the flora and fauna of the French countryside,’ and ‘invites you to see the world in a delightful new way…blending fantasy, whimsy, and nature.’
Impressionist Tarot by Arturo Picca (artist) and Corrine Kenner (author), published by Lo Scarabeo in 2015. This deck takes works of classic impressionist paintings and recreates them to fit the meanings of the tarot. It pulls from works of Edonard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gough, and Paul Gauguin. A truly beautiful deck, especially for those who have interest in the art world.
Prisma Visions Tarot by James R. Eads, 3rd ed., published in 2016. The deck itself is beautiful, though perhaps not for the beginning tarot reader. The suits all fit together to create a master picture displaying the energy and progression of the suits. The figures and images flow from one card to the next, showing movement within the stationary cards.
Rider-Waite by A. E. Waite. The deck used in these photos is currently out of print. I won’t say much about this deck, as it is fairly standard and probably one of the most produced decks. It serves as a standard for many tarot readers and artists, depicting classic images relating in part to the original playing cards that tarot developed from.
The Spiral Tarot by Kay Steventon. With turn-of-the-20th-century style art, this deck takes from the classic Rider-Waite deck and brings it up to the late 1800-early 1900’s, a time of industry and contemplation for the western world as it moved forward into a more technological era. I am a little biased toward this deck as it’s been my main deck for 15 years. The cards are thick with additional symbolism that can be tricky to pick out of the traditional Rider-Waite, and adds layers of Greek myth throughout the Major Arcana.
Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley (designer and author) and Lady Frieda Harris (artist), published by U. S. Games Systems, Inc., in 1978. This deck takes from most esoteric imagery, and requires the reader of the deck to have deep, initiate knowledge of the symbolism used. There is nothing within the cards that is without meaning. However, on a more surface level, the deck draws from Egyptian symbolism and from the style of the Marseille Tarot (mostly seen within the Minor Arcana). For those looking for deeper understandings of the universe, I recommend this deck. I would caution that this deck is highly advanced, and might be avoided for the budding reader.
Vampire Tarot – by Nathalie Hertz, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. in 2000. As mentioned above in reference to the Faerie Tarot, Hertze is a French artist who gained her notability through the publication of her tarot decks. The Vampire Tarot was a bestselling deck upon its release, and plays on more gothic symbolism, providing more jarring interpretations to allow for the accepting of negative forces within the world to compliment the positive forces. The deck brings together myths and legends in the form of vampires, which ‘gives tarot readers a macabre passport’ into the world of divination.