Nine of Swords

I’ve been seeing this card a lot lately. Everyone sees something negative in this card, but I think it’s based on the modern interpretation of being up at night. We must remember that in the Middle Ages people did not sleep the same way we sleep today. Waking up in the middle of the night was normal. People used that time to pray, talk, think, have sex.

To me, that’s what this card means: waking up alone. The quiet solitude of the middle of the night. This solitude, this quiet, means we are alone with our thoughts, and they can be overwhelming. But nines are linked to the Hermit. Swords are communication, thought, intellect.

I think we can allow the image of the Raider-Waite to override the basic patterns and symbols of the Tarot. We see what looks like despair. But why are the Swords different from the other suits? Nines, as a rule, are positive cards. A surfeit of emotion, good times, finances, courage and resilience. What of a surfeit of thought? Sleepless nights? But it need not be negative. A surfeit of ideas, a flow state, something that gets you up because you have to write it down immediately. Solitary work; working late into the night. Midnight prayer, midnight journalling, work for oneself that is not shared.

The hours in the middle of the night between first and second sleep used to be productive ones. The Nine of Swords is pointing to this productivity. It is saying: since you’re up, use this time. You have ideas shooting around your head, so explore them. Write them down. Look at the symbols on the blanket: the roses, the astrological symbols. The Nine of Swords is saying you have the knowledge of the world in you. But if you don’t do anything with it, it is useless. It may even drag you down.

The Hávamál speaks often of the virtues of wisdom, but stanza 54 warns, as many of us already suspect, that intelligence does not mean happiness.

A measure of wisdom each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
For the wise man’s heart is seldom happy,
If wisdom too great he has won.

In other words, ignorance is bliss.

You know things. You’ve taken steps, you’ve studied, and now your head is full of thoughts. What are you going to do with it? What is your next step? How will you translate idea into action?

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