Today someone suffering from severe depression and suicidal thoughts asked me to unpack the difference between Six of Swords and Eight of Swords. The person gave me his own interpretation, relating to his confusion about how both of these cards are about negative thoughts, or about the tension in negotiating for something that may be the result of mere compromise. Wrong.

Now, it’s not my style to say that ‘I am right and you are wrong’, just because. But it is my style to insist that if you stick to a system, you will never be in doubt. In my book all the sixes are about roads, ways, modalities, or paths, while the eights are about imagination, thoughts, and plans that are not yet realized but considered. The six of diamonds or coins may indicate a car, as diamonds relate to energy, hence something on round wheels that uses fuel. The eight of hearts or cups may indicate arteries, blood sent to other vessels, or simply the good thoughts of people partying together and wishing well on one another. The surrounding cards decide which of these concrete meanings applies.

Now, the suicidal young man – and I got license to write about this in public – suggested that one way of coping with suicidal thoughts (and he gave me a string: 6 swords, 2 swords, 2 cups) was to ‘take the various thoughts and ideas that may be overwhelming (6 of swords) and lower them to realistic and achievable goals (2 of swords)’. What followed was a nice note-to self on how to be more trusting of the medical system and better at listening to sound advice. All fine with me on this latter idea.


But here is what I would also say, unambiguously and independently of the narrative that we may want to impose on ourselves – more often than not because ‘we heard that one before.’ When cutting through clichés we need a cold knife. In the medical context, I’d say, stick to what the good doctor says. But in the context of the cards, pay close attention to what you see, not what you ‘know’, and stick to the system of choice for your divination.

Six of Swords is not a card about negative thoughts that may be overwhelming. Six of Swords is about hanging out with the wrong crowd. Walking a path that’s not healthy for you. Getting dubious advice on your journey. Difficulties travelling. All these meanings do not relate to the journey in your head. They relate to a physical journey. So the advice here is to leave things behind. Eliminate that which is not good for you, weather in the form of drugs (prescribed or otherwise) or other travelling companions. A point of exacerbated conflict comes – perhaps in the form of quarrelling with yourself, but this can be turned to your advantage. The idea is not just to change the metaphor so that you can change your life, but rather, to raise the metaphor to a state of embodiment that can literally turn your ways around. This distinction is part of the philosophy of action, rather than part of metaphysics, or ‘here’s what I’m thinking.’ Nice philosophy, no action.

The young man’s spread above is not at all about ways of thinking, as much as it is about a way of walking a different path. Choosing a different path. Accepting the conflict within, with its inevitable consequences – parting ways with a significant other, so that you can allow yourself to drink from the cup of joy and life.

Visually, things are even simpler. If we look at the cards, we go from tension to release. Six clenched swords are not the same as two clenched swords. Are there bumps in the road? Minimize them. Avoid them. Get rid of them. Or wait for some rain to smooth them out. Find the one who will offer you a cup, and ditch the one who brings you to dark alleys. The point is to live, not just to think about it. The point is to live life, not just to cope with it.

Good luck, dear. Find your way.


Note on the deck:

Tarot de Marseille, Jean Noblet, 1650. Reconstructed by Jean-Claude Flornoy.



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7 thoughts on “DIFFICULT CHOICE

  1. Anna says:

    Interesting post. If you were to steer clear from predisposed meanings such as six of swords meaning roads, ways, modalities, or paths wouldn’t his reading make sense though? I’m trying to recall some of Enrique’s lessons. The young man says ‘take the various thoughts and ideas that may be overwhelming (6 of swords) and lower them to realistic and achievable goals (2 of swords)’ but wouldn’t that be the same as saying ‘Six clenched swords are not the same as two clenched swords. Are there bumps in the road? Minimize them. Avoid them. Get rid of them.’

    I’m guessing because he did the reading for himself he made the association on a personal level that swords are often connected with the mind and seeing how thoughts and ideas are connected to the mind they could be seen as ‘negative thoughts’ especially in the context of depression and suicide. I would say he grasped the visual interpretation pretty well and applied it personally to his situation.

    I’m curious to know Camelia, do you apply playing card numerical properties across all oracles that don’t include images?

    1. Camelia Elias says:

      Indeed, Anna. He was very good on the intuitive level. Though, you see, if he had regarded the other traditional meanings, he may have seen the value of having a keyword such as ‘path’ thrown in. Because then the whole situation would not be so much about a battle or a war, but about the army you are with and your own role in it. That makes a lot of difference. In principle, the 8 is all about discernment, something you don’t find in the 6, hence the struggle, rivalry, and tension that the 6 suggests which the 8 doesn’t.

      About the numerical meanings, I’ve linked here in the second paragraph to the post where I introduce the reader to it. The numerical value is based entirely on making logical inferences, and these have very little to do with either symbolism or intuition. I use a combination of applying numerical value and observing the image of the geometrical arrangement.

      And yes, why some want to associate the spades with thoughts beats me, but there you have it. For me the spades are all about cutting, sharpening your knifes. They are also associated with the earth. With a spade you dig the earth, not get philosophical.

      1. Anna says:

        That makes a lot of sense. I think many get lost in the ideas that cups = water, pentacles = earth, swords = air and wands = fire.

        I recall referencing this way back when I was first starting with tarot:

        * Cups (Coupes) – (Water) emotions, relationships, feelings, and creativity, soul, inner life, the unconscious, moods, premonitions, inner voices, spirituality, intuitive awareness and knowledge, sense and meaning.

        * Pentacles (Deniers) – (Earth) money, financial resources, materialism, career, physicality, body, practicality, applied skill, creation of the concrete as well as your own environment, results, facts, production, impression, work, nature, community, security, connection with Earth.

        * Swords (Espees) – (Air) power, rationality, the intellect, thought, mind, mental energy, awareness, knowledge, recognition, decisions, ideas, judgement, thought, imagination, the conscious, explicit awareness of the world and self, originality, freedom, learning, clarity.

        * Wands (Batons) – (Fire) inspiration, spirituality, ideas, energy flow, willpower, vitality, zest for life, creativity, growth, initiative, action, engagement, accomplishment, power, enterprise, entrance, identity, self-confidence, intuition, enthusiasm, success.

        It’s interesting now that I’ve looked into the Marseille and other people’s methods how these associations get a little confusing. For me and my notes from when I was starting out with tarot, I’m guessing I was largely influenced by the RWS imagery so these associations have come from those cards.

        The idea of going literal makes a lot more sense for the Marseille as there isn’t the added baggage that comes along with the RWS decks.

      2. Andrew says:

        I’m also going to have to go with Swords as Air. Swords seems to be that Air is mind and the mind–if sharp enough–can cut through illusions, make fine distinctions, etc. But Swords can also bring suffering. Also regarding the class system Wands are peasants, who work hard and grow things with the fire of the sun. Swords are the aristocracy, who govern with military might but hopefully also with mental acuity and wisdom.

        I suppose the issue with this is the imposed ideology from cultural references but then again it’s hard not to avoid some imposed ideology. Looking back to Hedgewytch’s now absent website she also included a similar theory to yours Camelia:

        The Hearts count as love, family, and friends.
        Diamonds are money, wealth, means, and ends.
        Clubs shall mean work, callings, and plans,
        And Spades are the troubles that plague every man.

        Clubs: Air, Autumn

        “Work, callings, and plans”. Clubs are associated with the element of Air and the season of Autumn. In the human body, the suit of Clubs represents the muscular system, which gives us the power to act in the world. Thus, Clubs are associated with practicality, business (and busy-ness), and activity. It is the “doing suit.”

        Spades: Earth, Winter

        “The troubles that plague every man.” Spades are associated with the element of Earth and the season of Winter. In the human body, the suit of Spades represents the skeletal system, the groundwork of our physical being that limits us to certain activities. Thus, Spades are associated with limitations, trouble, and frustration. It is the “learning suit”, but typically learning through adversity.

        My argument would be that work is more physical and takes place on the Earth and utilizes aspects of Earth more so than troubles. Troubles are more invisible and take place in the mental process which is airy. There’s also the double edged sword analogy that can be painted towards our thoughts. What may seem to have a benefit may also have a flaw.

        Interesting debate nonetheless. I can definitely see where the young boy was going if I was using my Sword/Air theory. 6 swords are pretty difficult to juggle, even 2 have the risk of harm, 2 cups ready to be filled with compromise is definitely the better route.

  2. Camelia Elias says:

    Yes, I find affinity with Dawn Jackson, because she also takes her work back to the playing cards, before the French got too smart and started counting everything according to sophisticated, yet in my opinion, unnecessary schemes. The Hedgewytch cartomancy also went back to the cunning folk tradition of reading cards according to the natural cycles of life. Keep it simple has always been my mantra here.

    About the Spades and the inference that they must relate to the mind: They do. The military is known for nothing other than come up with strategies for battle, so a lot of thinking goes into that. But as all history of war has testified, all that thinking has served one and only ultimate aim: to kill your enemies and bury them. So the swords are related to the ground in more ways than we think, more original ways.

    Clubs go with air because they are related to trees. Trees grow tall in the wind. You build houses with sticks to shelter yourself from too much bad weather, often brought about by the winds.

    Our young man here is pretty sharp at reading the cards. He just needs to remember that sometimes the best way of wrestling with a problem is to leave it behind. Bury it in the ground. A friend of mine, and a card reader I appreciate a lot, Joeanne Mitchell, has made this comment today on my FB wall connected with this post and related to the three cards: ‘The road, the toll bridge/checkpoint, the enabling companion…’. I liked that very much as it sums up the advice very concisely. For her the swords here are not seen as airy devices either, but rather concrete actions to engage with.

    1. Andrew says:

      Great connection there. It seems just about anything is justifiable here. Sticking with a method is key here as it can work in any regard as long as you can make a concrete connection. It seems the majority have the sword = air. I just quickly went through various tarot books in my collection to see if anyone else had a different perspective. I like the association of spades = earth very much but I guess having connected with sword = air for so long it just seems natural for me.

      Thanks again Camelia for opening us up to a new door. There are so many overlooked areas and I always find something new here. 🙂

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