Swords Three and Four

2019! The year that…something. Despite the Tarot-ness of this blog, I actually make very few long-term predictions. With any luck, it’s the year that I finish Drunk Tarot, or, in this case, Idle Bus-Riding Tarot: not that I don’t enjoy it, but given that there’s one and three-quarters Minor Arcana suits left, the timetable seems obvious unless I get abducted by aliens or my life gets ridiculous, and I’d prefer neither happened. Probably. Except for values of “ridiculous” that involve glamorous parties and interesting men and/or values of “aliens” likewise.

Insert segue here.

Three of Swords

Not much variation on this one, and not much subtlety either: a three-way heart-ka-bab. Some decks show it raining in the background, and others show a whole person getting stabbed, in case you didn’t get the message from the plain old excessively stabbed vital organ. Once in a while there’s an eyeball on the heart, which honestly makes me feel better about the swords. A heart with an eyeball on it should be stabbed at least half the time, probably more, and you want to be thorough about it.

With or without the variations, this card is fucking emo.

As per usual, swords often get the negative take when maybe they shouldn’t, and systemically, this one represents real growth in knowledge, power, and freedom. This can be painful, because blah blah innocence is bliss, power corrupts, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, but it’s not like growth in emotions or willpower or material well-being isn’t.

Swords qualities can increase much more suddenly than qualities associated with the other suits, generally: significant changes in emotion or willpower tend to take a while to sink in, and dramatic and completely unexpected changes in material well-being are negative nine out of ten times. (Meeting a really amazing sexual partner, gaining money by unexpected inheritance or winning the lottery, or miraculous recoveries could all qualify, but on the other hand, most people expect those at least in the sense of hoping or daydreaming about them.) Many situations that involve significant increases in knowledge and freedom hit completely out of the blue, and many people are either thrust into positions of power or find themselves having to take control to prevent others from misusing authority. If the shanking portrayed is intrinsic to the card, it could still represent shock rather than pain as such.

Naturally, the traditional complex meaning is pain, heartbreak (thank you, Extremely Nuanced Tarot Designers), betrayal, and disappointment. But, and this is important, and also why I used the term “fucking emo,” above, this is not the total disaster shitshow that the Ten of Swords mostly means in these interpretations. All the stuff I just named happens to everyone (although “betrayal” is really subjective a lot of the time for most of us), everyone lives through it, and everyone learns from it—if only because the next time, and there will be a next time, we know we’ll survive. This card is the rejection letter, the nasty rumor, the breakup where you mix ice cream and rum and sing along to songs with a lot of plaintive guitar wailing.

The non-mnemonic meaning of this card, in fact, can be boiled down to Drunk Evanescence Songs: OMGTRAGIC in the moment, but not, in fact, an actual tragedy of any sort.

Four of Swords

If Three of Swords is Drunk Evanescence Songs, Four is Taking a Fucking Nap Already.

The picture is a figure, mostly but not always armored, lying down, mostly but not always in or on a tomb, with three swords above them and one at their side.

Despite the tomb, this card doesn’t really have anything to do with death most of the time. (General statement: most of the cards that appear to show dead bodies, or Death, don’t mean death. The Ten of Swords could be an exception, but even disaster isn’t that much disaster for most of us.  I actually can’t think of any cards that regularly do mean someone has or will die; the obvious material explanation for this is that people paying for Tarot readings don’t want to hear that sort of news, but on the other hand, there are plenty of cards in the deck that can be read as extremely unpleasant, so…I don’t know.)

The systemic reading doesn’t contradict the specific ones at all for this card. Four is stasis, swords are power, knowledge, and freedom, and most card-specific interpretations say that the Four of Swords is rest, stillness, exile, and solitude. You’ve done stuff. Maybe it was great, maybe not. Now it’s time to take a break, let what you’ve learned sink in, give yourself time to get used to a new role, or just get some damn sleep already.

Depending on your belief system, that could be death. But it’s usually not.





Why Tolstoy is Bullshit

I’m hanging out here in Pennsylvania. It’s a rare three weeks when I live with people: normally, I’m a single woman in a Boston apartment, working from home as an editor and going out every couple evenings, whether that’s to a LARP (the only way I spend the night in a situation where I need shoes to take a leak) or a party, a religious celebration or a night of drinking with friends. Right now, though, I’m living with my parents, who married in their thirties after years of being co-workers at boarding schools, continued to work at various schools until their retirement a while back, have two adult daughters, and enjoyed camping and backpacking until pulled ligaments and arthritis got in the way. My sister and her husband are also visiting. They live in LA normally, they’ve got one son, she teaches yoga and he’s a professional chef, and they’re way more enthusiastic about sports than any of the rest of us.

All of us are (reasonably, mortal life being what it is) happy.

I’m not gloating here. There’s a point, because Twitter’s latest crop of manbabies with too much free time has turned once again to romance, whining that happy endings are all the same and too predictable and blah blah blah, and someone is eventually going to quote fucking Tolstoy.

Tolstoy had some great ideas. That “happy families are all alike” bit isn’t one of them.

First of all, the idea that *unhappiness* is the condition with an infinity of singular forms is complete bullshit. Just to start, I majored in English, and my parents, like I mentioned, taught at boarding schools during my childhood, so I’ve observed a fair amount of petty unhappiness. I Have Pimples And Can’t Get Laid is pretty common, and  Will Smith wasn’t the first or last on the Parents Just Don’t Understand train. Older people? My Wife Doesn’t Get Me or Midlife Crisis: Did I Really Want to Be A Banker? are not exactly unique either. Hell, even the serious problems–bullying, bigotry, abuse, sickness, war–have a depressing familiarity. (My parents and I can predict most Law & Order episode resolutions by the time the show’s half over, and I have a decent record with true crime.)

Second, the idea that happy families are all the same is predicated on the idea that there’s only one way to be happy, to which I say: shut up, Jordan Peterson, and more generally, shut up, Victorian notions of “happy family.” You can be happy in a heterosexual monogamous relationship, living in the country with two kids and a dog, and many people are–but you can also be happy traveling the world with a same-sex partner, sharing an urban apartment with the rest of your triad, living contentedly alone, being a member of a celibate religious community, or raising a kid with your platonic BFF. You can be happy on a plane or a train, and while “in a box” sounds tougher, YKIOK.

(Not even touching “with a fox,” y’all.)

Even concentrating on romantic relationships and on just the end of a story,  married co-workers with kids have a very different dynamic than childless professionals, which in turn is different from a situation where one person stays home, or where one or both have professions that involve travel, or personal risk, or media attention. Living in the suburbs of Pittsburgh is not living in Boston, or on a ranch in California. Friends, family, and hobbies are all going to influence your lives, so endings where these things are different are different endings–unless you think that getting together with a romantic partner is the only thing that matters about life. (And dudes, frankly, that makes you sound more than a little unattractively desperate.)

*Then* there’s the fact that process matters. If your characters come from different situations, even superficially-similar HEAs don’t make the books “all the same.” No, they don’t. Are Macbeth and Hamlet the same play because they both end with a lot of people, including at least one king, dead? No? Then shut up. And go away. And suck on a wasp nest.  Originality, to the extent that it matters (and yes, there is definitely a Why Originality Is Bullshit essay forthcoming), exists in the space between the beginning and end, in the details of the plot and characters–in other words, in the story. I could drag in sonnets and haiku and, for an example on the other side, Shyamalan, but I hope to God you take my point as is.

Guys: when you start with the “romance novels can’t be quality literature because happy endings make everything repetitive,” you’re not *just* being pretentious mope-addicted assholes who bring down every social occasion. You’re also implying that there’s only one model for happiness in romantic relationships, and if you want to stick with that point of view, you’d better enjoy the company of Rick Santorum and Phyllis Schafly.

Yes, I know she’s dead. Take that as you will.

Now shut up. I have heavily-spiked hot chocolate to drink.


Back, No, Really!

Dangers untold! Hardships unnumbered! Mostly a new day job, which is great, and LARP season, and finishing up the first draft of a novel about which I’ll write more soon! And now I’m in PA with my parents, which means leisure time and booze, and thus we continue with the Tarot posts.

(I’m thinking I’ll alternate with other stuff going forward, so next week is going to be Happiness and Fiction, or, Why Tolstoy Was Full Of Shit).

Ace of Swords

Our buddy Disembodied Cloud Hand is back, and this time it’s ARMED. (I’ll be here all night. Try the veal.) The sword is point up, with a crown kind of levitating around said point, and some weedy bits coming off it. Given the suit, I’m going to go ahead and say that they’re laurel garlands. As usual per Tarot, this varies, and can involve entire people rather than hands, or no people at all, or lightning, or a crab getting skewered. I am totally serious about that last one.

Basic meaning: new beginnings in power, intellect, knowledge, and freedom.

Power, knowledge, and freedom combined give you clarity, which is the individual meaning of this card. The sword cuts through deception or confusion.  Laurel is victory,  so maybe your new perspective will let you triumph, or maybe you climbed over mountains of skulls and/or waded through rivers of blood to get to that point–real, metaphorical, whatever. We’re not judging, here in Swords.

Wiki says “some people associate this card with Excalibur,” but frankly, if you give some people a sword, they’re going to associate it with Excalibur. If you’re one of them, enjoy yourself.

Two of Swords

A woman’s sitting on a stone bench, with her back to the ocean. Some wildish body of water, anyhow. Could be a river. Could be Lake Michigan. But “body of water” is usually “ocean” in Tarot, unless a figure is pouring water into or out of it, so ocean is what we’re going with now. She’s dark-haired and blindfolded, her arms are folded across her chest, and she’s got a sword in each hand–which, since traditionally the swords go beyond the edges of the card, means she’s got some killer wrist muscles.

With the posture and the blindfold, there’s a Justice thing happening on this card, but Two of Swords Chick lacks the authority of the crown and the throne. She also doesn’t have the scales, and both swords are pointed upward.  There’s the same danger for or from her on either side, or at least (given that this is not the most combat-effective position in which to hold giant swords, as far as I know) the same possibility of getting mildly poked, and/or dropping a sword on your foot.

System says this is potential for growth in power, knowledge, and freedom.

This is one of those cards where the interpretation varies a lot between books–and, I think, where it says a lot about the person writing. (Anyone who wants to analyze mine, go to. We strive to amuse at Drunk Occultist Central.)  It’s balance and serenity, or it’s confusion and avoidance and indecision.

I think it could be any of the above (which means I’m probably indecisive, ha ha), because Tarot’s all about context, and this is also where you can see the individual meanings deriving from the systemic base.

The Two of Swords says that there’s a decision you can make, and you haven’t made it yet, and the consequences will be significant. Maybe that’s good, or at least fine: there are times when it’s good to wait for more information before choosing, and there are situations where you can balance both sides or take a third path entirely. (Two Chick doesn’t look like she’s unduly stressed by either the position or the weight of the swords, I note.) Then again, you might be stalling, and stalling might only make the situation worse.

As one of my GMs says regarding PC actions, not choosing is also a choice.


I return! With weaponry! And six-dollar cherry-flavored Manischevitz, which is really good, y’all. I don’t know why this stuff has a bad reputation. Also, it’s a really pretty color. Like, I think Merry Gentry’s hair is like that in the books where she gets to bang all the cute fae guys.

Okay okay okay swords.

Swords are air, unless they’re fire. There’s a *whole* bunch of occult arguments going on about that one, and Michael the Archangel gets involved. But the way I was taught, they were air, so they’re air.

Air is the abstractest of the elements. It’s all about the intellect, as well as power and freedom, which both require you to separate yourself from everything else. Power is viewing everything from above and having the knowledge to pull the requisite strings; freedom is saying fuck that noise, whatever the noise is, and having enough power that the noise in question can get fucked.

Positive aspects of swords: intelligence, assertiveness, freedom. Negative: black-and-white thinking, a tendency to be autocratic, and, I suppose, emotional repression and an avoidance of commitment, if you’re the sort of weirdo who thinks those are bad things.

When we get into specific card meanings, swords have a tendency to be, traditionally, The Worst. There are like two non-face cards in the suit where the standard meaning doesn’t include some element of clusterfuckery and woe, and the Ten of Swords is basically It Sucks To Be You, with the one positive aspect But It Might Not Always, Maybe. I went into the likely reasons for that in the Cups suit–Victorian counterculture being all “yay emotions emotions are amazing” as a counter to a world of stiff upper lips, the problems with applying the intellect of this world to the supernatural, and the fact that it’s a lot easier to kill someone with a sword than with any other suit symbol, though admittedly I’ve never tested this in a rigorous laboratory setting.

There’s another possibility I’ve thought of, too. Air is communication and language, traditionally. And these are great, but they can also be limiting: there’s a lot of mystic tradition that putting a numinous experience into words detracts from its numinosity, because we really don’t have the vocabulary for that sort of thing. Language, and intellectual constructs, shape thought, and sometimes limit that thought. Likewise, to really be free in some ways actually requires imposing a lot of limitations, whether on you or others: being a footloose wanderer, unless you’re a dick, pretty much requires you not to start a family. Being free of other people’s expectations involves telling those people to go piss up a rope, more often than not. Not getting the flu, or worrying about getting the flu, means sticking a needle into your arm and sometimes your arm swells up and turns purple for a couple days but it’s worth it; get your damn shots, people.

And power just about always hurts to get, even if you’re getting it for the right reasons.

So swords are, like, okay, you can do these things, and sometimes you even should do these things, but let’s not fucking kid ourselves that it’s going to be sunshine and rainbows in the process, all right?

They’re also phallic as hell, if you’re into that kind of thing.




Yeah Buddy

You want to know about the King of Cups? I will TELL YOU about the King of Cups.

I mean, seriously, I will.

This is a guy on a throne, holding a scepter in one hand and a cup in the other. In most decks, the throne is just floating in the middle of the ocean, which is a pretty awesome trick. Like a more comfortable Jesus, or one of those rafts with cup holders. The animal friends are back: there’s a dolphin leaping out of the sea behind him. It’s kind of a weird skull-face fish-thing on the Rider-Waite deck, but sources assure me it’s a dolphin, and not a freakish creature from Silent Hill. There’s also a ship on his other side, representing balance between the physical and material worlds, or the eternal conflict between ships and dolphins.

As a person, simplistically, the King is an older man, and/or someone who’s good at ruling over emotions. That might mean his own; that might mean other people’s. That might be good, but it’s not a guarantee. If you do reversals, upright tends to be more inspirational, while reversed is where you get body thetans and secret messages from Beatles albums. Otherwise, there’s the potential for both, as well as common-variety support or dickishness, depending on the context.

In the more individual reading, the King is artistic, kind, quiet yet deep, and So Dreamy. The booklet doesn’t generally say that, but it’s pretty well implied.

Like many of the court cards, the King doesn’t often appear in the abstract, but if so, he’s a symbol of balancing emotions–either successfully doing so or the need to do so. Unlike the Page, he knows what he’s doing; unlike the Knight, he doesn’t need to go anywhere. He’s good where he is, even if that’s on a weird floaty throne. Unlike the Queen, he’s handling emotional stuff at its most developed. He just needs to do things with it.

So dreamy.

Cups: Knight and Queen

So the timing’s worked out to a whole illicit-romance-Camelot thing, which is more or less fine by me. (I mean, my vote there is “find someone you won’t destroy the kingdom by shtupping, you idiots,” but human nature has never really gone along with common sense and God knows it’s appropriate for the Emotions Suite.)

Okay, so first of all, Knight of Cups is apparently an experimental film, which I generally feel rank second only to performance art as “things you sit through in college because your friend’s involved and/or you might get laid, and are never fucking worth it,” but this one involves the Tarot, and Christian Bale in a tight black T-shirt, so…there’s often an exception to every rule. I’m open-minded.

That aside, the Knight is generally a dude on a horse with a cup, le duh, often with a river and a cliff somewhere in the background. The horse in question is generally white or light-colored, and has one foot off the ground, whereas the Knight of Pentacles’s horse has all four on the floor.

As a person, the Knight is…yeah, the knight on a white horse. Dreamy, romantic, dashing, good with emotions in a seeking-the-highest-ideal kind of way: the ultimate cinnamon roll. Artistic and refined as well. Totes adorbs. Insert little cartoon hearts here. As tends to go with those qualities, he’s also often impulsive, led by his heart rather than his head or any sense of practicality, and sometimes more charming than sincere, to paraphrase Sondheim.

More abstractly, the Knight is what happens when you try and get the situation the Page hints at. He can mean a lover, or pursuing some kind of creative inspiration, or a new opportunity. Whatever it is, it’s pretty attractive.

The Queen of Cups is a fair-haired woman–generally–on a throne by the sea, usually dressed in white, blue, or green. Like the Knight and the Page, she’s holding a cup, but the Page is the only one who gets the magic fish. In fact, she doesn’t get any animal companions, although often there are little cherubs carved into her throne.

That may be significant. The Queen of Cups, in the mnemonic reading, is an older woman good with emotions, or someone who excels at bringing emotions to their full use and potential. Separating the useful parts of emotions from the parts that just confuse you and annoy those around you, or wreck kingdoms, or whatever, generally does involve spending some time alone, maybe staring out into the water.

More traditionally, the Queen as a person is loving, gentle, and soft, in both the positive and negative senses: she’s apt to be sympathetic, but also not to stand up much to effort, hardship, or conflict. And if she likes you, she might be reluctant to trust your ability to do so–if the helicopter parent is going to show up in a Tarot reading, this will probably be the card indicating them.

In the abstract? Probably the same thing, but, y’know, abstract: empathy and intuition, which are great a lot of the time, but get in the way when you have to make hard choices, draw boundaries, face facts, or let people sort their own shit out. Depending on the reading, you may need more empathy, or your empathy may get you in trouble. Hard to say.

Sadly, this card does not involve Christian Bale in any manner. Neither does the King, but we’ll talk about that next time anyhow.