The Queen of Swords has been stalking me lately. I must confess that i still get goose bumps when her Royal Highness chooses to come out in a reading. In Raider Waite she’s usually the bitchy one, embittered one, “traditionally” – a widow… What not. Definitely, not an energy one would strive for, right?
How exactly Pamela Colman Smith‘s deck got a life of its own and how the common meanings attributed to the cards developed - that’s a story unto itself.
In occult circles you’ll often hear the tale of presumed animosity between Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edward Waite, but was it really the case or theirs was merely a good marketing? When Waite referred to Crowley - it was in terms of his rebellion, his letting out the best kept magickal secrets just like that, passing it to the undeserving who haven’t spent years in painstaking training, meanwhile Crowley, who did call Waite a “bore” , still painted the latter as an reputable scholar and the guard of old (and powerful) magical traditions… Yet none of them ever pulled hard artillery so to say, or anything else that would actually kill other’s career. Rob writes in detail on this presumed enmity.
Myself i am not all that interested in the history of the Golden Dawn and i think several points in Rob’s text are disputable, but anyway it is, we did end up with two distinct traditions in Tarot, that of RWS and Thoth, Waite’s and Crowley’s decks respectively.
While Thoth has kept its tradition more or less intact, RWS, the most popular and widespread Tarot deck, seems to have adopted “traditional” meanings on the go.
Thus, Crowley writes in The Book of Thoth: “The Queen of Swords represents the watery part of Air, the elasticity of that element, and its power of transmission. She rules from the 21St degree of Virgo to the 20th degree of Libra… She is the clear, conscious perception of Idea, the Liberator of the Mind. The person symbolized by this card should be intensely perceptive, a keen observer, a subtle interpreter, an intense individualist, swift and accurate at recording ideas; in action confident, in spirit gracious and just.”
where first character represents a big man and the second stands for a pass in a mountain, also meaning the completion of an action:
(Adopted from artsofchina.org )
So how come this Liberator of the Mind and the symbol of the Great Passing, has come to denote a dreaded bitch?! You’ll find online “traditional meanings” like these: A widow. An unscrupulous woman.
How on earth this came to be?!
Here she is, in all her glory:
The problem with contemporary cartomancy is that some new-agey, happy-go-lucky attitude is applied to an ancient and scholarly subject, newbies are told that cards mean “whatever you want them to mean” and here projections start begetting distortions.
The truth is that the Queens stand for the letter Hei in the Tetragramaton and, as Crowley puts it “they represent the second stage in the process of creation whose fourth and last state is material realization.”
Lo and behold, search any Tarot forum for “what does Queen of **** mean” and you’ll get sick in your stomach: The Queen of Wands is dubbed the slutty one, The Queen of Pentacles is, like, a housewife at best and a kept woman at worst, while the Queen of Cups would go for the resident psycho or the other women… Sure.
Actually, such “meanings” speak of the society’s perception of women, so the Queen of Earth (Pentacles) , attributed to I Ching’s - Hexagram 31, Wooing and denoting influence, success and cordiality of a sage – in “Tarot folklore” gets to be either a gold digger, or a housewife! Goodness!
Alas, Tarot was read long before the Golden Dawn, so lets take a look at the granma of the modern-day-Swords Queen:
Here, the Queen is depicted as pregnant, her right hand (symbolizing reason) holding the sword is bigger then the left, she seems to be winged and ferociously protecting the fruit of her womb.
When dabbling with Tarot, the way to go is to read the cards – and that’s exactly what i did; i choose the Swords Queen as Significator and pulled five cards:
The Queen has turned her back to the delusion of Seven Cups and to impasse of Eight Swords, she is facing the balancing of the Justice and the Ten of Pentacles.
Let’s take a closer look at the last card in the spread:
Pay attention at the pattern in which coins are arranged. Seems familiar? Right, the Ten Sphirot of the Tree of Life:
There is that legend, that wise men of the times long gone had decided to put wisdom on the cards so to preserve it for the future, they knew the human nature and bet on the chance that vice will grow on us… It turned out that they were right. As the time went by, Tarot had followed its mysterious ways and ended up in medieval Italy. Some believe that a young nobleman from the House of Sforza, as he was gambling under the influence of intoxicating local wine, started noticing that the cards he was playing were trying to tell him a story… He listened. From there on it started rolling and it never stopped.
That’s the story i came up with, and Tarot does encourage each and everyone of us to tell their own story, there are only two elements of the genre that can not be omitted: wisdom and nobility of the intent.
Now go and write.
- Favourite Decks; Part VII (mycuriouscabinet.wordpress.com)
- Deck Interview with the Wild Unknown Tarot (tarotize.com)