Eight of Swords Meaning – Everyday Living in the Minor Arcana

eight of swords 8 of swords everyday living in the minor arcana
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I intend for this series to help folks recognize the Minor Arcana in their day-to-day lives and the lives of the people around them. I’ll generally base my interpretations off Pamela Colman Smith’s illustrations in the Smith-Waite or Rider-Waite deck, as well as other illustrated decks.

As we progress through Beltane, and Spring, as we roll through Gemini season, we get an opportunity to work with the 8, 9, and 10 of Swords. Many groups have connected Tarot and Astrology. One school of thinking connects the Minor Arcana with the decans of the signs. The Decans are 3 divisions within each astrological sign based on the degrees; Decan 1 is 0º-9º, Decan 2 is 10º-19º, and Decan 3 is 20º-29º.

8, 9, 10 of Swords, Smith-Waite Tarot

In Tarot, the suit of Swords is the suit of Air.

This suit is where look at issues concerning our mind, our communication styles, and our moral worlds. This is where we deal with the process of learning to formulate thoughts and communicate those thoughts to other people. It is also where we can examine the effects of other people’s thoughts and opinions on our own internal landscape, including the ideals and issues that come with other people’s opinions.

As we move through the Swords, we will encounter Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius, the three Air signs of the zodiac. Gemini is a mutable Air sign, and its decans correlate to 8, 9, and 10, the three cards that introduce change in the suit before heading to the next stage, the court cards. This fits with the time of year we encounter Gemini who, in the last four weeks of Spring, oversees our transformation into our Summer form.

Gemini itself connects the 8 of swords to The Lovers card (for more on that card check out The Divine Twins,) an archetype who represents the various parts of us that want to merge into the world, as well as the mind in us all that seeks variety and knowing. 

The Minor Arcana cards connected to Gemini astrologically come after the 5, 6, and 7 of Pentacles during Taurus season. They are some of the real world experiences describing how we will begin to engage the shift, and learn to work with all the new experiences and needs we have encountered, and how all that stuff impacts our understanding of people, the “truth,” and how we utilize our intellect to understand our place in the world.

8 of Swords, Smith-Waite Tarot
8 of Swords, Smith-Waite Tarot

What does the Eight of Swords card mean?

In the Eight of Swords, we find a solemn figure standing, bound and blindfolded, surrounded by swords. This seems like an intense situation, however, the person’s face seems to have no expression, and their body language seems constricted, but calm.

By this point in our trip through Spring, we have had some ups and downs in our adventures. In the Aries season, we passed through the 2, 3, and 4 of Wands, and crossed over the initiatory gate, heading out into the world to seek our destiny.

2, 3, 4 of Wands, Smith-Waite Tarot

Then we passed through Taurus season and the 5, 6, and 7 of Pentacles, experiencing hardships, unexpected problems, and unexpected assistance. That means, astrologically, the 7 of Pentacles is the card “before” the 8 of Swords. Let’s think on the 7 of Pentacles for a moment, and recall the image on that card. We see a person leaning on a rod or staff, gazing at a lush plant covered in big golden coins. The person in this card is often described as daydreaming or dawdling. What could they be thinking?

5, 6, 7 of Pentacles, Smith-Waite Tarot

Well, let’s pause for a moment and recognize, in the introduction of this one card, I’ve mentioned 6 other cards. By this point in the process, we have several moving parts to keep track of, and several different situations producing events. We may be experiencing a bit of stun lock. 

Whether the 8 of swords shows up in a reading about love, work, or personal enlightenment, whether the circumstances are positive or negative, whether you are willingly engaging the situation or you are victim of circumstance, the feeling of the 8 of swords is overwhelming.

The 8 of Swords implies that while externally it may appear they are frozen, internally they have switched into rabbit brain thinking, bouncing from one idea to the next, and are wondering, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?”

Perhaps the person in the 7 of Pentacles is disappointed in their results from their work so far. If we see 8 of Swords reversed, their mind begins to worry about the road they’ve set themselves on. They might be thinking, “Is this all a waste of time? Did I do the seed thing right? How was I supposed to know you had to water it every day?! I told everyone I was gonna become a world famous tomato baron. What have I committed myself to?…”

Or, perhaps the person in the 7 of Pentacles is amazed by how much this one plant is producing. If the 8 of Swords is upright, their mind begins to think about how many more plants they could grow, and how much bigger their production could become. However, this becomes overwhelming, and they suddenly wonder, “am I ready to commit to this massive project? I was just playing around, and now I have this whole situation to deal with. What have I committed myself to?…”

Powerful questions to ask yourself if you pull the 8 of swords in a reading and are trying to decide if this is Good or Bad, Yes or No:

If the 8 of swords is upright:

  • “Do I want to be ‘initiated’ into this experience, even if it’s scary?”
  • “What is the benefit of being in a situation where I don’t know what is going on?”
  • “How do I feel before I learn how to do something?”
  • “Is this a favorable opportunity to try something new, even if it’s scary?”

If the 8 of swords is reversed:

  • “Am I being deceived or tested unfairly?”
  • “Am I letting my beliefs, wishes, opinions, or biases get in the way of the facts?”
  • “Am I ignoring information to pretend like I don’t know what’s going on?”
  • “Is this situation too much for me to handle without some guidance or mentorship?”

Our perception of our level of experience, or lack thereof, begins to weigh on our thoughts of what is about to happen to us. We start to realize the commitments required behind all the promises or claims we’ve made about future plans and commitments. Or, we put out the “open” sign and are blown away by the exuberant response. Anxiety and stun lock enter the mix as we try to conceive of every contingency this situation could manifest, become overwhelmed by that process, and feel trapped in our circumstance. 

In any case, the grey bindings wrapped around the person in the 8 of Swords can represent the weight of suddenly realizing how much you don’t know about the situation you’re in or about to be in. Grey for me represents experience, and there is a lot of grey in this card, surrounding this person. It’s even beginning to seep into the edges of their white blindfold. In the distance we see the castle where we started our Spring journey, where we once stood behind the walls looking out at the world, in the 2 of Wands. The castle is now grey, and we might be thinking back on our old, simpler life, when we didn’t know any better.

Also notice that those grey wraps are not very tight. With a bit of effort, we could probably shrug off these bindings. So there’s also an implication that, even as anxiety-inducing as all this might be, we are choosing to stay. And if we have no choice about going through this experience, we may be deciding to try to learn as much as we can. Perhaps we think that we must endure this adventure to gain the knowledge therein, and we might be right.

The 8 of Swords and The Magician.

Remember, we are in the sign of Gemini. The ruling planet of Gemini is Mercury and that connects us to The Magician card. If we compare the 8 of swords to The Magician we see the white underclothes of The Magician are covered or turned a grey/brown. Our brain, usually tucked away in the sterile world of concepts and ideas, has gotten real world dirt on it and is maybe a little weirded out? 

But the most important piece in this card might be the white blindfold. 

Look at the Magician’s black hair and white headband. Here, this is the last little bit of white left from The Magician’s outfit that has not turned grey. As we first step into this moment, our headband slips down over our eyes, and suddenly what was endearing or useful in our naivety becomes a hindrance. 

“Seeing is believing,” as one of my Patrons said in a workshop, and this brought to mind the Gemini/Sagittarius axis, that describes the tension between knowledge (Gemini) and belief (Sagittarius.) I thought about the many rites of initiation that include blindfolds. Blindfolds are a means of depriving and sharpening the senses at the same time. Depriving the mind of information, and at the same time sharpening the other senses still taking in data from the environment. 

Continuing to compare the 8 of Swords with The Magician, now all we see is that red outer robe. The passion, drive, and momentum of the moment is in control. Our enthusiasm has carried us into this adventure and we have stumbled headlong into that which we could not be prepared for. 

The first time the Universe overtly responds to our efforts on the material plane can feel overwhelming, so much so that we may feel “bound” or fated to one course of action or another, and the booming voice of (perceived) Destiny drowns out the sound of our Free Will. Also, the first time we step out into the world to take an idea from concept to manifestation can also feel incredibly overwhelming. “I was born for this,” starts to feel like, “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” 

Water in Tarot is always connected to emotions and intuitive experiences. Looking again through the three sets of cards we work with in Spring, first notice there are no Cups. Directly addressing our emotions and confidently relying on our intuition is off the table right now, because we’re a little freaked out, and because we haven’t done this before.

Now let’s look at where and how water is represented in the cards. In our Wands set, Water is in the 3 of Wands, and it is seen as something distant and vaguely mysterious, that other folks are interacting with. In the Pentacles set, Water is found in the 5 of Pentacles as snow; frozen, cold, and harmful. Here in the Swords set we find our only water in the 8 of Swords. (There’s some interesting mathmagic in that 3+5=8, and these numbers are also part of the Fibonacci Sequence.)

3 of Wands, 5 of Pentacles, and 8 of Swords, Smith-Waite Deck

In the 3 of Wands during Aries Season, we inquired at boats in the harbor. Now we stand on the mucky tide flats of that same harbor, the tide having gone out. Inherently, we can feel maybe our timing is a little off. The body of water has been drained out by natural rhythmic forces (the tides,) leaving behind little muddy puddles and squishy, slippery ground. 

By this point in the process, we are really trying to deal with our situation from a super rational and intellectualized place, which is part of what got us here. We’ve drained out our emotional and intuitive responses, and in fact we may even be a little suspect of our intuition and emotional responses at this point. We’ve pulled back from our ability to just go with the flow. But this disconnect actually makes us feel less stable, as if a cryfest were right under our feet.

So, what about all these swords? Are they here to help or harm? Let’s look closely at these symbols.

3 of Wands and 8 of Swords, Smith-Waite Deck

First, the swords stand of their own volition, their points thrust firmly in the wet ground. We might not feel stable here, but these swords have found some type of stability. Second, if we count the swords, we can see all of them. There is no sword behind this person. Which means, like the loose bindings, if we wanted to leave this situation, we could manage it with some effort.

Looking at these swords, I can see a fence, which is a type of border or protection. And in this idea, we see this figure passing through what might be a gate. This connects us to a more harrowing version of what we see in the 4 of Wands, which also suggests a doorway or gate. The whole of Spring, and especially Beltane Season, is a Gate of Initiation. These experiences are initiating us into life in the Real World ™.

Imagining the 8 of swords as a person, look at where the swords touch this person. The shoulders. The shoulders and arms are ruled by Gemini. These swords are standing shoulder to shoulder with us. As much as we might feel destabilized, blind, and confused by this experience, we may have some comrades in this adventure. Even if they are strangers to us in every other regard, they are our “siblings” now. Close. These experiences are initiating us into the process of learning to trust people outside of ourselves, maybe for the first time.

Thinking on this image of a crew standing shoulder to shoulder with slippery footing brings to mind the crew of a ship. Even though Water and Ocean deities were definitely worshiped by mariners, seafolk and seafaring work also come under the auspices of Mercury, the ruling planet of Gemini. 

Think of how folks are basically locked together in those situations. You could even say married. They have to trust in each other and the knowledge available, whether they have actually built trust with each other or not. They have to be of a single mind, jumping to a million tasks. They must work together, take care of each other, and hold each other accountable to what they don’t know, all while teaching the greenhorns and getting the work done. All while floating on a massive body of water, using the Sun, Moon and stars to guide you, praying you are not attacked, or end up lost, or worse. 

Any one of these elements could feel overwhelming, and we are being bombarded by several at once. 

But, also, we are just standing alone on a beach. There is no other human in this image. So, there’s also an implication in this card that we haven’t even gotten to the real stuff yet, that this is just the initiation ritual, just shadows on the wall of a cave, or at least just the beginning of the adventure, and we’re already pretty stressed. Can we keep it together?

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