In Queering the Tarot, Cassandra Snow takes the most common interpretations and manifestations of the cards and discuss ways you might read them for a LGBTQQIA* client – or for yourself. Read the whole series here!
Queering the Tarot: Two, Three & Four of Swords
Hello tarot fans and friends! We are still Queering our way through the Tarot, and we are now working through the suit of Swords. This is a group of cards that are concerned with balance, mental clarity, and logic. They can be a suit that indicates mental illness. Concerns over sobriety and addiction show up most often in this suit, (and in the Major Arcana’s Devil). This is a much more logical, cool-headed suit than some of the others, and certainly more straightforward than the Major Arcana.
Bigger issues of Justice prevail in the Sword cards – right and wrong, moving forward or staying stuck, what our spiritual self wants versus our Earthbound selves. Because the word and concept of Justice is such a tense topic in the LGBTQ+ (and really any marginalized) community, and because by nature the Swords suit is more negative, many of the cards represent hard decisions where we lose no matter what we choose and often show events or people that are negative or hurtful.
However, the Swords suit often calls you to pick up the sword and fight for your version of justice. This often means with actual fighting, and though that’s often best left to the Wands suit, here it frequently means with words and cunning instead. The Swords also represent intellect and writing, and even my least spiritual clients often connect well to this suit’s straightforward news and insights.
The Two, Three, and Four of Swords make more sense if we queer them as a group and look at the narrative.
While thematically opposed, there’s a clear message of mental clarity, heartbreak, and fallout in these three cards. We start with the Two of Swords, a card that most often shows up in times of indecision due to the gravity of the choice at hand, or for situations where we’ve exhausted our options and are at a stalemate. In either case, our judgment becomes clouded and we feel blind to options and ways out. I have a deck that has colored how I see this card, where the Two regularly indicates that you know exactly what you’re meant to do now, but doing so requires a leap of faith and insists you don’t use that famous Swords logic to it’s full extent.
This card interestingly gives way to the Three of Swords, one of the most feared but important cards in the deck. It’s most commonly used keyword is simply heartbreak. It’s up to the rest of the reading whether that means a heartbreak is coming, whether you should leave space for emotions in any mental or intellectual pursuits, or whether you’re just struggling to move on from past pain. As this card follows the Two, I often see it as the result of what happens when you take a leap of faith. Either you’re called to take the leap and it doesn’t work out, or taking the leap requires sacrifices and emotional processing you didn’t expect. Alternatively, if the Two means we’re at a stalemate in a relationship or business situation, the Three sees us leaving that in a way that is devastating and not the outcome we were looking for.
This leads us to the Four of Swords, a card of rest, meditation, and recuperation. After an action-packed time that the Two leads us to and the emotional exhaustion of the Three, the Four calls us to take care of ourselves, putting our bodies at rest and clearing our minds for a bit.
As an LGBT+ person, this mini-suit within the Swords suit often tells a very frank coming out story.
If we’re looking at coming out as something that is not straight and cisgender, we start with feeling trapped in the decision of whether to do so or not. At some point your own logic and perspective becomes cloudy like it does in that Two. Eventually though, most of us have to make the decision to do so, to come out. Which can, unfortunately, also lead to the sadness and despair of the Three. There are many cards that you can throw down and see the coming out process, but the Three of Swords is one of the only cards that straightforwardly reminds us that sometimes you really do lose family and friends as part of that process.
This same line of narrative can be applied to transgender people who are contemplating or beginning transitioning. There’s the Two indecision and lack of clarity – although in this case, that lack of clarity is often rooted in actual lack of knowledge on where to go for hormones, surgery, or undergarments. Frequently though, it comes from not being sure when the right time to transition is, or wondering if the time will ever feel right. When the Two is coming up, that third party insight is likely meant to urge the querent forward in their transition. Once the trans querent has worked through the Two, we come to the Three. In this case though, the Swords can be a metaphor for gender affirming surgery or “going under the knife” for trans people too. I’ve had a couple of clients that when faced with a lot of Swords cards have made jokes like “Guess surgery’s looking good?” and that is often the case with the Three. Heartbreak can be a metaphor for anything that’s removed from our lives, and certainly surgical transition is not without it’s heartbreaks and sadnesses along the way. In both of these examples, the Four shows up to remind us that our bodies and our minds are incredibly important, even when we’re more concerned with our hearts. So after all of that pain, get some sleep! Take introvert time, or hot showers, or whatever you need to feel rested up. For those who are spiritually inclined, meditation is key here. If you’re not spiritually inclined, finding a way to clear your mind instead of letting that negative fallout fester is crucial.
As the Swords can indicate concerns with mental health and the LGBTQ+ community deals with disproportionate amounts of mental illness, I would be remiss to not explore the Two through Four of Swords from a mental health standpoint. The Two of Swords indicates a time where we can’t find our way back to center or to balance. It indicates not being able to make decisions or see clearly in a way that rings very true for those of us who struggle with anxiety. In this case, getting someone else’s perspective or taking time to clear one’s mind may not be all that helpful as pieces of advice for a querent. Furthermore, though this card often requires leaping first and looking later, if it’s showing up in a placement or a way that screams “behavior” and not “advice,” you’re likely looking at someone who struggles with manic episodes common in Bipolar Disorder. In those situations, the guidance you’d see from a tarot reader should be very different, and should caution one away from actually taking leaps of faith right now. The Three of Swords however, is frequently a clear indication of severe depression cycling back to a very dark state. You can look at the Two and Three of Swords cards together and see a Bipolar querent. You can look at them separately and see anxiety in the Two and depression in the Three. In either case, it’s critical to remember that the seeker can not control those cycles or those highs and lows. The cards can serve as very effective warnings to the seeker to look out for relapses, and they can provide the reader more information about the very real obstacles facing the seeker. However, tarot readers are not therapists, and the advice that comes with these cards should include traditional approaches like therapy and medication to deal with these swings. The Four of Swords largely encourages the querent to get back to resting and making time for themselves, though can indicate the exhaustion and burnout that living with mental illness can bring. That advice doesn’t change though: Rest. Clear your mind. Trust yourself.
Once we see how the Two, Three, and Four of Swords work together to take us from decision to heartbreak to rest, we can apply them to a number of other situations in a queer person’s life.
I’ve talked before about how LGBTQ+ relationships are a little bit more intense emotionally, both because our dating pool is thinner, and because we spend so long in the closet NOT honoring our emotions that there’s a very real, valid need to pamper them a little extra when out. As such, this narrative applies to starting new queer relationships, ending those relationships, or joining social groups (officially or not). The Two pushes us to do so, and then we’re left more than a little hurt and surprised when it leads to that Three. It’s important to remember that the heartbreak of the Three of Swords does not always come like we think it will. Sometimes relationships don’t work out – but very often in the LGBTQ+ community they do, yet it’s a whole new level of hurt and oppression from other people that starts facing us once we’re dating someone (or a number of someones). While this is primarily true for those whose sexual identity is queer, for transgender people it is still not uncommon for a close friend or family member to be accepting until they see you dating someone they don’t expect.
A specialty of mine is reading Tarot for healing purposes, particularly for those dealing with the aftermath of trauma. This line of work, like my identity based tarot readings, attracts primarily LGBTQ+ querents. There’s a number of reasons for this, starting with the societal trauma of being othered in the first place and reaching into the deeply personal. There’s often a lack of resources specific or related to queer people who have been traumatized, and there’s very often a concern about what society at large will think if word of abusive or otherwise awful LGBTQ+ people gets out.
In these cases, pulling any one of these cards tells me more about where the querent is in terms of their own healing. Often with the Two, they are contemplating treatment, speaking out, or debating other common methods of healing. Their vision is compromised because of societal pressure, and because they have, quite frankly, probably not seen representation of lesbians being sexually assaulted, trans people being attacked, or dominant BDSM partners being abusive which means they have no idea what to do or where to go for help. They don’t know if speaking out will do any good. They have no idea what their next move should be.
Healing is personal, just like everything else and the advice with the Two is that whatever you are scared of doing is probably the right decision for you right now. That could mean telling people what happened. That could mean pressing charges. It could also mean going to therapy to heal from the situation. The three, alternatively, encourages those who have been traumatized to take a much gentler approach. “Let yourself be hurt, sad, angry,” urges this card. Live in that misery. Stew in it. Be incredibly self-indulgent. Life is about cycles, and there is a time for everything, and that includes a time to sink down into the reality of what’s happened and allow it to surround you. It is only in that encampment that you can use your logical mind to start cutting through all of the pain. The Four tells me the querent has already done quite a bit of healing work. Healing work however, has the word work attached to it on purpose. It’s exhausting to sit with your emotions and focus on your healing 24/7. At some point, you still need to rest. At some point the only thing that’s going to further your healing is taking time to recuperate. At some point pain turns into straight up exhaustion, and that too is a feeling you should honor.
In any case, the Four rounds out this mini-narrative for a reason. After experiencing new or deepened pain or trauma, you need some “you” time, whatever that may look like. This is so often the message of the Swords overall. We get hurt, yet life goes on, and if you don’t take the time to recuperate from the pain, it’s going to keep bringing you back to a cycle of uncertainty and heartbreak over and over again. That’s true for any querent, but in the LGBTQ+ community, we are more likely to be working with additional disadvantages, dealing with mental health concerns, or finding ways unique to our queer experience that this plays out such as coming out or starting a new relationship. Therefore it’s extra important to understand the way these three cards are interpreted when we’re learning suits at a time – if we don’t know about the potential for heartbreak, we could stay stuck in the Two of Swords’ place of confusion indefinitely. If we don’t know about the importance of rest, that Three of Swords can be crushing.
As such, my final piece of advice for getting one of these cards in a reading is this: pull just one more card asking “what’s the best way for me to rest or take care of myself right now?” Like anything else, that answer can look wildly different per person, but that final card can ease the concern of anyone facing big, scary choices, staring down heartbreak, or feeling completely wiped out.