Uptight all night – Nine of Swords

I’m stuck at wet, windy Bradford Interchange awaiting the last train home after a cheery dinner and hot ginger wine at a good friend’s. What to do with my 35 damp minutes’ wait? Why, pick a card, of course!

Nine of swords tarot card

The Nine of Swords from the Tarot of the Magical Forest by Hsu Chi Chun and Leo Tang

Today’s is the troublesome Nine of Swords. I find this one of tarot’s most upsetting cards to see, because it looks so very bleak, and also so familiar. Only the most comfortable (and somnolent) would fail to recognise the feeling of despair conveyed by this image of a person (or kitty-cat, as shown here) sat alone and in darkness, head in hands, tormented by thoughts which keep them awake whilst the rest of the world sleeps soundly.

The nine terrifying swords suspended on the wall beside her illustrate the weight with which our deepest fears, insecurites, guilt and pain can bear down upon us. The figure on this card is suffering, and can’t find a way out. If you’ve ever sat up like this, unable to sleep and plagued by unpleasant thoughts, you’ll be familiar with the sense of frustration and entrapment it brings. You watch the minutes tick by and, although you grow increasingly exhausted, the possiblilty of escape, of sleep, seems to grow dimmer.

It’s such a crazy feeling, that insomniac worrying, because alone like this in the middle of the night, these fears are coming only from within ourselves. And this is the key with the Nine of Swords. It’s about mental self-torture. There’s no-one standing above us, threatening us with those swords or plunging them into our hearts. We suspend them above us with our own minds. In Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack writes that ‘in the card’s deepest sense it shows a mind that takes on itself all the sorrows of the world.’

What do you do when you’re feeling like this? When the mind gets to torturing itself like this it’s very very hard to break free. Camomile tea and distraction by counting sheep can only go so far. My personal reaction to this card is that there is encouragement to confront whatever is bothering us. Suffering like this, alone, in the dark, is no way to live. Perhaps the Nine of Swords is there to reflect our secret pain back to us and shock us into taking action to tackle the issues that are wearing us out.

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