The Nine of Swords is widely considered to be one of the worst cards that can turn up in a tarot reading. It is associated with nightmares, insanity, suffering, cruelty, and suicide. A total calamity of the internal self. The card depicts the collapse of a city, the Queen of Swords in a tree, insane and howling at the moon. Is it the moon (with its inhuman face) that is causing this destruction, as it does in the Tower card? And what is that tree doing there, as the single anchor the mad Queen clings to?
The swords suit, which embodies the rational mind—the intellectual aspect of the human experience—would suggest that it is really the Queen herself behind the destruction of the world. Is the moon a sort of mirror for her? Is it some divine being influencing the Queen from some mysterious external source, within the solipsistic universe of her dream? Well, we don’t really know. The moon is a stand-in for that which human beings cannot comprehend—like our own bewilderment when we have a prescient nightmare, or a dream in which our experience is beyond our own understanding.
So what do we get when we stop raging against the tide, and accept the fact that this card signifies great trouble for us?
I was marching with Occupy Wall Street on the freezing cold morning of November 17th, 2011. I had been running around New York City’s financial district all night, and I was tired and dizzy, and wondering if I might be thrown in jail at some point during the day. We were committed to challenging the American status quo of authority structures, the mundane lives of individuals (especially those working on Wall Street), the widespread assumption that we have to sit quietly and accept what our government does with our lives, our money, and our voices. Within that group, shouting for change, were those who hungered for the total dissolution of our political and social systems. They wanted to topple the whole world, not out of any relish for seeing the suffering and death that always accompanies such an apocalypse, but to dismantle civilization’s existing mechanisms that cause suffering and death for so many already. They were driven by the conviction that we can build something better.
Perhaps the Queen sees the beauty of the world falling down around her. Perhaps she is indulging that part of humanity that desires to lose hold of reality, that part of herself that seeks to die.
As afraid as I was the following year, when I faced the IDF in the West Bank, I couldn’t help smiling when the soldiers charged us (a little band of Palestinians and internationals, waving flags and chanting songs). I was afraid for the little boy who made a peace sign and held it in the face of one of the soldiers, while the soldier, with his riot gear and Uzi, loomed over the child, and for the other Palestinians, who would suffer far worse consequences than us for protesting. But I couldn’t help but feel glad that we were all there together, and even to feel a kind of glee when they came for us.
It’s an odd thing to admit, but I will be one of the people running around and laughing when the world explodes.
(ashes, ashes, we all fall DOWN.)
This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.