The Wound is the place where the light enters you. — Rumi 


Ryder Waite 10 Swords

Some people avoid the Tarot because of the negative cards.  Even seasoned readers dread having them turn up. And when my students accidentally leave cards behind at my house, it’s always the negative cards – lol.

But here’s the thing: These negative cards have wisdom we can use, just as the negative experiences in life are usually our best teachers.  

Before you get too upset when these cards turn up, remember that it’s all in your mind.

All Tarot cards involve your subjective not objective reality.So the negative cards are negative usually because you are seeing things through a negative lens, when you could instead take a positive viewpoint.

The Swords. The negative view happens in your head. So it’s not surprising that half of the thirteen negative cards in the Minor Arcana occur in Swords, which are conditions of the mind.

We all know that the mind is a wonderful thing, until it starts distorting, or we start over-thinking our way into confusion and fear. Once that happens, we can spin off into negativity, hence six of the ten Swords cards are negative.

image of ten chipped swords with red hilts dripping blood.

Thoth 10 Swords “Cruelty”

If you lay out the Thoth Swords from Ace to ten, you can see how a person’s thinking can lead from very positive to extremely negative if they allow a traumatic experience to poison their outlook.

Start with the Ace. The Ace is always positive. It’s the root or seed of the element. It means “yes!” and represents all the Platonic ideal, the highest possibilities of the mind. Next comes the two of swords– which has the energy of peace —  two crossed swords showing a mind in balance. Then comes trouble in the form of a loss  – something everyone experiences at least once. The three of swords is called Sorrow – a painful loss that pierces our heart. The swords are bent and they break a flower’s petals from its center and pierce a heart. Grief has happened.  Because it’s a three and still close to the ideal of the Ace, the three of swords can be a healthy sorrow. You’ve got a good healthy reason to be in this condition.

But if you haven’t learned  to make meaning out of loss, for example, as Viktor Frankl describes in Man’s Search for Meaning, your mind may start to see the world through a cracked lens. The five of swords is “Defeat,” as if the next blow in your life convinces you that you are a loser. The seven is ‘Futility” – the feeling that striving is futile. The eight is “Interference,”  now you feel blocked from the outside.

But remember,  it’s all in your mind. Nine is called cruelty, a series of chipped and damaged swords dripping with blood. Crowley likens this energy to the cutting of an umbilical chord, and indeed, you feel like you’ve been cut loose from your home.  Lastly comes the ten – aptly called Ruin – there is nothing left for you.

Masterfully rendered by the artist Frieda Harris, the Thoth swords become more chipped, bent, and distorted, just as the mind itself gets distorted as one bad event in life, leads us to assume that nothing good will ever happen again, hence we continue to fall down.  By the time we reach the ten of swords, our perspective is “Ruin.”

So when you pull these negative cards, rather than assume that something terrible is going to happen in your life, realize that the terrible thing is in your head, which can be turned around with positive thinking.

This is how cognitive therapy works — becoming aware of our thoughts and then reframing those thoughts to a more positive mindset. It’s true that bad stuff happens to everyone. However  some people actually thrive from difficult experiences while others go into crash mode. Pulling negative cards makes you aware of the negativity and gives you a chance to stop carrying it around and instead change your outlook.